2009 Pre-Qing Ming Yellow Teas are here !

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Last but certainly not least, our yellow teas have just arrived from China. Yellow teas are very few in number these days but they remain very important in the Chinese repertoire of classic teas. Yellow tea is most easily described as a variation of green tea, but this suggests that the methodology for making it came after the perfection of green tea making skills. I have a hunch that yellow teas were made before green teas were classified as such, but this is just based on my own thoughts and musings about tea-making history in China.

Anyway, those of you who have never tried a yellow tea ( and those who will admit that you have never even heard of one before now ) are in for a treat. Pre-Qing Ming yellow teas are not readily available in the USA and certainly not when they are this fresh.

Yellow tea differs from green tea by the addition of an extra step in the processing. During leaf manufacture ( which begins with de-enzyming and shaping ) the fresh leaves are steamed very slightly and then allowed to rest. But, as nothing is ever really as easy as it may seem in the complicated world of Chinese tea manufacture, the steaming step is where the genius of the tea maker comes into play.

For example, details such as: how long to steam the tea leaves, how many times to steam or for how many days, how much rest to give the tea in between each steaming, how to wrap or cover the steamed leaves while they rest, will all affect the final flavor of the tea. The tea master decides the answers to these questions and it is only after he sees the fresh leaf and judges its quality and essence that he can determine how he will execute the ‘yellowing step’.

Because of this yellowing step, yellow teas are very smooth and fine flavored. Yellow teas are always made from an early spring plucking of budsets ( buds and one or two leaves ) the crème de la crème of spring teas. They were once made only as Tribute Teas, reserved for the Emperor’s exclusive enjoyment.

 2009 Pre-Qing Ming Mengding Mountain Snow Buds   2009 Pre-Qing Ming Mengding Mountain Snow Buds

2009 Pre-Qing Ming Mengding Mountain Snow Buds

This mountain on the Tibetan Plateau in NW Sichuan Province is likely the birthplace of cultivated tea. Mengding Mountain is northwest of Mt Emei, one of the four sacred mountains in Chinese Buddhism. Mengding Mountain Snow Buds are a springtime phenomenon: they are big, fat, first-of-the-season juicy buds that are brimming with the vigor of tea bushes that are beginning their growth cycle. Tea pluckers gather these buds in small silk bags, rather than the more common ( and large ) tea plucking baskets. Two people picking in this manner for one full day will gather only one kilo of fresh buds.

This is a very elegant tea with a slightly toasty taste: it needs several steepings to really show off its deep-rooted flavor profile. The overall taste sensation from this tea is sweet, crisp and clean. There is a cool and bracing quality to Mengding Mountain Snow Buds that affirms its high altitude terroir.

2009 Pre-Qing Ming Huo Shan Yellow Sprouting

2009 Pre-Qing Ming Huo Shan Yellow Sprouting

 2009 Pre-Qing Ming Huo Shan Yellow Sprouting

Another incredible yellow tea from Huo Shan county in Anhui Province. This tea is comprised of a bud with one tiny leaf. The leaf is covered with a fuzzy down, a trait of this tea bush cultivar and the nature of the leaf. Huo Shan Yellow Sprouting brews a lovely pale golden green color in the cup, and the flavor is slightly warm, nutty and reminiscent of artichokes or chestnuts. These tea gardens, located on Jin Shan Tou, are not positioned at a high elevation – just around 2,500 feet. But the location is rocky, and gives the tea a yen character. The richness of the soil is evident in the buttery flavor.

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2009 Pre-Qing Ming Longjing Teas are here !

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It was our goal to have 2009 Pre-Qing Ming Longjing teas here as early as possible, and we made it. Even after our local Post Office sat on our package for 5 days before we knew that it had arrived.

Needless to say we are thrilled to have this very special and historic tea at the peak of it’s perfection. While I wish that all of us could be in the tea fields in China right now, being able to drink this splendid early-harvest tea is the next best thing. And being able to bring it to all of you as well makes our sipping even sweeter.

Chinese tea enthusiasts believe that the earlier the pluck, the better the tea. And tea enthusiasts in the know are eager for this time of the year as the opportunity for purchasing these special teas is fleeting.

In China, the earliest plucked tea leaves are known as Pre-Qing Ming or Ming Qian teas. Early spring plucking begins in late February to early March ( depending on the province, region, and weather ) and ends on April 5th. Only teas that are plucked during this short time can be sold as Pre-Qing Ming tea.

Longjing is one of China’s Famous Teas. At one time, the teas on the list, including Longjing tea, were exclusive ’tributes’ or honor gifts bestowed upon and drunk only by the Chinese Emperors. Longjing is perhaps the most famous of these legendary teas, in part because the city of Hangzhou and West Lake became the epicenter of refined and expressive artistic tea culture during the Song dynasty.

The Southern Song ( 1127-1279 ) located its capital to the city of Hangzhou, in Zheijang Province. This cosmopolitan city became the artistic center of a blossoming tea culture and the associated arts in China. Hangzhou attracted a literati crowd who found the pagodas, tea drinking pavillions, tea houses, restaurants and local cuisine to be the perfect locale for their leisurely pursuits of painting, poetry-writing, tea drinking contests, and tea wares collecting.

Hangzhou was also the locale of Longjing tea: sweet, slightly nutty pan-fired tea from tea bushes nurtured in the hills surrounding the dreamy mists of West Lake and watered by the pure spring waters that fed the DragonWell. Today, Hangzhou is still famous for its architecture and still exudes an old-fashioned tea culture based on the artistic, pleasurable and restorative nature of tea drinking. Hangzhou draws on the natural beauty of West Lake and all of the lovely pavillions, temples and gardens located along the shores. There is also an abundance of tea houses, tea shops and many fine restaurants that still incorporate fresh Longjing tea into their regional dishes.

And of course, hangzhou is most famous for Longjing tea. If one is lucky, one might encounter a tea processor pan-firing some fresh leaf in a local tea shop. Longjing tea became famous in the Song dynasty because of the terroir: the combination of good soil, cool air and clean, natural water that are the necessary conditions for excellent tea. It remains famous today because of the dedicated efforts of the tea farmers and tea producers to protect the integrity of Longjing by maintaining careful cultivation and production standards for China’s most famous tea. Visitors to this area can visit some of the tea gardens and processing factories, and of course, drink Longjing tea.

We proudly announce the arrival of our 2009 Pre Qing Ming Longjing teas, both of which are fit for a Chinese Emperor:

2009 Pre-Qing Ming Meijiawu Village tea

2009 Pre-Qing Ming Meijiawu Village tea


2009 Pre-Qing Ming Longjing Meijiawu Village, Xihu District, Zhejiang Province

Longjing is China’s most famous green tea, and it is the most important of the pre-Qing Ming teas. Longjing tea is originally from tea gardens located in the vicinity of West Lake ( Xi Hu region ) in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. The most prized Longjing still comes from the original regions, which historically were called Lion, Dragon, Cloud ( Meijiawu Village), Tiger, and Plum. Today, the names have changed, but authentic Longjing tea must come from a place located within the National Designated Protected Zone. This zone is a scant 168 kilometers in area, and all Longjing tea from here is sold under the name of the region or village where it was plucked. The most important places in the Xi Hu region are:

• Shi-feng Mountain

• Meijiawu Village

• Weng-jia Mountain

2009 Pre-Qing Ming Longjing Dafo Village


2009 Pre-Qing Ming Longjing Dafo Village, Xin Chang County, Zhejiang Province 

Delicious Longjing tea has been made here for many centuries. This fine Longjing is made just outside of the Xi Hu designation in Xin Chang county. There is a long history of tea cultivation and tea drinking in this region: much of it began centuries ago to supply the needs of the resident monks and visiting scholars at the Dafo Buddhist Temple ( constructed 4th century BC). Chinese tea enthusiasts seek out Dafo Longjing for its clean, refreshing flavor and lower price. 

2009 1st Flush Darjeeling teas are here !

100% authentic and pure

100% authentic and pure

Pity our poor befuddled delivery man today when our Darjeeling teas arrived. He labored under the heft of the boxes, only to look at us with a very bewildered expression on his face when he inquired about what was in the boxes. ” Tea ? ” he asked. You mean lots and lots of those little teabags can weigh that much ? ” Well, not exactly…….

We’ re talking real tea, and some of the world’s most delicious at that.

Considered the Champagne of Tea, Darjeeling tea is beloved worldwide for its smooth, rich muscatel flavor and fine bouquet. These famous tea gardens are located in the lofty Himalaya of West Bengal in Northern India.

The flavor of Darjeeling tea benefits from the mist-shrouded environment of the tea gardens and the slow maturity that cool, high-altitude locations provide. The first tea gardens were planted here with Camellia sinensis sinensis (100% China bush), but today modern Darjeeling tea gardens rely on Camellia sinensis Assamica and locally developed clonal hybrid tea bushes.

1st Flush Darjeeling teas are the first teas plucked each spring – and they command the highest prices of the crop year. Spring is the peak time for new leaf growth and the most delicious teas. Plucking begins during the end of February and continues until mid-April.

These teas are highly sought after each year by discerning tea enthusiasts worldwide. The exceptional quality of 1st Flush Darjeeling teas has led to record breaking prices every year.

We tasted a quantity of samples this spring as soon as the tea made and the samples reached us. We chose the following tea from two premier estates because we thought that they each were a notable example of the different style and flavor characteristics that well-made Darjeelings exhibit. More than most, these teas are true reflections of their terroir, and in a place like Darjeeling, that is always a good calling-card.

2009 1st Flush Darjeeling Goomtee FTGOP1 Clonal

2009 1st Flush Darjeeling Goomtee FTGFOP1 Clonal

The 2009 Goomtee First Flush exhibits an abundance of the fresh, lively, “green” flavor notes so popular in Europe, especially Germany & France. A perfect example of a ‘modern-style’ Darjeeling First Flush, this year’s Goomtee is deliciously bright and assertive; dry, with a crisp finish.

The Goomtee Tea Estate is located in the Kurseong (the land of orchids) Valley of Darjeeling at an altitude ranging from 3,280 –6.561 feet. The garden is ideally situated for the production of quality Darjeeling tea. It is located in the prime quality tea belt between the tea estates of Jungpana to the East and Makaibari and Castleton to the West.

The weather in Goomtee Estate is perfect for growing tea: the temperatures are cool to moderate and rainfall is generous. As a result it helps the garden produce some of the most aromatic teas ever produced in Darjeeling.

2009 1st flush Jungpana SFTGFOP1

2009 1st Flush Jungpana SFTGFOP1

 The 2009 Jungpana First Flush is a classic muscatel-type Darjeeling. Showing little of the modern-style ‘green’ leaf that is currently en vogue, this year’s Jungpana First Flush has a classic style and depth of flavor that we haven’t seen in a First Flush Darjeeling in quite a few years. From one of the premier Darjeeling gardens, this tea is superb.

The Jungpana Tea Estate is situated near the famous town of Darjeeling. The tea gardens have an excellent location and altitude; they lie at 3,000 – 4500 ft and are blessed with a nurturing south-facing orientation. The exceptional quality of tea produced at this estate is derived almost exclusively from China bush leaf.

To consistently produce some of the finest Darjeeling in the world for over a century, the management at Jungpana plucks only the most delicate of leaves. They have mastered the intricacies of manufacture, and make quality a fetish. The Jungpana Estate was planted by the British, then owned initially by the Scotland based Duncan Brothers. Later, it was owned by the Ranas of Nepal and thereafter has been with the Kejriwal family for more than five decades.

Cookbooks: A 16 Food & Wine

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A 16  Food + Wine
Nate Appleman  +  Shelly Lindgren
Ten Speed Press, 2008

I love food and travel. And I get excited about cookbooks that transport me into the soul and heart  of a country or a distinct region. Books that are just accumulations of recipes, or that tell me how watch my dietary intake or how to assemble quick meals don’t appeal to me – I thirst for a strong voice and a big dose of culture.

I want to be woooed in the best way that food can do that, and to be transported somewhere that I am presently not.  To a place where culture and cuisine has had a few centuries to evolve into something  that will sweep me off my feet and keep me smiling for days.

The A16 Food & Wine cookbook does that for me. Not just because it is about southern Italian food ( that is where my maternal grandparents were born ), or because the restaurant is on-fire popular right now.  But because  passion and a joyful sense of abbondanza spills from the pages of the book in an appealing way.

I obtained a copy of this book in November,  fell deeply in love with it’s vibe and purpose, and fortunately for me, ended up in San Francisco in January. Bob and I had dinner one evening at A16 and lunch at Shelly’s successful second restaurant – SPQR.

The meal was delicious, the food as presented in the book, and both restaurants were alive with the joie-de-vivre that is  unique to the food-obsessed Bay area. Since that visit, I have made many dishes from the A16 Food & Wine cookbook, including all of the meatball dishes which we used as the basis of a casual dinner party.  The meatballs were the star of the show ( you need a sympathetic butcher to help here),  but for me, the real jewel in the crown was the dessert.

The recipe for chocolate budino tartlets intrigued me. It looked plain and, well, lusciously chocolaty, but something in the description of the baking process told me that this was different and worth the effort.  Boy, was I right.

Not only did I make it for that dinner party but I made it again a few weeks later, something I never do. ( Why eat the same thing twice, no matter now good, when that just means that you are missing the opportunity to try something else ! )  I am entering this recipe into my hall of fame recipe collection, and for those of you who want to give it a try, here is the recipe courtesy of Ten Speed Press.

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Budino Tartlets with Sea Salt and Olive oil

Serves 12 ( or 8 depending on the size of your tart pans )

Preheat the oven to 300°

Budino Filling:

  • 7 ounces 60-70% bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 ½ ounces milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream

To make the filling:

Combine the chocolates in a heatproof bowl, place over barely simmering water in a pot and leave to melt. Warm the milk in a small pot over medium heat until it just begins to simmer. In a bowl whisk together the egg yolks and sugar, then gradually whisk in the warm milk.

When the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and stir until smooth, Strain the egg yolk mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into the melted chocolate, and stir until combined. In a small pot, heat 1 cup of the cream over medium heat until it just begins to simmer. Remove from the heat and slowly sitr the warm cream into the chocolate mixture. Then stir in the remaining 1 cup cream.

Pour the filling into a small baking pan ( about 8 inches square ) and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Place the pan into a larger baking pan and pour warm tap water into the larger pan to come halfway up the sides of the filling pan. Bake the filling for 50-60 minutes, or until the edges appear set but the center is loose and a bit runny.

Remove the pan from the water batch and briefly whisk the filling in the pan until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into another shallow pan and let cool completely without stirring. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to overnight.

Tart shells

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream13/4 cups all purpose flour
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 7 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

To make the tart shells:

Whisk together the egg yolks and cream and set aside. In another bowl, sift together the flour and cocoa powder and set aside, In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, combine the butter, sugar, vanilla and salt and mix on medium speed for 3 minutes or until creamy and smooth. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture all at once, and mix for 1 minute or until barely incorporated. Drizzle in the yolk mixture and mix briefly.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead gently for a couple of minutes until it comes together completely. Pat the dough into a round disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hours or up to 4 days.

Lightly butter 12 tartlet pans, each 3 ½ inches in diameter and ¾ inch deep. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to 1/8th inch thick. Using a cookie cutter or other template cut out 4-inch rounds of dough.

To line the pans:

Place a round in each pan, and starting from the center, gently press the dough against the bottom to flatten. Then, using your thumbs, press the dough firmly against the sides. Trim away excess dough with a paring knife. Slip the lined pans into the freezer for 20 minutes before baking.

Preheat the oven to 350°

Transfer the pans from the freezer to a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until dry and firm to the touch. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool completely. Then gently remove the cooled tart shells from the pans and set aside.

To assemble the tart:

Spoon about ¼ cup of the chilled filling into the baked shell and gently level off the top with a small butter knife. Place the tarts on incividual plates and sprinkle the top of each tart with about 1/8th teaspoon sea salt ( I used Maldons) . Finish each tart with a generous drizzle of olive oil ( I used Colonna) .