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Small Tasting Guide (Part 2)

9 July 2017

at 22:24 by Social

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Excerpt from our book - ‘TEA History, Terroirs, Varieties.

Aside from the wealth of knowledge, cultural and personal experience a taster possesses he or she must be able to summon up several skills. One of them is the ability to analyse sensations in order to express them clearly.

When one inhales a fragrance, an image or an emotion often comes to mind more readily than a word. Unfortunately, without the help of the right vocabulary, an emotion can be difficult to interpret. Associating a smell with a word allows us to classify it, to categorize it so that it will be easier to communicate or recognize later.

Learning the right vocabulary is therefore fundamental. By developing our olfactory memory every day and becoming aware of the smells around us, our senses will naturally learn to be more precise.

Naming the aromas of a tea is much more difficult than detecting the various flavors, for a very simple reason: an infusion of tea releases several hundred volatile molecules. Bombarded with all this information, the brain has to sort and summarize.

To learn how to use the vocabulary of tasting correctly, it is a good idea to start by getting to know the various styles of tea aromas. The aim is not to learn by heart all these terms and definitions, but to better understand the groups of smells according to their olfactory characteristics. Of course, the fragrances of tea are not set, and they can belong to several families and often mingle different shades of various aromas, mystifying us and enhancing our pleasure….Enjoy!

The Camellia Sinensis Flavour Wheel (see image above) is now used by tea companies all over the World.  It was first developed by our team back in 2008 as we put all the material together for the original French edition of our book ‘TEA History, Terroirs, Varieties.  It is a tea specific version of similar flavour wheels used in the worlds of wine, scotch and other forms of tasting.

Small Tasting Guide (part 1)

27 June 2017

at 22:18 by Social

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Excerpt from our book – Tea: history, terroirs, variety

Intimately linked to our experiences and our eating habits, taste is one of the most fundamental cultural traits. It enables us to perceive, consciously or not, the entire range of flavors while creating direct links between our past and our present.

Tasting is first and foremost a quest for sensorial pleasure, but it is also a way of appreciating taste. Like any other skill it can be developed with effort and practice. In that spirit, it is important to know a few basic guidelines that can help us understand how the tasting mechanism works in order to appreciate the experience as a whole.

Visual Analysis

Our first contact with tea is usually made through sight. A close observation of a tea’s leaves can give us some idea of its taste. The presence of white tips formed by buds can be an indication of quality, as can a brilliant, shiny color, which is often a sign of freshness.

Taste

Taste is a combination of several complex sensations. It mainly involves two of our sensory systems: olfactory receptors (the nose) and gustatory receptors (the tongue). After visual analysis, the second critical step of tasting is to sniff the fragrances released by the tea

leaves. In addition to preparing the brain to receive tasting information, this step provides important information that the tongue alone cannot detect. Our olfactory system is far more complex than our gustatory system. Most of the information relating to taste is impossible to perceive without a sense of smell.

The Way of Tasting

If you wish to enhance the experience of drinking tea, the first thing to do, before even wetting your lips with the fresh infusion, is to sniff the leaves before and after infusion, inhaling the subtle fragrances they contain.

Next, study the color and texture of the liquid, then bring the bowl very close to your nose to smell the fragrances released by the liquor. You can use the “little dog” technique, involving repeated rapid sniffing.

Once you are ready to drink, take a small sip and then expel air through your nostrils to facilitate retro-olfactory perception. Pay special attention to the sensations the liquid creates throughout your mouth. Of the five essential tastes, salty is rarely found in tea. Bitterness, however, is present in varying degrees in almost all teas because of the tannins and the caffeine, which give structure to the liquid.

 All the senses are involved in tasting. It is not just about the nose and the tongue. Hearing allows us to hear the “song of the water” and know that it is ready for infusion. Vision tells us how the tea looks. So the environment, the music, the lighting, the other people present, our own mood are all elements to take into account if you are to succeed in truly tasting.

FRANÇOIS’ TOP 3 FOR 2017. DISCOVER HIS FAVOURITES.

25 June 2017

at 22:19 by Social

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Specialist in the Artisanal Classic Green Teas of China, François spends every Spring in the central provinces of China selecting rare batches of Green Tea and the aged teas of Liu Bao. Despite being a great lover of Chinese gastronomy he has been seen fleeing when presented with plate of extra aged tofu. Here are his picks for Spring 2017:

Taiping Hou Kei Hou Keng :

This year I visited the village of Hou Keng, in the terroir of the Taiping Hou Kui. Most of this area itself can no longer be harvested as it is a forest reserve.  It is located just a few kilometres up in the mountain by Sanhe village and the Taiping reservoir. The tea grows on a  steep slope of rocky soil. This tea has an unusual rich finesse. The flavour has fresh vegetal notes accentuated by rocky and floral notes. While this high-end tea is on the expensive side, it lives up to all expectations. To be enjoyed so in the peak of its freshness!

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Xin Yang Mao Jian:

We once carried this great Chinese classic in our selection but the instability of product and producers caused us to remove it. This year, I met a new producer with superb garden further out from the city of Xin Yang producing an affordable and very aromatic tea. The tea, made up of several young buds, has a lively taste, a light bight and a lingering persistence. Excellent for concentration and focus.

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Jingxian Jin Jun Mei:

This high-end black tea has been a favourite of mine for quite some time. That said, this year, the quality has really been kicked up a notch. Its many buds and precise transformation give the 2017 vintage very balanced, floral, honeyed and subtle menthol notes.

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Hou Keng just for a handful of lucky tea lovers!

21 June 2017

at 10:57 by Social

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We have recently received a small amount of a most intriguing Chinese tea! This premium issue of the famous Taiping Hou Kui (read the article) will definitely impress you with its immense leaves, each transformed with such great care.

For several years, we have been offering tea from the Sanhe village, located on the river bank leading to the impressive Taiping reservoir. This year, we are also offering a tea that is cultivated in a secluded area nearby, deep in the surrounding mountains in the village of Hou Keng. This steep, rocky and well-drained soil, covered by thick forest enjoys an interesting micro climate. The terrain shelters these modest plantations where this unique tea has been grown since the end of the 19th Century. Ideal for cultivating tea, this area is protected, and similarly to Long Jing, it is a restricted terroir that cannot be expanded.

Choose the perfect occasion to savour this tea its fascinating flavour profile, richness and depth.

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To prepare this Taiping Hou Kui, simply put 10 to 15 leaves per cup in a glass.  Adjust the number of leaves according to their size, then pour hot water. For each following service, add water to the infusion without removing the leaves. This will help the liquor to stay balanced, and not become too full-bodied as it will preserve its rich aromatics. This free infusion method allows you deep access the flavours of this style of tea.

Taiping Hou Kui typically has a light, vegetal, supple and thirst-quenching liqueur, enhanced by notes of exotic orchid fruits (slightly acid). Its dynamism is underlined by a steady evolution of sensations and flavors crowned by a mouthfeel effect: ‘like a gentle and soothing massage’!

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The Taiping Hou Kui Hou Keng, similar to these characteristics, has an even more textured and silky liquor. The balance of flavours is remarkable and is without the hint of acidity and tannic edge sometimes found in its ‘cousin’ with additional delicate notes of hazelnuts and coffee beans harmonized with green vegetables and flowers.

A great gift for anyone, especially yourself, to be savoured with loved ones. Subtle and vitalizing – with a lingering persistence that never seems to end….. Cheers!

Tasting report: Rou Gui Da Wang

16 May 2017

at 17:08 by Social

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Gaiwan infusion – 5 grams of leaves – 95°C water

Laurence Lambin-Gagnon,  of the Quebec chapter of Camellia Sinensis presents us his notes on his Rou Gui Da Wang (Chinese wulong) tasting.

“It may seem peculiar to opt for the tasting of an older Chinese Wulong among the fresh new arrivals of the Spring harvest. But the Rou Gui Da Wang is also at its best time of year. In fact, teas from the region of the Wuyi mountains are harvested in Spring, roasted in summer and sold in fall. These are the legendary “rock teas”, some of the World’s most renowned grand crus that are often sold at a hefty price. Their trademark long twisted leaves are easy to spot and stem from their difficult terroir. Roasted with a wood based, tradition and yielding infusions of unique, deep, mineral balance. For many, this balance really falls into place in the Spring following the harvest, nearly a year after original production.

Tasting notes:
First infusion offers a mesmerizing bouquet: coal, caramelized sugar and incense. Mouthfeel is all wood and spices. The texture is oily with a rich essence such as olive-tree wood or ebony. The liquor is thick and suave, sweetened by its infusion. The finish is chocolaty, reminiscent of grilled cocoa, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. The Rou Gui Da Wang (literally Grand King of the Rou Gui) starts high.

The second and third infusions reveal a fresher, softer side to the tea. After a year of rest, the freshly infused leaves express the vegetal power of the terroir. As its liquor thickens and loses acidity it  reveals a smoothness, similar to hazelnut butter. This harvest is an exclusive issue from an experienced tea maker, almost 80 years old. This season M. Liu, has produced only 50KG of this tea and we are lucky to have been offered it.

For me the best part in tasting Wuyi teas comes at the end of the tasting. As the aromas begin to fade away and the unique trademark of that terroir is revealed: a dense mineral liquor that remains calm, still and persistent.”

Pu Er Sheng & Shou : Characteristics and Differences

9 April 2017

at 22:26 by Social

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Aged teas such as Pu Er, Liu Bao, Liu An, Fuzhuan, and Hei Cha are some the most ancient teas known to mankind. The Pu Er family is said to have the unique ability to not only actively fight cardiovascular illnesses but also reduce excess fat and lower bad cholesterol levels. In fact, the Pu Er Shou and Sheng that are aged over 10 years seem to be the ones that have the strongest effect on our health.

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To help us clarify the difference between these two Pu Er’s, here are their main characteristics:

PU ER SHENG

One of the oldest teas to come out of China, the Pu Er Sheng (“raw”), can be identified by its richness and its healing properties. According to tradition, the way to produce this tea is by picking fresh leaves, heating them, rolling them and drying them before being compressing (into a cake shape) and storing them. That will begin the slow fermentation process, which can last up to 50 years.

PU ER SHOU

Due to a growing demand for Pu Ers during the 70’s, the Chinese tea industry put together a new quicker fermentation process which only lasts between 45 and 60 days. By accelerating the transformation of the leaves, this alternate type of fermentation gives birth to a new type of tea, which is now referred to as Pu Er Shou (“boiled”).

As opposed to Pu Er Sheng, these types of leaves are rarely preserved due to the simple fact that their taste doesn’t improve over time.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF PU ER

Additionally to having a distinct production process, these two Pu Ers have many more features that can help you differentiate them. The main one being their shape, here are some more examples:

  • The bing cha cake, normally weighs 357g, but is also available in other formats (100g, 250g etc..);
  • The zhuan cha brick, 250g;
  • The tuo cha “nest” normally weighs 100g or 250g and is also available in the 5g format;
  • The jin gua “pumpkin”, also available in various formats;
  • The 5g cube;
  • Various recognizable shapes (buddha, pig etc..) as a mean to celebrate a specific event;
  • In bulk etc..;

OUR SUGGESTIONS

If you fancy the 10 years aged Pu Ers, our team has the following suggestions when it comes to quality/price ratio:

- PuEr Sheng , 10 years: Yiwu Jing Long 2007 ($18/50g) – fallen leaves, fresh mushrooms, fresh, foresty.

- PuEr Sheng, 20 years over : Menghai Hou Gen 1992 ($19/10g) – Deep, mineral, vegetal (lichy).

- PuEr Shou: Macao Scenary 2006 ($18/50g) – Mineral, beets.

- PuEr Shou: Bulang Shan 2006 ($12/50g) – Dry and soft earth, cocoa, potatoes.

Enjoy!

Tasting Report: Nepal Jun Chiyabari J-215 Autumnal Organic

12 March 2017

at 22:27 by Social

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Nepal Jun Chiyabari J-215 Autumnal Organic

If like me you have experienced the fun and excitement felt when receiving a Christmas card from your grandmother in the mail, you will easily understand my enthusiasm for a small envelope left on the counter at Camellia Sinensis recently … A mysterious package containing precious samples sent by our producers! On this “gift under the tree,” a single clue: ”From: Nepal Jun Chiyabari garden / To: Kevin Gascoyne”.

I waited so eagerly for this package because Jun Chiyabari is a garden unlike any other … It has a veritable “Dream Team” for the production of tea: producers whose know-how comes from both Darjeeling and Taiwan, the exploration of the terroirs of the Himalayas with varied cultivars (Indian and Chinese) and benefiting from state-of-the-art Taiwanese equipment! While most gardens in Darjeeling consider the autumn harvest simply as an opportunity to offer teas at a more affordable price and preferentially focus on the quality of the first spring harvests, this Nepalese garden is shaking up tradition and building its reputation on a sophisticated autumn production!

Without further ado, I prepare a first infusion in a Gaiwan following the method of use proposed by the team and take the opportunity to observe and smell the leaves in the dry state: An invigorating minty and pepperry aroma (remember Christmas Candy Canes?) greets me and invites the first sip …

The liquor is clear and bright in warm orange tones, evoking the color of caramel, candied fruit, and even the crust of a pie baked to perfection (… Nostalgia for Christmas, I’m telling you!) .

The bouquet gives my nostrils warm notes of spices (nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon) and cooked vegetables (carrots, parsnips), enhanced with refreshing fruity accents (muscat, orange, cranberries). Bring these ingredients together and you have an interesting recipe for cranberry stew!

In the mouth, I discovered a complex tea, with many facets and very “rhythmic” in the sense that the perception of aromas involves three distinct phases:

1. The fruity, tangy top notes (apples, orange zest, muscatel) gently indicate their presence.

2. The woody and spicy notes of the body make their entry in rapid crescendo, creating a warm plateau  for a few seconds until swallowing;

3. The tail notes offer a surprising gourmet finish of honey, caramelized sugar and chocolate which persist thanks to the phenomenon of retro-olfaction.

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The next day, still amazed by this experience of tasting, I feel the need to talk with my colleague John, the quiet master of the tea inventory in the boutique and a really big fan of Darjeeling and Nepal tea.  After a few minutes of discussion, he  closes his sentence with two words that still resonate in my head:

«It reminds me of a great Darjeeling Samabeong 2006… It was like a CHRISTMAS CAKE !».

In the space of two words, John and I were “on the same page,” with the strange feeling of sharing a meal of the holiday season in mid-February.

Drink together.

(Belated Merry Christmas!)

Jean-François, manager of the latin Quarter boutique

Tea & Chocolate: Our Pairing Recommendations

12 February 2017

at 22:21 by Social

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The rich and delicate pairings between the creaminess of chocolate and the aromas of teas are enough to seduce anyone. On Valentine’s Day, Émilie Poissant, our specialist in gourmet pairings, presents her recommendations.

How to taste chocolate with tea? The “sandwich” technique is used; first take a sip of tea, then bite a piece of chocolate, then follow with another mouthful of tea. This technique allows the chocolate to melt rapidly and evenly, in order to appreciate the respective flavours of the tea and the chocolate. For more intense chocolates, several sips of tea at the end of the tasting are recommended. It is also possible to melt the chocolate with the hot tea, which gives equally delicious results.

In the case of a fruity black chocolate with a medium cocoa percentage (Manjari 64% of Valrhona, Socconusco 66% of Chocolate Privilège) we choose a round, fruity, slightly malted tea, similar to the chocolate. Chinese black teas (Yunnan Da Ye, Zhenghe Hong Gong Fu, Feng Huang Hong Cha) or the more fruity and woody wulongs (Gaba Cha, Bai Hao).TIhese teas also accompany a chocolate with an olive oil ganache (for example, that of Geneviève Grandbois) with its fruity notes and its nutty finish.

For those fond of dark chocolates with nuts and dried fruits (Tanzanie 75% of Cacao Barry, Araguani 72% of Valrhona or Grand Noir 85% of Michel Cuizel), the pairings will be with the more woody and grilled wulongs (Shui Xian Lao Cong, Qi Lan Wuyi) to rival the bitterness of chocolate. Also worth trying in this case are earthy aged teas (Menghai 1992 or 2011, Haiwan 2005). All these teas are perfect with chocolate desserts such as a chocolate fondant cake, a tart or a brownie.

With a milk chocolate with a lower percentage of cocoa (Tanariva 33% of Valrhona, Ghana 40% of Cacao Barry), the combination will be pleasant with more full-bodied and malty black teas (Ceylan New Vithanakande, Darjeeling 2nd flush or autumnal) which pair particularly well with the sweet side of the chocolate. In the mouth, the blend of tea with milk chocolate creates the impression of an English tea.

White chocolate, pairs well with a lightly roasted wulong tea (Dong Ding Mr. Nen Yu or Mr. Chang – roasted in-house).

Finally, if you are a lover of caramel ganache chocolates with fleur de sel, Emily recommends the more vegetal, buttery and fruity aspects of the Taiwanese wulongs (Dong Ding by Mr. Chang or Shan Lin Xi) for a harmony of balance and sweetness, or a Japanese green tea (Sencha Fukamushi Kagoshima) for a more explosive pairing.

Intrigued by the gourmet pairings between teas and chocolates? Don’t miss our workshop: a captivating sensory experience in a convivial atmosphere. Chocolates of various terroirs, exceptional teas, rich and delicate pairings. (in French only)

7542 – A traditional recipe!

27 January 2017

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The beginning of the year for me is a time I like to get back to the basics in preparation for the new year. The world of tea is always a great source of daily inspiration. Here is the story of a tea that became an icon during the last decades and naturally presents itself on the path of any tea lover.

The aged tea family, despite its age-old origin, has only seen its influence spread internationally gradually over the last hundred years. The current cultural and economic context has made some of this family’s teas more valuable than gold! Besides the knowledge and refinement of the collectors leading them to feverishly seek out the best vintages for their own consumption, speculative stock market games have also been part of this change.

Consequently, among the Pu Er productions of the second half of the twentieth century are found teas which have attained an unrivalled reputation. The great factories of the time innovated and created blends of various qualities from leaves of diverse grades and provenances  - to the delight of the consumers. From the beginning of the 1970s, recipes, generally coded with 4 digits, made it possible to standardize greater production, to keep the buyer’s interest by proposing choices from year to year! So the “7542″, a blend created in 1975 and produced since then by the Menghai Factory (2) from medium grade leaves (4), has seen its reputation become one of the references for quality in the industry and in the broader circle of enthusiasts.

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So here we have the honour to present our Pu Er 1998 Menghai 7542, a recent arrival of this traditional recipe, a version harvested, prepared and produced in 1998, according to the 7542 standard. The ageing in Taiwan has given it almost twenty years of warmth and humidity in which to progressively refine while maintaining an astonishing vigor and powerful dynamism. Its liquor, full and charged, develops its aromas of damp burnt wood, camphor and ripe fruit on an utterly refreshing bed of mineral and menthol. The first infusion is resinous and slightly bitter, a guarantee of its vitality and promise of maturation, the following infusions are sweet and balanced. Generous, it requires patience or good company.

Bai hao – a higher level!

25 January 2017

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Are you familiar with competition teas ? If this is the first time you have read about this topic, we recommend this article we published a few years ago about Dong Ding Competition Teas.

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Last October, we were very pleased to be able to acquire some exceptional Bai Hao (Oriental Beauty) teas from the competition in Emei (Taiwan), where these teas are judged twice a year. In addition to the regular Bai Hao of our producer Mr. Xu, this year we were lucky to get  3 lots: a 2 blossoms, a 3rd class and for the first time, a 2nd class! (see table below).

This competition is a little different from that of Luku. Each producer will bring one or more lots, being 12 jins (the equivalent of 7.2kg) to the center where the estimates are made. Following an examination to ensure that the teas do not possess any pesticides, 3 judges will determine which of the 2000 teas (!) presented will be crowned “Grand Lauréat”.

Most years between 30% and 50% of the teas presented are eliminated from the contest … Following this, a careful classification is made to determine the visual, taste and olfactory values of those Bai Hao still competing and the judges then determine a rank for each lot  remaining.

So, this year we present 3 lots for you, one classified “Mention 2 blossoms“, one “3rd class” and one”2nd class“. Note that only about 5% of the teas presented receive this last distinction. Sure to be fun gustatively speaking!

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