Some Tea Development Trends & Thoughts

A lot happens in the world of tea that can be “behind the scenes,” virtually unknown to the average tea drinker. That’s where bloggers and social media are helping. Many tea bloggers out there, including yours truly, are bringing to light all the efforts being made to improve teas available while keeping those favorites coming year after year. A couple of developments caught my eye recently and also tied in with some tea tastings hubby and I (with the help of Little Yellow Teapot, of course) did the other day. Wanted to share these items with you along with some of our thoughts.

Purple Tea

Purple Tea Plant in Kenya [Photo from Shiv Saria’s Facebook page]
Purple Tea Plant in Kenya [Photo from Shiv Saria’s Facebook page]
Kenyan tea growers are working on their purple tea cultivar, seeking to improve it and make it more than just some gimmick in the world of tea.

Two points here:

  • They need a flavor profile that will distinguish this cultivar from the thousands of others out there – especially since the purple color is only in the young leaves, which is true of other plants, including other tea cultivars.
  • Even succeeding at this is no guarantee of acceptance among tea drinkers at a level sufficient to offset development costs.

A tea tasting showing the purple color in the cup. Rohini replanting May 2015 [Photo from Shiv Saria’s Facebook page]
A tea tasting showing the purple color in the cup. Rohini replanting May 2015 [Photo from Shiv Saria’s Facebook page]
The tea industry is complex with prices being based on many factors. Of course, this is true of just about everything, but worth pointing out nevertheless. I understand the desire to try to elevate prices and wish them all success in that endeavor. I also hope that, if they don’t succeed in doing so with this particular cultivar, that they continue to work to improve their existing tea crop and its perception among tea lovers. Personally, I find black tea from Kenya to be superior to many other black teas. It has some of the best of CTC Assam along with a smoothness and lack of bitterness and astringency. Sure, that makes it great for tea blends, but if we could get more tea vendors to carry these black teas as straight, not blended, that could help prices even more than going to all the fuss of a new cultivar.

Rohini Replanting

Rohini replanting May 2015 [Photo from Shiv Saria’s Facebook page]
Rohini replanting May 2015 [Photo from Shiv Saria’s Facebook page]
Shiv Saria posted on Facebook on May 8 at 6:27am the following:

“Rohini Tea Farm, Darjeeling, UPROOTS 10 acres of 18 year young teas to REPLACE & REPLANT NOW with THE JETHIKUPI cultivar – an early flusher with copious flowery aroma”

Our findings as of 9 May 2015:

“Just tried samples of 3 first flush teas from Rohini, including some of the Jethi Kupi cultivar. We always have a very controlled tasting environment and tried these samples along with several others from other gardens. The Jethi Kupi was pretty good as was the AV2. A good sign of tasty things to come, I think.”

As for why Rohini would do this, I commented:

“The Darjeeling gardens date back to mid 1800s. Some of the jats (tea plant cultivars) are that old. The plants just get worn out and need to be replaced. Also, like Taiwan, the Darjeeling gardens (there are about 87 or 88 that have that designation from the Tea Board of India) are trying out new cultivars to improve overall quality. I have some concern that the distinct flavor profile is getting lost in that effort, though.”

It can be easy to forget how long those gardens have been around. Plus they are refocusing their goals. Tea growers everywhere are in a struggle to get a decent price for their crop. They have to balance between the worldwide demand for those low-grade dust-in-a-bag teas and the special hand-crafted teas. (Again, a dilemma that faces many industries.) The economy will do what it will do, and if people want something badly enough, they will pay. Overall, hope this works out for them, but at the same time, I still want my CTC Assam for that morning wake-up cuppa.

First Flush Darjeeling Tastings Had Uneven Results

We’ve been so honored to try first flush Darjeelings for a number of years now. We also approach the matter with the utmost seriousness and a methodology that may not be akin to what is done at the tea gardens but that is certainly designed to assure a proper infusion. So it was that we approached trying 14 tea samples received recently.

All but one of these samples were Darjeeling first flushes. That 14th one was a first flush from Nepal. We were excited and eager to give them a go, and our tastebuds were all prepped for a wondrous experience. The first sample met this expectation. It was “Giddapahar Hand Rolled AV2 First Flush” and was full of that wonderful Darjeeling flavor and aroma profile. From there things were rather uneven, ranging from good to totally bland and virtually tasteless.

Lest you think our American tastebuds are too used to strong flavors (and things that are overly sweet), and in truth we do like Indian curries and other strong foods, for a tea tasting we do several things to mitigate any such influences on our perceptions:

  • Set aside preconceptions
  • Cleanse our palates with a little lemon water (better than anything else we’ve tried, and no the lemon does NOT stay in our mouths and affect the tea flavors)
  • Infuse the teas carefully, even trying different water temperatures and time lengths
  • Do more than one infusion of the tea leaves (most of the time)

There is no doubt that out of 14 samples, only 5 were worthy of notice. We’ll have to see how the 2nd flush fares. It is hard to say what the causal factors here could be. Possibilities that jump to mind are:

  • Improper rainfall (too much/little, too early/late in the growing season)
  • New cultivars being rushed to market before maturity
  • Processing issues

Your Thoughts?

Okay, that was my two cents’ worth. Your thoughts always welcome!

© 2015 A.C. Cargill photos and text

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