September 27, 2012
by Chris
1 Comment

Indonesian Teas

order brewed” src=”” alt=”Brew of Indonesian Red Tea” width=”200″ />Recently I had the opportunity to cup three different teas from Indonesia, thanks to samples from PT Harendong Green Farm. They are labeled simply Red, Green and Oolong. Exciting, huh? Well, yes indeed!

Each of the dry leafs appeared to have been rolled in a half-ball style, with leaves that were slightly distressed-looking once unrolled (i.e. steeped).

For each of the teas, I used about one mug of hot water poured over one level teaspoon of tea in a porcelain teapot, steeped for three minutes at what seemed like an appropriate temperature (see notes below).

All were eminently drinkable, and each had a similarly pleasant velvety mouth-feel and a lingering (if not necessarily strong) aftertaste.

The one to write home about, though, it the oolong: I found it delicious and rather unique, with a warm and soft quality to the flavor and aroma that I just adored.

Notes for each tea follow:
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August 17, 2012
by Cinnabar

My favorite tea?

My tea world has been an embarrassment of riches for years. So presented with the task of writing under the topic “my favorite tea” as part of the Association of Tea Bloggers‘ lead-up to the “Bloggers’ Choice Awards” it was quite a challenge to sift through that immense history of deliciousness and try to extract just one particularly deserving tea. But I tried to think of one special tea that had both surprised and impressed me, and one immediately came to mind: the “Qiyuan Jin Jiang Da Hong Pao” that was sent to me by the people at Tea Valley.

One of the first things that hinted at the specialness of the tea was the small gold box that contained it. Packaging can be overly fancy or deceptive, but this looked simple and elegant. And the tea itself is absolutely fabulous. It was an award winner at the Wuyi Mountain People’s Choice Tea Competition in 2008, and although it is, of course, not leaf from the original TRUE Da Hong Pao bushes it certainly comes from bushes that have been very well cultivated and cared for. Rich and tangy, with a depth and complexity revealing its famous ancestry, it is a tea that I would bring out for a special occasion, and only if the other people who were going to drink with me were people I expected to appreciate the tea’s quality.

Unfortunately, Tea Valley’s website is offline right now, and I’m unable to find much detail about their company. They were located in Renton, Washington, just a few cities away from where I am. With teas this good, I want to see them continue to make them available!

The two runners-up for teas that I really, really like and recommend to other people quite often are Royal Golden Safari, one of the fine offerings by Royal Tea of Kenya, and Yulan Dancong, one of Canton Tea Company’s wonderful oolongs.

I want to know what YOUR favorite teas are. Let me know in the comments. More details on the “Bloggers’ Choice Awards” will be posted soon.

Please read the other posts by ATB members on this topic:

Black Dragon Tea Bar
Joy’s Teaspoon
Notes on Tea
Scandalous Tea
Tea Enthusiasts Scrapbook
Tea For Me Please
Tea Happiness
The Cup That Cheers
The Devotea
The Sip Tip
Walker Tea Review

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August 14, 2012
by Cinnabar

Experiencing 떡차, Korean Tteok-cha

tteok-cha in cupLast Friday I had the opportunity to experience a very special caked, aged tea that is seldom seen outside of Korea. My friend Eric Glass, of The Fragrant Cup, arranged ahead of time to bring the tea to Phoenix Tea, generously wanting to share the experience with me and Brett Boynton. Eric provided the tea and olive pit charcoal, and we had all of the other tools and supplies on hand that would be needed in the four+ hour process: a Chou Zhou stove (we could have used a Japanese Ryoro, but decided that the coal pit was too deep), chopsticks, a portable burner for lighting the coals, a glass kettle, an electric hob (cook-top), a sookwoo (cooling and serving vessel), and Korean tea cups with saucers.

The tea is called 떡차, which is Anglicised in a number of ways, including Tteok-cha, Ddok-cha, and Ttok-cha. For consistency I am going to use the spelling used by Steven D. Owyoung, Tteok-cha in his article on Tsiosophy, “Report on the 2012 Korean Tea Exhibition: Tteok-cha.”

Tteok-cha most commonly comes in two different types of cakes: hand formed, which are smaller and less precisely shaped, and coin-shaped, which are pressed into molds and have a hole in the center which is used to string the individual pieces together. The rare tea that Eric brought was made approximately ten years ago by Master Kim Song Tae, and was a small, thin very dense but lightweight cake. It was acquired through Korean ceramicist Cho-Hak (Arthur Park), of Morning Crane Tea.

Tteok-cha was originally developed for use medicinally, and is brewed by decoction rather than by infusion. Preparation of the tea has two basic stages: roasting the tea over a charcoal fire, and then simmering it over heat for more than three hours.

tteok-cha raw

Tteok-cha, before roasting

tteok-cha roasted

Tteok-cha, after roasting

The roasting process is straightforward, particularly if one is familiar with working with a small tea stove. I had never had the opportunity to use olive pit charcoal before, and although there were some slight issues with the grating in the stove being large enough to allow a couple of the pits to fall through, it was clear that this charcoal is vastly superior to the hardwood charcoal I’ve been using, which tends to spark quite a lot during lighting. (Unfortunately, olive pit charcoal is a very elusive commodity in the US currently. Eric brought his back from Chou Zhou.)

tteok-cha roastingRoasting the tea was a straightforward procedure of holding the tea over the coals with chopsticks for about 10-15 minutes, until the disc became more pliable and would retain a fingernail imprint.

We had already set the kettle filled with spring water to warming, so by the time the tea roasting was done the water was close to boiling. We dropped the little sliver of tea into the water and started the long wait (which consisted, naturally, of drinking other teas).

We kept the heat at a level that was as close to a steady low simmer as we could manage, and throughout the 3.5 hours of brewing very little water evaporated. One remarkable thing about the tea was that even after several hours the tea did not break up at all, remaining one solid piece throughout.

For the sake of comparison and to test its progress, we tasted the tea after one hour of brewing, and it was interesting, but clearly nowhere near what it was going to eventually yield. It was also pretty pale in color. When we tasted it again after three hours, Eric determined that the dark red liquor was close, but still needed an additional 20-30 minutes over the heat.

Finally, after the full 3.5 hours we removed it from the heat and poured into the sookwoo, and then into our individual cups. The rich, brothy tea had a flavor unlike any tea I’ve ever tasted. While it was complex and very delicious, it did have a somewhat medicinal quality to it, though not at all unpleasant. This special tea was very enjoyable to drink, and it was great to have the opportunity to experience this unique type of tea. Thank you Eric, for making it possible for us to experience this tea with you.

For more background on this fascinating tea, read “A Primer on Ddok Cha,” by Steven D. Owyoung.

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