Gathering Our Nuts

Are we to look at cherry blossoms only when in full bloom, the moon only when it is cloudless? To long for the moon while looking on the rain, to lower the blind and be unaware of the passing of spring – these are even more deeply moving. Branches about to bloom or gardens strewn with faded flowers are worthier of our admiration….In all things, it is the beginnings and endings that are interesting.” Yoshida Kenko (born c. 1283, Kyōto?—died c. 1350/52, near Kyōto?)

Like Yoshida Kenko’s keen observations about observing the transient beauty of nature, I like the days between the going and coming of the seasons. Lately, here in my corner of New England, these days are neither summer nor fall, but combinations of warm sunshine during the day and crisp, cool nights. This transition provides us with visual reminders that another turn of the wheel in the cycle of the seasons is upon us. At my local farmstand, I find the last watermelons displayed next to a basket of the first just-picked apples.The trees on my street are beginning to drop their leaves, littering neighborhood lawns and the street with colorful, parchment-like leaves. Grasses and tall weeds in the fields surrounding our house, once vibrant and green, are thinning and turning yellow. Corn fields are being cleared and flocks of migrating geese have replaced the squabbling hummingbirds. Pumpkin patches are being emptied and these colorful symbols of autumn are re-appearing on doorsteps and porches. Seed heads are forming where flowers once were, and, suddenly, the annual fall foliage spectacular in New England is underway.

This time of year I enjoy watching neighborhood squirrels scamper across our lawn, each of them carrying an impossibly large horse chestnut gleaned from a cache of nuts festooning the roadside just past our house. Sensing the impending change of season, these hard-working little animals scamper about with a heightened sense of urgency, each of them seemingly intent on finding the perfect burying place for storing their bounty of nuts. While they work diligently, I chuckle knowing that I will find horse chestnuts popping out of my flower beds and lawn next spring.

Similarly, on a morning stroll through nearby Amherst College campus, resident squirrels run hastily past me with acorns that have fallen plop, plop, plop from towering old oak trees. I often wonder if any of these nuts will be dug later by the squirrel who planted them. Or if nut-planting is a communal effort with the end result being that the nut goes to whichever squirrel later finds it. These industrious creatures seem hard-wired to plant as many nuts as possible, plain and simple, and I admire their individual efforts on behalf of the greater resident community.

Similarly, for we humans there is much to do now to prepare for fall and winter. We begin gathering winter-keeping foods such as locally-grown varieties of squash and potatoes and other necessities now in anticipation of the cold, dark winter months that lie ahead.

In our tea store we notice that our customers are purchasing more black, oolong and Pu-erh teas. As with food choices and other drinks we crave in hot weather/cold weather, our taste buds respond to the needs of our bodies according to the season. Dark tea for the dark season makes perfect sense.

Like the busy squirrels, we have been packing tea into our shop in advance of the cold months and the busy holiday season. (While we do not bury our tea, we are putting some tea aside to age……more on that in a month or so). Our supplies of black, oolong and Pu-erh teas are ample and we are happy with both the quality and the quantity of what we have. Our latest additions are:

Nepal:

Everest Hand-Rolled Himalaya black tea2012 Everest black
Nepal High Himalaya Hand-Rolled Tips blak tea 2012 Nepal High Himalaya Hand rolled tips black


China:

Gold-Flecked Emerald Tips Green Wind in the Pines green Yangtze River Gorges green
Spring Hao Ya jasmine Fenghuang Dan Cong oolong – Baiye Fenghuang Dan Cong oolong – Zhi Lan Xiang
Mao Cha – Jinggu County Mao Cha – Yongde County  
Mao Cha –Zhenyuan County
Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong Tippy – black


Japan:

Hojicha with Toasted Genmai  Genmaicha with Matcha

Also, we will be re-roasting some of our oolongs soon and will post those selections online as soon as they are ready.

Our China Yixing and Japan Tokoname teapots are in good supply, too. We are now photographing a stunning collection of one-of-a-kind Tokoname teapots that will be available on our website early in November. All of the artisan Tokoname teapots that we received in our July shipment sold quickly, so we anticipate a swift response to these new teapots. Remember that it is not too soon to begin thinking about the right tea gift for the tea enthusiast on your holiday gift-giving list.

Be sure to sign up for our E-NEWS so that you hear about these developments first.

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The Real Milk Oolong

 

ool-jin_xuanThere is quite a bit of misunderstanding about what milk oolongs are, and sadly there are many low-quality examples of this fine tea dogging about, too. Milk oolong is really a buyer-beware situation, and as premium tea retailers we usually avoid walking right into the eye of the storm when it comes to tea controversy and confusion. (Perhaps the popularization of bubble tea, a Taiwanese milk and tea  drink that features the addition of colorful and sometimes flavored balls of tapioca may somehow be adding to the confusion).

But real milk oolongs are so good that we wanted to shed some light on what milk oolong is and what it isn’t and introduce the real-deal to our customers.

Simply put, milk oolongs are lovely, sweet, lightly-roasted semiball-rolled style oolongs produced in different regions of Taiwan from a particular tea bush cultivar – Jin Xuan (Tai Cha #12 ). This cultivar is sometimes referred to as Golden Lily.


All of Taiwan’s great oolongs begin with specific tea bush cultivars that, in conjunction with the unique terroir of each location, influence the flavor of the tea. Although Jin Xuan is a relatively new cultivar (developed in the 1980’s) it is now one of Taiwan’s four main tea cultivars (dozens of cultivars and varietals are grown throughout Taiwan) and the cultivar behind the marketing of milk oolong tea.

It is the flavor of the fresh leaves from these tea bushes that is transformed into the soft, creamy, ‘milky’ flavor which makes this tea so desirable. Try our milk oolong and you will see that it has very little astringency and an abundance of natural sweetness. This tea has been given a very light roasting, which enhances the milk fragrance – nai xiang – of the tea. It is from the same tea garden as our 2012 spring Alishan gao shan, and we highly recommend it to anyone looking to taste a delicious, easy-to-love Taiwan high mountain oolong.)

Real milk oolong tea is very appealing and delicious, and very popular in Taiwan and abroad. However, it is important to understand that absolutely no milk is involved in the production of real Taiwan ‘milk’ tea.

Spend 30 minutes searching the internet for a definition of this tea and you will end up with many rather silly explanations of what it is, such as:

  • tea that is plucked from tea bushes that have been irrigated with milk before being harvested
  • tea made from tea leaves have been soaked in milk
  • tea made from tea leaves have been steamed with milk in the manufacturing process
  • tea made from tea leaves have been dried with milk
  • tea leaves that were hung over a steaming milk bath before drying

Really? Milk….really? Milk is not abundant in Taiwan (or any parts of Asia, in fact), so how does this make sense?

Anyway, our customers can rest assured that our milk oolong is the real milk oolong, and should not be confused with Chinese imitations of milk oolongs or low-quality teas that have been artificially flavored with a so-called ‘milk’ flavor. Real milk oolong is a natural Taiwan original, and has never seen the white-soul of the inside of a bottle of milk.

This tea farm was awarded 1st Place for their 2012 Spring Jin Xuan tea at the Alishan Village Farmer’s Association tea championship in May. This is one of three prestigious competitions that are conducted by the National Agriculture Council and sponsored by the Taiwan government. Our Jin Xuan Oolong has been certified by the Agriculture Council and the County of Chia-Yi to be true to its origin and also to be free of pesticides. Each package features a certifying stamp to verify this.

Please visit: www.teatrekker.com for more information

June 10th Update on 2012 Tea Arrivals

Tea, tea and more tea. We are thrilled to announce our first-round of new teas for 2012. The second round is on the way, so keep checking teatrekker.com for new additions.

This year the green tea harvest was delayed throughout eastern China by unseasonable weather conditions. In some areas long periods of colder than usual weather lingered as winter retreated and spring approached, and in other areas incessant rainfall and cold delayed the start of leaf plucking. But despite the rocky start and the plucking delays, our teas from this season are excellent in flavor, aroma and appearance.

Because of plucking and production delays our Chinese teas arrived later than usual this spring ( Darjeelings from India, too!).  Last year most of our Pre-Qing Ming teas were in our store by April 5th (a herculean feat in any year and last year was an extraordinarily cooperative year), but this year schedules had to adjust to accommodate the weather. The quantity of China spring green tea produced in 2012 was much smaller than usual, so we are happy to report that we received just about everything that we wanted with minimal (if any) price increases.

For us, this delay coincided with our decision to re-locate our store. Which meant that much of our new tea began to arrive as we were beginning to pack up for the move. That is not the way we would have liked it to be, but whenever the tea arrives safe and sound we are happy.

From late April until the middle of May new tea poured into the store pretty rapid fire. We carved out time to list some of these teas on teatrekker.com; others were offered only in the store. Now that we are happily in our new storefront, all the new 2012 teas that we have are now listed on the website. Not everything has complete information (that will come soon!) but you will find listings and prices in place.

As always, we are happy to answer any questions about availability and what’s in the pipeline.

Here is what we have –

2012 China Green Tea

  • Xi Hu Longjing: Meijiawu Village (Pre-Qing Ming)  – sold out! 
  • Xi Hu Longjing: Meijiawu Village  (Yu Qian)- in stock!
  • Xi Hu Longjing: Shi Feng – in stock!
  • Xin Chang County Longjing: Dafo Village ( Pre-Qing Ming) – in stock!
  • Buddha’s Tea (Jui Hua Shan Fo Cha) ( Early Spring ) – in stock!
  • Huang Shan Mao Feng ( Early Spring ) – in stock
  • Kai Hua Long Ding (Pre-Qing Ming) sold out!
  • Kai Hua Long Ding  ( Yu Qian ) – in stock!
  • Lu Shan ( Pre-Qing Ming ) – in stock!
  • Gan Lu (Sweet Dew) ( Pre-Qing Ming) – sold out!
  • Gan Lu ( Sweet Dew ) ( Pre-Qing Ming Grade A X-Fine Pluck ) – in stock!
  • Tiamu Snow Sprout ( Pre-Qing Ming ) – in stock!
  • Tiamu Spring Beauty ( Pre-Qing Ming ) – in stock!
  • Yunnan Spring Buds  (Pre Qing Ming) – in stock!
  •  Zhu Ye Qing  (Pre-Qing Ming)sold out!

2012 China Red Tea ( black tea )

  • Bai Lin Gong Fu (Pre-Qing Ming ) – in stock!

2012 China White Tea

  • Bai Mudan ( Yu Qian ) – in stock!
  • Fuding Wild Curly Leaf ( Pre-Qing Ming ) – in stock!
  • Yunnan Bai Mudan – in stock!

2012 China Yellow Tea

  • Mengding Mountain Huang Ya ( Pre-Qing Ming ) – in stock!

2012 Japan Green Tea

  • Hashiri Shincha – in stock!

2012 Darjeeling, India

  • 1st Flush, Castleton Garden, SFTGFOP1 CH – in stock!
  • 1st Flush, Goomtee Garden, FTGFOP1, Organic – in stock!
  • 1st Flush, Makaibari Garden, SFTGFOP1, Bio-Dynamic, Organic – in stock!
  • 1st Flush Margaret’s Hope Estate, FTGFOP1 – in stock!

Coming Soon –

  • China red teas (black)
  • China oolongs – Anxi & Dan Cong
  • Japan greens ( old favorites ) and new offerings
  • Taiwan gao shan oolongs

2012 Pre-Qing Ming Meijiawu Longjing & Gan Lu have arrived!

The first of our 2012 Pre-Qing Ming ( Ming Qian ) teas have arrived from eastern China. The beginning of the tea harvest was slowed in many regions by the vagaries of weather that makes established plucking-times and ‘market-date’  cycles in our modern times a bit unpredictable. However, these sheer deliciousness and goodness of these new teas have been worth the short delay.

Longjing is one of China’s Ten Famous Teas, and it is the most sought after of the pre-Qing Ming teas (tea plucked from the end of March until April 5th).

It is comprised of a classic two-leaves and a bud pluck, and the appearance is that of a carefully made, hand-shaped, pan-fired tea. It possesses a signature taste combination of toastiness, nuttiness and delicacy that is unique. From the first sip of the initial steeping right through to the lingering taste of the final cup,Longjing always fills the palate with sweet, satisfying flavor.

The origin of authentic Longjing is the vicinity of West Lake ( Xi Huregion ) in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. Longjing is a protected tea
( protected against counterfeit  ‘Longjing’  made somewhere else in China, or anywhere) and can only legitimately come from one of the places located within the National Designated Protected Zone.

(Our Longjing is ‘authentic Longjing’ which means that the tea is made from Longjing #43 tea bushes. Some early pluck Longjing being sold in the US  this year is made from Wu Niu Zao cultivar, which has an appearance similar to Longjing but is not true Longjing and should not command Longjing prices).

This zone is a scant 168 kilometers in area, and all Longjing tea manufactured there is sold under the name of the region or village in which it was plucked. The original production zones were called Lion, Dragon, Cloud ( Meijiawu Village), Tiger, and Plum.

Today, the names have changed, but the most important harvesting areas for production of authentic Longjing in the Xi Huregion remain the same:

Shi-feng Shan; Longjing Village; Meijiawu Village; Weng-jia Shan

Our 2012 Pre- Qing Ming Meijiawu Village Longjing is complex in aroma, and we think, quite spectacular. We are pleased to share this lot with our Longing-enthusiast clientele.  Supply is very limited!

This spring our 2012 Pre-Qing Ming Gan Lu is comprised of the tiniest baby tea leaves – the smallest we have ever seen! The leaf is covered with the characteristic white pekoe that signifies the tea is comprised of very early season buds, just as this tea should be. In the high elevation area tea gardens of Mengding Mountain in Sichuan Province, the sweet spring buds yield a refreshing, slightly-earthy tasting tea punctuated with high-notes of delicate sweetness. This very appealing quality has earned this tea the name, Gan Lu, or sweet dew.

Mengding Mountain Gan Lu is cultivated in the vicinity of Gan Lu Si Temple, where Wu LiZhen is reported to have planted the first tea bushes around 53 BC. This tea was enjoyed by Song dynasty Emperor Xiaozong ( r. 1162-1189), who gave Wu LiZhen the title ” Master of Sweet Dew.”

This batch of Sweet Dew is small – once this lot is sold we will have a slightly later plucking from the Yu Qian or Before the Rains plucking season, April 5th to April 20th, weather permitting!  Order now !