Sunday, February 13, 2011

Taiping Houkui Chinese Green

Taiping Houkui is a pleasant, mild green tea from Anhui Province in China.  It's apparently sometimes listed as one of ten notable China Famous Teas, and it's name in Mandarin means "Monkey King," though nowhere in my research did I come across the origin of such an interesting name.  The tea looks and smells wonderful right out of the pouch.  The leaves look like a cross between pine needles and freshly cut grass, and the aroma is crisp, mildly sweet, and refreshing.  The smell and appearance remind me a bit of Silver Needle white, a fantastic white tea, and one of my favorites (that will have to be an upcoming review).

One day, I'll buy a cheap thermometer just for making green tea.  It's critical to get the temperature right for green and white teas, and it's not always so easy.  My rule of thumb is grab the water while it's briskly steaming, but before small bubbles appear.  Small bubbles mean boiling, boiling means scorched, bitter green tea.  A thermometer would make this a bit easier, but I guess take some of the skill out of the process.  Anyway, this time I got it right; briskly steaming water hits the leaves in my warmed pot, and they brew for about two minutes.  Some sites I scanned about Taiping Houkui say as little as a minute and a half...your mileage may vary, but the one thing they all agree on is that this tea is one of those lucky ones that does well with multiple infusions.  Simply lengthen the steeping time with each pot (or cup if you're brewing individually), and watch the flavors develop and change across each brewing.  My review is based off of just the one infusion, but perhaps another time, I'll do several and note what changes with each new brewing.

This is a mild, pleasant green tea.  The first sip confirms the initial aroma: very clean, crisp, and refreshing.  The notes are mild; I find hints of vegetation and copper, and a very muted sweetness.  Nothing stands out too much; this isn't a bold tea.  But there are several unique and pleasant flavors mingling around behind a crisp texture and mouthfeel, and absolutely none of the astringency that sometimes appears in a green.  Taiping Houkui leaves a pleasant, lingering aftertaste with faint floral notes, again reminding me just a little bit of Silver Needle.  At the end of a cup, my mouth feels clean and refreshed.

Something I've found of mild greens and whites is that they play well with citrus.  A splash of lemon or orange juice often mingles well with the soft floral flavors.  Yes, it's sort of a waste of a fine tea, but it's also a great mix of flavors.  In this case, 100% grapefruit juice met Taiping Houkui, for a sweet and refreshing mixture.

Score:  80 (B-) Nothing bold in this tea, but a nice, clean, refreshing cup that mostly reminds me, I should get more Silver Needle white.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Canadian Breakfast tea

I've always been very fond of the British concept of "breakfast teas."  Strong blends of black teas, a bracing cuppa to help you wake up and begin your day, and a fair contrast to mellower afternoon teas, such as Darjeeling.  English breakfast and all the other variants I've found almost always highlight lots of Assam, a strong, malty Indian tea that plays very well with milk, perhaps a breakfast tea's central characteristic.  (I've read of fancy English breakfast blends made solely of Keemun, but never had one, so I'll leave that as the exception.)  Keemun, Ceylon, Kenyan, or Nilgiri teas are blended with the Assam in different amounts by regional variant and by blender.  Irish Breakfast is perhaps the darkest and most astringent, featuring some amount of Nilgiri blended with the Assam.  Scottish Breakfast, one of my favorites, is as malty as the Irish breakfast, but with a rounder flavor profile and less astringency.  English Breakfast is mellower than it's Celtic cousins (confusingly, both of which were referred to as English Breakfast at one time in their own countries), with a biscuity, buttered toast note to it's profile.

This was it for breakfast teas that I was aware of, until a few weeks ago.  Erin and I were browsing through Culinary Teas, our go-to these days for loose teas, looking for a few old favorites and some new things to try, and we stumbled across Canadian Breakfast tea.  I was immediately intrigued; I don't come across many "traditional" North American tea blends, but pondering it, given (most of, sorry Quebec) Canada's hugely English and hugely hugely Scottish background, it made immediate sense.  We grabbed a 2 oz. pouch to try, amongst several other great teas, with forthcoming reviews (Cream Irish Breakfast is amazing, but that's for another day).

The day the package came in the mail, I had to open the Canadian Breakfast and have at least a nice long smell.  I smiled, and said to my wife, you know, we should really sweeten this with maple syrup, it just seems fitting.  I first had maple tea almost ten years ago, courtesy of my good friend Jacob.  The maple sugar or syrup blends great with the right tea, and it seemed to me, a fine blend from Canada, also known for it's maple sugar, was perfectly appropriate.  I know, an actual New England Breakfast might be more appropriate.  After all, what New Englander doesn't love maple syrup?  It brings to mind images of Vermont farmers tapping maples on a cold winter morning, or perhaps a huge stack of pancakes, drenched in butter and mapley goodness.  Unfortunately, I've yet to find any such local tea blend.

I brewed in the usual steps for black tea.  Four good spoonfuls in my warmed teapot, water at a rolling boil, steep for about four minutes, strain into cups, add sweetener and milk, sniff, sip, and enjoy.

The tea itself is excellent.  Malt notes predominate from the Assam, and I detect a hint of oak (a favorite flavor of mine, I must find out what tea that particular note comes from!), and a nice round flavor and feel on the mouth.  Less malty than the Scots variant of breakfast tea, and not as astringent as the Irish, but bolder then the English.  The maple syrup blended very well with the strong flavors, with the tea and the maple complementing each other, and neither flavor standing out too much.  A good match, it seems, though I'm holding out for an honest to God, New England breakfast tea to mix my maple sugar with next.  Perhaps I'll have to learn to blend tea myself, and create it.

Score:  90 (A-) Another great breakfast tea, I'll be sure to get this again.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011