I hate to admit it, but I know very little about
Columbia Colombia. Even how to spell it right, apparently. As a good Colombian tea blogger colleague of mine (Ricardo Caicedo) informed me, it’s “Colombia” – with an “O”. Not to be confused with a certain district in the U.S. . . . where the federal government resides.
The only knowledge I had about Colombia stemmed from media sourced stereotypes.
I knew about the coffee.
And . . . uh . . . other infamous exports.
So, as one can imagine, my very myopic paradigm was completely shifted at this year’s World Tea Expo when I found a certain booth by accident. One put on by an outfit representing a tea grower in Colombia.
The outfit was called Bitaco Tea – a name that, I’ll admit, made me chuckle. I kept picturing a sexually indecisive taco, for some reason. Yes, on the inside I am a fifteen-year-old boy. Moving on.
The tea garden(s?) rested on the west side of the Andes Mountains, at an elevation of 1,800 to 2,000 meters above sea level. The growing region was located near the town (and municipality) of La Cumbre, which translates to “The Summit”. Bitaco was also the name of a forest reserve in the region.
From their World Tea Expo booth, I picked up four samples – two blends and their no-frills black tea and green tea. Of the blends, I was particularly fond of “Cacao Kisses”, but I already extolled upon its virtues in another write-up. This time, I wanted to pay closer attention to the straight black tea and green tea.
The black tea resembled a standard mid-grade Yunnan Dian Hong in appearance.
The leaves were medium-cut, had a stemmy look about them, and – yeah – that’s about it. The difference – as is often the case – was in the smell. The aroma of the leaves started off with a typical malty black tea profile, but then blossomed into something chocolatier as I inhaled deeper. There was a sweet underpinning to it to, like cocoa nibs, but not as rough. All complimented by a little bit of astringency on the trail.
I approached the black tea like I would any other – 1 teaspoon, 6oz. gaiwan, and a three-minute steep in boiled water. If it was worth its weight in leaves, it would turn up something worthwhile with that approach. It was just light enough to work, and just dark enough to taste.
It brewed to a strong, copper red – reminiscent of a Keemun – with an aroma of wood and sweet tobacco. The taste was about as testosteronal as any black tea I’ve ever sipped. The introduction was a burly, malty punch to the tongue, followed by a pile-drive of smoke and earth, and ending on a barrel roll of tannins and German dark chocolate.
Holy heck, I need a cigarette. And a medic.
Definitely a morning black tea.
The green tea – by contrast – had a similar leaf cut to the black, but they were a bold (and obvious) dark green. The aroma was also very grassy, reminding me instantly of a Bi Luo Chun or Mao Feng in sharpness. It wasn’t an unwelcoming, vegetal sort of grassy – just very prominent.
Confession time: I accidentally boiled the water, instead of watching the kettle reach a sub-boiling point. As such, I let the water sit for a few minutes before pouring it over the leaves. I used roughly a teaspoon of leaves in a 6oz. gaiwan, and shortened the infusion to a minute.
I’ll also confess that I was worried the resulting brew would be straight spinach. But I always have that worry with new green teas. Thankfully, that was nowhere near the case here. The liquor had brewed to a bright, light green with a surprisingly floral aroma. On taste, it had a little bit of a grassy front, but that immediately changed over into something with more of a vaguely citrus lean. If someone whacked me in the face with a bouquet of cantaloupe flowers, I’m sure it would feel (and taste) something like this. And I’d probably deserve the pummeling.
I guess I can conclude that my horizons were broadened a bit by these two unique brews. A lot of time has passed since I last adhered to my original tea mission statement: “To seek out strage, new teas”. It felt kinda nice to be back on track.
And I learned to spell a country’s name correctly. Always a plus.