Category Archives: Black tea

Black tea: Earl Grey

Earl Grey

Fragrant and special. Do not consume daily.
Black tea* » Indian** » Ceylon teas (Sri Lanka), ★★★

Earl Grey is a Sri Lankan (Ceylon) tea blended with highly-fragrant bergamot oil.

The blending process is crucial to the final taste, and every tea manufacturer will blend their Earl Grey differently. This blend, from T2 in Australia, is particularly pungent.

Unfortunately, bergamot oil is slightly toxic. Studies have shown that it interferes with any medicines you might be taking, and makes your skin blush and sunburn more easily. Check this example from Wikipedia:

In one case study, a patient who consumed four litres of Earl Grey tea per day reported muscle cramps, which were attributed to the function of the bergapten in bergamot oil as a potassium channel blocker. The symptoms subsided upon reducing his consumption of Earl Grey tea to one litre per day.

I thus remove two stars. Drink it only occasionally.

That said, Earl Grey pairs well with either milk (best in winter) or a slice of lemon (very refreshing in summer). It suits traditional, British tea/garden party in summer, and ices well, too!

I’m don’t usually support adulterated tea (see my reviews of Gorgeous Geisha or Ginger Baimudan) but I do like Earl Grey. This is one of few tea-innovations that, taste-wise, the West should be proud of—even if it isn’t good for your health. ★★★

* It’s technically not a Scented Tea because the fragrances have been blended with the leaf and not infused.

** The “Indian” branch of my Tea Types 2012 chart represents teas from the Indian subcontinent (of which Sri Lanka and three Indian regions are all sub-categories). It’s geographically rational, but politically wrong. I do this because tea trees don’t care about politics.

Black tea: Ceylon FBOPFEXSP

Ceylon FBOPFEXSP

Milk chocolate taste with light, smokey notes and a nonsense acronym attached.
Black tea » Indian* » Ceylon teas (Sri Lanka), ★★★★

This tea tastes a little harder than the softer Assam teas, especially the nutty-chocolatey Assam from Nonaipara Estate.

First, you’ll notice a milk chocolatey taste and mouthfeel. It’s pleasant and would handle lemon or milk and sugar very well. Traditional, British tea-drinkers would love this Ceylon.

Second, you’ll feel a very slight smokiness that becomes a little more evident in later brews (as the sweetness wanes). It’s not overpoweringly smokey—it’s not a smoked tea. By comparison, the smokey taste is on a similar level to that of Gunpowder Green (another unsmoked tea).

I have no clue as to what those letters in “Ceylon FBOPFEXSP” stand for. That’s not because I don’t understand the grading nomenclature, but because there is no such acronym for describing a grade of tea. Google the acronym on its own and you’ll be directed to the product page for my local tea store, T2. I’m wondering whether “Ceylon FBOPFEXSP” is just another clever marketing trick by T2. Bless them.

I would definitely buy this tea. ★★★★

* the “Indian” branch of my Tea Types 2012 chart represents teas from the Indian subcontinent (of which Sri Lanka and three Indian regions are all sub-categories). It’s geographically rational, but politically wrong. But tea trees don’t care about politics.

Black tea: Qimen Gongfu

Ning Hong Jing Hao

More refined stimulating breakfast brew that’s still as light as Rooibos.
Black tea » Chinese » Anhui Qimen teas, ★★★★★
Also known as: 祁门功夫茶, Ning Hong Jing Hao, Keemun/Qimen Congou/Gongfu (or any combination).

I’ve been lucky enough to receive not just Qimen Hongcha, which is a great tea, but also this Qimen Congou, which is the finest grade of Qimen available. Qimen Hongcha uses only the smallest, most tender leaves, and the dry leaf has a more powerful aroma than Qimen Hongcha.

Brewed side-by-side, the liquors (tea liquids) look exactly the same (amber or honey-coloured). The aroma of the Qimen Congou, however, is more floral and less woody than the Qimen Hongcha—even though both teas are very similar, and very light. It’s only by comparing these two five-star teas side-by-side that I can acknowledge their subtle differences in taste.

Qimen Congou is a little lighter, has more floral notes and a subtle dark chocolate aftertaste. The sweet aftertaste (回甘) is stronger in this tea than in Qimen Hongcha.

Nomenclature tip:

功夫 = Congou = Gongfu = Kung Fu = anything that’s done particularly well (including martial arts and tea).

Given a choice between the two teas, I’d choose the Qimen Congou every time. But each of these teas is delightful on its own. I recommend buying the Qimen Hongcha or buying both and brewing them simultaneously. Qimen Hongcha and Qimen Congou sell for $11 and $22 in Melbourne, respectively. ★★★★★

Black tea: Qimen Hongcha

Qimen Hongcha

Stimulating breakfast brew that’s as light as a Rooibos tisane.
Black tea » Chinese » Anhui Qimen teas, ★★★★★
Also known as: 祁门红茶, Keemun, 祁红, Qihong.

Qimen Hongcha was the original “English Breakfast Tea” before it became too expensive for the mass market. The British purchased so much of this tea in the 19th century that the price rocketed within a couple of years after they first imported it. Today, Qimen Hongcha tea costs around $10 per 100g—a price that is highly justified.

Qimen Hongcha is delightful to drink. It has light, sweet, floral overtones, but (like Rooibos) lacks undertones completely. This is one of few teas where I can clearly taste the water in the brew! There’s no astringency or bitterness, and even though many tasters note smokiness in the brew, I couldn’t feel any. The subtle fruitiness resembles dark, sugary fruits like figs and sultanas, whose lingering aftertaste develops charmingly on the palate.

Qimen Hongcha makes a great breakfast tea. It awakens you without feeling heavy—in fact, it’s as light on the palate as a Rooibos tisane. Brew it before a day’s work and you’ll feel calm and alert, with a pleasantly sweet, lingering aftertaste that stays until lunch. I love it.

I tend to prefer white, green, and the greener oolong teas, but there are a few more oxidised teas, such as Fenghuang DancongDejoo Estate Assam and this tea, Qimen Hongcha, that even I am in love with. ★★★★★

Black tea: Second Flush Darjeeling

Darjeeling

Like slooooooowly eating a purple grape.
Black tea » Indian » Darjeeling, ★★★★

Look at my Tea Taxonomy diagram and you’ll see that Darjeeling tea is a special colour. I’ve coloured it cyan (representing Oolong tea) despite placing it in the red (Indian Black tea) subcategory. Why did I do that?

Darjeeling is no ordinary black tea. First, unlike most black teas, it’s only partially oxidised, making it technically an oolong tea and not a black tea at all. Second, unlike most other black teas, Darjeeling tea estates cultivate the small-leaved Chinese tea bush (Camellia sinensis var. sinensis or 茶树), rather than the large-leaved Assam tea tree (Carmellia sinensis var. assamica or 古茶树). The result is a unique “muscatel” flavour and an intriguing wet-leaf aroma that earns Darjeeling the title of “the Champagne of all teas”.

What is “muscatel”? If you don’t wash the leaves (as I didn’t), the first brew will taste slightly of grape skin (that’s “muscatel”). This slightly astringent flavour (which I don’t particularly like) is replaced by a grapey sweetness in subsequent brews (which I do like). The second brew is the best (that’s the first brew if you wash the leaf), where notes of grape, rose and peach come out to play.

Second pluck Darjeeling is quite tannin-rich, but tannic muscatel yields to a sweet, lingering grapiness after you’ve finished drinking. Drinking this tea is like slooooooowly eating a purple, seeded grape, where the astringency of the skin disappears but the sweetness inside lingers on the tongue. Wet Darjeeling leaves release an overwhelming aroma of crushed grapes.

This special tea deserves special treatment. My tips for brewing Second Flush Darjeeling: (1) wash the leaves (i.e. discard the first brew); (2) don’t brew it too hot (remember it’s an Oolong tea!) and (3) take breaks between brews to allow the sweet grape flavour to emerge. ★★★★

Learn more about Darjeeling teas from this video:

http://twinings.co.uk/about-our-tea/first-flush-teas/compare-4-darjeeling-teas

Black tea: Nonaipara Estate Assam

Nonaipara Estate Assam

A refreshing, spring afternoon tea that narrowly escaped being trampled by elephants!
Black tea » Indian » Assam, ★★★★

Nonaipara Estate‘s tea is hearty, fruity, malty and higher in tannin than its sister tea from Dejoo Estate. If the chocolatey taste of Dejoo Estate suits a cold winter morning, then the fruitiness of Nonaipara Estate is best consumed on days that feel like spring.

Characteristic of Assam teas, it’s strong but low in tannin, and only very slightly sweet. It’s a pleasant, high-quality Assam tea but lacks any special, memorable characteristics that might be found in other black teas such as Darjeeling (headiness), Lapsang Souchong (smokiness) or Dejoo Estate (Ferrero Rocher chocolatiness).

I’ve never heard of this tea and there’s very little information about the Nonaipara Estate online so I’m assuming that their production volume is quite low. This could be explained by one article in the Assam Tribune, which tells us that the Nonaipara Estate is frequently plagued by rampaging elephants who forage among the tea bushes (crushing them):

The incident created a furore… frequent trail of death and destruction by the marauding pachyderms, especially in northern Udalguri. The Chief Minister [was]… warned of drastic consequences by the aggrieved people. — Assam Tribune

“Frequent trail of death and destruction by the marauding pachyderms”. We’re lucky to be drinking this tea. ★★★★

Black tea: Dejoo Estate Assam

Dejoo Estate Assam

Like a shot of melted Ferrero Rocher chocolate.
Black tea » Indian » Assam, ★★★★★

Wow. Hot chocolate tea!

Today, I was lucky enough to receive three single-estate Assam teas, and I’m tasting two of them side-by-side right now. I brewed identical amounts of each in identical shot-glasses with identical volumes of water. My trustworthy iPod was used as a timing device (two-minute brew; nothing added).

The first of these teas, the Dejoo Estate, tastes so good that I’ve finished it after writing just one paragraph! I can taste cocoa nibs and hints of berries in my mouth, and my tongue thinks it can feel the roughness of broken hazelnuts. This tea feels like a shot of melted Ferrero Rocher chocolate. I feel very warmed!

Dejoo Estate is regarded as one of the best in the Assam region. The perfect terroir produces a tea that’s strong without being bitter, and fruity-chocolatey without being woody or astringent. I suggest brewing this tea lightly because it’s quite strong; but you could also get away with a medium-strength brew without bringing out any tannins.

I love single-estate teas because we can find subtle differences in flavour between them. Tea-tasting trains our senses to appreciate subtle beauty in all things around us.

While I drink all my teas naked (by that, I mean without milk or sugar), I’d forgive anyone who wanted to add milk—and thus produce a “milky hot chocolate” out of this tea. Drink Dejoo in winter to feel happy and warm. Let its chocolatey taste surprise and intrigue your guests. ★★★★★

Black tea: (Masala) Chai

Masala Chai

Numbing, calming and medicinal. It’s a remedial tincture, not a tea.
Black tea » Indian » Assam, ★

This is my first time drinking “chai”. Again, I’ve abstained because the nomenclature (“chai”) is so wrong. In most Eurasian languages, “chai” (or a variation on the word) simply means “tea”, so defining “chai” as a drink that contains cinnamon, cloves, cardamon, peppercorns, star anise and milk has long perplexed me. My insistence on correct nomenclature was humiliating when I met people who knew little or nothing about tea (but drank it anyway): “Call yourself an expert? But you don’t know what ‘chai’ is? Everyone knows what chai is!”

So what is “chai”?

Here’s the answer: “chai” is a shortened form of “चाय मसाला”, or “masala chai”, which means “spiced tea” in Hindi. In English, it’s been shortened to “chai” (or, worse, the tautological “chai tea”).

  • Tea = chai (Hindi), chay (Persian), cha (Chinese)
  • Milk = latte (Italian)
  • Spiced = masala (Hindi)

I would allow “Masala Chai”, or “Indian Masala Chai”, but not “Chai” (as my tea merchant called it) when labelling this drink.

The aroma alone of Masala Chai gives me a very warming feeling. The first taste I notice is that of cloves, which tingle the tip of my tongue and then numb it. Sexy. The star anise makes me feel wholesome and warm, and the peppercorns and cardamon feel like they could cure colds and flu (if I had one). As the tea cools, a minty flavour emerges, and the tea resembles that served in Xinjiang restaurants. I’ve long been looking for that tea!

As a fan of Chinese cooking, I look at the tea and think, “this is a perfect marinade for pork belly!” In fact, the Masala in this Masala Chai is almost identical to the spice mix used in Chairman Mao’s signature dish, 红烧肉 (red-braised pork). By coincidence, the spices are also the same as Mulled Wine Spices, which can be purchased from most supermarkets for a fraction of the price of this tea. (Mix them with any Assam tea and you’ve made your own Masala Chai. Simple.)

I drank it without milk, and brewed it much lighter than most other Caucasian people would. I give Masala Chai three stars because while I would never buy it, I would gladly accept it if it were offered by somebody else. ★★