I’ve been utterly swamped with work this last week and haven’t had five minutes to string together a blog post, sadly. Hopefully I can make up for my silence by posting the year’s first Tea Incursion and coincidentally plugging a local business, Arbor Teas.
Admittedly it was only about six months ago that i wrote the first Arbor Teas Incursion, but I have been quite impressed with the results of that purchase. It would obviously be boring to always buy from the same vendors, and in truth i do have a couple new vendors up my sleeve for the coming months. Unfortunately, i spent too much the last few weeks at Eli and the TeaVana sale, cutting into my online shopping budget (i can’t believe i have one of those >.>). Thankfully Arbor Teas is about as local as it gets and their samples are well-packaged and reasonably priced compared to some vendors (even on Black Friday in order to get my purchases shipped in tin i paid Simpson & Vail ~$33 for 4 organic teas). On top of that, all Arbor Teas shipments are 100% carbon offset. o.0;; Impressive! Additionally, there just aren’t that many vendors retailing Hawaiian tea yet, and after sampling their Hawaii Sweet Roast, i was highly motivated to snatch up the rest of Arbor Tea’s domestic offering.
As opposed to previous Incursions, this time, in keeping with my New Year’s resolution, I thought we could dispense with posting copyrighted images. “But hold the phone…” you say, “Aren’t Arbor Teas sample pouches sealed in some form of decompostable polymer with biodegradable labels?” Ahh. Hmm. Well, yes. How knowledgeable you are; you have me there. In order to see what these loose leaf teas really look like you’ll have to follow the link to corresponding page on Arbor Teas’ site… or wait for my forthcoming review. That being said, I really dislike posting a blog totally devoid of images, so instead I decided to photograph the individual package labels which are almost certainly uncopyrighted and dramatically decrease the resolution to the point where they resemble 1980s school handout dittos. Sometimes in photography instead of beautifully rendered, the goal is rather to create something unpalatable. ;)
Which brings us to the meat of the Incursion. “Enough babbling, what did you get?!”
Sample size: 14 g (~6 cups) – $3
If memory serves i gravitated to this tea based on its ingredients. Osmanthus and safflowers in addition to lychee all inspire a lovely floral note in blends and are hard to screw up. Also, it’s rare to come across a full leaf orthodox Black from two or more regions as those are almost always Cut Tear Curl.
sample size: 2.85 g (~1 cup) – $9
Uber rare domestically grown Green from the Mauna Kea Tea Farm, Big Island, Hawaii. Mauna Kea employs the Masanobu Fukuoka Natural Farming method, a biodynamic-like growing style. Those things right there were enough to sell me on it. I actually don’t want to delve too deeply into Arbor Tea’s description of it, so i (and you) can wait and be surprised. ;)
sample size: 21.25 g (~9 cups) – $4.5
I have long been a fan of Chun Mee, or “precious eyebrows” as it’s translated. Although Arbor Teas doesn’t tell us exactly where it comes from, Chun Mee are typically grown in Jiangxi, Zhejian or Fujian. Actually Chun Mee was one of the very first non-Japanese Green teas I tried many years ago when TeaHaus first opened. I still occasionally buy that one as its available in decaf. This Chun Mee however is Fair Traded, has a tart plum-like fragrance and a faint smokiness. Definitely right up my alley. ;)
sample size: 2.85 g (~1 cup) – $9
Another uber-rare Hawaiian, this tea took 2nd place for Black in TOTUS (Tea of the United States) competition. Despite their similar names, Hawaii Premium Black hails from Onomea Tea Company only 200 feet above sea level, rather than Mauna Kea’s mountain-side growth. Without delving too much into Arbor Tea’s description, Hawaii Premium Black is supposed to be highly fragrant with a caramel note. Definitely worth investigating further.
sample size: 2.85 g (~1 cup) – $2.5
After the two Hawaiians, Snow Buds is probably the tea from this Incursion I’m most excited about. Generally when i encounter the name “Snow Buds” it refers to a Tippy White, but this time it’s more of a catch-all description. Snow Buds does have a goodly amount of downy Tip, but it’s a small leaf with a bit of astringency so it’s more accurate to call it a Green. As with many Tippy Greens, Snow Buds is raised in Fujian.
sample size: 7 g (~3 cups) – $3
Err, wow that name is generic. In the world of tea, that could be almost anything. Both Nilgiri and Kerala are South Indian tea growing regions. And actually Arbor Teas has a tea called Organic Nilgiri Black, so calling this one “South Indian Black” is… odd. However, whereas Nilgiri is known for its Blacks, Kerala is known mainly for its White Oothus. In this case though, Arbor Teas is bringing us a Kerala Black and not from the usual Poabs or Singampatti Estates. South Indian Black instead comes from a Small Farmers Tea Project which functions as a Co-op processing facility among many different independent growers. South Indian Black is suppose to have a medium astringency with tangy sweet-and-sour notes (which is a bit rare but not unheard of for a Black).
sample size: 7 g (~ 3 cups) – $4
For some reason this season Arbor Teas has a few different Lung Chings (better known in the West as Dragonwell) and actually when i went to purchase it, based on my other selections, the site recommended i get their Special Grade Lung Ching instead. I suppose i could have, and it might indeed be a better tea, but i’m not someone who just buys what i’m being advertised. I’ve already sampled their standard grade Lung Ching and it isn’t bad, but this time i wanted something a little different. Emerald Spring Lung Ching is actually an Anhui Da Fang: a feather-like pressed paper-thin Dragonwell with a deep chocolate aroma and notes of aspharagus, snow peas and chest nuts. Yup, that’s the one for me.
sample size: 14 g (~6 cups) – $4.5
I wasn’t thrilled with Arbor Tea’s options for a Darjeeling. At the moment they basically only have Makaibari, a 1st Flush and a 2nd Flush. Now that isn’t to say that Makaibari Estate is a lame tea. Far from it, of the 78 tea gardens in Darjeeling, Makaibari Estate is easily the most recognized Darjeeling in the West. Unfortunately, for the purposes of this blog, despite how good it is, the most popular=least interesting to read about. For this reason, Makaibari was omitted from last summer’s Darjeeling Week 2015. I do like that Makaibari is both an Biodynamic and Fair Trade, but every other tea vendor i come across, including Light of Day Organics, sells a Makaibari Estate tea. As you can imagine, I’m a little bored of it. I decided on Arbor’s 1st Flush Makaibari as it was said to be flowery with and muscatel with a punch astringency. One item of note: I’m not sure why but Arbor Teas’ site states that Makaibari is the oldest Estate in Darjeeling. Actually Steinthal Tea Estate was formed in 1852 and Happy Valley was established in 1854, whereas Makaibari Estate was started in 1859.