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 / 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!