Saturday, June 26, 2010

Another tea tasting event

I've just returned from the teahouse in which two previous tastings, one of Meng Ding teas and the other of WuYi oolongs took place.
This time, the tasting was especially interesting for me, as Japanese teas, more accurately those produced by Marukyu Koyamaen, were the theme.
I don't remember how many kinds of tea we drunk; I took photos of just those that caught my attention the most. I guess there were about six teas, both hot and cold (as Marukyu Koyamaen produces one Sencha specially adapted for brewing as ice tea). It was really great and refreshing to switch between hot and cold teas, as the sun was shining and the weather was... truly summer.
We had two grades of fresh Shincha, one or two Gyokuros, one Sencha (or two?) and one Konacha, if I remember right.

This is packaging of one single Shincha - the lower grade produced by Koyamaen. This somehow reminded me of a conversation we had with Matt under this post on his blog.
I enjoyed just touching that hand made paper, small brochure in Japanese and all the other proofs of true art of packaging nations like Japan and Korea illustrate.

And this is what you find after opening the package.

In the end, we drank this tea - tea that somehow stood aside of others.
This is the highest grade of Gyokuro produced by Marukyu Koyamaen, Chitose no Homare.
Just a reference, cost of this tea is 12,285yen for 90 gram package - that's something about 110 euro.
Very nice experience.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

2010 Jung jak Jukro Nok cha

I ran across this tea almost by accident. Visiting one of numerous teahouses in Czech Republic’s second largest city Brno, I saw “fresh Nokcha” on their menu. As the package later revealed, this tea was on 1st of May – which is already an early Jung jak or third flush.

This actual tea is from Jukro Tea Company. I remember drinking one of their teas last year, but it was obviously of lower grade than this one - leaves weren't so alike and smell was more harsh, if my mind isn't lying to me once again. Still, it was a very pleasant tea.

After opening the golden package, I found… another package, this time transparent. Finally, after opening this one, incredibly fresh, green, sweet and deep smell hits my nose and attacks my senses. This is one of those teas smell of which can already persuade you of its wonderful quality.

This tea is prepared in stoneware houbin made by Czech potter Karel Zila and drunk from cup made by Jan Jansky, because it somehow just goes well with it.

First infusion is prepared with quite tepid water, bringing out most satisfying result – creamy sweetness, milky and even with some gentle tones of pears and apples. There is also a very refined spiciness, however not rising above other characteristics of this tea. Everything seems to be well-balanced, just as I would expect of tea of this high quality.

I gradually used hotter and hotter water for further infusions, all of which were similarly satisfying, soft and harmonizing. In the end, this tea gave me six tasty infusions and harmony in mind.

Half an hour after finishing the session, pleasant aftertaste of this tea still lingers on my tongue and reminds me of the wonderful taste itself.

I am not going to eat or drink anything else for a while; just because I don’t want it to vanish so fast.

From dry leaves to aftertaste, this tea is beautiful.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

2009 Lao Shan Cha (“Korea type”)

Shandong Province of China is quite close to South Korea, being separated just by small part of Yellow Sea. Laoshan District, part of this province is even closer – and that’s where this tea is from.

Having a large Korean minority and similar geographical conditions to South Korea, Shandong is, as far as I know, the northernmost place in China to produce tea. It thus is no wonder that these teas are said to be really similar to Korean teas, being often even labeled as “Korean type” and other names that have something to do with this neighbouring country.

When you consider all these factors, this tea can be accused of being another cheap, Chinese fake of product far more expensive – can be, but it’s not so accurate, as most similarities end in point of geographical location and appearance of the leaves.

This sample was thankfully received as a small curiosity to try. I was really curious; wouldn't it be nice to have a cheap tea, similar to much more expensive Korean greens for everyday drinking?

First surprise comes after opening the package, as dry leaves smell similar to Vietnamese green teas rather than Korean. It’s a bit rough, somehow sour scent; it’s also evident that this tea already isn’t fresh.

This character continues and deepens in first infusion, which is quite spicy and muggy in taste and even more sour in smell. There is also quite strong bitterness; not that noble, desired bitterness, but something not so pleasant and even disturbing in some way. I’m in a strong need to eat something sweet after drinking this tea.

Second infusion is absolutely the same, not bringing out anything new or interesting.

So is the third infusion.

I made just three infusions; the tea hasn’t impressed me. Maybe it’s because I expected something completely different, but there was nothing that special in this tea. Or maybe my taste buds are too spoiled. I'm not telling that it's absolutely bad, but...

Next review is finally going to be real Korean green tea, specifically 2010 Jungjak Nokcha by Jukro Tea Company. I can already say that it’s incredibly wonderful.

Monday, June 14, 2010

2010 Tai Shun Mao Jian

I attended another tea degustation yesterday, this time of WuYi oolongs (yancha). This time, however, I haven’t taken any photos.

The degustation was great once again; if I remember right, we drank four different grades of Da Hong Pao, two Shui Hsien, one tea I can't remember at all and, as a bonus and an alternation, one great An Ji Bai Cha.

Tea I want to talk about today has nothing to do with this degustation.

This Mao Jian comes from Tai Shun, Zhejiang Province and was picked on 24 April, just one day earlier than the tea I reviewed last time.

Appearance of these small, coiled, silvery-green leaves slightly reminded me of some Korean green teas. Smell is charming; sweet and deep, less spicy and vegetal than in this year’s Lu Xue Ya but even more intensive and vivid in general.

Taste of this Mao Jian is full, mellow and harmonic, with hints of honey and fresh fruit, especially red grape. Bitterness is almost null, even when overstep the tea.

Seven infusions are easily made; seems like this tea is one of those more persistent, despite being so refined in character.

This tea has once been characterized as “the smell of vegetation wetted by rain, refreshing the thoughts, dispelling the sorrows” which, in my opinion, is pretty accurate. It is one of those humble, inexpensive teas that can be drunk anytime and anywhere. Also, I would note that this tea is, in my opinion, especially suitable for drinking outdoors, especially shortly after summer rain.

At least I like it like that.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

2010 Tai Lao Shan Lu Xue Ya

Hot summer is here. Should I say finally? Rain stopped and temperatures scaled up from 10˚C to 34 from one day to another.

This caused me two days long intensive headache. And I wasn’t the only one on whom it had this effect.

It seems like my organism has already accustomed to this rapid change. I hope so.

This tea was picked on 25 April on Tai Lao Shan mountain, Fujian Province. Lu Xue Ya is still relatively new tea, being “invented” just few years ago.

Dry leaf smells very fresh and vivid, floral and with some tones resembling Japanese green teas.

After pouring the water on leaves, this smell even intensifies and fills the whole room with spring. Just as last year, just as the year before the last one, it never takes me down and is always this wonderful.

Overall, the scent is stupefying, just as I would expect from fresh tea of this type. It is green – the definition of green and how would it possibly smell.

First infusion is floral, soft and juicy as expected. Immediately after tasting, tones of honey and fresh, sweet plums touch the tongue. There is no bitterness at all.

This fruitiness continues in second infusion, being accompanied by mild, noble spicy tones, which pleasantly invigorate the whole impression this tea gives.

Tea is enjoyed in five infusions. It would be able to produce more of them, but I somehow felt that five would be just right today. Cool character of this tea, intensified by brewing in glass was able to ease me of the summer heat at least for a while.

This Lu Xue Ya is an inexpensive tea, quality of which overpasses the price. It is a great way to refresh yourself in summer and calmly relax, listening either to music, or silence.

Both go well with this tea.

Also, as you've probably noticed, I brewed this tea in quite a specific and somehow unconventional "device" - using this seems to be quite a trend in China nowadays, especially while travelling. It's easy to understand why -this jar is very resistant, easy to carry everywhere and the usage is very simple - you just put the leaves in, pour water on them and... drink. Another option is pouring the tea off to another pot, using the built-in filter. It is also very relaxing to watch the leaves unfolding in water.
And that's exactly what I do during these hot, sultry days when I'm too lazy to use even a gaiwan.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

2010 Shincha Nunosawa Yabukita

Shincha! It’s here. Genuine, real Japanese Shincha. Finally, I can stop dreaming about fresh Japanese teas while drinking 2009 remains and fresh, but Chinese green teas.

Not that I don’t like Chinese green tea, but Japanese are simply Japanese. I love them in their absolute distinctness, it the way that their teas are absolutely different from any other tea from any other country.

And, as some of you've probably already figured out, Japanese tea is my biggest passion.

This Shincha comes from tea master Katahira’s farm in the village of Nunosawa, Shizuoka, being traditionally processed. As a result of this processing, there is higher percentage of water in dry leaf – about 5%. Normally, Japanese teas such as Sencha or Kabusecha have 3% of water in dry leaves. The difference might not seem that big, but believe me, it changes and influences the tea greatly – for example, Shincha has to be consumed maximally by five weeks after the processing. After this time, the tea loses its unique aroma and freshness.

This tea was picked and processed during the last days of May, thus it’s still really fresh.

After opening the package, first thing that catches my attention isn’t the smell – it’s quite subtle, however very fine, fruity and fresh – the most interesting thing is probably the appearance of the leaves. They are really wonderfully processed, balanced and shiny green needles. Very long, narrow and straight, obviously an Asamushi of very high quality.

The infusion color is yellow green and with typical turbidity, especially in the second infusion.

First infusion already surprises you with very vivid, full taste, followed by typical Shincha astringency, which is higher than in Sencha – another result of higher content of water in dry leaf. Similarly to smell, fruity tones are strong, repressing the typical creamy, milky tones of Sencha.

After the first infusion, leaves smell almost butter-like, very deeply and sweet. The smell is generally lighter than Ichibancha Sencha teas, being fruitier and somehow cooler.

Second infusion is, in my opinion, the best, just as I expected. Astringency is perfectly balanced with sweet, fruity tones and delightful freshness.

If someone would ask me how I imagine the word “freshness” would taste like, I would say – just like this tea.

Third infusion is once again very fruity, being less bitter and generally softer. It was followed by fourth infusion, which was the last one, being already just a memory of previous infusions in a large extent.

I ate most of the leaves after the session – they were wonderfully sweet and delightful, as all the astringency has already vanished.

All that’s left is a relaxed feeling of harmony this tea brought to me.

It hadn’t failed my expectations and my longing for fresh Japanese tea at all – it overcame them instead.

I am really looking forward to drinking this tea everyday now – as I already mentioned before, it has to be consumed as soon as possible. And I will gladly do so.