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of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Sri Lanka

A Look at Lumbini Tea

NaNoTeaMo, Day 20: “A Look at Lumbini Tea”

I’ve talked about World Tea Expo 2015 a lot the last few weeks, and that’s because . . . well . . . there was (and still is) a lot to talk about. Case in point: Lumbini Tea.

Lumbini

Robert “Lord Devotea” Godden tweeted all the Expo-attending bloggers and said (paraphrased slightly), “Visit the Lumbini Tea booth . . . or else . . .”

I did say it was paraphrased.

Moonlight Tea Fight!

Back in May – as all two of you readers may already know – I attended my third World Tea Expo. The Finest Brew’s booth was easily a tea blogger favorite. The company was run by two Sri Lankan borthers, and they possessed some weird things I’d never seen before. They had no problem showing off their weird wares to us.

The Finest Brew booth

Before leaving the Expo, they made it a point to gift me with two unique white teas. Both were made in the same style – that of Yue Guang Bai (Moonlight White), a white tea from Yunnan province, China. The kicker though? Only one of them was from Yunnan. Yiwu Mountain, to be precise.

Yiwu - Tea Urchin

Image credit: Tea Urchin

The other was produced on a small plot of land on the New Vithanande tea estate in southern Sri Lanka (Ceylon).

Image credit: Discovering Tea

Image credit: DiscoveringTea.com

What was even weirder; both teas were produced using the same cultivated variety of tea plant – a so-called “purple leaf” cultivar of assamica. The only differences between the two white teas was their terroir and age. The Yunnan-produced stuff was crafted in 2011, whereas the Sri Lankan batch was harvested in 2014. It was only a matter of time before I subject them both to a side-by-side . . . tea fight.

side by side leaves

Born-Again Virgin – A White Tea Revisited

White Tea Week, Day 5: “Born-Again Virgin – A White Tea Revisited”

In March of 2011, I tried the most unique white ever. Some would decry that as an exaggeration, but in this case, completely true. Back when I still did copious amounts of tea reviews, this li’l offering came up on the roster. I was one of the first to snatch it up.

The tea in question was the Virgin White Tea from the Handunugoda tea estate in Galle, Sri Lanka. Leaves for this unusual white tea were plucked by women wearing gloves and brandishing gold scissors. Human hands weren’t allowed to touch the tea. The idea being that the tea retained a more natural taste without [too much] human intervention.

Handunugoda

Image Owned by The Handunugoda Estate

It was arguably the most expensive white tea on the market.

When I first tried this tea, I dug the ever-loving heck out of it. There was just one problem; I found a hair in the sample bag I received. It was too long and brown to be one of mine. I don’t know if it was the fault of the grower or the vendor I acquired it from, but that little added ingredient detracted from the “virginal” profile of the tea.

Three years went by, and I felt kind of bad for having knocked the tea a point in my review. The tea itself was beyond wonderful. I’d even say darn near perfect. But I couldn’t give it a flawless rating – in good conscience – because of that. It’s the only review I was ever torn about.

In the summer of ’13, I contacted the Handunugoda tea estate to acquire their Sapphire Oolong for a feature. I made the mistake of referring to my review of the Virgin White Tea in the initial e-mail. Malinga Gunaratne – the estate’s proprietor himself – responded to that e-mail, and even asked to see said review. My stomach tightened.

I did send the review on, and a month or so later I did receive the oolong. To my shock, they also included a 12-gram sample of the Virgin White. Almost as if it was a silent way of saying, “Give it another shot.”

And this week, I did.

IMAG1471

The leaves were smaller than I remembered. Needles – yes – but with a smaller, darker green appearance than most Ceylon Silver Tips I was used to. That and the aroma of the leaves was stronger than I last recalled, giving off a peppery and herbaceous scent – still pleasant, just bolder. It’s reasonable to assume that the processing methods may have changed a tad in the years since I had this last.

Sidenote: Since the leaves were plucked by women wearing gloves and brandishing gold scissors, I decided to keep with the “virginal” treatment. I would not let the first leaves touch human hands. I wore science-y type gloves as I worked, so as to not…uh…impugn upon their good character.

gloves

For brewing, I went with a standard white tea approach – 1 tsp. of leaves in a 6oz. gaiwan, steeped in 165F water for three minutes. I went with a gaiwan because – well – I wanted to. My show, my rules.

The liquor came out water clear. If I looked really close, I could make out the faintest hint of a pale yellow color. The aroma was equally as light, imparting a fruity and floral aroma – albeit understated. The taste was just…I was not expecting it. It matched my earlier taster notes to a “tea”. Before, I’d noted sweetness, fruitiness, and lotus-iness. Same thing was the case here

IMAG1474

On a second infusion, I took the temperature up to about 175-ish F, but kept the steep time the same. This resulted in a slightly darker yellow liquor (but not by much) with an even bolder fruit aroma wafting from the cup. Taste-wise, while slightly grassier, it still retained all the magnificence of the lighter attempt.

Further infusions at undetermined times yielded even better results, fruit-sweet floral cup after fruit-sweet floral cup. So glad I gave this tea a second shot. For the first time ever, I’m retconning an old review. This is the “Perfect” it deserved all along.

retcon

Now, if you’ll excuse me, this white tea and I need some private time.

No calls.

Ceylon and Thanks for All the Oolong

Let’s travel back to a more innocent time – November of 2011, to be precise. It was around that time that I finally found a purpose for this here tea blog. My goal was to track down unique teas, unusual blends, and/or teas with fascinating stories behind them. To commemorating that unusual sense of focus (for someone like me), I created “The Tea WANT! List”. I’d made reference to such a “list”-‘s existence for the better part of two years, but it was high-time to make it tea-tangible.

One of the items on the list was oolong from Ceylon (Sri Lanka). I also added the line: “I don’t even think it exists.”

Tea Trade Jackie replied with, “Uh, yeah it does.” And proceeded to show me various links.

In response to that, I did my own digging and ran across an oolong that sounded familiar. Sapphire Oolong from De Vos Tea.

sapphire

Why does that sound famil-…oh crap! I said to myself.

A Ceylon oolong (Ceylong?) had been sitting under my nose the entire time! Allow me to explain…

I got my start in tea-writing on a nifty review site called Teaviews. I owe my strange palate development to that site, as well as my exposure to the tea community at large. One of the teas I had a chance to review was a Ceylon white tea dubbed “Virgin White”. The estate that produced it was called Handunugoda, and it was located in the district of Galle – in Sri Lanka’s Southern Province.

handunugoda-tea-estate

Sri Lanka was the country that got me to like black teas. Before that, I’d primarily been a white tea man. And the white teas from there…ohmigawww! Heaven in a heated cup.

Moving right along, the Handunugoda estate also produced green teas, blends, and – wait for it…a Ceylon oolong, the aforementioned Sapphire. The story behind this stuff was crazy. Apparently, the estate had a plot of land set aside just for the tea plants used to produce the oolong. The soil was laced with tiny sapphires – no bigger than a pinhead.

pinhead2

Er…a little smaller than those.

What frustrated me was not that this tea was slightly out of my reach, but that it had been in my path…and I didn’t grab it. The tea came up in review circulation twice, and I never requested it. I never put two-and-two together until two years later.

I visited the De Vos Tea website to purchase some and found it only half-working. Every time I tried to make a purchase, the site would fizzle out. Yes, actually fizzle. I zapped them a message to see what was amiss, but never got a reply. About a month after that inquiry, the site disappeared – less than half of it showed up in search queries. I could only conclude that they went out of business.

There was only one thing left to do: Contact the actual tea estate. This would mark only the second time I’d ever sent a message to an estate directly without locating a retailer. The last time I did this was for the Bhartia estate’s Assam Green Tea. It worked out well that time, but I was still nervous.

Then a funny thing happened…

When I inquired about doing a feature on the oolong, I didn’t just receive a reply from their marketing guru. I also got one from the estate’s proprietor, Malinga Gunaratne. Achievement: Unlocked.

They agreed to send me a sample. A couple of months went by and it arrived. Oh my…

Takei

The package was huge.

IMAG1304

I tore it open that night. No, I didn’t care that I had to work the next day. This was for science! Or something.

The leaves resemble Da Hong Pao or a Georgian black tea – long, twisty, brown-to-soot-black. The aroma on these however was pure Ceylon, alternating between osthmanthus flowers and an indescribable earthy lean.

Sapphire-1

The first time I brewed this up (like…that same day), I did it Western-style. The 100-gram box it came in recommended about a teaspoon of leaves steeped in a cup for three-to-five minutes with boiled water. I approximated that.

The result was a jewel of a liquor – light crimson – with a surprisingly malty/roasty nose. Very odd for an oolong or a black tea. Almost as if it was struggling with a specific identity, or settling on its own uniqueness. The taste was a beautifully smooth, full-bodied experience. Pinpointing actual taster notes would be difficult. I will say that it gave off hints of nut, vanilla, lotus blossoms, and an Assam-like astringency toward the end. This was a morning person’s oolong, for certain.

Sapphire-3

A second infusion done the same way (but with a little more neglect) turned up a liquor with a winy note. Nothing like a little “wine” in the morning to get you started. Gotta love teas that let you make it up as you go along.

In the ensuing weeks, I decided to brew it gongfoolishly with a gaiwan and a few steeper cups. The results were thus:

Sapphire-2

First infusion (twenty seconds): A darker, amber-ish liquor resulted with an aroma of syrup-lathered chestnuts. The nutty aspect of the aroma translated to the taste with a bold profile of flowers, caramel and earth. Like a Ceylon OP but with more going on.

Second infusion (thirty-five seconds): The nutty aspects were a bit stronger, as was a malty lean toward the trail-off. This steep was more black tea in character than oolong. The subtle earthen qualities, however, emerged in the aftertaste.

Third infusion (fifty seconds): Probably the strongest oolong-ish presence emerged in this. Totally reminded me of a Da Hong Pao through-and-through…in the best possible way.

Of the two different approaches, I preferred the Western one. The oolong took on more Ceylon-ish notes when I did it that way – floral and fantastic. One of the best non-Taiwanese oolongs I’ve ever come across. And it only took me two years’ worth of hindsight to get to it.

And speaking of hindsight, I just realized the Handunugoda estate also puts out a cinnamon-smoked black Lapsang Souchong variant. Well, shoot. Guess that’s another one for The Tea WANT! List.

WANT-300x249

Putting the “Noir” in Black

Pinot Noir – meaning “pine black” in French – is a type of grape closely associated with the Burgundy region of France. It also has the claim to fame of being a very ancient grape, only a couple of strains removed from Vitis sylvestris. (I.e. Pinot is to it what dogs are to wolves.) As everyone knows, it is typically used in the production of a very burly red wine. It’s tough to grow but great to drink.

I, personally, don’t care for the stuff, opting instead for its equally burly (but less tannic) Italian cousin, Sangiovese. However, there is one thing that grabs my attention, and it’s anything that has been flavored with Pinot. I have no clue why this is, it just grabs my fancy. Case in point: I once tried a stout ale that’d been aged in a Pinot Noir barrel. The drink took on all the characteristics one loved in red wine…without any of the negatives. That and there was the flavor of the main ingredient.

So, you can imagine my glee when I found out – from the owner, no less – that Smith Teamaker was playing around with a Pinot Noir barrel-aged black tea. The kind folks at Adalsheim Vineyard in Oregon’s Pinot-rich Dundee/Newberg area gifted my favorite tea op with a just-used barrel for just such an experiment. To date, I had tried three of Smith’s alcohol-scented tea experiments. All were one shade of wonderful or another – my fave being their whiskey Ceylon – and I hoped this one was worthy of the pantheon.

Aside from the touted wine barrel, the leaves used were from the Dimbulla and Uva regions of Sri Lanka (Ceylon). Some Nuwara Eliya was also sprinkled in for good measure, but their presence was minor. I’m guessing Smith was aiming for a darker black tea with a floral character that could go toe-to-toe with the winy residuals.

The leaves were long-cut, twisty, dirt-brown to soot-black with an occasional golden piece that made its way into the fray. The aroma was all grape. I can’t think off the top of my head what Pinot Noir smells like – other than berry-flavored battery acid – but the batch certainly had the grape thing down pat.

There were no set brewing instructions for this, given that it was an experimental batch at best, but I figured a typical black tea approach was in order. I used 1 tsp of leaves in 8oz. of boiled water, steeped for four minutes. Usually, I would only go three, but I wanted to get all the bang out of the barreled beauty.

The liquor brewed gold-ringed amber with a nose that betrayed no subtlety. It was a bold, somewhat sour, very grapy wine front with an after-whiff of flowers. That same impression showed through in the taste with a front that was dominated with winy notes – like a tongue touched by crimson – and was immediately followed up by the mid-malt and floral impression of the Ceylon base. As far as delivery mechanisms went, the use of a Ceylon as opposed to an Assam or a Keemun might’ve been the right one. No kidding aside, this was a wine fancier’s “hair of the dog” without any of the headache or inebriation.

Without exaggeration, this was their best alcohol-scented “teaxperiment” to date. While I enjoyed the whiskey and gin tryouts that preceded it, this was the one with the strongest liquor impression. This is the perfect morning cup for a Pinot-drenched palate. Now, maybe if I beg enough, I could get them to do a Sangiovese barrel-aged Keemun Hao Ya. Guan Yin willing…it’ll happen.

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