Darjeeling: The Champagne of all teas

by Steven Popec 13. May 2010 00:16

 

Darjeeling is the Chinese variations of the Camelia sinensis tea grown on Indian plantations in the province of Darjeeling and considered one of the most exquisite and expensive teas in the world. By the methods of cultivation and production, Darjeeling is closer to the Chinese teas rather than to the Indian teas. This is a small leaf tea, with slightly astringent taste and rich delicate floral aroma. Although Darjeeling is marketed commercially as "black tea", almost all of them have incomplete oxidation (<90%), so they are technically more Oolongs than black teas.
 
This tea has a delicate taste due to the unique natural conditions of the region where it grows: cold and humid climate, high altitude location of plantations and the characteristics of the soil. Depending on the location and time of collecting, the taste, aroma and characteristics of Darjeeling are highly different. The most significant impact on tea quality has seasonal factors. Not everyone will be able to distinguish the differences, for example, between Darjeeling Makaibari and Darjeeling Lingia. The difference between a drink obtained from the leaves collected in the spring, versus leaves from the same plantation, but harvested in early summer, will be obvious. The best varieties of Darjeeling is consider the "champagne of teas". The methods of processing tea leaves are very traditional, it includes withering, rolling, fermentation and drying, which is why this tea is so highly valued. 
 
First of all, today there are only 86 existing plantations of Darjeeling with a total area of about 19.000 hectare. Annual production on average is 11-12 thousand tons. This is about 1% of the total cultivated tea in India. It should be be noted that it would be impossible to obtain the taste qualities if Darjeeling if cultivated outside this region, therefore, making it an exclusive beverage. 
 
The labor on plantations is very tedious and demanding, the normal requires a production force of  about 52 thousand people that are constantly engaged. While in the tea harvesting season, which lasts from March to November, an additional 15 thousand workers are hired. More than 60% of workers in the tea gardens are women.
 
The collection of tea leaves takes place 4 times per year. The first harvest is the so-called Easter (March-May) begins immediately after the winter lull. Leaves collected at this time are light-green color. The characteristics of a good First Flush Darjeeling are a lively fresh, delightful flowery aroma and a honey color infusion. The connoisseurs of Darjeeling tea compare the first collection to tasteful green grapes "muscatel." Perhaps, that is why Darjeeling is called “champagne of teas”. Tea mixture of the first collection is very highly regarded by experts; it consists only of the upper leaves and buds that give this tea such exquisite taste. First Flush Darjeeling is sold at auctions, and prices are several times higher than the subsequent harvest from the same plantation.
 
The second collection takes place during the months of a May - June. Tea leaves collected during this period have a reddish color. Infusion is softer, intense, featuring a bright amber color. Because this tea is collected in the last month of spring and early summer, it has a light fruity aroma and a peculiar aftertaste. Darjeeling from the second collection, also called "In-Between", is considered a tea of high quality and is recommended as an afternoon tea. The leaves and the infusion are already turning darker and the diversity of the flavors varies from full-bodied to slightly aromatic. The "In-Between" is often used as a profitable blend, due to the high demand, the prices are not as cheap.
 
The summer collection takes place from June - July. During this period, the properties of the tea leaves are changing, along with the nature of the infusion. It becomes more robust, but it retains all the traditional characteristics of Darjeeling. The taste is a full-bodied, with a distinctive nutmeg note. The third collection is no less interesting and appreciated by connoisseurs, sometimes higher than the first crop.
 
The last collection, "Autumnal", is October - November. The infusion obtained from the leaves of the autumn collection, has a unique characteristic, the leaves are a light-copper color and has a somewhat milder taste. 
 
All this together ensures the highest quality of the famous Darjeeling. Because of its exclusivity and small production volumes, forgery of this tea was very popular. It is a big problem for world trade, the number of Darjeeling sold each year is more than 45 thousand tons, despite the fact that its official production is only about 11-12 thousand tons. The falsification and blending of tea has led to a drop in prices for real Darjeeling, resulting in considerable losses for the Indian economy. To prevent further tampering, the Tea Board of India jointly with the Darjeeling Tea Association have agreed that only 86 tea plantations, with special certificates, will be entitled to call their tea "Darjeeling".

Exploring The Art Of Japanese Loose Leaf Green Tea

by Elena Popec 2. March 2010 12:54

Over the long centuries of isolation from the rest of the world, in Japan appeared amazing things: ikebana, bonsai, origami, sumo, kabuki, mange and much more. It is logical to assume that in respect of Japan, tea is not so simple either.

Green Tea

Green tea is very popular drink in the world today, but the Japanese consume tea in quite a peculiar way, starting with the production of special teas and ending with particular traditions of tea drinking. Japanese tea ceremonies (Sado or also known as Chanoyu) cannot be described in gastronomical terms. This is an art of contemplation and meditation, a way to achieve harmony with the world and cognize knowledge of the laws of the universe. Even leaving aside the complexity of a Japanese tea ceremony, we can tell you a lot about the kinds of traditional Japanese teas and its consumption.

The first thing that catches the eye, when studying the varieties of Japanese teas, is that they are all green and non-fermented. There are not that many types of Japanese traditional teas and they are all very unique. Their individual characteristics are not similar against each other, nor anything else in the world. The names of Japanese teas are fascinating: Matcha, Sencha, Genmaicha, Gyokuro, Hojicha, Bancha, Usucha, Kamairicha, Kabusecha, Tamaryokucha and Kukicha. Most of these products cannot be found on the shelves of tea shops outside of Japan. The most popular exception is Sencha and Bancha - the easiest tea to prepare with traditional green tea taste.

Sencha literally means “roasted tea”, a basic Japanese tea and the basis of which many other varieties of Japanese teas are developed. In fact, Sencha is a plain green tea that does not require special knowledge and skills to prepare. Most Japanese green teas are steamed at first to prevent oxidation, then rolled, shaped, dried and finally fired to preserve and add flavor. All lovers of green tea will admire its lightly grassy note. As any tea, Sencha could be a high quality and poor, we should not draw any conclusions about this tea when tasting Sencha of incomprehensible production. Good quality Sencha consists of a flat and long delicate tea leaves with distinctive fragrant of fresh green grass. Even high-graded Sencha contains a large amount of powder or tea dust. When brewed, Sencha gives a very bright infusion with a lively green color, traditionally served in transparent or white cups. The aroma and taste of Sencha are soft, both fresh and slightly sweet and velvety. Sencha tea infusion includes a large amounts of caffeine, vitamins C and B2. This tea invigorates the mind and body.

Preparing Sencha is a simple process, even thou the first attempt may fail, don’t be discouraged: warm teapot, put tea leaves in, cover with water remembering that water should not be boiling, and steep for a while ... However, it is impossible to give universal recommendations about the amount of dry tea leaves, water temperature and time of infusion, since the quality of tea and water are always different. Made with hard water tea is not as good because of its active substances that cannot dissolve fully. For green teas (all teas in general) there is a tip: the more delicate tea and softer water, the lower the water temperature should be and less time of infusion. Sencha tea leaves must not steep longer than 2-3 minutes. This means that the entire teapot tea should be poured into cups or into a separate container no later than in 3 minutes. If over steeped, the tea will be bitter, if under steeped the taste will be watery.  Sencha is the only Japanese tea that almost does not change the taste and aroma in the second and subsequent brewing. Other Japanese teas are inconceivable to brew a few times without losing the taste. The first of each new brewing is recommended to take one heaping tea spoon per 6oz serving of tea and infuse for 2 to 3 minutes. If the taste and aroma seem to be weak, hold the second brew a little longer, but next time increase the amount of tea. An indicator of properly brewed Sencha is bubbly foam. If not, that means that the water is too hot, cold, hard or the tea leaves are not the best quality.

Tea Gyokuro (also known as "precious dew" or "jade drops") is a higher grade expensive tea, which is cultivated in a special way. Gyokuro is different from Sencha because it grows under the shade for about two weeks prior to the harvesting period that aims to reduce amount of Catechin in leaves, therefore the bitterness in tea infusion. This fine tea is very rich in aromatic oils, vitamins, minerals, caffeine and other useful and pleasant elements. Splendid Gyokuro is also called "King of tea" and "Tea of genius" because it cheers up (raises) the spirit and stimulates the thinking. The taste and aroma of Gyokuro is similar to Sencha but with light almost imperceptible nuances. Color of dry tea leaves vary from bright green to golden-brown depending on the terrain and weather during the growth and harvest. Tea merchants will recommend a unique method of brewing for Gyokuro which differs from any other tea brewing techniques. Gyokuro tea leaves are typically steeped at low temperature 150 to 165 F for 1 to 2 minutes. Since the temperature of water is low, pre-heating the pot and cups in order to maintain the warmth of tea would be recommended as well. If the water used is too hot, it will destroy the magnificence of taste and aroma.

Matcha is a fine-powder with the consistency resembling talc green tea used in Japanese tea ceremonies and cooking. Matcha is the most difficult Japanese tea to prepare according to traditional techniques and requires specific skills. It was invented in China in the tenth century and was introduced to Japan only in the twelfth century. Being forgotten at home, powdered tea has become a cultural asset of Japan. Matcha is made from Tencha that has very similar cultivation process to Gyokuro. The process of covering tea bushes from direct sun light before harvesting enriches the tea leaves of amino acids and makes it sweeter. Gathered and processed tea lives with removed stems and veins undergo grinding procedure by millstones.  Matcha  is a premium quality and has a sweet taste with a deep flavor.

Matcha

During a Japanese tea ceremony, Matcha powder frothes up into a foam with bamboo whisk and a small amount of water. The advantage of this type of tea is the fact that all substances contained in tea leaves are delivered into the human body completely - in the form of an opaque beverage. Matcha is a concentrate of tea leafs. The taste of this tea is very fresh, but slightly bitter. Matcha can be combined with other types of tea adding freshness to taste and aroma. Lower quality grades of Matcha can be added to various dishes of rice, noodles and tempura to chocolate, ice-cream and traditional Japanese sweets.

Tamaryokucha is a high-quality Japanese green tea. To make it, tea leaves are steamed or fried. Tamaryokucha is rich in vitamins and contains little caffeine. This tea has a berry-like flavor with an almond aftertaste and citrus-grassy distinctive aroma.

Genmaicha is a combination of Sencha with roasted brown rice. This mixture gives a turbid light brown color of infusion and well pronounced rice flavor with hints of sunflower seeds and fish. Taste-wise, Genmaicha resembles soup, after the tea is drunk, you can eat the rice. This drink-dish is a great alternative to dinner or lunch for those who are on a diet. Japanese drink Genmaicha to subside the feeling of hunger without burdening the stomach. This tea contains a large amount of vitamin B1 and a small amount of caffeine.

Hojicha is a roasted tea that is set apart from other Japanese teas. This tea is made from Sencha which is roasted in a porcelain pot over charcoal at high temperature. Tea leaves of Hojicha tea ate brown and shiny with a dominating roasted flavor. Hojicha steeps by conventional infusion for less than a minute. Color of the infusions resembles weakly brewed black tea. Hojicha does not have subtle nuances of aroma and taste. This is a simple tea to quench the thirst or drink during the meal. Because of the process of roasting Hojicha, the amount of caffeine decreases, this tea can be served after the evening meal and/or before going to sleep.

Other Japanese green teas that are characterized as low quality Sencha are Bancha and Kukicha. These uncomplicated teas are made from big crude leaves, stems, stalks and twigs. These types of Japanese teas are collected at the end of the season and are considered as lower grade. Bancha and Kukicha are the simplest and cheapest of Japanese teas and are used for daily consumption of liquid for Macrobiotic Diet, the dietary regimen that is based primarily on grains and plants.  This macrobiotic way of eating is very popular in Japan. There are twenty two grades of Bancha. Kukicha can be added to juice for children’s consumption.

 

Pu-Erh Is The Perfect Remedy For Living A Healthy Lifestyle

by Elena Popec 24. February 2010 20:50

Pu-Erh is a tea of emperors and commanders. In ancient times, soldiers were drinking Pu-Erh before battling to gather strength, find resoluteness and have confidence in victory. Today, this tea is popular among business people. Pu-Erh helps to concentrate on making important decisions and preparing for crucial meetings and lengthy negotiations. Pu-Erh assists to live an active, varied life. You can dance all night in the club and in the morning, appear in the office fresh and rested after an extraordinary cup of tea.

Pu-Erh

Pu-Erh grows in the Province Yunnan, the most southwestern province in China where more than a thousand years, tea is produced. Yunnan is the country of fog, mild sun and tea trees.Today, in an era of civilization and mechanisms, the best Pu-Erh is still being handcrafted by people that possess a special inner sense, processing an understanding of tea, they know the time when Pu-Erh becomes Pu-Erh and pass on their knowledge from generation to generation. In order to obtain a deep color infusions, strong mild taste and long-lasting fragrance, this tea is aged for several years in special conditions. Pu-Erh is the only kind of tea that gets better with time. The optimal storage time for different kinds of Pu-Erh is from 10 to 30 years. A collection of aged Pu-Erh can be appraised higher than the collection of vintage wines.

The beauty of Pu-Erh is not only in its unusual taste and aroma. Despite the fact that this tea contains a small amount of caffeine, it invigorates and improves the efficiency better than coffee. This is the best drink for the morning, but is not recommended for the evening. High-quality and properly brewed Pu-Erh is very beneficial for one’s health. It helps digestion, normalizes metabolism, lowers high blood pressure, reduces cholesterol, improves skin condition, reduces the risk of cancer, removes toxins and facilitates the alcohol withdrawal syndrome or overeating. Pu-Erh is the only tea that may inhibit the growth of peptic ulcers. Regular consumption of Pu-Erh contributes to weight loss and rejuvenates the body. It would be better to say that Pu-Erh helps to maintain the body to be the way it should be.

As all types of tea, Pu-Erh is made from the leaves of the plant Camellia Sinensis. Top grade Pu-Erh obtained from the leaves collected from tea trees, not tea bushes. The older the tree, the more exquisite Pu-Erh brewed from its leaves. In the Pu-Erh county of Chinese province Yunnan which gave the name of this group of teas, grow some of the trees that are about a thousand years old. Pu-Erh made out of leaves from such trees is valued particularly high. In the forests of Burma, Vietnam, Laos and eastern India, found wild tea trees yielding a smaller amount but not less valuable harvest. The leaves of wild trees are gentler with a refreshing "menthol" aftertaste. They do not tolerate rough handling. From the leaves of wild trees the only loose leaf (not pressed) Pu-Erh is obtained.

For the production of Pu-Erh, green tea leaves are used. After gathering, they are dried in the sun, roasted and kept for several months. After the drying process, the leaves are pressed, which produces a "raw" or "green Pu-Erh”, similar to the properties of green tea. This Pu-Erh does not have a delicate aroma and exquisite taste, but is simple to prepare and inexpensive. In China, this tea is not considered a real Pu-Erh and called Mao-cha (coarse tea). This tea has been popular among nomads and Tibetan monks.

To get a "mature Pu-Erh", the dried leaves are subjected to a secondary drying and post-fermentation, using modern accelerated technology to produce the mature Pu-Erh. The leaves are sprayed with water, collected in heaps or placed in rooms with high humidity with the help of microorganisms, a process called fermentation takes place. The higher the humidity, the faster the fermentation process, but the aroma and taste of tea leaves is much to be desired. In addition, excessive moisture leads to mold development.

By traditional technology, Pu-Erh is aged in dry areas. In the province of Yunnan many factories and private facilities are located where the Pu-Erh is produced by using old recipes. Different bacteria cultures and different organizations of the fermentation process have a major impact on the taste, aroma and healing properties of Pu-Erh. The period of fermentation for high quality Pu-Erh lasts at least 6 months. With the growing popularity, Pu-Erh prepared by traditional technology is becoming increasingly difficult because more and more manufacturers use a quick simplified method of fermentation.

The last stage of preparation of Pu-Erh is pressing. Tea is lightly steamed to soften and skillfully pressed into the desired shape (brick, pancake, rectangular blocks, bird nests, mushrooms or melons) then dried and wrapped in cloth. Bricks and pancakes of pressed Pu-Erh can weigh from 100g to 5kg. Pressed in a flat square, Pu-Erh is suitable material for the creation of embedded pictures, but “bird nests” which are designed for one portion, are more practical for a busy lifestyle.

When buying Pu-Erh, one should pay attention to its fragrance and structure of the pressed leaves. Good quality Pu-Erh tea is characterized by a pronounced aroma of dried fruits with earthy notes. The smell of mold is an indicator of improper storage.  If there is an opportunity to taste Pu-Erh before buying, evaluate the color of the infusion and depth of flavor.  Also pay attention to the leaves remaining after brewing. Well-preserved whole leaves are an indicator of high quality Pu-Erh. A Quality loose leaf Pu-Erh usually has a delicate fragrant and pale color. loose leaf Pu-Erh can be appreciated only by experienced tea drinkers (connoisseurs).

Preparation of Pu-Erh

Tea Pot

Since Pu-erh has a very strong flavor and rich color; it is not recommended to brew this tea in clay teapots. Clay absorbs all smells and any other tea brewed in the same teapot will taste similar to Pu-Erh. The rich color of this tea will look good in a glass or porcelain cup. Quality Pu-Erh can be steeped a lot of times, therefore use a small teapot and small bowls. To maximize the healing effects of Pu-Erh, it should be  drank without sugar and other sweets. A small amount of dried fruits or dark chocolate is quite acceptable.                                                                        

One “bird nest” or “mini tuocha” is good for multiple infusions. To "revive" and clean tea, pour some hot water; let it sit for 1 minute, and then drain the brew. This act will clear and warm the tea because the Pu-Erh has been waiting to meet you for several years, so allow its strong and earthy flavor to unfold softly. The first brew of Pu-Erh should be steeped up to 45 seconds, and then subsequent brewing time should be increased. This tea is an excellent representative of Chinese teas that surprise consumers with the originality and complexity of flavor bouquet.


Boiling is an old method of preparing pressed teas. The most spectacular brewing of Pu-Erh is in a glass teapot when the stages of heating water and the behavior of tea leaves can be observed. When brewing Pu-Erh, the process is very important not to miss the stage called “crab eye”, when small bubbles start rising from the bottom of the kettle. At this stage, 1-2 cups of water should be poured out of teapot and then poured back, this stage is called "noise in the pines"  - the muffled sound prior to boiling. Thus, the water becomes rejuvenated and is ready to accept the tea. Pre-soaked in cold water, the Pu-Erh is introduced to the water prior to boiling. At the first stage of boiling - "string of pearls”, the teapot is removed from the fire and set aside for 30-60 seconds. The boiling process for this type of tea requires experience because of the excessive brewing time which makes the Pu-Erh infusion turbid, bitter and unpalatable. Another disadvantage of this method is that it is not economical. Boiled tea cannot be brewed again.

 

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