Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Sencha Sakura

Sencha Sakura

Welcome to readers from Finland and Liberia

Fortune Cookie


Who would then deny that when I am sipping tea in my tearoom I am swallowing the whole universe with it and that this very moment of my lifting the bowl to my lips is eternity itself transcending time and space? ~ D.T. Suzuki

Sencha Sakura

Sakura is the ubiquitous flowering cherry tree planted in Japanese parks, along streets and within commons and yards. During late March through May, Sakura blooms across Japan. The Hanami festival celebrates the coming of the spring season and is the time to take a stroll and view the blooming cherry trees. The cherry blossom symbolises feminine beauty, the feminine principle and love in the language of herbs. Cherry blossoms, with their short blooming times, are believed to represent the transient nature of life.

Sencha is a high quality green tea grown in Japan. It is steamed briefly and rolled, shaped and dried into the distinctive thin cylinder shapes. Since it is not roasted like Chinese green teas this tea has a more vegetal, almost grass-like taste and aroma.

There is a pure form of cherry tea that involves only cherry blossom and no green tea leaves. In this tea, Sakuraya, the petals are actually pickled in plum vinegar and salt and the product subsequently dried. 

Green tea was first brought to Japan by Myoan Eisai, a Buddhist priest who developed the 
Rinzai Zen school from the Chinese form of Buddhism.

Japan grows other kinds of tea and produces roasted tea but the country is best known for its green tea. The best Japanese green is said to be that from the Yame region of Fukuoka and the Uji region of Kyoto. The so-called Uji area has been producing Ujicha (Uji tea) for four hundred years and predates the prefectural system. Uji is now a combination of the border regions of Shiga, Nara, Kyoto and Mie prefectures. Soraku district in Kyoto is one of the many tea-producing districts. Shizuoka prefecture is the most productive producing fully 40% of Japan’s raw tea leaves.

Sencha sakura is quite a beautiful tea. To the eye and on the palate. The flavour is naturally sweet and extremely calming and quite deeply pleasurable. Purists baulk at the notion of tea with any flavouring but I do not have any problem drinking this tea. The aroma is wonderful and soothing. The strength is there and the quality of flavour of the leaves still strident beneath the subtle sweetness and delicate fragrance.

Sencha has a distinctive cylindrical or needle like appearance which is a result of the drying and rolling process used in the production of sencha tea.

A tea field in the Kyoto region

For an in-depth view of Japanese green tea and its cultivars visit Ricardo Caicedo's site below:

If you like travel see Singing Birds sister site GuerillaZ below.

Today I use a glass teapot modelled on the Chinese style. Now I can see the tea colour at all times including the short period of initial steeping. The tea requires only 1 - 2 minutes to steep. Ensure the water is around 80 degrees fahrenheit. The leaves can be used for another wash but with less water and a less distinct flavour. 

An historic image of the tea ceremony in Japan.

I think 2014 will be the year of the tea ceremony for me; I plan to partake in Vietnam, China, in Japan and with some persistence Seoul, South Korea and Pyongyang, North Korea.

Happy tea drinking! 


Monday, 9 December 2013

Char from The Nilgiris

Welcome to readers from Mexico

Welcome to readers from Brunei - helo and sama

The Nilgiris

Fortune Cookie


If a man is impulsive, back away slowly.

Map of the Indian Tea Regions

The Nilgiri region is partly in Kerala and partly Tamil Nadu. That is, in the south of India. It is the most beautiful part of India in my view though of course there's a discussion to be had there.

Palms at Samudra beach, Kerala

I stayed here for four months. The rest of India just isn't quite the same. It's easy to see why the Indians call Kerala "Gods Country".

The badge of Nilgiri tea products

If you like travel see Singing Bird's sister site GuerillaZ below.

Nilgiri tea can be a thing of some considerable distinction. The pot of tea served up at the Old Courtyard Hotel in Fort Kochi is an example of that distinction. This was a smooth cup of tea taken English style with milk and sugar. It was a loose tea called "Korahkundah" shipped from the mainland.

Korakundah Loose Tea

Elephants Break into a Nilgiri tea plantation

Elephants are not popular with many people. They are considered more dangerous than tigers. When they trumpet everyone runs for cover. There's nothing like that experience. Several tons of angry elephant is something special to behold. The power resonating from the beast is palpable.


The first Nilgiri tea I tried, back in 2009, came from a tea factory that shall remain nameless. I steeped it but metaphorically these elephants had trampled it into the red Keralan dust. That tea remains, to this day, the least palatable I have ever tasted. An unfortunate experience. I have never discovered quite how they could have made it taste like that. I have wondered if it was tea at all. Even the cheapest tea bags are better. In the past Nilgiri tea has suffered from a poor reputation associated with it's erstwhile reliance on sales to the former USSR. Soviet buyers had little regard for quality. It was a freakish experience. That was in 2009.

Drinking tea to the sound of classical Indian music in the Old Courtyard Hotel.

It sounds something like this:

The tea is driven down the mountains of the western Ghats where Nilgiri tea is grown and out to the port of Ernakulam-Kochi or shipped up the coast to Mumbai and then Delhi.

This tea was entirely different. Often consumed with milk or lemon this black tea was of another calibre.

My mother sheltering in The Old Courtyard Hotel, Fort Cochin

While in Fort Cochin, a ridiculously pretty island off the coast, the hotelier at The Old Courtyard served up the Korakundah tea. To buy our own we had to get a ferry and a bus to reach the tea shop in the Jewish quarter on the mainland. If you've been to Ernakulam you know how desperately hot an experience that is. Sunblind streets mixed with heavy traffic and wild rickshaw drivers. An hour and ten minute journey to the shop (2 miles). The tea was excellent. Smooth. Bracing. Enough to make birdsong sound sweeter.

In November 2006 a Nilgiri tea achieved "Top Honours" and fetched a world record price of $600 per kg. This was at the first ever tea auction held in Las Vegas. A machine-sorted, lower-cost variety of high quality tea is a semi-full leaf variety known as Broken Orange Pekoe.

Cheerio for now

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Lotus Tea, Saigon

I am using this opportunity to celebrate the publishing of my latest short story I am the North Pole. After writing and then editing a story, usually seven times, sometimes more. A kind, soothing cup of tea is required.

Welcome to readers from Poland, Mauritius, Bosnia-Hertzegovina, Finland and Ireland

Fortune Cookie


Stop trying to control...let go of all desire for the common good, and the good becomes common as grass.
~ Lao Tzu

Lotus Tea (Tra Sen)

 Recently I have been drinking Bac Thai from the northern region of Vietnam. Bought in Hanoi this lemon yellow tea I quite like but there is a slightly bitter aftertaste which might put some tea drinkers with delicate palettes off. This is a black tea that interestingly comes out green or rather, yellow.

Lotus tea is a different colour and very gentle on the tastebuds. Before steeping it gives off a gentle aroma that is quite rich and deep. That will be the lotus leaf.

The tea is wrapped in the leaf prior to packing for market. I have been around a multitude of lotus leaves recently but didn't notice their fragrance.

Lotus tea (tra sen)

Lotus tea emanates from, amongst other sources the provinces of southern Viet Nam. It is a fresh fertile region constituted largely of highland areas between 800 and 1500 metres in altitude. The soil type and favourable climate make large-scale tea growing possible including some high quality Oolong teas.

Tea fields in the Highlands of southern Vietnam.

If you like travel see Singing Birds sister site GuerillaZ below.

During the colonial era French horticulturalists began developing the tea plant in these regions.  

Heating the pot by pouring very hot water into a china dish. The tea pot is post-war Polish and passed down from my grandmother.

Golden tea

The tea table I bought in Kunming Tea Market in north Kunming, Yunnan province, China

I use glasses to drink tea because I like to hold the tea up to the light to see the colour clearly. Tra Sen, as you can see, is an autumn gold colour and very subtle with a light peach flavour. Lotus tea is a digestive drink that increases wellbeing and creates a predilection for non-fatty foods. 

Happy tea drinking! 


Friday, 15 November 2013

The Price of Tea in China


A warm welcome to the first readers from:

Many people seem to be enjoying this post.

Thanks so much everybody for reading;

there is a post on my visit to the Nilgiri tea area in Kerala, India coming soon.

Fortune Cookie

为了 生计, 你 会 得到 什么. 你 的 生活 由 你 给 什么.

You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.

Kunming 昆明

When the fisheye of water
Bubble into crab-eyes -

I was lucky enough to visit Kunming Recently. A wide modern city of over 3.3 million people it still ranks as only the 29th large largest city in China.

Before I write about the tea experience I'll quickly relate how the city appeared to me.

Centrally; high rise, modern, growing at a rate faster than Beijing.

The city  has many things to recommend it. The beautiful park at its center. Dian Chi lake to the south fringed with kinds of trees I had never seen before. Random bursts of red and fuchsia bougainvillea at roadside. The delicious tangmian from local cafes. Xi Shan mountain temple.

The view from Xi Shan

I went to Kunming for the tea and the food. I went because, in the end, I am insatiably curious.

And I found the Yunnanese really quite shy and very respectful.

The tea shop at the center of Luolong Park was where I visited tea nirvana. No one spoke English in the cafe so I just pointed my foreign head inside and started talking. They went outside and fetched a woman who did not speak English either. After a charade or two demonstrating my desire for tea. I seated myself at table by the lake and watched families drink tea.
The park, a lake with joining strips of land in the center. Local people soaking up the sun and dancing in costume to small, whole orchestras. No western people anywhere, except me.

Everyone carries green tea in transparent flasks around like we do bottled water in the west. Then they brought my tea.

What they left me had me scratching my head. First a little more about Kunming.

When I first arrived it was from the 46 degree heat of Calcutta. Central Kunming has been recently redesigned with the help of Swiss architects. The spring temperatures and European cleanliness made it heaven after India. After contracting dysentery in Bihar state.. Kunming a welcome terrain even if the biggest culture shock I have ever experienced.

Amongst other things Kunming has an incredible tea market. I cycled 10 km across the city in very high temperatures to visit it. It was an extraordinary collection of purpose-built emporiums. Every Chinese tea available from Big Red Robe, Iron Goddess and Qimen congou to Ripe Puerh, White Peony and Bi Luo Chun. There was hardly anyone there. Store owners can speak English. A cake of puerh was 3 yuan say 30 pence or 45 cents. I bought a wooden tea table and a cake of puerh. Then cycled the 10 km back to the center of town. I brewed up wonderful Chun Mee, something I was carrying with me in my suitcase.

Anyway back at the park cafe they brought me a pot with no handle and no spout. Inside was a red colored tea. On the paving next to my table a steel flask that must have held three liters of very hot water. The woman came back to show me how to lift the lid and sip from the tiny teapot. And then fill up from the flask. The tea was divine. A pink, perfumed tea of ​​unknown origin - probably rose congou. It was the best tea I've ever tasted. Amongst Chinese families sitting there drinking tea, by the lake at the centre of the park.

Take a look at Steven Shelton's tea writings. He is excellent on Kunming's tea business.

http://finetea focus.blogspot.com / 2 013/06/about-kunming-tea-factory-part-of-cnnp.html

Outside the Kunming tea market.


Delivery day

Tea shop

Glorious tea!

If you like travel see Singing Birds sister website GuerillaZ below.

Tea making inside one of the market shops

Kunming Tea making

Puerh tea

Zaijian, as they say in China.

Happy tea drinking!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Darjeeling Days

Welcome to readers from Bangladesh.

Darjeeling Days

Fortune Cookie


Darjeeling and its teas

Darjeeling is famous for several things. It's World Heritage railway line, the views of Kanchenjunga mountain (even though it appears once every two weeks) , the British colonial old town and most importantly, its teas. Before a few words about the famous teas something about the town.

Darjeeling has its own television station. Mostly it covers Ghorkha political rallies and speeches. There was much unrest here in the 1990s. Many properties were burnt or smashed as the ethnic Ghurkas fought for independence. It was not, is not, forthcoming. Businesses now write 'Ghorkhaland' on their shopfronts to avoid similar attacks.

On a personal note I got a fire too going when I was there. It was just so cold in March a quarter of the way up the Himalayas. I didn't ever think I would sit over a coal fire in India.

Darjeeling sits at over 2100 metres and even in mid-March it was very cold. Deeply so. Numbing like the Alps but this was spring. It was an incredible shock after the heat of the plains and of course I caught a hideous cold. Time for warming cups of tea then.


Traditionally, Darjeeling teas are classified as a type of black tea. However, the modern Darjeeling style employs a hard wither (35-40% remaining leaf weight after withering), which in turn causes an incomplete oxidation for many of the best teas of this designation, which technically makes them a form of oolong. They certainly present as an Oolong in their light, golden colour. Many Darjeeling teas also appear to be a blend of teas oxidised from the green leaf to oolong, and black teas.
  • First flush tea is harvested in mid-March following the spring rains, and has a gentle, very light colour, aroma, and mild astringency.
  • In between tea is harvested between the two "flush" periods.
  • Second flush is harvested in June and produces an amber, full bodied, muscatel-flavored cup.
  • Monsoon or rains tea is harvested in the monsoon (or rainy season) between second flush and autumnal, is less withered, consequently more oxidized, and usually sold at lower prices. It is rarely exported, and often used in masala chai.
  • Autumnal flush is harvested in the autumn after the rainy season, and has somewhat less delicate flavour and less spicy tones, but fuller body and darker colour.

Happy Valley Darjeeling tea: organic (100g) retails at £30/$45 at Harrods in London.

Its a very nice tea no question. As I write this I taste a hint of peach in the tea. It is so smooth that milk and sugar would destroy its subtlety. Its aroma is faint, fruity and smooth. It carries it's own sweetness sans milk or sugar and wakes me up again to the drink. I don't drink this golden, brown tea very often but it is instructive wonderful when I do.

In Darjeeling town you can drink many different variations on a theme at Nathmull Tea shop on Laden La Road.


Image result for happy valley tea estate darjeeling

Established in 1854. Happy Valley is the oldest tea plantation in Darjeeling. Being perhaps 100 metres lower than the town this tea garden sits at an elevation of around 2000 metres. This is a high mountain tea. There are tea terraces even higher on ridges around the town. Happy Valley's proximity to Chowrasta and the key municipal buildings of the town has probably helped it thrive.

By mid-March they still hadn't started picking and rightly so. There was very little growth on the bushes. The tea bushes were just over knee high and carefully trimmed. Inside, the factory appeared low-tech and the product on offer incredibly cheap at $4.50 for 100g of premium tea destined for London's west-end department stores.  

Photos 014

This tea is grown in the shadow of the Himalayas and most notably Kanchenjunga mountain. After two weeks of mist and cloud she finally presented herself. Her height 8591 metres. The third highest mountain in the world. The photo below is taken from fully 50 miles away. All the ridges appear on a day like this, Singalila, Tiger Hill and other mountains Kabru and Jannu. No sign of Everest. She is deep in a range and hard to pick out.

Kanchenjunga with rhododendrons

If you like travel visit GuerillaZ's sister site Singing Bird's sister site on the link below:--

Darjeeling looks like Tibet. The atmosphere here is so very different from the plains of India. As if I am already in China. Buddism is the dominant religion. There are stupas, gompas, prayer flags everywhere. People walk with prayer beads, gently meditating. Tibetan and Chinese food dominates the menus.

Big five-peaked snow fortress
What Kanchenjunga means. Everest is only 250 metres higher. It is possible to filch a glimpse of Everest from near here. But I’m not sure I wish to rise at 3.30 am to get the jeep to the viewing point 12 miles south. Everest or not. So here she is. With a rainbow over her summit.

With my tea-drinking mother at the Darjeeling Light Railway

Happy Tea Drinking!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Tea in Viet Nam

I would like to welcome the first readers from Japan, Colombia, Spain and Lithuania to Singing Bird  

Tea in Vietnam

Fortune Cookie:


The light is everyone. It is existent in all. As if the whole earth is a single mass of fire.

After producing mostly low-grade teas for many years, some producers are now making quality teas.

There are competing views about the quality and strength of teas from Vietnam. The green tea with lotus flowers (tra sen) tea I have been drinking for the last few weeks is really quite beautiful. It is fragrant and if held up to the light (I drink from a glass) is the most gorgeous light golden colour. Add in the fragrance of the lotus. Light. Extremely good for the body. In short a beautiful tea.

Types of Vietnamese Tea

Tra Sen – green lotus tea

Bac Thai – lemony yellow green tea

Trà Lài – Jasmine tea

Trà Mạn – plain black tea

Shan Tuyet teas from are harvested from very old trees. More about this black tea in a future post.

Preparing lotus tea for flavouring

Vietnamese tea culture.

Che Tuoi – Fresh Tea
This tea is traditionally made by plucking fresh leaves from a tea tree and putting them in a terracotta bowl with hot water. This is how the first tea was drunk.

Viet tea ceremony

Tea terrace in North Vietnam

A sip of the Lotus tea is genuinely life-affirming.

Tra Sen Lotus Tea

If you like travel see Singing Bird's sister site GuerillaZ below.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

A Nice Cup of English Tea

A warm welcome to the first Swiss, Finnish and Jersey readers of Singing Bird Tea

Let's have a cup of tea: real tea drinking in England

Fortune Cookie: wisdom for cooling the flames


Whenever anger comes up, take out a mirror and look at yourself.

When you are angry, you are not very beautiful.

In the UK we drink twice as much tea as coffee. It is no longer the exotic habit of 300 years ago nor the high class one of 150 years ago. Tea is for everyone. Only a tiny minority of 3% drink tea without milk.
In England tea comes in a pot or a mug and sometimes a china cup. Drinking tea that isn't black is often treated with suspicion by mainstream consumers of tea. The sign of someone you will struggle to understand. Despite the exhausting range of teas available few stray away from teabags filled with blended tea dust.
Assam, English Breakfast and Darjeeling are teas we turn to if teabags just aren't enough. Darjeeling first flushes can be very expensive as I found whilst visiting the hillstation in March. A tiny quantity, 25 grams, cost $10 and that wasn't even a first flush. It is subtle tea but no one uses milk in that region, foothills of the Himalayas. No real grazing land for milk cattle at that altitude.

Gold label tea was light and subtle for breakfast. Most of the tea we drank came from India. The jewel in our colonial crown. Britain colonised Dorje-Ling (Darjeeling) way back in 1828.

One of the Darjeeling Tea estates

A simple mug of tea.

 Tea can be used to generate acts of kindness.

See the London art installation below:


When an event of even the mildest magnitude arises it is customary to have a cup of tea to soften its impact.

Although we drink almost exclusively black teas with milk ...

England does offer some nice other teas and they need to be good to stand up to the milk we drop into them. A favourite is Earl Grey tea. Earl Grey has a distinctive flavour and aroma derived from the addition of oil extracted from the rind of the bergamot orange, a fragrant citrus fruit that grows in the winter in southern Italy. There is also a drink called 'The London Fog' which is Earl Grey tea with steamed milk and vanilla syrup. That's very rich and moreish. Great before and after exercise I think. 

Earl Grey Blue Lady with cornflowers and vanilla

There are also a few new English Teas to try.

Cornish Manuka Tea
Tregothnan Earl Grey
Olive Leaf Tea

Important English Phrases related to tea

                                         Builders - basic black tea (for builders)
                                         Char       - one of several a names for tea in England
                                         Cuppa     - one cup of tea

An English Builder

An English Tea Rooms

Some would say such tea rooms give tea a bad name.

Rock n roll rebels are not usually found in such rooms.

See the following film extract to understand the point of view some hold in England. Set in an English Tea Room

From the film Withnail and I


This is not meant to represent all old people.

Let England Shake! by PJ Harvey