Thursday, January 9, 2014

Something different: Himalayan wine tea

Months ago, I acquired some of the intriguing Himalayan Wine Tea from Darjeeling TeaXpress — part of their occasional "exotic" offerings — and it was certainly worth seeking out and raving about. This being January, they're out of stock now, of course, but the seller says they'll order more after this year's second flush. Nonetheless, the tale ...

The Himalayan Wine Tea came with this explanation: "A very unusual tea – which is best served with wine. Mellow yet bold with a strong after taste, it provides a melody of hints in your palate that can only be manufactured in Darjeeling. If Darjeeling is considered to be the champagne of teas, then this is the true champagne of Darjeeling. The Reddish/coppery cup that is generally associated with autumn flush Darjeeling creates a complex taste in your mouth. This variety is highly recommended for wine lovers."

The tea itself brewed up exceptionally strong — my kinda tea — and alarmingly hearty, dark, and yeasty. Dry, it reeked of dark chocolate. In the cup, it smelled like the tea you make while traveling — in the hotel-room coffee maker that, try as you might, you can't wash the coffee taste out of. But not as bad as that sounds. It was high in tannins, and closed with a bold but not appalling bitterness couched within a surprisingly smooth, chocolatey rush. It really wouldn't be bad on its own. In fact, this might actually be a tea to pair with tira misu, or make it with!

Initially, I wasn't sure what to make of the "served with wine" instruction. I had to know more, and I wrote the company for details. The response: "This tea is originally produced by Goomtee plantation - aimed for their Japanese customers who pair it with wine. The flavour/taste profile of it makes it an excellent companion. But not everyone would like this combination, I have been warned by our tasters - so I would highly encourage you to try that. The Japanese drink it with their traditional Japanese wine, most prominent among them is Yamanashi red wine. I personally have not tasted that wine yet, but a mild red wine would pair well."

I first tasted the tea paired with a medium-bodied Louis Jadot beaujolais. Alternating the slightly chilled red with the warm-to-hot tea was an oddity on the tongue, but once a rhythm was found between tea, wine, and nosh, a cocoa-y undertone seemed to establish itself and enhance certain foods (veggies, no; meats, oh yes). I tried another pot later with a stronger wine, am Australian shiraz, which seemed to fare even better — the chocolate tones embracing each other instead of dueling, and bringing out each other's best qualities (muskiness in the tea, an aged quality in the wine).

For kicks, on the first tasting, I tried going one further: I poured the remaining cool tea directly into my half-full glass of beaujolais. The aroma was extraordinary — baking currants, sage, cumin, as if a dessert recipe had been made savory — though the taste was less exciting — thin, of course, and a slight balsalmic flavor, maybe even lime and/or mint, like a wine mojito. Bizarre.

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