Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Tea Box

Most of you know that in 2009 I received my Certified Tea Sommelier Certification, being part of the first group of Canadian minted Tea Sommeliers.  During the intervening years I hosted Afternoon Tea events and oodles of Tea Tastings, which were and still are my favorite tea activity.

Each Spring, when the harvest is due, the anticipation rises until I get my hands on some of the newly plucked teas.  Luckily for me, I live in Toronto, where tea is "the thing".  Many of my tea colleagues have ties to Tea plantations and Tea gardens and so we all enjoy a yearly ritual of getting together and "tasting" the new crop.

This Fall I was asked to be part of a tea tasting experiment called the Tea Box.  I was given 6 teas to taste and rate and give a review. I was one of many and our results will be unveiled at the Toronto Tea Festival  this coming January 23/24.  

I thought you might enjoy this too and since the Tardis was handy, I stepped into it and off we went to the various locations.

We soon landed in Anji County in Zhejing Province in China.  This is where they grown and harvest my favorite green tea - An Ji Bai Cha from Tao Tea Leaf. This tea is often mistaken for a white tea because of it's pure taste and colour.  The leaves also have tiny white hair on it, hence the "Bai" in the name.  Bai means white. 

I love this tea, I can't get enough of it.  This modern cultivar was rediscovered in 1982, but has been around for a long time.  It is one of China's most prized tea.

I like to steep the tea in a glass pot, so I can see the leaves unfurl and slowly float to the bottom. I steep at about 90C and have a hard time waiting out the steeping time, which can be 5 plus minutes, unusual for a green.   Just before I cover the pot, I inhale the wonderful aroma of the tea.  

Btw, I do not waste the leaves, I put them into my vegetable soup... it is just another green  I add. 

Next stop Fujian Province in the Wu Yi Mountain region. we stop and taste Roui Gui Oolong Tea from Capital Tea.
This is a traditionally roasted bold long leaves tea that produces a strong flavourful tea liquor, a hint of chocolate and cassia cinamon bark. Earthy and holds up well to multiple infusions.  The wet leaves are almost black and the liquor a caramel brown.  It is slightly astringent, but quickly sweetens. 

I steep my Oolongs in an Yixing pot, I fill the pot half with the leaves and then pour boiling water to the rim, rinse quickly and add more water and within 30 seconds empty it into a pouring pot and then serve in tasting cups.  This is not a green Oolong, it has medium oxidation, just the way I like it.

Just around the corner, also on the famous Wu Yi Mountains, we sample one of the 5 "Rock teas". These teas are grown in rocky areas, making the mineral content of the soil much denser and this is what gives those teas their signature flavour.   Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) by Tao Tea Leaf, is a dark, heavy, oxidized Oolong.  Full bodied with a sweetness to it that reminds me of baked goods or molasses.

I steeped this one Gaiwan style. I first rinsed the leaves to awaken them and then my steeping time was about 1 minute with boiling water.  With each steeping I add about 5 seconds and this allows me to enjoy the full depths of what this tea has to offer.

Back in the Tardis, we travel quickly to the southern most tip of Chinas Yunnan province to the Jing Mai Mountain.  Here we find an area that produces Pu'erh tea. Tao's Imperial Puerh is a fantastic Shu or cooked Puerh.  Cooking Puerh originated as a way to imitate raw aged (Sheng) Puerh by exposing the processed leaves to hot and humid conditions accelerating the fermentation process.  This can take up to 2 months to complete.  

This Puerh is a full bodied tea, earthy and has woody notes with a thick rich finish.  It is a perfect fall and winter tea.  For me, a daily ritual, after dinner.  Especially during the festivities, when we consume so much heavy food.  I find it soothing and digestive.  

Every time I sip a cup of puerh, I remember my first ever tasting, - I spit out the tea, it was so aweful, it smelled and tasted like barnyard - it was a bad crop.  Puerhs are certainly an acquired taste, but over time, I have come to love it, so much, that in my possession I have now a 25 year old Sheng  Puerh, only to be served on special occasions and shared, well with me!  

Stepping back into the Tardis, I remember that I left some tea behind in Fujian, from the ZhenHe region, the famous Golden Monkey Black Tea.  This is a legendary black tea made from buds and youngs leaves that give you a sweet and gentle flavour.  The tea is sometimes compared to the Silver Needle, because it has a larger number of buds to leaves, but it is the age of the leaves that give the Golden Monkey it's sweetness, fruity, with nutty and floral undertones. 

This tea can be steeped in any vessel, I usually use a glass tea pot. It is a black tea, so full boil on the water and 1-2 minutes for the first 2 steeps and then 3-5 for the next ones.  

This is a China black, so no milk or sugar or other stuff added... Please... don't spoil it. Here you see it served in one my valued Golden Dragon china cups, the bottom so thin, you can glance at the Geisha. 

Last, but certainly not least, the Ruby 18 by Genuine Tea.  This is a Taiwanese Tea, harvested near the beautiful Moon Lake, it is a Gold Medal black tea and a hybrid between an Assamica and a native Taiwanese cultivar.  The leaves dark, long and wirey. Steep as you would a black tea, and it holds multiple infusions. 
Ruby 18 is coppery coloured liquid and has a fruity and caramel aroma with a hint of chocolate. Slightly astringent, but then mellows out and leaves a citrusy after taste.

I will be curious, if any of the teas I tasted will make the cut.  I certainly had an enjoyable time.  

Did you know the Tardis has a kitchen... well I discovered it just in time to finish my Christmas baking.  Here are some of my  creations.

Almost ready for the oven, Applestrudel and Rumball strudel

 Done and ready for the fridge for another tea time

 Making my Rumballs... golden starglitter... the right kind of sprinkles

I also baked Vanilla crescents and Hazelnut moons, Fruitcake clusters, Gingerbread, Macaroons, Walnut stars and Linzer Toertchen.

Landing safely back at home, I was ready for a well deserved Cuppa.

Until next time, try some of the teas mentioned... and you too will travel in time.


  1. I never met a tea sommelier but I know of one at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston. Nice to read and learn about teas I never knew about. Thanks for the education.

  2. I loved reading your descriptions of such special teas. This is quite an education and one so appreciated. Your kitchen sweets look just wonderful and sound delicious.

  3. Thank you for this trip in the Tardis to taste teas! It was quite the education!

  4. Enjoyed the tea tour. It is so nice to travel without a passport. I am finding I enjoy Yunnan teas. I will have to look for some puerh from the region.
    Sips and Smiles