Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tea Tasting

Spent this evening at a tea tasting.

I thought it would be a bit of a stretch to talk about tea for two hours, but the time flew by.

All tea comes from the Camelia sinensis plant, which is cultivated in 60 countries. Generally the top leaves of tea bushes are plucked and processed.

At one time, tea in the great houses of Britain was so prized only the lady of the manor held the key to the tea chest for fear of the servant's pilfering. Now it is so ubiquitous we've come to take it for granted. Yet one tea plant continues to be precious, yielding only about 80 bags of tea per year. Tea consumed in Canada is equivalent to about 270 cups per person.

The tasting was led by one of first soon-to-be-certified tea sommeliers in Canada, Nora Gubins, otherwise known as 'Tea Queen'. The perfect venue was provided by T Cafe and Lounge at Bathurst/Bloor.

The Tea Queen provided backstory and great insight into the different types of tea, including:
- White
- Green (e.g. Sen cha or Mat cha)
- Oolong
- Black/known as 'red' tea in China (e.g. Darjeeling or Lapsang Souchong)
- True Black (e.g. Pu'erh)

All the teas we tasted were high quality and the flavours very distinct from one another.

Such a wide variety of tastes, styles and approaches to processing!

Tea tasting and wine tasting have a lot in common, including the concept of terroir.
True appreciation engages all your senses..... the colour of the tea in the cup (full range from white gold or pale amber or green or deep ochre). Looking at the tea leaves in the pot (are they 'dancing', floating, or evenly distributed? What is the scent, shape, and colour of the dry leaf? The aroma of the tea before it passes your lips? Tastes included seaweed, grassy, herbaceous, stone fruit, smoky, peaty, and chestnut. Is the mouth feel astringent due to lots of tannin, or is it velvety due to little?

Fun to discover and taste for the first time was a true black tea, called Pu-erh, which comes in a cake form (see left). This tea can be aged in earth for decades, with tea connoisseurs and speculators willing to pay up to thousands of dollars per cake.

Although I seemed to be in the minority, I also enjoyed tasting the Lapsang Souchong, otherwise known as 'Russian Caravan Tea'. This very intense, smoky flavour first came about when Russian caravans transported the black tea through the Himilayas. The leaves ended up taking on the smell of campfires over the course of the long journey.

And a word of advice. Don't throw out your tea leaves after one steeping! Many loose teas, such as oolong, are improved by second and third steepings because it adds to the complexity of taste.

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