March 2024 Tea Subscription

Thank you for coming onboard Parchmen & Co and travel with us to savour our world in a cup!

We aim 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.

In the month of March 2024, we are featuring a green tea, wulong tea and red tea, namely:

- 2023 Kyoto Uji Kabuse Sencha 10g
- 2023 Duck Shit Dancong Wulong 凤凰单丛鸭屎香 10g
- 2023 Vietnam Hien Minh Sunny Honey wild red tea 10g

The first tea this month is a Japanese green tea. Known for its range of umami-laden green teas, Japan's tea tradition started 1,300 years ago during the Chinese Tang dynasty. The first record of tea drinking was during the Nara era which mirrored the Tang dynasty across the East China Sea. It was probably trade that first brought the tea leaves to Japan, and the ancient records suggested prevalence in tea drinking. But it was the travelling Japanese monks seeking enlightenment in Chinese Buddhist monasteries that were credited with the plant taking root in Japan. These monks often engage in tea making as part of their monastery lives. Foremost amongst them are Saicho (最澄) and Kukai (空海), both of whom founded important Buddhist sects in Japan. They brought Buddhist scriptures, artwork as well as tea seeds and saplings to replant on Japanese soils. This was during the Chinese Song dynasty which was the Heian era in Japan. Their association with tea created brought popularity to tea cultivation and drinking, following the ancient Tang dynasty manner of drinking brick teas. Known as 'dancha' (団茶, "tea cake"), it subsequently lost popularity, only to be boosted by another renowned Buddhist monk returning from China. Eisai (栄西禅師), also the founder of a Buddhist Zen sect in Japan, was credited to be the initiator of the Japanese matcha ceremony, basing it largely on the method of serving tea in the Song dynasty from where he returned from his Buddhist training. A tea garden now surrounds his tomb in Kyoto city, within walking distance from the Kyoto main Shinkansen station, in the head temple of Kenninji (建仁寺). 

Tea processing during those times was done via steaming freshly picked leaves. Largely replaced with other methods in China, tea steaming is retained in Enshi of Hubei China (恩施土家族苗族自治州). Today, the famous Enshi Yu Lu ("Jade Dew", 恩施玉露) is made by steaming. The highest grade of Japanese green tea is called the Gyokuro (玉露), which is the Japanese pronunciation of the same tea from Enshi - the Jade Dew. As tea leaves bud under the gentle spring sun, the chemical compound responsible for umami slowly converts to astringent compounds as it absorbs more sunlight. This explains the price premium in early spring harvests. Japan's tea gardens are usually not on mountains but on flat land which are exposed to the increasing intensity of the spring sun as the buds readies themselves for picking. To preserve the umami taste, gyokuro tea shrubs are covered with a thin black netting. These 'covered' teas are termed kabuse-sencha, from the root word of kabusu (かぶする, pronounced kabusuru, meaning to cover). Finely picked Japanese teas are referred to as sencha (煎茶), while coarsely picked teas with broad leaves and twigs are termed bancha (番茶). The highest grade of sencha is surely the gyokuro. It is shaded for 20 to 30 days. If shading is done with lesser days, it is called a kabuse-sencha. This tea from Obubu tea farm in Uji Wazuka was harvested in spring 2023 at the start of May after being covered for 2 weeks. While the number of shaded days is a deciding factor in whether to name the tea a gyokuro or a kabuse-sencha, another important factor is the intensity of umami, with the former being higher.

High grade Japanese teas are often deveined like a Gyokuro. Our kabuse-sencha retains these veins for a deeper flavour. Lightly rolled, the tea is slightly puffy and less neat as compared to a Gyokuro. We are brewing this tea in a Parchmen Glass Gaiwan at 5g to 130ml of 70°C water for 60 sec, and repeating it at 65°C water for 45 sec. The brew is a beautiful lighter shade of lime green, and the brewed leaves smell grassy. Being lightly steamed, the greenness is preserved, giving us the first impression of vegetal flavour like spinach which lingers for a while on the nose. Umami is clear albeit short, supported by sweetness and a smooth mouthfeel. There is little bitterness and little astringency, and the afterflavour is also pleasant without bitterness nor astringency. In the second brew, there is noticeably lesser aroma.

The second tea this month is the famous Duck Shit wulong tea, from our usual Wu Dong Mountain (乌岽山) farm which produces our ever-popular Honey Orchid. Teas from Phoenix Mountain (凤凰山) are now known as Fenghuang Dancong teas, literally Phoenix (Mountain) single bush (凤凰单丛) teas. The biodiversity of the mountains and the micro-regions created by the different spurs of the range have allowed the natural conditions for the wild tea trees to crossbreed with other plants, developing differences in physical appearances as well as flavour characteristics. Through selection in the last few decades and supported by the maturity of cloning techniques, cultivars with differentiated aroma types were identified and mother trees were isolated. Cloning was done repeatedly to achieve stability in the cultivar, which formed the spectrum of aroma types in the Phoenix teas we know today. Since the cultivars were all cloned from selected single mother bushes, the term Dancong continue to apply.

One have probably heard of civet cat coffee, and the range of similar products like monkey coffee, elephant coffee, etc. Such coffees are indeed collected from the excrement of these animals. In the same light, Duck Shit wulong tea's extraordinary name often raises eyebrows for the uninitiated, although its growing fame now overruns people's surprise of its name. The mother tree stands at Feng Xi Township Ping Tou Village (凤溪坪坑头村), at around 800m on the slopes of Mountain Wu Dong, on the southeast direction from the landmark of Phoenix Sky Lake (
凤凰天池). However, this is not its original location, having been transplanted from Li Zi Ping Village (李仔坪村) south of Wu Dong Village (乌岽村) on the same contour in the 1920s. Planted on "duck shit clay" which in fact is chalky yellow clay resembling duck shit, it gradually took on that name. Of course, the more romantic version of the name's origin was the deliberate masking of the true commercial value of the tea by the discoverer and making the profits alone without his neighbours' knowledge. The secret was out before long, and now it is widely planted in the region. With its growing fame, the more proper name of Honeysuckle Aroma (银花香) was given in 2014 exactly owing to its aroma resembling intense honeysuckle blossom.

We are brewing the tea using gongfu style in an Authority zisha teapot. With 3 gm of tea, we are using 120ml of 88-90°C distilled water and keeping each steep at 30 sec. The brewed leaves smell of baked walnuts and roasted barley, and it curiously reminded us of the energy drink Ovaltine. The brew is pale yellow. On bringing the tea cup to the mouth, you will appreciate the reason why it is named 'Honeysuckle" - honey and honeysuckle notes rush to the nose. A quenching tea, it is salivating and has little bitterness or astringency. The immediate impression is of roasted barley and honey, with a hint of spices, and ending with honeysuckle. A gentle and pleasant tea, it can be rebrewed one more time before astringency is obvious.

The last tea this month is a red tea from the wild tea land in Hoang Su Phi, Ha Giang, north of Vietnam, where it is famous for its grandiose mountain landscape. Peppered with tea villages and tea homestay, it is a location of retreat and peace. Tea harvested from such terrains are usually called Shan Tuyet. Shan means mountain, likely a Chinese-Vietnamese notation. Tuyet means snow. Not that there is snow in the mountains, it gets its name from the white color of the coat of tender hair on the young buds. Such wild varieties are known as Camellia sinensis var. Shan ('var' means variety), and they loosely refer to the mountain wild teas in Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar, all of these neighbouring south Yunnan where the motherland of tea is.

After a long winter sleep, young furry green shoots started to emerge from the moldy branches. The husband-wife team of Hien Minh Tea House picked these beautiful buds together with the H'mong and Red Dao ethnic people of the mountains. These tea buds then were gently spread on flat bamboo trays to lose water and promote aroma for about 32 hours. When the tea had dehydrated, it had become soft and would undergo the subsequent step of rolling to break the leaf structure. They are then left to oxidise for 8 hours, which turned the green color of the leaves copper red accompanied with a strong fruity fragrance. Consequently, the tea was spread thinly on the bamboo trays and dried slowly in the sun for a couple of days. Sunlight is the last ingredient to this beautiful tea in enriching its rich malty and honey characteristic, the sweetness so palpable just by sniffing. This is the reason why Hien Minh Tea House name this tea 'Sunny Honey'. In Vietnamese, it is called Mật Nắng, where Mật comes from Mật Ong which means honey, and Nắng means sunny.

We are brewing this tea in the Parchmen Glass Gaiwan, at 4g to 120ml of 85°C distilled water for 90 seconds. The dry leaves are short and broad, black with golden tips. The brew colour is like golden honey, with a matching honey fragrance. The intense honey note extends into a satisfying medium weight brew with a pleasantly mild astringency, accompanied by a malty note with a lemony and soy bean afterflavour. For the second brew, we are brewing it shorter at 60 sec, to an equally impressive mouthfeel and honey notes, with some slight bitterness and astringency. 

Thank you for coming onboard with Parchmen & Co to travel and savour our world in a cup!