Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Thai Gui Hua oolong, osmanthus flower blended tea

Normally I prefer very simple versions of teas:  no flavorings, no blending.  But there are exceptions.  A decent cup of Earl Grey is nice once in awhile, trying out blending with something like chrysanthemum can make sense, and someone bought me a nice floral blended Thai oolong tea not long ago.

Gui Hua is typically produced in Taiwan, named after the osmanthus flowers blended with tea leaves to produce a sweet, fruity, relatively subtle tea.  By chance I just talked to a friend in Beijing about this particular type of tea, which he said was a favorite, mostly due to the more subdued floral taste than in a typical jasmine tea.  I've only tried this one example and it is so; a balanced, lighter floral flavor element that matches the rest of the taste profile well.

Tea review:

In addition to "floral" the taste hints towards fruit flavor tones like peach (producer reference page).  Comparing it to other floral flavors or scents isn't easy without a better memory range of floral scents; maybe like a lighter version of lavender.

The tea itself seems to be of reasonable quality, not so easy to fully make out under the floral tones and sweetness but the smooth, balanced, flavors are just what you'd expect from a decent Jin Xuan.  My friend mentioned in China they blend lower grades of tea to cover flaws (almost goes without saying that would come up) but this seems like decent tea.

I've tried plenty of the tea and kept considering how to describe the taste beyond "floral."  In terms of other flavors a comparison to bubble gum comes to mind (like the kids' soft pink type).  It's funny how lately I keep comparing tea flavors I like to tastes that don't sound pleasant at all, like cardboard, or tar (not to mention stones or wood).  The "bubble gum" taste works, because it doesn't taste just like bubble gum, and because it's at a subtle level that still lets the taste of a "buttery" oolong still blend in (typically just a rich taste element, although some Jin Xuan can naturally taste a bit like butter).

This wouldn't be one of my favorite teas because I really do prefer "plain" tea more, so it's more about being amazed that I like it as much as I do.  Sometimes when drinking teas I have a good bit of (the package included 200 grams) that particular tea can become boring but somehow it works really well as an everyday tea.

It's also incredibly forgiving in terms of preparation timing, which comes up since I've been drinking it at work.  I try not to take 20 minute breaks to make sure I get multiple infusions of tea just so (usually).  If you brew it for only 2 minutes the nice flavors are still there, not really even too weak, and if you completely forget the tea it's still actually good after it brews to cool, just a bit strong.  There's no way to get astringency out of the tea, actually normal for Jin Xuan oolong.

More details

There isn't much more to add.  I've not included a picture of the brewed tea "liquor," or brewed leaves because they are exactly like any other Jin Xuan oolong:  darker gold (which is sometimes a slightly brighter yellow), and a mix of leaf sizes, generally on the larger side.  The maker described it as seen as a "woman's tea," and I could see that, even if there's nothing wrong with a man preferring a subtle and fruity white tea or a woman loving a pu'er that some would describe as tasting like wood, tar, or camphor.

Related to another post I've been working on, and my general impression that you couldn't possibly find decent tea in a grocery store, I just saw this and a few other "decent" teas being sold in a higher end grocery store here (in Bangkok).  I pay a price for living in a city here--time spent in traffic, isolation from nature outside of parks--but being separated from good value mid-range tea options isn't part of that.  Here I'm using "mid-range" as something of a compliment; this isn't the type of rare tea someone is out there hunting down in remote regions in China but it is decent tea.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A nice cake of green tea (compressed tea, maybe pu'er)

Notes on green tea cake

This compressed tea is definitely of the "green," "raw," or "sheng" type, versus compressed tea that has undergone a secondary fermentation process (cooked or shou pu'er).  

It might not actually be pu'er depending on origin; it is from China but maybe not from Yunan province.  It is a hei cha, a compressed tea, but seemingly not very fermented by aging as the type implies.

The package label is only in Chinese and the vendor spoke only Thai so it was only sold as green tea ("cha keo").  With my limited Thai I could've still asked about the year produced but didn't.

Tea review:

The tea tastes a lot like a fresh green tea.

Normal profile of green tea varies with an unusual mustiness, but just a little, and not in a bad sense.  It doesn't taste off, just unusual as fresh tea goes, perhaps not so unusual for compressed tea.  There is relatively little astringency to the tea, and I would have expected some.  The tea brews to a gold color, as the appearance suggests apparently not fermented by aging.

Other flavors are slightly vegetal, towards grassy, but generally nonspecific.  There is one subtle underlying taste element like part of a clove flavor, complex, and nice, but not really spicy like clove.

Partial flavor aside:  

Some tea flavors  remind me of parts of other flavors,  like the base tastes of cinamon or nutmeg, but without the spicier components.   This reminds me of how flavor wheels use some of these as simple taste components,  when they're really not (see earlier post on flavor wheels).  Maybe this has something to do with essential oils versus other components, hard to say.

The taste was cleaner after first infusion,  less musty, but otherwise didn't change as far as adding or dropping taste components goes.

Tasting it raised more questions about pu'er standard flavors, aging,  etc.  I've  tried some puers but definitely can't write the beginner's guide on all that.  Tea flavors are said to change and improve over time, but I'm not really clear on how, so I'll have to do more reading and tasting and come back to that.

Summary of this tea:  interesting  

I liked it, even though there was really nothing noteworthy about it; it was just a basic green tea.   It was a smaller and inexpensive cake (100 grams--I think--for around $6), and I won't keep it around to see how it ages, I'll just drink it.   Given it didn't cost that much more than a Starbucks coffee I should buy another cake and stash it.

I saw a discussion post once comparing the appearance of a compressed tea to marijuana, and this did look a little like brick weed (not that I've ever seen that in person).  Then again any leaf-type plant or the like might look similar when pressed into a cake.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Da hong pao oolong tasting; a Wuyi yan cha (rock tea)

New favorite tea shop

I recently visited a tea shop I've been hearing a lot about, and picked up a few nice teas.

The picture of me with the owner doesn't really show how the shop is sort of a large booth in a wide mall walk-way.  But there is space for a small tasting area, a nice glass display cabinet, shelves of tea-ware and tea figures, and of course lots of tea.  I think the name of the store is Tea De Zhang, definitely located in the Seacon Square shopping mall, with the Facebook page here.

They essentially specialize in pu'er, but depending on preference and what else you find that you like there that might not matter.  

I was there to buy two teas:  a well-known pu'er I'll share with a tea friend, and another loose tea recommended by another.  He said the tea was a Wuyi yan cha (rock oolong), related to da hong pao, and per the labeling one of two separate yan cha teas was a da hong pao.  The owner's wife was in China, overseeing old tree leaf sources used for a limited edition of a less commercial pu'er production--a tea for another day.

As routinely occurs in this country language was a bit of a problem, but with some help from a third party I bought the teas, in spite of a review process by my wife who was on the errands with me.

My wife had insisted I finish "all" the tea in the house before buying more--definitely not reasonable, a project I only mostly completed--and this purchase added up to a lot of tea.  

All the same it was a steal at not so much over $100 for over a kilogram of tea (3 pu'er cakes--on sale; see later blog entry).

Tea tasting:

To keep this entry readable I've decided to experiment with using the form of tasting notes, edited to be less messy, but all the same thoughts on the tea as I experienced it.  

I tried tasting by comparing Western style brewing against tea made in a gaiwan, and the results were quite similar, the flavors just changed over subsequent infusions differently.

-appearance:  long twisted dark leaves, tea brewed to brownish amber

-initial flavors include cocoa, wood and earth tones. Maybe teak and slate (I'm not so well trained with such flavors), with a malty undertone.

-smooth taste with relatively higher oxidation, without flavor profile starting towards even a soft black tea; no tannin / astringency.

-cocoa flavor stands out initially (a favorite), hits the palate first

-some natural sweetness, but hard to relate that to a specific fruit element and definitely not a floral tone.  If there were a fruit element it would probably be something like apricot, but the wood and mineral elements really stand out, so I wasn't really "getting" fruit.

brewed leaves

-not so much difference between gaiwan and Western brewing initially, but this could relate to technique, or could change based on variables, ratio or timing.

-the western brewing taste changes by second infusion; "brighter" cocoa fades a little and taste elements shift to different wood tone, balsa or even cardboard.  Not as negative as it sounds, still delicious, but not as good.  The gaiwan brewing seems to preserve the initial taste profile for 3 infusions better; "cleaner" flavors.  Even later infusions are pleasant using both brewing types though; tea tastes nice until it fades, consistent except for that change.

-the taste elements combine well, are very continuous, with a nice rich feel / body to the tea

In summary, the tea was quite nice, with the types of flavors I prefer just now.  It seems like a higher grade version of the same tea might hold the taste better over multiple infusions with a little more complexity, but the tea was very good and an excellent value.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Liebster Award Nominee

Liebster Award, new blogger recognition

I was recently nominated for a Liebster Award, an award to recognize a new blogger.

It seems a device for new bloggers to help spread the word about other interesting new bloggers, like the other chain / tagging question sets you see.  Ordinarily I wouldn't put the time in to write all that out--answers, more questions, links--but why not.

Some background:

Vee Carthens Honey Lemon Tea (the nomination link) is a lifestyle blog where we share our journey towards achieving a comfortable and rewarding lifestyle. Books. Recipes. Green Beauty. Healthy Decisions. Inspiration. Cups of Tea.

My own blog is just a tea blog, and only a beginner's tea blog at that.

The Rules:

  1. Acknowledge the blogger who nominated you and display the award.
  2. Answer eleven questions the blogger gives you.
  3. Give eleven random facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate eleven blogs you think are worthy of the award (but they must have less than 200 followers.) **This rule is a little misleading since twitter followers may be included as well. So, you might not be able to tell the true number of “blog followers”. Make a guess and choose who you love.
  5. Let the bloggers know you nominated them.
  6. Give them eleven questions to answer.
(plus display this logo):

Answers to questions from Honey Lemon Tea:

1. Why did you start blogging?    to talk about tea more, or at least bother people other places less

2. What was your favorite television show as a child?    old Godzilla shows (I'd still watch that actually)

3. Are you allergic to any foods?    no

4. What is one of your guilty pleasures?  I live a pretty spartan life these days; I wish I had just one

5. What is your favorite sport?    to do, snowboarding, to watch, MMA

6. What is your favorite season of the year?    summer (but getting a little old here in Thailand)

7. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?    home to see my family 

8. Tea or coffee?    TEA!  If tea or food still tea.

9. What is the last book you read?    Damien by Herman Hesse

10. What is your favorite comfort food?    nachos

11. If you won the lottery, what would be the first thing you would buy?   TEA!  except probably toys for my son instead, and then whatever madness my wife had in mind

Questions for nominated bloggers:

1.  What is it about your blog subject that is so compelling?
2.  Favorite tea?
3.  What's the furthest from "home" you've ever traveled?
4.  What is one thing Thailand is famous for, other than food?
5.  Guess your bench press (or skip that if that doesn't make sense to you)
6.  Do you believe in ghosts?
7.  Are people still evolving now?
8.  Why can't astrologers detect dark matter?
9.  What historical person would you visit if you could (language issues aside, come on)?
10.  What is one thing you can do that almost no one else can do?
11.  What did the Buddha teach?  (short version)

Nominated bloggers:

These are supposed to have less than 200 followers, but some seem a bit more developed than that.  It's hard to check follower count and I wanted to include favorites.

the tea sisters  the opposite of stuffy review-only blogs

complexitea by patty  she's been doing some other things lately, but a nice basic tea blog with a background information theme

toad's tea blog  one person's take on teas, some blogs with research references

guerillaction  edgy Asian travel blog

temple mountain tea  substantial resource in the making

daramuscat   (a blog for inspiration), note the translation function button since it's in Russian

listening to leaves  pu'er inclined well-developed tea blog, not really a newbie blogger

tea-stains  also a bit too developed, but it's done from Bangkok

renegade travels  surely way too established, but a cool travel blog, not overly developed or commercial

tea de zhang  a tea blog in Thai, associated with a can't miss Bangkok shop (again too developed, but come on, a real Thai tea-expert blog)

foongpc  an actual new-to-blogging Asian travel theme blog, with lots of pictures

bonus mentions:

tale of genji  technically not a blog, a Japanese historical fiction site, but pretty cool, but like a theme photo blog

herbal teas  herbs as supplements and such, developed as a reference site (not really a conventional blog format--off topic--but somehow it seemed worth mentioning)

Congratulations!  And if any of you decide to run through this, it takes a bit longer than it would seem.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Lapsang Souchong in a trendy Bangkok cafe

Lunch with tea

Normally a trendy cafe in Bangkok (read:  expensive) is not high on my list of lunch stops, but based on a friend's suggestion I just tried out the Rocket Cafe near where I work.  It was nice; modern, trendy, like a Starbucks but less like a library.  

I was looking forward to trying a tea and they did have decent looking pu'er, oolong, and lapsang souchong.  Ok, the descriptions were a little general, and I forget most of the write-up related to the oolong, but nice they even had those types of teas.  There wasn't much on the food menu but an egg salad sandwich sounded nice.

I was wondering how they would present the tea related to the demands of brewing a loose tea--it had been loose, right?--but after a bit of a wait they brought it already finished, a good bit of tea in a glass pot.

And the tea tasting verdict:  a bit weak.  The smoke made for a nice front end but the brew was too weak to let any other flavors stand out much.  It tasted like it was decent tea, no astringency to speak of, "clean" flavors typical of Chinese black teas, and probably some earthy flavor elements if you could taste them better, but brewed too weak to really do much with beyond noticing smoke.  Maybe there was a hint of clove going on.  I've not tried a lot of lapsang souchong but I've had better, I think.  

All the same it paired nicely with the sandwich, and with some strange pickled peppers they served it with.

Work-day lunch options in Bangkok

I suffered a little sticker shock at first because everything in Bangkok more or less comes in two types; traditional and inexpensive--my normal lunch--or modern and closer to the Western pricing scale. 

Ordinarily a lunch in a food-court type restaurant costs 40 baht for an entree and rice or a soup, equivalent to about $1.30, as much as $2 with a beverage, or maybe over $3 with a snack as well.  This lunch cost 350 baht, about $10, or what I might spend in a week on local lunches, which is actually normal for higher end places.

Some co-workers I had eaten with in the past would seek out options for 35 baht instead of pricier 45 baht lunch pricing; relatively a lot less, but almost the same in a sense.    McDonald's and such seems to equate relatively directly to pricing in the West, maybe just a little less, so in the middle.  It's even crazier to buy Starbucks here with the cost of living difference but people still do.

Since I could buy 100 grams of decent Thai tea for that lunch cost here  (jin xuan oolong, usually) as far as trying tea goes it wasn't a great value.  It was nice to get a break from the normal routine though, so worthwhile.  

I felt a little like a tourist, all the while still a short walk from my office building.  On the walk back it seemed like I'd went somewhere, and I still had a sense of that smoke.  I picked up two rotis with sweetened condensed milk added from a street vendor for a desert and went back to work.