Mao Feng

Lazy Tea Prep (with Video)

The art of tea blending is one that has always eluded me. I know of people that consider themselves experts in the field, but I often wondered how much skill it really took to create a blend. Playing with different herbs and teas wasn’t a new thing to me. I did it all the time at home to varying degrees of success and failure. The one I had yet to try to mimic was English Breakfast.

I read somewhere that there was no set recipe for English Breakfast. Typically, there was an Assam base, and other like-flavored burly black teas rounded it out. Sometimes they included low-altitude Ceylon or earthy Yunnan Dian Hong. But I found a snippet that mentioned a truly good blend was done with equal parts Assam and Keemun. Seemed easy enough.

At a par”tea” thrown by a friend of mine, I decided to demonstrate the ease of English Breakfast blending. I went up to the host and said, “Wanna see how easy blending is?”

He nodded slowly.

I took a helping of Keemun Gongfu and another of Rani estate Assam, put them in a bag together and shook it vigorously.

“There,” I said. “I just blended.”

My friend sniffed the contents of the bag. “That smells awful.”

I cocked an eyebrow, whiffed…and came up with little discernible aroma.

Perhaps I needed to rethink my approach. When I got home I looked through my stash of teas to see what would work for a second English try-out. I figured that both ingredients had to have a similar aromatic and visual profile. As luck would have it, I was in possession of a very tippy Keemun Mao Feng as well as some gold-tipped Assam from Glenburn’s Khongea estate. Both had a similar malty profile – albeit the Keemun was sweeter.

The results were…well…how about I just show you.

Now that I’ve been (understandably) exiled to my room, I can reflect upon it. The liquor brewed as I expected it would, very crimson-to-copper. The aroma had the subtlety of a bitter battering ram – very dry on the nostrils followed by something bordering on malt. To the taste, it was extremely tannic on the forefront but eventually settled nicely into a malty echo.

Verdict: If I’m in a pinch, it’s good to know I can shake up something drinkable. As to the art of blending itself…I’ll leave that to the professionals. The ingredients I used were of exceptional quality on their own, but I had little regard for how to portion them correctly. Clearly, I have a lot to learn.

Credits and Acknowledgements

Directed and Edited by:

Robert Norman (my brother). Without his help, I wouldn’t have been able to put together this little “tutorial” video. Sometimes living with a film grad is useful.

You can find more stuff by him HERE.

Our other collabs can be found HERE.

“Written” and “Starring”:

Me, of course. Honestly, other than coming up with the idea for this, writing a one-page script, and doing copious amounts of begging, my contributions were minor by comparison.

Special Guest Star:

Thanks to Robert “The Devotea” Godden for lending me his blender disapproval.

You can find his tea videos HERE.

You can find his blog HERE.

You can purchase his blends HERE.

Teas:

06-June Khongea Golden Tips Second Flush Assam TGFOP1 provided by KTeas.

My thoughts on it – by itself – can be found HERE.

Gift Keemun Hong Mao Feng provided by Vicony Teas

My thoughts HERE.

Tea Props:

Eight Cranes Perfect Steeper

Adagio UtiliTea

Wardrobe:

“Pot Head” shirt purchased at The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants

Pet Cameos:

Abacus St. Bernard

Georgia Poopybottom

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Sunday, January 1st, 2012 Steep Stories, Vids 2 Comments

Mao Feng Gin

Smith Teamaker is slowly becoming my Cheers. It’s the place I go where my name is known, where I’m greeted with a smile, and share a witticism or two about/over tea. It’s a bit of a jaunt from my little ‘burb but worthwhile every time. On one such stop through, I made it a point to try out their Bai Hao Oolong and see if they could answer a pressing question. (“Was Bai Hao Oolong from Taiwan or Fujian Province, China? Seriously, the question’d been bugging me for months.)

I asked the taster room hostess if she knew the answer to my Bai Hao dilemma. She didn’t, but she retreated to the back to talk to one of their master blenders – Tony Tellin. I’d had conversations with Tony before. Great guy. I owe my oolong graduation – from mug to gaiwan – to him. Changed my brewing life, that little lidded cup did. But anyway…

He came out and immediately sidetracked my train of thought with an announcement. A new gin-infused prototype tea was ready. A couple of months back, he allowed me to sample a test-run of some Ti Kwan “Gin” – an oolong soaked in Tanqueray gin for an extended period of time, then re-dried. (My impression of that can be found HERE.) I loved the stuff and found that the natural floral/mineral foretaste complimented the newly-juniper’d body. Tony still felt that the winy top note wasn’t strong enough. Further experimenting was needed.

This time around, he played around with some Mao Feng green tea dipped in Sapphire gin. I assumed he was referring to Bombay Sapphire, but I’m not a gin connoisseur by any stretch. He brewed me a pot, while I smelled the bag. Oh boy, was it stronger on the nostrils than the oolong test! The taste was also stronger. The usual nutty/vegetal front was almost immediately pushed aside by a jolting juniper berry note that lasted to a tapered finish.

While I sampled that, my aforementioned Bai Hao, and later a pot of 1st Flush Darjeeling, he answered my initial query about Taiwanese/Chinese confusion. Bai Hao was Taiwanese, and the Chinese version used Taiwanese techniques. Relieved, enlightened and in dire need of…a different kind of relieving, I made my exit soon after.

Word came over the Twitter pipeline a week later that the final Mao Feng Gin was ready. I had just ended a rather trying day of errand-running, and a hot pot o’ tea sounded like the perfect decompressor. The drive was relatively painless, and I was there in no time for a pre-funk pot o’ Darjeeling. Tony came out a moment later with a 1oz. bag – a warm bag at that. This stuff was literally “hot off the press”. He told me to wait about four hours before sampling it.

I tore into it the next day.

The dry leaves were long, curly and dark green like a standard Mao Feng. The differences on sight were subtle. A part of me thought the leaves were a darker palette than their usual un-“ginned” counterparts; like those included in Smith’s own Mao Feng Shui. The true difference came in the smell. Gin has a very pungent aroma that screams juniper berries and gasoline, and some of that was present in the aroma. First whiff revealed a prologue of buttered/salted veggies but – like the prototype – was immediately pushed aside by a straight juniper-ish tang. It was also a surprisingly damp scent.

I wasn’t quite sure of the best way to brew this. I referred to Smith’s instructions for the Mao Feng Shui as a springboard. They recommended a three-minute steep in 190F water. That seemed a bit high of a temperature, but other Mao Feng brew tips echoed their notes. Even I dared steeps at 180F with Mao Fengs of yesterbrew. I stuck to their approach to the letter – 1 tsp worth in 8oz.

The liquor infused to a pale green with a leafy and berry-ish nose. Unlike with the prototype, it didn’t have the immediate vegetal kick on first sip. The juniper note also didn’t bust the door down, berry guns blazing. Instead, it was smooth yet grassy before transitioning into a citrus-berry-sweet body. The finish possessed an unusual texture – equal parts creamy and swift. In comparison to the Mao Feng Shui, I would have to say I enjoyed this more. The addition of a juniper berry/lemony note gave it a character I found similar to an early spring Long Jing with a hint of lemongrass and almonds. A second infusion brewed up quite well in color, but didn’t have as strong of a gin presence except in the aftertaste; still quite enjoyable, though.

This marks the third of Tony’s gin-infused experiments I’ve tried in a two-month period. While the Ti Kwan “Gin” idea was discarded – and I lament it – I can see how Mao Feng was the stronger candidate. It was a lighter green tea that could easily be improved upon. Mao Feng-style greens were never my favorite; too vegetal for my tastes. But the additional gin-basting gave it that extra oomph to push it into Long Jing/tamaryokucha favorability. I look forward to whatever Tony concocts next.

I’m holding out hope for a Bai Hao Oolong/Gew├╝rztraminer pairing, but that’s just me.

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Wednesday, May 4th, 2011 Steep Stories No Comments

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