Saturday, July 5, 2008

Tea Seminar Part 3

Wednesday was the third week of my 5-week, Tea Anyone?, tea tasting seminar and workshop and this was probably my favorite class so far as we tasted 7 different teas. (you can find the other postings here and here) Before class started, as an "experiment", Dave, our instructor, gave our tables a "flowering tea bud" to place in a glass carafe and watch blossom. It was hard to get a good shot of this and our flower was a bit "special" and was not quite as even or perfectly beautiful as some on the neighboring tables. Dave thought maybe the water we were given should have been hotter--this also might have accounted for the lack of flavor in our tea--it just didn't taste like much.

A dry tea blossom and our "special" tea blossom in bloom

We started our session learning about White Teas, (uncured and unfermented buds or young leaves and buds) and the three grades: Silver Needle (Bai Hoa Yinzhen), White Peony (Bai Mu Dan), and finally Shou Mei (which apparently means "Noble, Long Life Eyebrow"). Silver Needle is the highest grade of white tea, usually coming from the Chonging and Fujian Provinces of China. Silver Needle usually contains only the tea buds and is harvested only once per year in the spring. I didn't get a strong aroma from the dry tea leaves but the aroma was a bit stronger with the wet leaf, smelling sweet and fresh. The flavor and liquor were very light and delicate, slightly sweet and some slight floral notes.

Silver Needle buds with few leaves

Silver Needle in the cup

The second grade, White Peony, is considered a grade down from Silver Needle using both the bud and the top two leaves of the tea plant. It may have more than one "flush" or plucking each year and has a fine white "down" covering the leaves. The aroma of this tea, at least the wet leaves, was a bit stronger and I picked up some very light lemony or citrus notes in the flavor.

White Peony Leaves and Buds

In the cup--notice the bud with the first two leaves

We also learned about, but didn't drink Shou Mei, the lowest grade of white tea which usually includes a mix of buds and more young tea leaves. It usually has a stronger taste and is produced in other countries besides China such as Sri Lanka (Ceylon White), India (Darjeeling White), and Kenya (African White). We learned that it actually wasn't until 1922 that the definition of white tea was broadened to not only the bud of the tea leaf but the first couple of leaves as well.

After our foray into White Tea, we went back to the green teas from China that we didn't finish tasting from the last class: starting with the Bi Luo Chun, a hand-processed, artisan tea from the Jiangsu Province. It is usually wound tightly into "spirals" and has a variegated sliver color. This tea is known for picking up the fragrances of the plants that surround it, like citrus, trees, so I was looking forward to tasting it but unfortunately the flavor turned out to be pretty bitter. I am not sure if we ended up brewing it too long, but it was definitely bitter and not just the astringent edge you get from some green teas. It had a vegetable like smell and taste--a bit like (bitter) asparagus.

Bi Luo Chun leaves in small spirals

Bi Luo Chun in the cup

Our next green tea tasted much better to me; Huang Shan Mao Feng, which comes from tea gardens, high on a mountain range in the An Hui Province. This tea had a darker, straighter leaf and a light sweet vegetable smell and taste (kind of like dark leafy greens). It was smoother, not as bitter, nor as astringent as the Bi Luo Chun.

Huang Shan Mao Feng--longer straight leaves

Huang Shan Mao Feng after brewing

For the Chinese Green teas we ended with Mao Jian from the He Nan Province. This tea had a smaller leaf than the second tea and the leaf was not as curled as the leaf of the first tea we tried. The wet leaf had a slight vegetable smell and the flavor reminded me of cooked green beans. (I have to relate everything to the taste of food!). This tea was more astringent than the second tea, but not in a bad way and it was not bitter.

Mao Jian Leaves

Mao Jian in the cup

Finally we ended with two Pu'erh teas. Pu'erh is a type of tea made from a large leaf varietal of the tea plant. It can be pressed into disks, bricks, bird nests or other shapes or it can be loose leaf. It also can be brewed and drunk immediately after processing or aged for many years. It is thought that the pressing and compacting into cakes originated when the Chinese needed compacted tea to be able to carry it more easily when traveling to trade with Tibet and other distant regions.

Pu'erh cakes in Bird's Nest shapes
Pu'erh was not allowed into the US until 1996 due to the high moisture content on which mold could grow easily so it didn't meet US health standards. There are lots of fake Pu'erhs but the real ones, especially the aged ones, are prized by collectors and often classified like wine into region and production year.

5 year old Pu'erh Cake--the paper is its information and certification

The first Pu'erh we tried was an "Aged Cake" Pu'erh from 2002 and from the Yunnan Province. We wore gloves and passed the large cake around and broke off pieces to brew. I had a hard time breaking off a really small piece and was a bit worried mine would be way too strong when I compared it with my neighbors' pieces! The dry cake smelled (and looked) like a clod of soil from the yard, very earthy).

My piece of the cake

To brew it, we first covered the piece of cake with hot water for about 15 seconds in order to soften it.

Pu'erh softening

We then poured off the water and put in more water (about 200 degrees F.) and then brewed it about 1.5 minutes. The result was a dark, strong cup that tasted very smooth, earthy and robust. Very drinkable and very nice, reminding me of the way the ground of a forest smells.

My Pu'erh brewed--nice and dark

Our second Pu'erh was a loose leaf one, also from the Yunnan province. The smell of the leaves was not as strong as the smell of the brick and the flavor was not as strong either (but that might have been partly due to the size of the piece of brick I took). The taste was still still very earthy and smooth, reminding me of the way a mushroom tastes. Again very drinkable with little astringency.

The loose leaf Pu'erh

The loose leaf Pu'erh brewed

A great class and a good chance to try and learn about some less common teas. We were also given a couple of things to take home and try--some Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearls and a small, individually wrapped, Pu'erh cake. (Like the small, unwrapped one in the lower right corner of the bird's nest Pu'erh picture) I will be trying them and posting about them soon.


  1. when we went to Shanghai, a couple of years ago, we bought pu-erh tea. love it :) what a great class! oh and I agree that those flowering bloom teas don't taste like much, but they do look nice.

  2. Wow-that is an amazing array of interesting teas!
    I had no idea about the existence of a Prudence Penny! Let alone a cookbook! I'd love to get my hands on it and would be more than happy to pay you for it. How interesting! You really do have an immense collection of cookbooks, don't you? Thanks so much for thinking of me! Prudence Penny with a wise at the end:)

  3. Hi Deb. I just wanted to say a huge thank you for sending me a Blogging by Mail package. I feel so bad that you went through all that trouble just so i wouldn't go without a package. It really is so sweet and kind of you. Thank you so much once again- i'm currently overseas at the moment and will only be back in Singapore end of the moment but i'm looking forward so much to seeing what's in that box.


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