Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Category: Tea Features (Page 1 of 20)

Looking for Hui Gan in High Mountain Oolongs

“This tea had quite a bit of Hui Gan,” someone said to me once.

“Who’s Hui Gan?” I asked, thinking they were referring to a Chinese scholar.

Clearly, I’d never heard the term before. Several people had used it in my presence, and I nodded as if I knew what they were talking about. Of course, I didn’t. I had to consult a more knowledgeable tea blogger friend to have it defined for me.

“Hui Gan” can be translated as “comeback sweetness”. And—like everything else in Chinese—what that means is a tad esoteric and abstract. Finding a definitive answer online was even more elusive. Some people referred to it as the lingering sweetness found in some teas after sipping. Others claimed it was the reflection of that sweetness later down-the-line. As in, a mental reflection, followed by a craving. Like tea drinker déjà vu . . . or something.

The last time I heard the term, it was from Greg “Norbu Tea” Glancy. We were discussing his Ali Shan offerings, and he mentioned that his new Winter ’16 oolong had “great Hui Gan”. I was interested in doing a back-to-back comparison of that tea with a batch of the Spring 2016. Both were greener style, high mountain Ali Shan oolongs, and I thought it’d be interesting to do a side-by-side. The whole Hui Gan hullabaloo became an added side-quest.

One fine day off from work, I got to brewing.

Both teas looked exactly the same—large, ball-fisted green leaves with li’l necktie stems. The Spring smelled buttery and floral, whereas the Winter had more of a “sweet bread” smell. And, I’ll be darned, that sweetness did linger, but it didn’t “come back”. But I wasn’t sure Hui Gan was supposed to show up in the aromatics or not.

These were my findings after the first infusions finished steeping.

Editor’s Note: Forgive the redundancies between the video and the narrative. The Lazy Literatus filmed the tasting notes before undertaking the write-up. That . . . and his attention span is quite short. 

 

I filmed about six minutes worth of additional material with two more infusions . . . but I screwed it up. Royally. I over-steeped the second infusion on both by a good ten seconds, and they turned out tasting like burnt salad. The third fared way better—the sweetness came back!—but the leaves were still a bit shaky from the earlier abuse. That and I accidentally thought “lingering sweetness” was “comeback sweetness”. Nope . . . totally different.

But then I let a few minutes go by . . . and then a few more . . . and then a few more after that. Then I suddenly had an itch in my right index finger. I grabbed my electric kettle, filled it with water, and put it back on its little ol’ heating pad. Once I saw those little fish-eye bubbles, I stopped the heat, and did a fourth re-steep of both.

And then a fifth.

I think I got a good two or three more infusions out of both those sets of leaves. In all honestly, I had planned on doing an entirely different tasting session after those two oolongs. But I lost track of time . . . by a good two hours. The tasting session started at around 11AM, and I carried it on until about 4PM. The only reason I finally stopped it was because I had to leave the house to meet friends in the early evening.

Did I find the elusive Hui Gan? I still have no clue. Its like the Carmen Sandiego of taster notes. Once you think you have it pinned down—whether by sensation or semantics—you find you’re nowhere near it at all.

Perhaps I’ll reflect on it more, at a later juncture.

Sweetly.

To buy the Winter ’16 Ali Shan oolong I test-drove, go HERESee if you can find Hui Gan.

Going Back to Bitaco . . . with Video

About a year and a half ago (from the time of this writing), I wrote about Bitaco Tea—an outfit based near La Cumbre, Colombia.

Their specialty? You guessed it. Colombian grown tea. I encountered their booth at World Tea Expo in the summer of 2015, and they passed on several samples of their wares. Several months later, I finally featured their green and black tea on this here blog. Needless to say, I liked what I sampled.

Imagine my surprise when I encountered them again at the 2016 World Tea Expo. This time, however, they passed on several different grades of their green tea and black tea. Also, a little something special.

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I “Heart” Doke

I “heart” the Doke tea estate.

Photo by Rajiv Lochan.

No, I’m not ashamed to use the word “heart” instead of “love”. Especially today. Okay, I winced a tiny bit at the grammatical incorrectness of it (and the cutesiness of it) . . . but the sentiment still stands. And, given when this blog is going up, the cutesy incorrectness is fitting.

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Revisiting Russian Tea Gardens

I’ve written a lot about Russian tea gardens over the last couple of years.

Image owned by Tea in the City

But I didn’t think, for one second (at the time), that I was one of the only English language sources on the subject. That is, until I got a message from Thomas Tomporowski of Tea in the City, a vendor op located in the United Kingdom. He was looking to research the possibility of carrying Russian teas for his new company, but when he went to research the gardens in Sochi region . . . I was pretty much it. And, granted, that ain’t much.

Luckily, for the tea community at large, he took that leaf journey a step further . . . and actually went to some of these gardens himself. He even blogged about the experience HEREYou should read it. I’ll wait.

All caught up? Great!

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Green Teas of the Arakai Tea Estate

One uneventful day, I was checking out the Arakai Tea Estate‘s Instagram feed, and I noticed this picture.

Image owned by the Arakai Estate.

Simply put, they were showing how their black tea was rolled. They also left a humorous anecdote about the foam that formed as a result of the rolling . . . and wondered (jokingly) if it had any possible pharmaceutical application. I could only think of one.

“I’d freebase it,” I commented.

To which they replied, amusedly, “The value of this foamy stuff just went up ten-fold!”

What does this have to do with their farm-grown, Australian green teas? Er . . . I was foaming at the mouth after trying them? Yeah, that’s a smooth segue. On to the green teas!

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Black Teas of the Arakai Tea Estate

Two months ago, I wrote about two teas from The Arakai Tea Estate. They’re a family-owned tea garden/forestry farm situated in Bellthorpe, Queensland, Australia. I was notably impressed with what I tasted. Just as I was impressed with the garden owners’ ingenuity. Because . . .

Image owned by the Arakai Tea Estate.

BIKE HARVESTER!!!

Anyway . . . shortly after that article went live, farmer Brendon got a hold of me, wondering if I wanted to do a comparison. This time? Teas from spring 2015 and ’16, plus a little something extra.

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Teas I Bought at the Northwest Tea Festival

I spent a lot of money last October. A loooot of money. Like, “had-to-get-a-second-job-for-two-months” lot of money. The reason? Northwest Tea Festival.

Train tickets, hotel stay, Uber rides, class/tasting prices, entry fees, and—of course—tea. I bought a few weird teas while I was there, and I thought I’d highlight some of them. Er, now that I’ve tried them all (a whole-whopping three months later.)

Starting with . . .

Crimson Lotus Tea Jingmai Sheng Puerh(s). Plural.

My first goal when I hit the trade show floor was to finally talk to the husband/wife team behind Crimson Lotus face-to-face. I talked to Glen and Lamu respectively over the Interwebz about their puerhs, but never in person. Lamu held down the sales floor fort with volunteers, whereas Glen hosted tastings in front of their booth. And he did so while sitting on a log.

Awesome!

I can’t remember exactly what I tasted at his log, but I ended up leaving their booth with two samples from Yunnan’s Jingmai region in Simao prefecture. Can’t say I was that well-versed in the region, but one of my first white teas hailed from there. For comparison’s sake, I picked up two spring 2016 puerh beeng chisels—Midas Touch and Jingmai LOVE, respectively.

I dipped into them two months later:

“MIDAS TOUCH”

This sheng was seasonally spring to the core. Each infused liquor was a bright green-yellow-bronze mélange of youthful exuberance. Their aromas were zesty, mildly citrus and stone-fruity, with a hint of mint and pine. On taste? If I was sipping this blind, I would swear I was tasting a full-bodied, whole-leaf green tea. It was pear-like, cantaloupe-y, grassy and verbena-ish, like a few greens I’ve demolished. The only attribute that gave way that this was a puerh was a mild underpinning of moss on the backend.

I liked it quite a bit. It was easy drinking. No bitterness or roughness to speak of, like some young shengs. However, it would be interesting to see what this does in five years. I haven’t any predictions.

“JINGMAI LOVE”

What I found odd was that the liquors for the first three infusions brewed up rather light compared to the Midas. There wasn’t a gradual darkening of color based on steep time, either. Each infusion remained consistent to the others—light green, yellow-ish, bordering on brass. The aroma was also still young-seeming, but with a definite underpinning that marked it as a different beast. There was a smokiness and “earthen-pottery clay” sensation to the scent.

On taste, that showed through even more, earth and subtle smoke took point, followed by . . . whatever the stage is between grapes and raisins. Towards the finish, I was all like, “Yeah, this is a sheng puerh, alright. From 2012.” This sucker was wise beyond its years.

Favorite? I liked both . . . but I loved the Jingmai LOVE.

 

Floating Leaves Tea Red Peony

I think the standout star of the festival this year was Shiuwen Tai of Floating Leaves Tea.

Photo by Jake Knapp of Cloud 9 Design

This was her first year having a booth at the festival (from what I was told), and—every time!—it was packed. The only time when there was room to navigate was on the final day. I was loitering with a few other tea pals (Oolong Owl, included). They were sipping on something strange, and I inquired as to what it was.

“White tea,” Owl replied, “made from the Ruby 18 cultivar.”

WHAT?!?” I exclaimed . . . rather loudly.

My brain had difficulty processing that information. A Taiwanese white tea made from the Ruby 18 cultivar. Sure, it was possible. I mean, any tea bush cultivar could be used to create different types of tea. I just never assumed a cultivar normally used for a “meh”-ish black tea would be used that way. I bought an ounce.

The liquor brewed up yellow-to-bronze; dark enough to be mistaken for a Darjeeling first flush on first glance. The aroma was equally . . . Himalayan. Along with the expected wintergreen notes was a feeling of stone fruit and . . . other fruits. Grapes, even. And other plant-like things, such as figs and maybe a hint of fennel. Nutty in all senses of the word. The top-note was forest-like, and then it trailed off into Buddhist fairydust land. Hell if I know how else to describe it.

I guess the key takeaway here is that I liked it better than the black tea version. Sacrilege, I know.

 

Phoenix Tea Shop Dong Fang Mei Ren

Phoenix Tea Shop’s booth was another must-stop. Like Floating Leaves, they were also insanely busy for most of the festival. On one such drop-in, I think I remember one of the owners saying, “I think I’m going insane.” But don’t quote me (or them) on that.

Both Cinnabar and Chris pointed me in the direction of one such tea that they knew would have my attention. With all my myriad of stops at their storefront over the years, they knew where my palate lay. The Realm of the Weird. And they pointed me to this:

A Dong Fang Mei Ren (Oriental Beauty) oolong from Taiwan . . . that wasn’t bug-bitten. How, you may ask? Oriental Beauty was defined by the fact that the leaves were bug-bitten. That’s what gave the leaves that lovely honeyesque flavor. To that I say, “No clue.”

Best guess? The leaves were processed—open-style—much like a regular Oriental Beauty, but from tea bushes that weren’t subject to leafhopper feeding frenzies. That had my interest and attention . . . and, yes, I bought it.

I brewed it up on a night after a very difficult work shift.

As for tasting notes . . . um . . . I’ll just let this chat transcript do all the talking.

That pretty much sums it up. I have nothing more to add. I even lost count of how many steeps I made of the stuff.

This concludes the journey down my poor impulse control. I felt that there was one more “tea festival adjacent” post in me. Turns out it was about the teas themselves; who knew? If you’re ever in Seattle, or if you’re curious about the wares of the operations featured, give ’em a shout—online or in real-life.

Me? I have more drinking to do.

See ya.

The Harendong Estate

Four years ago, I “discovered” the Harendong estate.

Image owned by Harendong

I put “discovered” in air-quotes because . . . it’d been there for eight years by the time I ran across it. Perhaps I should say, it was new to me. They had a booth at the 2013 World Tea Expo—under their Banten Tea brand—and the thing that excited me about them was where they were from.

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Christmas on FIRE!!!

I’ll make this quick, I swear. Well, quicker than usual. I know you all have Christmas/holiday shopping to do, or something equally as holiday-y. But I have a cute li’l holiday blurb to get off my chest . . . so deal with it.

At World Tea Expo in June, I tried THIS at the Nepali Tea Traders booth.

They called it “Green Pearls of Agni“, named for the Hindu fire god. (“Agni” literally translates to “fire”, from the original Sanskrit.) It resembled Bi Luo Chun (the Chinese green tea) in its visual delivery, but—unlike good ol’ “Green Snail Spring”—they lightly smoked the leaves over oak wood. The results showed up in the fragrance, campfire and cinders.

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Japanese Style Green Tea . . . From Australia

Australian Tea Week, Day 3: “Japanese Style Green Tea . . . From Australia”

I received the subject of today’s blog from this fingergun-toting, doughnut-destroying badass.

Naomi in her natural habitat . . . the gym.

This is Naomi Rosen; no, she’s not Australian. But she could certainly pass for one. She’s the purveyor of Joy’s Teaspoon. Aside from selling some really good teas, she could also probably take down a bear singlehandedly . . . and show more love in her left pinkie . . . while still restraining said bear. This last summer, she was gracious enough to let me crash for a few nights while attending World Tea Expo. On my last day with her, she decided to part ways with some of these lovelies.

Japanese style green tea. From Australia.

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