Yesterday had potential to be a day of high drama. Not just because there was a predicted apocalyptic level storm for my home town. Not just because it was the day of the first AUS vs PAK one-day cricket match of the series. Not just because I started a rumour that The Wiggles were about to be announced as headliners for next week’s US Presidential Inauguration.
In time, these events unfolded: the storm didn’t show, Australia won the match and the Wiggles took out an injunction against me*. That just left a bit of a tea tasting.
Run of the mill, really, Except that this time, the tea might be special.
Our good friend, Jo Johnson of Scandalous Tea Blog and A Gift of Tea posted us a card on December 9th from New York, which arrived in Australia on a flight which left Dubai at 1.40 a.m. on December 15th. Naturally, our great buddies at Australia Post then took over three weeks to get it to us. I believe they strap it to the back of a kangaroo headed this way and hope for the best.
That however, is only partly why it was special.
It’s also Japanese.
Why does that matter? Well, for anyone who knows me or has read any of the thousand references to my dislike of every single Japanese tea ever right here on my blog, you would know that I have always said that I would love to find a Japanese tea that I liked. Other than a sugar syrup laden ice cold Japanese tea which I enjoyed as an alternative to heatstroke and death once in Thailand, my experiences have been pretty awful.
It’s not me, it’s them. Adding nasty rice to tea? No thanks. Thin, bitter grassy greens? Keep ’em. Matcha? It tastes like seaweed soup, and I hate seaweed in every way I intersect with it.
But this tea, allegedly, might be the one. The one I would love.
So, I prepared a bit of an event.
I baked some teapot-shaped shortbread biscuits. I got our best tea set out: Lady Devotea’s 30th Wedding Anniversary gift to me from last year.
To get into the Japanese atmosphere, I got out a chasen, a chashaku, a kyusu and a futoagohigetokage. And then I put them away again, because my chasen is not actually a matcha whisk but a shaving brush, I use a teaspoon not a chashaku, the only kyusu I have is a picture of one on a postcard of random teapot shots and a futoagohigetokage is actually a lizard.
However, I did make this nod to the Japanese tea ceremony.
In attendance were Lady Devotea and I, plus Devotea Junior The Elder** and his other half Lady Z.
And we were ready to go:
I boiled two litres of water, so that we could have many steeps, and it seems that we would have no problem as the water cooled from boiling.
We smelled the dry leaves, and there were three distinct reactions. Both Devotea Junior the Elder and Lady Z said it smelled like “green tea”- which it wasn’t. Lady Devotea thought it had a quite nasty seaweed note in the aroma. And I could detect it too, but to me it was underneath some sort of vague butter-toffee thing.
So, the early signs were unpromising.
First infusion was three minutes at near boiling. It looked like this:
A lovely hue – ‘deep tan’ is how I recorded it in my notes.
Everyone was eager to taste. It actually looked good, and smelt good.
But there was one issue with the aroma.
My finely tuned nostrils were telling me that it had a buttery, shortbreadish smell. Quite delicious. But let’s remember, there was a huge pile of teapot-shaped shortbread less than 15cm from my cup.
What if the smell is the shortbread, or the shortbread bringing out one aroma when there may be other, less lovely ones?
Still, I decided that while it felt like I was on the precipice, that whichever way this went, it would be OK. I remembered the old Japanese saying “くよくよせずに楽しくやろうぜ”*** and decided to just drink it.
And just drink it I did.
It was buttery. Like shortbread.
It was good tea, and just about perfect. Had I brewed it for 2:45, I think it would have been better, but Devotea Junior The Elder demurred, he thought the slight tannic overbite added interest.
Lady Devotea and Lady Z loved it.
And the word of the day was “Buttery”. So, by the time infusion two came around, shortbread was happening:
We ended up with six infusions, with the last one being a little past redemption.
In fact, these lovely glistening leaves then went into the chicken food container, as our chooks are quite partial to used large leaves.
So, the obvious question is “what was the tea?”
Before the tasting, all we knew it was an oolong, but an oolong that was nearly black. In fact, I wasn’t even aware it was Japanese until a comment via the tea bloggers super secret communication protocol let me know.
So, this morning I asked for details, and here is Jo’s response:
“The tea is grown in the Miyazaki Prefecture in the So Island of Kyushu. The artisan farmer only produces 40 kilos per year. The oxidation process of creating this tea stops right before the oolong becomes a true black tea and produces a unique complex cup. The tea can only be purchased wholesale so not on the shelves.”
So there you have it. Our thanks to Jo.
It feels great to know that my hatred of every other Japanese tea has been vindicated. After all, if it was some sort of blind prejudice, I wouldn’t have liked this either.
I am therefore, quite properly, left feeling both angry and sad that all Japanese tea can’t be like this.
There is great opportunity here, though. Remember the Marshall Plan, that rescued Japan from economic misery after WWII?
japan is once again in the economic doldrums. But Japan can do something about it! Make the Artisan Farmer PM, pass a law making it compulsory to grow and make this tea, and all will be well.
If they want to refer to it as “The Lord Devotea Plan”, fair enough. For some cash, I’ll even pop over to Japan and help them implement it. But only if I can be based n the Miyazaki Prefecture in the So Island of Kyushu, for purely scientific reasons.
*I may have hallucinated that one. I drank an awful lot of tea yesterday.
**For the complicated reasons why our youngest is called “Devotea Junior” and our eldest “Devotea Junior The Elder”, it’s explained somewhere in my last 300 posts.
*** It’s not well known that Bobby McFerrin authored many ancient Japanese sayings