Saturday Morning Tea

Good morning, dear tea friends! About a month ago, I reviewed a Pu-erh tea which had been compressed into a small square. You can see the photos of it here. I also talked about the two different kinds of Pu-erh tea, raw (Sheng) and cooked (Shou). The mini-square Pu-erh is the cooked kind and the tea in my cup this morning, called Ancient Forest Pu-erh Cake, is the raw kind. During its processing, this tea was compressed into “cakes” and each cake was wrapped to look like this:

Pretty cool, huh? Anyway, I find this particular raw type of Pu-erh tea fascinating in that it started out as a green tea, processed back in 1999. 13 years ago! One would think that a tea hanging out for that long would get stale and flavorless. Not so. The tea leaves aren’t heated up in the normal green tea processing way; they are allowed to dry in the sun, like white tea.

So, please correct me if I’m wrong, my understanding of raw Pu-erh is that it is stored in a special way allowing it to darken (oxidize) through its exposure to the natural elements. That’s why Pu-erh afficionados talk about storage and the aging process. The longer it’s “aged”, the darker it gets?

Because it is raw yet aged for 13 years, I steeped the leaves for 5 minutes in water under the boiling point, probably around 200 degrees F. So, hotter than what I normally use for green tea steeping.

This would be an excellent tea for experimenting with different steep times and water temperature. We did that at work and didn’t find a lot of difference between a 3 and 5 minute steep except for a bit smoother tea at 3 minutes.

Traditionally, Pu-erh teas are created from leaves harvested in the ancient tea forests of Yunnan province in China. You can see from the photo above that when the leaves unfurl from their compressed state, they’re pretty large.

The aroma is earthy and sweet with a faint hint of artichokes.

Compared to other Pu-erh teas I’ve tried, the flavor of the amber-colored liquor is quite mild and sweet, very smooth with a lingering earthy note in the finish. As I sip, that distinctive earthy flavor conjures up images of walking through a deep, dark ancient forest.

Much like wine lovers collect wines, some Pu-erh lovers collect these raw type, compressed Pu-erh teas and age them, waiting for just the right moment to break off a piece and steep a cup. If you have any experience with this, I’d love to hear your story.

Next weekend I’ll be out in Michigan visiting with my family so there won’t be any Saturday Morning Tea post. I’ll look forward to returning in 2 weeks to share another cuppa with you.

To all who celebrate, have a wonderful Easter and Passover!

Saturday Morning Tea

Good morning, dear tea friends! You must be wondering about the picture above – now where are the tea leaves? They are there. They’ve just been compressed. If you look closely, you can see the outline of a few leaves. The tea in my cup this morning is called Pu-Erh Mini Squares.

I know, I know, it sounds kinda like a breakfast cereal. But, of course, it’s not, it is a rich, full-bodied China tea from the mountainous Simao region of Yunnan province.

As I’ve written about before, Pu-ehr tea is divided up into 2 classifications, raw and cooked, depending upon the processing method. This particular tea falls into the cooked category. It undergoes a double fermentation not unlike what happens in a compost pile. The leaves actually begin to decompose, giving them a strong earthy taste when steeped. For this particular tea, the leaves have been steamed after processing and then pressed into a large, flat “cake”. After it dried, the “cake” was then cut up into small squares, each square perfect for preparing a 6-8 ounce cup of tea.

To aid in full flavor extraction during steeping, I broke the square up into little pieces. This is fairly easy to do with your hand. If you experience any difficulty, I find that a hammer helps to start that process. Please watch out for your fingers! I steeped the broken pieces for 5 minutes in boiling point (212 F) water.

This traditional compressed form of tea has been produced in China for hundreds of years. It was the most common form transported on the ancient caravan routes because it was less susceptible to physical damage and easier to transport.

The tea is so incredibly dark, like the darkest chocolate. A sweet earthy aroma rises from my glass teapot as I pour my first cup.

Although this tea has that quite distinct Pu-Erh flavor of earth and forest floors, it is lighter than other Pu-Erh teas I’ve tried. And it is so incredibly sweet and smooth. There is also a whisper of dark cocoa that lingers in my mouth with each sip. I’m quite enjoying this tea!

I’m spending the day today with my daughter and granddaughter. A girls day! I’m so looking forward to it. More good news – I might have an art post to share with you this week. Stay tuned…

Have a wonderful week and enjoy your tea!

Saturday Morning Tea

I sit here quietly and sip my tea, the sounds of summer all around me – the faint buzzing of a lawn mower, the electric sound of the cicadas in the trees, the caw-caw of one crow to another as they fly over my house. As we enter the warm, hazy days of late summer, the fuschia impatiens dress my garden in their rich color.

In my cup this morning is a very dark tea, a China tea called Organic Pu-Erh 2nd Grade. Back in June, I wrote about the 1st grade here.

I steeped the leaves for 8 minutes in boiling point (212 F) water and, as you can see, the water quickly gets very murky on its way to becoming as black as night. Pu-Erh goes through a “composting” step during its processing. The leaves are piled into heaps, much like a compost pile, creating a heat in its core and transforming the leaves into this very unique tea.

Everything about this tea is so dark – the dry leaf, the wet leaf and the tea liquor after steeping. A rich, sweet, earthy aroma rises from my glass teapot as I remove the infuser basket.

I find that if I gaze at the tea liquor long enough, I can see a mulberry tinge around its edges. Can you see it?

The flavor is mellow and quite smooth, not as strong as its aroma. Characteristic notes of autumn leaf and forest floor mingle with a sweet molasses syrup flavor. I find myself enjoying it more and more with each sip.

While I was visiting my family in Michigan last month, we visited a quaint little village called Saugatuck, located on a river very near Lake Michigan. As we were strolling the shops, I came upon a pottery shop and purchased a few teabowls there. The artist’s name is Jeff Blandford and his business is called Volmod Ceramics. Voluptuous. Modern. Ceramic. He had some really cool pieces. As he was ringing my purchase, he told me that the teabowls I chose were created during a very creative time at the end of his student days at Michigan State University, over 3 years ago. So, I’d like to think that these lovely teabowls were sitting on the shelf patiently waiting for me to come along and bring them home to Massachusetts with me so I could enjoy many tea moments with them.

Until next week, dear tea friends…

“The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning.”   ~Ivy Baker Priest

Tea and Cheese Pairing

As a prelude to everyone’s Thanksgiving feast, we had a tea and cheese pairing at work last Wednesday. The cheeses were carefully chosen to represent a variety of offerings, from mild to strong flavor, representing different countries.

A variety of teas to compliment the cheeses were then chosen and prepared to offer each participant the opportunity to see which pairings appealed to them the most.

All of our cheeses were purchased at Wasik’s in Wellesley, MA.

Wang Pu-Erh, Formosa Oolong Spring Dragon, Hao-Ya ‘A’ Superfine Keemun, Organic Australian Lemon Myrtle, Organic Lapsang Souchong Gao Ji, Japanese Premium Fukamushi Cha, Sree Sibbari Estate SGFTGFOP Cl., Namring Upper Estate FTGFOP1 First Flush (EX-1).

Camembart Le Rustique (Normandy, France), Gorgonzola Dolce (Lombardy, Italy), Wasik’s Mountain Harvest Goat Cheese (Vermont, USA), Brie de Lyon (Lyon, France), Swiss Gruyere (Swiss Alps), Goudden Kaas (Holland), Vermont Cheddar (Vermont, USA), Wasik’s Equinox Goat Cheese (Vermont, USA).

Armed with my notebook, I fully intended on trying each cheese with each tea, all the while taking copious notes to share with you. Unfortunately, as it was during a workday, time didn’t allow for me to do this and the reality was that I tried all of the cheeses, 4 of the teas, in random order, and took no notes at all! That being said, here are my thoughts on my favorites.

The strong musky flavor of both the Wasik’s Equinox Goat Cheese and the Gorgonzola went very well with both the malty Assam and the smoky Lapsang Souchong. I especially enjoyed the mild, buttery flavor of the soft cheeses: the Brie, the Camembart and the Mountain Harvest Goat Cheese, with the crisp flavor of the Namring first flush Darjeeling. I also liked the combination of the salty, earthy Gruyere with the very earthy Pu-ehr.

For my very first time partaking in this wonderful experience, I found the prospect of 8 teas and 8 cheeses very daunting indeed. If you would like to try this, I would recommend starting out with only 3 or 4 choices. Perhaps a mild, a medium and a strong flavor, both in cheese and in tea. Try pairing the same flavors together at first and then mix and match to your own taste.

Here’s a great post from a tea lover who was much more organized in his approach than I.

I don’t think that there are any rules here, only room for a lot of fun and enjoyment!

Saturday Morning Tea

I’m gazing out my window on another cloudy damp day. We’ve had quite a few of those this past week. The tops of the trees are swaying in a gentle breeze. It is so quiet here save for the occasional bird call and the hum of my computer. This is the type of quiet that allows me to access my inner space, a nice balance to the busyness of my life lately.

This morning’s tea is a China black tea called Pu-ehr Tuo Cha. The leaves are compressed into small bowls or what I like to think of as tiny birds’ nests. Pu-ehr tea is divided into 2 classifications, raw and cooked, depending upon the processing method. This particular tea falls into the cooked category. It undergoes a double fermentation not unlike what happens in a compost pile. The leaves actually begin to decompose, giving them a strong earthy taste when steeped.

There have been numerous studies done on Pu-ehr tea with results that it appears to lower cholesterol. The Chinese have long enjoyed its medicinal benefits for aiding digestion, especially with fatty foods.

The leaf is so dark after steeping. I usually break up the tuo cha a little bit to help the leaves unfurl from their compressed state. I steeped them for 7 minutes in boiling water. The strong earthy fragrance was mirrored in the taste. I find that I enjoy its rich, dark flavor much more with milk and a little honey added.

This afternoon I am going out to purchase some tables for my studio. A big thank you to all who offered suggestions on tables and lighting and set up!