Wednesday, August 29, 2012

An intimate tea tasting

My friend Vicki, the tea sommelier student, as well as,  jack of many trades, and I, had a very intimate tea tasting at Tao Tea Leaf on Yonge Street in Toronto recently. I say intimate, because it was just the two of us with Tea Sommelier Tao, our instructor.

When we arrived Tao beautifully arranged a sampling of teas from his array of tea cannisters, that he imports. Our sampling consisted of two white, one yellow, one green, two oolong, two black and two Puerh teas. I had never even heard of Puerh before.

Tao arranging our leaves for our tasting.
Tao set a lovely tea service, with a traditional clay Chinese tea pot, and a Gai Won, a traditional three piece tea set which consisted of a lid, a bowl and a saucer. We were told how the water will affect the taste of tea, how to sniff the leaves, smell the aroma from the precisely brewed cup, how to use a tea toy, to judge the temperature of the water & how to use a tea presenter to sniff the leaves and breathe in the aroma with an open mouth and then to breathe, how to sip the first taste quickly and then let the second taste swill around in your mouth. I had no idea tea tasting had such an art, and it truly is an art. I enjoyed all the ceremony, how Tao had a stop watch to steep one tea for precisely 50 seconds, and another for a full minute. I learned about a tea kettle that had settings to warm the water to the exact temperature that certain teas best steep at, ie) green, assam. Who knew these kettles existed, but I have since written down the brand, and will look into that. I thought you boiled the water until it clicked off, as I do on my Russell Hobbs kettle. Apparently there is a lot more to it than that.

During all these tastings, I confirmed that Dragon Well green tea, is still my favorite green tea. When I was in China I visited the Dragon Well tea plantation and saw spring's first buds being processed by hand in their hot pan process. 

The cascading tea plants at Dragon Well.

Hot pan process for the green tea
at Dragon Well Tea Plantation, Hangzhou China
The first pluck of bud only is the top grade in tea.  The Island Goddess Oolong tea looked like spinach as it sat in the tiny dish before the tea was brewed. It had a sweet scent and a yummy flavor.

Green tea has no oxidation, white has a slight oxidation, yellow has a two week process, oolong  is 70% oxidation and black tea is fully oxidized.

Me sitting in front of our sampling, and instructor Tao,
with the spent tea leaves sitting on top of saucers.
Imperial Puerh tea helps in digestion, but smells leathery to me, so don't think I will be purchasing that one. It was great to be able to sample all these wonderful different teas, and to learn just what makes each tea so unique, be it the location of plantation, fermentation process, oxidation process and so on. That's why I find it hard to understand when people say they don't like tea. Really? But there are thousands of teas. Perhaps you just haven't found the one you like yet?

My first cup of tea was with my Babcia. We sat on her back stoop, after I helped her hang the wash on the line, after we pulled it through her wringer washer, with our cup and saucer of Red Rose tea, looking at her rose garden. Good memories. My tea tastes may have evolved over the years, but those first cups with Babcia, still stand out.

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