It has been a while since my last blog post, which has mainly to do with my emergency response job at the World Food Programme here in Myanmar. Our response to battling hunger in this country is complex and requires dedicated effort and lots of time in remote locations.
In the back of my mind I continued to think about the blog and how it can add value to the tea community. And when I saw an article in a local paper, that a German tea company has placed a large order for Myanmar tea… I knew I had to start sharing my stories about this wonderful tea country again.
I often reflect back to the beginning of my tea studies.
Here I was in my kitchen in Rome, Italy, holding a thermometer in one hand and a tea timer in the other hand, nervously anticipating the right mix to get the optimal brew.
Fast forward now to my kitchen in Yangon, Myanmar, were I grab some tea leaves and throw it into hot water to get a wonderful cup of tea.
In a way the past year has liberated me from following the instructions on the box and use scientific instruments to make tea.
However the one area where I never felt liberated is how I always experienced buying tea.
In most shops a nice tea salesperson would carefully open a tin box based on my request and would allow me to have a careful glimpse into the box. In good stores they might let me smell the tea from a safe distance.
Many people around the world who love tea every day engage in the same ritual.
Grab a tea bag from a box, drop it into a cup and pour hot water over it. Wait until there is some uniform color appearing in the cup and pour some more ingredients into it like sugar, milk or a slice of lemon. Then take a sip and hope that this mixture will not be terrible.
Or sit in a plane and after the meal service the flight attendant will come around announcing the arrival of the tea (or coffee) to be poured into your little plastic cup.
And many of us who are attending a conference or workshop, grab a teabag from a ‘selection’ box and hope for the best.
This is the daily reality, mostly in the western world, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is a beverage you made for yourself, you like it, it comforts you, and so of course that’s good for you.
How should I choose my tea and how can I trust that I am getting what I am paying for?
One thing is for sure: if you buy tea bags from the supermarket aisle from a big name brand, you will get exactly the same thing: small bits of tea dust or fannings which will turn the color of the water brown and will taste like the same thing over and over. For some that is what they prefer, but I am reaching out to you on this one! There is another, far more amazing world out there of high quality loose leaf teas!
Yes, you have to be adventurous and you have to trust someone that they will sell you something that is of good quality, comes from the area they are advertising, and is free from pesticides or other items which are not good for your body. So which way to go?
What is Cold Brew?
I have been receiving some queries from my tea friends on how to properly cold brew tea.
Personally I am a big fan of this tea brewing method as it gives you a unique tasting experience and you get to know a different, relaxed side of your favorite tea.
When you brew tea hot, over 400 different components are released into the water and some of them are released quicker at higher temperature. You will have noticed that if you brew a hot tea at a too high temperature or for too long it becomes bitter. Not so with cold brew tea, which will be more mellow, more balanced and sweeter as the high temperature components are less dominant.
Cold brewing gives you a whole new range of preparing tea. But you will need patience, as this is not your quick tea bag dunk for 2 minutes. Good cold brew tea will take several hours, if not even overnight to release the wonderful magic that is cold brew tea. Continue reading →
As promised I would like you to take you with me on exploring tea finds in this wonderful part of Southeast Asia. I would to start with small daily observation. I noticed that in contrast to Italy, were I had to made quite an effort to find good tea, here in Myanmar tea will find me.
As a new tea sommelier my willingness to find new, exciting things about tea is omnipresent. As part of my journey with you I would like to share interesting little items I came across, some you might be well familiar with and some might come as a surprise to you.
Everywhere you go, there is an opportunity to drink some awesome tea. One amazing drink I discovered are matcha smoothies, a bright green colored drink with a strong presence of matcha flavors.
Since it ended in July, I’m probably the last person to be writing a blog about the 2016 WORLD TEA EXPO, but the event was just so important and amazing that I still need to write down my thoughts.
Born as a Christmas Market idea in Germany, ManwithaMug.com became reality early in 2016 as I was approaching the finish line of my 52 week training to become a tea sommelier.
The program included a final graduation ceremony held during the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas, USA. First I dismissed this idea due to the tremendous logistical challenges this was presenting (I was living in Rome, Italy to be assigned somewhere else in the world). But somehow with a lot of moral support from Ms. Tea we shifted our agenda around, planned our family visit to Boston around that time to hand over the kids to the grandparents and took the plunge and made reservations for the Expo.
Getting a good cup of tea can be achieved in many ways. Dipping a tea bag into hot water or using a tea egg are certainly practical ways to make tea (although not the most recommended from my side).
But there are so many other ways to get to the finish line. As part of my studies I focused on different angles and techniques. I would like to share with you three of these angles – Cold brew, Multiple infusions and the type of container to use. I am sharing with you some of the tasting notes, and as my teacher would say: “Tasting is the tea professional’s most valuable skill!”
I am using the same water, filtered water using a Brita filter. The tasting notes describe every single element of the tasting , the leaves in different condition, the tea liquor, the aromas and the flavors. It’s very hard to find the right words, but you can choose descriptions you are most comfortable with.
Experiment 1 – Cold brew
Cold brewing tea is becoming more and more popular in recent years, most of all during the summer months. I really enjoy using this method as it brings out the amino acids and sweet tastes.
Infusions are relatively new to me. When I was a kid, everything was tea to me. When I would get sick, tea was the cure. I had a cough and a few minutes later I was given tea with mostly herbal ingredients. I got the flu, I got some Chamomile. I had a stomach pain, I would get some Melissa. It would always be served with some lemon or honey in it and was quite comforting.
In Germany, tea (or so I thought) is sold in pharmacies. I saw tea always as a medicine and closely linked to health benefits. In the US you don’t see this so much and tea is mostly sold in supermarkets in tea bags but is not so closely linked to health benefits.
When I decided to get my first Yixing tea pot, I wanted to be a purist and dedicate it to only one special tea. Inspired by a famous watch commercial my mantra is: “You don’t own a Yixing tea pot, you merely look after it for the next generation.”
My goal is to turn this into a generational piece for my kids. I had to think long and hard about which tea to choose. I wanted it to be a tea where I know as much as possible about it, down to the individual farmer who made it.
My pick finally went for a Chinese Oolong tea, Huang Zhi Xiang Dan Cong (Gardenia Dan Cong). I truly enjoy Dan Cong teas, the tea of ‘many tastes’ and I have tasted several varieties over the years. There are 12 main varieties of Dan Cong teas with different aromas and such beautiful names like Honey Orchid, Ginger Flower, Almond, Gardenia and Magnolia.
I picked a tea that is complex, has an interesting aroma and flavor profile and it will be interesting to see how the flavor profile develops over time (and hopefully generations) while using the same Yixing tea pot. I am fascinated by the mystery and the depth of Chinese Oolong teas. I have a similar passion for Wuyi Shan Oolongs.