Saturday, February 24, 2007

Moondakotee Estate FTGFOP1 Second Flush

Class: Oolong
Origin: Moondakotee Estate, Darjeeling, India
Year: 2006 (?)
Vendor: Upton Tea Imports
Price: $8.80 (125 gram packet) / $1.50 (15 gram sample)
Review: 6/10

This review is of the Moondakotee Estate FTGFOP1 Second Flush (DJ-154) Darjeeling. I seem to remember liking this tea quite a bit, but apparently I confused it with another one. While not bad overall, there are a couple things that really turned me off to this tea.

The dry leaves are quite average. They are lighter in color than some others, but there does not seem to be much variety in terms of whites and greens-- it's almost all light brown. Moondakotee Second Flush Dry LeavesStill, there are some nice, long, wiry leaves in there, so it wasn't all bad. The dry leaf aroma was also a bit flat. It had a similar smell to the Tindharia Second Flush that I reviewed earlier today, though it is slightly more complex and has a subtle hint of citrus.

The infusion was also so-so. It has a bit of complexity to it (which basically means I'm not good enough at tasting to describe all of it) and a subtle but fairly clear muscatel note. Unfortunately, there is a strong, tight bitterness right at the tip of my tongue which makes it difficult to taste much else. This is really what knocked this tea down from the 7-8 range to a 6. I really dislike strong bitterness (hence my short infusion times-- 2:30 for Darjeelings), so I probably won't end up ordering this tea again. Still, some people like this attribute, so I couldn't knock it all the way down to a 4 or 5. So that I avoid being totally negative, I should point out that this tea is pleasantly brisk and refreshing when iced.

The Moondakotee Estate FTGFOP1 Second Flush is not a bad tea for its price, but the dominating bitterness makes it difficult to enjoy the subtler qualities of this tea. For these reasons, it gets a 6.

*Further Investigation*
Moondakotee Second Flush Infused Leaves
I brewed this tea one more time to test a hypothesis that came to me after finishing this review. Generally, I find that bitterness is less obvious and sweetness is more obvious when tea is hot, and vice versa when lukewarm or cold. So, at significant personal risk (If you're the woman who spilled McDonald's hot coffee in her lap, stop reading now), I decided to test this hypothesis by tasting immediately after brewing finished, while it was still hot.

Eureka! I was right! The intense bitterness can be overcome by enjoying at near-surface-of-the-sun temperatures, and if your tastebuds survive the first sip you will find that you are drinking quite a pleasant tea. Still, I don't feel lucky enough to do this every time I drink tea, so this tea remains a 6.

Tindharia Estate FTGFOP1 Second Flush

Class: Oolong
Origin: Tindharia Estate, Darjeeling, India
Year: 2005 (?)
Vendor: Upton Tea Imports
Price: $6.80 (125 gram packet) / $1.00 (15 gram sample)
Review: 5/10

Today, I'll review another Darjeeling I purchased from Upton Tea Imports. This one is the Tindharia Estate FTGFOP1 Second Flush (DJ-53).Tindharia Estate Second Flush Dry Leaves As opposed to my other reviews, which have been about the teas I like, this one will not be as glowing. To be honest, I don't really like this tea. Sure, it's a lot cheaper than the others I have written about, but I'd rather have one cup of a good Darjeeling than two of this one. Don't get me wrong, it's not bad, it just doesn't do much for me.

The dry leaves look fine-- a bit dark maybe, but otherwise just fine. This is another "bottom of the barrel" picture, so it's not very representative. It is an FTGFOP, though, so they were quite nice when I first opened the package (see this page for an explanation of this grading system). The smell is a bit off, though. I don't think any Darjeeling smells repulsive, but as far as Darjeelings go, this one is a bit boring. Unlike some other Darjeelings which have a rich bouquet of aromas, this tea has one strong fruity smell (though I can't think of any fruit in particular that it smells like), and that's it. It smells nice, but also quite simple-- and not in a good way.

The infusion is also fairly boring. It has all the right Darjeeling components-- a nice hint of astringency, a muscatel note, and a bit of sharpness while still remaining light in weight. Still, it seems as though these are the only flavors in this tea. Tindharia Estate Second Flush Infused LeavesNicer Darjeelings will have unique signatures of flavors (maybe almond, or stonefruits), and will make you really concentrate in order to unlock all its secrets. This tea hides nothing. Perhaps it is due to its higher level of oxidation (according to the Upton site), but this tea is comparable to a picture drawn with the 8-color pack of crayons, as opposed to a masterpiece created using the 150-color box (with the included crayon sharpener).

For all its shortcomings, though, this tea is still drinkable. If you're on a very tight budget, this could be a good choice as it delivers characteristic Darjeeling qualities at a very low price. Still, I find that this tea lacks in the uniqueness department-- there is nothing to set it apart from the rest of the pack. The Tindharia Estate FTGFOP1 Second Flush gets a 5/10. This tea is a good value, but is too lacking in complexity to have a permanent place in my collection.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Arya Estate Ruby Organic Second Flush

Class: Oolong
Origin: Arya Estate, Darjeeling, India
Year: 2005 (?)
Vendor: Upton Tea Imports
Price: $19.80 (80g packet) / $3.50 (10g sample)
Review: 8/10

Today's review (it's been a while since I reviewed anything, hasn't it?) is of the Arya Estate Ruby Organic Second Flush (EX-4) from Upton Tea Imports. It is a very nice tea, and I would certainly consider buying a more. It's not quite as nice as the Makaibari I reviewed recently, but it is definitely of high quality. I apologize for the picture-- this is an image of the last remnants in my bag, so it is not representative of the leaf quality. The dry leaves are actually quite nice, and tend to be longer and more robust than the ones shown. Arya Estate Ruby Second Flush Leaves They dry leaf also has a lovely fruity nose, and is faintly reminiscent of marzipan.

This tea is quite a gem (yes, "ruby", I know, I know). The liquor is very perky-feeling due to a bit of first flush sharpness, even though this is a second flush tea. It is decently rich in flavor, and has a nice sweetness to it. It is not quite as fruity as some others, but there is a subtle muscatel note and a hint of citrus that cuts nicely through the tea's body. Definitely drink this one hot, though-- its flavor doesn't carry over well when iced.

If you are a big fan of first flushes and like their brightness, this might be a good second flush option for you. It is surely more second flush in character, but it has some nice first flush attributes that shine through the mellow body. Unfortunately the brighter flavors are not quite strong enough-- they are more of an afterthought than an obvious characteristic, and make this tea feel a bit unbalanced (though this could just be due to age). Still, it is a high quality tea and I look forward to trying a more recent version. The Arya Estate Ruby Organic Second Flush gets an 8/10.

Oh, and if you're wondering why there's only one picture, it's because I accidentally threw out the infused leaves before I took a picture. Still, it's an Indian tea, so they're not that pretty anyway (that's not meant to sound racist or anything, it's just that Indian teas are broken up more during processing). I can't wait to put up some pictures of nice, full oolong leaves!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Scale-ing Down Your Mineral Deposits

Ever wanted to know more about the dreaded scale? Perhaps even a few tips and tricks to get rid of it? Well read on my friends, because that's what this post is all about. First off, let me make sure we are all on the same page. I am not talking about anything related to fish or mass-measuring devices (though the latter may very well be examined in another post). I am talking about that nasty white-ish gray mineral deposit that collects in your teaware.

So, what is this scale you speak of?

Simply put, it is one of the most irritating nuisances a tea-enthusiast will face. Calcium Carbonate Powder It makes your water--and thus your tea--taste like clay (not that I have any experience in the clay-eating department), and it is notoriously difficult to prevent or eliminate.

Scale is more specifically described as calcium carbonate (CaCO3, see right). It is the same thing found in chalk, insect and shellfish shells, and limestone. Calcium carbonate isn't all bad, as it is often used in dietary calcium supplements and antacids. Still, it doesn't taste great, so I'd get your dietary calcium somewhere other than your tea water if I were you.

A day in the life of hard water

Scale deposits are formed as a result of chemical reactions in hard water. So, to understand how best to remove scale, let's take a look at this process.

Underground water aquifers are exposed to significantly elevated amounts of CO2. As this carbon dioxide-rich water trickles through calcium carbonate-containing rock (such as limestone), the calcium carbonate is dissolved. Calcium carbonate is quite insoluble, so it must be converted to calcium bicarbonate in order to dissolve in water. This occurs naturally when there is a large amount of carbon dioxide present, and follows this reaction:

Rxn 1: CaCO3 + CO2 + H2O → Ca(HCO3)2

This water is now what we would call "hard" water. (Hard water also contains other minerals, but for our purposes we will ignore them.) When this water is drawn from the faucet, it is suddenly in the presence of much less CO2 than it was while in its aquifer. As there is less carbon dioxide present, the exact same reaction will run in reverse:

Rxn 2: Ca(HCO3)2 → CaCO3 + CO2 + H2O

StalagmitesThis is what causes calcium carbonate (scale) to precipitate out of hard water. (Notably, this reaction also causes the formation of stalactites and stalagmites in caves)

So, why do you find more scale deposits in your kettle than in your teapot? It is a common misconception that scale's solubility is directly related to water temperature. Calcium carbonate is hardly soluble at any temperature, cold or hot, but calcium bicarbonate is. And what do we need in order to form calcium bicarbonate? Calcium carbonate and carbon dioxide.

The solubility of gases, such as carbon dioxide, decreases as the temperature of water rises. So, when you boil your water in a kettle, the amount of dissolved carbon dioxide decreases. The chemical equation shown above will try to restore equilibrium, so more calcium bicarbonate will be converted back into carbon dioxide, water, and calcium carbonate. This increased amount of calcium carbonate precipitates out of solution and forms scale deposits.

Shedding your scale

Now that I have shown you the chemistry of scale deposit formation in exhaustive detail (Isn't chemistry fun?), I will explain how to remove those dreaded deposits.

Let's take the same equation as above, but slightly rephrase it:

CaCO3 + CO2 + H2O ⇌ Ca2+ + 2 HCO3-

(Notice that there is now a ⇌. This signifies that the reaction proceeds in both directions. Earlier I used a plain arrow to illustrate a point, but I'll use proper notation now. Also, instead of "Ca(HCO3)2" you now see "Ca2+ + 2 HCO3-." These both mean the same thing, but in reality calcium bicarbonate splits into two ions when in solution, as reflected in this equation.)

Carbonic AcidIf you don't have much background in chemistry, you may or may not have heard of the term "conjugate base." The bicarbonate ion (HCO3-) is an example of a conjugate base (its conjugate acid being carbonic acid, H2CO3, shown right). Bases act by abstracting H+ ions from acids. By adding an acid stronger than carbonic acid, the bicarbonate ions will take up hydrogen, and thus there will be very few lone bicarbonate ions left in solution.

Example: HCl + HCO3- → Cl- + H2CO3

This loss of bicarbonate ions will drive the above reaction toward making more bicarbonate ion, which will also take up H+, and the reaction will continue until there is no more CaCO3 left. *Poof!* No more scale!

So, the take home message is: Strong acid will eliminate scale.

Weighing your descaling options

There are other ways of dissolving scale, but acids are the most cost-effective method and does a very good job for the tea-enthusiast's needs. OrangesThere are several common household products that fall into these categories, such as vinegar (acetic acid) and citrus juice (citric acid). You can also purchase descaling products made from a variety of acids (such as maleic acid, sulfamic acid, etc.) specifically made for tea and coffee equipment. Just heat up whatever acid you're going to use and soak your affected teaware overnight. Any of these acids should work, but the descaling tablets may work faster, so the choice is really up to you.

***Unrelated fact: The latin name for orange is citrus sinensis, and the latin name for tea is camellia sinensis. "Sinensis" translates as "Chinese."***

Warning about descaling your teaware

Be careful what descaling products you use on porous teaware. Using vinegar or citrus juice on a Yixing pot could very well ruin the pot, as the flavors and aromas may be absorbed into the clay. So, be cautious and use your common sense.

Final words

Scale is definitely annoying, and tastes awful. Luckily, it can be dissolved with minimal effort if you use the right products, and you can go right back to drinking your favorite teas!

[Edit: Thanks Salsero, I knew I forgot something. You don't really need to know any of the chemistry, so don't worry. As for how much vinegar or how long you should apply it, I'm not really sure. I just use descaler tablets because I find the smell of vinegar, especially heated vinegar, to be quite repulsive. I would think a dilution of one part plain ol' distilled vinegar (no reason to use the fancy stuff) to one or two parts water should do the trick, though. Just heat it up to around 140-150°F and let it soak for a few hours or overnight. If that doesn't work, either try it again with a stronger dilution or go buy some descaler tablets. They're more powerful (they can damage your skin if you make contact, so be careful), but they usually come with instructions so you know that you're doing it right. Hope this helps!]

Wikipedia: Calcium carbonate, Hard water, Carbonic acid, and Orange (fruit).

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Water you doing to your tea?

Though we perceive an obvious difference between water and tea, the fact is that whatever the tea leaves actually donate to the end beverage is minuscule in proportion to the amount of water. Of course, the leaf is the most important part of the tea-making process, but the quality of the oft-overlooked water can make or break any infusion.

Water my options?

There are many options when it comes to drinking water, and in the end it comes down to personal preference. Still, there are advantages and disadvantages inherent to each choice.

•Tap water. The water that comes out of your tap may or may not be chock full of minerals and other nasties, depending on where you live and how old your pipes are. Tap water is not recommended unless you know you have the good stuff. Water DropletIf you should decide to use tap water, though, make sure to draw COLD water from the faucet. Sure, it will take a little longer to heat up, but the process of heating your water makes it borderline unpotable. It's ok for washing dishes, but I wouldn't suggest consuming water that was drawn hot from the tap.

•Distilled water. Distilled water would, at first, seem to be the best choice. It has virtually no dissolved minerals, so it will not leave mineral deposits in your teaware, and it is the most pure source of water for the average tea drinker. However, distilled water is very flat-tasting, and will leave your tea tasting dull and boring.

Note: Many people have heard that drinking distilled water is bad for you. This is not true. The source of this rumor is that when single cells are placed in distilled water, they rupture. This happens because the cell membrane is permeable to water, so water will freely flow into the cell in an attempt to equilibrate salt concentrations inside and outside the cell. The cell ends up taking in too much water, grows too large, and ruptures its membrane due to internal pressure. However, the human body has mechanisms to prevent this and is, in general, impervious to damage in this manner. So, drinking distilled water will not likely have any effect on your health. Theoretically if you drank enough distilled water this could happen, but at that point you would have already died of hyponatremia, which you can get from drinking too much of any kind of water. Bottle of Water

Still, just so I don't get sued, I take no responsibility for anything that may happen to you or anyone else as a result of drinking too much water, distilled or not.

•Bottled water. This stuff is expensive, but tastes pretty darn good. It will have some dissolved minerals, which can lead to scale buildup (a post on scale is in the works), but it tastes much better than distilled water. There is a limit to how much mineral content is good for tea water, though. I would avoid bottled water labeled "mineral water," as the mineral taste (while delicious) may overwhelm the subtleties of your tea. Don't even bother with carbonated water, although it does seem like a pretty cool idea, now that I think about it. Also, you *might* notice a plastic taste to your tea if your bottled water came from a plastic bottle.

•Filtered water. This is, in my opinion, the best option. Most filters (Such as those made by Brita or Pur) do a good job of eliminating the bad-tasting stuff (usually chlorine, most microbes, and sediment, among other things) from your water, so filtered water tastes pretty good and is pretty healthy. Activated charcoal filters do not remove much else, though, so using filtered water can lead to scale buildup in your teaware. Another nice thing about filters/pitchers is that they do not impart a plastic taste to water like some plastic bottles can. So, unless you have VERY hard water, an activated carbon filtration system will probably give you the best bang for your buck.

Solvation is yours

When it all boils down, I prefer filtered water for my tea. You can get some nice bottled spring water and it will probably taste better, but it may end up costing more per cup than your tea leaves. Filter pitchers are convenient and (relatively) cheap, and provide pretty good tasting water.

There is, however, one important thing to remember when using a filtration system. Change your filter regularly! Using an old activated carbon filter is worse than using no filter at all. Sure, activated carbon will trap microbes, but it won't kill them. Those little buggers can thrive in filters, so replace yours every two months (or however often the manufacturer suggests). Don't be scared, though. Filtered water is perfectly safe as long as you follow the filter's instructions, and it remains my top choice for tea water. Enjoy!

Oh, and sorry about all the puns. See how many you can find!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

What happened at Tea Nerd?

Well, let's just say I got tired of the old look. I think this design is much nicer looking, and the colors are a lot less, well, dirty-looking. If your browser is having any troubles at all, please email me at with your browser and OS info (for example: Firefox, Windows XP) and what the problem is. Thanks!

Also, I expect to be pretty busy this week, so unfortunately you should expect some more inactivity here for the next week, give or take a couple days.

Anyway, I hope the new layout makes up for any infrequency in my posting. Enjoy!

Friday, February 09, 2007

2005 Makaibari Estate Vintage Muscatel Second Flush

Class: Oolong
Origin: Makaibari Estate, Darjeeling, India
Year: 2005
Vendor: Upton Tea Imports
Price: $15.40 (100g packet) / $17.40 (100g w/ tin)
Review: 9.5/10

First of all, sorry for the past week, I have been too busy to update. To make up for it, though, I'll give you a review of a real gem: the 2005 Makaibari Estate FTGFOP1 Organic Vintage Muscatel Second Flush (DJ-102).

Let me start off by saying that this is absolutely my favorite tea. This is by far the most pleasing, breathtaking tea I have ever tried. 2005 Makaibari Dry LeavesWhat is even more amazing is that even though I discovered it quite late (it was made in 2005, and I first tried it a few months ago), it still retains an amazing flavor and a tantalizing aroma. What's more, it's not outrageously expensive. True, it's not what I'd call cheap, but it's still a bargain for such a high quality tea.

Let's start with the dry leaf. As soon as you open the package, you get an extremely pleasant punch in the face (just imagine a lovely floral aroma instead of a big burly fist, and you've got it). Generally "floral" implies light and wispy, but the smell of these leaves is anything but. This tea almost makes me want to take up gardening so I could better describe its smell. (Almost.) Most quality Darjeelings have a nice smell, but this one just seems so... balanced. 2005 Makaibari Dry LeavesI really wish I could better describe this, as smelling the dry leaves is really one of the best parts about enjoying this tea. Though the colors of a second flush are rarely as bright as a first flush, there was a very nice mixture of brown, white, and even some green.

Let's move on to brewing. I use my glass teapot (reviewed earlier), so I can be certain that no other tea's flavor will leech into my brew. Anything glazed or made of glass will work just fine. I generally brew for 2 minutes and 30 seconds at around 190°F. I find that Darjeeling teas overbrew very easily when given too much time. I could imagine brewing this tea anywhere from 2 min. 30 sec. up to 3 min, but I would not exceed 3 minutes, as it begins to get bitter around this time. Of course, your tastes may differ, and I tend to brew for a shorter period of time than a lot of people. You could also use boiling water, but I find boiling water to be just a tad rough on Darjeelings.

Ah, the best part-- the drinking. If brewed with the conditions I have given, this tea is light and ethereal, just how I like my Darjeelings to be. 2005 Makaibari Dry LeavesThe flavor profile of this tea is the best balanced of any I have tried so far-- a nice floral front note, a light astringency throughout that provides just enough contrast without being bitter, and a lingering sweet fruity end note. There is definitely a lot of muscatel ("muscatel" is a common Darjeeling term that refers to the flavor of the muscat family of grapes) flavor, as expected given the name, and there is also a subtle hint of almond. It is nicely mellow, as a second flush should be, with very little harshness. This tea is excellent hot or iced, though it rarely sits around long enough to get put in the fridge.

If you are in the market for any Indian tea, especially Assams or Darjeelings, and if you're in North America, check out Upton Tea Imports. They have a truly epic selection of teas (which can be a bit intimidating), especially from India. They sell high quality teas for very reasonable prices, and they include packing dates on all of their packets and tins. The harvest year of many of their teas is not mentioned, which I don't really like, but other than that I have no complaints about good ol' Upton.

There really is nothing bad about this tea, in my opinion. The people over at Makaibari definitely knew what they were doing when they made this tea, and it is no wonder that the Makaibari Estate is such a big name in the Darjeeling world. From it's captivating aroma to its delicate, refined flavor, Makaibari's 2005 Vintage Muscatel Second Flush gets a 9.5/10.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Battle for Freshness

Keeping tea fresh is the best way to keep it tasting better for a longer period of time. In this post I will discuss the best ways of defending your tea from the enemies of freshness.

Know your enemies

In all battles, the key is knowing your enemy. So, what are the enemies of tea?

Enemy #1: Its molecular weight is approximately 32 grams/mole, it's nonpolar, gaseous at room temperature, and highly electronegative.

That's right, it's oxygen! If you have ever heard the terms "oxidize" or "oxidation" before, it is almost always in reference to oxygen exposure. The technical definition is a loss of electrons by a molecule, atom, or ion, but with tea this is really only going to result from oxygen exposure.

Enemy #2: Its molecular weight is approximately 18 grams/mole, it's polar, liquid at room temperature, and covers most of the earth's surface.

It's water! Moisture is bad for tea. Not only will an oily slick form on top of your tea (by a process similar to how roads are most oily after the first rain), but it will encourage the growth of mold, bacteria, and all sorts of other nasties.

Enemy #3: It moves at exactly 299,792,458 meters/second (in a vacuum, that is), and is the only form of electromagnetic radiation visible to the human eye.

You guessed it, it's light! Light will break down molecular bonds inside your tea, destroying its flavor and color in the process.

Enemy #4: Okay, this isn't all that scientific. Here's a hint: it smells bad.

Yep! It's bad smells! Bad smells are a big problem for tea, as your tea will absorb them if not properly sequestered. The major cause of this is food, but any bad smell will seep into your tea over time.

Defensive strategies

Luckily, two of our four enemies are very easily defended against. Bad smells can be avoided simply by keeping your tea away from other food items (especially smelly ones-- DON'T keep your tea near your spices!!!), and keeping it in an airtight container. Light is easily stopped by an opaque container (not glass). I know, we all like to be able to see our tea, but I would rather be able to taste it than see it, and light will make your tea go stale.

Moisture and oxygen, on the other hand, are more difficult to stop. The best way to avoid these guys is to keep your tea in an airtight container, and keep it out of the fridge/freezer. Not only will keeping your tea in a refrigerator or freezer expose your tea to bad smells, but it will also expose it to a very humid environment. Airtight tins work well in keeping your tea fresh, but obviously it is going to be extremely difficult to remove all of the oxygen from the container. Still, by minimizing the flow of oxygen, you will keep oxidation down to a minimum.

Airtight tins: The first line of defense

Plug-top Tin Double-Lidded Tin

I cannot stress enough the importance of investing in some nice airtight containers for your tea. There are two types that I like: plug-top tins and double-lidded tins (shown above). I like double-lidded better for convenience, but both designs work very well. I do not like the normal single-lidded tea tins (shown below right) that some vendors ship their product in. They keep out most of the surrounding air, for sure, but they won't keep your tea as long as the aforementioned (if you went to public school, this means previously mentioned*) designs. Single-Lidded TinThere are many vendors that carry nice airtight tins, so just look around for tins that look like the ones I've shown.

Guerrilla tactics: The aliquotting technique

In research laboratories, when a certain reagent is sensitive to light, temperature change, etc., a common technique called "aliquotting" is employed, where the stock is kept in one container while a small working amount is aliquotted into several smaller ones.

A good way to keep your tea fresh for as long as possible is to keep it in two tins. One large tin holds most of your stock, while a smaller tin keeps what you will consume in the next few weeks. This way, you won't expose your entire stock of tea to the elements every time you make a pot of tea. Thank you, science!

How long will my tea last, anyway?

Even though you have taken the necessary precautions, your tea will not last forever. This largely depends on the amount of oxidation the tea underwent during processing.

***Note: oxidation during processing can be a good thing, as this is what turns green tea into oolong or black tea. It's the uncontrolled post-processing oxidation that is bad.***

Green and white teas, which are not oxidized during processing, are extremely prone to post-processing oxidation, and go bad very quickly. I would not suggest keeping green or white tea for longer than 6 months. Even 6 months is pushing it. This has a couple of important implications for you, the consumer. For one, don't buy more green/white tea than you can drink in a few months. Also, if possible, limit most of your green tea consumption to late spring and early fall, as this is when the newly harvested tea is freshest.

Oolong tea generally lasts longer than green and white teas, but the amount of time before it gets stale depends greatly on the amount of processing it underwent. Greener oolongs should be kept no longer than 6 months, but darker oolongs can be kept for up to a year.

Black tea, when stored properly, can last up to a couple years. As black tea was already highly oxidized during processing, the leaves will oxidize much more slowly than other classes of tea.

An exception to this rule is pu-erh tea, which actually improves with age. (There will be more on this in a later post.)

The Unknown

Even if you follow all these steps, you may find yourself with stale tea. Why does this happen? The most likely culprit is...

The Vendor

Some vendors will keep stocks of tea just like any non-perishable product, selling it until the inventory is all gone. Watch out for this (stay away from eBay, unless you trust the source).

I much prefer ordering from vendors that display the harvest year on their products' pages, as well as printing the packing date on their tins/packets. Packing DateThis does not mean that vendors that don't do this are selling stale tea, but I am more comfortable knowing how old my purchase really is.

One thing I look for when I purchase green or white tea is nitrogen flushing. While not absolutely necessary, this is a very good service. This can either be done at the processing plant or by the vendor from which you purchase your tea. The benefit of nitrogen flushing is that there is very little oxygen left in your packet of tea, which virtually halts any oxidation your tea is undergoing.

In case you are bothered by the idea of inhaling or consuming gaseous nitrogen, don't. Roughly 78% of earth's atmosphere is nitrogen, so if nitrogen were bad for us, we'd all be dead. Flushing with nitrogen is essentially the same as removing the oxygen.



  • Keep your tea away from air, moisture, light, and odors.

  • Be mindful of the shelf life of your teas.

  • Be skeptical when purchasing your tea.

It is a losing battle, but the forces of staleness and odor can be slowed, and a stalemate (no pun intended) can be reached. Follow the above steps, and your tea will stay fresh for as long as possible.

*I'm just kidding, don't get offended-- I went to public school too.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

"ooooh darjeeling" First Flush Oolong Darjeeling

Class: Oolong
Origin: Gopaldhara Estate, Darjeeling, India
Year: ?
Vendor: Adagio Teas
Price: $10.00 (2 oz. tin) / $4.00 (>1 oz. tin)
Review: 7/10

Today's review is of the "ooooh darjeeling" tea from Adagio Teas. I realize it's a bit odd that I should review two Darjeelings and have neither be black teas, but I just haven't quite gotten around to reviewing those yet. Anyway, this tea is an oolong (semi-oxidized) tea from the Gopaldhara Estate in Darjeeling, India. Darjeeling is most well known for its black teas, but they are actually producing quite a variety of other forms of tea (green, white, oolong) on a limited scale.
Dry Leaves I have yet to try a Darjeeling Green tea, but I have to admit that the unique Darjeeling taste works quite well in whites and oolongs.

Once one starts to get into different single-estate Darjeeling teas, one finds that each estate has a unique flavor. Some people can even tell what lot of a specific garden a tea is from, but alas, I cannot. Anyway, the Gopaldhara Estate is well known for its unique taste, and I am ashamed to say that I haven't quite figured it out how to describe it. I can certainly tell you that it is one of the more complex Darjeelings, and also that it has less in common with other Darjeelings than any I have tried. It may just be my tastebuds fooling me, but I also think I can taste a bit of a cocoa note from second flush Gopaldhara.

I am not as experienced with oolongs as I am with Darjeelings (which still isn't that much), so I'm not sure I have learned to brew it correctly yet. Infused LeavesStill, this one seems to like lower temperatures and shorter infusions, even though it is a fairly dark oolong. There is a faint Gopaldhara flavor, and also a hint of first flush sharpness, but the oolong heart seems to make everything taste a bit more mellow. I tend to like the mellow nature of a second flush Darjeeling more than the brightness of a first flush, so this is a good thing in my opinion.

I know all of what I've said so far has been good, but that's just it. There are a lot of good things about this tea, but nothing really great. Sure, it's a nice combination of oolong and Darjeeling flavors, but there's no kick. I'm concerned that this may be due to a lack of freshness. Not only is there no indication on the website about when this tea was harvested, but the sample that I purchased ($4.00 for approx. 1 oz.) came loose in a non-airtight tin, without a packing date.

Don't get me wrong, that little tin is quite nice looking, but I much prefer Upton's practice of shipping their teas either in an ugly but airtight canister or bag, with the packing date clearly printed on the packaging. Also, what is up with 5 minutes at 212°F? Adagio TinI feel like if they wanted people to actually enjoy this tea, they should at least suggest reasonable infusing conditions! (Speaking of infusing conditions, use a gaiwan for this tea if you have one.)

The "ooooh darjeeling" first flush oolong from Adagio Teas gets a 7/10. Though not bad at all, there was nothing about this tea that really made me say "ooooh."

Friday, February 02, 2007

Double Feature: Bodum "Shin Cha" Teapot and Jenaer Glas Teacup

That's right, a double feature! Today I will review Bodum's 2-cup "Shin Cha" Teapot and the Jenaer Glas 6 oz. teacup.

Bodum Teapot Size Comparison Teapot Size Comparison

Unfortunately, as some of you may know, Jenaer Glas is no longer in existence. Their parent company discontinued the Jenaer Glas line of products due to a decline in demand and an increase in foreign imports (read the full article here.). You can still find some of their glassware at stores like Adagio Teas, but their supplies are limited. On a lighter note, Bodum is alive and well, and continues to make beautiful and functional teaware.

So, let's start off with Bodum's 2-cup "Shin Cha" teapot. Made of borosilicate glass, the same glass used in lab equipment, this teapot is strong and can withstand rapid changes in temperature. It also employs Bodum's tea press design, which is remarkably handy.

The tea press, which is featured on many Bodum teapots, is a very convenient design. I was a bit hesitant to buy one of Bodum's teapots at first, as their website is bad at explaining exactly how it works. So, for you curious folks, here you go. While the tea is brewing, the plunger remains in the up position (shown here). Bodum Teapot with Plunger UpAt this point, the plunger is not doing anything, so everything functions just like a normal teapot. When you are ready to halt the steeping process, you simply press down on the plunger. This confines the leaves in the bottom of the infuser, and seals them (more or less) from the outside liquid, preventing them from steeping any further.

One very important thing about this infuser is that there are no holes below about 3/4 of an inch from the bottom (see picture). The benefit of this is that the tea is not squeezed into the liquid, and thus does not release any nasty bitterness into the brew. Bodum Teapot InfuserThe downside of this is that your tea leaves do not see as much water, and it could be argued that they do not brew as well, though I have not noticed it. Also, unlike coffee presses, which have large holes in the plungers, Bodum's tea press has just one small one, which exists solely as a pressure release for when the plunger is depressed. Oh, and don't worry, the plunger didn't look like that when I first got it-- it has seen quite a bit of use.

Anyway, I find the tea press mechanism to work quite well, and I have not noticed any dramatic alteration in the taste of my tea. Bodum Teapot PlungerI have noticed, however, that over time, tea left in the pot will get darker if the infuser + leaves are are also left in. If this becomes too much of a problem, just remove the infuser and problem solved.

This teapot is not only functional, but quite attractive as well. That is, until you put anything in it. Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but this will definitely get dirty. It's not too much of a problem to wipe it down every now and then, but you will certainly have to do so much more for a glass teapot than one of a different material.

Overall, I'd give the Bodum 2-cup "Shin Cha" teapot an 8/10. Functional, but not perfectly so, and attractive, as long as you take good care of it.

Obviously there is not as much to mention about this teacup as it is, after all, just a teacup. Still, I'd like to mention that it is made of borosilicate glass, just like the Bodum teapot from earlier. It's strange, because it almost feels like plastic, even though it looks just like glass. Teacup Size ComparisonIt's definitely not plastic, but it still feels very sturdy, unlike a lot of other glassware out there. Also, it holds just the right amount for a cup of black tea. Unfortunately it suffers from the same tendency to get dirty as the Bodum teapot, but I still recommend getting a hold of some pieces from Jenaer Glas if you still can.

Jenaer Glas gets a posthumous 9.5/10 for its gorgeous yet durable teaware.

Tea Nerd Updates

Tea Nerd has a new look (sort of)! Okay, so there aren't any huge changes, but there are a couple important features:

1. The "Contact" link at the bottom now links to a real email address, so feel free to email me if you have any questions/comments/suggestions.

2. The sidebar has been reorganized and redesigned. You will now see categories of posts, such as "Green tea" under the "Tea Reviews" heading. Clicking on one of these links will take you to a page of posts on that topic. So, clicking on "Green tea" will take you to a page with all of the posts about, you guessed it, green tea. Of course, there is only one post in each category at the moment, so they won't be too useful yet, but eventually they may prove useful.

3. I have added a section of links to tea blogs, so if you have a tea blog that you would like listed, let me know and if I like it, I'll link to it.

Hope this helps!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Kyūsu Teaware

Today's post is not so much a review as an informational article about the popular kyūsu style of teapots. The example shown below is "Hiramaru" from Rishi Tea.


A very popular style of teapot in Japan is the kyūsu. The term "kyūsu" refers to the style of the teapot, which is characterized by its unique side handle. Kyūsu Size ComparisonThey tend to be small (see the size comparison to the right) and lightweight. This works well for Japanese green tea because it is typically prepared in small amounts, and the lightweight material allows for a perfect amount of heat retention. Too much heat retention could cook the leaves, while too little would just wick the heat away from your tea and could leave it lukewarm.

Another feature of many kyūsu is the built-in filter. There are three main types: obi-ami (shown here), ita-ami, and sasame. Obi-ami steel mesh filters circle all the way around the interior of the teapot, and generally pour very well. Ita-ami filters are also made of a steel mesh, but only drape over the spout. For people who are very particular about keeping a metallic taste from influencing their tea (though I have never noticed this from the obi-ami), there is the sasame filter, which is made from the same clay as the rest of the pot and covers the entrance to the spout. The benefit of using any of these three filters, as opposed to an infuser basket, is that the tea leaves can fully expand and release their full potential. Kyūsu Obi-Ami FilterJapanese green tea leaves are very tightly rolled, so when they expand they can occupy quite a large volume.

The Tokoname region is well known for its stoneware, including their kyūsu. Tokoname kyūsu, such as the one shown here, are made from clay. They are similar in composition to the famous Yixing teapots from China, but modified to better suit the local clay (and tea). Like Yixing teaware, Tokoname stoneware (assuming it is unglazed) is porous. This means that over the course of many uses, the teapot absorbs some flavor into the pores in its surface, and can improve the flavor of tea brewed in it. Therefore, it is not recommended to brew vastly different types of tea in one unglazed kyūsu, to prevent contamination of flavors.
Artistic Nippon kyūsu
The teapot shown in previous pictures, the "Hiramaru" from Rishi Tea, is an example of a Tokoname kyūsu. The glaze used here is a natural ash glaze, which gives an interesting iridescent yet natural look. My other kyūsu, shown here, is from Artistic Nippon, another high quality Japanese teaware vendor. Now that I have a newer pot to compare the Hiramaru to, I can say that the Hiramaru is not perfect. It looks interesting, but the craftsmanship and functionality are nowhere near that of my new kyūsu from Artistic Nippon.

Suggested Tokoname Kyūsu vendors:

Artistic Nippon
Den's Tea
Rishi Tea