I am making a wishlist of teas to try this year. Next to books—or rather, along with a book—it’s the easiest escape I can think of. And there are so many choices, so many teas that I expect to have a bit of an adventure with, and hope there are a few here that pique your curiosity too.
When green tea arrived in India, many that were made and sold here were bitter, but people took to them because they were marketed as a healthy drink. In these past years, I have given in and tried these teas. To my happy surprise, many have been simply delicious. I am leaning towards steamed Japanese greens this year, seeing how quickly and eagerly I am going through a gift of the exquisite dark green Japanese gyokuro. On some days, I catch myself desiring its umami flavours and the aroma of the cooked greens. I am eager to sample more spring green tea from Japan, although it’s not too easy to source.
Also from Japan are black teas that are emerging as a force to reckon with. About half a century ago, Japan’s black teas were famous but they lost out to South Asian black as the tea industry that developed in India and Sri Lanka could sustain large-scale production. There’s been a resurgence in black tea or wakocha production in Japan in the last two decades. The terroir in Japan and the choice of tea varietals have resulted in a range of spectacular black teas that are said to be milder and less astringent than their South Asian counterparts.
A couple of years ago, I began exploring oolongs. I savoured every last bit of the Duckshit Snowflake from Seattle-based Serene Tea—it one of the most aromatic teas I have had. This year, I am seeking the spring Tie Guan Yin or the Iron Goddess of Mercy from Anxi in Fujian province—it’s a tea prized for its craftsmanship because a good oolong not only depends on the cultivar and terroir but quite considerably on the tea maker.
There’s one name I have been seeing show up on tea groups—tea stuffed in tangerine. It seems to be a popular vehicle to age pu-erh and white tea, in Chinese tea-making tradition. The pulp is removed and the tea is stuffed in the hollow and aged. Known as Chen-pi, it’s thought to add more benefits to the property of the tea but I am intrigued by the flavour notes. And if you are wondering, both tea and the citrus peel are steeped together. Another stuffed tea offered by the website Yunnan Sourcing is a Tie Guan Yin stuffed in roasted bitter gourd, that is said to have sweet—not bitter—notes.
I am also looking eastwards, at Indochina, home to some ancient tea trees thanks to its proximity to Yunnan, considered the birthplace of tea. And of course, within India, I am looking forward to more green and oolong this time, two teas that have been getting better by the year.
For Chinese tea, try Yunnan Sourcing (yunnansourcing.com), Serene Tea (serenetea-cha.com) and MyTeaPal (myteapal.com), and Kettl (kettl.co) for Japanese teas.
Tea Nanny is a fortnightly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry. She posts @AravindaAnanth1 on Twitter.