Tuesday Tasting: Jasmine with Ceylon Leafy Green from Lumbini Tea Valley

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Continuing my tasting of the samples I got from Lumbini Tea Valley, I thought a little tasting of this Jasmine with Ceylon Leafy Green Tea would be a nice way to wind down the year. I saved it for now because jasmine can supposedly adversely affect breastmilk supply and now that Elliot is one year old, I don’t really have to worry about that as much as I did. And jasmine is one of my favorite scents and flavors.

I used 1.5 grams of tea in my 60-ml gaiwan with 180F water. The dry leaves have visible creamy off-white dried jasmine buds and petals, but are mostly some very large, twisted leaves. The leaf almost looks more like a green yancha than a young green tea. The warm, dry leaf has the scent of white florals, but I get lily and gardenia in addition to jasmine.

I tasted this tea without a rinse, steeping for one minute each time. After the first steeping, the jasmine aroma came out of the wet leaves more strongly, though I could still smell the other white florals, with a vegetal undertone. The pale green-gold liquor had a pronounced, but not overpowering, jasmine flavor, with a subtle umami quality and a rich, syrupy mouthfeel. There was a grassy brightness on the aftertaste.

The second steeping revealed a sweeter jasmine aroma that was more like orange blossom. The liquor was a slightly brighter and darker color. The flavor and body were richer, with the jasmine flavor fading and the vegetal and “tea-floral” flavors coming forward (i.e., the floral notes that I associate with the tea itself rather than the scenting). The third steeping was much the same, with the aroma and color holding steady and a slightly lighter flavor.

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On the fourth steeping, I noticed a bright acidity in the flavor, which was lighter, but still enjoyable. But by the fifth steeping, the tea was obviously done. The spent leaf unfurled into some very large leaves, again more like what I would expect in an oolong than a green tea. The leaves were either from some massive-leafed cultivar, or else were older than typical green tea leaves. I tend to think it was the later, since it had more complex flavors to meld with the jasmine, rather than the grassy notes I associate with very young green leaves.

NB: This tea was sent to me in exchange for featuring. All thoughts are my own. If you are interested in contacting me for a collaboration or featured sample, please read my collaboration information.

In my Cupboard: Investigating the Gaiwan

As my Instagram followers may know, I have a varied collection of teaware from around the world, in many different styles. I’ve decided to start a series where I talk a little bit about the different styles of teaware I use, their history, and how I use them.

When I wrote my tea primer, the third “level” was the use of the gaiwan to brew tea using a technique called “gong fu cha,” or “tea with great skill.” In modern times, the use of the gaiwan of a brewing vessel, from which the tea is decanted into serving vessels, is taken largely for granted, but offhand comments of people on Reddit, as well as what I’ve seen on historical dramas, suggested to me that the gaiwan was originally used as a brewing and drinking vessel. Intrigued, I decided to do some digging and explore how the use of the gaiwan has changed over its history.

One of the seminal works on Chinese tea preparation is Lu Yu’s Classic of Tea (or Tea Classic), and yet this work makes no mention of the gaiwan, instead describing a method of preparing tea by whisking powdered tea in a tea bowl. It is believed that the gaiwan was developed during the Ming Dynasty. It’s not known exactly when the gaiwan began to be used, but it was a regular part of teaware in the early 18th century. Sadly, this means that the depictions of gaiwan that delighted me in the Yuan dynasty courts of Empress Ki were probably an anachronism.

The blog Tea Guardian offers this pictorial history of the gaiwan, which shows a vessel that is recognizable as our modern gaiwan, which dates to the early 18th century, though predecessor lidded bowls also exist. In a post on using the gaiwan as a cup, the article states that the Manchurians began using the gaiwan as a brewing and drinking vessel. They favored green and jasmine-scented green teas, which are brewed at a lower temperature, and can be easily drunk from the gaiwan before the tea steeps long enough to become unpleasant. Other sources suggest that this would have been an early form of tea cupping, where the tea is sipped throughout the steeping process in order to determine at what point the tea is to the drinker’s taste.

Armed with some research, I resolved to try drinking from the gaiwan. I chose a gaiwan with a deep saucer, and the tallest one I own, in order to  adhere to the suggestions in the post above. And I chose a Longjing tea, which was a favorite of the Qing Dynasty, when the gaiwan arose for certain. Drinking from a gaiwan is similar to drinking grandpa-style, though the smaller quantity of tea makes it easier to finish a cup of tea before it overbrews. There is a unique sense of both informality and ceremony in it, as the tea is not carefully timed, but the ritual of tilting and holding the lid, and carefully holding the cup by the saucer rather than touching any part of the bowl itself feels special. It is oddly one of my favorite ways to drink tea at my desk now.

And if the depiction in my favorite drama is anachronistic, I do still feel a bit like a fancy court lady.

Getting Started With Tea Using Amazon Prime

I know that Amazon as a company is controversial, and you’re probably going to find better quality tea and teaware going through one of the smaller vendors I’ve talked about before on this blog and my YouTube channel. But I’ve noticed that a lot of people find it daunting to get into loose-leaf and gongfu-brewed tea, and I thought I might share some of the tea and teawares I’ve gotten off Amazon Prime that have been helpful in informing my journey.

My most recent tea video features my first gaiwan, which was an Amazon purchase, but that I found out after filming the video isn’t available on Amazon any more, sadly. So, to make up for that, I’ve put together an Amazon idea list of all the various tea things I’ve gotten off Amazon and liked, that still look like they’re available. Note that this doesn’t have affiliate links, since I’m not an Amazon affiliate. I thought I’d call out a couple specific items that have served me well through my tea journey.

FORLIFE Curve Infuser Mug: This was one of my first go-to brewing vessels when I made the conscious choice to stop drinking coffee most days and switch to tea, almost exclusively. I knew I would use loose-leaf tea, which I generally got from my grocery store, but I needed a simple, non-fussy way to brew it. This is definitely a vessel for brewing Western-style, with a few teaspoons of tea leaves to a large mug. I still get multiple steepings out of a single batch of leaves with this mug. I don’t use it as much anymore, as I actually do steep gongfu-style at work, but for years, this was my constant desk companion, and it’s a great starter infuser for anyone looking to make the switch from tea bags to loose leaf.

Hario Glass Kyusu: This was my only teapot for small-leaf Japanese green teas for a long time. It has a nice fine mesh, and the shape is such that I can fill it halfway with hot water and brew a little less tea. And you get to see the color of the infusion, which is nice.

The Fish Teapot: This is a perennial favorite on my Instagram, so I thought I’d share its origin. This was actually on my Amazon wish list for ages, and my husband bought it for my for my birthday one year. This is a great way to brew gongfu-style at work because the pot holds only slightly more liquid than the cup, so as long as I don’t fill the teapot completely to the brim, I don’t need a sharing pitcher. And it’s just so darn cute.

Of course, there’s more than these three things on the list, but these are some of my most-loved and longest-used items that originally came from Amazon. If you’re looking to get started with loose-leaf tea or gongfu, you can get started with the basics quickly and then take your time looking for more interesting pieces to expand your collection. Unfortunately, the gaiwan that I originally got off Amazon is no longer available, but this gaiwan is from a company that I’ve purchased from before and liked their teaware, and it is reasonably priced for the gongfu beginner.

As far as the tea itself goes, I’ve recently started buying some teas from Teavivre, which has an Amazon storefront, with Prime options. Because I am impatient, I like the convenience of Amazon Prime sometimes. So far, I’ve tried one white, one green, one black, and one oolong tea from the store and have been pleasantly surprised with the quality. I’ve already reviewed their Bai Mu Dan white tea on my YouTube channel, but I’ll share my thoughts on the rest sometime soon.

Teas I Didn’t Immediately Love and How to Accept Them

This is not a post about acquiring a taste for tea or anything else. This is about taking a tea that was not my favorite and playing with how I prepare it in order to at least be able to finish a tin of it, if not grow to enjoy it. I posted this last week on Instagram:

I was sitting down to a brewing session of a Korean green tea that I bought on a whim and ended up seriously disliking the first time I brewed it. Always the consummate trusting fool, I obeyed the brewing instructions on the tin and ended up with an over-strong, overpowerfully vegetal, unpleasant cup of tea. It upset my stomach, as strong Chinese green tea often does, and was just generally a bad experience. I put the tea back in my cupboard and tried not to think of it for a while.

Then, I realized I was running through my stock of tea and had to use up something before the new batch arrived. I resolved to try to make something of this tea. By playing with water temperature and brewing times, I was able to come up with something that was drinkable, at the very least, and, dare I say it, enjoyable some of the time. So here are my little ways of playing with teas to make them more enjoyable.

  1. First things first: a gaiwan is your best friend for tasting teas. You can brew a small amount at a time and don’t have to either suffer through or throw away a bad cuppa. If you’re not sure about a tea, play with it in gaiwan first. You don’t have to pile in the leaf; you can brew like you would in a tea pot, if you’d like. But if you do brew traditionally, you get a really good idea of what flavors are released under what conditions.
  2. Alright, now you have your gaiwan and you have leaves in it. Start with a very short brewing time. Sometimes as little as 10 seconds will start releasing flavor. I started with 30 seconds and decided that the first steeping was a bit insipid, so I increased to 45. Remember that the very first steeping also needs time to let the leaves absorb the water from being dry. If no amount of reducing time on your first steeping helps, try rinsing your leaves.
  3. Your second steeping may not need as much time as your first steeping. Drop down a bit if you’re worried about off flavors, and favor steeping many times for short times each steeping over leaving it for too long.
  4. If you’re still getting off flavors with very short steepings, your water probably needs to be cooler, especially with green teas. They can take on an unpleasant “overcooked vegetable” flavor.

Next time you have a tea you hate, try playing with it using these tips before you bail on it altogether. And if this doesn’t work, you can always try adding herbs or flavorings to it. I cannot abide Gunpowder green tea by itself, but add spearmint and maybe a touch of sugar or honey and you have a tasty Moroccan Mint!