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Teas to Comfort the Autumn Blues

25 October 2011

at 18:42 by Manuel Legault-Roy

Autumn leaves

The cold weather seems to be settling in. “Already!” you may say but Autumn is the ideal season to cuddle up with a steaming aromatic brew. So to encourage any cold-fearing, troubled souls here are a few suggestions that will warm up your heart.

Nepal autumnal Jun Chiyabari J-161 Organic : From magnificent gardens, only a short distance from Darjeeling, the delicate leaves and golden buds of this fall lot have been transformed with care and expertise.The resulting liquor is sweet and light, displaying its rich floral perfumes, honey and subtle fruity (apple) and chocolate accents. Simply exquisite!

Feng Huang Hong Cha (noir – Chine) : This tea is, quite simply, the epitome of the Chinese teas available in our selection. With beautiful, large, twisted, jet black leaves this quality tea has a beautiful orange liquor with aromas of eucalyptus and red fruit (cranberries, raspberries). Enjoy it as the autumn leaves blow in the wind.

Jin Die (noir – Chine) : A fascinating dry leaf full of fluffy golden buds. The scent of molasses, caramel and dry earth escapes the leaves as they gently wake in the bottom of a well warmed teapot. The experience continues with a liquor so round, so full of flavor, that one pot is never enough.

Gaba Cha (wulong – Taiwan) : This cousin of Bai Hao will wrap you in a blanket of soothing aromas. With notes of autumn honey and spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, clove) this tea can be delightful company for an apple crumble.

Chi Ye (wulong – Chine): This tea goes back to a more peaceful time, when children, the smell of homemade ketchup, and freshly picked fruit scented the house. The leaves emit a fragrance of oatmeal cookies and granola bars. The supple yellow-orange liqueur develops tangy-sweet notes (peach, pear) recalling the gathering of autumn fruits. Infused, the attractive leaves evoke the delicious age of children playing in piles of leaves.

Darjeeling Avongrove Dj-160 (blanc – Inde) : In contrast to other representatives of this family, Darjeeling Avongrove has a strength of character that makes it conducive to autumn tasting. Hot and spicy aromas pay tribute to its Indian origins, but what sets it apart is its unique flavors of praline and white chocolate. A soothing luxury to enjoy after a brisk walk.

Liu Bao 2006 Lao Cha Po (Thé vieilli – Chine) : By its very appearance, this tea is perfect to accompany the falling leaves. Composed of brittle leaves in autumn colors, Liu Bao 2006 is reminiscent of a stroll in the forest. Moss, wintergreen, fir and wetland, an aromatic concert that rocks the senses.

Japanese Terroirs

21 October 2011

at 15:57 by john

An excerpt from the newly published English translation of our prize-winning best-seller:
‘Thé: Histoire, Terroir, Saveurs’
Available in the coming weeks.

As is the case everywhere, the quality of the terroir is a determining factor in the flavor and character of a tea. Because the sea is never more than 75 miles (120 km) away from the Japanese islands, the sea air imparts iodized notes to the leaves and a marine aroma suggesting seaweed and fresh grass.

In Japan, tea plantations are found from the Akita Prefecture in the north to the Okinawa Prefecture in the south. However, the southern islands of Kyushu and Shikoku, as well as the southern part of the main island of Honshu, are the major tea-growing areas. The climate is cooler there than in the rest of the archipelago, 50 F to 65 F (10 C to 18 C), and annual precipitation can be up to 60 inches (1,500 mm). The notion of a terroir usually applies less to Japanese teas except for the grands crus. It is quite common to mix harvests from different gardens located in the same region and sometimes even harvests from different prefectures before processing them together.
The map below provides an overview of Japan’s main tea-growing areas.

Tea growing regions in Japan
Shizuoka Prefecture

Located on the Pacific coast, Shizuoka Prefecture is a highly regarded tea-growing region. Covering an area slightly larger than 49,400 acres (20,000 ha), it accounts for almost half the archipelago’s production, some 44,100 tons (40,000 t) of tea per year. The region’s proximity to the ocean creates harsher weather conditions, a lower mean temperature and variable weather patterns, making Shiuzuoka ideal for growing quality tea. Tea trees raised in tough conditions often have more complex flavour profiles.
This prefecture has a long history in the production of tea, and most of the harvests from other parts of the country are brought here for final processing. Several hundred tea producers are based here, ensuring a very high output and extensive distribution

Kyoto Prefecture

Located in the middle of the island of Honshu, Kyoto Prefecture is characterized by a damp, subtropical climate with mild winters and humid summers. Since the city of Kyoto was the capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years, tea was intensively cultivated in the area. Today the gardens surrounding Kyoto are devoted to the production of high-quality tea and supply roughly 3 percent of Japan’s total output.
One of the most prestigious tea-growing areas of the archipelago is located southeast of Kyoto, Uji. The first plants brought back by Eisai at the end of the 12th century were transplanted to this region.
As the gardens are concentrated in the inland hills, they are naturally protected from the bad weather of the coastal region. Considered an original growing area and renowned for the rich quality of the teas it produces, the Uji region is famous for its Matcha and Gyokuro teas.

Kagoshima Prefecture
(Island of Kyushu)

The island of Kyushu is in the very far south of the country. The climate is subtropical, so the gardens of this region produce all kinds of teas: Sencha, Bancha, Kabusecha and Gyokuro, as well as an exclusive variety, Kamairicha, which is a green tea that is dehydrated in vats.
As Kagoshima Prefecture is the main growing region, the teas produced there represent about 20 percent of the country’s total output. The other major growing regions on this island are Saga, Miyazaki and Fukuoka.

Nara and Mie Prefectures

The less famous teas of Nara Prefecture are grown on the Yamato plateau, at an altitude between 655 and 1,640 feet (200 to 500 m). They include Sencha, Bancha and Kabusecha varieties. The gardens of Mie Prefecture are at a lower altitude and produce mainly Kabusecha and Sencha varieties.

Raku: Legacy of the Way of Tea

12 October 2011

at 21:36 by François Alexis Roy

Red and Black Raku

- Raku is more than just a technique, it is a philosophy. Knowing the techniques is essential, but understanding the essence of raku allows the potter to perfect this extremely simple, yet subtle and complex art.

Hal Riegger, « Raku : art et technique »

Raku (楽 焼, raku-yaki, “fired by the Raku family”) is a quick firing pottery technique originally from Korea and developed in Japan during the sixteenth century. Made by hand – not turned, Raku pieces are made of a refractory clay capable of withstanding large thermal shocks. With a rustic and natural look, they are porous, light and fragile. This technique allows the creation of unique objects with random results as unique as the natural landscape.

Raku was born from the creation of chawan (茶碗) bowls for Chanoyu (茶の湯) the traditional tea ceremony in Japan, during the time the foundations of the Way of Tea we know today were reformed and defined.
In the sixteenth century Zen Buddhism became the dominant religion in Japan. The tea master Sen Rikyu (1521-1591) sought to create a tea bowl in accordance with the philosophical aspirations of the tea ceremony, known as ‘wabi’. He engaged the collaboration of Chojiro (1516-1592) – apparently a manufacturer of bricks – whom he asked to create a modest, simple earthenware bowl, that evoked nature and its imperfections, and replaced the more ‘perfect’ imported items, such as the luxurious and brilliant celadon or tenmoku. This pottery felt utilitarian and absorbed less heat from the tea permitting a more comfortable grip.

By 1582, Chojiro formalized the style of Raku. He and his descendants receive a seal from the Shogun, Taiko-Sama (Toyotomi Hideyoshi), with the word Raku – the character evoking joy, pleasure and spiritual enjoyment – with which he is permitted to mark his work. Thus the Raku dynasty began.

Bon thé!

Photographie: François Alexis Roy

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Yi Xing or ceramic: a fair contest?

4 October 2011

at 14:39 by john

Put simply, a teapot with a large enough volume (350 to 500 ml) is good enough for any variety of tea. Next we have the choice of material. Perhaps- a porous brewing vessel (Yi Xing clay), or a more neutral (ceramic). Each has pros and cons:

Yi Xing teapot

Yi Xing teapots:

Originally from Yi Xing in China, these teapots are produced from various clays and renowned for their porosity and iron oxide concentration. Yi Xing teapots are not glazed, allowing an interaction between the water and clay and diffusion of some minerals during the infusion, bringing a richer texture to the liquor. Many legends also tell of the slow absorption of aromatic oils into the walls of the teapot; increasingly improving it with successive infusions, enhancing flavors and aromas. For a long time, this type of teapot was recommended almost exclusively for Wulong tea, Pu Er and some black teas, because of the generosity of these tea families to re-infuse and the pervasiveness of their aromas. Yet in a recent tasting with colleagues, we were able to experience the effect of this type of clay on a Chinese green tea and we were all surprised to taste a really excellent result.

To benefit from the effects of the improvement in taste, it is essential to devote this kind of teapot to only one family of tea. It is also necessary to take special care not to forget tea leaves in the teapot for days, mildew can easily seep into the walls, leaving a bitter taste. Soap should naturally be avoided for the same reason.

Now let’s look at the other side of the table.

ceramic teapots

Ceramic teapots:
Ceramic teapots are not porous and do not improve over time, which makes them ideal for infusing all types of tea in the same pot. The neutrality of these teapots is appropriate for more “clinical’ tasting, allowing more precise detection of subtle differences of fragrance between two very similar teas.

Both vessels demonstrated their strengths and weaknesses, now it’s your turn to decide according to your needs and your approach in the universe of tea. It is definitely worth testing both types of pot to compare the changes produced in the liquor – as much for the texture as the flavor. Everyone’s palate is different, only yours can guide you to the drink that will fully satisfy you.

Manuel Legault Roy
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