SEPTEMBER 2022 TEA SUBSCRIPTION – Royal Banquet 御宴
A Prose about Exclusivity 散文，2022年9月
Thank you for drinking tea with us.
"Royal Banquet" aims to bring tea drinkers into the world of very fine and exclusive teas. These teas used to be inaccessible to commoners in time gone by, but today we are able to bring it to you via our network of sourcing direct from the farms and our friendship with the producers.
The three teas on feature are a yellow tea, a wulong tea and a red tea, namely:
- Spring 2022 Huo Shan Huang Ya Yellow Tea (霍山黄芽), 6 gm [Awaiting release]
- Zhen Wei Teahouse Li Shan Tradition Wulong Tea 2017 (臻味茶苑 - 梨山传统), 6 gm [Unlisted, limited]
- Goomtee SFTGFOP 1 CH Second Flush (Summer) 2022, 6 gm [Awaiting release]
- 2022春 霍山黄芽黄茶, 6克 [即将上市]
- 臻味茶苑 2017 梨山传统乌龙茶, 6克 [少量私藏]
- Goomtee SFTGFOP 1 2022夏 大吉岭中国茶树红茶, 6克 [即将上市]
A yellow tea is always exclusive. Bearing the shape and style of a green tea but looking slightly aged with its distinctive yellow hue, the yellow tea’s flavour profile differs in aroma and mouthfeel compared to a green tea. An additional processing step called ‘sweltering’ breaks down the astringent tasting catechins and the green compound of chlorophyll – it loses the green flavour and green colour of the fresh leaves and turns it into a more mature tea of smooth mouthfeel and nutty aromas. This allows its heavier consumption without troubles of gastric irritation from a fresh green tea. It is no wonder it presents an alternative to the ancient Chinese living in the political centre of China (western and central parts) where teas were usually green which valued the harvest’s freshness, or black which imparted bold and earthy notes from fermented leaves pressed into cakes and bricks to survive long distance shipments into the freezing north or arid far west. There are three styles of yellow teas – bud teas, fine picked teas and coarse picked teas. Bud teas are the highest grade, and amongst them, Huo Shan Huang Ya Yellow Tea (meaning Yellow Buds from Huoshan) and Mengding Huang Ya (meaning Yellow Buds from Mengding Mountain) are the most famous and prized.
The concept of yellow tea has seen evolution since ancient times. During the Tang dynasty about 1,300 years ago, yellow tea referred to tea cultivars which turned a yellow bud as it grew. Mengding Huang Ya which was a Tang dynasty royal tribute tea belonged to this definition then. This is the same concept as the Gu Zhu Purple Shoot from Zhejiang province presenting a purple bud in the shape of a young and luscious bamboo shoot when it is ready to be picked. (On a side note, this was also a royal tribute tea (green tea) during the Tang dynasty and it was on Parchmen & Co tea list of 2021.) During the Ming and Qing dynasty in more recent times, yellow tea referred to teas which underwent sweltering. Huo Shan Huang Ya Yellow Tea which was a royal tribute tea in these two dynasties belongs to this definition.
黄茶的概念自古至今在演变。1300年前的唐代，黄茶是指发黄芽的茶树。蒙顶黄芽就属这个定义，是唐代贡茶。这与浙江顾竹紫笋的概念相同，茶芽肥壮紫紫色。 （顺便说一句，顾竹紫笋（绿茶）也是唐朝的贡茶，也在 2021 年百茶门的茶单上。）在明清时期，黄茶指经过“焖黄”的茶品。霍山黄芽是两朝皇家贡茶，属于这个定义。
We brewed the Huo Shan Huang Ya Yellow Tea in our Parchmen Tea Evaluator Set, at 3 gm with 150 ml of 80°C water for 1 min. It brews a pale yellow colour and has a hint of flowers and spice against a smooth mouthfeel. It brews like a green tea, with peak flavour during the second brew and depreciating flavour after three brews. We used filtered water to experience the full untainted flavour of this tea. As the saying goes, water is the mother of tea.
我们选用百茶门审评杯以 3 克茶对150毫升的 80°C 水冲泡1 分钟。茶汤为淡黄色，带有淡淡的花香和香料味，口感顺滑。它与绿茶一样不耐泡，第二泡时味道达到顶峰，三次冲泡后味道下降。俗话说，水为茶之母。品茗是请用过滤水来体验其完全真实的风味。
The smooth mouthfeel of Huo Shan Huang Ya Yellow Tea leaves us wanting for more smoothness in tea. Science tells us that smoothness in tea comes from the lack of astringent compound of catechins, which are converted from the amino acid of theanine under sunlight. Abundant theanine gives the sought-after flavour dimensions of sweetness and umami. High grade Japanese green teas learnt this fact and shade their tea shrubs before harvest. In other tea growing regions, farms located at high elevations are blanketed by natural clouds of mist and fog which diffuse the sunlight and limit the conversion of theanine to catechins. In Yunnan, Vietnam and India Darjeeling, teas are grown at high elevations above 1,000 m, with some farms exceeding 2,000 m. This is not surprising given that this region is part of the Everest mountain range. Having said this, natural or artificial shade are not the sole deciding factor in mouthfeel. The cultivars are also deciding factors in the final flavour profiles. Chinese tea cultivars are well evolved, well researched and well processed to present more umami even for farms near to sea level. As a case in point, famed Chinese green tea Lion Peak Dragon Well have all its farms at 300 m and below.
In Taiwan, the central mountain range is fertile land for tea cultivation. Located in that region, Nantou comes to mind as being the county that produces the most varied teas from its huge land space dedicated to tea production, leading Taiwan in terms of production volume. However, if one were to relate to high mountain teas, Taichung which is famous of its abundant fruit gardens and high mountains comes to mind. As a general classification, teas grown above 1,000 to 1,600 m are considered high mountain teas, and above that, teas are known as high and cold mountain teas. Lishan (or Li Mountain, so named because of its abundant pear – ‘li’ – farms on the mountain) at the interaction of Taichung, Nantou and Hualian counties hosts tea farms from 1,600 to 2,600 m, where the sun shines strongly on the tea farms for short hours daily, and where temperatures drop sharply into the nights, creating a large diurnal range that is ideal for tea cultivation. Lishan is unique in this weather pattern as compared to other high mountain regions like Alishan which lacks the strong noon sun. In a way, Lishan enjoys an alpine climate different from the other tea regions. Owning to this terrior, it holds a unique position in producing teas which are affirmative and yet gentle. Tea yield is always low due to the slow growth cycle of the tea plants at such high elevations, and the farms can only manage two harvests a year. For the same reason, the spring harvest is much delayed in late May and the summer harvest is again later in August. After that, the tea plants would go into hibernation to last through the cold winter. When a tea is labelled as Lishan, it usually means the farm is located above 2,000 m.
在台湾，中央山脉是种植茶叶的肥沃土地。南投位于该地区，从茶场面积，茶叶产量，茶品总量方面都是领先地位。如果要谈到高山茶，就会想到以丰富的果园和高山闻名的台中。一般说1,000～1,600米以上的茶称为高山茶，超过1,600米的茶称为高冷茶。台中、南投、花莲三县交界处的梨山（盛产梨子而得名），海拔1,600至2,600米有茶园，白天日照强烈但短暂，而夜晚温度急剧下降，日夜温差大非常适合运粮茶叶的风味。梨山的高山气候是独一无二的，不同于阿里山等其他高山地区全天浓雾笼罩的情况。因此梨山茶往往柔和却带底蕴。高海拔的茶树生长周期缓慢，茶叶产量低，农场一年只能采摘两次。春茶较晚在 5 月下旬，而夏茶在 8 月。之后，茶树就会进入冬眠状态，度过寒冷的冬天。市场上的梨山茶通常指茶场位于2,000米以上。
In Taiwan, the only tea that has ever been listed as a royal tribute tea was the Wenshan Pouchong from Taipei region. As such, this Lishan tea we are introducing today has never been a royal tribute tea. Although so, the tea master who made it is someone of exceptional status in the Chinese tea world. Armed with 40 years of tea making experience, Master Lv Li Zhen is a well known master in Taiwan and beyond. He was one of the first few masters who returned to China to understand and make tea, insisting on traditional techniques to present and preserve a flavour of history and tradition. He objects the current tea trend of wulong light-processing such that it tastes like a green tea and he is a firm believer of eco-friendly tea cultivation as a manifestation of the true tea spirit of universal harmony and respect for nature. The Lishan tea made by him departs from the lighter styles of tea processing usually adopted for high elevation teas and instead adopts a high oxidation and high roast in a similar style to the traditional Dong Ding tea. The tea farm does not apply pesticides and chemical fertilizers, inviting a natural ecosystem to develop within it. During the slightly warmer months before the second harvest, the Jacobiasca formosana leafhopper famed for the honey notes of the Oriental Beauty would come to bite on the tea leaves of his farm, producing the same chemical compounds which turn into honey aroma in the finished tea. All the master’s teas are outstanding given his work and contribution to the tea world and that he does the final roasting of all his teas himself. Indeed, it is befitting as a royal tribute tea and as diplomatic gifts.
For such a tea, we used the gongfu tea method of 6 gm to 90 ml of 95°C water for 1.5 min, using our zisha tea pot ‘Bell’. We chose the bell due to its high headspace within the pot, allowing the tightly rolled teas to expand as it brews. The deeper processing does not lose the light floral and honey aromas from its terrior, and yet is juicy, sweet and smooth without raw greenness. It presents a light orange colour and allows brewing stamina of up to seven brews.
我们使用百茶门汉铎紫砂壶，使用 6 克茶叶 90 毫升 95°C 水的功夫茶法泡1.5 分钟。我们之所以选择汉铎是因为此壶形如立钟，空间大能让紧实的半球形茶叶尽量舒展开来。茶汤淡橙色，蜜果香浓也带淡淡花香，而且醇厚顺滑甜美，没有青涩味，七泡有余香。
We now move westward towards the mythical land of the thunder bolt – Darjeeling, called Dorje Ling in Tibetan, which means the land of the thunder bolt. Indeed thunder, lightning and fog are the common features of the Darjeeling weather pattern. While the Himalayas is the abode of the gods, Darjeeling is a prized territory of ancient rulers. The old kingdom of Sikkim took control of it during the better part of the 18th century, only to lose it to the Gurkha kingdom of Nepal towards the end of the century. The British took interest of this land and gradually gained full control in the span of the next 150 years, formalising it under British rule as part of the British Raj from 1858 to 1947. Forming a beautiful sight within the undulating mountain ranges of the Himalayas, it was a cool hill station for British officers to escape the scorching heat in the plains of West Bengal. In fact, the majestic snow-capped peaks of Kangchenjunga is clearly visible from Darjeeling during sunny hours throughout the year. The smuggled tea plants from Wuyi Mountain of China Fujian finally made their ways to this hill station just before the establishment of the British Raj, and tea estates began to spring up one after another.
Goomtee Estate is a small estate at 1,000 to 1,600 m within the Kurseong distinct of the Darjeeling tea region, located south of the forested and inaccessible Jungpana Estate featured last month. Its history is tied to that of Jungpana, both of which were established in 1899 by a British tea plant Henry Montgomery Lennox, and which changed hands to become the property of the Nepal royal family in the aftermath of the Second World War. The reason for establishing two instead of one estate was unclear, but one could offer guesses in the difficulty in managing a large collective land mass, or due to the geographical division imposed by the valley and stream between the two estates, or even the gross differences in accessibility of the two estates, all factors affecting business success.
The history of Goomtee Estate is an extension of colonial rule, from the powerful and rich and ultimately to the hands of tea craftsman. In the early 1950s, the rich and famous Kejriwal family took over its ownership, and it was finally sold to the current Das family in the 1956. When the senior Das took over the estate, he had to learn from scratch how to run a tea estate. Stakes were high, land was huge, and there were many mouths to feed. The current owner is Ashok Das, the son, who has been working in the estate for 40 years. Such a long career was accidental, as he aspired to be an engineer but he realised there were simply too many things to improve at his father’s Goomtee Estate, such that he could not afford the time and energy to do anything else. In that sense, Goomtee, or even Darjeeling as a whole, has not been a success always. It became a superior tea to be sought after by the rich and powerful only in recent times, perhaps in the last 20 years. At the start of the 21st century, there was sort of a modern renaissance, where the leap of science and technology empowered the human race with the imagination and tools to surpass ancient ideas. In 2004, Darjeeling tea became the first product registered under the newly enacted Geographical Indicator Act of 1999 in India. To maintain this status, estates had to adopt ecological and safer agricultural techniques without the use of fertilizers and pesticides. This was recognised as a factor in have boosting its status as a superior tea.
Goomtee Estate, like the rest of the other Darjeeling estates, have been suffering from brand damages when other tea merchants seeking a quick buck mix real Darjeeling teas with other lower grade teas and market them as authentic Darjeeling for a fraction of the price. This causes a double whammy of depressing the market value of the tea, as well as the market perception of its true quality. It is hilarious to find out that the amount of Darjeeling teas sold exceeds its production. Low tea prices coupled with the departure of big European and Japanese buyers due to recessionary pressures, and the political instability caused by the separatist troubles in the hills are spiralling into untenable cash flow problems for Darjeeling. It is shocking to know that nearly 50% of the 87 tea estates (numbering 35 to 40) are now up for sale. Once you have an authentic Darjeeling, you will never go back. This is true only if the tea craftsmen are in control of the quality. The authentic Goomtee has always attracted media attention for landing high prices during auctions. In the International Tea Masters Competition in China in 2017, the tea brewing champion brewed the Goomtee second flush of that year.
Indian tea grades are a baffling and mouthful list of designations which tells more of the style and varietal of the leaves than its quality of flavour and processing. For Darjeeling teas, perhaps the uniqueness of terrior is already a mark of guarantee. The two other pieces of information - the fineness of picking as shown in the size and composition of tips vs leaves; the varietal of the tea plant as shown in the final two-letter designator, are enough information to further gauge the final quality. This Goomtee 2nd flush tea is SFTGFOP 1 CH – Super Finest/Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekeo grade 1, China bushes, meaning it is the finest picking possible, with a high proportion of tips (hence super, finest/fine, tippy, and golden referring to the oxidised tips showing a golden tone), and flowery refers to the top and tender newly grown parts of the stalk, hinting at a flowery aroma rather than a rough earthiness associated with lower pickings. Orange Pekoe (OP) is used together as a term to refer to the size of the finished leaves – that the size of the leaves is large enough to be retained on the benchmark mesh, signifying full and unbroken leaves, because broken leaves, fannings and tea dust are small and would pass through the said mesh. Pekoe is borrowed from the Chinese term of white hair on tender tea tips (白毫), as seen in Pekeo Silver Needle (白毫银针) which is the full Chinese name for the Silver Needle white tea. The word ‘Orange’ is said to be related to the currently reigning House of Orange of Netherlands. When tea was traded by the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, VOC) some 4oo years ago, only full unbroken tea leaves from very early pickings can be served to the royal family, thus this designation. Confusingly, as like many things in the tea world, a tea graded as OP today does not contain tips, although the word ‘pekeo’ indicates so. One story says that Sir Thomas Lipton (of Lipton Tea) commercialised the ‘OP’ term simply for marketing purposes. In this sense, a FOP (Flowery Orange Pekeo) is an unbroken tea that consists of some tips and is considered an entry level good grade tea. In a way, the longer the string of acronyms, the more tips the tea contains. Grade 1 used to mean it is more exceptional in terms of sorting and neatness with more even sizes. However, all estates today mark their highest grade tea with grade 1. In fact, SFTGFOP 1, SFTGFOP, FTGFOP 1, FTGFOP now all mean the same thing – the highest grade of the estate, and the varied nomenclature stems from the different naming or marketing traditions of the estates. The SFTGFOP 1 from one estate could be a different size from the same designated tea from another estate as the designation and benchmark sizes entirely depend on the estates and are not officially regulated by the tea board of Darjeeling. But one thing is common across all these designators – in that all the teas are hand cut and machined rolled. China bushes refer to the estimated 20,000 tea saplings smuggled out of Wuyi Mountain of China Fujian into India by Robert Fortune since 1841 and first planted there by Dr Campbell in 1842. These bushes are now over 160 years old and have a signature mellow and fruity note. Second flush is the harvest from late May to June. The well rounded cup of low astringency and muscatel aroma of the second flush is said to be better than the first flush teas.
We used our Parchmen Tea Evaluator Set to brew the Goomtee second flush 2022, at a high ratio of 3 gm to 80 ml of 80°C water for 1 min. It brews a light amber colour and carries the signature aroma of muscatel grapes, ripe fruits and wild flowers on a smooth bright cup. It can brew twice and is of course best experienced with filtered water.
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