Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Kenya

Playing with Purple Tea before a Tandem Taiwanese Tasting

So, the events herein are from a couple of weeks ago, but the work week from Hades prevented its etching onto this holiest blog-tomes. But…here it is now. Late. As expected. As always.

Big Brass Butiki-s, Round 2: “Playing with Purple Tea before a Tandem Taiwanese Tasting”

(How’s that for a long-arse title?)

March’s Tandem Tea Tasters Googly meet-up was scheduled for the last week in March. The tea in question was to be Butiki Teas’ Taiwanese Wild Mountain Black. A fabulous tea, if I do say so. Problem was, I already used up all of my sample…for this write-up.

Originally, my plan was to use my remaining Taiwanese Assam in substitution. Then a better idea hit me. Yes, I occasionally have those. Not often, but sometimes.

There were two other teas I had to notch off for write-up purposes, and I was getting off work early enough to do a proper…uh…”analysis”. The two in question were an oolong and green tea made from the Kenyan “Purple Tea” cultivar – TRFK 306/1.

I covered this manmade tea plant strain on two separate occasions. Butiki was actually the first company I approached about trying one. Thanks to them, I was one of the first “reviewers” to cover the unique plant. Several months later, I ran into a white version of the tea. It was only natural that it’d show up in other forms eventually. And – boy-howdy – did it.

The two Butiki was a steamed green tea variant and an oolong.

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The leaves for the Steamed Purple Green looked a lot like the regular orthodox Purple Tea of Kenya, except for the leaf-rolling caveat. Yes, the leaves were about the same size as the regular Purple, but they were more – well – leafy in appearance, instead of flaky. The aroma reminded me of something between a Kabusecha and a Long Jing. If it weren’t for the dark hue to the Purple, I wouldn’t have known what I was whiffing. It was sweet, slightly vegetal, and mildly mineral-like.

The Purple Sunset Oolong, on the other hand, looked like a roasted Chinese oolong in appearance. The leaves were long, dark, and twisty – a lot like a Dan Cong or a Da Hong Pao. The aroma the leaves gave off was sweet, mildly cocoa-like, and very subtle in its earthy lean.

Brewing instructions for both – per the Butiki page – were very similar. The oolong required 170F water; the other, 180F. The Steamed Green needed about a three-minute steep; same with the oolong. This was a cake-walk.

When finished, the Steamed Green’s liquor turned – dare I say it – dark purple. The steam wafting from the cup smelled like a sencha, but with a little more body. The Purple Sunset Oolong brewed darker with a more rust-red color, and an aroma that harkened back to Dan Cong brews of yore.

Purple Duel

Left: Green Tea. Right: Oolong Tea

Tastewise, the Steamed Green was vegetal and sweet with a creamy aftertaste. The Sunset Oolong possessed a malty introduction that transitioned to a tart middle, and ended with a roasty (almost Taiwanese-like) finish. Sipping between the two was like being sandwiched between two women. Whatever the outcome, my face was happy.

As to a favorite? Gotta go with the oolong, mainly for my oolong preference these last few months. The Steamed Green was damn good, but oolong is where my heart resides at the moment. I thought about doing a combined brew, but that didn’t feel right. These were artistically done on their own separate merits.

By the time I was done dousing myself in purple goodness, 6PM rolled around, and it was time for the Tandem Google Hangout. At first, there were only three of us total – Rachel of I Heart Teas and Jo of A Gift of Tea. Regulars Darlene and Nicole were indisposed – the latter of which was saddled with WORKING AT A TEASHOP!!!

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No jealousy here…none at all.

We three marveled and reflected on the Wild Mountain Black, but also discussed other things. The prevalent subject seemed to be the feeling of “chaaaaaange” surrounding the Spring season. I had made it clear I wasn’t a fan of Spring.

In the span of a few weeks, my finances had taken an even bigger nosedive than anticipated. My attempts to look for a second job were proving difficult. (Mainly, finding one that worked around my “full-time” job.) All that rigmarole curbed plans I originally had for World Tea Expo and a book I wanted to finish.

The only thing that was going according to plan was my li’l tea poetry Tumblr.

But that was just on my end.

Everyone else seemed to be going through some time of major upheaval. I won’t go into theirs or anyone else’s. Not my place. The overall feeling we were getting was that Spring was a time of rebirth, but something was preventing the process from taking shape – whether it was our own reluctance, or constant outside influence.

Throughout, the meet-up, my phone continued disconnecting me from Google+. I’m still awe-struck that a Google site has so much difficulty on a Google phone. Then a wonderful thing happened.

Rachel asked, “What’s your address?”

I rattled it off, then asked why.

“No reason,” she said cryptically.

Moments later, my Gmail pinged me. I opened the notification and just…gaped at the screen.

“Late Christmas present,” Rachel said.

Right before we were about to close the tasting off, Nicole (Tea for Me Please) chimed in from her teashop gig – Tea Drunk in NYC. And…the conversation continued for another hour or two. That’s how these tea things work. Time is relative. And we’re all relatives here. In a way.

Following that meet-up, I worked two six-day weeks – barely had enough time to sleep, let alone write. In the interim, though, two wonderful things happened:

(1)    Rachel’s late-Christmas present arrived. It was a new webcam. No more Google/phone trouble for me! We test-drove it a few days later. Over tea, of course.

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(2)    Jo passed along a note to check out Oprah’s magazine for the subsequent month and turn to page 136. And there was her photo…looking all regal with teacup in hand.

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As I write this, I’m mentally preparing for the next work day – hopped up on caked white tea. Yep, Spring-sewn change is in the air; transitions are inevitable. But at least I’m in good company.

No matter how far.

Running for Kenyan Gold

This has unofficially become “Kenya Week” here at my lazy ol’ tea blog. It wasn’t intentional, but given that I have three Kenyan teas to notch off, it seemed only fitting that I theme a week around them. Today’s steep is a tea I actually received before the Purple Tea of Kenya. The purveyor of Phoenix Tea caught wind of my love for teas with the word “Gold” in them and (basically) said, “You ain’t tried nothin’ yet.”

Only…more eloquently, of course.

Royal Gold Safari was a “tribute tea” that was developed in honor of Professor Wangari Muta Maathi. She was the first African woman (an environmentalist) to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Also to her credit was being the first East or Central African woman to earn a doctorate.

Mooched from the Nobel Prize site

Mooched from the Nobel Prize site

This – like the Purble Tea I tried – was sourced from wholesaler, Royal Tea of Kenya. What I found funny was that it wasn’t listed among the available products on the RTK site. My only guess for this was that it was a rare tippy black tea only handed out for connoisseur-related consideration. Heck if I know. Not sure I’d call myself a connoisseur, but I know my gold teas…and this was one fine specimen.

On appearance, it looked like a Yunnan Jin Cha. The batch was mostly gold-tipped, curly leaves interspersed with the occasional brown-black pieces. The aroma wafting from the bag was peppery, sweet and caramel-like. On a blind whiff, I wouldn’t have been able to tell it apart from its distant Yunnan cousin. If there was one key difference in the fragrance, it was the berry-like lean – more like a greener oolong.

(Sidenote: I even had my brother/roommate smell it. His exact reply was, “It smells like Fruit Loops.” Well put.)

I couldn’t find any brewing instructions on the Phoenix Tea page or the RTK site. Best bet for Yunnan Golds was a three-minute steep in 195F-ish (almost boiled) water – 1 heaping teaspoon in 8oz. It was a little difficult to measure out just a teaspoon with how long these leaves were; the attempt came out looking more like a tablespoon. However, I thought it turned out right.

The liquor brewed to a…well…no other way to put it. It brewed GOLD! Bright, shiny, dazzling gold. It was a very light – and very bright – black tea. That same berry-sweet aroma remained with the liquid form, but not quite as strong. It was the flavor that was really surprising, though. The mouth feel was lighter than a Yunnan Gold – not as bold of a nectarine presence – but it possessed a floral introduction with a buttery after-effect. It was like drinking a Ceylon oolong (although I’ve never tried one). In fact, everything about this first infusion was very oolong-ish. I would even say close to a Dan Cong in character.

A second infusion at a full five minutes turned up an amber-colored brew with a stronger, honeyed-apple aroma. The taste was crisper, not quite as creamy, yet the same fruit-sweet savoriness remained. It took an uncontrolled brew-beating and still turned out wonderful – a telling trait of a burly black tea.

I’m not quite sure this surpasses the best Yunnan Golds I’ve tried. And, believe me, I’ve had a lot of those. But the experience this offers up is something quite unique. If this blog is proof of anything, it’s that I treasure unique teas. This is a fantastic tippy tribute tea if ever there was one.

To purchase Phoenix Tea Shop’s Royal Gold Safari, go HERE.

Four-Eyed No-Horned Flightless Purple Tea Drinker

Tea is a major cash crop in Kenya. Some of that is owed to Lipton. Thanks to Big L – and others like it – the entire country could be looked upon as one big tea garden dotted with a few cities and wildlife preserves. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but – truthfully – Kenya produces a lot of tea. Unfortunately, most of it shows up in cheap-o blends for mass consumption.

Lately, though, there’s been a push to highlight the single estate offerings Kenya provides. Almost as if the country collectively said, “Hey! Over here! There’s more to us than Lipton!” I can proudly say I’ve tried three or four – a Kenyan white matcha (bizarre but beautiful), a whole leaf black (meh), and an English Breakfast variant (tres yum). But the real stand out – at least in the last year or so – has been the development of a new leaf cultivar dubbed “Purple Tea”.

Photo by the Tea Research of Kenya

Photo by the Tea Research of Kenya

The new clonal strain – dubbed TRFK 306/1 – was developed for its health properties as well as its potential resistance to pests. Its most noteworthy molecular component is a flavonoid called anthocyanin – the component directly responsible for giving the leaf its purplish hue. Anthocyanin was purported to be an antioxidant powerhouse (a topic still debated), but the actual food value was questionable. By itself, the flavonoid was considered odorless and flavorless.

Science-y talk aside, I was hooked on sipping the damn leaf six months ago. It was instantly added to my “Tea WANT!” list. Problem was no one carried it. Part of that was its recent introduction. Most tea vendors weren’t aware of it until the World Tea Expo this year. Some that I talked to that were intrigued by it chose not to pick it up. Of all the ones I encountered, there were only two: The Royal Tea of Kenya (the parent group providing it, a wholesaler) and Butiki Teas. I chose to go through the latter in acquiring it. Would it taste good? Hell, I’d be the judge of that.

The leaves – or rather, leaf fragments – had the appearance of black tea fannings. They weren’t quite CTC-cut small, but were definitely flirting with the granular grade. There wasn’t much of a purple sheen to them, not that I was expecting one. In fact, I found it odd that there was a sharp contrast between green and black, no in-betweens. I figured these would be fully oxidized when I got ‘em. As for scent, I was reminded of sweetened trail mix and Japanese (or Guatamalan)-grown black tea – floral, somewhat dry, and lightly sweet.

Brewing instructions called for a ½ teaspoon of leaves in 8oz. of 160F water infused for three-to-five minutes. That was as sencha-like an approach as I’d ever heard of. Those instructions came from the Royal Tea of Kenya page itself, but I was in the mood to experiment. Heck, Butiki’s site encouraged experiment. So, I decided to try three different infusions – one at the recommended 160F, one at 180F, and one at boiling. All at the three-minute mark, save for the last one where I’d do the full five.

First try (160F, three minutes): The liquor brewed up clear with a tinged droplet of green giving a slight impression of “tea”. The aroma had a roasted nutty impression, again supporting the sencha comparison. That was dispelled on taste when I was greeted with a grape front, a creamy-textured top note and a faintly vegetal finish. It had a lot in common with a Mao Jian.

Second try (180F, three minutes): The hotter temp yielded a pale, foggy amber brew reminiscent of steeped nettle leaf or guayusa. The aroma was sweet and almond-like with a trail of artichoke. As for the flavor, this was a tough one to discern. The front was fruit sweet and crescendoed on an even greater grape note than the prior attempt. Whereas the trail-off had none of the former’s vegetal lean; the nearest comparison I could find would be a Taiwanese (Formosa) oolong. Not surprising since this was an oolong-ish approach.

Last try (boiled to awesomeness, five minutes of EXTREME!): The liquor took on a bronze-ish lean for this last bit o’ crazy. Oddly enough, it was difficult to pinpoint an exact aroma, though. The only word that came to mind was, “TOAST!” But maybe that was because I was hungry. Butiki was right that the brew took on a bit more astringency with the more brazen temp, but I didn’t find it off-putting. The foretaste possessed a roasted fruit feeling on tongue-down, which transitioned in the weirdest of ways.

Usually, when I sense the…uh…”movement” of flavor from one note to the next, it’s a subtle feeling – not so, here. There was a faint echo of – and I know this sounds weird – cream-covered strawberries on interim, like I was riding a yogurtine go-cart from one taster note to the next. This alternated from roastiness…to “yogurt-cart”…to fruit…to “yogurt-cart” again …to finish. Unorthodox? Just a tad. But obviously my favorite of the three infusions.

In closing, I have no clue if this would make me run as fast as Kenyans – or even get me out of my chair – but what it did do was deliver on taste. At the end of the day, when all the health benefits and science-y technobabble’s been spouted, that’s all you need. Butiki’s founder also mentioned in passing that there existed a white tea version of this experimental leaf.

And I’ll be the first in line to guinea pig for it.

To purchase Butiki Teas Purple Tea of Kenya, go HERE.

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