2018 was a weird year. Yeah, I know I’ve said that about prior years, but I really mean it this time. At present, it’s midnight on New Year’s Eve, a “chill-hop” station is on repeat-play, and I’m waiting for this 2013 Myanmar shou cha to kick in.
It was New Year’s Eve . . . and I slept in. No major surprise there; I always sleep in on my days off. The only plans I had for that day were helping my brother with some housework and a friend’s party later on. In the meantime, I had a moment to myself to reflect on the year that was, and to think of a proper way to usher it out.
2014 was an odd year.
Not “bad” odd, mind you – just odd. It didn’t come close to topping the kickassery of 2013, but wonderful things did transpire. Also, some not-so-wonderful things. The good eventually outweighed the bad, though, and I looked back on it with a slight nod of, “That’ll do.”
It was a year of growth and new discoveries. Sure, I stumbled a bit on the hike, but overall, I learned, prospered and came out of it for the better. Both this blog and my regular website did better than ever, I contributed to other websites outside of my usual haunts, and guest-blogged for others. Some experiments worked; others didn’t. And along the way, I met amazing people.
I wanted to close out the year the way I came into it. Something that personified my mission statement – in tea as well as in life. The answer was simple – cup a weird tea from a weirdly-named country with a weird story behind it. Same as always.
Digging this one up started from a conversation with The Snooty Tea Person. One of our whimsical talks brought up the idea of tea grown in Europe. She had just discovered the Azorean Gorreana estate, and shared her exaltation for their green tea. I had tried it years ago and agreed with her. She mentioned that I should look into a new UK company that carried it – What-Cha.
First off, I thought, Great name for a tea company. Then I perused its website. They carried many unique offerings from several growing regions outside of the normal tea collective – the aforementioned Azores, Vietnam, Malawi and . . . wait-what?!
I knew nothing about the country – aside from its funny name and its touchy history with the former USSR. A quick glance at the Almighty Wiki mentioned that it was located in the Caucasus region (giggity!), and that Georgia was northwest of it. From that, I could discern that it was in an ideal area for growing tea – particularly the Russian-made cultivars derived from Sochi. I had teas from Georgia and Iran – two of its neighbors – and both had similar flavor profiles.
What-Cha had included some Azerbaijani grown tea as part of its Discover Europe Collection. The local brand name for it was Azercay. The products they produced were blends from different tea gardens found in the Lenkoran and Astara growing regions. The Azercay company website also mentioned that one of their flagship products was flavored with bergamot through a “special technology”. Well, that sounded pretty sweet.
Of particular interest was how What-Cha even discovered the existence of Azercay. Apparently, they had come across a blog written by the tea community’s resident Oolong Owl. I have to admit, I was slightly jealous. Not only was she the inspiration for a tea vendor’s product search, but she’d beaten me to writing about a new tea! To her credit, though, it was a great write-up.
Naturally, I went about procuring the Discover Europe Collection . . . and immediately bee-lined to the Azercay bag.
The leaves were soot black and had a hand-rolled appearance. They were curly, twisty, and all matters of unevenly beautiful. Honestly, I was expecting fannings or dust. Whole leaves were a pleasant surprise. The dry aroma they gave off was semi-sweet and sorta raisin-y.
What-Cha recommend 1-to-2 teaspoons per cup with a steep time of five-to-six minutes. Boiling water for the brewin’. I followed those to the letter.
The liquor brewed bold-‘n-dark crimson with an aroma of bitter malt and wood. There was also a leather underpinning to the scent. On taste, there was an astringent introduction, but as I sipped further, it mellowed out into a Keemun-like, Assam-ish experience. There was also a bit of Yunnan forest floor feeling in the finish. Quite an unusual – but strong! – black tea.
Can’t say I ran into anything that tasted like “special technology” bergamot flavoring, but whatever . . .
It was still a really good, burly tea to end the year on. Just as quixotic as 2014 itself.