Thursday, October 14, 2010

Exploring the Wide Range of Tea

A favorite thing among favorites at the NW Tea Festival was participating in the many varied tea tastings.  Offered by experts also in love with tea, these tastings allowed for a deep appreciation of a particular tea category- be it type of tea, country, processing technique, etc.

The photo above is from the Aged Chinese Tea tasting, led by Charles & Laurie Dawson.  In many cases, tea is best when it's not allowed to get old and stale.  However, in the hands of a master tea maker, some teas can be very special when intentionally aged.  That's what we explored in this tasting.  We tried an aged Bai Mu Dan (white), an aged Ti Kuan Yin, a basket-roasted Liu An (a new tea to me - similar to but distinct from a Pu-Erh), and young and old Pu-Erh.  The teas were prepared in gaiwans, using a lot of leaf for a fast infusion.

Next I attended an exploration of Korean teas and tisanes, led by Yoon Hee Kim.  Unfortunately, I don't have any photos from this excellent tea tasting. I wish I could show you the tea ware.  The Korean tea equipage was marked by the use of a water cooling bowl.  A person experienced with this style of brewing uses the palm pressed against the bowl to gauge the right temperature.  Many scholars believe that Korean tea practices were an influence in the formation of Japanese tea culture.  In this tasting, we sampled wild golden mini chrysanthemum (tisane), mulberry leaf (tisane), an organic spring green, and hydrangea (tisane - very sweet!).

Brett Boynton (of the Seattle Tea Cup) led this tasting, which focused on Sri Lanka (Ceylon) teas.  We tasted two teas from different estates, one from each of the main tea-producing regions.  I was reminded that Sri Lanka is the world's biggest exporter of tea.  It's number three in production, but other countries drink a lot of their own tea, reducing the export volume.
Jennifer Sauer, of Bon Teavant, led us through a comparison of spring v winter oolongs.  I loved her vivid descriptions of spring oolongs being like a teenage girl, and winter like a mature woman.  We tasted spring/winter baozhong (see above - notice the color difference) and spring/winter dong ding (yes, that's really the name).
You might recognize the gent on the left, James Norwood Pratt. He partnered with Jason Chen, author of A Tea Lover's Travel Diary, to lead a tasting of two special teas, Phoenix Oolong (single tree) and Ti Kuan Yin.  These two worked well together, sharing stories, information and good humor.  It was a fabulous way to end the tea festival.

As I walked away from the event, I told my traveling companions that I felt euphoric.  If you apply the drug formula - the drug (tea and lots of it), the human, and the setting -  I think you'll understand why!  


Teafan said...

Wow! That's really, really cool.

Southern Touch Catering said...

Oh Steph, my head is spinning just from the post. I can't even imagine how wonderful it was to experience it first hand. Thank you for sharing it with us. All those tea names, how in the world did you remember them all?

Steph said...

I took lots of notes!

sweetcakes said...

Wow! What a great experience! Looks like you had a wonderful trip!

Marilyn said...

Steph was good at taking notes. I just sipped and didn't always remember. Thanks, Steph, for taking notes and reminding me of the pleasant tea tastings. I enjoyed the last two as you did, but didn't make it to the others you mentioned.

Angela McRae said...

What a great post, Steph! Sounds like a wonderful experience trying all those new teas. I still feel that I need to "educate" my tea palate a lot more, and this post has made me determined to learn even more. Fabulous opportunity you had there!

Marlena said...

So happy to hear about this - hardly anyone has written much and this was wonderful. Thanks, with a bit if jealousy - not too much!