September 22, 2010

Puttabong Estate 2nd Flush Darjeeling

Yes, it's that time of year again. When you see the second flush Darjeeling's on the market then you know Autumn is just around the corner. From Uptons, the go-to place for Darjeeling teas. Upton's is from my experience, just about the most professionally operated online tea vendors out there on that inter-web thing. Ive been buying from them for maybe the past 10 years or so and never once have I had any problem. Very prompt service, order's are almost always shipped out the same day and it's not unusual for my order to be delivered within one to two days after ordering. O.K. here go's....Puttabong Estate 2nd flush SFTGFOP1 Cl/Qu. These acronyms are the grading system India uses to get REAL specific about just what pigeon hole these teas fit into. In other words, Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe "Grade" 1 Clonal Queen. A bit much.....isn't it?

At their best Darjeeling has got to be one of the most sublime teas there is. But Darjeeling has not been up to snuff for several years now. Last year Darjeeling suffered a draught and the teas were not on a par with previous years. You could find the occasional gem here and there but all in all it was another year of disappointment.

Ive noticed something different about Darjeeling's in the past few years, there are more and more of them displaying a malty flavor in the cup. I don't remember ever having noticed this before. The malty flavors are something that I would expect from India's native Assamica varietal of tea tree. True Darjeeling is made from China clonal bushes, which leads me to wonder if they are gradually introducing their native tea trees into the gardens. And if so, why? Is there a higher yield? Easier to grow?

Ive had an on again, off again, love affair with Darjeeling teas for years and years. When they are good, they are REALLY good. But more often than not they get an "it's pretty good" ranking from me. This Darjeeling falls into the later category. Puttabong has never been one of my preferred estates but with this years 1st flushes from Puttabong getting such rave reviews I thought maybe they deserve a re-investigation from me. I,m still not that impressed. It's a good quality everyday type of Darjeeling. You know, the kind of Darjeeling you are likely to find in gourmet grocery stores. The dry leafs colors are beautiful, presents the full color spectrum of browns, oranges and some rusty reds with the occasional silver tip.

This tea is fresh, I,ll give it that much. It has some of the stereotypical aspects I want to see in a Darjeeling but it's falls just a little short of being all it could be. A little fruity and floral, too astringent with normal brewing methods. By keeping the steeping time shorter than what I would usually go for some of that astringency can be left behind in the pot. The flavor isn't as fully developed as it should be and the body is a tad thin, it's just kinda flat. For the past several years Darjeeling hasn't been getting the quality they are capable of. Not their fault though, there's nothing they can do about the weather. But I,m not calling it a day as far as this years Darjeeling's are concerned, I plan on trying Arya Estates 2nd flush when they come out. Arya is (in my opinion) just about the best there is when it comes to the second flushes. Especially the "Ruby" grade.

Sorry for that glaringly orange pic up there, don't know what I was thinking when I took that. The tea ware? That's a set made by Hokujo, a Japanese potter. Hokujo's tea wares are the best of the best when it comes to hand made pottery. Very high grade, well processed clay. His skill is baffling, every line, edge has perfect uniformity. I normally use this pot for green teas but every once in a while I,ll brew something like this tea in it. This set is one of my most cherished pieces, my Sencha just wouldn't be the same without it. But as with all things in life, you get what you pay for, his wares are not cheap. I think the pot alone is a little under $200.00 Hokujo rarely uses a glaze on his wares, I guess he wants the focus to be on the clay itself. Why would you want to cover that clay with anything?

Note: after drinking this tea for a few days and experimenting with brewing parameters I realized that cooler water and shorter infusion times bring out some malty flavors as well as the fruit, leaving a lot of the biting astringency behind in the pot. Still.....not a great tea but better than I initially thought.

September 16, 2010

Kim Shin Ho - 2009 - Hwagae Village Sejak

Another tea from Dao Teas is what we have today. Again, thanks to Matt and Pedro for making this Korean tea throw down possible. This Sejak was hand made by tea master Kim Shin Ho using time honored, traditional techniques.

This Sejak is from 2009 and it looks like it doesn't it? The color of the dry leaf is pale and washed out. Actually starting to turn brown in places. The dry leafs aroma reflects it's washed out appearance, a barely detectable smell of what used to be. It's getting on in years, elderly and feeble. Compare the color of Kim Shin Ho's 2009 Sejak to ( this )  see the difference? By comparison the Dong Cheon Sejak is a much healthier, richer shade of green.

There really isn't much to comment on here, the flavor is so thin and washed out. I can taste traces of what used to be in the cup, and I bet it was pretty good in it's day. What a waste that this tea wasn't appreciated when it was fresh. This Sejak gave everthing it had to give in the first infusion, the second infusion turned out so thin and bland it wasn't worth drinking. I wonder if they were to use nitro flush packaging if the teas freshness could be extended? It works great for Japanese greens, why not Korean?

For me this is a good example of the importance of buying teas in season. Some teas can hold up for a while, some can't. So......Kim Shin Ho's 2009 Sejak is pretty uneventful but his Balyhocha was superb, had that last night and it was delicious. Brewed a really nice cup that was rich and creamy. Caramalized, roasted grain flavors that had just the right amount of sweetness. Kim Shin Ho's Balyhocha is a tea I would buy, but the Sejak? Maybe next spring!

September 14, 2010

Kim Jong Yeol - 2010 Hwagae Village Sejak

As I have plenty of free time today I thought I,d continue with tasting some of Dao Teas offerings. This tea, like the Balhyocha in the previous post are made by Kim Jong Yeol, a tea master who reportedly quit his corporate job so that he could dedicate his life to the art of making tea. Now that's a man who likes his tea!

Opening the little foil pack and sniffing, the smell reminds me of sea weed and sencha. A very bright smell as opposed to a tea with a lot of depth. The dusty grey / green of the dry leaf even looks like little strips of kombu.  Some of the leaves are quite thick and chunky, some are more thin and spindly. They all go into the pot along with some 165 degree spring water. An infusion time of a minute and lets see what we have here. Brews a cup of very clear and clean, light yellow soup. In keeping with the dry leafs aroma there is a resemblance to sencha in the cup as well.  Slightly astringent with barely a trace of sweetness. Delicately vegetal with a faint odor of egg white. All of the flavors this tea has to offer are bright, clean and upper palate.

Aesthetically, this celadon tea set made by Xu De Jia  looks more Korean than any other wares I have. The kyusu has developed a small crack on the inside of the pot, sometimes it leaks and sometimes not, this time it didn't. I think it's one of those scenarios where it leaks because I don't use it enough, I don't use it because it leaks. If I were to use it more regularly I,m sure the crack would repair itself.

All in all, I,m not a big fan of this tea. It's nice enough but it pales in comparison to the Dong Cheon Korean teas. This tea is just too light, bright and tart for my tastes. The smell of egg white is also a strike against it in my book. I wonder why some teas have that almost sulfuric smell? Ive noticed that same smell in some China Tie Guan Yins before, Yuck! I,ll say this much for it, the durability is pretty good. Even the fourth infusion had some of the same flavors that were found in the first pot. Usually the initial flavors wane quickly and your left with something else. This tea doesn't really evolve or open up into anything other than what it started out with, a light and delicate cup of tea that though it's enjoyable, just isn't to my liking.

September 7, 2010

2009 Kim Jong Yeol's Balhyocha (Dao Tea)

 Having just received Pedro's ( Dao Teas ) bag of samples in the mail, I was eager to give this Balhyocha a try. Thanks go's to Pedro and Matt ( Mattcha's Blog ) who are sponsoring this event. Between this tea tasting, the book club and his regular posts, Matts got his work cut out for him. Matt and Pedro are having an online tasting of Korean teas of which I am one of the lucky ten people that are participating.

This tea was made in 2009 by Tea Master Kim Jong Yeol, grown in the Hwagae Village, South Korea. Pedro sources all of Dao Teas offerings himself, directly from the Tea Masters. Pedro doesn't have a huge selection but what he has is a fairly nice selection of Korean teas that all of which are handmade using time honored, traditional techniques. Balhyocha is an oxidised ( Yellow Tea ) This should be interesting, Ive only had three Korean teas previously and all of those were green teas.

First things first, the dry leaf is a very deep, dark, roasted brown color, with the some of the leaves edges turning a rich burnt sienna color. An intense aroma of malted grain and chocolate, with the slightest touch of fruity raisin. The leaves are quite long, chunky and thick. What that tells me is that there is a lot of flavor packed in those leaves that typically results in many, many infusions. Leaves with these characteristics usually require at least one infusion just to get them to open up a little. So, the first pot is a teaser for what's to come in later infusions.

The recommended brewing method suggests using 175 degree water. O.K. I,ll give it a shot, I would have thought hotter water would be needed to pull the flavors out of these stout leaves. The aroma wafting from the pot is very nice, malted grain (cereal) chocolaty, a tad fruity. The tea brews a yellow cup with a touch of amber, judging by the color of the dry leaf I was expecting something a little more reddish, brown.

Very nice! The flavor leans very much toward cereal and chocolate, reflects it's aromas very well. No astringency at all, very slightly sweet. In some ways the Balhyocha's aroma is reminiscent of a China Congo, but then again it's in a category of it's own.'s a nice tea but it just isn't delivering what I would consider fully saturated flavors, just a little tame. Resorting to using hotter water and longer infusion times in an attempt to get a little more flavor out of the leaf turned out to be of no avail, the teas already fading.

Intuition is telling me I didn't coax from these leaves everything they had to offer, could this have been caused by the tea being a year old? Improper brewing? I,m gonna have to buy a bag of this so I can get a better grasp of Balhyocha's flavors and brewing requirements.

It's a great day for tea tasting, first hint of Autumn in the air, pouring rain the entire day. I,m beginning to see how Korean teas are made in such a way as to coax the best attributes of each plucking, 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc. The tea makers probably varying the various stages of tea production to maximize each pluckings potential. The Balyhocha's leaf is much larger than Ujeon, Sejak or Jungjak so it makes sense that the leaf would need partial oxidation as there would be little of the fresh green tea characteristics remaining in the leaf at this stage of it's growth.

Thanks again Matt and Pedro! I,m looking forward to trying the other samples.