Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Norbu Tea Company

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.

The Green Teas of Nepal

I’ve confessed (here and there) to turning into a bit of a Nepalese tea fanboy lately. I may have even made a lofty claim that whatever it is they’re doing may very well be a possible future for the tea industry. (But that’s a whole ‘nother article.) While I’m not going to retract that statement, I am going to clarify it a bit. Simply put, imagine that India is the “Reinheitsgebot” (Bavarian Beer Purity Law”) of South Asian tea growing countries. Nepal would be Belgium. They take the old rules and just . . . toss ‘em out the window.

Nepal’s tea growers, farmers, farming collectives, and estates don’t have a solid model in which to base their industry on yet, but they have a pretty good start. They’re not afraid to buck tradition to try something wacky. And I  was recently sent three green teas – courtesy of Norbu Tea Company – that solidly illustrated my point.

Nepali green teas

Read More

Texans and Tong Mu

Let’s start with a simple introduction for the rookies: Lapsang Souchong is a pinewood (or pine needle)-smoked black tea, originally hailing from Fujian province, China. I’ve waxed manly-melodic about Lapsang Souchong (originally known as Zhen Shan Xiao Zhong) on two different blogs. Several, several times. And I’ve even paid homage to the li’l UNESCO protected village that created the smoky brew – Tong Mu. In more recent years, I also lamented that said village cut back its production of it in favor of a more profitable product; Jin Jun Mei.

That all said – even with the rarity of running into the true single origin smoky stuff – I’ve managed to do just that. On two different occasions. What’s even funnier is that I found the really rare Tong Mu produced stuff from two vendors . . . in the same state.

Texas.

texas

What. Are. The odds?

Read More

The White Pu-Erh for the Right Time.

At the end of June, Portland, Ore. was dealt one of its most severe heatwaves in recent memory. And I got the flu during it. A mere week ago, we were dealt another STRONGER heatwave . . . and I got the flu again. That’s eerily coincidental.

Luckily, I caught this one in time and doused myself with various forms of ‘Quil on the market. That and I offset the medicine head with copious amounts of apple cider vinegar and lemon juice. But of course, there was also the issue of what tea to drink.

For most normal people that isn’t an issue, but tea still had to play an integral part somewhere. When knee-deep in flu-plague the recommended real tea is white tea. Straight-up young tea leaves and buds that are withered, dried and nothing else. They supposedly have antiviral properties, but – like the downy furs on the leaf buds – the science is a bit fuzzy on that claim.

The problem with most white teas, though, is that they aren’t strong enough. Okay, not entirely true. White tea leaves actually possess more caffeine than any other type because of their minimal processing. However, for most types to taste any good, they have to be brewed as light as possible. Boiled to death, yes, one would get the necessary daily-start caffeine wallop, but the brew itself would taste like a grassy turd. There are exceptions to this, but they’re hit or miss.

My phlegmatic redemption lay in the form of two freakish teas from Norbu Tea I had in my repertoire that – as per usual – I had yet to get around to writing about. There were pu-erh teas out there that were made from young tea leaves and buds.

White pu-erhs

Read More

When You Wish Upon a Taiwanese White Tea

White Tea Week, Day 3: “When You Wish Upon a Taiwanese White Tea

Back in the Fall, I saw a retweet from Greg “Norbu Tea” Glancy that just about put me into cardiac arrest.

Japanese White Tea

Japanese. White Tea. Oh. My. G-word.

I saw mention of something like this existing on (of all places) Wikipedia a year prior. Not sure how such a mention got there. I think one of the Wiki article writers planted it there to screw with my mind. Yes, my mind – personally! The article has since been updated/edited, but at the time, I went on a research binge to find out more.

Queries turned up nothing…until Greg’s retweet. Unfortunately, the tweet from the company in question was dated for back in August. I checked the site, and the Japanese white tea was gone. It’d sold out in days after its mention.

In true tea-fanboy fashion, I repeatedly contacted the vendor, and gave my best beggar-eyes. No luck. They were fresh out. Not even test-samples. I made…uh…”ridiculous offers” to even smell a bag that had housed the white tea leaves.

crack

Nothin’.

After a day or two of pouting, I returned to business as usual. Another round of Japanese white wouldn’t be available until May of the next year. I’d just have to live with it. But how?

Oh yeah.

I thought back to the entirety of the year, and to the teas I’d tried. Then I thought back to Greg and Norbu Tea. There was a type of white tea from another Asian isle that was hard to find – two actually! – and I’d sipped ’em both.

Tsou-Vayiyana Nano Alishan High Mountain White Tea

This white tea from Ali Shan (my favorite Taiwanese mountain), was from the Qing Xing cultivar. I tried it completely by happenstance at World Tea Expo at the Tsou-Vayiyana booth Norbu Greg was working at. The taste blew my mind. Alas, I didn’t have more time to concentrate on it, seeing as I was already well beyond tea drunk at the time. However, I did give it a proper treatment at home a few months later.

The dry leaves looked like…well…dry leaves.

Ali Shan

Not much else to say there. The smell, though, was pure wilderness with a slight tickle of lemon on the back-whiff. This may sound sacrilegious, but it reminded me of an American-grown white tea I tried. Same lemon-leafy fragrance finish.

I used roughly 3 grams of leaves, placed ‘em in a 6oz. gaiwan, and used 175F water for the brewing. Then I waited for about three minutes. And…prayed I didn’t screw it up. I didn’t have a lot of this stuff to go around.

Ali Shan again

The liquor came out practically clear with a smidge of yellow. At first, I thought I’d brewed it wrong. Was the temperature wrong? Should I have gone higher? Was the infusion time too short? But then I smelled it. Lemons and flowers wafted from the cup. Score! On taste, it was exactly how I thought it would, based on the aroma. Lemons, citrus, flowers, and…autumn dominated the cup.

I tried a second infusion at five minutes, but that appeared to be too long – given its more leafy kick. That said, when done right, it hit all the right white tea marks. And then some.

There was something missing, though. Oh yes, I needed to compare it another white tea from the same country, but a different region/cultivar because…well…it’s me. I gave Greg my best beggar eyes, and got this.

Zhao Lu

For some reason, the bag made me feel alarmingly inadequate.

Norbu Tea Zhao Lu Bai Cha

This hefty bag o’ leaves stemmed from Nantou county, Taiwan, and were from the Jin Xuan cultivar. The tea plant type was usually used for oolongs and occasionally black teas – rarely white teas. It was also – blessed be – a white tea that Norbu Tea personally carried. I remember missing the last batch by a matter of days.

The leaves for this white tea looked like…well…leaves again. Forest green, plucked whole and dried leaves. No other nuance to the appearance besides that.

Zhao Lu, too

As for aroma, there was more to talk about there. I whiffed straight olive leaf, mint and sage. Very little processing, but a whole lot of natural awesomeness to potentially bestow. I was starting to see a pattern to these Taiwanese whites.

A small confession: Before this official trial run, I actually dipped into it several times. I mean, wouldn’t you if you had that much white tea to play with? I did it delicately, I boiled the heck out of it, I treated it like a green tea, I took it for long walks on the beach, we woke up in Vegas…then everything got blurry. Point being, this tea held up to some pretty unusual punishment on my part. But it was time to give it a more clinical whirl.

madman

The brewing instructions were thankfully lax. Norbu Tea recommended “grandpa style” – leaves put at the bottom of a cup, 160F water, and a ten-to-twelve-minute steep. I went with a 6oz. steeper cup instead, opting for something more – shall we say – proper. It’s nice to know there’s a white tea out there you can totally forget about while you’re taking a shower.

The liquor brewed pale yellow – as expected for any tea worth its weight in “white”. A fragrance of lemony herbs emanated from the cup with a subtle sweetness on the end. As for taste, I don’t know where to start. On the one hand, it was as herbaceous as a White Peony, on the other it was melons and muscatel – like a Darjeeling white. Somewhere in the middle, tropical fruit notes happened. Not sure how, but they were there.

As luck would have it, I received the perfect chalice in which to grandpa-style the heck out of this white tea. And it was in the shape of Chewbacca. The results were unsophisticated, tea-geeking bliss.

Chewie

Later that week, I finally went about trying the Ali Shan white and Zao Lu Bai Cha back-to-back. The results were…conflicting. No, not bad. Just…oh hell, it was like judging a mud-wrestling competition – no matter who lost, everybody wins.

The Ali Shan white had a darker liquor and a more robust flavor. Sweetness began on the initial sip before dissolving at the top note, to be replaced by a caramelized almond sensation – wrapped in lemons. The Zhao Lu Bai Cha went down a more subtle and floral road. It retained its sweetness throughout, sure, but remained – how should I put it? – fluttery. Which one was a favorite?

Hard to say.

back-to-back

If you ‘re no stranger to this blog, you know what I did next. I mixed them and blended both of the leaves for a second brew. Just for s**ts and giggles. Fusing both liquors turned up a magical cup of melon-on-lemon action. Brewing the blend by the pint just turned up straight lemons! As opposed to…uh…bi-curious lemons? Where was I going with this?

Oh yeah, I love both of these teas. I love them both together. Taiwanese white tea should be more of a thing than it currently is. Formosa oolongs are great for every other time, but Formosa whites keep me from taking a nap in the late afternoon. And taste damn good, to boot.

With goodness like this, I can cope with waiting another year for a Japanese white tea. For someone so full of lament, I have it pretty good. Yes, I’m bragging – Taiwan pint held high – in ode to granted wishes.

I apologize for nothing

Journeys to Jungpana

The Darjeeling tea estate of Jungpana has a unique history for its name. According to Norbu Tea Company, there are two possible origin stories. One Norbu Greg heard from the locals states that the name is an alteration of the Farsi word “Jahanpanah”, which means “Shelter of the World” – in reference to how the estate resembles a palace on a hill. The other posits that the name was a blending of “Jung” (the name of a Gurkha guide who got mauled to death) and “Pani” – the Nepali word for “water”.

I like to think it’s a combination of the two – the name given to a brave Gurkha who fended off rabid tea-thieving werewolves atop a hill. That’s how I’d want to go. Where was I going with this?

Oh yes, Jungpana.

Jungpana

Image Owned by Vanessa Sly

Until last June, I’d never even heard of the estate. And in less than seven months’ time, it has become one of my favorites. My first exposure to it occurred at World Tea Expo. Yes, yes, I know I keep talking about that damn event. How was I to know it would influence umpteen origin stories months later?! Stop complaining or I’ll…uh…Gurkha you. In the face. With water.

Anyway…my first exposure was at a tasting event on my second day of the Expo. Perennial Nice Guy – Rajiv Lochan of Lochan Tea – was in attendance, and he brought with him a first flush Darjeeling for the tasting. It was an OP from the Jungpana estate. I don’t recall any other details about it other than the fact that it made mine and Robert “The Devotea” Godden’s eyes glaze over in delight.

I wish I had more information beyond the crinkled, felt-writ foil bag still in my possession.

sample bag

I have barely two servings left of the stuff, and – for the longest time – I thought those vestiges would be the last of that estate I’d experience all year. Boy, how wrong I was!

Among many other samples, I received – not one but two! – teas from said estate, courtesy of Norbu Tea Company. One was a second flush OP dubbed “Muscatel” (fitting), and the other was a uniquely pan-fired green simply called “Yellow”. Just what I needed, more yellow-named teas to confuse my palate.

Well, I’m glad they did.

Jungpana teas

Jungpana Yellow (Left). Jungpana Muscatel (Right).

The Jungpana Muscatel’s infusion yielded a pleasantly…well…muscatel and floral cup with a citrus feel on the back. Never thought I’d say it, but this is a Darjeeling second flush that begs to have a pre-wash to allow the leaves to open up. Thirty seconds, tops. For some reason, more exhilarating flavor notes emerged from that. Not sure how to properly convey it.

The Jungpana Yellow on the other hand…holy Gurkha guide water!

The liquor brewed bright green with a fruity aroma. What fruit, eh, I dunno – something mildly citrusy. On taste, I can’t describe how pleasant this was. The forefront was tropical, the middle possessed the wine-like characteristics of a Long Jing, and spice appeared on the trail-off. No grass, no spinach, none of those negative green tea traits. It was green tea perfection.

No wonder this sucker won an award.

(No, seriously, it won an award.)

award

After that dual tasting, I looked at the bags and said, “Okay, Jungpana, I get it. You’re awesome. You’ve made your point.”

Oh, but it wasn’t done with me, yet.

Last Sunday, I ventured out to Stash Tea’s new store and tea bar in North Portland with my brother and his wife.

We planned a trip, since none of us had been yet. It was a lot like their Tigard retail space, but with a slight Teavana-ish lean (minus the upselling). That and the employees were nice – like, really nice. Genuinely friendly tea people from a large chain, what a concept!

Stash Tea Bar

I also appreciated the layout of the store. Once someone entered, the bar was on the right, loose-leaf single origin teas were on the left, and the bagged teas were toward the back. As they should be.

Unfortunately, they only had a limited selection of canisters one could choose from for sampling at the bar. Most of the bar-ready teas on display were of the flavored variety. Not that I was surprised. It was Stash, after all. They catered to the general tea drinker, and that was decidedly not me.

Then I saw it. At the front of the black tea line – even ahead of the Earl Greys – was a giant tin with a label that made my jaw drop and my lips moisten: “Darjeeling Jungpana”.

IMAG1447

I ordered a 12oz. glass of it immediately. So exclusive was this tea, that it wasn’t even available on their website. (Trust me, I looked.) It was…oh my omnomgharblemummerssss….

It wasn’t quite as perfect as the Jungpana Yellow…but still way up there.

As my brother and his wife looked around, I chose a spot by the window – gingerly sipping and watching traffic go by. Both of them joined soon after – my brother had ordered a Chai Latte, his bride cupped some Mangosteen Green. My younger sibling let me sip his masala chai, and I let him try mine.

“Whoo!” he exclaimed. “That’s primo!”

“I know!” I replied.

He feigned a pout. “I like that almost better than mine.”

And we wasted the late-afternoon, cupping away like gentleman hunters waiting for their Gurkha guide.

Shelter of the World, indeed.

Brothers Norman

Photo by “Critter”

The Moonlight of 2013

Earlier today, I finally clicked on my “2013: Year in Review” thingy on Facebook.

2013 review

For those not on the accursed social media site – all two of you in Zambia – at the end of the year, your most frequented status updates are compiled logarithmically. The Top 20 are listed in order, giving the user a basic rundown of their highlights for that year.

If my Top 20 is to be believed, the only things I accomplished in 2013 are: (1) Drinking beer. (2) Watching Doctor Who. (3) Commenting on my brother’s wedding. (4) Posting a picture of myself from when I was a teenager.

1234311_560373377351206_8905290_n

Yes, I’m aware I looked like an extra from Saved by the Bell. It was the 90s, after all.

The thing I found unsettling, though, wasn’t the fact that I’d accomplished so very little over the last year as a human being. I was quite aware of that. Writing projects went unfinished. My station in life had not improved at all. (If anything, it got worse.) But there was one key factor that was missing; one thing that made the year – despite my lack of evolution – the best of my life.

Where the f**k was all the tea?!

Sure, my life hadn’t changed much, but as a tea writer, everything changed. I attended my first World Tea Expo. I went to – not one but two – tea gardens over the summer. I met just about every tea blogger in my social media circle in person, save for a precious few. I attended a teabeer fest. And – last but certainly not least – I met The Devotea. (He’d kill me if he didn’t at least get his own sentence.)

How had Facebook forgotten all of that?! And why weren’t they higher on the list? I know for a fact more than one tea status update was just as popular or frequented as…Doctor Friggin’ Who!!!

Tardis Teapot

Image owned by ThinkGeek

Then I promptly had a cup of tea and calmed down. I reflected on the year that was, and on the present. The last couple of months of 2013 were a might depressing. Financial woes were looming overhead. Job hours were being cut – again. And prospects for the future were…nonexistent at best.

Yet still, 2013 was the best year of my life. How could I express that in a few words? I know…

I would reflect upon the best tea I had all year – a new incarnation on an old favorite.

Thanks to Norbu Tea Company, I was able to get a hold of this last year’s Castleton estate second flush oolong dubbed “Moonlight”. The first time I ever had this tea was in 2011, and it just about made my brain melt. Same thing happened in 2012. (And that was a really s**ty year.) How about the 2013?

Moonlight Luckily, I still had some of the 2012 from Thunderbolt Tea for comparison’s sake. The two like-named teas smelled like what I expected – awesomeness. Floral, zesty, muscatel, with an herbaceous finish. The 2013, however, had a nuttier profile. Both had a menagerie of colored leaves on display, ranging from browns, to greens, to downy-furred tips. The 2013, however, had more fur-tipped pieces.

The 2012 liquor brewed up darker bronze than the 2013. The taste was – well – pure, unadulterated heaven. All the sensations I got from the aroma and more. I could try to narrow it down, but I’m still fuzzy…and basking.

The 2013 possessed many of the traits as the 2012…but with one added caveat. There was a presence of chocolate-covered almonds in the flavor. In this regard, it lost most of its oolong-y comparison, but added a dimension that was definitely full-on orange pekoe.

Left: 2012. Right: 2013

Left: 2012. Right: 2013

How did they both measure up? It was like comparing two different interpretations of perfection. The latter year had a chocolate/malt/almond thing going that both added and changed the vote. The former was more fruity and floral. It was (and still is) a tough call. They evened out to identical palates upon further steepings. Yes, I said further steepings. Both lasted two more strong infusions before giving out – two Western-style infusions.

And I think that best sums up my opinion of 2013. In normal terms, it was just as “eh” as 2012, but nowhere near as tragic. I didn’t change much, but certain aspects were more transcendent. In short, it was more of the same, but my horizons were broadened. I committed more to my tea-ish leanings, and they rewarded me tenfold.

I guess this is the part where the writer offers a look at the year ahead – a hint of what’s in store. Resolutions, too, if ambitious. To tell you the truth, I have none…and I’ve made none. Well, not entirely the case. To borrow from a recent Devotea status update, my only resolution is to:

 

Image Owned by The Devotea

Image Owned by The Devotea

The rest will sort itself out.

As the best years of our lives often do.

2014

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar