After one month living in Myanmar I am gathering my first impression of the tea culture here. For a tea sommelier it is truly a dream come true. Tea is present in every aspect of life and is by far the most important drink after water here.
The very first impression you get is the street tea culture as it is present in many Asian cultures. Myanmar people are fans of Indian Style tea with a big dollop of condensed milk with sugar.
Everybody has their own preference, some like it sweeter or less sweet, stronger or less strong. If you are a frequent customer to a particular tea stall, the tea barista will know your style and prepare according to your liking.
All over the city and most dominant in the downtown area, little colorful plastic chairs await their customers. Just order a small snack like a samosa and tea will automatically be served, normally Chinese style light green tea. In the canteen in my work place at WFP, big thermos jugs are on each table filled with light green tea and cute little small tea cups in order to enjoy a few round of tea. Continue reading →
Now this is probably the most common type of tea and most people in the world and mostly in the western world are used to some sort of black tea. Known as red tea in China, it can range quite a bit in quality – from the stuff that makes it into the tea bag up to a high quality loose leaf tea.
Enter the amazing world of Oolong teas. Oolong teas are semi oxidized in a wide range from low (20%) to high (80%). This type of tea means “little dragon,” due to its twisted shape of the tea leaf, a leaf shape you find for some Chinese Oolong teas.
This tea type is normally not just for the quick cuppa. It has the amazing ability to be infused many times and that is part of the journey with this tea. The aroma and flavor with each infusion is changing slightly with different balances on the flavor scale. It is like a dance on your palate.
This type of tea is still fairly rare and is treated like gold in our family. Almost completely unknown to the western world just a few years ago it is now gaining more popularity and more types are making it into the stores.
What makes Yellow teas different than Green teas is an additional step in the processing called sweltering. The leaves get a nice cozy wrap, normally some sort of cloth, which gives them the unique yellow color. The result is a tea which is more mellow and less vegetal that some of the green teas. It has an amazing rounded and balanced fruit flavor with an amazing mouth feel. There are very few true yellow tea masters left who know the process of making this kind of tea so there is the risk that this art might disappear.
This tea ceremony has been enjoyed by my wife Kristen and I. The kids are sleeping peacefully. The ceremony is dedicated to peace and harmony.
It starts off by creating an atmosphere of calm and peace. The sun has gone down and I am lighting a green tea incense and a tea candle held by a Buddha. The wonderful smell of the tea incense fills the air and the candle light reveals the stage: a large bamboo tray.
The actors are already here: my new Yixing tea pot, a smelling cup and a few drinking cups to serve the tea. As with all of my tea ceremonies, they are happy to be out of their Chinese silk boxes and participate in this ceremony.
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.