TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

July 25, 2013

Reviews: Teamania’s Oolong Four Seasons from Thailand


Oolong Four Seasons (photo courtesy of Teamania)

While there is none of the tradition of tea in Thailand that exists in neighbouring Asian countries, more and more excellent Thai teas are finding their way to Western markets. A handful of European tea entrepreneurs have discovered the high quality leaf that growers in Thailand are producing. Entrepreneurs like the folks at Teamania.

Many of the cultivars, and the growers themselves, are originally from China, although the oolong processes used are largely in the Taiwan style. Like this exquisite pouchong-oolong. Light fermentation (or, if you prefer, oxidation) followed by a gentle roast produces this absolutely delightful tea.

Aroma out of the package of this Oolong Four Seasons is richly flower-ful and slightly fruity (dried apricot?), and further evoking that ethereal “iron” quality that presents itself in only a select few teas. Aroma and taste carry through to the cup. Leaves are bright, shiny, and tightly rolled, opening large and earthy when infused.

As usual when sampling oolongs and pouchongs, I prepared the tea in my one-cup ducky-design clay pot. I generally cover the bottom of the pot with leaf; the leaves expand with each infusion until they fill the whole pot, which is the general idea of gongfu style tea preparation: lots of leaf and short successive steeps. After briefly rinsing the tea, I pour the rinse water into the fairness or sharing vessel (usually my two-cup Chatsford teapot) and then into my teacup to warm them before discarding the rinse water.

teamania-four-seasons2Following each infusion I pour the made tea into the two-cup pot, diverting a couple of mouthfuls into my teacup. In this way I can appreciate the evolution of the tea throughout the tasting and still have a pot of tea for uninterrupted drinking. Two infusions at a time are blended together in this manner.

I use fish-eye temperature water and increase the infusion time with each subsequent steep. How long do I let it steep? I couldn’t say exactly; just long enough. The wonderful aroma and taste have so far lasted through four infusions, and there seems to be enough life left in the leaves for at least another two infusions.

Teamania is located in Switzerland and prices are listed in Swiss francs which are currently converting at about US$1.08 to one CHF. One thing I definitely like about Thai teas is that they are very well priced for the quality: this tea is currently listed at about US$21 for 200g or a little over seven ounces.

Highly recommended!

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All content Copyright 2013 JP Badarau; all rights reserved.

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July 19, 2013

Reviews: The best of the best oolongs

Filed under: food,oolong tea,tea review,Tea sites — by JanisB @ 3:51 pm
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What a miserable month it’s been! Just the right combination of rain and sun started everything to bloom. Which may be wonderful for many of you, but to those of us with spring fever it means constant stuffed-up noses and scratchy throats. Most days I could be drinking the best-quality tea in the world and wouldn’t know it, because smell is such an important part of taste. My dear husband kept telling me that everything I fixed was over-seasoned, but I couldn’t tell: Essentially everything I tasted — if I could even taste it — was like yuck.

Now that heavy rains (almost enough to build an ark this year!) have washed away early-summer allergies, I can again enjoy smelling and tasting my food and drink. DH is no longer afraid to put a fork to the dinner on his plate. And I’m blissfully back to sampling a bunch of absolutely wonderful teas.

Lishan-oolong-Taiwan Tea Crafts

A potful and cup of Taiwan Tea Crafts Lishan Cui Fong oolong, posed in front of my hand-tea-crafted tea-dyed Tea Shirt.

Lishan oolong is considered by many tea drinkers to be the crème de la crème of Taiwan oolongs. Grown high up — 5,000 to 8,000 feet — in the mountains of Taiwan, the combination of growing conditions in the Lishan tea area results in a smooth and lightly sweet cup that fairly bursts with all the flowers of a spring garden.

Here’s where I have to admit that I had no idea that there was more than one type of Lishan oolong. Never having seen more than one Lishan listed at any other vendor, it seemed that all the tea from this region was grown the same and exhibited the same qualities. I have since learned that the Lishan growing region encompasses plantings at different altitudes — and yes, the altitude clearly does make a difference. Depending on where the plant grows it may get more or less exposure to the sun, and this affects the intensity of the taste and aroma put forth by the leaf.

I sampled two of these green-style oolongs, or pouchongs, courtesy of Taiwan Tea Crafts: Lishan High Mountain Spirit Lot 230 and Lishan Cui Fong Lot 217. Both have beautiful aromatic tightly rolled leaves that open into a lovely bright green colour.

The first of these imparts a lovely flowery taste and aroma: flowers with just a hint of spice and nuts, as if you were eating a flower. I’m on my sixth infusion of this tea and it’s fading a bit, but its qualities still come through as clearly as when I first opened the package. It’s like enjoying a spring garden without any of the allergy worries!

Lishan-oolong-Taiwan Tea Crafts

I’m still on the second infusion of the Cui Fong, and it’s just as lovely as the Spirit. Grown at a slightly higher elevation where the plants enjoy more sunshine, the floral gardenia-type notes are more pronounced, with almost none of the flowery spice. I imagine that it will also last through at least six infusions.

Tea drinkers may disagree on which particular tea they like best, but there can be no disagreement when it comes to freshness: the fresher the tea, the more intense the aroma and the more exuberant the taste. These teas were plucked and processed in May, and reached me just weeks later, and both exhibit a headiness that simply isn’t there in teas that are less fresh.

For those who are interested, I steeped these teas in my duck-design clay teapot in what I call modified gongfu style; that is, I rinse the leaves, steep up the first potful, and transfer it to a larger vessel (in this case a two-cup Chatsford teapot). After each steeping, before I blend them together (two infusions at a time), I pour enough into my glass cup to better appreciate the evolving colour, aroma, and taste. To my mind there is tasting tea and drinking tea, and having a teapotful makes it easier to drink after tasting.

Two things I like about Taiwan Tea Crafts are that freshness of their teas and the details they provide about each one. You can buy oolongs from many vendors, but they don’t all identify the garden, the plucking date, how it was plucked (by hand or machine), garden elevation, even the cultivars that produced the particular lot (or invoice) of tea. A lot of vendors do not provide this kind of information, and it’s greatly appreciated by true tea-o-philes (otherwise known as tea nerds).

Taiwan Tea Crafts has recently revised their shipping policy, making their teas and tea ware much more affordable and accessible to those of us who live outside of Taiwan. And they now offer sample sizes of each of their teas. Definitely worth checking out.

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All content Copyright 2013 JP Badarau; all rights reserved.

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April 10, 2013

Ramblings: A tea quandary

Filed under: exotic tea,friends,tea,tea review,Tea sites — by JanisB @ 2:22 pm
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Dictionary.com defines quandary as “a state of perplexity or uncertainty, especially as to what to do; dilemma.”

If the word can be expanded to define a specific place, well … it’s where I am right now.

teapotI like to sample new teas, and I like to review them, and I think I do a reasonably good job reviewing teas as a consumer — a tea drinker, not a tea taster. Apparently a few tea vendors think so too, and have offered me samples in exchange for reviews. Seems like a fair enough bargain when the teas are good and the reviews are honest.

But what about when the teas aren’t so good?

Well, that’s what’s happened: A new — or at least new to me — tea vendor offered me a few teas to sample and review. While I love the familiar folks I do most of my tea business with, it’s very exciting to find a new source. So I said “Sure,” described my picky preferences, and happily waited for the tea to be delivered.

Unfortunately, once the tea arrived things went downhill rather quickly. The individual packages of tea were not airtight — they were barely sealed. Glassine envelopes with the top folded over twice and then stapled shut does not cut it when it comes to tea. Not only does it not keep the tea fresh nor protect it from damage (what if the shipping package were caught in the rain or dropped in a puddle?), this type of semi-permeable paper does nothing to prevent cross-contamination between the different types of teas. This is a particular problem when at least one of the teas is strongly flavoured — scented with flowers, smoked, or with added flavouring — as was one of the teas in the sampler pack. Even tho’ I had made it very clear that I neither drink nor review these types of teas.

As you might imagine, there were no discrete aromas discernible when I opened the individual envelopes of dry leaf. In fact, there was precious little aroma at all. And needless to say — tho’ I’ll say it anyway — this lack of distinction carried into the cups. Yes, against my better judgment at this point, I steeped up each sample tea (except the flavoured). With all the crazy nasty stuff finding its way into edibles these days it took some effort to ignore the poor packaging and forge ahead with tasting the teas.

The results were predictible: Little aroma, little taste. That’s how it works.

I sent an email note to the vendor, describing effective tea packaging, explaining that under the circumstances I would not review the teas, and offering to review more carefully-packed samples. That was last week, and I still haven’t heard back.


I like to sample new teas, but …

Some of you probably want to know who the vendor is so you can avoid doing business with them. I’m not going to tell you because I don’t think it’s fair to the vendor not to give them a heads-up and a second chance. Some of you will argue that before opening a tea business the vendor should have researched proper packaging methods and materials. And you’re right: it’s not like this information is a big ol’ secret. You’ll further argue that I’m not being fair to consumers — you tea drinkers — if I don’t identify the “culprit.”

Maybe that’s true. And that’s my quandary. And I hope you’ll forgive me but I’m still not going to reveal their identity.

I’d like to say this to all tea vendors and potential tea vendors: We who love tea very much want to sample your products, like them, and write glowing reviews so you can grow your business and keep producing wonderful teas.

And this to both tea vendors and tea consumers: If you notice that I haven’t reviewed a particular tea, it could be for many reasons. Perhaps I haven’t sampled it or haven’t gotten around to reviewing it. Maybe the tea didn’t suit my taste. Maybe I have no reason. Or perhaps the tea, or the packaging, or the service, or all of these were simply bad, and I just don’t want to write a negative review because it may affect somebody’s business.

I think I’ve solved my quandary by leaning towards discretion, and hope you agree with that decision. For me, at least, it was the right one.

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