Bancha

Plucked from the same plants which grow Japanese Sencha tea, Bancha is harvested later in the growing season from succession flushes.

This second harvest from these plants usually occurs about twenty days after the Sencha harvest and any subsequent harvests after that are used as a way to help tidy up the tea plants before winter. This helps explain why the word Bancha translates to mean “last tea”.

These succession leaves are processed identically to the spring Sencha: steam fixed, rolled, and dried. So it may be logical to a drinker that a succession leaf from same plant, using the same processing methods, should produce the same flavors, body, and aromas as the first flush leaves. That cannot be further than the truth.

Why? Because of the leaves.

By the time Bancha leaves are harvested, they are older and tougher than the leaves of the first harvest. This toughness is why a side by side comparison of Bancha and Sencha leaves reveals the Bancha leaves to be larger and, on occasion, whole. These older leaves also contain less caffeine than the first flush leaves, as the plant sends an extra boost of caffeine from the roots into the first new leaves of the spring to help the plant explode with new growth. After the initial burst of energy following the time of winter dormancy, the plant sends less caffeine through its branches.

The resulting brew tends to carry more lemon notes, but can have some more harsh undertones as compared with Sencha. These tones help make it a a wonderful base tea for Genmaicha.

Brew It

I procured this batch of Bancha from Harney & Sons. At the time of this post Harney & Sons has available several types of Bancha, each with its own unique characteristics. I am not certain, however, I believe that part of the reason for this large variety is because the Japanese have several grades of Bancha tea that are marketed and sold globally.

The leaves of the Bancha I purchased are a rich dark green spears that are of varying sizes (harken back to the tougher leaves being more difficult to process to be identical sizes, like a Sencha).

Like most green teas, Bancha will taste best when steeped at 175 degrees Fahrenheit for two to three minutes.

Bancha liquor is a light yellow with a small hint of green. Light bodied with almost no astringency, it is almost like a light broth. The broth attitude is emphasized by the aroma of leafy greens. It has a clean vegetable scent to it.

The brew’s flavors are like a steamed broccoli or a green bell pepper. It’s got a lovely clean bite to it that is reminiscent of fresh sautéed green beans. There can be a tiny hint of fishiness, but I haven’t always picked up this flavor on all cups. And if you hold the liquor in your mouth you’ll experience the astringency increasing.

Contemplative Thoughts

There isn’t anything super outstanding about Bancha. It’s just a good cup of green tea. So if you’re not picky and want just a good cup of green tea, definitely give Bancha a try.

But just because it is ordinary doesn’t make it any less magical than any other type of tea. So often in America we are found chasing the extreme moments in life. Whether it is pressure of social media to have the online image of a perfect life or pressures within ourselves to have the best life we possibly can, we often find ourselves feeling like something is missing.

I’m beginning to think that what is missing is the magic in the ordinary. When we focus on what is to come or on trying to make things look perfect, we fail to be able to grasp the peace and serenity of the moment. But slowing down and simply enjoying the moment as it is, savoring the sensations and flavors as they happen, not trying to cling to them, we can experience the extraordinary.

So today, slow down and really savor your cup. Take notice of the way the cup fits in your hand; how the steam rises off the surface of the liquor and dances in the sunlight; the moment the smooth liquid touches your tongue and truly savor every last drop. Give yourself the gift to simply enjoy the magic of the moment.

Lychee

Today’s tasting is a real treat: Lychee Black. One of my dear tea friends, Erica at Tea Time, Me Time, sent me this sample a few weeks ago. Now if you’re like me, your first thought may be “what is lychee?”

Lychee is a tropical evergreen tree that is native to Fujian and Guangdong provinces in China. The tree produces a red, fleshy fruit that is used in many different desert dishes. The outside of this fruit appears rough in texture and is inedible; the inside has a large black seed that is surrounded by a slightly opaque-white flesh (the pictures online remind me of the consistency of a jellyfish). Typically the fruit is eaten fresh as preservation techniques, like canning, tend to lose the sweet floral like fragrance.

I haven’t been able to find the specific way that this Chinese black tea is created, but the way the ingredients are listed on the package lead me to wonder if it is by spraying the flavor onto the leaves (a popular technique used today).  What I find more interesting is the origins of this fruit flavored tea date back to the Tang Dynasty where the tea leaves and the fruit were smoked together, allowing the sweet fruit flavor to infuse in the leaves. It was popular with the emperor then and has remained popular today.

Brew It

Erica procured this amazing tea from Teavivre. Upon opening your package you’ll be hit with the intoxicating sweet scent of the lychee. The leaves are a small and thin, dark brown with a slight twist to them.

Obviously, I got a little excited about trying this tea and took the picture after I ripped the package open. This sample packaging actually holds several cups worth of the tea. I merely wish it was resealable.

The package direction suggest you steep this tea for 2 to 5 min at 195 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a slightly cooler than most black teas (which can take the full boiling point). I couldn’t find any research to support the lower temperature, but I won’t argue with what a tea grower says to be the best way to brew his tea.

The resulting liquor is medium bold in body, with a beautiful dark caramel / copper color. The wet leaves offered a clean, fresh aroma that had a hint of fruity stone-fruit type of sweetness (this is the lychee flavor) that is vaguely reminiscent of apricot. As the leaves cool you may also pick up a few sniffs of a vegetal aroma (from the tea itself).

The flavors of this tea are a bit more complex than what I was anticipating. It has only a mild stone-fruit suggestion (some tasters have said it’s grape-like, but I don’t taste anything like grape) with a hint of vegetal tones that balance well with the fruit. Where this tea really shines is in the finish: extremely smooth with an almost soft, delicate flavor.

Contemplative Thoughts

Honestly, this tea has flavors that I’ve never smelled or tasted in all my days. As a result, I don’t have a single cell in my body that knows that to do with these flavors. I knew immediately that I liked it, but in several tastings since, I have yet to wrap my brain around this amazingly smooth and complex tea.

That’s part of the fun of life. New experiences, good and not so good, happen. Simple things, like trying a new restaurant, or even reading something outside of your normal genre, could easily spark a moment where your brain has to pause to really think about what you’ve just experienced and come to a formal resolution.  Those moments where you don’t just instinctively react can be small opportunities to rethink what you’ve always taken for granted or believed without cause.

#zenme

Ceylon Silver Tips

Ceylon Silver Tips is rare white tea that is grown in Sri Lanka. The island off of India’s coast was known during the British colonial rule as Ceylon and the name has remained common terminology (mostly for marketing purposes) in the tea industry ever since. Most teas produced on the island are black teas for cheaper, mass-market blends. However, there are a few estates that will produce some amazing specialty teas, Ceylon Silver Tips, being one of them.

This tea comes from about half way up the island’s mountain range.

Brew It

The tea I am tasting and writing about today was procured from Harney & Sons. A good quality blend will have slender buds that are just over an inch long. They should not be covered with as much down (the tiny fuzz) as other white teas.

As with any white tea you’ll want to steep the buds in 175 degree filtered water for 2-3 minutes.

The resulting brew will have a pale yellow liquor. After steeping, the wet buds smell vegetal with a hit of sweet, like a sugary, wet hay. My tasting partner, Lori, describes the scent as “day old cut hay that has been rained on”. On the other hand, others have described the scent as a gentle citrus-spice with a subtle sweetness. Each time I’ve brewed this tea I have not picked up on this citrus-spice, but maybe you will.

The body of the tea is thin, yet surprisingly thicker than one might anticipate for a white tea. The first sip is of grassy notes, but the longer you hold the liquor in your mouth root vegetable flavors will emerge (Lori and I both agreed on turnips and rutabagas). For us, the sweetness that we smelled in the aroma does not come through the flavor.

Contemplative Thoughts

Though not my favorite white tea, this tea is a rare treat for where it is grown. For an area that has focused so heavily on producing bold, and often high quantity / low quality brews, the gentle vegetal flavor of this light bodied tea is a gem. The people who pluck these buds by hand and produce this rare first flush tea are doing an amazing thing by breaking the cultural mold.As you try this tea, you may wish to consider what things – big or small – you can do to positively impact your community. Don’t be afraid to try something new or different. It is often counter-cultural acts of kindness that make long lasting ripples in the liquid of society.

#zenme

Chinese Silver Needle

Chinese Silver Needle, also known as Yin Zhen, is an exquisite white tea grown in China’s Fujian province. Considered to be the most prized white tea on the market (and priced accordingly), this tea is produced from the Camellia Sinensis Da Bai (“big white”) cultivar, which is known for it’s large buds. The first flush leaf buds are picked by hand in the morning after the dew has evaporated off the leaves and laid out to dry before being baked at a low temperature.

Brew It

A good quality selection, such as the Harney & Sons I am tasting and writing about today, will consist of slender silver colored leaf buds, about an inch long, that are covered with tiny fuzzy hairs.

Being a white tea, you’ll want to steep the leaves for about 3 minutes at 170 – 175 degrees Fahrenheit.

The resulting liquor is a pale yellow / green with a rose colored hint. The aroma of the damp buds is a light floral with a sweet, earthy tone. Some have described the sweetness as a floral jasmine and the earth tones as a sweet hay. Light in body, the Yin Zhen’s taste has floral hint with a sugary flavor builds on the finish. If you hold the brew in your mouth for a few moments with a little swish a subtle vegetal flavor will build.

Contemplative Thoughts

I do enjoy a good white tea for the natural sweetness it brings to my tongue. The Yin Zhen is by far is my favorite among pure white teas for the subtle nuances that it holds. You’ll want to try it in a quiet place with a clean palate to focus on the hints that linger on your tongue. Otherwise you may only taste “warm water”, as a friend of mine once said as she tried a white tea after drinking a stout black.

The balance of the sugar with the earthy undertone – a lightness, yet grounded – brings to mind the imagery of cairns; to being firmly rooted and stable, yet remaining delicate and sensitive in the same moment; peace and stability in amongst a chaotic world. To me it is a reminder to just breathe.

#zenme