Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gettin' schooled on tasting teas

Brett Boynton of Teacup on Queen Anne hill has done a great service to tea heads and would-be tea afficionados by offering for the past several months hour-long tasting sessions steeped in the tasting, technique and lore of tea. He's done glimpses of the worlds of Japanese, Chinese and Indian teas. I finally got to get up to Queen Anne hill for his quick take on "exotic" teas and, for this session, he even brought out a secret stash not available anywhere, not even the Teacup.

Boynton started out the session with handing out to the crowd of about 20 tea sippers their own sipping cup, about the size of a single-shot demitasse. "So, this water temp should be about 160 to 170 [Farenheit] for this tea. And when you sip, slurp the tea to aerate it and feel it all over your tongue. Green teas are more sensitive to water temperatures than black teas." he said.

"See how fluffy it is?" Boynton said as he passed around a sample of the Spring 2008 Yinzhen from Fujian, China. Also known as Silver Needle, this white tea is an ultra premium tea, made of only the youngest, unopened buds, hand-harvested only in the spring. The descriptive name fits; they are thin green needle-shaped buds covered with white "hairs" that give them a silver sheen. The taste of the buds blooming in the water has an almost sweet, fruity finish with a light bouquet of vanilla.

The second tea we tasted was the 2008 First Flush Jun Chybari Estate black tea from Nepal. This estate, Brett wrote in the handout he distributed, is committed to organic, fair-trade tea production. As with the Silver Needle, this black tea takes a 3 minute steep. Boynton described this tea as "mountainy," with a "clean, champagne crisp" quality to it.

And then came the private stash. From out of a secret vault I can only imagine, Brett produced a tin of tea from South Korea, the Spring 2009 Jaksul green tea. Also known as "sparrows tongue" due to the shape of the leaves, this green blew away everyone in the room with its' verdant, almost buttery taste.

Finally, Boynton held in the palm of his hand what looked a bird's nest made out of compacted earth and twigs. "Feel this tea, how hard it is? You need an icepick or something to break it." he said, as he passed around one of the circular bricks.

This mysterious object was an aged tea cake, a 1986 Xia Guan Puer Tou-cha from Yunnan, China, by way of Bellevue. It came from a special "puer storage room," much like a wine cellar, where a friend held a collection of aged puer. The only reason Boynton was able to share them with us was that two years ago he had persuaded this friend to sell to him part of this treasure. Stored properly, these tea cakes could last indefinitely and still produce wonderful tea. They age like wine, giving off a different kind of taste as they mature. This tea is a green puer (say "pu-air") otherwise known as sheng or "raw" puer. It has a smoky, earthy quality and bold flavor.

Teacup is located on the corner of Queen Anne N. and Boston St. In addition to the Teacup website, Brett Boynton also writes the Black Dragon Tea Bar blog.

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