Alright folks, stay frosty, I know this is a beer blog and yes, I’ve been writing an awful lot about beverages that are not beer. What’s even more disturbing, I seem to be veering away from alcoholic beverages altogether. Last week, I reviewed a Coke for crying out loud! Fear not, dear reader, as this is but a temporary situation. I will be back to writing about beer in a just a couple weeks. I am very much looking forward to it, but for now, we turn our frightful gaze upon tea.
I have mentioned that I’m not partial to coffee so often on this blog that even I’m tired of hearing about it, so I won’t belabor the notion, but I will say that when in need of a jolt of the caffeinated variety, I typically look to tea. Up until now, this generally meant the little prepackaged bags of tea you can get at any supermarket. As I understand it, bag tea gets the job done, but is made from low quality tea-crumbs and fannings. To use a crude and probably incorrect analogy, bag tea is the hot dog to good tea’s ribeye steak. Or something like that.
As you can no doubt tell, I’m a novice in the tea world, but I’m fortunate to have a friendly guide in Kaedrin beverage compatriot Padraic (he is a big fan of beer as well, and has also provided recommendations in that realm as well as bourbon and Scotch, a true renaissance man). When I mentioned that I’d be cheating on beer with other beverages for a while, Padraic dropped some knowledge on me in the comments (he also has a… seldom updated tea blog that is worth checking out). Based on his recommendations, I put in an order for a bunch of samples from Upton Teas. They even thoughtfully included a bonus sample packet of Season’s Pick Assam GFOP, which was mighty kind of them.
Assam is a region in northeast India that lies at low elevation and gets high amounts of rainfall, resulting in larger tea leaves and higher yields. Apparently, the prolific Assam plantations played a big role in making tea a universal treat in Britain, not just something for the upper class. What we have here is a Single Estate Assam, meaning that it comes from only one plantation. If you look closely at something like, say, Irish Breakfast Tea, you will see a blend of black teas (usually Assams). So think of this Single Estate business like a Single Malt Scotch, which is usually more distinctive and flavorful than the blend, but also a bit more expensive. I neglected to take any pictures because I’m a terrible person. But I did take copious notes, because I’m not that terrible (or maybe because I am, if you’re one of those I hate tasting notes kinda person).
Single Estate Assam FTGFOP1 Mangalam Tea – Dark brown color with maybe a hint of amber in the cup (hard to tell, as I’m not used to judging color against the dark color of the cup I have here). And now my senses fail me, because this smells an awful lot like black tea. Super perceptive of me, yes? I like the aroma, but that’s not saying much, I know. The taste is where things are starting to play out for me here. People often describe these sorts of teas as having a malty flavor, and yes, I’m definitely getting that here. In fact, I drank this cup of tea just a couple hours before I made my barleywine and yes, while steeping my specialty grains, I most definitely got some black tea vibes. There is a natural sweetness to it, but towards the finish I’m getting a hint of bitterness (which, I believe, means I may have let it steep for a bit too long – but then, as a beer guy, I don’t really shy away from bitterness). It’s got a well balanced assertiveness here, it reminds me a bit of a breakfast tea, but I don’t really know – maybe most straight black teas would taste that way for me right now. Mouthfeel is big and chewy, a little intense, but a nice pick-me-up on this fine morning. Overall, I’m really enjoying this, though I’m again finding myself hesitant to actually rate these. I like this better than the Season’s Pick Assam though, if that matters…
Tea Nerd Details: 1 tsp for 8 ounce cup, infused at 200° for 4-5 minutes.
Beer Nerd Musings: As mentioned above, I drank the above just before a homebrew session and definitely saw why tea nerds describe these Assam teas as being “malty”, especially at the beginning of the extract brew process when I’m steeping specialty grains (once the hops are added, things get a little different, of course). While not common, tea can also be used as an ingredient in beer. Dogfish Head makes a beer called Sah’tea, which is their weird take on a Sahti style with black tea added. It is a fine beer, if a bit on the weird side. Also, believe it or not, I actually made a beer with Earl Grey Tea once. The goal was more to get the Bergamot citrus flavor rather than the tea, but I did infuse a few bags of Double Earl Grey, and I got feedback that it did have a tealike feel to it, so there is that.
So there, I really enjoyed this tea, and look forward to finishing off my little sample package (which, honestly, should last quite a while, as I don’t drink that much tea… this past weekend excepted, of course). Stay tuned for a look at a Green Tea and a White Tea later this week. Next weekend will be about Scotch, but I’ve also saved a particular tea for that weekend as well.