Welcome to the October 2017 edition of tea subscription! As usual we have four interesting new teas to share with our subscribers this month.
The first light tea this October is Jade Oolong from central Taiwan, which has a wonderful balance of buttery and floral flavours. The second light tea is Ariake Fukamushi Sencha from Japan; a very fine speciality tea from Kagoshima with heightened sweetness. For the darker teas this time, we opted for the ancient and interesting Dian Hong De Hong Ye Sheng, a wonderfully fruity black tea. And finally we have Bolaven Nang Bua Saa Dam from the Bolaven plateau of southern Laos, a very different sort of black tea from a rather unknown region that has more in common with a young pu-erh.
- Light: Jade Oolong and Ariake Fukamushi Sencha;
- Dark: Dian Hong De Hong Ye Sheng and Bolaven Nang Bua Saa Dam;
- Mixed: Jade Oolong and Dian Hong De Hong Ye Sheng.
Following is some further information on all teas featured in our October tea subscription boxes.
Jade Oolong (翠玉烏龍茶) is a fine light oolong grown in Mingjian Township in Nantou County of central Taiwan, picked in spring 2017. This tea has a wonderful profile that has the best of both worlds when it comes to great Taiwanese oolong tea flavours – it showcases a lovely light floral character while having a somewhat creamy and buttery profile. If you can’t decide between our creamy Milk Oolong and our floral Four Seasons Oolong, this is the perfect tea for you!
Unfortunately, Jade Oolong has become somewhat of a generic term for light green oolongs from Taiwan, so you will often see Jade Oolong being marketed without any reference to cultivars used in making it. Our Jade Oolong, however, is made only using plants of the Cui Yu “Green Jade” (翠玉) cultivar, also known as TRES #13. Arguably this is the only cultivar that should be used in a Jade Oolong tea.
Cui Yu cultivar was created in 1981 by the Tea Research and Extension Station of Taiwan (TRES) at the same time as the famous Jin Xuan TRES #12 cultivar that is used to make the very popular Milk Oolong. Both of these cultivars were well received and are credited with the revival and subsequent rise in popularity of Taiwanese oolong tea in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Unlike the Jin Xuan cultivar with its unique milky flavours and a strong consumer following and demand, Cui Yu has been recently losing popularity amongst farmers. As Cui Yu is not as easy to care for and grow for the farmers, it is being surpassed by plants of other cultivars, most notably the much hardier Si Ji Chun ‘Four Seasons’ (四季春). While Si Ji Chun may be more exuberantly floral in taste for consumers and easier to grow for farmers, it does lack some of the refinement and balance of flavours that can be found in a great Jade Oolong from a Cui Yu cultivar plants.
Our Jade Oolong works really great as an everyday tea. It comes from an experienced grower of Cui Yu, who has a deep understanding of the plant that can be appreciated in the aroma and taste of this lovely Jade Oolong. It is a low oxidized tea that is lightly baked which help keeps the fresh floral aroma and buttery scent.
The leaves of this Jade Oolong are small rolled green pearls that have a light floral fragrance of red berries. The liquor is a light yellow green and clear with a gentle but pronounced floral aroma. The balanced flavour lacks any harshness, being clean and crisp. A pleasant buttery, creamy start is followed by a deeper floral and nutty taste, which is silky smooth. There is a bit of fresh tartness of red berries on the finish. Overall a great light oolong that is both creamy and floral – a fantastic showcase for the Cui Yu cultivar.
It is best brewed at 90°C for 3-4 minutes and should definitely be brewed multiple times to enjoy the different flavours from each brew.
You can also buy Jade Oolong tea in our online shop.
Ariake Fukamushi Sencha
Ariake Fukamushi Sencha is a refreshing speciality green tea from Japan. It comes from the Kagoshima prefecture, which is on Kyushu Island, the southwesternmost of Japan’s main islands. The name ‘Ariake’ refers to the former town of Ariake (有明町, Ariake-chō) that has been absorbed in Shibushi city, but the name still refers to tea grown around this area. This tea is from the summer 2017 crop.
This Ariake Fukamushi Sencha, like most of Japanese green teas, is steamed rather than pan roasted. However it is rather more special as it undergoes a lengthier steaming processes, referred to as deep steaming. In Japanese, fukamushi (深蒸し) means ‘deep steamed’ as the tea is steamed for 1-2 minutes as opposed to the usual futsuumushi (普通蒸し) steaming, which is only 30 seconds to 1 minute. There is also an even lighter version that is called asamushi (浅蒸し) or ‘light steamed’ tea, which undergoes steaming for less than 30 seconds. Even though gyokuro, kabusecha and even bancha can be deep steamed, it is usually senchas that undergo such treatment. Therefore ‘fukamushicha’ will usually refer to a deep steamed sencha.
This longer steaming process makes quite a big difference to the flavour of the tea. It diminishes the astringency and increases sweetness, resulting in a good balance between the classic umami depth and a pleasing sweet aftertaste. The steaming process makes the tea leaves very soft, so during the next processing stage, which is rolling, the leaves and tips can often break. This results in variable leaf size, with many very small broken leaf fragments. It can appear like a low-quality sencha, but the reality is completely the opposite as it the result of the specialised deep steaming process.
When brewed, fukamushicha also has a stronger, more vibrant, green color, with a cloudy liquor and sediment visible. There are Japanese teapots specifically designed for brewing fukamushicha, which have a finer brewing mesh with a larger surface area so that it doesn’t get clogged with the fine tea particles. We recommend using a very fine mesh infuser if you have one. On the plus side, having fine particles in your tea can increase the health benefits, as you will be consuming more leaves (and their catechins, fibre, vitamins, and chlorophyll), very much akin to matcha drinking!
Ariake Fukamushi Sencha has aromatic dark green leaves that produce a cloudy but vibrantly bright green liquor. It has a typical savoury and vegetal green sencha aroma. The taste is surprisingly delicate, reminiscent of fresh green vegetables. The profile has a mild umami and savoury body, yet is refreshing and has a pronounced sweetness on the aftertaste. Compared to other senchas, the deep steaming results in greatly reduced astringency, making this an easy drink – the brisk flavour and vegetal umami notes give way to a pleasantly sweet, smooth aftertaste.
We highly suggest brewing at 70°C (not to burn or damage the delicate leaves) for just 1 minute. It can be brewed at least 3 times.
You can buy Ariake Fukamushi Sencha green tea in our online shop.
Dian Hong De Hong Ye Sheng
Dian Hong De Hong Ye Sheng (滇紅德宏野生) is a complex and rare black tea that grows wild in the mountainous forests of Yunnan near the border with Burma. It is made from a wild purple leaf varietal that is locally known as ‘Ye Sheng’ (野生) that grows at an altitude of 1,600-2,200 metres. This wild purple leaf varietal is normally recognised as Camellia sinensis var. dehungensis and is considered to be the ‘original’ purple tea. It is thought that this plant predates other modern cultivars of tea, including Camellia sinensis var. assamica that is a common varietal throughout Yunnan and bordering regions.
Normally this tea cultivar is used for making a type of raw pu-erh, however the nature of the varietal means that the resulting tea is very bitter and unappealing when young. However this type of ‘Ye Sheng’ pu-erh does age very well, developing complexity and becoming less bitter with time. Recently this cultivar has also been used to make some black teas, of which this one is a fantastic example.
‘Ye Sheng’ purple leaf cultivar should be distinguished from the two other purple leaf cultivars that exist throughout Yunnan Province. ‘Zi Cha’ (紫茶) is a naturally occurring mutated purple leaf version of Camellia sinensis var. assamica and accounts for only about 1-2% of cultivated assamica tea plants in the region. ‘Zi Juan’ (紫娟) is an even more uncommon cultivar that was developed in Yunnan in the late 1990’s. If you are interested in comparing this Dian Hong De Hong Ye Sheng purple leaf black tea with one from a ‘Zi Cha’ cultivar, we offer our Dian Hong Jing Mai Purple Needle black tea that is made from tea plants of a ‘Zi Cha’ purple leaf cultivar.
This Dian Hong De Hong Ye Sheng black tea, picked in spring 2017, has medium to large twisted and wiry dark leaves with a lovely aroma of sugared plums. When brewed this tea produces an amber liquor with a faint sweet and fruity aroma. The taste is smooth, light yet complex. The flavour is a little malty, but mostly fruity with dark red fruits, plums and prunes being the dominant flavours. There are cereal undertones of wheat and a tangy, a little spicy, yet sweet finish. Overall a rather light tasting tea that still has easily appreciable complex flavours.
We suggest brewing at 90°C for 3-4 minutes according to your taste. It can be brewed around 3 times depending on your taste preferences.
You can also buy Dian Hong De Hong Ye Sheng black tea in our online shop.
Bolaven Nang Bua Saa Dam
Bolaven Nang Bua Saa Dam is a black tea from Laos, a country that is not widely known for producing tea. This tea comes from small tea garden of Mrs (Nang) Bua Li Lam. Saa Dam means ‘black tea’ in Lao. This tea is grown on Bolaven plateau, which is a remnant of an extinct volcano, making the land very fertile and lush year round. This tea is picked by the farmer to order and is from the 2017 crop.
Although Laos is not well known for its tea, there is some belief that the camellia sinensis tea plant originated in the larger area covering southern Yunnan, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar. There are many ancient trees scattered around the wild forests of these countries. Some of the oldest living specimens of the Assamica varietal, which is also known as the big leaf (大葉) varietal in China, are found in the region. Unlike the Chinese, who have created a wide range of tea varieties, and the Thai and Burmese who use the plant in cooking, the Lao people have not developed the usage of the leaf. The main local crop is coffee, but recently tea is starting to be grown commercially but still in small quantities. A lot of the tea leaves that are picked in Laos end up in Yunnan Province of China where unscrupulous tea makers and sellers pass it off as the more expensive and rare local pu-erhs. This passing off of ‘cheap’ Lao tea as ‘expensive’ Yunnan pu-erh is enabling local Lao farmers to realise that there is great future potential in Lao tea.
The tea plants that are found in Mrs Bua Li Lam’s garden are direct descendants of trees that were planted by the French in the 1930’s, when Laos was still part of Indochina. Wild (shan) trees were taken from northern Laos and planted down in the more fertile Bolaven Plateau, yet still around 1,000 metres in altitude. Mrs Bua Li Lam’s trees, which number only about 70, grow semi-wild in her back yard and were inherited from her mother. Some of the trees are over 15 metres tall and she only harvests them if there are orders for tea. They grow without fertilisers or pesticides, the use of which would actually be a waste of money, since the tea trees are very well acclimatised, and are very robust plants.
The Bolaven Nang Bua Saa Dam black tea itself is slightly fermented, and is somewhat similar to a raw pu-erh. After picking, the leaves are dried on a very large metal table that is heated underneath by an open fire that is fuelled by coals made from logs from the local forest. This is akin to drying tea leaves in a wok, a practise that is common in this region. After the initial drying, the leaves are left in a steaming pile on the drying table as there is still some moisture remaining in them. The leaves cool for a couple of hours, after which Mrs Bua Li Lam comes back to fry them for the last time to remove any remaining moisture and to finish the tea.
This Bolaven Nang Bua Saa Dam has large dark twisted leaves. When brewed it produces a deep amber liquor, with a hearty warm, corn-like nutty aroma. There is also a pleasant hint of tobacco present. The flavour is slightly drying, with slightly smoky notes, later becoming greener and floral, akin to fresh fruits and dandelions. There is no maltiness, which is slightly unusual for a black tea from this part of the world. It has a definite wild taste, similar to a young pu-erh, which becomes more floral with further infusions.
This tea is best brewed with water at 90°C for 3-4 minutes and should be brewed multiple times.
You can also buy Bolaven Nang Bua Saa Dam black tea in our online shop.
We really do hope that you enjoy the tea selection for October and are looking forward to the next installment for November!
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Happy tea discoveries!