Gunpowder

Gunpowder tea is one of my favorite green teas. Partially for the name (everyone sounds macho when they say they drink gunpowder for breakfast!) and partially for the grounding flavors.

Grown predominately in the Zhejiang province in China, this tea dates back to the Tang Dynasty. It is called gunpowder as the leaves are tightly rolled into tiny green-grey pearls that are vaguely reminiscent of gunpowder pellets (imagination is needed on this one). The tight rolling made this tea less susceptible to damage and allowed the pellets to retain more of the flavors and aroma than other green teas. As a result, this was one of the few green teas that was stable enough to find its way outside of China in the days before faster transport and sealed packaging.

Another little fact about this tea is, even to this today, it is created as an export tea and very little is drank in China. Instead, the majority of it makes its way overseas and is the base for Moroccan Mint tea.

Brew It

Since this tea is made from summer flushes (not the first, prized growth after the winter season) and many growers process this type, not all Gunpowder teas are made the same and quality widely varies. You’ll know you’ve found a lower quality tea if the liquor is bright yellow and has acrid, smoky flavors. By contrast, higher quality teas will have a charred vegetal flavor. Knowing how quality varies so widely, for this tasting I procured this tea from Harney and Sons to ensure that I would receive a good quality tea.

The leaves are tiny pellets, tightly rolled, but not perfectly round. They are a greenish-greyish color.

The Gunpowder’s liquor is a light caramel colored, almost an orange, with a hint of green. The wet leaves smell of roasted vegetables; like grilled brussel sprouts or artichoke. By contrast, the dry leaves smell sweeter and give your nose the illusion that the resulting brew will be a bit sweeter.

Medium bodied, the liquor has a mild astringency that builds a bit as you hold it in your mouth and as you drink it. The astringency is quite complementary to the flavor hint of vegetables roasted over an open fire.

Contemplative Thoughts

Like China, we often use our talents to create things for others. It could be daily tasks at your job, cooking a meal for a sick neighbor, tending to the needs of your family (like laundry, cleaning, or yard work). But how often do you take those same talents and enjoy them?

The tasks you complete may not be the most joyful, but when you slow your pace you can open an avenue for gratefulness. If nothing else, we can take a moment to enjoy how our bodies are able to do so many tasks, from strong physical labor to gently rocking babies to sleep. We can appreciate our minds and the speed from which they can swiftly move from one complex thought to the next. Our emotional well-being should never be underestimated; having the empathy to reach out to a friend in need, near or far, has the ability to bridge gaps that no man could separate.

So as you sit and sip a cuppa gunpowder, remember this: You are strong. You are gentle. You are wise. And right now, you are enough.

Dragon Pearl Jasmine

Grown in the Fujian province of China, Dragon Pearl Jasmine is a very special tea. For centuries, the Chinese have been using jasmine to enhance some of their teas. But, I warn you, not all jasmine teas are the same. Many that you’ll find in Chinese restaurants or on the tea isle in your local grocery store are made spraying the tea leaves with a jasmine flavored chemical. These teas may give you the flavor of jasmine, but the quality of the tea will likely be lacking.

One of the things I love about the tea that I tasted for this post is that there is no jasmine flowers in any of the pearls. Nor has the tea been sprayed with any flavorings.  Instead, these pears are hand-rolled by a group of women and then dried on racks. Every day fresh jasmine flowers are brought in and dried on racks in between the racks of tea leaving the small room heavily perfumed with the smell of the jasmine flowers, and thus, infusing the tea with the floral scent.

Brew It

As with many of the teas in my collection, Harney and Sons comes through with finding great quality teas at reasonable prices; Dragon Pearl Jasmine is no different.

The tightly hand-rolled dark green pearls are streaked with white. Once brewed, the pearls unfurl to be the precious green leaves and buds of the Da Bai cultivar, proving the quality of the this tippy tea.

The liquor is a golden color, like a pale copper with a strong floral jasmine and honey aroma. As the leaves cool you may also pick up the a warm spice flavor that Lori and I could only describe as “the scent of a good looking man”. Lori’s nose also picked out a light grassy scent. We both agreed the aroma was a perfect balance of manly and floral scents.

The flavor of the tea is nearly identical to the aroma: strong of jasmine, it is a fresh floral flavor with a hint of honey. The liquor is surprisingly strong bodied (must be the manliness) and has very little astringency or bitterness.

Contemplative Thoughts

Sweet and floral, but surprisingly full bodied and filling, this tea makes me think of the complex balance of a woman. Women in general are ridiculously resilient creatures. They can stand strong on their own when others fail to do so; they are fierce in battle and delicate and soft at the same time. Wrong her and she will cut you down; treat her with kindness and you’ll have won a friend for life. It is said that a woman is like tea: you never know how strong she is until she is put in hot water. Likewise, women are also like whisky in a teacup. Sweet and proper on the outside, but on the inside they are full of passion and fire.

Blaze on.

Taiping HouKui

Today’s tea is especially fun.

Taiping HouKui, also called “Taiping Best Monkey Tea”, is considered one of the top 10 teas in China and is known for it’s (rather comically) large strips.

Plucked from the Shi Da Cha cultivar which is bred for its long, slender leaves, the best production comes from the town of Taiping in Anhui Province. The leaves are fixed green and then laid between layers of canvas, weighted down to flatten the leaves into thin strips, and oven-baked.

More about these special leaves in a moment. First, a little bit of intrigue to whet your mind:

The name “Houkui” actually means “Monkey King”.  Legend has it that this cultivar of Camellia Sinensis was created when the Monkey King fell ill and died after losing his son. The day after his death, a gardener found the King’s body and buried him. A year later, in appreciation for the burial, tea plants had grown where the King was laid to rest. The gardener then cared for the tea plants and began to harvest the leaves and create this unique tea.

Brew It

This tea can be a bit of a challenge to find and falsification is rampant, so be sure to purchase your Taiping HouKui from a reputable vendor that is known for quality teas. You’ll know you purchased a fake if the leaves look symmetrical.

As usual, I found Harney & Sons had this tea ready to procure.

Before steeping your tea, take a few moments to examine the leaves. Appreciate the delicate hint of the cross-hatch print embossed on the leaves from the canvas press, the deep green with white stripes and the occasional hint of red. With leaves ranging up to 3 inches long, it feels like you’re holding a piece of green bacon in your hand (will you have it in a box with a fox?).

When you’re ready to brew, it will feel like you’re about to cook some spaghetti with how the leaves stick up out of your cup. Have no fear! Once you pour your 175 degree water over the top, the leaves quickly bend and tuck nicely inside your vessel. Steep your green bacon tea for 2-3 min.

Some people suggest steeping the tea in a tall cylindrical glass to watch the  leaves sway. This is often called the “Phoenix dances”.

Lori and I had such a kick with this tasting that we had to take a few extra pics for giggles. Enjoy!

Look at this tea leaf, y’all! This thing is ridiculous!! These leaves are almost as long as my hand!! (Also, please pardon me with no makeup; totally impromptu pics.)

Sticking up out of the gaiwan:

Mmmmm… Green bacon anyone???

The liquor should be a light pale green with aromas of steamed green beans and wet hay. The scent will fade quickly as the leaves cool, so you’ll want to be sure to get your sniffs in quickly.

The light to medium bodied liquor doesn’t have as much flavor as the aromas let on, but you’ll hopefully pick up a light Lima bean / butter bean (for all you southern folk) flavor. It is mildly bitter, but surprisingly mellow and well rounded. The finish is still slightly astringent with no real flavor of it’s own.

Contemplative Thoughts

No matter how many other thoughts that I try to have while sipping this tea, my thoughts seem to always swirl back to Dr. Seuss. It must be the green bacon like strips which immediately makes me think of his wonderful children’s book, Green Eggs and Ham. But more than that single book are the wonderful words of encouragement that we get from the pages of Dr. Seuss’ whimsical writings.

As an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs, many of these quotes resonate with my mind, but two in particular sum up Contemplative Thoughts:

“Think and wonder, wonder and think.”

“Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.”

May you always wonder, think, and dare to look at life through the wrong end of the telescope.

Sláinte!

 

Lung Ching

Lung Ching, which when translated means”dragon well,” is a Chinese green tea surrounded by legend.

One such legend surrounds it’s very name. Grown and produced in the Hangzhou region in the Zhejiang province, there is said to be a well that contains relatively dense water. After a rain, the lighter rainwater floats to the surface and will twist and swirl with the well water, resembling the movement of a Chinese dragon. Hence, the Dragon’s Well.

Anther legend is around the tea itself. Being one of China’s most well known, and highly prized teas, it earned the Gong Cha, or imperial tea, status during the Qing dynasty. It is said that during this dynasty the emperor’s grandson visited the area’s Hu Gong Temple. The temple had 18 tea bushes planted in it’s garden. Presented with the tea and being readily impressed, the grandson gave the bushes the special imperial status. These 18 Camellias are still living today and it is purported that the tea they produce is priced higher per gram than gold.

Brew It

Thankfully, for a sample, you won’t need to pay more than gold if you secure it from Harney & Sons.

You’ll want to steep this like most green teas, two to three minutes in no more than 175 degree water, resulting in a pale yellow liquor.

The predominant aroma is one that is how a water chestnut tastes; it has a hint of roasted nuts (possibly walnuts? Lori and I had trouble deciding) alongside steamed bok choy.

The liquor is surprisingly medium bodied with a light astringent bite to it.

The flavors are vegetal with a hint of the bok choy and walnut flavors that were present in the aroma of the leaves. There is a sweet grassy taste on the finish.

Contemplative Thoughts

“‘Halflings!’ laughed the Rider that stood beside Éomer. ‘Halflings! But they are only a little people in old songs and children’s tales out of the North. Do we walk in legends or on the green earth in the daylight?

A man may do both,’ said Aragorn. ‘For not we but those who come after will make the legends of our time. The green earth, say you? That is a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it under the light of day!'”

JRR Tolkien,  The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Book 3, Chapter II “The Riders of Rohan” (emphasis mine).

 

That One Bad Cup

Ok, so I’ve had two bad cups of tea in my years of drinking the elixir of life. But the fall down the rabbit hole that turned me into a self-proclaimed tea-snob started with the first bad cup.

I had been drinking tea daily for a couple of years, but hadn’t really branched out of the grocery store isle yet. A true novice. but for some reason my co-workers thought I new a LOT more than I really did. At that time, I thought all teas were basically the same. Didn’t matter where it came from, a bag of Earl Grey was a bag of Earl Grey.

And then I got on a cruise ship.

Now, if you haven’t been a on cruise yet, let me tell you: everything edible on ship is incredible. I think it’s an official rule that all food must be amazing. On this fateful day, I decide, post yoga, to treat myself to some of the delectable pastries aboard and a nice cup of Earl Grey.

And it unfolds like this:

I take my happy, zen’d self down to the Lido deck (where the buffets are), grab my little apple tarts, a few pieces of fresh fruit, and who knows what else finds it’s way onto my plate, and I locate the tea station. I grab a cup, put in the Earl Grey tea bag (not a standard brand, might have been their own, but it doesn’t matter because all Earl Grey is the same, right?!?), and pour in the hot water from the industrial sized hot water dispenser on the counter.

With a pep in my step, I make my way to a shady, less windy part of the upper deck and perch myself on a lounge chair to enjoy views of the beautiful southern Caribbean sea whilst I enjoy my tea and snack.

Aahhhhh…. Peace… Serenity…

I take a bit of one of my treats and it’s just incredible; nearly melting in my mouth, perfect texture, subtly sweet. Divine. By this time my tea has steeped, so I take out the little bag of dust and breathe in the scent of liquid gold. It smells just as an Earl Grey should. A wee bit bitter with a citrus kick.

All is right in my little world.

Expecting the tea to be as glorious as everything else on ship, I take my first sip.

Gag! My face contorts into a grotesque misshapen state.  This is the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth! I kid you not, it all I could do to not spit it out over the side of the ship!

I look into my cup and ponder what went wrong. Maybe it was that my treat was too sweet? I take a sip of water to cleanse my palate and try again.

Oh, wretched soul am I! No this is not happening.

But yes.  It was. I could not finish the cup.

I now realize that when an inferior blend meets an inadequate water base (not filtered) with the incorrect steeping temperature, the result is liquid gross in a cup.

It was at this moment, on a clear winter’s mid-morning, somewhere in the southern Caribbean that I learned that all teas are not the same. There are good teas and good tea blends and there are some really nasty ones; there are proper ways to brew your cuppa and there are some things you’ll want to be sure to avoid (for details on these, please check out Tea 101).

It was at this moment that I realized I had become a tea-snob.

May your cup ever be filled with good teas.

And remember: Friends don’t let friends drink bad tea.