Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Historic Packaging

I borrowed this packaging from a friend in order to take these photos.  This statement makes me want to drink tea:

"Tea is used for entertaining friends and guests.  It is aromatic and tasteful. Besides, quenching our thirst tea gives us appetite and cleanses the internal systems of our body.  Nowadays, people indulge in drinking tea because it is considered the best of all drinks."  

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Iron Goddess, Ti Kuan Yin, Tie Guan Yin, and TKY: What's the Difference?

Here is a question sent to the tea inbox. You can direct your tea related questions to help@jteainternational.com
Aaron writes:
“I am a long-time oolong devotee, however, in the study of tea there is so much that still puzzles me frankly. For instance, Tie Kwan Yin is a specific kind of tea, but really it occupies such a range. There are green Tie Kwan Yin, more fully oxidized TWY, roasted TKY, aged TKY, etc. What really are the differences between a green TKY and a Pouching for example? Sometimes I find that I am confused by how a tea is labeled, or sometimes it seems arbitrary. Any thoughts on this?”
This is true: there are no strict standards and TKY is hugely varied. The best way for to understand the distinctions to break it down into several categories.
First, is the tea from Mainland China or Taiwan? Mainland varieties are primarily traditional--highly oxidized and heavily roasted. In the last ten years, the Mainland has begun to produce green varieties as well. Though many of the green varietals have been unimpressive, I have discovered some amazing teas with a creamy almond texture, citrus notes, and great body. Typically, these teas are lightly roasted and, historically, have been reasonably priced. In more recent years, the price on this "good" green goddess increased a great deal. The lower grade green, which is a TKY varietal that’s processed like a green oolong, is also overpriced in my opinion. I would rather drink the Four Seasons varietal from Taiwan. They are similar, and in fact, Four Seasons was derived from Iron Goddess. Even more recently, in the last two years, there has been a resurgence of less expensive highly oxidized, heavily roasted Iron Goddess from An Xi in Mainland China.
Taiwan TKYs, as far as I can tell, are all traditional. TKY is more labor intensive to produce and the plant varietal yields less leaf. As a result, the prevailing attitude in Taiwan is: "Do it right, or don't bother." The Taiwan goddess fetches a pretty penny, but is well worth the price. Taiwan's major goddess producing regions are Mu Zha 木柵 and Mao Kong 貓空 in Taipei County as well as Shi Men 石門 in Northern Taiwan. Pouchong, or Bao Zhong 包種, as it is spelled in Pin Yin, is the greenest of the oolongs and processed in a twisted leaf fashion, rather than a tightly rolled leaf. This variety is grown in the Wen Shan region in Northern Taiwan.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Food, Wine and Tea: A Sensory Exploration

After making the connection between wine and tea several years ago, I began to notice the numerous similarities between the grape and the tea leaf. The films Bottle Shock and Mondovino artfully elucidated these similarities. Here in the Pacific Northwest, home of some of the world’s best vineyards, I have befriended with a few wine experts. After hearing similarity after similarity between the grapes/bottled wine and tea/the tea leaf, I have finally stopped being surprised upon hearing yet another commonality between these two wonderful beverages.
What are the differences? First and foremost, regions such as the Willamette Valley and the Dundee Hills, support a vibrant wine culture. Sadly, tea culture is very limited in these regions. I am doing my best to build a tea culture, along with a few other local connoisseurs. At present, there are a few leaders and a number of fanatics. All are welcome.
I recently made a discovery regarding the complex relationship between beverages and food. Some wines pair beautifully with food—this results in a wonderful sensory experience. Other wines stand up well on their own or overpower food, and are best enjoyed without food. Tea, though sometimes marketed as complementary to certain foods, on the whole should not be consumed with food. In my most idealistic vision of tea, it is like a wine that stands on its own. Food scents or flavors only detract from the overall tea experience.
Yet, exceptions exist—particularly in the case of morning black teas. In Taiwan, I was served a 20-year-old Lapsong Su Chong with a handmade sweet rice porridge, and I still long for this wonderful combination. In this case, food and tea are consumed intermittently. However, for digestive reasons, it is not advisable to alternately eat a bite of food and take a swig of tea. Generally, food and beverages should be taken separately to prevent dilution of the digestive juices. It’s likely that the quantity of the beverage imbibed whilst eating the food also plays a role. Perhaps tiny sips are agreeable, as in the case of wine. In addition, many teas should not be consumed on an empty stomach. The best practice is to wait about thirty minutes after eating to start brewing tea. If tea is consumed too soon after eating, it prevents the body from absorbing all of the nutrients via the digestive organs.
What about the concept of brewing bits of food with tea? In Lei Cha, seeds, nuts and or spices are ground up with tea before hot water is added. Tibetan yak butter tea combines puer tea with yak milk or butter. Though I have not yet tried these tea drinks, they seem to function as a meal and tea all in one. Incidentally, I do love tea and cookies. However, in general, tea is for the sake of tea and tea alone. Nothing needs to be added, but sometimes a bit of cookie makes a tea twice as nice. In conclusion, I have once again proven to myself that it is difficult to make blanket statements about tea.