Tanzania ~ Usambara Region Green & Oolong Teas | Upton Tea Imports

Today I’ll be reviewing both a green and oolong tea from the Usambara Region of Tanzania.

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Hello tea-drinkers! Luckily my finals are over so hopefully I will be able to post more often in these next few months. I have some very interesting stuff planned so stay tuned!

A few weeks ago I got very into researching African tea. I had previously seen African teas on What-Cha (in fact I reviewed one here) yet many of them sold out before I could try I them. After a lot of digging I found a website which has several interesting African teas which I plan to review later this year.

During my research, I came across these two teas sold by Upton Tea Imports. They are both from the same region of Usambara in Tanzania. Upton didn’t give much information about these teas, with most of the description info describing the taste, so I had to do a little research myself on this region.

The Usambara Mountains are located in Northeastern Tanzania, southeast of Kilimanjaro but obviously west of the Indian Ocean. They are characterized by sprawling tropical forests, many of which have a variety of endemic species.

I am very excited to taste these, as they will be my second taste of African teas and they are from a rather lesser-known region, compared to the main tea giants of Africa: Kenya and Malawi.

Upton Tea offers both an oolong and a green tea from this region, so I purchased both for reviewing purposes. For both teas I used a glass gaiwan and followed the brewing parameters given on the packages (190F for the oolong and 170F for the green). So, without further ado, on to the tasting!

The first of the two that I tasted was the oolong.

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The dry leaves smelled very different than what I was expecting. They smell nutty, of raw almonds with a hint of floral fruitiness that I would compare to honeysuckle or melon. There are some sweet, molasses/brown sugar notes as well and altogether this tea smells a lot like a first or second flush Himalayan black tea.

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The steeped leaves smell intensely malty, definitely more akin to a black tea than an oolong. However, there are some roasted, fruity notes that are analogous to some highly oxidized yanchas. There’s a little bit of a marine, sea salt scent as well which gives it some pronounced mineral qualities.

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The tea itself smells quite light – the melon and honeysuckle notes of the dry leaves return with the malty notes of the steeped leaves to create and experience very, very similar to a second-flush Himalayan black tea (in particular a Darjeeling).

A first steep of this tea is quite flavorful – it’s full-bodied without being cloying. It’s got lots of melon fruitiness common to both white teas and early flushes of black teas, and there is a very present malty flavor which leans this particular tea towards a second-flush. There is a very light, honeyed sweetness which reminds me a lot of the Kenyan Rhino White Tea I reviewed a while ago (I linked it previously in this post). What’s unusual about this is that I don’t get any flavors that I commonly think of when I think of oolong, whether it be a lighter oolong or a darker one.

Since this tea is remarkably similar to earlier flushes of black tea from the Himalayas (Darjeeling, Sikkim, Kangra, Nepal, etc), I did a little research. Apparently earlier flushes of black teas from specifically Darjeeling undergo less oxidation during processing, and I think that happened with this tea. I imagine this was classified as an oolong simply by the oxidation level, and not by its processing.

Next I tasted the green tea.

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The dry leaves are quite dark and wiry, which makes them look a little more similar to green teas I’ve had from South Asia (ex. the Bhutanese green tea I had). The smell, however, is almost like a combination between Japanese gyokuro and Chinese taiping houkui. There is a savory, marine scent of gyokuro with the nuttiness and subtle toasted scent of taiping houkui. I was very surprised, because I would’ve never expected that scent from a tea this dark in color.

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The steeped leaves definitely smell more like a Japanese green than the dry leaves do, which is interesting because judging by the shape and look these were processed very differently from a Japanese green. There are very pronounced, intense marine notes along with a toasted nuttiness which is almost reminiscent of smelling cooked shellfish. There is a definite savory note as well which reminds me a lot of a gyokuro in particular.

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The tea is smells very light in comparison to the dry and wet leaves. There is a more pronounced grassiness here with just a little bit of the marine scent I experienced with the wet leaves.

The texture of the tea is quite noticeable – it’s rather light and crisp and goes down just like water. The flavor, however, is a little more elusive. The tea had a beautiful, light green-yellow color yet it tasted very underwhelming. There are very subtle notes of roasted nuts, with a little bit of vegetal grassiness and a hint of toasted seaweed. There wasn’t really any astringency which I liked and since this is a green tea I decided not to resteep it.

I was surprised at how light this green tea was – the scents of both the dry and wet leaves were incredibly strong so I was expecting something with a lot of flavor. This tea ended up a lot lighter, with the flavor profile and general intensity of flavor being a little lackluster for me. The little bit of flavor that was there, however, is more reminiscent of a higher-quality green so at least it doesn’t taste cheap.

Overall, I am quite impressed with these two teas. They were both very different from what I was expecting but I see them being very similar to teas from other regions. My only problem with these two teas is that the green tea was quite bland (and I followed their parameters!) and it lacked a more pronounced depth of flavor that I’m used to having with the green teas I normally drink (taiping houkui, liu an gua pian). I also wish I knew a little more about where these came from, rather than just a general region.

These are quite interesting and if you’re looking to try some teas from more unusual regions than I would definitely recommend these. However I suggest thinking of the oolong as a black tea and maybe going a little higher on the temperature and/or steeping time than suggested for the green. Who knows, maybe you can get more flavor out of it than I can.

So although I didn’t love the green tea, I liked the oolong quite a lot and I do give major props to Tanzanian tea growers for growing some good quality tea in comparison to most of what comes out of that region, which is a lot of CTC and teabag stuff.

Ratings:
Oolong: 8/10
Green: 6.5/10
From: Upton Tea Imports
Usambara Region, Tanzania

Bhutan ~ Thunder Dragon Green Tea | In Pursuit of Tea

Today I’ll be reviewing a green tea from Trongsa District of Bhutan.

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Hello all! It’s a rather dreary today today but I have been feeling great. Mostly in part because I’m so excited to review this tea.

Today’s tea is a green tea, which is lovely already but this one in particular hails from Samcholing in Trongsa District of Central Bhutan.

Sebastian of In Pursuit of Tea provides an excellent story on their website about this tea (you can read it here).

In short, after being told that tea leaves formerly growing on the grounds of Bhutan’s Winter Palace had been cut down, Sebastian found living ones and began to cooperate with the Ministry of Agriculture to begin production. A Korean botanist traveled to help for 3 years who taught the locals how to make green tea, and thus this tea was born. As of now, In Pursuit of Tea is the only importer of this tea.

Two leaves and one bud are picked off of the tea plants in Samcholing, which are then withered and pan-fired. The leaves are then shaped, pan-fired again and withered again.

I am a huge fan of bizarre teas and teas grown in unusual places so as soon as I found this I immediately bought it because I was just so intrigued.

I would love to visit Bhutan – hopefully one day I can if I can fit the prices in with all of the reckless tea spending I do.

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The dry leaves are quite dark and rather wiry in shape. The smell is lovely though and unlike any green tea I’ve tried. The first scent I picked up is a slight sour basil note that is very reminiscent of fresh pesto. I also picked up notes of wildflower honey, leafy greens, and the sweet fruity scent of fresh apples in an orchard.

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The steeped leaves smell quite sweet, almost like overripe apples. There are faint notes of honey once again and freshly cut grass. I must say that the transition from dark leaves to a bright, vibrant green is beautiful (especially watching the leaves unfurl in a glass teapot).

The steeped tea was rather vegetal and fruity in it’s scent – almost like a combination between the smells of the dry leaves and wet leaves. It’s a gorgeous faint yellow color that is very similar to some lighter Chinese greens like Taiping hou kui.

The first steep of the tea is quite light – it has a slight note of sweetness at the beginning which is followed by some subtle basil and lavender notes, and it ends on a peppery flavor of fresh leafy greens. A second steep brought out those vegetal notes even more, as flavors of basil and tulsi came through more strongly and the level of sweetness decreased. Further steeps (I went to about 5) bring out even more leafy green flavors, and some nutty, toasted flavors come through that are reminiscent of a Chinese green like a longjing.

This tea is wonderful – I love lighter greens and this was perfect. I will definitely be purchasing more of this once I drink up the rest that’s left in the bag and I will probably adding this to my tea collection. I think part of my happiness with this tea is due to the story that it came with – I love drinking tea knowing that it has a history behind it (a rather interesting one at that).

Rating: 10/10
From: In Pursuit of Tea
Samcholing, Trongsa District, Bhutan

South Korea ~ Teuksun Sejak Green Tea | Hankook Tea

Today I’ll be reviewing a green tea from South Jeolla Province, South Korea.

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Hello! So it’s been snowing intensely lately here and these past few weeks have been absolutely perfect for drinking tea.

Today’s tea is actually my first Korean green tea – I’ve heard great things about Korean greens and how they’re kind of like a blend between a Chinese green and a Japanese green.

I don’t drink a lot of green tea but when I do it’s usually a Japanese sencha (I’ll be posting a review of my favorite sencha soon). When I brew sencha I usually have it in a large pot and I add a salted sakura flower (sakuraya) which goes excellently with the grassy flavors of sencha.

Chinese green tea is not my favorite however I am going to start trying more Chinese greens to find one that I really like.

This tea is Hankook Tea’s Teuksun sejak, which is the second highest grade of Korean tea. Korean green tea is divided into ujeon 우전 (highest grade, first harvest, only the buds), sejak 세작 (second-highest grade, second harvest, bud and a small leaf), jungjak 중작 (third-highest grade, third harvest, younger leaves), and daejak 대작 (fourth-highest grade, fourth harvest, mature leaves).

This specific tea was produced on Hankook Tea’s Honam Tea Estate in South Jeolla Province. The tea estate consists of three plantations: Jangsung, Youngam, and Haenam. Jangsung is located north of Gwangju and they produce a lot of powdered green tea (called malcha in Korean). Youngam is Honam Tea Estate’s largest plantation, and it is located close to Wolchulsan Mountain. Haenam is located near the Pacific Coast south of the town of Haenam.

Anyways I am very excited to try my first Korean green tea!

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The dry leaves smell a lot like a Japanese sencha, yet there is a distinctive toasted, nutty scent that I associate more with a Chinese green such as a longjing. It does have the seaweed-like scent of sencha and this has the almost irony scent of salmon roe.

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The steeped leaves lack the seaweed/salmon roe notes of the dry leaves but they retain the grassy, vegetal, and nutty notes common to a Japanese sencha. The toasted scent lingers and is what sets this apart from Japanese green tea.

The tea itself’s smell is like a light sencha – sweet and nutty but again this smells more toasted.

The first taste of the tea is a slight astringency, and it dries out the inside of the mouth. It later evolves into a smooth, grassy, and nutty flavor that is noticeable in Japanese greens. This tea is very similar to many Japanese green teas that I’ve tried in the past. I didn’t re-steep this tea because I don’t normally do that with green tea but I did try it in the way that I like my sencha – with a salted sakura flower – and it worked beautifully. The slightly salted, floral flavor of the cherry blossom compliments the vegetal and nutty green tea flavors spectacularly, and it is one of my favorite combinations in the world.

Overall, this tea was wonderful for a first introduction into Korean greens, and I will definitely look more into Korean teas because they tend to be a little more hidden and obscure and I would love to try a Korean black tea, oolong tea, or even a dark tea. I will also be buying more of this tea, because it’s one of the best green teas I’ve tried.

Rating: 9/10
From: Hankook Tea
Honam Tea Estate, South Jeolla Province, South Korea

Salted Sakura Flowers: Yunomi.life