Wednesday, June 25, 2008

For The Love of Tea

I signed up for "Tea Anyone?", a 5-week Tea Tasting Seminar on Wednesday evenings through KCC (Kapiolani Community College), which has a large culinary program and lots of classes on nights and weekends related to food. I took a Knife Skills class there last fall and was signed up for an Ahi Tuna class that got canceled so I had a credit to use and I decided to use it on this workshop. I spent many years working for a major coffee retailer and perfecting my coffee knowledge but since we ended our partnership with them, I have pretty much totally given up coffee and now drink mostly tea. (Sacrilege! Basically I just needed to separate myself from it all and I also went through a cleanse omitting a lot of caffeine I was consuming) At this point I have just enough tea knowledge to make me dangerous and picky about what I drink, so I thought learning more would be helpful. Also, I tend to drink a lot of herbal tisanes or infusions (not really tea) or flavored tea so I decided this would push me to try new teas and more pure teas. Our class is taught by Dave Plaskett, Director of Tea for Hawaii Coffee Company. Dave has about 15 years in the tea business, seems to know his stuff and is very passionate about his tea. This is his first formal class but he easily got the about 20 or so of us who attended interested and ready to learn.

The first class was last week and in it we covered tea basics--growing, processing and brewing and learned about the 5 true teas from the tea bush: Camellia Sinensis: Black, Green, Oolong, White and Pu'erh. We each received proper "tea cupping sets" to keep (how fun!) and we cupped and tasted three different teas. I took a few photos but the lighting in the room is pretty bad and I am still feeling a bit "shy" just pulling out the camera and taking pictures in certain settings. (I will try to do better this week!) The teas we tasted and the ones we will taste in coming weeks are from a company called Zhong Guo Cha (website is here) and they are handcrafted (plucked and processed by hand) and considered to be "Specialty" or gourmet teas.
My tea cupping set

The first tea we tried was a Gyokuro Green Tea from Japan. Considered some of the best of Japan's leaf tea, this very dark green tea is shade grown, harvested once per year in the springtime and very high in chlorophyll, caffeine and theanine. (Theanine is supposed to reduce stress, produce feelings of relaxation and improve mood--so sign me up!) It is withered and steamed to stop the oxidation and has a tight twisted, thin needle shape leaf. The aroma of the dry tea leaf was subtle, green, maybe a bit grassy. The wet leaf took on the aroma and the flavor of spinach. Very reminiscent of being outdoors in the springtime. It was not harsh like some green teas and was very drinkable.

The Gyokuro Green Tea in my tasting cup

The second tea was a Lapsang Souchong (one of my favorite teas to say!), a black tea from China. If you are not familiar with Lapsang Souchong, you should definitely try it--at least for the experience. It is an extremely smoky tea--which i love in smaller doses. (I used to "host" informal tea gatherings at work in the afternoon and we paired this tea once with a smoked Gouda and bacon--whoa!) This robust, strong tea is whithered over pinewood fires and then pan fired, as the tea leaves oxidize they are pan fired again, rolled and do their final drying in bamboo baskets over smokey pine fires. The aroma of the dry leaf is very smoky and a bit woody. The aroma of the wet leaf is even stronger, like a smoky campfire and the flavor reminds me of the outer crust of a toasted marshmallow when you slightly burn it when making a S'more. They say you either love or hate this tea--the woman next to me didn't want to taste her tea after smelling the leaf but she gamely gave it a sip and although not a "lover", she finished most of her cup.

(A little blurry) Shot of the Lapsang Souchong leaves

Our final tea from last week was a Jade Oolong from the Nantou/Chiayi region of Taiwan. (Apparently in Taiwan, Jade is a category of tea based on oxidizing but can be characterized differently in other places in China). This tea is lightly oxidized, with greenish, tightly rolled leaves. The aroma of the dry leaf was lightly floral. The wet leaf had a more Jasmine-like floral smell. This tea typically has a floral aftertaste that lingers longer than the first taste. It has a light sweetness and reminds me of sitting in a flower garden on a sunny day. Very drinkable and you could easily drink it all day long.

Blurry Again--but can you see the tightly rolled leaves of the Jade Oolong?

The wet Jade Oolong leaves unfurled & the tea ready to taste

I am not sure exactly what we will be learning this week other than tasting more varieties of tea but I am looking forward to learning and cupping more in the next few weeks.


  1. I too have switched to more tea since moving to Japan--Used to be a coffee person, I used to do demonstrations for a coffee company in Hawaii before.

  2. K&S--I love my tea and don't miss my coffee. Can I ask what company you did demos for? I was with (or working with once I moved to Hawaii) the "big green giant" for about 15 years total. I spent a lot of time in Japan--opened the market with the first store in Ginza and made frequent trips there.

  3. Sure, I was with Lion. Spent most of my time demo-ing at Shirokiya and ABC stores. Still prefer Lion to most coffees but have learned to drink others though most in Japan are really bad.

  4. I love tea too! I never have been a big coffee drinker - love the smell, hate the taste ... It's cool that you have classes there too.

  5. K&S--yes, I had many a bad cup of coffee in Japan too. Lucky they do tea and so many other things well! ;-)

    Jess--I was not a coffee drinker at all until I joined a coffee retailer and forced myself to be. Got to really like and appreciate it but didn't LOVE it like tea. The classes are awesome--I learned a ton more last night that I will post about later on.


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