Tuesday, August 23, 2016

I know I know but...

Look. Lets be honest with ourselves. I know its been 3 years and I have good news and bad news.

The bad news is my tea cupboard is empty. It pains me everyday to look at it.

The good news is that I moved to a tea loving country and am continuing my tea enjoyment bit by bit.

I picked up some top quality matcha tea from Japan and will be posting shortly about it.

Lets get this blog brewing again, shall we?

And remember, let it steep

Monday, April 29, 2013

Review: First Flush Dragonwell Tea

And we're back for a real post this time! Posts are going to be slightly more spaced out for the next few weeks as we have a lot going on at the moment. Nonetheless, there is always time to sit and enjoy tea (it's writing these that takes up quite a bit of time!).

Thankfully, the lack of posts the last few weeks has built up your expectations and I'm sure you are all expecting the best post ever....you won't be disappointed. How can I be so confident that this post is going to rock your tea socks off? Because Al and I were lucky enough to get our hands on first flush Dragonwell green tea from the West Lake region. Did I mention 'first flush'? Just in case I didn't, first flush!.

Some of you might not be as excited about this as Al and I are, but let me explain why we are giddy little kids. First and foremost, Dragonwell tea is an excellent tea on it's own. Known also as Longjing (龙井) tea (茶), it comes from the Zhejin Province in China; a province known for the beautiful West Lake and surrounding gardens, not far from Shanghai on China's east side. The young tender buds and leaves are very carefully and meticulously hand-picked, dried, and then pan friend to produce fragile sparrow-tongue shaped leaves which result in a gentle, rich, toasty, and chestnut like brew. Once lovingly steeped, the straw/amber coloured liquor can be sipped all afternoon while reading a book, or in this case, writing about tea. A harsher tea would be slightly distracting, but longjing compliments leisurely activities beautifully (perfect for a young spring day such as today).

It is arguably China's most beloved green tea and is on the top 10 list of China's most famous teas (the only teas previously enjoyed by the emperor).

So far so good...now let's take it up a notch. First flush. This is what takes an excellent tea above and beyond and transforms it into a memorable life experience. First flush is the first picking of the leaves of the season making the resulting tea the finest and freshest of the season. Quantities are very scarce and expensive as the first flush is normally reserved for the higher levels of Chinese government (that's how good it is!).

I was told that this year was the first year in a long time when the tea was made available to the public. A friend of mine (owner of My Cup of Tea) took advantage of this and visited his tea farm where he partook in the tea gathering and preparing process (to make for a very interesting post in the near future!). At the end of it all, he was able to bring back a small amount of first flush dragonwell tea to sell back home and offer small tastings to fellow enthusiasts. I was lucky enough to be invited where I heard all the stories and adventures that he had. More than that, I was supremely lucky enough to be given a small amount of the tea to try at home.

It's been sitting on my counter all week but I wanted to make sure that I could take the time to properly enjoy it. I sectioned off my Sunday afternoon and here we are!

First off, the aroma of the dry leaves is mind-boggling. I can honestly say that I have never experienced dry tea leaves that are so fragrant, fresh, and full of potential. The leaves are a straw-green colour, shaped in flat sparrow-tongues. The shape, size, and colour were consistent leaf to leaf which is already an excellent indication of it's quality. I eagerly started to prepare the water in anticipation of what would come next....I was not disappointed.

The aroma of the dry leaves was nothing in comparison to the unleashed aroma when the water hit the leaves. Smelling the leaves and closing your eyes, you are taken away to a beautiful day where the sky is crystal blue, the sun is shining, and a light breeze compliments the warm air, carrying with it the promise of spring and fresh grass. The initial smell of the tea is tantalizing and an invitation to experience the brew. 

After patiently waiting...ok that's a lie. I have to admit that I got super excited and poured myself a cup too early which resulted in mostly water. Even with a very fast steep, I was teased with what was to come and so I put my cup down and patiently waited the proper amount of time before pouring myself a second cup. The wait, though it seemed like hours due to my excitement, was well worth it. Once the leaves were given the chance, they were more than happy to release their flavours and subtleties. 

Despite the powerful (yet respectfully gentle) aroma that arose from the pot, the first initial taste was quite gentle and timid. Some green teas can be quite forceful when it comes to taste as they are young, vivacious, and full of energy but this first flush green tea was very humble and eased me into each subsequent sip. The flavours slowly built up, compounding on one another, until each layer of the leaves were exposed and the fully developed taste was revealed. Even then, the taste was not overpowering and required focus to enjoy the lighter and shyer levels.

To be perfectly honest, there is no way that my words will be able to do this tea justice and so I will quote from the tea book published by Camelia Sinensis (though even their words could not possibly do this tea justice. Also, keep in mind we are talking about tea, the imagery can be quite PG)

"The jade-green liquid releases a gentle vegetal aroma. In the mouth, the herbaceous attack is fresh and slightly sweet. The vegetal opening is full and followed by notes of green bean, cooked fennel and arugula in a gently unctuous stream. The finish is long in the mouth and mildly astringent with a remarkable balance between sweetness and strength"

Given that description, I find the tea to be quite a bit less vegetal than described but they do have a way with words. 

All in all, I can say without a doubt that this is the most luxurious tea I have had the pleasure of trying. Thankfully I was given enough for a few pots of tea and will be exploring the different angles of First Flush Dragonwell in more depth and with a calmer state of mind. I was excited for this batch and can't help but feel that this tea is to be enjoyed with a calm mind and a steady heart. I will be giving it another go this week (calmly) and will see what other notes it offers up.

(we also got a sample of a matcha infused chocolate (seen in the first picture) which was Ah.Ma.Zing.)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Surprises of Life: Temporary Disruption

There hasn't been a substantial post in the past 2 weeks and I would like to apologize. For the moment, there will be a little pause in the frequency of postings and content (though I am in the works of one) since life has taken an unexpected twist for Al and I and our free time has very quickly dropped to zero.

Don't worry though, I'm saving a colossal post for this weekend. Not colossal lengthwise, but colossal awesomewise! We were recently lucky enough to come by First Flush Dragonwell Tea from the West Lake Region in China. This was once a tea (up to last year) reserved for high officials and not made easily available to the public. I honestly never thought I would get to try such a revered tea!

Excited? So am I!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Review: Cha Yi's Bai Cui Mei




I've been looking forward to this post all weekend and all day! Despite being pretty tired from work & gym, I am pumped to get this post out there for all to share! While I will admit in advance that this post is not going to be held in the blogger hall of fame for incredible writing or a hooking narrative, I am excited because the pictures in this post are 100% mar-tea!

Why the sudden change in media material? Well, as I excitedly blurted out the other day, I got new glassware which allows for incredible pictures and a very interactive drinking experience (Al will be doing a post on the new glassware soon!).

Anyways, without further ado, I bring to you, my tea review! (Eminem material right there, just saying)

Some of you might remember my slightly disappointing experience at the Ottawa Tea festival a few months back. Though the venue was nothing to behold, I was happy to pick up quite a few sample packs of all kinds of tea. I must admit that it took a gargantuan effort to open one of the teaser taster packs and ruin the 'everything in it's place look' but I can assure you that it was well worth it and I look forward to doing it again. The lucky tea victim this week was a white tea named Bai Cui Mei taken from the Cha Yi's tea kit, a little tea shop located in Ottawa.

Before I dive into the world of tea, I would like to take a little moment to mention that out of all the booths at the tea festival, Cha Yi's smiling employees were the most friendly and the most informative group of people there. They were more than happy to tell me of their travels and adventures and indulge my many tastings! And no, this is not a sell out as I will be fairly reviewing a bunch of tea I got from the most disagreeable booth as well (and Im sure it will be quite good).

Bai Cui Mei is a type of Bai Mu Dan from China's Fujian province. As it is a white tea, it does have a slightly longer steeping time at gentler temperatures to allow the flavour to shyly come out without fear of being burned. This tea recommends 1 1/2 teaspoons per 250ml of 80 celcius water, and a steep time of 4-5 minutes.

At first glance, the dry leaves look in disarray and seem to exude identification issues as the mix of leaves is quite diverse. While many teas are uniform in appearance, shape, and colour, Bai Cui Mei is an inquisitive mix of elongated and twisty brown/grey leaves, combined with wire-like, furry white shoots. There is no immediate aroma which only helped to further increase my curiosity.

I was skeptical at the amount of tea to use. Though I am used to being stingy, the leaves looked lonely sitting at the bottom of my tea pot and I wondered if they would be able to provide much taste and aromas. I should not have doubted them.

The moment the water hit the leaves, I was honestly very surprised. Though I expected a light yellowish tone, the water immediately took on a golden honey grown colour which only intensified with time. This is quite uncommon for a white tea as they are known to be quite subtle and gentle teas. If anything, it was behaving more like an oolong or light darjeeling (of which I am no expert sadly...added to my list of teas to drink). After patiently waiting for the leaves to unfurl and unveil their aromas, I poured myself a small cup and am not ashamed to say that I did not know what to expect.

Before tasting the tea right away, I prolonged my curiosity by smelling the tea (from the cup, not the pot). I was greeted with a fragrant, yet light, sweet smell, not unlike candy. At this point, I threw away any expectations or notions of this tea and went into it with a clean slate. Even with that mentality, I was surprised when I took my first sip, which yet again, was nothing at all as I had expected it to be.

Despite the confident aroma, the liquor was very mellow and gentle and oh so subtly sweet! What struck me was the metallic after taste that followed each sip. I don't know if anyone has ever licked batteries as a kid (not saying I have), but it reminded me of that (I'm sure tea experts are rolling in their graves). The metallic taste was quite persistent, though not unpleasant, and was only subdued by taking more sips; an oddly addictive and enjoyable trait.

The taste, colour, and aroma were very constant with further steeps which is an enjoyable quality of tea. The post-steeped leaves were incredibly aromatic and powerful. Well as powerful as leaves can be. Smelling the wet leaves from the pot this time, I was reminded of all my previous sips in one big whiff.

The small/medium sized leaves were now a more uniform brown greenish brown and were quite tough when munched on. I did not live up to my Canadian Cow nickname this time around and left the majority of them uneaten.

All in all, this was an amazing experience and reminded me to throw away expectations when faced with new things (both with tea and with life). Though this might be an odd start to white teas considering how a-typical it was, I look forward to exploring the rest of the samplers and the surprises that, they too, are hiding.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Mar-Tea on Facebook

We've expanded to facebook!

The goal of the little step forward is to be closer to our readers. Not everyone logs in to Blogger, but everyone logs into Facebook and we'd love to hear from you.

You can look forward to announcements, discussions, and events; so make sure to 'like' us.

In the meantime, here is my current tea wallpaper (click for full size).

Happy Steepings

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tea Review: U Green Tea

New pop-up on the Montreal Tea scene: U-green-tea!

I was passing through the alleyway between Les Cours Montreal and Place Montreal Trust with my cousin Janet and we happened upon this new joint. "U-Green-Tea". Minimalistic and clean in design, the concept is simple-- serving tea like coffee.

U-Green-Tea has 2 main tea bases: Japanese Matcha or Black Tea. The matcha is prepared in a large bowl and frothed in the traditional way with a Chasen (whisk). You can have the tea as-is, or in the form of a latte. The way the black tea is prepared is quite interesting as well as it is ground up like espresso beans and run through an espresso maker! You can have it like a shot in a latte or allongé or simply like a large tea.

Jim whisking the matcha
Jim pouring the 'espresso-style' black tea
into a cup for a black-tea latte.

I opted for a plain matcha the first time, and a matcha latte the second time. Janet got a black tea latte, as did Martin, during my second visit. How did I like it?

Well enough! The other day I was sitting with some friends and though to myself, "Man. I could really use a matcha latte from U-Green-Tea right now!" The flavour was clear but not too strong, and I appreciated the process and natural ingredients used. Martin preferred the green-tea latte while Janet preferred her black-tea latte. Their most popular flavour right now is their vanilla matcha green-tea latte. The price was also reasonable. I think my large latte came in a little under $4.00. They're also doing a opening '2-for-1' after you buy your first cup, only 2,000 available with no expiry. I picked up a few and have promised to share them, so let me know if you want one.

If you happen to go, you might see Jim or his sister behind the counter. I asked them what made them decide on doing tea this way-- Jim explained that this method of drinking tea is currently very popular in Japan and they decided to bring it here. They also have a bunch of delicious looking treats behind the counter, though I forget if they are tea-related.

A cute selection of treats behind the counter.

The only thing I think might cause an issue for them is the speed-- preparation is careful and precise (which I really do appreciate), though in this case also meant slow. The first time we went, there was no-one so we were served right away. The second time there were 2 couples before us and we waited a bit. If we were rushed for time we probably would have bounced. The place is very new so we'll see how they do!

We definitely wish them well, as they bring something new to the Montreal-tea scene.
Have you passed by and tried U-Green-Tea? How was your experience?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Loose Leaf Tea vs. Tea Bags

Some of the strongest resistance I've encountered from people trying loose leaf teas surprisingly doesn't come from avid coffee drinkers (they know the value of quality), but instead comes from people who drink tea... ~gets on my high horse~ or should I say: drink tea made from tea bags.

Now I'm not saying that tea bags don't have their uses, they have lots of practical applications:
  •  Get rid of eye dark circles
  • Used to dye paper and make it look really old
  •  Twirling it around your head and competing who can throw it the furthest
  •  Tea bag nunchucks
  • Quick steep on the go

 I digress, I won't get into bashing tea bag drinkers (heck, I do it too once in a while), but instead will present the facts plain and simple and let you decide.

Loose Leaf Vs. Tea Bags

Round 1: Steeping

Multiple steeps (value): Consumers now a days are quite concerned with getting the most for their penny and saving where it counts. With the higher price tag on loose leaf teas, one would be inclined to save a bit and pick up bagged tea but in fact, I would like to propose that you would be loosing money!
Tea bags do not provide great multiple steepings and are at most a 2-3 time use (3 is pushing it  but I guess it depends how strong/weak you like your tea). On the flip side: some loose leaf teas can be steeped up to 6 or 7 times and, if you're really in it for value, the leaves can even be munched on after! Talk about value.

Steep Control: A selling point for many products is presenting personal choice and having it "your way". Tea is no exception to this rule and loose leaf tea offers a great amount of customization in your cup. Being able to control the amount of leaves in your cup lets you control the flavour and intricate aromas. While you could argue against this and say that you have just as much control over aroma and flavour by playing with steeping time, I would have to disagree. Increasing steeping time increases the risks of releasing the bitter undertones, while keeping the steeping time the constant and increasing the quantity of leaves will simply increase the concentration of flavour without risks of ruining the brew.

~ding ding ding~ Round 1 goes to Loose Leaf

Round 2: Qualitea (sorry, I had to)

Knowing what you're getting: While the ingredient list on the box of bags can provide some insight to what is contained in them, ultimately knowing what's inside a tea bag relies heavily on faith. Tea bags contain a blend of leaves (and anything that might be included) and even if you open the bag and look inside, you won't be able to ascertain much more. Sadly aside from leaves, tea bags also contain a high proportion of stems (which do not contribute greatly to the taste) and I would dare say any unlucky little bug that made it's way through the cleaning process (don't spit out your tea, I'm sure it's very very minimal).
Loose leaf, on the other hand, is fully transparent and exposed. You can smell and see the tea before committing to a cup. There is no hiding any stems or extras as it would be revealed upon initial inspection, steeping, or the after drink scrutiny. Before steeping, you can examine the leaves and determine the general quality off the bat (future post!). Once finished, you can examine the unfurled leaves for markings, rips, and consistency. You know what you are getting, and more importantly, what you're drinking.

Closer to nature: Loose leaf teas are more natural and truly offer what I like to refer to as "The leaf, water, and you" experience. A quality loose leaf tea will have no added essential oils (you can determine this by looking for little oil pools floating on top) and will be prepared straight from the tea bush to your cup (some new tea chains popping up add essential oils to their leaves. watch out!). Tea bags are more synthetic and go through a longer process between being picked and being steeped. Being chopped up into little pieces exposed the leaves to oxidation and alters their original intended flavours.

~ DING~ Round 2: Loose Leaf

Round 3: Elitism

A Cooler Collection: I've never seen someone be proud of their tea bag collection...just saying.


~Dismounts high horse~

 Don't get me wrong, bagged tea can be quite good and practical when in a bind. It is easier to grab on the way out the door in the morning, and less of a hassle to deal with (though you can always bag your own tea). Some of the 'classier' brands offer quite passable and pleasant tea experiences, but I still prefer a loose leaf to a bag any day. If you haven't already tried loose leaf, send me an email to martea.blog@gmail.com and I'll be more than happy to send a little sample your way along with a little how-to guide.

Any thoughts?

(also...I've never heard of loose-leafing someone!)