Ah, spring is in the air! I’m sure you’ve noticed that tea vendors are offering the spring harvest already. Long Jing, Taiwanese oolongs, Mengding, etc. While I’m not a Japanese tea drinker, word on the street is that Shincha has already come out or about to. So much good tea…very tempting!
Unlike tea plantations, however, the grape vines are only budding right about now…there is still 5 to 6 months before harvest time. That doesn’t mean wineries aren’t buzzing. The good people of the grapey clan are busy re-racking or bottling the harvest of yesteryear(s), not to mention tending the vines.
I had a pretty nice weekend. Among other things, I dim-summed at the Empress Pavilion in Chinatown with the family (my younger sis joined). Loads of good dumplings! As usual, I brought my own tea…and this time instead of bringing some fisted oolong, I decided to take the Okayti Ivory Darjeeling oolong that I wrote about a few posts down. It was way much better than the restaurant’s tea to no one's surprise. I found out that this particular Darjeeling oolong is actually quite excellent when paired with dim sum dishes. Think of riesling or gewürztraminer with Chinese food, only this is tea. The fact that it is slightly more acidic (lively!), highly aromatic and it can take brewing abuse well, made the tea suitable in restaurants. When placed in a standard Chinese restaurant porcelain teapot and brewed over a long period of time, it didn’t get bitter and it remained pretty smooth.
After dimsum, we stopped by Wing Hop Fung where I bought 2 teacups to replace the broken ones. I also got some dragon pearl jasmine tea for my mom-in-law. While browsing around, something caught my interest. Among the Soumei and Baimudan teas, there was this green herbs that is labelled as "Yunnan Thien Ji tea" (it's not tea tea, but rather a type of herb). They look like tiny brocolli florets and fresh green in color. Two customers were chit chatting with the saleslady about this very thien ji. They were speaking in a Chinese dialect that I couldn't understand (Teochew?) when I approaced the saleslady, who recognized me from my prior visits and invited me to try the "tea" out. It's bitter-sweet in an herbal kind of way...almost like ginseng. I can't really describe it. It's not bitter like kudingcha and it leaves a certain pleasant aftertaste. The saleslady and the 2 customers proceeded to tell me to only put about 7 "flowers" if I want to drink it straight. It can be mixed with other teas as well, they said ("Don't put too much, though," they added). So I grabbed 2 oz of this herb, which cost me about $3.50. I took the photo above at home...haven't opened the sealed bag yet. I will write about it when I try it again. Does anyone know what this is and how to treat it right?
On the way back we stopped by a Russian grocery store for some everyday staples (sosisky, kevir, kalamata olives, etc.) when I found this (see pic, click to enlarge). My curiosity cost me $4.99 for the 250gr bag. When I opened it at home, the loose smallish, black leaves reeked of menthol / eucalyptus / mint. Very strong! I kid you not when I say it smells like a mosquito or insect repellant that is made from a certain tree oil that you can apply on your skin. How does it taste? I am still summoning the courage to brew it. Somehow, I think it’s beter suited as a bathroom deodorizer or a closet moth repellant. It smells toxic to me.
Hope you had a fun St. Pat's weekend!