Seattle Food & Wine Show 2007

Food and Wine Show Tea DisplayIt’s been a bit since I wrote last, in part because of the Thanksgiving holiday, but more because of the Seattle food & Wine Show. If you’re subscribed to my newsletter, you’ll know that I did a bunch of work helping set up a booth at this show for the Puget Sound Tea Education Association (PSTEA). That’s what’s taken up much of my time over the last couple of weeks, but I can say that it was a success. Our goal was to let people know that we’re working on the first Northwest Tea Festival, and to start building our mailing list.

Food and Wine Show Booth BannersWe had almost 30 tea businesses involved in the discussion and planning, and a dozen or so who contributed to the supplies, advertising, booth staffing, tea samples, and everything else we needed to get the booth up and running. We answered questions, showed off a real live tea plant from Russia, handed out sample cups of tea, and gave out punch cards for samples from local tea shops to those who joined our mailing list.

Now that we’ve started the buzz, though, it’s time to work on the NW Tea Festival itself. It will be Fall of 2008 (hopefully not conflicting with my tea trip to Taiwan!) and if you’re interested in attending, please sign up for the NWTF announcement list. If you happen to own a tea business and would like to be informed when we get the booth registration and/or sponsorship details finalized, you can send an email to teageek’at’

Near Guangzhou: A Black Tea

At some point over the last couple of months, I received a sample of tea. Unfortunately, between then and now, the label got sticky or damp or something and stuck to my counter. When I picked it up to brew it, all I could manage to make out was “near Guangzhou.” I know it’s a red (black) tea, and that it’s from a place near Guangzhou, but that’s it.

Dry leaf of Near Guangzhou teaAnyway, since I haven’t had a black tea made in Guangdong province (a.k.a. Canton) to the best of my knowledge, I thought I’d give this one a try. By the way, Guangzhou is the capitol city of Guangdong province. I’m trying to stay away from tea-tasting reviews on this blog since that’s the focus of most other tea blogs, but I’m making an exception for this tea for the simple reason that it’s a new province/tea-family combo for me.

The dry leaf had lots of long, thin leaf twists that appeared to be whole leaves. It reminded me of a larger size of, say, Keemun Mao Feng or a Ruby #18 from Taiwan. Balancing that were a number of smaller-sized pieces (which could have happened anywhere from the processing to me yanking the bag off the counter).

Near Guangzhou black tea liquorI brewed 2.5g in a 150ml ISO-standard tasting pot, using a 3-minute steep in freshly boiled water. The source of the water was Seattle tap water, filtered through a Brita pitcher. (Not that it matters, but I boiled the water in a stainless steel electric kettle.) When the brewing was complete, I presented it as if I were doing a flight of tea samples and took a picture. They don’t call me a tea geek for nothing.

As you can see from the picture, the liquor color was an amber-caramel color, which could either mean that it was under-brewed, or that this particular tea simply has more theaflavins than thearubigins (the colorful antioxidants that are in red/black tea but not so much in green tea.)

The scent of the liquor was a little nondescript. I got the impression of black tea, of course, but not much character beyond that. Nothing bad, just nothing fantastic either.

Infusion of Near Guangzhou black teaRemember how I said the leaves reminded me of the Taiwan black tea Ruby #18? Well, the flavor was like that also–on the lighter end of black tea flavor. Only trouble was that where Ruby #18 has a sweet smoothness, Near Guangzhou had a little bite to it instead. Again, not unpleasant but not very complex or interesting. I imagine this tea to be a reasonable everyday tea–one you’d have with something, not as the center of attention. Maybe a better description of the flavor would be if you took Ruby #18 and cut it with a low-grade Keemun.

The infusion shows longish (1-2″) twisted leaves. Untwisting pieces revealed generally between 50% and 75% of a whole leaf. My guess is that whole leaf was the goal of processing, but many were broken in processing or while dry. They had a pleasant-yet-plain chocolate brown color.

My overall take, then, was that it was fun to try out, but I’m not going to kill myself tracking down where this sample came from so I can get some more.

The “Right” Way to Brew Tea

Presentation of ISO standard brewing setI recently got my first International Standard tea tasting set. I’d used them before, of course, but I didn’t have any of my own. I did a little more research and found that they are specified in ISO 3103:1980 which also includes the standard method for brewing tea in them.

You can’t really see it in this picture, but the “pot” behind is kind of like a mug (the handle’s in back) with a lid.  There are several serrations along the edge opposite the handle which allows the tea to pour out with the lid on, straining the leaves.  The infused leaves are then dumped into the inside of the lid and presented behind the tea liquor in the bowl.

If you’re curious, the “right” way to brew, or prepare tea liquor for use in sensory tests (according to the International Organization for Standardization), follow the procedure below. I’ve done some conversions for 8-ounce cups, to make it easier to brew correctly at home:

  • Use 2 grams of dry leaf per 100 ml of water, weighed to an accuracy of +/- 2%. Since a measuring cup is 8 ounces, or 236.6 ml, that comes out to 4.64 to 4.82 grams per cup. No more, no less. Or else. I’m serious.
  • If the tea is to be tasted without milk, the leaf is added to the ISO standard pot, and “freshly boiling water” is added, filling the pot to within 4-6 millimeters of the brim. Be sure to measure. Steep for exactly 6 (!!) minutes.
  • If the tea is to be tasted WITH milk, the milk goes into the bowl first,* using 4.1 to 4.2 ml (or .83 to .85 teaspoons) of raw or unboiled pasteurized milk per 8-ounce cup. The tea is brewed the same way as without milk.
  • If possible, use water as similar to the drinking water where the tea will be consumed for maximum similarity between the sensory test and actual drinking conditions.
  • A test report should be written, including any variation from the above procedures (like, <your favorite deity> forbid, putting milk in after you’ve poured the tea in the bowl). Be sure to include: mass of the tea used, volume of water, duration of brewing (if not 6 minutes), source of the water, whether or not milk was used and if used the volume and type of milk, when the milk was added, and all details of the experience necessary for complete identification of that exact sample of tea.

…and people think I’m a geek because I know a Keemun from a Yunnan.

* Note: on the rare occasions that I add milk to tea, I do it WRONG! I add the milk after and I don’t write it down. Take that, International Organization for Standardization! Ha!