Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tea Profile - Bao Zhong

One of the goals of Teabag City is to make the somewhat nerdy world of tea appreciation a little more accessible to the tea deficient masses. I think the last post on Earl Grey was a good way to dip our teabags in a little bit. This week we're going for a full Teabag City dunk. Our tea profile today is a 2009 Imperial Bao Zhong, an oolong tea distributed by the Imperial Tea Court in San Francisco. Bao Zhong is somewhat mild flavored oolong harvested in Taiwan, and in my opinion a great way to familiarize yourself with oolong teas.

This time around we're getting a little nerdier than our last post. How nerdy are we talking? Well, it's not a green, black or herbal tea (+1 tea nerd point), it requires a special brewing temperature (+1 tea nerd point), it's "Imperial" which means it's higher quality and uses more delicate processing techniques (+2 tea nerd points), AND traditionally it's brewed in a fancy pants tea brewing cup called a gaiwan (+10 tea nerd points). Add all that up and you'll find this is a full-scale teabagging you won't soon forget.


First Whiff

There's a light earthy, woody smell to the dried Bao Zhong leaves. I think it's a good indication of the mild flavor of the tea. Infusing the tea brings out the aroma a little more, though it remains very subtle. It's a noticeably different aroma from a black or green tea, especially the flavored variety.


Look

Bao Zhong leaves have a rich deep green color. The dried leaves are somewhat coarser than what you might find with a loose leaf black or green tea, and it's not uncommon to find dried stems mixed in with the leaves. In terms of appearance, I think Bao Zhong is one of the more interesting teas. The color and the coarseness of the leaves just have a unique quality you don't find elsewhere.















Another cool thing is how the Bao Zhong leaves look after infusing. While a lot of teas fill out while steeping, Bao Zhong leaves actually look like leaves again. It must be related to the oolong processing techniques, as I've noticed this with other oolong teas.
















Brewing

Bao Zhongs, and other oolongs, are brewed at a lower temperature than black teas. Typically, you'll see recommendations slightly below boiling in the 195-205 °F range. While every real tea nerd has some type of water dispenser that regulates the water temperature, you really just need to let boiling water cool for a little bit. If tea has a bitter astringent taste, then the water you're using is too hot.

Like we said above, for this tea profile we decided to use a traditional gaiwan for steeping the Bao Zhong. A gaiwan is basically a simple cup with a lid — you can either drink directly from the gaiwan or pour the tea into a separate cup. Using a gaiwan, you'll get a lot more sediment from the tea, so depending on your tastes you may prefer a regular infuser. Besides looking nice, a gaiwan is not necessary for enjoying a good oolong.
















Taste

To me, Bao Zhong tastes like a very mild green tea with a slightly nutty flavor. There's a slight bitterness like what you'll find in green teas, and a hint of the roasted or smokey flavor you'll find in other oolongs. It has a great aftertaste which lingers for some time after finishing a cup. Compared to other Bao Zhongs the Imperial Bao Zhong may have a slightly richer flavor, though the difference is subtle. You can typically get 3-4 infusions from a good Bao Zhong before the flavor starts getting watered down.


Thoughts

Green, black and herbal teas are probably the teas most people are familiar with. As you dig a little deeper in to the leafy underground of tea appreciation, you'll quickly discover the goodness of oolongs. I think the mild flavor of Bao Zhongs makes them very accessible. While the Imperial Bao Zhong offers up a bigger flavor, any Bao Zhong from a quality distributor will satisfy your oolong needs.

So if you think you're ready to dip your teabags into some (not quite boiling) water, fill up your teabag, gaiwan, or whatever with some Bao Zhong — you're in for a good cup of tea.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Tea Profile - Earl Grey

As I said in my previous post I think about tea a lot. It's hard to say whether I spend more time thinking about tea, or actually consuming tea. On top of that, over the past week I've been thinking about what my first tea profile would be. So pretty much every waking hour of every day has been thinking about tea in one form or another... Such is the life of a tea nerd...

Anywho, I decided that the best place to start for this series of Tea Profiles would be one of the earliest loose leaf teas I got hooked on, Rishi's Organic Earl Grey. In terms of popular black teas, English Breakfast and Earl Grey are probably near the top of the list. Several big name tea companies have an Earl Grey and you can usually find it in some form or another in most supermarkets or restaurants.

Earl Grey is typically a black tea with the distinctive taste of bergamot. Bergamot is a citrus fruit which, according to the wikipedia entry on bergamot "tastes less sour than lemon, but more bitter than grapefruit." It goes on to say that the only other real use of bergamot is for perfume, though I am far more likely to drink Earl Grey than perfume. (Unless I'm desperate and want to get totally messed up).


First Whiff

The smell of bergamot is easily the first thing you notice when you smell the dry Earl Grey leaves. It is a combination of citrus with almost a candy or very sweet quality. To my untrained nostrils it reminds me of lemon heads candy mixed with Frutti Pebbles cereal (which I think is totally a good thing). The bergamot is so strong you really don't get any smell from the tea itself.


Look

The look of most Earl Grey probably depends on the quality of tea. In the case of Rishi's Earl Grey they use the Yunnan Dian Hong tea, which they also use for their China Breakfast tea. This tea is mostly deep black tea leaves with some golden brown leaves in the mix.
















Taste

Rishi Earl Grey has a great full flavor. The Dian Hong tea provides a smooth black tea taste that perfectly complements the bergamot. There is no dominant taste between the tea and bergamot but a great balanced quality between the two. The aftertaste leaves a lingering citrus taste in your mouth long after your last sip.

I can usually steep Rishi's Earl Grey about 4 times. With each infusion the taste becomes smoother and more subtle. The ratio of the taste of the tea to the bergamot remains the same, though the overall strength becomes less and less.




















Tea Thoughts

When it comes to most drinks, tea, beer or otherwise, I'm somewhat of a purist. I will almost always pass on something with a fruity name or fruity taste. What you get with the bergamot in a good Earl Grey is a pronounced but smooth citrus taste. Not a overly sweet or artificial fruit taste.

Compared to a lower quality Earl Grey, there is no contest to the Rishi organic. Lesser teas often have a very bitter black tea taste and a very weak citrus flavor. While the name of the blog might imply we prefer to teabag it, this is one instance where free leaving is definitely worth it.


More Info

Rishi Tea

Wikipedia Earl Grey entry

Wikipedia Bergamot entry

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Welcome!

Welcome to Teabag City! Teabag City has been in the works for some time. While I have been a tea drinker as long as I can remember, in 2006 my interest in tea really took form. My then girlfriend (and now wife) Shannon bought me a set of loose leaf tea from a company that specializes in organic and fair trade teas. I don't remember exactly what was in the set, but I do remember when I started brewing the tea I was amazed at the flavor, aroma and quality of the tea. Why wasn't all tea this good? I was inspired and determined to find out more about tea and drink as much as I could along the way.

Since then I have tried several different types: Black, Green, White, Oolong, Pu-erh, and several different Herbal teas. I've bought specialized tea equipment: tea pots, infusers, kettles, matcha whisks, etc. In short, I am a tea nerd. I'm certainly not a tea expert, but I think about tea more than probably the average person.

Last year my wife and I started TeabagCity.com, which after a few weeks of activity, we stopped updating it. Lately though I've been thinking more about renewing the effort. Is it the cold weather and the fact my tea consumption has increased 1000%? Is it the fact I've spent about $200 on tea in the past month? Who knows and furthermore, who cares? This time though it will be more focused with more effort and updates.

What will we write about? I've been thinking about it, and I've got a few things planned: tea reviews, tea related health info, tea related news, tea tour travel info, so really anything about tea.

As time goes on I'm hoping some other tea nerds out there will stop by say hello, and join me for a cup of tea.