Wednesday, March 21, 2007

In Pursuit of Tea - First Flush

Back around Christmas, Moocow gave me some Gyokuro (a type of Japanese green tea) and first flush Darjeeling from In Pursuit of Tea as a present. I had never tried their teas before, but I love Darjeeling. The Gyokuro was lovely; green, grassy and sweet, with a rounded finish. I didn't open the Darjeeling until Moocow and my parents came to visit, two weeks ago. I have to say, Moocow and I were very disappointed. It is hard to describe Darjeeling to someone who hasn't had it before. At least, it is difficult for me, one who enjoys tea but is by no means a connoisseur, and who therefore lacks all the fancy jargon.

However, Darjeeling - whether first flush (leaves picked in the early spring) or second flush (picked in early summer) - is usually very lively and distinctive, with the perfect amount of astringency and a heady, muscatel aroma. The first time I tried a good, loose leaf first flush Darjeeling, I remember thinking, "This is why they call it the champagne of teas." One could almost become intoxicated by the taste and aroma.

So, Moocow suggested I contact In Pursuit of Tea, which I did. A very nice gentleman named Sebastien returned my call after a day or two (I'd left a message) and listened to my concerns. I admitted that I hadn't opened the tea right away, and first flushes don't keep as long. But it had been sealed in its original packaging. And I had enjoyed the Gyokuro.

He said that it could be that I didn't like their particular first flush (a possibility), and said that he would send me another 1/4-pound bag of their Darjeeling Second Flush, as well as a small, sample pack of the Darjeeling First Flush, which I promised to open and drink the moment I got it.

I received the package yesterday, before I had to go to my evening class. However, I made good my promise the moment I got home. There, on the left, you see the newly arrived teas (the little, silver pouch is a new sample of the Darjeeling First Flush) and, on the right, the previously opened bag of Darjeeling First Flush. The first thing I did was to smell the teas, comparing the previous bag of first flush to the new bag. To me, the old bag smelled stronger and more astringent, although that could just be because the bag contained more tea.
Then, I compared the tea leaves. I'm fairly certain it isn't a result of the lighting, since I looked at the actual leaves, but you might notice that the newer first flush leaves look a little darker than the older ones (on the left).

Then it was on to a taste test. I didn't feel a great need to try the old batch of first flush again; it had hardly had any flavour or aroma to distinguish itself. I used filtered water, heated to just below boiling point, and steeped the tea leaves for almost 3 minutes. I love to watch the leaves unfurl!

Below, you can see the lovely, light, golden honey colour of the liquor. The tea produced was very mild. Not as flat as the older leaves, but not what I could call lively, and still without a discernible bouquet.
First flush teas are, I believe, normally more delicate in flavour and aroma than second flush. I thought, perhaps, the second flush would be an improvement on the first flush. I tried the Darjeeling Second Flush this morning. Unfortunately, I could not recommend that tea, either. I will try with both teas once more, giving them a little longer steeping time (although I don't want to oversteep) and hoping for a slightly better taste.

At the moment, though, I can only recommend In Pursuit of Tea for their Gyokuro and their customer service. They may have other nice teas, too, but I fear that their Darjeelings are not for me.


greeeenwithenv said...

Hmm, to bad the Darjeeling didn't work out for you, but it was very nice of the company of convince you with a free, fresh sample. I'm inspired to get myself a clear glass tea pot like you, so that I, too, can enjoy watching the leaves unfurl! Do you know where I can get one?

Lana said...

You can try or
I especially like the glass teapots for herbal tisanes, or infusions with flowers in them. The glass teapots don't retain heat as well as ceramic ones, though, so I have both.