Tea Tasting: Purple au Naturalé from Leafberri

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It’s a good old-fashioned tea tasting! Recently, I found the company Leafberri, which sells purple tea from Kenya, and since purple is my favorite color, I had to try it. So today I’m sharing my (limited) tasting notes from the Purple au Naturalé from Leafberri, which is a pure purple tea with no other flavorings. They also sell blends and some black teas.

Now the history of tea cultivation in African countries is interesting and rich in and of itself, and I certainly plan to delve into it, particularly the connections to British colonization, in a future post. But purple tea is not a product of the British-driven mass-production of commodity tea (except in as much as it is made from the Assamica cultivar that was introduced to Africa by colonizers) on the continent. Instead, it is an artisan product from a newly-developed cultivar of the tea plant that concentrates anthocyanin pigments in the leaves, leading to the purple color. Yes, those are the same antioxidants found in blueberries. The tea represents 25 years of research, and is produced on small farms adhering to sustainable practices, providing a livelihood to the artisans who create the tea, rather than feeding into the commodity tea machine that I’ve mentioned before. Leafberri is also a Black-owned company with family ties to Kenya, where the tea is grown and processed.

The most fascinating thing to me is that, while the leaves look most similar to a black or oxidized oolong tea, the leaves do not undergo oxidation. Instead, they are put through something similar to a kill green process, which halts oxidation, before being rolled and dried. So they look like black tea leaves, but they have a unique flavor that reminds me of many things. The first time I tried this tea, I was reminded, oddly, of yancha, likely because of the woody notes in the flavor, but later sessions reminded me of a young sheng puerh, probably because I experimented with hotter water. So I decided to sit down with my cupping set and take careful notes.

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I used 3 grams of leaf in my 120-ml cupping set with boiling water. I did not pre-warm my tea ware, but still was able to detect a faint herbal aroma from the dry leaf. I brewed it for three minutes. The wet leaf smells very much like a green tea, particularly a green tea from Yunnan, which is unsurprising, given the cultivar. On my first sip, I detected a strong, clean bitter note. I couldn’t even really place the quality of the bitterness because there were no accompanying flavors muddying it. It had no astringency or stridency. Just a clean bitterness that was rather pleasant. It was similar to a young sheng, as I mentioned before.

But the mouthfeel was juicy, and reminded me of blackberries. If you’ve ever had blackberries that are ever so slightly underripe, that is exactly what I detected in the mouthfeel and aftertaste. I was curious, so I tried another steeping for three minutes, after which the bitterness started to soften and allowed this fruitiness to come forward. I would characterize it as a true fruity note, not exactly a sweetness.

Sadly, after the second steeping, my toddler decided to pull the entire tea set onto the floor, and I did not fancy seeing what cat hair added to the flavor profile, but this is definitely a tea I will be revisiting many times. Plus, y’know, purple.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please see my contact and collaboration information.

Tea Together Tuesday: Shop Small!

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Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share your favorite tea from a small business. Now, most of my tea comes from small businesses, but lately, I’ve been exploring Black-owned businesses on top of simply small business, and if you asked me what my favorite tea is right now, I’d say the Baozhong oolong from The Steeped Leaf Shop.

Not “favorite from a small business” or “favorite from a Black-owned business.” Favorite. Period. This tea is creamy, slightly sweet in that way that very fresh local cream is sweet, and has a gorgeous floral bouquet (it’s pronounced “boo-kay”). I’ve even started seasoning my newest Yixing pot with it even though it isn’t the right kind of tea for the clay and shape, AND I already have two clay pots that have been seasoned with oolong. But the pot loves this oolong as much as I do. I am certainly going to have to buy some more soon because it turns out an ounce doesn’t go very far, now does it?

I’ve tasted this both in porcelain and glazed clay, and in my unglazed Yixing pot. It steeps beautifully gongfu style, but I’ve also made a western-style cup and it retains its beautiful character. It doesn’t have a bite to it like some green oolongs can get when steeped too long, but it opens up into a gorgeous cup of flavor at the first short steeping. I can toss some of this into my gaiwan or pot in the morning and drink it all day as I make my way through a day that is often too hectic for a single, focused long gongfu session. And even Elliot likes it — he stole a sip the other day when it had cooled off and promptly declared it “Nummy.”

If The Steeped Leaf Shop sounds familiar, it’s because I wrote a similarly effusive post on Instagram last week for Matcha Monday about their ceremonial matcha. Wow. I’m all the more excited to try the sencha that Tammy tucked into my shipment as a free sample because so far she’s two for two with curating excellent teas.

I’ve written in the past about my frustration and suspicion of formal tea certifications, but when Tammy says she’s a certified tea specialist, I absolutely believe her, having tasted her teas. And she’s incredibly communicative and friendly, both on social media and via email. So even if your order falls victim to COVID-related shipping issues, you will know what’s going on and have utter faith in the process.

I know this sounds sponsored, but I promise it’s not. I just really like this tea. If you’re in the market for tea, I highly recommend checking her shop out. Shop small, shop Black-owned when you can, and always drink excellent tea!

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.