Friday, July 24, 2009

Tasting: Himalayan teas

The tasting last night that produced the trembling ramble below was a fine sampling of Himalayan teas — from eastern Nepal and the fringes of Darjeeling — at Tea Gschwendner's flagship Chicago shop. Tea sommelier (c'mon, how great a gig is that?) Sam Ritchey led us through the foothills, which he visited a few months ago, when the tea we were drinking was just being plucked from the bushes.

Of the slew of first- and second-flush teas he trotted out, three accomplished some surprising kicking of my ass:

Manjhee Valley — We'd tried a couple of first-flush Darjeelings that weren't bad — one of which, the Soom, had a pretty sly cool, minty grin on its face — but they were opening acts for this lil' world-music band. Crazy-light, almost green in the cup, it slips in on buttery skates and then throws bunches of flowers — orangey, peachy flowers — at you. By the time it finishes, it tastes like the pavement smells after a light summer rain. Complex and full with a big ol' body.

Sikkim Temi — A new addition to their collection, this second-flush beauty got the loudest oohs and ahhs in our tasting group of eight. Begging their pardon, this certainly promises a rose garden: big, sturdy floral tastes come at you like kudzu, then a bone-dry finish. Quite unique.

Meghalaya Lakyrsiew — Possibly the most unique and surprising tea I've tasted in a couple of years, this second-flusher was served with chocolate at the end — which was either brilliant or redundant. It's like a cup of chocolate tea. Really buttery and spicy on the nose and first taste, then big, dark cocoa flavors, all packed into a charcoal briquet. Three or four distinct waves of flavors, an they mellow and blend as the cup cools a bit. This was snappy, sultry, maybe even a little naughty.

I left with a hundred grams of the Manjhee Valley, plus my ol' stand-by, the TG China Keemun. And, truly, I had a helluva time getting to sleep.

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