Welcome to the August 2021 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 classic Japanese sencha from an organic plantation in Kirishima that has a smooth grassy and vegetal flavour.
The second light tea is a complex Xue Ya Snow Bud white tea from Guangxi Province of China that has a clean herbaceous flavour and a refreshing taste.
For the dark side of the selection we have a handmade Ceylon Glenwood Reserve, a tea that is inspired by Chinese black tea processing and flavour profiles.
Finally, the last tea we are featuring this month is a supreme Darjeeling Moondrop First Pick from Gopaldhara Tea Estate, representing the very first harvest of the spring season.
Let’s get into further detail on these teas featured in our August tea subscription boxes.
Kirishima Sencha (霧島煎茶) is a classic Japanese green tea that is grown in Kirishima, Kagoshima Prefecture. Made from Yabukita (やぶきた) cultivar plants, it produces a grassy liquor with smooth vegetal flavours and slight savoury edge. This tea is grown at an organic plantation that has full organic certification by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. We source this tea directly from the owner of the plantation. He is the owner of a small family-run business based in Shizuoka and Tokyo with over 60 years of history. They own small plantations in Kagoshima, Aichi and Kyoto Prefectures where they produce organic and traditional Japanese green teas. This particular tea comes from their small organic plantation in Kirishima pictured below and it was picked and processed in May 2021.
The organic plantation that this tea comes from is located in the foothills of Mount Kirishima in Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyūshū. It is grown at an altitude of around 400m above sea level. As Kyūshū is the most southwesterly island of the Japanese four main islands, it enjoys a rather mild climate. But it can still get cold in the highlands, which are covered in snow in the winter months. The seasonality of the region requires frost hardy cultivars to be used, which tend to grow leaves slower, resulting in more flavoursome teas.
This Kirishima Sencha is made from the leaves of Yabukita cultivar plants. This cultivar is the most popular and widespread tea plant in Japan and Yabukita plants cover about 75% of Japanese tea fields. It was developed by a tea breeder from Shizuoka in the early 1900’s called Hikosaburo Sugiyama, but it was officially registered only in 1956. The well-performing Yabukita plants quickly proved popular due to their hardiness, ease of cultivation and tea flavours; with time becoming the mainstay of Japanese green tea production. One of the main factors for the popularity of the Yabukita cultivar has been the flavours that they are known for. These plants produce teas with typical savoury and umami grassy flavours and strong aromas that are particularly sought after in Japanese green teas.
When brewed, Kirishima Sencha produces a bright emerald green liquor with a light grassy and slightly nutty aroma. The overall grassy profile has a smooth vegetal flavour with sweet buttery notes. The overall level of astringency is low but there is a hint of nori seaweed and a mild umami flavour, which leads into a long aftertaste with a savoury edge. The overall smooth flavour leaves a lasting, yet refreshing impression.
It is best brewed at 80°C for 1-2 minutes and can be brewed 2+ times depending on your taste preferences. Kirishima Sencha is quite a versatile tea and the flavour can be easily adapted to suit the drinker’s preferences by changing the water temperature. Lower water temperatures will result in a more mellow and sweet tasting liquor. If you prefer a stronger flavour, you can experiment with slowly increasing the water temperature used to brew it.
You can also buy Kirishima Sencha green tea in our online shop.
Xue Ya Guangxi Snow Bud
Xue Ya Guangxi Snow Bud (广西雪芽) is a complex and flavoursome white tea. It is grown in Baise, Guangxi Province, utilising plants specifically used for white tea production that originate in the famous Fuding tea growing area of Fujian Province. The small silver leaves produce a herbaceous liquor with a buttery and savoury flavour. This particular tea is grown to organic standards and is an early spring First Flush pre-Qing Ming harvest from 6 March 2021.
The Xue Ya name, which literally means Snow Bud, comes from the appearance of the silver buds when plucked – they look as if covered by snow. There is plenty of this silvery, downy ‘fur’ on the dried leaves of this tea, signifying it is made from fine tips. When the leaves are brewed and unfurled, it is possible to see that they are mostly represented by smaller buds. The use of such small, young leaves that are still covered in silvery ‘fur’ results in a very fine yet complex taste.
Guangxi Province is not particularly famous for growing white tea, but some farmers have brought plants from Fujian and planted them for white tea production here. Similar to our Yin Zhen Guangxi Silver Needle, the cultivar utilised is the famous Fuding Da Bai (福鼎大白 – Fuding Large White). This cultivar is used in Fujian to produce our Xue Ya Snow Bud. However with the change of terrior comes a change in flavour. While white teas tend to be more delicate, having a very light profile, the Xue Ya style generally has a more complex and robust flavour. This Guangxi Xue Ya also delivers a more robust version of a white tea, however we think it is a little better balanced with more interesting and unusual flavours when compared to the Fuding version.
Xue Ya Guangxi Snow Bud is made up of small very neat buds. When brewed, it produces a clear and bright liquor with a pale jade colour and a herbaceous aroma that has verdant hints of parsley and smoked butter. The herbaceous profile has a complex and refreshing taste. The initial flavour starts with savoury notes of toasted nori seaweed, salted plums and a hint of peachy fruitiness. These flavours then give way to clean verdant notes of buttered parsley. The buttery aspect is reflected particularly well on the mouthfeel. The finish is clean, with a lasting warming and comforting sensation.
This tea is best brewed at 80°C for 3-4 minutes according to your taste, brewing multiple times. Like with all white teas, you can experiment with both low temperature and long steeping time as well as high temperature and short steeping time as an alternative way of brewing.
You can also buy Xue Ya Guangxi Snow Bud white tea in our online shop.
Ceylon Glenwood Reserve
Ceylon Glenwood Reserve is a highly unusual black tea made by a small factory specialising in artisanal handmade teas. The factory is located in Rikillagaskada in Central Province, however the leaves for this tea are sourced from the historic Loolecondera Tea Plantation, situated a short distance away in Kandy District. This plantation produces medium-grown tea, with an elevation of around 1,200m. Picked from old sinensis bushes by hand at the plantation, it is then carefully hand-processed at the artisanal factory. This tea is inspired by Chinese black tea and as such delivers both an exciting and unusual flavour profile, while also representing some classic Ceylon flavours. This lot is from the Spring 2021 harvest.
Glenwood Reserve is a small artisanal factory run by two brothers with a background and passion for Chinese tea. They work with local producers to source the best raw material to turn it into something special and unique. The raw material for this tea comes from the Loolecondera Tea Plantation, the first commercial tea plantation in Sri Lanka. It is considered to be the birthplace of Ceylon tea as it is the location where James Taylor first successfully planted and produced tea in Sri Lanka. The old bush material translates into a complex flavour, and combined with careful processing, the results are superb.
The tea farmers in Sri Lanka have had a difficult recent past, with the government encouraging more farmers to switch to CTC (crush, tear, curl) methods of tea production in the 1990’s, trying to capture the huge CTC market. CTC tea is normally used to fill tea bags, so the move was away from quality and onto quantity. This switch from orthodox methods was a big failure as Sri Lankan teas could not compete with cheaper CTC teas from other large and the then up-and-coming CTC tea growing countries, such as India, Kenya and Malawi. This move also damaged the reputation and quality of Sri Lankan tea, resulting in many farmers choosing to eventually abandon CTC production in favour of orthodox methods of tea production. Now Sri Lanka is rightly regaining its status as a major exporter of high quality orthodox teas and there are more and more interesting and exciting producers of these quality Ceylon teas. Still such productions are very small and limited, with this Ceylon Glenwood Reserve being one of the best current examples.
The leaves of our Ceylon Glenwood Reserve are dark, large and are twisted in shape. It produces a dark amber liquor with a fruity and malty aroma. The soft flavour has no astringency and has a similar quality to a fruity Dian Hong or a malty Keemun. The smooth fruity flavour has notes of cooked plums and a floral honey aftertaste that is definitely inspired by teas from China. At the same time there is a great mineral aspect, malty notes of molasses and a hint of tannins and light wood that is definitely pointing towards the Ceylon heritage of this tea. The aftertaste is clean and lasting, with more of the floral honey notes coming through. This is an excellent tea, and most unusual for a Ceylon. It is bound to appeal to lovers of both Ceylon and Chinese quality black tea!
It is best brewed with water at 90°C for 3-4 minutes and the leaves can be brewed around 2+ times. While traditionally Sri Lankan teas are most suited to western-style of brewing, this tea works exceptionally well for gong fu brewing, using similar brewing parameters to Chinese black tea.
You can also buy Ceylon Glenwood Reserve black tea in our online shop.
Darjeeling Gopaldhara Moondrop First Pick
Darjeeling Gopaldhara Moondrop First Pick 2021 is a fine First Flush tea from Gopaldhara Tea Estate. This is a rare opportunity to try the very first pick of the season. Consisting solely of carefully hand-processed fine young leaves and buds of select clonal plants, this tea is lightly oxidised to produce a bright floral liquor with smooth and soft flavours. Grown at higher garden elevations between 1,700 and 2,100m, this lot is a ‘FTGFOP1 Moondrops’ pick from the March 2021 harvest.
Like all our Gopaldhara teas, we source this tea directly from Rishi Saria, the owner and director of Gopaldhara and Rohini Tea Estates. Gopaldhara Tea Estate is nestled in the Mirik Valley, in the Himalayan foothills, and is one of the highest tea estates in Darjeeling with elevations of up to 2,100m. It is renowned for producing teas of exceptional quality and very often quite unusual character. The estate is also known for innovation, with new types of tea that utilise new and traditional production methods being developed every season.
First Flush Darjeeling tea is particularly prized, however the First Flush moniker does encompass a longer growing season during which the plants undergo a number of rounds of leaf picking. For example the classic Gopaldhara First Flush is generally picked much later in late March and April. This Gopaldhara Moondrop is the very first pick of the season, a period during which the leaf growth is slow. The slow growth of the leaves results in a higher concentration of nutrients after the long winter hibernation, itself translating into unique flavours and charm of the finished tea. It is made from the young leaves and tips that are plucked whole by hand from the best specially selected clones. The leaves are then delicately processed by hand to retain the full leaf. The natural light oxidation strikes a good balance to both retain the fresh character as well as to bring out some more complex flavours.
This Darjeeling Gopaldhara Moondrop First Pick tea consists of neat, hand picked and hand processed tippy leaves that have undergone careful low oxidation. When brewed it produces a golden liquor with a bright floral profile. The flavours are complex, but somewhat bolder and closer to classic First Flush Darjeeling flavours when compared to the ‘Jethikupi’ First Pick from Rohini. The smooth and clean taste has floral, fruity and creamy notes with a touch of baked and mineral undertones. It has a wonderfully smooth and coating mouthfeel, something that can be attributed to the creamy and baked aspect of the tasting. The aftertaste has a nice degree of sweetness while delivering the classic Darjeeling mineral character. This is a fine, expertly-made Darjeeling that wonderfully highlights the difference between a refined First Pick and a more classic First Flush tea.
You can also buy Darjeeling Gopaldhara Moondrop First Pick black tea in our online shop. You may also be interested in our other 2021 harvest teas from Gopaldhara and Rohini Tea Estates, especially the First Pick ‘Jethikupi’ from Rohini.
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 be a Japanese special! It will feature two teas from the organic garden of Kajihara-san in Ashikita that are both made from the Koshun cultivar: a pan-fried Kamairicha green tea and a Wakocha black tea. Also featuring is a shaded Kabusecha green tea from Kagoshima made from the Asanoka cultivar and a Wakocha black tea from Fuji made from the Yumewakaba cultivar.
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Happy tea discoveries!