Thursday, May 28, 2009

All That Glitters Isn't Yunnan Gold

[article by Morgan Winer]

Though few people will remember it these days, Red Rose Tea used to be the face of tea in America, sometime when flapper hats were in style. Parents would enjoy the tea, and children would collect the little ceramic animal figures that accompanied each box. I’d know, since I used to do that too.

On any grocery store shelf there are of course endless boxes of Tetley teabags that would be more than sufficient for those who still honor the classic British “tea and crumpets” hour. Like any other gourmet luxury though, folks have branched out from stock flavors, and small tea shops are the new home for opportunities to treat the senses.

Tea has of course been brewed for some thousands of years now, a notion we are all mildly familiar with via some measure of pop culture. Perhaps this is just a page from a history lesson though, and the culture behind tea is steeped, so to speak, with long-sought experience in what makes a good cup. I like this thought, because I like the tea that yields from these earthly regions and old growers.

I’m typing this with a mug of tea called “Yunnan Gold” in my hand, and it is good. It tastes of a fine black tea, typically characterized with a strong taste of sun-dried mountain leaves, but with a slight hint of sweet chocolate after each sip. I can almost feel a good slice of toast and jam in my hand while I drink it. Or almost hear the silence of a light winter snow outside while I crouch in a warm room, a good book in one hand, and cup of tea in the other. A quaint set of associations perhaps, but its what springs to mind nonetheless.

If it were to interest you, I could tell you the details of how this tea was grown and picked. From what part of the Yunnan province of China it arrived, and how the fine hairs on the tips give the leaves an orange-like golden appearance. Like any sommelier, I could hold up a glass and demonstrate how the color stems from the way black tea leaves are meant to be wilted and fermented. Or perhaps even the shy-of-boiling temperature of the water it was made with for two minutes just now. I’m sure that all of those aspects, none excluded, have contributed to this taste.

But that’s not why I’m drinking it. I suppose that if you have read this far, then you are now assured that I like this tea. I like it because of how the flavor rolls about the tongue. I savor it because of all the other flavors that would go so well with it. A cobbler, a pastry from the bakery down the street, or maybe even a roast duck, if glazed with a deep cherry-wine sauce. Don’t take my word for it though, brew a cup of it, and see if it suits your tastes as well.

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