If I didn't already have another 52-week tea project in mind, I would probably be a bit sad about writing today's post! I simply cannot believe it has been a year since I began this tea-tasting project inspired by the 58 teas in "The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea" by Michael Harney. It was more enjoyable and enlightening than I had imagined, and I was pleasantly surprised I was able to find every tea or a reasonable substitute.
What have I learned? That I really love tea! That I am more fond of "pure teas," especially greens, than I knew! That tea is a fascinating subject as well as a delicious, healthful and calming beverage! And I learned that the tea vendors I've purchased from (in the U.S. and one from China) have all given exceptional customer service. I can think of no other category of shopping in which I have experienced absolutely flawless service, but the tea companies all treated me well. (Their shipping rates remain one of the best bargains around.) Finally, I've learned that "The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea" is simply a phenomenal guidebook which no tea lover should be without.
After this year of tea tasting, I don't by any means feel like a tea connoisseur (I don't think my palate will ever be that finely-tuned) but rather like someone who has dipped her little toe about six inches into the ocean and realizes there's quite a bit more to be explored. So without further ado, it's time to wind this up and claim my Tea 101 Certificate of Completion!
Purveyors: (From left in photo above) Ban-Zhang/The Tao of Tea; Loose-Leafed Black Puerh/Harney & Sons; Tuo Cha/TeaGschwendner
Dry leaf appearance: The Ban-Zhang was thin and wispy; the black puerh had shorter, much more uniform leaves; and the Tuo Cha (slightly bigger in diameter than a quarter) looked like a miniature bird's nest!
Wet leaf appearance: How about I let the pictures do the talking?
Steeping temperature and time: 1 teaspoon of tea, 212 degrees, 2 minutes.
Scent: For the most part, the three teas' dry scents were very similar to the steeped scents. The Ban-Zhang smelled a little like that Creomulsion cough syrup scent I associate with Lapsang Souchong, which had me worried. The black puerh suddenly took me back to an oyster bar on Pensacola Beach because of its fishy scent! (Steeped, this one's scent developed into a "fish in dirt" scent.) The Tuo-Cha smelled very much like the potting soil I used to repot my Christmas cactus a few days ago.
Color: The Ban-Zhang was light golden yellow, the black puerh and the Tuo Cha a deep coppery brown.
Flavor: Despite some questionable scents on the front end, all three of these teas produced perfectly drinkable brews! The Ban-Zhang was the lightest and had a lovely buttery quality. The black puerh was definitely stronger and had a little of an earthy taste, but I liked it and wasn't even thinking about fish or dirt! The Tuo Cha was also earthy tasting but quite enjoyable.
Additional notes: "Puerhs are prized throughout China as slimming teas," Harney says, and some claim they reduce cholesterol and blood pressure. So ... slimming teas? Well that's enough for me, how 'bout you? (Just kidding. Sort of.) Puerhs are teas that are aged anywhere from 2-50 years and are, as Harney puts it, "an acquired taste." He notes the teas "get their unusual qualities from fermentation, a process no other tea endures." I have tried puerhs before and knew I liked the earthy taste of them. Harney notes the teas have become so popular in Asia that investors now speculate in them, which could be one reason I found an online vendor selling a particular aged cake of Tuo Cha for $138! The book also gives advice for aging your own puerhs.
A special thank you to those of you who have been kind enough to encourage me along the way and therefore insure that I would complete these tea tastings this year!