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 →
After a few weeks of broadcast silence I am finally back behind the keyboard to continue my blog from Yangon, Myanmar.
You might think I lost interest or have achieved everything I wanted with this blog, but quite the opposite is true.
In the past weeks I had to set priorities as the move from Rome, Italy to Yangon, Myanmar, which is quite substantial. My focus was on settling the family into a new house, getting the kids used to a school routine and have a successful start into my new assignment as the Head of Finance and Administration for the World Food Programme in Myanmar.
As part of my studies, we had to write a final essay up for discussion on the opportunity for a tea presentation to overcome intolerance. I would like to share with you the result of this essay. The specific question was:
“In a world where the intolerance of the cultural values and practices of others leads to discrimination and mass murder, a creative and culturally sensitive tea presentation is an opportunity to promote the art and taste of tea, as well as nurture a peaceful environment of respect and appreciation of many cultures.”
We all come from different backgrounds. We live in different countries around the world. We went through different childhoods, different cultural experiences, which all have left their mark on the windshield on how we perceive the world.
The windshield of some people is so tainted and closed that it leads them to see people how they want them to see, with intolerance and discrimination. It leads them to engage in damaging acts and even worse, convince other people to follow their destructive path. Continue reading →
A big heated debate is currently running through the tea industry – what is a tea sommelier and how can these people compare themselves to highly skilled wine sommeliers?
As I am on the path to become a tea sommelier myself I thought it might be a good moment to add my five cents to this discussion.
In ancient times, the job of a sommelier (derived from the middle French “saumalier”) was to keep the provisions (food and drinks) of a royal house well-stocked. It also included tasting and taking sips of wine to ensure they are edible and not poisoned.
I have experienced this type of tea both on my own time and in my studies, but it’s not a favorite type for Ms. Tea. I have a feeling that I will spend more time with these great brews in the future as I find the process of creating dark teas fascinating. It is also the only type which has a fermentation process included in the creation of the tea. It’s also the only type of tea which can be collected and stored to become better over time just like a fine bottle of wine.
A large component of this category are Pu-erh teas and they come in all forms and shapes. Normally seen as little cakes or bird’s nests they have their own way of being brewed.
Some call it an ‘acquired’ taste, but several times I was able to prepare the most amazing tasting cup of tea. This tea benefits from multiple infusions similar to Oolongs and it is also advisable to use a Yixing clay tea pot to get the best results. Normally the first infusion or even infusions gets discarded to wash the tea and to wake up the leaves. I have also seen some exact opposite reports claiming that the first, unwashed infusion is the best and the purest. Some teas can give more than 30 infusions! I have read stories from tea houses that people gave up drinking but the tea leaves would still give flavor even after 30+ infusions!
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.
Green Teas are becoming more and more popular in the world and the varieties seem endless.
Almost every tea producing country is now producing a special green tea and the market is growing more and more. Green teas are more processed than white teas and have some oxidation in the processing.
After a withering process, leaves are fired to stop the oxidation and to retain the green color in the leaf. There are two main processes to accomplish this and it results in different types of green tea. Most green teas in China are pan fired before they are further processed. Green teas in Japan are steamed, very similar to what we do in the kitchen with broccoli and spinach. The result is a different texture and flavor.
I’ve talked about tea culture, tea water and some of my personal memories. Now I would like to share with you my personal tea reflections, what are my personal favorites and which teas I would recommend exploring.
Many of the books I have read present this by the six tea types: white, green, yellow, oolong, black and dark tea. Each of these categories is a world in its own. In a series of blogs I would like to share with you my insights, reflections and special moments with each.
For me tea is so much more than just a beverage. It is the opportunity to connect with people. The diversity of this world makes us like different things, have different tastes and perspectives. Once I experienced the entire range it gave me the ability to find something a specific person can enjoy.
I learned not only to make teas I personally like but to prepare tea that will make other people happy and that matches the specific taste desires of others.
Now this is not an attempt of hidden product placement, it is more an attempt to pay tribute and respect to the one tea company which ignited my tea passion and put me onto the road I am on right now (no worries – I am not getting any commission for writing this…).
The company I am referring to is tea retailer Twinings. When I was living in Germany, I was well before the point when I started my tea journey. Yes I admit, I was a tea bag dunker and certainly the shelves of supermarkets are full of all kinds of tea bag boxes. It was convenient and quick and I did not have anything to compare it to anyway as back then there was no ‘ loose leaf aisle’ for high quality teas.