Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: white tea (Page 1 of 4)

Two Teas from Arunachal Pradesh

Of all the states in India, Arunachal Pradesh is one of the most mysterious and mystical.

Tawang Monastery

I’m not exaggerating. A cursory research glance turned up nothing concrete in regards to an agreed-upon “history” prior to the 1900s. The rest is conjecture, subjective, and vague—depending on who is relating the info. Even the official border between the state and Chinese territory (principally, Tibet) is a subject of considerable dispute. The territory didn’t even receive official statehood until 1987.

What I can say concretely is that the state is one of the most biodiverse and intriguing in Northeastern India. 77% of its landmass is covered in forest, and much of that falls under national park or protected status. The region is also fairly mountainous, which isn’t much of a surprise . . . because . . . Himalayas and all. Arunachal Pradesh, roughly translated from Hindi, means: “land of the dawn-lit mountains”.

My fascination with the region grew over the last year or so when I learned there were tea gardens there. However, they were spotty, large, few and far between, difficult to get to and—based upon a few inquiries— said teas were hard to obtain outside of India proper. That and some fetched a high price tag. I knew of a couple of exporting vendors that carried teas from Arunachal Pradesh gardens, but they seemed reluctant to part with samples.

Then along came a mysterious benefactor who provided me with a couple of teas from that mysterious Indian state. The company that carried said teas? Upton Tea Imports.

They’d been on my radar for years, due to their extensive and varied orthodox product catalog. So diverse were there wares, that their website even had a drop-down menu to explore teas by region. Granted, they weren’t the only tea vendors that did that, but few cast a sourcing net so wide.

The two teas were a black tea—hailing from a garden called Donyi Polo—and a white tea from a garden called Mouling. As far as I can tell, Donyi Polo derives its name from the collective designation given to native spiritual and religious practices in the region. I even found videos on YouTube about the garden.

Mouling was a different, and more fascinating story. It was a 30-hectare, family-owned garden that’d been growing tea since 1992. Of all of their teas, their white tea was the most renowned. By chance, I happened across an article on The Velvet Rocket of a visit to said garden.

Click the picture to read that. I’ll wait.

Image owned by Justin Ames and The Velvet Rocket.

Back? Great. Fascinating, eh?

I received both single estate teas in May, and dipped into them shortly after receiving the package.

Upton Tea Imports recommended brewing the white tea for three minutes in 190F water, and the black tea for five minutes in 212F water. I was able to obey the white tea recommendation to the letter, but I made a major error in brewing judgement with the black tea. In the preparation, I set the timer wrong, and accidentally brewed the black up for six minutes instead of five. I hoped it turned out okay. (Fingers crossed.)

Donyi Polo Estate STGFOP Tippy Clonal

The leaves looked typical for a black tea from India. Brown, broken leaf pieces amidst some golden tips. The cuts ranged from small to medium. What was suprising was the smell. It was very hard to pinpoint; both Himalayan spicy, yet Assamese malty. And there was a zesty, first flush florality to the scent as well.

At first, I thought, given the appearance of the decanting in progress, that the brew would be light. However, when I poured it over into a small cup, I realized that the liquor colored to a deep amber—bordering on Assam copper. The steam aroma was all . . . malted muscatel grapes and whatever the color “red” tastes like. Speaking of taste: the intro reminded me of a Darjeeling second flush, but malt took over the Himalayan muscatel bits in a deluge towards the middle. Throughout, there was a bit of tannic bite, but not so dry as to become overwhelming. The unspuspecting caffeinated wallop that followed on the last sip went straight to my head.

Mouling Estate STGFOP White Tea

On first impression, this didn’t look like a white tea at all. In fact, it looked like a typical Nepalese or Bengali first flush OP “black tea” on initial glance. Like the black tea, it was the smell that gave away signs of its process, and a few other confusing things to boot. Some of the melon and sage notes (of most white teas) were there, but added to that was a gentle earthiness. Like the scent transitioned to velvetine moss in my nose.

The liquor brewed up yellow gold with an aroma that hit me on first pour. Stone fruit fragrance wafted from the cup almost immediately. Both welcoming and surprising. White teas were supposed to be subtle; this wasn’t. The taste echoed that lack of subtlety with a flower-shaped-battering-ram flavor. It introduced itself with great fanfare on first sip. The intro was floral, slightly herbaceous, but then the fruit lean pushed its way through the crowd of nuances, and stayed ’til the aftertaste cued in.

Having finally experienced the enigmatic flavor nuances of Arunachal Pradesh, I’m itching to explore the region further. Time will likely provide me with such opportunities, but whatever those gardens are doing, they can keep on doing it. I’ve noticed that the Indian northeastern states have the most flavorful terroirs in the country.

Perhaps it has something to do with old growth tea tree forests along the borders?

I dunno . . . that’s another mystery for another time.

To buy the Donyi Polo black tea, go HERE.

To by the Mouling white tea, go HERE.

What the Heicha?! A Shou “Puerh” from Fujian?

Back in the spring of 2017, tea afficianado Nicky “Steady Hand Tea” Evers passed on a unique specimen.

A Wuyi oolong from 2005 that was wet-piled, dried … and stored in Taiwan. It fell into no discernible category. The taste was “like” a Hunan heicha … with notes of cliff side roast. I compared it to any ol’ dark tea being rubbed against a muddy, burnt cliff face, or jujubes that were sent to solitary confinement… then roasted on a spit. They died for my sins. Short version: it was interesting.

And as I’m wont to do after trying something far removed from any palatial paradigm, I began to wonder: were there other Fujian province-borne heichas out there. The only heicha or puerh-“like” things I’d encountered from that province were white tea cakes. Sure, those were good, but they weren’t dark tea. Or at least, per the definition I’ve come to adopt. (For now.)

Then I ran across . . . this . . .

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White Teas from Vietnam

In the fall of 2015, I found myself reading a tea blog (instead of writing one). Fellow tea geek Amanda Freeman used to keep one of the more prolific tea blogs in the community, and—at times—I suffered from a bit of professional jealousy. Often, she’d run into weird and strange teas before I did. And on this particular day, she wrote about this:

Photo by Amanda Freeman. Used with permission.

A white tea from Vietnam.

My jaw dropped and I salivated. So much so, that I contacted the vendor—What-Cha Tea—and begged for a sample myself. In typical fashion, I didn’t “punctually” drink it until . . . February. I remember it being a beautiful looking white made from exquisitely cultivated tea leaf buds, and the taste resembled nothing I had tried before; white or otherwise.

So, why haven’t I talked about it until now?

Good question.

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A Mabian, Sichuan Tea Flight

This may come as a surprise (to no one), but I’m a bit of a lurker in the tea community.

Various social media groups exist celebrating our beloved beverage and the many facets therein. On Facebook alone, I keep a keen eye out for interesting posts by some members of these groups. Particularly if someone runs into something new or weird—y’know, my basic tea blog mission statement.  And on one such day, several months back, I ran into a photograph posted by West China Tea/Guan Yin Tea House’s purveyor, So Han Fan.

Image owned by So Han Fan.

A white tea grown and processed in Sichuan province, China.

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A Series of Single Origin Tea Sonnets

In the Spring of 2017, I met this eccentric chap.

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Rethinking Tea Categories

Editor’s Note: This is merely a thought exercise by the author. The opinions reflected in the below narrative do not reflect the opinions of the teaware on staff . . . or this editor, for that matter.

Seriously, I just work here, guys.

A thought occurred to me over the years. No one has come to a clear consensus as to what the proper tea categories are. The general consensus is that there are six: Heicha (Dark Tea), Hong Cha (Black/Red Tea), Wulong, Green Tea, Yellow Tea, and White Tea. However, some say that yellow tea isn’t its own category (even though it clearly is). Others champion the stance that dark tea shouldn’t include sheng (raw) puerh. Others still believe puerh should be its own category. Hell, even some international trade laws only recognize two tea categories.

So, this got me thinking . . .

If I were the end-all/say-all authority on tea lexicography, how would I divvy up the different tea types? What would my breakdown look like? Well, in order to answer that question, I must breakdown (and in some cases, outright destroy) existing trends. This might over-complicate the issue, and over-simplify other things. But this is my write-up . . . and I’ll do what I want. So, here we go:

*dons helmet*

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I “Heart” Doke

I “heart” the Doke tea estate.

Photo by Rajiv Lochan.

No, I’m not ashamed to use the word “heart” instead of “love”. Especially today. Okay, I winced a tiny bit at the grammatical incorrectness of it (and the cutesiness of it) . . . but the sentiment still stands. And, given when this blog is going up, the cutesy incorrectness is fitting.

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All Four Doke First Flush Teas In One Day

Begin Doke Diary transmission.

I’ve already written about the Doke tea estate in Bihar, India on several occasions. Everyone who reads this blog already knows my leanings toward it. That being, it’s my absolute favorite Indian tea garden. Yes, in all of India.

Photo by Rachiv Lochan.

Photo by Rachiv Lochan.

But out of the countless tea profiles, taster notes, and lapses in narrative judgment, there is one thing I haven’t done. I haven’t had the opportunity to try all four of Doke’s teas from one season, in one year, in one day. That is, until Lochan Tea supplied me with such an opportunity.

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A Kickstarted Kumaon White Tea Story

A little over a year ago I made the acquaintance of Raj Vable of Young Mountain Tea.

Raj

We met up for lattes at Tea Bar PDX (where the above picture was taken), and he passed some samples on to me. Including an interesting Nilgiri black tea that I took a liking to. But that wasn’t the only reason for his visit. He was also starting up a rather ambitious Kickstarter campaign, and he wanted some help spreading the word.

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Darjeeling Fit for an Emperor

NaNoTeaMo, Day 16: “Darjeeling Tea Fit for an Emperor”

The Singbulli tea estate has a very old history, like a lot of such Darjeeling gardens. It was established in 1924 by British planters, and then was taken over in 2003 by Jayshree Tea and Industries. The garden resides near the town of Mirik, and teas from there are certified organic.

The name “Singbulli” means “home of the birds”, but when I first heard the name several years ago, I immediately pictured this.

singing bull

But let’s stay focused here.

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