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 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 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.