Welcome to the January 2018 edition of the Curious Tea subscription! As usual we have four exciting new teas to share with our subscribers this month. This month all of our teas are united by one theme – they are purple teas! If you are unfamiliar with purple tea, the difference from the usual tea plant is that these tea cultivars have reddish purple leaves, which is the result of natural reaction of the plant to harsh growing conditions or human selection. Purple tea cultivars have a particularly high content of anti-oxidants. These include anthocyanins, polyphenols and catechins. So not only do these teas taste pretty good, they are also beneficial for health, which is a perfect aspect for those aiming at a healthy start to the New Year.
The first light tea this January is a grassy and vegetal Purple green tea from Tumoi in Nandi Hills of Kenya. The second light tea is a recently developed Purple Beauty green tea from the mountains of Yunnan Province that offers a softer and creamier taste. For the darker side of the selection we opted for a wild Purple Bud Sheng Pu-erh from Yunnan; being brisk and slightly woody in flavour it presents an intriguing showcase of traditional use of purple leaf varietals in pu-erh making. And finally, we chose another type of Yunnan purple tea, a black Dian Hong Ye Sheng that produces a complex flavour with notes of sweet tobacco and sugared plums.
- Light: Tumoi Nandi Hills Purple and Zi Juan Purple Beauty;
- Dark: Zi Ya Purple Bud Wild Sheng Pu-erh and Dian Hong Feng Qing Ye Sheng;
- Mixed: Tumoi Nandi Hills Purple and Zi Ya Purple Bud Wild Sheng Pu-erh.
Let’s get into further detail on all purple teas featured in our January tea subscription boxes.
Tumoi Nandi Hills Purple
Tumoi Nandi Hills Purple is an unusual green tea grown around Nandi Hills at an altitude of over 2,000 metres by the Tumoi Teas Cooperative. This tea is harvested year round, is grown without the use of pesticides and this is the latest 2017 harvest.
We start our foray into the world of purple tea with this Kenyan purple tea cultivar. This cultivar was developed from standard Camellia sinensis var. assamica by the Kenyan Tea Research Institute over the past 25 years by a process of extensive breeding and selection. The name comes from the fact that the leaves of these tea plants are tinted reddish-purple. This is the result of the tea plants having higher amounts of anthocyanins in their leaves. This is a natural pigment that also occurs in grapes, blueberries and cranberries and also acts as protection from UV rays. Hence this type of tea can be grown at higher altitude and closer to the equator. In fact, purple tea can also be found naturally occurring in Yunnan Province in China where they are subject to strong sunlight and will be discussed further below.
The rationale behind developing unusual and specialist teas is that the Kenyan tea industry is dominated by CTC (cut-tear-curl) teas that are destined for bags. The CTC market is very volatile with large corporations buying up the majority of CTC tea and generally trying to drive the prices down. This results in very little return for the farmers. In contrast, farmers that grow small scale but high quality teas such as this purple varietal are more in control over pricing and enjoy much fairer returns for their labour. Purple tea is also more resistant to the effects of drought, frost and pests ensuring the farmers enjoy a higher yearly yield from their tea plants. Further reasoning behind developing the purple tea variety is the high anthocyanin content. Anthocyanins act as an antioxidant and this very high antioxidant content is further driving the popularity of purple tea. As it is a green tea, the processing preserves most of the antioxidant properties of the leaves.
Unusually, but similarly to other purple green teas, Tumoi Nandi Hills Purple is a colour changing tea! When you brew this tea, the colour can range from pale green to a more reddish-purple. This is the result of anthocyanins reacting to the pH levels of the water. As explained in this research paper, liquids with anthocyanins have a ‘red-pink’ colour at lower pH levels, ‘reddish-purple’ at neutral pH 7 and ‘green’ at higher pH levels. So for this particular purple tea, it is hard for us to describe the colour of the liquor as it will vary depending on the pH levels of the water that you use. You can also change the colour of this tea from green to the more vivid purple and pink colour by adding a few drops of lemon juice.
Tumoi Nandi Hills Purple is a lovely grassy green tea that is similar to a Japanese style of green tea. Twisted dark green leaves have a sweet floral aroma. The liquor has a lightly creamy colour with a purple tint when brewed at neutral pH levels. This tea has a thick coating character with a profile most similar to fresh spring greens. There is a nice level of sweetness in this tea reminiscent of candied tart fruits and notes of sweet plums and sultanas on the aftertaste. There is a degree of astringency present, which can be easily mitigated by lower brewing temperature and shorter steeping time.
It is best brewed at 70°C for 2-3 minutes and should be brewed multiple times.
You can also buy Tumoi Nandi Hills Purple tea in our online shop.
Zi Juan Purple Beauty
Zi Juan Purple Beauty green tea (紫娟绿茶) is a green purple tea from Yunnan Province in China, but unlike the wild and naturally occurring purple leaf varietals of Yunnan discussed below, this has been developed by the Yunnan Tea Research Station in Xishuangbanna in the late 1990’s. This tea is grown in the Jing Mai mountain area located in Lancang Lahu Autonomous County of Yunnan Province and this particular crop is from the April 2017 harvest.
‘Zi Juan’ (紫娟) is still a rather uncommon varietal in Yunnan. Unlike the other wild purple leaf varietals there, which grow either wild or semi-wild, this cultivar was developed for plantation growing. In such case the bushes are trimmed shrubs rather than full sized trees, making the picking much easier. Unlike the other purple leaf varietals of Yunnan, where the colour of the leaves on wild growing trees is changeable depending on the environmental conditions, and any one tree will only have a limited amount of purple buds, these Zi Juan Purple Beauty cultivar plants are specifically selected for the amount of purple leaves they produce. And unlike the wild counterparts that tend to have only purple buds, this cultivar produces purple buds, leaves and stalks, giving a higher yield.
The origin of this cultivar lies in a combination of trees from two famous tea areas of China: Wu Yi Shan and Yunnan. Both have naturally occurring purple bud varietals. The ones in Wu Yi Shan have been known for a particularly high anthocyanin level, resulting in the purple colour of the leaves but also lending the tea a bitter flavour. With time, the Wu Yi Shan purple bud cultivar was altered by the tea growers through selection to produce a better yield and a more hardy plant. This also resulted in diminished bitterness and that varietal is utilised to make some exceptional Wu Yi Shan oolong teas. The Zi Juan Purple Beauty cultivar is a hybrid of the specially selected Wu Yi Shan purple leaf cultivar and the local Camellia sinensis var. assamica.
This Zi Juan Purple Beauty has dark green twisted leaves with a vegetal aroma. The liquor has a lightly green colour with a purple tint. The profile is vegetal with satisfying floral, nutty and creamy notes and a sweet yet tangy aftertaste. There is a touch of metallic astringency on the aftertaste that balances well with the overall flavours.
This tea is best brewed with at 80c for 2-3 minutes and can be brewed multiple times.
You can buy Zi Juan Purple Beauty green tea in our online shop.
Zi Ya Purple Bud Wild Sheng Pu-erh
Zi Ya Purple Bud Wild Sheng Pu-erh (紫芽普洱生茶) is a sheng (raw) pu-erh from the Jing Mai mountain area located in Lancang Lahu Autonomous County of Yunnan Province. Grown at high altitude, this tea has a lovely complex profile with almost no astringency. This tea was picked in late March to early April 2016 from young tender leaves. While this pu-erh has not really been aged for that long, it already possesses a good flavour that will only improve with further ageing.
Pu-erh tea undergoes a unique production process, during which the tea leaves are dried and rolled after which they undergo secondary microbial fermentation and oxidation. This unique processing sets it apart from black tea and means that pu-erh fits within the separate dark teas category. The tea is most commonly pressed into various shapes (domes, disks, bricks, etc) or, just like this tea, it can be left loose and the gradual fermentation and maturation process continues further, during storage. As this is a sheng pu-erh, the ageing process has been happening slowly and naturally since spring 2016. This type of tea improves with age if they are stored properly.
This third type of purple tea featured this month is made from a ‘Zi Ya’ Purple Bud (紫芽), also known as ‘Zi Cha’ Purple Tea (紫茶) varietal. It 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 Yunnan Province. These tea plants have purple coloured tea buds and young tea leaves, which are the result of unfavourable growing conditions and act as a natural way of protecting the tender leaves from harsh ultraviolet rays. This purple leaf varietal is highly prized in Yunnan and is used mostly for pu-erh production with some very limited black tea (like our Dian Hong Jing Mai Purple Needle) production as well.
The trees that this tea comes from are wild arbor trees, which means that they are older trees that largely grow on their own. Unlike plantation bushes, which are trimmed back, these trees are allowed to grow to full height of up to five meters or more. Plucking these trees is more laborious and can only be done by hand. But this traditional way of growing the trees results in much finer flavours.
Even though this Zi Ya Purple Bud Wild Sheng Pu-erh has not been aged for that long, it already exhibits some of the finer qualities found in teas made from a Zi Ya varietal, especially the greatly reduced bitterness that you may find in other Purple Leaf (Ye Sheng) pu-erh. The large twisted dark green leaves have a slightly fruity and woody aroma. The liquor produced has a light golden colour and a brisk and smooth character. The complex profile has a fruity, woody and slightly smoky flavour. The aftertaste is a little tart with a pleasantly sweet finish and minimal astringency.
We suggest brewing at 90°C for 3-4 minutes according to your taste. It should be brewed around 3+ times depending on your taste preferences.
You can also buy Zi Ya Purple Bud Wild Pu-erh tea in our online shop.
Dian Hong Feng Qing Ye Sheng
Dian Hong Feng Qing Ye Sheng (滇紅凤庆野生) is a complex black tea that grows wild in the mountainous forests of Feng Qing County of Yunnan Province. 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 an excellent example. We also offer another black Ye Sheng tea from De Hong, Dian Hong De Hong Ye Sheng, which, while being made form the same type of tree, has quite a different flavour profile.
This Dian Hong Feng Qing Ye Sheng black tea has large black and red wiry leaves that produce a bright golden liquor with a malty and fruity aroma. The taste is on the lighter side but is still complex, with a woody and fruity character that is very appealing. There are sweet notes of pipe tobacco and sugared plums that complete the taste and compliment the slight woody astringency of this tea.
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 Feng Qing Ye Sheng black tea in our online shop.
We really do hope that you enjoy the tea selection for January and are looking forward to the next instalment in February, in which our tea boxes will feature both green and black versions of the same tea!
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Happy tea discoveries!