Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Denong Tea 2015 Early Spring Harvest Enchanting Beauty Raw Pu-erh

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: varied greens and browns
Ingredients: puerh tea
Steep time: 10 seconds
Water Temperature: 185 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: deep gold

I first discovered Denong Tea at their World Tea Expo booth earlier this year. It had been quite a stressful day with surprisingly little tea consumed. I was instantly revived as soon as I took a sip of their Enchanting Beauty. It was love at first taste. I loved it so much that I told everyone all about it...and they wound up selling out before I could grab a cake for myself. Thankfully they contacted me soon afterward about sending samples for review, including this gem.

When it comes to reviews I always try to use the vendor's recommendations before playing around with my own preferred methods. I was glad I did that with this tea because although Denong's brewing directions take a lighter approach, I actually enjoyed the tea more that way. The taste was sweet and smooth with a wonderfully soft floral quality. Fruity notes of apricot danced around crisp baby spinach.

People often talk about the way that puerh effects us physically. I rarely experience that but this tea produced a very noticeable warming sensation at the center of my chest. Later brews grew progressively more intense. While there was some astringency it never bordered on unpleasant. Enchanting Beauty really did live up to her name. This is a tea I'll be remembering for some time to come.

I do wish there was a bit more information about where the tea was sourced from but that isn't a deal breaker. At $30 for a 100g cake, this tea runs along the same price range as my usual sheng fare. I would definitely say that it is worth it given the quality, especially since you don't have to commit to a large and expensive cake. There are several other teas from this company waiting in my to-do pile and I'm looking forward to sharing them with you all.

2015 Early Spring Harvest Enchanting Beauty Raw Pu-erh sample provided for review by Denong Tea.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Great Tea Debate: Oxidation vs Fermentation

When I first started drinking tea everyone referred to the changes that occur in tea during processing as fermentation. It has become a bit of a raging debate as to whether oxidation is accurate. Now, what exactly do these terms mean? 

Fermentation is a metabolic process where sugar is converted into acids, gasses, and alcohol. It usually carried out by an agent such as bacteria and yeast. Fermentation can occur naturally but humans learned long ago how to manipulate this process in order to make alcoholic beverages like beer and wine. Unless we are referring to kombucha, fermentation is not what is occurring during the manufacture of most tea. 

Oxidation is an enzymatic process that as the name implies, requires oxygen. This is similar to what happens to the way an apple slice turns brown when it is exposed to air. Polyphenols in the leaves absorb oxygen, converting them to polyphenol oxidase (PPO). PPO is responsible for the creation of thearubigins. This substance gives black tea leaves their reddish color as well adds depth of flavor. Applying heat to the leaves halts the process of oxidation.

The browning of apples is similar to what happens to tea leaves.
I was working for a French tea company and tried to explain to them that fermentation is not exactly accurate. My superiors replied that in France, oxidation is considered a chemical process while fermentation is considered a biological process. I suppose this makes sense when we consider that iron rusting is also a type of oxidation. They believed that this cultural bias would affect whether or not consumers believed their product to be natural. Perhaps this is part of the reason why there is still so much confusion in the tea world. I believe there are also issues with translating Chinese terms to English that may have played a part.

Puerh is one of the few exceptions to this rule. Shou, or cooked puerh, is inoculated with bacteria to initiate fermentation. The process is similar to the way that mulch is created. There is some debate about whether sheng,  also known as raw puerh, is truly fermented. Some categorize it as a green tea for this reason. However, there is some bacteria action involved when a tea is aged, particularly in humid storage.

This is a very simplified explanation of a complex topic. An entire book could be written on it but hopefully, this will help to clear some things up. It is my hope that the industry will eventually come to a consensus about using oxidation rather than fermentation. It’s important for educational purposes both for those in the biz and for consumers, particularly in the United States where we are already so behind the rest of the tea drinking world.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Friday Round Up: November 20th - November 26th

In Search of Japanese Teaware
My dear friend +Jo J casually mentioned in chat one day that she was in Japan. My reaction was somewhere along the lines of, "Say what!". I've been eagerly awaiting to here about her adventures there and this week's post is exactly what I wanted to hear.

World O-Cha festival 2016
Speaking of Japan, Florent at Japanese Tea Sommelier gave us a report of his experiences at what sounds like an amazing event. It's held in Shizuoka every three years and I think I'm making it my goal to attend the next one.

White2Tea Daily Drinker
I love the review style of Diary of a Northern Teaist. This week their post reminded me of a tea I've been meaning to try as well as an old tea leaf sniffing technique that I had abandoned sometime ago.

Tea Tales and Mocktails
I've said it before and I'll say it again, +Geoffrey Norman gets to go to all of the cool tea stuff! This week he regales us with his experience at the holiday launch event for Smith Teamaker. The Morning Light and Wuyi Whiskey definitely sound like they are right up my alley.

Sneak Peak: UNYtea Chou Shi
A fellow tea blogger, Jeffery at UNY Tea Guy, recently launched his own tea company. I haven't had a chance to try his wares yet so I was really excited to see a sneak peak review pop up from +Georgia SS. I love me so Dan Cong and this is one that I have not heard of before. Apparently it is a new style of processing that results in a greener tea than usual.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Zhen Tea Lu'An Gua Pian

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: deep green, twisted
Ingredients: green tea
Steep time: 1 minute
Water Temperature: 195 degrees
Preparation Method: glass gong dao bei
Liquor: greenish gold

Gua Pian is an unusual kind of green tea because it is made solely using mature leaves. Buds are usually the more prized type of leaf but the tea producers in Anhui purposely make the tea this way. I've realized that green tea (with the possible exception of yellow tea) is probably the one category that I drink and write about the least. I hope you guys don't get the idea that I don't enjoy green tea because nothing could be farther than the truth.

The wonderful folks from +ZhenTea gave me a bit of this tea when we met up at World Tea Expo last year. Funnily enough, we also just recently met up for tea in NYC. Tea people are some of the nicest people I know. Zhen and Phil are a pretty great example of that. For my Canadian readers, you'll want to keep tabs on them if you're located near Ottowa.

The taste of this tea was savory and herbaceous without being bitter. There was a very subtle hint of roast that added a nutty quality to the first few steeps. Full bodied flavor combined with a thick mouth feel gave an almost broth-like affect. Following their brewing directions (3g in 150ml of water) yielded six very tasty infusions. I like brewing my green tea loose in a glass sharing pitcher but a more western style brewing method would be fine as long you use a fairly small vessel.

Gua Pian is a fantastic choice for people who think they don't like green tea (yes, such creatures do exist). I definitely suggest giving this one a try if you haven't already. It's certainly better than some of the pricier Gua Pian's that I have tried in the past.

Lu'An Guan Pian sample provided by Zhen Tea.

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Beginner's Guide to Actually Enjoying Puerh

While many of my readers are as addicted to puerh as I am, I thought that I should include a bit of an introductory article in this inaugural journal. Fermented teas can be really scary when you’re first starting out. These recommendations are based on my own tastes and experiences.

Although I’ve been a serious tea drinker for a long time, puerh was my last frontier until the last two years or so. I was pretty convinced that I hated the stuff. In hindsight, I realize that many of the first samples I tried were rather bad quality and not really representative of the category. Fishy shu or musty, poorly stored sheng has incited the same reaction in many a tea drinker. I’m here to tell you that there is hope.

At the beginning of my tea journey, I brewed almost everything using an infuser basket and a teapot or teacup. While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this I find that puerh will sometimes not perform well, especially if you aren’t accustomed to its unique taste. I never really enjoyed puerh until I started using gaiwans and smaller gongfu sized teapots. Here are some tips that really helped me out.

Break It Gently

Believe it or not, I have never owned a puerh knife until fairly recently. After years of bear handing it, I’ve realized that I was being a bit too rough on my leaves. Breaking them into smaller pieces makes them much less pretty but can also release more bitterness. I highly recommend using a blunt puerh knife (or a letter opener in a pinch) to break the cake apart horizontally rather than digging through it. It can take a bit of a practice to get the hang of this but it will make a difference in the taste of your tea.

Weigh It

I never really enjoyed puerh until I started using gaiwans and smaller sized teapots. Part of this was because it’s really hard to measure out teaspoons of a compressed tea. Gongfu preparation usually calls for weighing the tea. This is more accurate and a much easier way of measuring your tea. I use about 5g or leaves when using a gaiwan and around 8g when I’m brewing in my yixing teapot. At first, that won’t look like much at all but as you brew the leaves will break apart and expand quite a bit.

Brew It Quickly

Another problem with brewing puerh tea in a western fashion is that the brew times are way too long. In switching to the gongfu method, you’ll be amazed at how much flavor can be achieved in a30-secondd infusion. The longer the infusion, the more tannins will be released from the leaves. Tannins are polyphenols that cause an astringent, bitter feeling. It's the same substance that causes the mouth-puckering effect of red wine.

Buy Quality

As I mentioned earlier, some of the first puerhs that I tried were very bad quality. The bing that you pick up in Chinatown for $5 just isn’t going to cut it. There are a lot of great companies out there who can help you to discover the world of fermented tea. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and shop around before making the leap. Order sample sizes to start off rather than buying expensive cakes.

As I always say, there’s no such as thing as the right way to make tea. All that matters is that you enjoy the end result. Do you have any tips or tricks for puerh beginners? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

This post originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of Tea for Me Please Quarterly. Sign up using the form below to receive informative tea articles four times a year. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday Round Up: November 13th - November 19th

Saturday Morning Tea
Karen at Art and Tea's posts are always so beautifully photographed. This week she enjoyed some Gyokuro, one of my favorite Japanese green teas. It was really interesting to read about the different shading methods that are used to produce it.

Matcha Dipped Madeleines
I instantly pinned Beginning with Bergamot's post on Pinterest when I saw these gorgeous (and most likely tasty) matcha dipped madeleines. I love how Sara ends posts with a bit about what she's reading and a few of her favorite things.

Modern Tea Processing Methods in Taiwan
Andy from +Eco-Cha Artisan Teas is one of the most knowledgeable people I know when it comes to Taiwanese teas. This week he shared a bit with World of Tea about modern processing methods that are being used there.

Getting Started with Brewing Loose Leaf Tea
Hoálatha at Cat Lat Tea shared some really great pointers on getting started with making tea. I couldn't agree more with the point about being unapologetic about your preferred tastes.

A Guide to Traditional and Non-Traditional Matcha Tools
+Lu Ann Pannunzio post this week about some of the different tools that can be used to make matcha. It reminded me that I really need to pick up a plain chakin. The one I have is printed with cats making matcha and I just can't bring myself to use it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Comparing Matcha Cultivars with Yunomi

As most regular readers and social media followers will know, I love matcha...a lot. When I had some credits to use towards a purchase at Yunomi, I knew exactly what I would be picking up. A tasting set of matcha made from three different cultivars, all from the same producer in Uji? I'm in! I usually don't write about a product if it is sold out but this experience was just cool to not to share. In case you didn't know, their site has a neat feature where you can request to be notified if something you're interested comes back in stock. I definitely suggest signing up for that as well as their newsletter.

Each of the teas in this set was produced by Azuma Tea Garden, a family run operation in Uji. They were established during the Meiji era and is now being run by the fourth generation. It always amazes me to think that a family has been doing the same craft for that long. Four generations ago my family was emigrating from Ireland and they have almost nothing in common with our family of today other than our name.

Compared to other tea types, I have a bit of a hard time picking out and articulating distinct tasting notes from matcha. For that reason, I'm also including Yunomi's descriptions of each of these teas. I'll still do my best to explain my experiences, though. The lighting in my apartment is rather terrible but I did my best photograph each of the teas in an unedited and realistic way.


First Impressions: This tea was smooth and grassy with plenty of umami. I'd say it was a good middle of the road matcha. 

Yunomi's description: Okumidori Matcha is a vivid green Uji matcha made from the tea plant cultivar okumidori. Cultivars are “cultivated varieties” identified for specific characteristics and propagated by cuttings to create a field of the same plant DNA. The okumidori cultivar is known for having a strong taste and aroma.


First Impressions: This tea was definitely more bitter and vegetal than the others. I was careful about using the same parameters so I don't think it was due to user error.

Yunomi's description: Identified in 1908 by Sugiyama Hikosaburo in Shizuoka, and officially registered in 1953, the yabukita cultivar is the most common tea plant cultivar in Japan with an approximately 80% share. The rich flavor of the leaves makes it popular for sencha, but it provides a weaker umami taste and is not usually used for matcha as a result.


First Impressions: This tea was the most complex. It's character was brighter and there was a very nice lingering aftertaste.

Yunomi's description: The samidori cultivar is a tencha specific cultivar, with a bright color and rich umami flavor perfect for matcha.

I think that the Samidori might have been my favorite out of the three. It wasn't unenjoyable but the Yabukita was definitely last in the race. I usually have way too much matcha on hand so I shared these with some very excited coworkers. For future reference, drinking three consecutive bowls of usucha is probably not the best idea. I did have a ton of energy afterward, though. My fiance doesn't understand why I needed to have multiple chawans but I think this post serves as proof that sometimes it is necessary. :)

Matcha Overload - The Aftermath

Click here to get 10% off your first purchase from Yunomi!

Cultivar Comparison: Azuma Tea Garden Matcha - Yabukita, Okumidori, and Samidori received through credits provided by Yunomi.

Monday, November 14, 2016

SFTGFOP? What the Letters On Your Tea Packaging Mean

One of the things that mystified me when I first started drinking tea was the letter grade system used in Darjeeling (and other British colonial tea regions). Understanding a few simple terms helps to clear things up quite a bit. These abbreviations denote the grade of leaves used to make the tea. Orange Pekoe is usually used to describe a black tea consisting of whole leaves of a particular size. 

Contrary to popular belief, Orange Pekoe is not a flavor or type of tea. Pekoe is a corruption of the Chinese term Bai Hao (meaning white tip). I've read that the name Orange comes from the Dutch House of Orange. This makes sense since they were trading tea even before the British had started drinking it. It was meant to imply that the tea was good enough to meet with royal approval. Incidentally, the world tea comes from tê in the Amoy dialect of Southern Fujian because that is where the Dutch got their tea from. We might be calling it cha if they had traded in Canton like the Portuguese instead!

Fannings and dust are the lowest grades and they are used to produce tea bags. While not an ideal cup of tea, they provide a larger surface area which allows the water to pull color and flavor out of the leaf more quickly.

Now, here is where it gets complicated. This grade has nothing to do with the actual quality of the tea. In general, more letters equates to a better tea but this isn't always the case. You can have a badly made SFTGOP and a very well done OP.

FTGFOP1 from Rohini Estate

Numbers are sometimes added to the end of abbreviations. This is simply included for emphasis when a garden feels it was a particularly good lot. Teas that are marked with EX are harvested prior to the official 1st flush. The leaves used to tend to be a bit more yellowish in color but they are not necessarily of lower quality. You may also see information about what cultivated variety was used to produce the tea. The most common of these is AV2. Also referred to as clonal, these teas are often developed for specific traits that could help increase production. Planters choose them because they might be more drought hardy or because the are resistant to particular pests.

For a bit of nerdy tea humor, FTGFOP really stands for Far Too Good for Other People. ;)

Here some examples of common grades that you might run into:

SFTGFOP - Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
FTGFOP - Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
TGFOP - Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
FTGBOP - Fine Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe
TGBOP - Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe
FBOP - Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe
BOP - Broken Orange Pekoe
GFOF - Golden Flowery Orange Fannings
GOF - Golden Orange Fannings
D - Dust

This post originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Tea for Me Please Quarterly. Sign up using the form below to receive informative tea articles four times a year.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Friday Round Up: November 6th - November 12th

A Calm Fragrance in Autumn
+Payton Swick's post this week reminded me of how much I've been missing my +Global Tea Hut subscription. Concubine Oolong is one of my favorites so I'm doubly bummed to have missed out on this one.

Tillerman Tea: Muzha TieGuanYin Spring 2016, A Tea Review
I'm a big fan of +Amanda Wilson's extremely thorough reviews. How lucky was she to discover Muzha TGY so early in life? This one definitely sounds like it is worth a giving a try.

Vancouver Tea Festival (2016)
AJ of Tea Stacks wrote about their experience at the latest Vancouver Tea Festival. As an American, I definitely have some major tea festival envy. Our neighbors to the north have a number of really awesome, dedicated tea festivals.

Get God on the Phone
+Cwyn N's story of tea being a refuge definitely hit home, especially this week. I think 9 grams of anything from +White2Tea would be a fine distraction from life.

Hsinchu Oriental Beauty from Adagio Teas – Tea Review
+Charissa Gascho reviewed a tea from +Adagio Teas' Masters Collection. I love how she gives an infusion by infusion breakdown of her experience. Isn't that leaf beautiful?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Wild Tea Qi Jin Jun Mei

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: small, dark and twisted with lots of golden tips
Ingredients: black tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: dark amber

Jin Jun Mei has become quite a trendy (and expensive) black tea in recent years. It is made from the same tea varieties in the Wuyi region of China as the traditional Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong. You might also know it as Lapsang Souchong. The major difference is that the tea is not smoked and there is an emphasis on golden tips being present in the dry leaf. Except for the fact that this one from +Wild Tea Qi is smoked...tea is complicated.

The first thing I noticed after opening the packet was the aroma of the leaves. Holy cow did they smell awesome! I had to laugh when looking back at my notes. I wrote that they smelled like the inside of an apothecary's chest. I don't believe I've ever actually been to an apothecary but I think you get the idea.

When I say that this tea was smoked I don't mean in a burnt rubber tire kind of way. The smoke was a barely detectable layer that kind of tied together the rest of the flavor profile. Under that subtle layer was a wonderfully malty and sweet taste that lingered in my palate after each sip. As my infusions progressed it changed gears to hints of dark red fruit.

At $8.99 per ounce, this time isn't exactly a daily drinker but it's certainly less expensive than other versions I've seen of this tea. I have a feeling that some of this tea will find its way into my shopping cart whenever I place orders in the future. Have you ever tried this tea? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Jin Jun Mei sample provided for review by Wild Tea Qi.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Tea: A User's Guide by Tony Gebely

My favorite thing about being part of the tea community is having friends who do really cool things. This is one of those times. I think we've all been eagerly anticipating the book that +Tony Gebely has been working on ever since it was first announced. Not only is it the book we all wanted, it's also the book we needed.

I've written reviews of over 50 books on tea and have read countless more. What I've found is that there is a ton of content overlap. Many of these books repeat the same exact information, just in slightly different ways. What makes Tea: A User's Guide stand apart is its straightforward, no-nonsense approach. You won't find poems or diatribes on historical events that are loosely based in fact. The element of culture has been removed from the equation in order to get down to the real nitty-gritty. I think this simplified and unfetishized perspective is incredibly helpful, especially for those who are just getting into tea.

This book is about as factual as you can get without being intimidating or snobbish. Everything from tea harvesting and processing to the categories of tea is covered in an in-depth but easily understandable way. The mechanics of brewing of tea is treated in the same way. Nothing is dumbed down but the reader isn't left scratching their head wondering what he's talking about either.

I read through this book fairly quickly. It took just a few days of my daily commute to work. That being said, this is definitely something I'll be keeping on hand as a reference book. The index alone is incredibly well done. I can look up a Chinese tea name and easily find the pages that reference it. Each chapter is also laid out in a thoughtful, intuitive way. Some of the content has appeared on in various forms but trust me, you're going to want to have the whole kit and kaboodle at your fingertips.

As much as I enjoyed reading the Kindle version, I have an older model so everything was in black and white. The printed version is infinitely better for that reason. The photography of all of the tea varieties featured, particularly the liquor, is absolutely spot on. It can be hard to translate color correctly but Tony has done a beautiful job.

Preview copy of Tea: A User's Guide was provided by the author.


Friday, November 4, 2016

Friday Round Up: October 30th - November 5th

A Sip of Scandal Water
+sara shacket discovered a most unusual afternoon tea service during her recent visit to London. Now this place sounds like it's exactly my style! The Edition Hotel will definitely be on my must-do list for the future.

Gourmet Hojicha Smores
You wouldn't know it by my tea preferences but I have a real sweet tooth. Smores just happen to be one of my favorite indulgences. +Anna Mariani crafted this delicious sounding recipe, including hojicha infused marshmallows.

The wine tasting approach for tea
I always learn so much from +TeaMasters' blog posts. In this one Stephane wrote about a tea class where he and a student shared an incredible sounding aged Oriental Beauty.

Puerh...After a Fashion
+Geoffrey Norman wrote about his experience with the latest offering from +Misty Peak Teas. I can definitely relate to his negative early experiences with cooked puerh. Skip the ponchos, drink the tea. :)

Nagatani Soen: The Inventor of Sencha
There are few bloggers I know that are as knowledgeable about Japanese green tea as +Ricardo Caicedo. In this post, he gives us an extensive history of the man that invented sencha. This is not a story that I've heard before but it is one that I will definitely be bookmarking for future reference,

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Teavivre Yunnan Gongfu Fragrant Black Tea

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: dark, twisted with golden tips
Ingredients: black tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 195 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: reddish amber

Here's a fun fact, +TeaVivre currently holds the title of most reviewed company on +Tea for Me Please. This is the 39th tea that I've written about from them! This is partly because they've always been very generous in sharing samples and partly because I feel they never really get the attention they deserve.

Black tea is probably the category that I drink the least of but I have a real soft spot for those from Yunnan. Once the weather starts turning chilly I get some serious Dian Hong cravings. I found myself reaching for this tea over some of my favorites on an unusually cold night. For those who don't know, Dian Hong simply means a black tea from the Yunnan Province of China.

The dry leaf was about average size with lots of visible buds. I'm such a sucker for those golden tips. They were soft and fuzzy to the touch. Yes, I pet my tea leaves sometimes but usually not the same ones that I drink so that the oils from my hands don't interfere with taste. This tea was produced from a larger leafed variety in the Fengqing area of Lincang. That probably explains why I enjoyed it so much! I have a long-standing obsession with black teas from this region.

I expected sweet and malty notes from this tea and it had both of those in spades. Surprising hints of dark chocolate (like 90% cacao, the good stuff!) and burnt sugar popped up after the first few infusions. Otherwise, this tea maintained strength throughout my session without very dramatic changes in taste. There was just enough briskness for it to be refreshing without being bitter or overly drying. I did seven consecutive infusions but I think I could have squeezed out a few more by lengthening my steep times.

One thing that can sometimes trip folks up on this company's brewing directions is that they are often for a smaller vessel than most of us use. They recommended 5g for 85ml for this one. Most of my gaiwans are at least 100ml, if not a little larger, so I used the whole 7g packet in one shot. Err on the side of heavy with your leaf volume and you should be fine. At less than $0.10 per gram, this tea is a real steal.

Yunnan Gongfu Fragrant Black Tea sample provided for review by Teavivre.