Welcome to the December 2020 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 smooth green tea from an unusual terroir: the Colombian Andes!
The second light tea is a characterful summer Daejak-grade green tea from Jirisan in South Korea.
For the dark side of the selection we have an Assam from Kathaldanga, a fine tippy tea that delivers classic Assam flavours and is completely handmade.
Finally, the last tea we are featuring this month is a highly oxidised Oolong made from the Jin Xuan cultivar grown in the highlands of Doi Mae Salong in northern Thailand.
Let’s get into further detail on the products featured in our December tea subscription boxes.
Bitaco Leafy Green
Bitaco Colombian Green is a most unusual tea. The country of origin, Colombia, is not really known to be a tea producing region. Colombian coffee is well known and regarded around the world but this unique tea is a perfect example of what can be achieved in terms of tea production in the mountainous regions of Colombia. This Bitaco Colombian Green tea is from the spring 2020 harvest.
Bitaco Colombian Green tea is grown near the town of La Cumbre, situated high up in the West Andes. The altitude of the tea plantation is between 1,800 and 2,050 metres, making the growing conditions perfect for high grade tea. The prevalent weather, consistent rainfall, rich soil and mountainous slopes all combine to make a perfect but unique terroir. The area is also remote and surrounded by unspoilt natural terrain. This tea is certified as organic under USDA, EU and Colombian regulations.
Bitaco Tea Estate is run by Agricola Himalayas S.A. and they have extensive social responsibility programmes run in the area. These focus especially on education of children in the local area but also provide extensive support for other rural projects. You can find some more information (in Spanish) as well as photographs of the plantation on their website.
Bitaco Colombian Green tea consists of quite large dark green leaves that are wiry and twisted. It produces a light yellow liquor with a slight floral aroma. The smooth flavours are quite multilayered with a good depth but minimal dryness and astringency. The classic vegetal green tea profile leads to a creamy and sweet mouthfeel with light floral and fennel notes. The vegetal aftertaste is clean and brisk.
We suggest brewing parameters of 80°C for 2-3 minutes according to your taste, brewing 3 or more times.
You can also buy Bitaco Leafy Green tea in our online shop.
Dong Cheon Daejak Nokcha
Dong Cheon Daejak Nokcha (동천 대작 녹차) is a lovely green tea from the Dong Cheon co-operative of farmers. A Daejak (대작) grade is plucked in summer and is the final flush of the season. It is also normally the flush when the largest leaves are plucked from the trees. While earlier flushes are more prized, they also attract very high prices due to small scale of tea production in the country. This Dong Cheon Daejak Nokcha green tea by contrast has a great balance between great quality, unusual character and a reasonable price. It has full organic certification and was picked in May 2020.
Although Korean teas may look similar green teas from other countries, their taste can be quite unusual due to quite different production methods. This particular tea is produced using the Jeong-cha production method where the freshly hand plucked leaves are plunged into near boiling water. After this hot bath they are shaped and dried in a hot iron cauldron until finished. The result carries a stronger, bolder and deeper flavour that is quite distinctive.
Dong Cheon Daejak Nokcha is a semi-wild green tea, which means that the trees are from an ancient cultivar from Hadong Province that used to grow wild. This cultivar is thought to have been brought from China by buddhist monks over 1,200 years ago and many temples around Jirisan (지리산) still grow their own tea. So the majority of tea from Hadong comes from the descendants of those original tea plants. Presently the tea plants of this ancient Hadong cultivar are normally planted by the farmers but are then basically left to grow on their own as they are grown organically without pesticides or herbicides.
The dry leaves of this Daejak tea are dark green and have a faint grassy and toasty aroma. The liquor is refreshing and has an aroma of toasted corn with a subtle grassy and sweet taste. The herbaceous profile has a vegetal flavour with some more roasted notes coming through that are reminiscent of toasted corn. The smooth taste has a creamy and sweet quality that leads to a pleasantly soft finish with minimal astringency or dryness.
It is best brewed at 70°C for 1 minute or less according to your taste. This tea should definitely be brewed multiple times to enjoy the different flavours from each brew.
You can also buy Dong Cheon Daejak Nokcha green tea in our online shop.
We have an extensive range of teas from Dong Cheon, so why not try our any of the three other teas that we offer: Sejak Hwangcha (second flush balhyocha) and Sejak Nokcha (second flush green), Jungjak Nokcha (third flush green).
Assam Kathaldanga Royal Gold
Assam Kathaldanga Royal Gold is a completely handmade Second Flush Assam from a very small family-run tea garden located in Kathaldanga Village on the north bank of the Brahmaputra River in Upper Assam. The careful hand picking and processing in small individual batches results in stunning looking leaves and a complex taste. This tea was harvested in late May 2020 from plants grown naturally and without use of chemical fertilisers or pesticides.
We work together with a specialist wholesaler in Assam who only works directly and supports small scale farmers. They do not just resell the farmers’ teas but also provide support and financial help to farmers to enable them to produce great quality tea – such as investing into machinery and providing them with knowhow. This guarantees the farmers a fair price for their tea and provides investment into their farm to support their families’ 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 Kathaldanga 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. This tea is particularly precious as it consists almost entirely of buds and small fine leaves. Compared to the sister productions from Latumoni or Koliapani, the Kathaldanga version is the tippiest of them all. The use of the smaller leaf results in tea that has an elevated degree of complexity.
The dry leaves of Assam Kathaldanga Royal Gold have a very appealing black and gold appearance with a typical Assam malty aroma. Brewed leaves open up nicely into choicest buds that produce a dark umber liquor. The robust flavour is unmistakably Assam in character. The flavours are clean with a malty and mineral profile. The complex notes start with sweet malty molasses, mineral leather and dark wood with light tobacco overtones. The tasting then progresses to a tangy aftertaste that is pleasantly tannic and dry with a lasting mouthwatering finish.
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 it first without the addition of milk or sugar. Nevertheless, due to the tannic aspect in this tea, it can take a splash of milk if you so desire.
Santikhiri Milk Ruby Oolong
Santikhiri Milk Ruby Oolong is a smooth, highly oxidised oolong that is produced from a Taiwanese Jin Xuan TRES #12 cultivar. This oolong comes from around Santikhiri village (formerly Mae Salong) located in Mae Fa Luang District around the highlands of Doi Mae Salong mountain, close to the border with Burma and Laos. Santikhiri Milk Ruby Oolong is an organic tea grown at an altitude of around 1,200-1,600 metres and this particular lot was plucked in Summer 2020. We source this tea directly from the owner of the plantation in Doi Mae Salong.
This Milk Ruby Oolong tea is made from a Taiwanese cultivar called Jin Xuan ‘Golden Daylily’ (金萱) or TRES #12, the number given to it by the Taiwan Research and Extension Station. Milk Oolong is also sometimes known as Nai Xiang (奶香) ‘Milk Fragrance’ in Chinese. The Jin Xuan cultivar is very popular with farmers since the plants are more hardy and produce a higher yield. From a tea lover’s point of view, Jin Xuan is an attractive aromatic drink with a lovely sweet and creamy character when made into a lightly oxidised oolong. However the Ruby version is oxidised to a high degree, almost pushing it into the black tea category. This results in a smooth flavour with attractive fruity and honey notes and zero astringency or bitterness.
Santikhiri Milk Ruby Oolong comes in tightly rolled leaves that open slowly to produce a golden liquor. The flavour profile starts on the tangy and fruity side, progressing onto fuller flavorous that are sweeter with floral notes and a soft creamy mouthfeel. The clean aftertaste is comforting and warming, with lingering notes of acacia honey.
We suggest brewing at 90°C for 3-4 minutes according to your taste. Since the leaves are slow to open we suggest the first infusion to be longer than subsequent infusions. It can be brewed 3+ times.
We really do hope that you enjoy the tea selection for December and are looking forward to the selection in our next box. Our January box will be a Taiwan special, featuring both classic and unusual Taiwanese teas!
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Happy tea discoveries!