Monday, October 21, 2013

Monthly clubs, and Tea Horse

Years ago I joined a wine club (through a then-trendy magazine that, go figure, still exists), a monthly subscription service that delivered two choice bottles of California reds to my doorstep in a particularly dry Midwest wine desert. I thus learned about wine in the best way possible — by drinking varieties I otherwise would not find or think to buy. The same lesson applies to tea, and may be even more applicable. If you're going to sample teas, you want to sample good teas, smartly selected. A monthly club can be just the ticket.

Many good clubs are out there — Golden Moon runs a good one, with special attention to seasonal flavors; Teavana has a few, depending on whether you love or scorn Teavana; 52 Teas used to run a weekly service for comparable pricing, though it often included ridiculous flavored blends like chocolate-and-bacon pu-erh; or I've heard praise of the top-drawer Teance clubs.

Recently, I was sent some samples from a new subscription service, Tea Horse. The British company, named for the famed overland route through Asia, ships monthly taster boxes containing four teas. The kicker: many of the teas are selected with guidance from Tim Clifton, a longtime tea expert in the UK and a regular leader of tea classes alongside Jane Pettigrew.

The samples I received were pretty good; I'll zero in on two. The first-flush Darjeeling, from the remote Jungpana estate, remains an impressive traditional tea. I tasted this some weeks ago when it was still fresh (apologies for the writing delay), and it's remarkable how strong the aroma comes on in the cup — a surprise for such an early tea. The musky taste barrels on, too, with the confidence and strength of a second-flush. The packet suggests a nuttiness, which I didn't get; the floral notes, though, yes, very — rosy, but not (ironically) a tea rose or something similarly sweet. The floral notes really mellowed in the pot, too, so that the last couple of cups were like sipping from the rim of a honeysuckle blossom. A fine tea.

Readers here may know I'm a fool for Keemun, so the Tea Horse Mao Feng merely faced a tough tongue to impress. Its flavor is strong but hollow, lacking the subtle wisps of smoke and/or spice I'm used to. But it's a definite two-stage rocket — a Darjeeling musk at the end, tying off some initial hints of cocoa and fruit (not citrus, but something fleshy, like a peach or a mango). Handsome enough.

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