Nepal Tea jade pearls
Himalayan Tea Shop green
Background / context
I reviewed a number of teas from a nice source for teas from Nepal, appropriately named Nepal Tea (website here and Facebook page here). This post reviewed a gold tips version and a green tea, and this one a black tea and an oolong. Good stuff! I didn't see this tea (jade pearls) on the site now, maybe just not in the current product line, so here is a reference green tea they sell instead.
Another vendor selling teas from Nepal, Arpan Khambu, of the Himalayan Tea Shop, recently sent me some teas to review, so it made sense to compare versions, with both reviewed here.
Or does that make sense? It violates a convention about mixing marketing functions, and misses the functional generality of comparing very similar teas. They're not even the same thing, really, one green tea prepared as loose, untwisted tea leaves and the other as jade pearls (rolled ball style, as oolongs more typically are prepared). A little contrast in types can be informative too, but tasting very similar teas together highlights a fine level of differences, a benefit that is lost in the other approach. So why do it?
One reason: Nepal Teas is doing a kickstarter program I wanted to mention, which I'll get to after reviews. Also as with mentioning two different Ceylon vendors in Bangkok in the same post recently these two vendors are operating within different business scopes, so they're not competing as directly as it might seem. Nepal Tea is moving from being an established online web vendor into what that kickstarter is about (more of that?), and the Himalayan Tea Shop (HTS, might work better) is a brand new Nepal-based small scale wholesale-oriented vendor, a completely different thing. Maybe they could both sell you a kilogram of one of these teas via shipping, so there could be some overlap, but they're basically completely different types of vendors.
And besides, I'm getting behind in reviews. And if I had posted one review on one day and the other a week later the writing would be functionally similar, just thinner for not working as direct comparison. On to it then.
looks like green tea (Nepal Tea right, HTS left)
The first tastes of these two teas has me thinking this review will be a mix of describing grassy and vegetal flavors along with explaining how green tea is not my favorite type, largely because of those aspects. Sometimes I am in the mood for it, and that range does tend to pair with a type of freshness, but I typically like a different style of green teas better. It seems the frying process used to make Longjing style green teas--a Chinese version, essentially the main one--softens and mutes those aspects, shifting emphasis from grass, vegetables, and seaweed towards nuttiness or cooked rice, still retaining a bright freshness (in the better examples). But we'll see how these go.
The Nepal Tea green pearl tea is nice enough, vegetal but still on the smooth and balanced side. There's grass and kale for aspects, but beyond that some richness and mineral complexity. Another list of vegetables doesn't come to mind, maybe just a push towards a seaweed umami. The mineral complexity helps it balance.
The other (Himalayan Tea Shop; let's really do stick with HTS) is more in the range of vegetable aspects, but there is an interesting spice tone--or what I'm interpreting as such--below that. Or maybe just beyond that, and the spatial analogy may not be informative in this case. It also has grass as a primary taste / flavor element, along with green bell pepper and green bean, so plenty vegetal. That spice tone is really woodiness extending just a little towards cinnamon. It works better with that as a balance, definitely not straight grass. Maybe this tasting will be fine.
Both are fresh tasting teas, perhaps as much a comment about their styles as related to optimum storage results. It's possible that woodiness did evolve in that second tea as a result of aging, or it could've just been like that. People make a lot out of how green teas go bad quickly, and I think it might work instead to describe changes that can occur over different time frames. I tried some of a green tea I've held onto for quite awhile recently, that green from North Korea, which was too novel to drink through quickly and too aged--for a green--to give away. The freshness does diminish, so for some the tea could be ruined, but flavors shift to woodiness or dried hay and other complexity, just different.
tea growing area with a view (photo credit Arpan Khambu, and maybe Google)
Tasting again there's probably a bit of floral higher note in the Nepal tea, easy to miss for grass being stronger and mineral undertone below that. The way the other HTS tea impacts your whole mouth is unusual, not really about feel, but the way the flavors are experienced with intensity. It might be an effect that would lead green tea lovers to like the tea more, with the opposite corresponding effect for people not on that page. Both are "clean" enough and pleasant, nothing "off" about them.
On the second infusion the teas approach each other more; odd it works out like that. The Nepal Tea tea warms up a little, picking up a little woody earthiness, but the floral picks up too, and vegetal tones subdue. I might suspect being a rolled tea affected that end point but I'd have no idea how. The grassiness recedes as well so the balance is nice, even better.
The other HTS tea softens too, with grass receding, and a different floral tone joins in. I'll probably fumble putting types to those flowers but I'll try it. The HTS tea is how I'd imagine sunflowers to smell, not that I think I ever have, earthy, warm, sweet and rich, towards a mild but complex honey. The general effect is a bit towards lightly browned butter, just not exactly that. The other tea's floral tone is more like lavender, sweet but different, not earthy, floral-floral.
On the next infusion the HTS version starts to become a bit subdued, probably not giving out yet--I went heavy on tea proportion, although still generally in a Western style--but softening further. It almost pulls into Longjing range a little, that mild nutty / toasted rice range I'd mentioned. There is still floral range present but grassiness and those vegetables recede to almost completely dropping out.
The intensity of the Nepal jade pearls tea picks up instead of dropping off. Floral is still dominant, moving into a more perfume-like range, intensifying. Along with a subdued mineral range it couples with a slight dry feel. I bet these both could go one more interesting infusion but I have to leave off, so I'll set them aside to cold brew to get one more round out of them, stashed in the refrigerator in room temperature water to come back to much later.
One thing I haven't mentioned: which tea do I like more? Maybe the HTS version, if only because in the later infusions it drifts closer to that green tea range of preference I'd mentioned, a warmer, nutty / toasted rice range (or at least closer to that). But the Nepal Tea green was great as a really floral version of green tea, quite nicely balanced, complex and not too vegetal. It seems possible it could even be a slightly better tea, in some objective sense, so that preference comment really does relate to style. I must admit I really did like the other Nepal Tea types more, but then I like other styles more than green in general. I did enjoy this tasting though; better green teas were nice for a change, and both are good versions of green tea, complex and a bit unique.
Himalayan Tea Shop left, Nepal Tea right (different leaf size)
The part about the Nepal Tea kickstarter program
We are Nishchal Banskota and Sashreek Shrestha, two college graduates and are interested in social development. We are both Nepalese and see the opportunity to improve the lives of people in our homeland and put Nepal's tea on the world map... With this vision, Nepal Tea is initiating and expanding its social projects...
The tea farm (Kanchanjangha Tea Estate) was established by in 1984 by Nishchal's father, and is Nepal’s 1st certified organic tea garden. All our teas are 100% organic.
That context definitely adds credibility to the later claims that increasing their business really will funnel back to workers' benefit, and their program lists specific steps they're working on. As I'm reading this the project is sort of an extension of one plantation's sales overseas in the States, although I think they also sell other different teas. But you wouldn't have to help them only out of altruism since their main focus for "selling" this venture is a rewards structure for contributing, which isn't all that different than tea sales pricing.
One might wonder, to what extent does helping any vendor also benefit farmers? This line of thought leads straight to the standard set of fair-trade issues. It re-frames to a question about to what degree improved business activity actually trickles down, and how business profits allocate to other vendors than the original growers. None of that would reduce to simple answers. It starts into complicated considerations about how different source-chain models work, background about aggregator companies, or tea processors versus initial growers, or the function of different wholesale levels of sales. The general idea is that buying more directly would be better, but really who knows, that might well vary case by case. One single wholesale vendor buying and selling step could source directly from a tea farmer at standard market rates and triple their purchase price, so that "fair trade" would be a lot fairer for them than for that grower or the end consumer, or the one last resale-step vendor, if that also applied.
This leads to consider a little more about Arphan Khambu, and that Himalayan Tea Shop business (more just him selling tea, really); what kind of vendor is he? Is he rescuing poor struggling farmers from a brutal and unfair source-chain system, or taking advantage of them? Seems as likely neither. He comes from a family background in selling tea, per my understanding, maybe just not operating on the same level as a plantation owner. He's definitely new to selling tea internationally, with that Facebook contact page still a bit thin, a work in progress. I can't say more about how all that works out in terms of ethics. I'll review other teas he sent and go further into it then, if I can.