When we attend professional tea tastings, there is a great number of teas to assess. It can range from three or four to several dozen. Sometimes the teas we taste are all quite similar, like here in Colombo (Sri Lanka). They come from the same area, and you go from one to another, comparing them in turn. First you smell the various infused leaves, then you examine each liquor. In the trade jargon, we call the infused leaf an “infusion”, and the contents of the cup, the “liquor”. (To know more about it: see the article To choose tea, you need to have a good nose).
The dry tea leaf is also presented so that you can look at it, feel and touch it, and get a complete picture of the particular batch you are tasting.
In Japan, people sometimes eat green tea leaves. In that case, it’s usually exceptional teas whose leaves have been previously used to prepare tea.
You can see how it is prepaped on the picture: after dropping the wet tea leaves into a container, you add skipjack chips and sprinkle a little bit of soy sauce over the top. It gives you a small tea leaves salad that’s absolutely delicious.
Here, in Asahina (Shizuoka prefecture, Japan), the tea used is a great “Kabuse Cha” or “shade tea” manufactured by Mister Maeshima Tohei, one of the most well-known farmers of the area.
When you taste tea, you first start by smelling it. This is a very important stage in the tasting process. You look at the infused leaves, inhale them and by doing so you already get lots of information on the tea. You could for example easily detect problems such as an over-drying, an overly long oxidization process if it’s black tea, or inappropriate fermentation. But of course it also allows you to identify the qualities of the tea and the different scents you could find again in the cup in more or less similar ways.
It’s only after smelling the infused leaves (what is called “infusion” in the trade) that we actually taste the liquor itself.
Here, in Badamtam (Darjeeling), Binod Gurung has his eyes closed. His nose is plunged in the damp, warm leaves. He inhales, analyses, all in a state of complete concentration.
Vendredi dernier, j’ai passé la journée dans ma salle de dégustation. Mais dans cette pièce d’habitude fraîche il faisait si chaud qu’après avoir dégusté un grand nombre de Darjeeling 2nd flush j’ai eu envie d’un thé froid. Je m’en suis préparé deux différents, car j’aime bien faire des comparaisons : un Thé des Songes ainsi qu’un Thé des Sables.
La recette du thé glacé est simplissime : vous mettez 15 grammes de thé à infuser dans un litre d’eau pendant 30 minutes, puis vous passez le thé à l’aide d’un passe-thé ou bien d’un filtre et c’est prêt ! Après cela, libre à vous de mettre la carafe ou la bouteille au réfrigérateur, si vous voulez un thé glacé plutôt qu’un thé froid. Au moment de servir, et comme suggestion d’accompagnement, quelques glaçons avec des fruits d’été pris dans la glace (myrtilles, framboises, groseilles) : c’est joli et gourmand.
Pour vous aider dans le choix des thés qui sont délicieux consommés froid, voici quelques uns de mes favoris : Bancha Hojicha, Grand Jasmin Chung Feng, Genmaïcha, Tie Guan Yin, Thé des Sables, Thé des Enfants, Thé du Hammam, Thé des Songes Blancs, ainsi que la plupart des thés parfumés à base d’agrumes ou de fruits rouges…
Bonne dégustation !
P.S. : sur la photo, juste derrière la carafe de Thé des Songes, l’un des petits théiers que l’on m’a offert au Japon en avril dernier. J’en prends grand soin et il me le rend bien : il a déjà doublé de taille !
During my recent journey to Japan which led me to the north of Honshu at the extreme south of Kyushu, I visited for the first time a lovely city deeply nestled among mountains covered with woods. This city is Kakunodate, located nearby Akita (I’m giving details for the people, like me, who enjoy poking their nose on a map and dream while pointing their finger on imaginary roads).
In Kakunodate the tradition of wood work is still carried on. But not any wood ! Here they are only interested in cherry tree. Objects are carved in its bark, or, in other words, this beautiful bark is turned into a smooth and delicate leaf just like a precious parchment and is then pinned against the desired object: a tea canister for example.
It is a very slow and meticulous work: once the wet season is over, a sample of bark is taken (approximately ten meters above the ground) and is then left to dry for no less than a year ! This leaves enough time to carefully think about its destiny…
With the help of a small flat-iron, this worker smoothly presses against the bark, after having coasted its back so that it perfectly sticks to the tea canister’s body. Of course, before that, she slowly polished the bark with great care, using the blade of a knife in a repetitive movement so as to make it surprisingly soft.
I’m admiringly watching her, in the silence surrounding her workshop. Once the tea canister is finished, she strokes it and holds it out to me with a discreet pride and I’m thinking about the beautiful Japanese green tea which will be a perfect case for it.