Nepali Green Pearl Tea from Rainbow Grocery in SF.
One of my coworkers has noticed that I am often making tea, and I sometimes share with him, so he brought in some he got at Rainbow Grocery, with the caveat, “I don’t know much about tea, but Nepali Tea seemed interesting.”
I found it interesting, as well. I didn’t know ANY green tea was made in Nepal or India. I thought it was all Black.
My initial impressions are that some care was taking with producing this tea. The dried tea is well formed and undamaged. After steeping I see that it is 1 bud, 1 leaf.
I brewed this with my usual Chinese Green tea gaiwan method.
6 grams of tea, water starting around 185 degrees F.
The first thing I notice is a smoky ham-like character. Not like a tea that has been smoked or contaminated with smoke as part of the kill green, but as character of the tea. A little greasy, with a thick soup in the first steeps, but quickly thinning.
The first steeps are super intense, but the flavor quickly fades as the brewing continues.
Unfortunately, the overall impression the tea leaves, after the initial flavor shock, is of an unpleasant lingering bitterness in the throat, which continues through the less intense later steeps.
Working my way through green teas, it seems I cannot resist the siren call of Oolong!
There are different types of Oolong, but the most well known is called Tie Guanyin, also sometimes called Iron Goddess of Mercy. According to one of the legends of this type of tea’s origins, a humble tea farmer in Anxi County, Fujian, China, noticed a local temple had fallen into disrepair. He took it upon himself to clean it up, sweep it out, and then offer some incense to the goddess of Mercy, Guanyin. Shortly thereafter, the Goddess appeared to him in a dream. She told him that in the cave behind her temple a treasure awaited that he needed to share with others. When he investigated, he found the shoot of a tea tree. He planted the shoot in his field and nurtured it, the tea it produced was amazing! He gave cuttings of the tree to his neighbors far and wide. When all the tea trees came to fruition, they began selling it under the name “Tie Guanyin” to honor the goddess.
Whenever I’ve seen “Iron Goddess of Mercy” tea on a restaurant menu, I order it, I mean, who could resist such a name?
This is a darkly roasted Tie Guanyin. The base of the flavors and smells are similar to dark roasted grain, a bit like a dark beer or Japanese roasted barley tea. On top of that are layers of sweetness and orchid fragrance which perfume the tea pot and cup. The fragrance/taste of the tea is long lasting and haunting, but the perfume is not overpowering. Super elegant and incredibly well balanced.
I had been enjoying John King’s Instagram feed when he posted the following summary of a new tea, a wild tree tea from the Bulang region in Menghai county.
“Regarding these wild tree, we still don’t know how old they are. What it attracts me was the unique bitterness and soon coming Huigan (sweetness from aftertaste) and fell in love with it when I first tried it accidentally in Menghai. Always hard to find accurate description words on this bitterness. It is a wild, naughty flavor.”
I do really enjoy the way John describes his teas. It is slightly poetic, yet at the same time highly specific and descriptive.
As someone who enjoyed bitterness, (Broccoli Raab is one of my favorite vegetables, when I was drinking I imbibed copiously of the Amaro…) I almost felt like he was daring me to try this tea!
Who wouldn’t want to try a tea with, “a wild, naughty flavor”?
When I finally got around to ordering a cake of the tea he was describing, he said he would include some samples of others he thought I might like, given my interest in his Bitterly Wild and Naughty Tea.
I suppose I should have considered myself warned.
This tea is a blend of tea leaves from Wild trees and Old trees from the BanPen (班盆 which belongs to BanZhang tea area).
The opening flavors are quite bitter, they lead to middle flavors that are OK, but not amazing. Tobacco, Leather. Where this tea shines is in its outstanding and lengthy finish, camphor like flavors which seems to almost evaporate from your tongue. Oh, and it is one of those teas where you’re a couple cups in, and realize that it is zippy. Very Zippy. Or as John says, “Strong ChaQi makes mind clear and breath smooth and clear.”
Isn’t something like that the Mental Mantra from Frank Herbert’s “Dune”?
Another sample which came along with an order from King Tea Mall.
As I mentioned before the Chinese region of Yunnan borders Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar in a sort of indistinct mountainous area. Tea trees grow naturally in the neighboring areas of of all three countries.
As I understand it, John King, the proprietor of King Tea Mall tried some teas in small villages of Laos near Burma and became entranced with the potential of the tea trees there.
Usually, when we say “tea trees”, calling them “trees” is being generous. Most are kind of bushy and spindly, not getting much taller than a man. In commercial tea producing areas, it doesn’t make much sense to let them get too big, it just makes them harder to harvest.
In these areas of Laos, some of these tea trees have been growing wild, apparently for years or decades.
John has some great pictures of the workers climbing trees like squirrels to harvest the tender shoots and leaves of these enormous tea trees.
I’ll let him describe the tea.
“That is a flavor I have never tasted before. Though there is near the south border of YI WU tea region in China, but the taste is far different. Also different from teas from other regions in Yunnan.
“Ever the bitterness turns out in the beginning or sweetness which comes from aftertaste are obvious like a weather I experienced these days in that tea sourcing trip. The sun was shining brightly. Soon a group of cloud dropped by and brought a sudden rainfall. Meanwhile, the sun was still shining from higher sky. When the cloud passed by minutes later, sky turned back to normal as before.
“Rich taste with complex. The mouth feeling varies when tea liquid passes into throat.”
I can’t do any better than that, but I will say the later steeps of this tea exhibit some great fruit flavors that I believe will only be enhanced as it ages.
Usually, the term “Puerh” is reserved solely for tea made in Yunnan, China. Others can be called “Dark Tea”, but they aren’t Puerh.
John brought in tea harvesters and processors from Yunnan, did the early stages of tea processing in Laos. Then moved the tea to Menhai, Yunnan, where the processing was completed. So, at the very least it is Laotian Tea processed in Puerh Style.
I mentioned when I ordered a couple teas from Yin Xiang Hua Xia Tea, they sent along a few samples. One was this mysterious entity, marked only in Chinese characters.
The single serving Chicklet/Tile shape intrigued me, but I couldn’t find anything very similar on their website.
Opening the package, it seemed like a white tea of some sort.
I sent a note off the the tea company asking what it was, but went ahead and brewed it at the slightly lower temps I use for white tea.
When I tasted it, I was pretty sure it was a white tea, as it reminded me strongly of Fujianese Bai Mudan or White Peony type tea.
It was quite tasty and surprisingly zippy, with the typical tasting notes you’d give a white tea. Light body, floral, yet earthy/minty flavors. Good length of aftertaste and a bit more re-steepability than you would expect from even a Bai Mudan.
I did eventually hear back from the company and find out the tea is what they call Songya Mudan from 2012. Songya Mudan is a classification of Fujianese white tea with fewer buds than Bai Mudan.
It’s important to note that the main classifications of white tea are based mostly on the ratio of buds to leaves, Silver Needle, White Peony, etc., and that they aren’t exactly related to quality of the tea. Instead, the amount of bud in the tea will affect the character of the brewed tea. In general, the more buds, the more subtle the flavor, the more leaves, the more white tea will taste like the flavors you normally associate with tea. There can be very good (and very bad) teas in any of these classifications, so it is more important to find an importer you trust, and whose taste matches yours, than to decide based solely on Silver Needle vs White Peony vs whatever. Also, Silver Needle teas, because of the increased labor involved with picking more buds per gram of tea, will be more expensive.
There’s an interesting saying that the Chinese have about White Teas:
“一年茶、三年药、七年宝” or “First Year it’s Tea, In the Third Year it’s Medicine, after Seven Years it’s Treasure”
So, finding out Yin xiang hua xia tea, had sent me not just a sample, but an actual “treasure” was quite a surprise!
As regards the medicinal claims for white tea, I will say while drinking so much White Tea through December and January, I was rarely ill, while those around me in the office fell prey repeatedly to colds and flus.
Another point of interest, because the leafier versions of White Tea are so fragile, it actually makes sense to buy it in cakes. The last time I ordered White Tea from China, it was opened and inspected by US Customs. I think unpacking and squeezing the white tea bags was among their priorities, so my tea arrived pretty crushed. If I had, instead, ordered white tea cakes, it might not have been as damaged.
The second (or sometimes the first ranked) green tea almost always included in the classic list of “China’s 10 Famous Teas” is called Bi luo Chun, from Suzhou in the Jiangsu province of China. Suzhou is a two hour drive North from Hangzhou, the home of Dragon Well tea. Suzhou is closer to Shanghai, basically directly West from there. This Bi Luo Chun is from Yin xiang hua xia tea and I believe it is their “Fresh Bi Luo Chun”.
Bi is green, Luo is Snail, and Chun is spring, so the tea’s name translates to Green Snail Spring. The sort of double twist that the tea is shaped into is said to resemble a snail out of its shell, (though it is harder to tell with these fine buds than it was with the coarse Bi Luo Chun from Yunnan.) It is very green, especially when Fresh, and it is only harvested in spring when the buds are smallest.
Bi Luo Chun is a much more delicate tea than Dragon Well. This is a particularly fine version, almost entirely the tiniest buds with very few leaves.
It reminds me a bit of the Ai Lao Mountain Jade Needle White Tea, though it does have some of the same nut character as Dragon Well. It is almost light enough to be a white tea, and it is certainly as bud forward as the Jade Needle tea was, though, of course, the Yunnan tea had much larger buds than these tiny things, which are barely bigger than your fingernail.
For being such a light tea, it is suprisingly re-steepable, with a clean refreshing broth and very long lasting aftertaste.
I believe I’ve mentioned before, there is a classic list of “China’s 10 Famous Teas”. There’s a bit of waffling about some of the 4-6 Green Teas usually on the list, but one that is always on, and almost always first, is Long Jing Dragonwell from Hangzhou in China’s Zhejiang province.
I’ve had a bit of a love/hate/fear relationship with Dragon Well tea.
I drank it almost exclusively for several years, accidentally super overdosed one time, and now am a bit nervous about trying it again.
The problem with highly regarded, highly produced, highly desired, and often expensive Chinese teas, is, you run the risk that the producers will use chemicals or you will actually not get what you asked for.
Like the fact that far more Olive Oil is sold as Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil than could possibly be produced in Italy, more tea is sold as “Long Jing Dragonwell” than could possibly be produced in that Chinese province. Most often it is simply green tea from another region made in the style of Dragon Well.
I sort of suspect the tea I had such an adverse reaction to may not have been actual Dragon Well and may have been treated with chemicals.
In any case, that is not this Dragon Well.
You can see the typical flattened spear shape and lighter olive green color.
Brewed well with water this tea expresses a wonderful nutty taste, chestnut is the flavor used to describe what it evokes, but I get a little bit of coconut. It has a rich broth, lingering flavor, and re-steepability beyond what you would expect from a green tea. There is a little bit of tannic sensation in the later steeps, but no bitterness at all.
I brewed it in a Gaiwan, though it is more typical to brew Dragon Well Tea in a pitcher or glass, refilling with water as you go along.
I’m glad I overcame my reluctance and renewed my acquaintance with Dragon Well, one of China’s Top Teas.
So, one of the fun things about writing about tea on instagram is that there is a pretty active community of tea drinkers and tea marketers.
As I mentioned before, it’s not that unusual to post about a type of tea and have someone message you and say, “If you liked their Baihaoyinzhen, you need to try my Baihaoyinzhen!” Which is pretty fun.
And that is exactly what happened here.
I had posted about the Yunnan Sourcing (@yunnan_sourcing) Fuding “Bai Hao Yin Zhen” Silver Needles White Tea and another user, @yinxianghuaxiatea, immediately messaged me telling I needed to try their White Tea from Fuding.
I was kind of finishing up with White Tea by this point, but I thought, “Why Not?” Plus, they had some other pretty tempting teas listed on their Instagram Account.
Anyway, if you are looking for a very good Fuding White Tea, you should think about ordering from Yin Xiang Hua Xia Tea, as this is about the best White Tea of this type I’ve tried. Amazingly clean taste, great re-steepability, and a length of aftertaste that just won’t quit. Not to mention a nice zippy buzz.
When I first started writing about tea on instagram, I got a message out of the blue from Chao Zhou Tea Growers, aka @wudongtea, asking if I would like to try some Organic Oolong Tea.
Oolong tea is not particularly common in the US. I had tried a few over the years, but didn’t really know much about it. In fact, I had sort of been avoiding it, as from what I had read, Oolong was basically a whole other world of tea and tea terminology from the basics of White, Green, and Black teas. Many Oolong teas are highly coveted and often quite expensive.
But, how could I refuse some samples? The usual rule with these deals, I come to understand, is, you buy some of their teas, and they send along some small samples of their other teas.
The first batch, I bought 100g of their Honey Orchid Oolong, and they sent along samples of their Ya Shi Xiang, aka Duck Poop Fragrance varietal tea.
I drank all the Honey Orchid, but really liked their Duck Shit Oolong, so decided to re-up my supply of that with my next order.
The previous bunch of teas and samples they had sent had all been in the “Orchid” family of flavors, so I asked them to send me a couple samples that were different varietals/flavors/fragrances.