Welcome to the July 2022 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 Volcano Oolong from Hainan Island of China, where it is grown on volcanic soil and expertly roasted to produce a satisfying flavour.
The second light tea is a verdant Cloud and Mist green tea from Jiuyi Shan in Hunan Province of China that is crafted from local native cultivar plants.
For the dark side of the selection we have an atypical First Flush Darjeeling from Mandal Gaon that produces a smooth and balanced flavour with a lightly smoky finish.
Finally, the last tea we are featuring this month is an earlier harvest Assam from Kathaldanga that is expertly made by hand to produce a robust and malty liquor.
Let’s get into further detail on these teas featured in our July tea subscription boxes.
Hainan Volcano Oolong
Hainan Volcano Oolong (火山乌龙茶) is grown at an organic plantation that is located on Hainan Island, China. Grown on rich volcanic soil, this tea develops a complex flavour. Combined with expert roasting that is done over at least 9 months with long resting periods in between, it delivers a toasty, satisfying liquor. This particular lot is from the 15 May 2021 harvest, last roasted in February 2022 by the producer.
This tea comes from a location in China that is not very well-known for growing tea. The location of this organic tea garden is Hainan Island, in the South China Sea. This island also forms 97% of Hainan Province that integrates some of the smaller islands next to Hainan itself. The island has remnants of old volcanoes and a soil that is rich in volcanic material. It is perfect for growing a larger variety of crops, including some limited amounts of tea! In that sense it is possible to compare it to teas grown on Jeju Island in South Korea.
This Hainan Volcano Oolong utilises the Qing Xin ‘Green Heart’ / Ruan Zhi ‘Soft Stem’ cultivar. It’s difficult to determine their origin in this case, but most likely these plants would have come from Taiwan since the Qing Xin and Ruan Zhi names are often used there to describe the same plant. The difference in the name for this cultivar comes from the fact that the Ruan Zhi cultivar was originally brought over from mainland China to Taiwan. Over time it went through a selection and propagation process that has significantly altered the plant. There then seems to have occurred a split in the naming convention for this cultivar. Our tea master in Taiwan confirmed to us that the Ruan Zhi and Qing Xin are one and the same. Farmers and people who work with the leaf tend to refer to it as Qing Xin, while tea writers and people around Taipei tend to stick to the older name of Ruan Zhi. The grower of our Thai teas for example also prefers to use Ruan Zhi even though her tea plants originated in Taiwan and not in mainland China. So this makes us think that the Qing Xin / Ruan Zhi reference is indeed to Taiwanese plants but if we find out otherwise we will be sure to update this description!
This is a lightly oxidised but medium roasted oolong, notably comparable to lighter/medium roast Dong Ding Oolong. The careful and prolonged roasting results in a toasty aroma that does not translate to an overpowering roasted taste. The satisfying liquor has a toasty flavour that is nicely combined with floral, nutty and tangy fruity notes. It is just slightly drying but overall has a very smooth, ‘golden’ taste. The aftertaste is lasting, with a tangy finish.
Brew western style, at 90°C for 2-3 minutes 3+ times. For best results we highly recommend gongfu style brewing.
You can also buy Hainan Volcano Oolong tea in our online shop.
Jiu Yi Shan Yun Wu
Jiu Yi Shan Yun Wu (九嶷山云雾) is a Cloud and Mist green tea from the famous Jiuyi Mountain area in Hunan Province of China. This tea is grown at an organic garden at an altitude of around 850m. The garden was planted in the 60’s with local cultivar plants grown from seed. This early spring harvest produces a verdant liquor with classic green tea flavours and a pleasant, slightly smoky note. This particular lot is from the 24 March 2022 harvest.
In China the name Yun Wu (云雾) is somewhat common and is often used in many regions throughout the country to describe a green tea that is produced locally but that does not fall under any of the ‘famous’ tea types or has any other modern branding attached to it. Generally, it is a good quality local green tea that has been hand plucked but then machine processed in order to keep the costs reasonable. You can see the specific photos of Jiu Yi Shan Yun Wu processing stages in the gallery below. These teas do vary in quality and taste depending on the growing region and processing but tend to be somewhere in the middle.
This Jiu Yi Shan Yun Wu comes from an organic garden (certified since 2012) that was originally planted in the 60’s. The custom at the time was to plant with local tea plants, through seed planting rather than cuttings. The fancy new cultivars (propagated through cuttings, or cloning) that feature big fluffy buds and very early harvests is a much more recent development! These native plants are normally referred to by a few different names, but the Qun Ti Zhong (群体种) is one commonly used, usually prefixed with the origin location or some descriptive qualities of the plant. These can be also compared to various native tea plants in Korea or ‘Zairai‘ plants in Japan.
The seed planting leads to a much more varied tea garden, with a diverse gene pool of the plants, resulting in a richer flavour. This also provides some additional natural protection from pests and diseases. If you look at the photos of the tea garden and the tea plants, the variety of not only the leaf colours but also shapes is immediately evident. This can only happen in a seed planted garden, especially one that has been going for a longer period of time.
The non-uniform nature of the tea means that it is harder to pick, requiring more skill. The picking standard is of 3/4 one bud and one leaf and 1/4 one bud and two leaves. After picking the tea is lightly withered and fired in a drum. The energy comes from burning wood, thus imparting a more rustic nature to this tea. After firing, the tea is sorted by hand and allowed to cool. It is rolled by a machine and finally completely dried, again using wood fire for heat. So the processing, while utilising some machinery, is a bit more old fashioned, leading to a charming final product.
This Jiu Yi Shan Yun Wu Cloud Mist has smaller, younger leaves with a verdant aroma and a hint of smoke. It produces a green, lightly opaque liquor. The flavours are predominately verdant, with creamy, savoury and vegetal notes. It has a touch of astringency that is very pleasant. The aftertaste delivers more fresh verdant flavours that become a bit more tangy. There is a hint of smoke also present in the aftertaste.
It is best brewed with at 80°C for 2-3 minutes and can be brewed multiple times.
You can also buy Jiu Yi Shan Yun Wu green tea in our online shop.
Darjeeling Mandal Gaon First Flush
Darjeeling Mandal Gaon First Flush is a very fine, handmade Darjeeling from a small tea estate run by Mr Buddhasingh and his family to organic standards. Picked on 5 April 2022, this tea has a beautifully neat, tippy, semi-oxidised, large leaf. This tea from Mandal Gaon is also known as ‘Ramro Cha’. It produces a balanced yet complex liqour that is both typical of Darjeeling while being quite different!
Mr Buddhasingh has a tea plantation that produces small amounts of organically grown tea from some 8,000 bushes. It is located at an altitude of around 1,650m (5,500 ft) above sea level, in the Himalayan mountain slopes. As common with many local small farmers, the leaves from this tea garden would originally have been sold to larger tea factories. Mr Buddhasingh has recently built a micro tea factory in 2016 and has started producing fine artisanal Darjeeling teas. While an organic certification is financially out of reach for the time being, the teas grown at Mandal Gaon are grown and produced to organic standards.
We work together with a specialist wholesaler in India who only works with small scale farmers like Mr Buddhasingh. Their main focus area is in Assam, but they also work with Mandal Gaon in Darjeeling. 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 a fair price for their tea and provides investment into their farm to support their family’s future.
This Darjeeling Mandal Gaon First Flush has very neat, hand-processed leaves that exhibit medium oxidation. The character created is very Darjeeling, yet different. The leaves look rather beautiful when brewed, with a wide gamut of mostly darker green, yellow and bronze colours. The leaves are rather large for Darjeeling and are the result of careful hand processing. The bright golden orange liquor has a lightly fruity aroma. The flavours are particularly smooth, with a zesty profile featuring tangy, fruity and malty notes that are lightly creamy, sweet and floral. There is also a touch of smokiness that makes it particularly interesting. There is a pleasant amount of dryness on the aftertaste but no astringency. It is rather finely balanced, with no overpowering mineral or floral perfumed notes that many First Flush Darjeeling teas are known for. This is an expertly crafted tea that will appeal to both fans and sceptics of classic First Flush Darjeeling teas.
We suggest brewing parameters of 90°C for 3 minutes according to your taste, brewing multiple times.
You can also buy Darjeeling Mandal Gaon First Flush black tea in our online shop.
Assam Kathaldanga Signature Black
Assam Kathaldanga Signature Black is a completely handmade 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 large, attractive leaves and a complex taste. This tea was harvested on 10 April 2022 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 Signature Black is a First Flush Assam, having been picked in early April. Generally the later Second Flush is the more prized picking as it tends to deliver a bolder flavour that many fans of Assam black tea are looking for. However this earlier harvest delivers some of the classic Assam taste but with a lighter, more elegant twist. The leaves of this tea are carefully handpicked from demarcated sections of the plantation over a short picking period. Therefore each picking can be quite different and this particular batch was only 15kg in total. After picking the leaves are hand-rolled in small batches to avoid breakage and to preserve unique flavour profiles of each picking. Being a bit less tippy and consisting of larger leaf than the Tippy Black from the sister production at Latumoni (coming up in our September 2022 boxes), this version delivers a more classic Assam taste.
The dry leaves of Assam Kathaldanga Signature Black are large and dark in appearance with a good amount of golden tips. When brewed, the large whole leaves and tips produce a dark umber liquor with a lovely malty aroma typical of Assam black teas. The robust malty character delivers a smooth taste with mineral and fruity notes. The notes of sweet molasses nicely balance the tangy and slightly tannic aftertaste. There is also a hint of some honey on the taste. This tea has a pleasant degree of tannins and light astringency but overall it still delivers a satisfying cup that is very easy to drink.
We suggest brewing at 90°C for 3-4 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. Brewed stronger, it will take a splash of milk if you so desire. It also works great for gongfu brewing!
You can also buy Assam Kathaldanga Signature Black tea in our online shop.
We really do hope that you enjoy this tea selection for July and are looking forward to the selection in our next box. Our August box will feature an Anhua Song Zhen ‘Pine Needle’ green tea from China and a classic Japanese Sencha from the famous Honyama terroir. For the darker side of the selection we chose an Old Tree Dian Hong from Yunnan Province of China and an unusual, lightly aged Jin Xuan Hong Cha from Taiwan.
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!