Friday, September 28, 2007

Lochan Tea Samples: Introduction and the Second Flush Darjeelings

It's time to post my first notes on the teas Ankit Lochan, from Lochan Tea Ltd., sent me. First though, I thought I'd break down my plan. As the title indicates, this post contains the introduction to the series and the first category of notes, "Second Flush Darjeelings." This particular title is a bit misleading as all the Darjeelings I received are from the second flush, but basically these are the teas that didn't fall into any of the other more specific categories.

You may ask, "What's all this talk of categories?" It seems to me that these teas would be best commented on in comparison to one another, but a comparison between a Darjeeling white tea and an Assam black wouldn't be very helpful, thus the division into different categories. The list of comparison groups I will post about are:

•Second Flush Darjeelings (this post)
•Muscatel Delights
•Darjeeling Greens and Whites
•Darjeeling Oolongs
•Assams

Before I move onto the first set of notes, I just want to thank Ankit and the rest of the Lochans once again for their generous gift, despite the reprimand I incurred the last time I did so. :) So without further ado...

General Darjeelings

Setup and LineupFor these three teas, I set up a standard set of parameters to make comparison as fair as possible. Rather than endure the torturous brews that professional tasters work with, though, I opted for a more conservative preparation. These teas are each brewed with 5.0g (+/- .1g) leaf, off-boiling filtered tap water, for two minutes. I used the setup shown here— a glass teapot marked at the 12oz level, a measuring cup for decanting into, a wire mesh strainer, and a glass cup. I decided to brew these Western style because it is the style with which I am most familiar for brewing and tasting Darjeeling. Sorry, my gong fu enthusiast friends. :)

Also shown here is the lineup of the three teas in this category. They are (clockwise from the top): Makaibari "Imperial Vintage," Castleton "Wiry Clonal Delight," and Goomtee "Wild Orchid." Close ups with more detail (and/or more blurriness) can be found below. So, without further ado:

2007 Goomtee "Wild Orchid" Second Flush Darjeeling

Sorry, the picture of this tea (left: top) came out pretty blurry. The leaves were typical of most Darjeelings— cut up (though not nearly to the level of CTC) and possessing a wide range of colors, from browns to tans to off-white buds, with the occasional green. This organic leaf gives off a bold aroma, and is intensely floral and woodsy.

The liquor is a peachy orange-amber color. It is very floral (perhaps this is the root of it's name?), has a medium body, and sweet flavor. There is some fruitiness and woodsiness in the background, and there is a crisp finish. Good stuff.

Though this is enjoyable, there are better Darjeelings out there. I should point out that there are far more that are worse, though, and I would still consider this to be a good tea.

Closeups of Dry Leaf2007 Castleton "Wiry Clonal Delight" Second Flush Darjeeling

This is the only non-organic tea in this category. The dry leaf is, well, true to its name, as you can see in the picture (left: middle). This leaf appears slightly more oxidized than the other two, as evidenced by the darker color (which is more obvious in person) and lack of anything green. The aroma is fairly similar to the Goomtee— floral and woodsy.

Further evidence for this being a higher oxidized tea is the darker reddish-amber color of the liquor. Though it is true to its delicate Darjeeling nature, it is relatively "heavy." Spice and woodsiness are emphasized, though there isn't really any dominant flavor. It is sweet and smooth tasting, with a mild hui gan.

Like the Goomtee, this is enjoyable but not the best example of Darjeeling I have tasted. It is still quite good though, and the color of the liquor was a thing of beauty.

2007 Makaibari "Imperial Vintage" Second Flush Darjeeling

This is one of the more "guilt-free" teas on the menu, as it is both organic and fair-trade. (Don't worry though, my icy heart remains impartial.) First off, I should point out the beauty of the dry leaf (left: bottom). These are the loveliest Darjeeling leaves I have ever seen. Apart from the usual bouquet of browns, tans, off-whites and greens, these leaves look long and full— an uncommon find. Though it is not pictured, the wet leaves reflect this with whole leaves and intact leaf/bud complexes. I wasn't expecting this from a Darjeeling! Strangely, the leaves emitted only a hint of aroma. What was there was floral, fruity, and slightly woodsy.

Makaibari Wet LeavesThough this brews a light color— pale yellow with a touch of amber&mdash it still has a good deal of flavor. I'm not sure if the lighter color is due to a lesser degree of oxidation or just the decreased surface area/volume ratio, but even when I bumped up the infusion time by a minute (to three minutes total), the color was only slightly darker. The brew holds a floral, delicate flavor and a crisp, clean texture. There is a refreshing minty aftertaste and a relatively strong hui gan here, as well. It is a bit on the light side in terms of flavor.

Overall, I was impressed. The flavor may not have been the most thrilling so far, but the quality of the leaf was impeccable.

Wrap-up:

I think I liked the Castleton the most, followed by the Makaibari and then the Goomtee, but I can't be certain that I unlocked all that each had to offer. So far I have been impressed by the quality of each of these teas, and look forward to trying the rest. I have already started to dip into the "Muscatel Delights," but all I can say, without spoiling the next post, is to stay tuned for some real gems. Thanks for reading!

10 comments:

Salsero said...

I usually reserve two minute brews for those teas that become astringent or unpleasant at longer steeps. I've come to think of such subcontinent teas as either CTC or just inferior to the ones that will stand up to 3 minutes for the first steep.

At 5 gr leaf in 12 oz water, I'd consider bumping up the time on the one with the big sexy leaves to 5 minutes and doing the others at 3 minutes.

I've always thought that the concept of muscatel was supposed to apply to all DJ's, yet I see you've made a separate class for "muscatels." I hope your next post will help disentangle these two terms for me. It seems that the 3 on deck today are pretty oxidized compared to some DJ's. Is that part of the "muscatel" characteristic?

Thanks for this lovely review and I look forward to the remaining ones.

Brent said...

Heh, the categories are purely a function of the names written on the packets of teas.

I was under the impression that batches with strong muscatel character were labeled "muscatel delight," but I'm not 100% on that. I wonder if I would have tasted it in these samples had they been labeled as such-- I would be surprised if my impressions weren't at least slightly skewed by the lack of the word "muscatel" on the packets.

When I get around to trying these again, I'll increase my steep times and see what happens. I've always been averse to bitterness, so I'm a bit scared, but I guess since it's for the sake of science...

Anyway, thanks for the comment! I'll be more diligent next time. :)

ankitlochan said...

for 12 oz water you need 9 gms of tea - steeping time 4 minutes to get the right tea...

have fun - nice reading ur review..

have a good weekend.

ankitlochan said...

hi salsero,

muscatel teas are produced only in the second flush period within a time span of 10 days when a certain insect bites the leaves and the leaves tend to curl up a bit - this can be seen in the fields and the maximum muscatel teas that a tea estate can produce in one year is 2000 kilos (a garden producing 200,000 kilos in total.)muscatel teas taste diffrent from other teas - the taste is disticnt and the muscatel flavor prominent - normally the time of plucking for these leaves is between the last week of may and the first two weeks of june.. varies from one plantation to other..

Salsero said...

Wow, Ankit, thanks for the two great comments. I've never even dreamed of using so much leaf before when brewing darjeeling. Like Brent I've been put off in the past by bitterness and astringency in lower quality teas. But I will surely try your recommendation of 4.5 grams to 6 oz water. In fact I will give it a whirl using darjeeling I've gotten from Lochan and from TeaSource (but sourced ultimately I think from Lochan).

Also, thanks many times over for clarifying the term "muscatel." Is the insect the same tea jassid that bites the Taiwanese bai hao or oriental beauty leaf?

Oh, by the way, premium Indian tea suppliers seem to be getting away from the "SFTGFOP1" type labelling. As a retail consumer, I would be happy to see the system downplayed as it seems to have very little to do with the actual quality of the product.

Oh, and one more thing, is there a movement in premium Indian teas toward manufacturing some product in larger size leaf pieces or even whole leaves, such as the Makaibari "Imperial Vintage" that Brent discusses in this post? Or have some of such leaf sizes always been produced?

Again, thanks for the valuable information.

Space Samurai said...

Not just organic, but biodynamic. I'm envious, I love Maikabari teas; thanks for the review.

ankitlochan said...

hi salsero..

the insect that gets onto the leaves are thribs .. they tend to suck out juice from the leaves of the tea leaf making it curl up - these curled up leaves are known to produce the really expensive world class muscatel teas.. i think it is the same effect in
taiwan -but i am not sure..

these thribs are rare and only come for a very short time in the second flush ... the leaves cannot be left too long also or the damage can be too much causing the made tea to be bad.. a lot of factors involved.. to make a pure muscatel tea is really a very hard job. everything needs to be perfect right from the time of plucking to the manufacturing .. the firing temperature also plays a very important role..

hey you need to come down to india with dan robertson - www.theteahouse.com - he is leading a tea tour to sril lanka, india and nepal in 2008 march i am sure we can discuss a lot then.

the markings that indian producers use nowdays do not make much sense but tradition or what the british taught is still being carried on - they fear changes.. the producers are busy in their rut to manage the estates - they have lost the charm of trying to be innovative..

people fear still to make teas with the full leaves as they are lighter in volume and attract moisture more quickly thereby having less shelf life -- these whole leaf teas are made by the estates for us on special orders hence we pay a higher price for them but they are worth it..

indian producers have not realised that cutting the leaves and sorting the tea into diffrent sizes and grades only damages the tea and starts making it more bitter. the whole leaf teas are always sweeter and have the best flavor..

we are trying to educate wholesellers and customers on the benefits of the whole leaf teas and the progress is good - tea source is also selling whole leaf teas now alongwith many more vendors..

bill of tea source is one guy who really buys the best of teas and he knows exactly what the american market wants - he is one hell of a tea expert.

have a good weekend..

feel free to ask any more questions that you may have ... its fun answering them.

ankitlochan said...

sorry i made a typo error the spelling is thrips

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thrips

Brent said...

Wow, thank you all for your comments! I'm glad all this information is being shared-- its nice to learn the little things about tea production that I would normally overlook.

Thanks again,
Brent

Salsero said...

I echo our host's thanks to Ankit for an insider's view that I've never had before.

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