Monday, September 3, 2012

Even Cheap Thai Teas Are Better Than Lipton Tea or . . . Not

I had heard about the tea industry in Northern Thailand now for several years. I had even tasted some of the oolong teas that had become famous for its quality (Oolong Number 12 and 17). The oolong type tea plants had been brought in from Taiwan some twenty years before.  These teas were very good and matched easily the quality coming out of Taiwan and even Fujian Province of China. So when we recently spent a week in Chiang Mai, I decided to check out some of these teas. We ended up buying five packages of an assortment of Northern Thai teas.




The Thai teas consisted of three oolong teas(I call them red, gold and blue from the colors of their packages), a black tea and a white tea.  The three oolongs teas we bought at a local Hmong market (heavily commercialized) and the black I bought in a fake Hmong village on the mountain. The white tea came from the big market in downtown Chiang Mai. 

Additionally, on our last day in Chiang Mai we visited two celadon factories which carried some interesting tea cups.  The following pictures show the cups we bought to drink our new Thai tea. 


The first factory we visited was Siam Celadon, a commercial enterprise that has been around for decades. It had a beautiful show room and had lots of neat and interesting porcelains and pottery.  We ended up buying two sets of fairly standard tea cups as pictured below.  The cracked celadon finish was especially attractive.






From the Mengrai Kilns, we also bought a set of blue cracked celadon cups plus two similarly shaped cups with different designs.  We felt the Mengrai Kilns offered better prices and a lot more interesting pieces from which to choose.




Two small beautifully crafted cracked celadon from Mengai Kilns


Two unusual cups from Mengrai Kilns which were our favorites



The Red Oolong Tea

The first of the oolong teas I tried was the one in the bright red packages.  From what I have been able to find out, these are some minor teas grown by some of the local minorities, hand-picked and hand processed.  It is obvious from the looks of the tea that it cannot compete with the teas coming out of China. The read oolong tea was about thirty percent stems and trigs and looked rather shabbily fermented. The smell was just barely noticeable but was not unpleasant.  


As one can see, the tea is not very exciting  but remember it cost 3 for 100 Baht or just a little over one USD per package.  There is not, however, a lot of tea in each of the packages.


This is the first steeping of the tea.  I let it steep for about two minutes and then tasted it.  It tasted like a cheap green tea from China.  The color was barely noticeable and looked rather sick.  Not impressed at all!





For the second cup, I let it steep for a full five minutes.  The color came out looking more like a traditional oolong but with a weak fragrance. Tasting this second cup gave me hope as I did taste some interesting things it offered.  Almost like what one would expect from an oolong. 



I did not give up on it and decided to let the third cup steep until it really did look like an oolong.  About eight minutes in boiling hot water produced a very beautiful full-golden looking oolong.  It was exactly what I expected in a quality oolong.  Upon tasting it, I was shocked by the huge hit of bitterness.  We are talking about raw kuding cha bitterness here.  I think the leaves are old and tough and it takes a lot of coaxing to get anything from them.  This tea is definitely not a match for even a cheap bag of Lipton tea which I truly detest.  It was, however, worth the dollar just to taste it.

The Gold Oolong Tea


The second oolong tea I tasted came from a gold colored back (both the red and the gold looked like it came from Christmas decorations). The tea looked virtually the same as the red oolong tea above. There was nothing unusual about the leaves except the hug number of twigs I saw. It looked to be processed in the same manner as well.


The leaves look unkempt and irregular.  Most of the better oolongs I have tried from Fujian and elsewhere were very uniform in how they are process.  This just looked like a bunch dried up leaves and sticks.


This close up shows the irregularity and rather ugly looking mass of branches and leaves.  It, like the read oolong above, had very little fragrance.


This is a five minute steep.  I did not expect much and I was not surprised.  Five minutes seems to be the absolute minimum required by these leaves.  Again, it appeared that the leaves were old and tough and just needed coaxing for them to give up any drinkable tea.  The taste was mild and just there.  Nothing fancy, with no aftertaste or any other sensations.  Drinkable but then, so its just plain hot water.  Lipton tea bags beats the heck out of this tea. 

The Blue Oolong Tea

The blue oolong tea had a more tradition blue wrapping with tea plants as its main design.  Too bad the tea appeared to be exactly the same as the above two.  Lots of twigs mixed in there with the leaves. 


Twigs, twigs everywhere there were twigs.


This close up shows some pretty strange shapes and colors of this oolong tea.  It was obviously harvested and processed by hands that were not yet expert and shaping them correctly.  


No one can tell the difference between these three teas - NO ONE!  They looked alike, smelled alike and tasted alike.  I would most definitely choose a tea bag of Lipton over any of these.  Leaving them to steep for awhile makes a beautiful golden liquor but also brings out some pretty harsh bitterness.  Why drink this tea in its two minute green tea form when one can have a real green tea from China. Not disappointing, understand, because I was expecting a one dollar tea. We will not be buying any more of the red, gold or blue oolongs anytime soon.

Numb Feeling Black Tea


I first saw a package of this black tea at the fake Hmong village on the way to Doi Sutep, the most important Buddhist temple in Northern Thailand.  Saw it among some of the same red, blue and gold oolongs we had already purchased.  Talked the lady into selling it to us for 40 Baht from its original 50 Baht price.  Black tea it stated clearly.  Numb Feeling Black Tea. Had nothing to lose except the 40 baht, which made it well worthwhile for this blog.


The tea leaves are almost a reddish black color, more black than red but the red seems to come from the outside of each leaf.  These leaves were definitely different than the three oolongs I tasted earlier.


A close up shows the very dark leaves surrounded by some redness coming from smaller leaves and all those twigs.  Red twigs still seem to dominate among the black leaves. 


A three minute steep brought me this reddish liquor, very nice with hints of a deeper and darker substance. It is very attractive.  So attractive that I took a closer shot with my macro to show the depths of the redness.


See the red tones throughout this tea.  I have to say I like the color a lot.  It is not knock-out red like my great Qimens but a more subtle red that makes things interesting. 

So, how did it taste and can it compete with my Lipton tea bags? We are in a different category here. Sunee said it reminded her of a weaker Qimen.  I thought it had some really strange and unidentifiable tastes around the edges with a huge after taste of something I have yet to figure out.  It is drinkable and very interesting so I would say it beats Lipton.  Lipton tea in bags is just boring.  This black tea is interesting and has a lot more flavor.  I like it so much I finished off the leaves by making enough  to put in our refrigerator to find out how it will be cold.  Not sure I would buy more since I have lots of Qimen and lots of the Yunnan Gold Tips to drink.  It will, however, be a tea that I will drink now and again to try to figure out the flavors I am tasting.  A keeper but probably because of its very unique color and taste quality. 

Thai White Tea


The last tea we bought was a Thai white tea we found in the main market in Chiang Mai. As Sunee shopped for various items, I was looking over the selection of teas to be had.  I began to notice some white teas in the mix and I was interested.  All the whites I picked up and asked about were plainly marked in Chinese that they came from Fujian yet all the sales people were telling me they came from Thailand.  Not going to buy a lie, thank you very much.

One guy we met had some white from Fujian like the others but he also had some that were marked from Thailand.  When I asked about the white teas, he said it all came from Fujian except two that came from the mountains of Northern Thailand.  An honest man! Because of his honesty, we bought our final tea from him.  Later, I would check on the internet to find that there were, indeed, white teas  just now being produced in Northern Thailand.  This, then was a tea I had more expectations for than the rest.


Tea leaves were definitely different than the other four.  Oh, they were bent and misshapened in no recognizable uniform way but they definitely had less twigs. The darker leaves were not as dark and the lighter leaves were lighter than the other teas.  One, however, would never be able to tell (in reality) what this tea really was.



Here you can see the lighter leaves more predominant than the darker ones. 



The liquor is light with hints of amber gold.  I boiled the water and let it sit for about two minutes before using it on the leaves.  I knew that the leaves should not come into contact with boiling water for they are supposed to be very delicate.  This proved to be correct as the taste was refreshing and nice. This is better than any Lipton tea bag in the world.  This made the whole buying tea process very much worth it.  Like the few other white teas I have tasted, this had hints of a grassy green tea but was overpowered  a crisp freshness totally different from the great greens I have in my possession.  I different but similar taste and certainly a little more bitter and sweet after taste.  I can see me drinking this tea over the next month or so until it is gone.  I like it.  Thus ends the search for a cheap Thai tea to compete with the Lipton tea bags. 



Thursday, July 26, 2012

Xiaotian Lanhua Green Tea

We bought this tea from the same family in Qimen City where we bought most of our Qimen Red Tea and the previously tasted wild green tea. It is from the nearby town of Xiaotian and comes from the mountains that encircle the town. From what I was able to find on the internet, this tea has won some local awards. The lanhua or orchid refers to how it tastes, reminding one of the smell of orchids. We spent around three hours talking about tea and tasting the various teas they had from the region. I remember this one was especially sweet and pleasant. I have not been drinking this tea as much as the wild tea but occasionally we will try some. It is really orchid sweet and mild.
















This tea looks a lot like the Huangshan Mao Feng we bought in Anhui Province. It was obviously processed in the same manner and exhibits the hair that the mao feng teas have. It is very dark with only hints of green in it.
















One can see the hair on most of the stalks like Mao Feng. The tea is processed like Mao Feng but with a little tighter wrap, making the tea look almost like sprigs of grass.
















A little closer and one can see the just how the leaves have been wrapped and the hair on the stems. This tea looks like it could almost be a more oxidized tea than a green. It as kept very nicely in our refrigerator this past year but it is most definitely time to drink it up.






















To steep this tea I used the glass tea outfit we bought on our last trip to China. I bought two of these "tea devices" and they work really well. I used boiling water that had sat for about three minutes to get the temperature down.



The color of the liquid is a pale gold and taste magnificent. The tea is sweet from start to finish with no real aftertaste. As with all sweet green teas, it reminded me of the artesian well a couple of miles from where I grew up in north central Oklahoma. Lots of mineral taste, flowery, sweet and very refreshing. This is a much better tea than the Huangshan Ye Tea I tasted yesterday. Believe I will have this tea for the rest of July. Makes a nice morning tea!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Huangshan Ye Cha

We bought this Mt. Huangshan Wild Green Tea in Qimen, Anhui Province when we were searching for the authentic Qimen tea. We have been drinking this tea now for sometime so I thought I would do a tea tasting with it before it was all gone.
















The leaves are shorter and more tightly wrapped than the famous Huangshan Mao Feng. The color tended toward a golden brown with a small amount of stems among the leaves.

















This close up reveals just how brown and golden most of the leaves are. The tea is very much like a tightly wrapped Qimen but not as short and obviously not nearly as fermented.

We bought this Mt. Huangsha Wild Tea in Qimen, Anhui Province when we were searching for the authentic Qimen tea. We have been drinking this tea now for sometime so I thought I would do a tea tasting with it before it was all gone.


















So how is this tea? Since we have been drinking it for some time now, I can say I like it. I did three steepings and each came out almost identical in taste and strength. The first time around was the weakest (not enough time and a bit too hot water)but it was very refreshing and tasted clear with hints of vegetables and spring. The aftertaste was pleasant and long-lasting.

















The liquor is dark yellow to golden brown. Each steeping presented almost identical color in the liquor. The taste is actually a bit stronger than what I expected based on this color. Generally, I drink this tea very light in the morning and do not use boiling water. I let the boiled water stand for about five minutes before I pour it over the leaves. It works great and I end up getting around five steeping with the tea which works out well for a morning tea.

I never drink green tea in the afternoon as it bothers my stomach, forcing me to take Zantac before I go to bed. Oolong tea or Puerh tea is what I drink in the afternoon. Absolutely no problems with the stomach and these teas.

















This is the third time around and I let it steep for about four minutes. Came out as nice and strong as the first two without any serious bitterness. I once read that a good tea will tend not to go bitter quickly, no matter how long one steeps it. Not sure if this is correct. I do have some cheap teas which tend to be bitter the longer one steeps them.
















The nice little green leaves show up well in the tea pot. Looks to be two very small and delicate leaves that have been processed on each stalk. They looked shiny and pale green. The taste matches the color of the leaves, pale and refreshing yet slightly strong in its aftertaste. It starts out refreshing and tastes like unidentifiable vegetables until it is swallowed. The aftertaste continues for several minutes after swallowing.
















Here you can see the leaves a little bit better. They are very uniform and precise. It took a long to pick these leaves. The family who sold us the tea said it came from near the top of the mountain on uncultivated tea plants. Nice sounding sales pitch.

Overall, this tea is a good little green tea, great for drinking at around noon. Been doing it most of 2012 and will do so for a few more months.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

















Clay Tea Pot

A clay tea pot so old, yet picturesque
Sits empty on the corner of my desk

Surrounded by cups in a porcelain bowl
Awaiting the water now in my control

Boiled perfectly to the exact right degree
Ready to be poured on waiting green tea

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Iranian Hand-Picked and Processed Tea

Every Saturday, I meet with former teachers from Assumption University of Thailand. Usually three of us meet with several different teachers dropping by as they have time. I provide all the tea and our afternoons are spent visiting and drinking tea, beer and sometimes Coke.

Last week, Saeed, an American born and raised in Iran, brought some wild tea he had picked from a mountain near his village in Northeast Iran. He had just recently returned from taking care of some family business. This week, I had Saeed bring back his Iranian tea so we could have an official tasting. This is the results of that tasting.



















Saeed told us every year his family picked this wild tea from a mountain nearby and let it dry in the sun for several days. That is all the processing they do to prepare it to drink. The leaves, as one can sea, are new, very delicate and small. The leaves reminded me of the Mengding Gan Lu and other similar teas we saw in Sichuan.





















Another view of the leaves. They were pale green and dried naturally without any rolling or frying. Dick, the other retired teacher from Assumption, and I figured the tea would be sweet, fresh and quite mild based on these leaves.


















A close-up look at a single group of this very green looking Iranian tea.



















Another single tea grouping. Small. Very, very small!


















The smell of the tea was distinctive and a lot stronger than what I had expected. The strange spicy smell one finds in the markets of Central Asia.


















Saeed makes our tea. He uses the Chinese clay pot I purchased in Tunxi, Huangshan area of Anhui Province a couple of years ago. What he does differently than the Chinese is he leaves the steeping pot of tea over the boiling water for several minutes, Iranian style. This insures a strong even steeping. Saeed knows a heck of a lot more about tea than I will ever know. Iranians drink tea, a lot of tea.




















The tea comes out like a Qimen red tea. Very strong looking and beautiful. I was blown away by the apparent lack of fermentation of the leaves and the resulting color. Amazing!



















Tasting the tea was even more mind-blowing. The tea was strong, rich and had a strange but wonderful spicy taste right up front. There was very little aftertaste but strong feelings of tea on both sides of the tongue. This tea was made for milk and/or yoghurt - Iranian style.




















Here Dick enjoys the taste of the tea. This tea is as different from Chinese tea as is coffee. It is strong with a huge caffeine kick right up front. It will open ones eyes in the morning. The taste was definitely tea but with a strange, "I can't quite place it" taste. The closest I could come was the smells from open air spice markets along the Silk Road in Xinjiang Province of China. A mixture of spices and flowers with strong tones of an Indian black tea. Strange, different and wonderful.

I informed Saeed he must return to Iran at the proper time and bring us all a kilo of this Iranian tea.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tea Memories



















Weekly Commune


The green of spring in the new picked tea

Flushes with joy under the shade of the tree

My friends gather round in gladness gleam

As the tea flows endless like a rippling stream

With mingled memories of happiness, I see

The joys of friendship now sheltering me

This meeting occurs each Saturday at noon

We do not stay silent in this weekly commune

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Teas From Our Latest Chinese Adventure

Last month (April) we traveled once again to China and, as always, started and ended our trip at our beloved Emei Mountain.  And, as usual, we were given wonderful green tea from Emei by our many friends in the area.  We have several packages of Zhu Ye Qing green and recently processed Qingming green tea from the mountain as well.

Additionally, I found some unusual tea in Xian, the local Xiyang Mao Jian tea and some Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong Hong Cha from Fujian that the dealer in Xian recommended.  In addition, I had picked up some local Bi Lo Chuan green tea during our stay in LangZhong, Sichuan.  Before we left Chengdu, we also made a visit to the Tea City and got some black tea bricks to take back with us.  For not being a true tea trip, I think we did OK.  Will be tasting these teas as soon as I finish our travel journal for our Travellerspoint travel blog.

Thursday, May 10, 2012




A Celebration

On Emei’s peak on a clear night
I see the rising of the super moon
As I sit and watch the awesome sight
The quiet dusk brings a soft Chinese tune
If this spring weather brings not the rain
I wonder how the green tea can thrive
Watching the moon and thinking of tea again
I celebrate just being here and alive

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Putuoshan Focha (Buddha Green Tea)

I am always on the look out for tea whenever we travel to China. Since this trip to visit all the sacred mountains in China was going to be our last for quite some time, I wanted to be sure and take advantage of it to buy some interesting tea. We were visiting one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains (Putuoshan) when we got this tea.





I talked Sunee into buying a small can of the local (and very famous) Putuoshan Focha (普陀佛茶) or Buddha tea. It was super expensive but I wanted desperately to try it. We bought the tea at a local tourist place that was part of the package tour of Putuoshan so everything was expensive. I did not even see any tea on the island during our tour. So here it is over a month after arriving back home to Bangkok and I am just getting around to drinking it. Guess I was not so desperate after all.

The leaves are a bit curled and light green and gold with fuzzy hairs on most of the golden buds. They reminded me a little of Mengding Gan Lu but not as tightly wound.



















































I used my most expensive tea pot. (Hey, my pots are not really that expensive because I was told early on that tea pots made cheaply from the same clay that is artistically designed produces the same level of tea.)

I allowed the water to cool a bit from my boiling pot before pouring into the waiting small amount of tea leaves. I was only going to taste it so my desperation speech to Sunee would become truth.

This tea is as good as advertised or as good as the ads that I had read from some of the big suppliers on tea on the internet had promised . I liked it, very much.

To be perfectly honest, we sneaked a bit of this tea to try in our hotel in Ningbo after finishing the tour of Putuoshan. Neither of us were impressed. We simply put some in a tea cup, poured the boiling water on top and waited for it to turn color. As I recall, it seemed to be very grassy tasting. I got no grassy taste in this, the official tasting. It was sweet and refreshing and like the Longjing tea I had while we were in China, it reminded me of the sparkling water we used to get from the artisian well not far from where I grew up in Oklahoma. Refreshing, sparkling and sweet. I knew I should have bought more of it!