Welcome to the August 2019 edition of the Curious Tea subscription! Here’s a closer look at the four exciting new teas that we are sharing with our subscribers this month.
The first light tea this month is a lightly oxidised floral and vegetal Bao Zhong Oolong from Taiwan. The second light tea is a fine Chinese green tea, Tun Xi Lu Cha, that has a wonderfully smooth and satisfying profile.
For the dark side of the selection we have a stunning handmade Latumoni Royal Gold, a Second Flush Assam with a traditional malty character and a very refined flavour. Finally, the last tea we are featuring this month is an easy-going Mount Kenya Black, a BOP grade tea with a very classic black tea profile.
- Light: Bao Zhong Oolong and Tun Xi Lu Cha;
- Dark: Assam Latumoni Royal Gold and Mount Kenya Black;
- Mixed: Bao Zhong Oolong and Assam Latumoni Royal Gold.
Let’s get into further detail on the products featured in our August tea subscription boxes.
Bao Zhong Oolong
Bao Zhong Oolong (包種烏龍茶) is a lightly oxidised green oolong. Produced in Mingjian Township of Nantou County it is made from the popular Four Seasons Si Ji Chun (四季春) cultivar. The leaves are ever so lightly rolled and undergo around 10% oxidation. This oolong has a great balance of light vegetal and floral flavours, producing a smooth and satisfying liquor. This batch is from April 2018 harvest.
This tea is akin to our popular award-winning Wen Shan Bao Zhong. The main differences lie in the fact that this Bao Zhong Oolong is produced from Four Seasons cultivar and is grown in Nantou. By comparison our Wen Shan tea comes from the famous Wen Shan tea growing area and is made from a Qing Xin ‘Green Heart’ (青心) cultivar. The tea from Wen Shan is the definitive version of how a Bao Zhong tea should be like, combining the best terroir, cultivar and hand processing. This Bao Zhong Oolong from Nantou emulates the style and flavours of the famous Bao Zhong teas well, providing an interesting comparison as well as a great value introduction to this type of light oolong.
The name of this Bao Zhong Oolong translates from Chinese as ‘wrapped kind’ and derives from the old practise of wrapping tea leaves into paper during processing. Although this is no longer the case, the name has been preserved. Instead the Bao Zhong name is used to describe a particular style of Taiwanese oolong that is very lightly oxidised and consists of non-rolled leaves. The English name that is also commonly used for Bao Zhong oolong is pouchong.
The dry leaves of this Bao Zhong Oolong have a floral aroma, are of mixed green colour, and are very lightly rolled. These were picked mechanically, something that can be seen from the uneven nature of the leaves. However this unevenness does not tarnish the quality of flavour. The bright, light yellow liquor that is produced has a pleasant floral aroma. The Four Seasons cultivar is evident in the tasting notes, with vegetal and floral notes dominating the flavours. There are some light baked creamy notes that make us think of a baked floral custard. The character is refreshing, with clean floral and herbaceous notes and a lasting green and lightly tangy aftertaste. This is a very smooth and light tea that is soft and delicate. A perfect everyday Bao Zhong Oolong with broad appeal!
It is best brewed at 90°C for 3-4 minutes, brewing multiple times according to your taste
You can also buy Bao Zhong Oolong tea in our online shop.
Tun Xi Lu Cha
Tun Xi Lu Cha (屯溪绿茶) is a premium green tea from the south-eastern part of Anhui Province in China. Grown around Tunxi District of Huangshan City, the location borders the famous Huangshan ‘Yellow Mountain’ (黄山市) mountain range. It is a highly regarded green tea that is mentioned in many lists of the Famous Teas of China. Carefully processed from young tender spring leaves picked in early April 2019.
The name of this Tun Xi Lu Cha comes from the origin place name of this tea (Tunxi District – 屯溪区) and the descriptive addition of the fact that it is a green tea (Lu Cha – 绿茶). We prefer the full Tun Xi Lu Cha name but with passing of time this full name has been condensed into ‘Tunlu’ or ‘Tunlv’ (Tunlü), a name that is often used to refer to this specific green tea. Interestingly, the english term twankey or twankay that was used to refer to green tea, often of inferior quality, originated from the Tunxi name. And yes, Widow Twankey of the Aladdin pantomime fame does get her name from the reference to a cheap green tea that is past its best! ‘Twankey’ most likely comes from the cantonese pronunciation of this place – ‘Tuen Kai’. Of course, like many historic tea terms, the twankey terminology is somewhat outdated now, so we shall stick to the correct Chinese Tun Xi Lu Cha as the proper name for this tea.
Tun Xi Lu Cha green tea has some similarities to the famous Huang Shan Mao Feng green tea in terms of flavour profile. However these are rather different in appearance with the leaves of Tun Xi Lu Cha, being a little more fully developed. While still consisting of tips and small leaves, the slightly later harvest of the more developed leaves leads to a more pronounced flavour. This tea sits somewhere in between our Huang Shan Mao Feng and Huang Shan Yun Wu in flavour intensity with Mao Feng being most delicate and Yun Wu being the strongest. This does mean that this Tun Xi Lu Cha has a very balanced flavour and an approachable character.
Unlike many other Chinese green teas, Tun Xi Lu Cha green tea comes in leaves that are very slightly rolled. Not quite as much as a rolled oolong but closer to some Bi Luo Chun teas in appearance. When brewed, the dry leaves unfurl and you can see attractive small leaves and buds in your brewing vessel. These produce a light green-yellow liquor with a vegetal and floral aroma. The very smooth taste is brisk and a touch drying. The notes are predominantly vegetal (think courgettes and asparagus), with herbaceous, green floral and lightly metallic notes. The aftertaste is tangy and refreshing. There is a touch of tannic dryness at the end of the taste, however this does not translate into any real bitterness, astringency or harshness. Overall this is a very balanced, smooth and approachable green tea that is not overcomplicated by various distinctive and domineering flavours.
This green tea is best brewed at 80°C for 2-3 minutes according to your taste and can be brewed more than 3 times, increasing steeping time with each next brew if desired.
You can also buy Tun Xi Lu Cha green tea in our online shop.
Assam Latumoni Royal Gold
Assam Latumoni Royal Gold is a very fine completely handmade Second Flush Assam from Latumoni, a very small family-run plantation located in Tingkhong, Upper Assam. The careful hand processing in small individual batches results in stunning looking leaves and a rich yet mellow liquor. This tea was harvested in late May 2019 from plants grown naturally and without use of chemical fertilisers or pesticides.
The small privately-run plantation only measures approximately 2 acres. It was planted by Sailen and his late father. Originally the leaves from this small plantation like those of many others were bought by the larger factories of Assam to increase their capacity. However with large corporate gardens having full control over the purchasing of the leaves from small scale farmers and little competition this has lead to a significant decrease in the price offered to the farmers. This essentially has created a situation where the small scale farmers were exploited by the large corporate estates. Sailen decided to change the way he was running the plantation, to switch to organic growing methods and to start producing his own artisanal teas.
We work together with a specialist wholesaler in Assam who only works with small scale farmers like Sailen. They do not just resell the farmers’ teas but also provide support and financial help to small scale farmers to enable them to produce great quality tea – such as investing into machinery and providing them with knowhow. This guarantees small scale farmers like Sailen a fair price for their tea and provides investment into their farm to support their family’s future. This is in complete contrast with teas from many large Assam estates where most of the price paid for the tea ends up with the estate and little trickles down to the farmers.
This Assam Latumoni Royal Gold is a Second Flush Assam, having been picked in late May. Generally this is the most prized picking for the Assam region as the trees are in full power, producing leaves that make a tea with a strong pronounced Assam flavour. The leaves of this tea are carefully handpicked from demarcated sections of the plantation over a 3-5 day picking period. This means that each batch of this tea tastes different to the next (this is batch #002). After picking the leaves are hand-rolled in small batches to avoid breakage and to preserve unique flavour profiles of each picking.
The dry leaves of Assam Latumoni Royal Gold have a very appealing black and gold appearance with a typical Assam malty aroma. When leaves are brewed it is possible to see that they are very neat, consisting or smaller leaves and buds. The tippy nature of this tea leads to a very refined flavour. It is unmistakably Assam in character but so much smoother and not overladen with tannins! The taste is full, bright and brisk with a typical satisfying Assam malty character. There are notes of dried fruits and a mouthwatering tangy aftertaste that is not drying or bitter. There is a very pleasant molasses sweetness running throughout the taste. This tea has all the best flavour qualities of a top grade Assam but is balanced and smooth rather than bold and astringent.
We suggest brewing at 90°C for 3-5 minutes according to your taste. It can be brewed a couple of times depending on your taste preferences. Definitely try this one without addition of milk or sugar.
You can also buy Assam Latumoni Royal Gold black tea in our online shop.
Mount Kenya Black
Mount Kenya Black is an approachable tea with a classic black tea profile. It is grown on a small scale farm at the foot of Mount Kenya in Nyeri County at an altitude of approximately 2,000m. The smaller, finer leaves produce a flavoursome liquor with an easy-going and smooth character. This tea is from summer 2019 harvest.
We source Mount Kenya Black from a specialist wholesaler who works directly with small scale farmers in Kenya. Like our Kenyan Tumoi teas, these are sourced by the wholesaler directly from the farmers, thus guaranteeing them a fair price for their processed tea.
A large proportion of tea plantations in Kenya are owned by multinational corporations, with many plantations buying fresh tea leaves from small scale farmers. Large plantations largely produce CTC tea destined for tea bags, blends and extracts. This mass produced tea is traded at the Mombasa auction, where the price is dictated by worldwide market conditions, much like for any other traded commodity. On average, tea workers in Kenya are paid under $5 for picking 35-45 kilograms of fresh leaves a day. Small scale farmers are very much at the mercy of the big plantations as to the price they are paid for their fresh tea leaves.
As a possible way out of this situation, some farmers in Kenya, just like in India and other countries, are switching to processing their own higher quality orthodox tea. This does mean that they are required to invest in their own machinery and equipment. Although sometimes they also have access to cooperative processing equipment that they can use to process their own teas. Our Kenyan wholesaler works directly with such small scale farmers and cooperatives, creating a platform for their products and supporting their efforts.
Mount Kenya Black is a BOP (broken orange pekoe) grade tea, having a smaller broken leaf. This does mean that the liquor produced is both stronger and bolder in flavour while also being more versatile. The flavour produced is a very classic black tea profile, akin to a good quality English Breakfast blend. The taste is smooth, with notes of stewed fruits. There is no bitterness but there are pleasant tannins evident in the taste. The aftertaste is long-lasting, mineral and stony.
It is best brewed at 90°C for 3-4 minutes. You can also brew this tea stronger by steeping it longer and using higher temperature water. In such cases it will take well to the addition of a drop of milk.
You can also buy Mount Kenya Black tea in our online shop.
We really do hope that you enjoy the tea selection for August and are looking forward to the selection in our next box! Our September box will feature a White Monkey green tea from China, a rare Tenryu Sencha from Japan, an unusual artisanal First Flush Darjeeling and a classic Chinese Golden Monkey black tea!
If reading this has made you curious about our teas, but you don’t yet subscribe to a monthly tea selection, you can sign up for our tea boxes in just a few clicks. We ship worldwide from London, UK.
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Happy tea discoveries!