Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Nepali Tea at the Sunday Tea Tasting

Sunday Tea Tasting at L'Espalier Boston orchestrated by Tea Sommelier Cynthia Gold and led by Nepali Tea Expert Jeni Dodd: a splendid experience, in part due to Jeni and her knowledge of Nepal and its teas, in part due to the teas themselves, in part to the enthusiastic and multi-talented company attending the tasting, and in part to the presentation of teas in glasses, like flights of wines.*

First saw the use of wine glasses with Kristin van Eetvelt's tea events, and find that it is a huge step in elevating tea as worthy of pairing with meals.  And the shining glasses looks so festive! 

Here's Jeni with Sunitra Joshi from Nepali Tea Traders presenting the Nepali tea experience. 

I particularly appreciated the white tea, called Himalayan Sunrise, from the Panchthar District in far Eastern Nepal on the border with India. Here's a map of Nepal, with this district circled in red. It's right next to India—Darjeeling is right across the border. 

Map from Wikipedia, circle added.

Here's what the leaves look like:

You can see the beautiful white hairs (trichomes). Each hair has a small globule of oil nestled at its base. Because white teas are withered without pan-firing, these globules remain intact, to release their delicious chemicals into your cup. (More about this phenomenon in my upcoming sequel to "There Basic Teas & How to Enjoy Them," where I will present all you might want to know about white teas.)

This particular white tea, from Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, yields a rather dark liquor, that has a nutty malty toasty aroma with a vegetal undertone, that to me was unexpected—I was anticipating a more floral flavor. This tea made me think of chestnuts. Am wondering whether these globules picked up chemicals from wood fires or some other source of roasted/burnt chemicals in the vicinity. 

Another remarkable tea was the Golden Tea, from Kanchanjunga Organic Tea in Illam, also from the Panchthar district of eastern Nepal. This tea estate was developed by a woman who first sold teas by the side of the road. She is busy turning her tea making skills into a major enterprise—look out for her! 

==>> Important: as Jeni noted, most small-garden orthodox tea from Nepal is organic, in that no fertilizers or pesticides are used, but the certification process is too expensive at this time for most growers. Here's a link to a story in Tea Journey about one of these growers:

This Golden Tea, a black tea, had a delightful golden color as its name would suggest, and a faintly cool fruit flavor, possibly the result of growing near kiwi fruit. What struck me, though, was its aftertaste, which was somewhat astringent, but filled my mouth with a pleasurable warmth. Cynthia paired this tea with a number of different small bites. To me it went best with a smoked Gouda eclair, which expanded this warm aftertaste.

In the picture below I am pontificating to Jeni about her talk. Actually I was praising her for the fact that she made 3 important points—any great talk always has 3 important points!
  1. Teas from Nepal are delicious and unexpectedly different from other teas, and should be enjoyed with foods just as we were doing at this event.
  2. Tea commerce is better than a handout for helping Nepal catch up economically with the rest of the world, especially after the devastating earthquake of 2015.
  3. The role of women in the development of tea commerce will be critical—they are going past simply being pickers to being tea exporters.

At least I think those were the 3 points I was I think about it, there were of course many more take-home messages. 

For example, she mentioned that until 1959, all the tea plantations belonged to the King of Nepal, but the first privately owned orthodox tea manufacture was only established in 1993, so it's early days for the development of Nepali teas. 

In the same time many plantings were no longer maintained and some trees grew wild. These wild trees give teas with distinctive flavors, such as Wild Sunset from Everest Tea in Sindhupalchowk, just south of Mount Everest. Here's a photo taken from the Everest plantation—it's only about 35 km. from Kathmandu, but it takes some 2 hours to get there!

Photo from the Facebook page of Everest Tea, Sindhupalchowk.
This black tea had a slightly cool flavor that comes from growing near eucalyptus trees, but which again gave way to a warm aftertaste more typical of a black tea. When first sipped, this tea was very mild, probably because of the competition between its cool- and warm-receptor activating compounds. However, when we tasted it with a bite of chocolate, its flavor came into full warm delicious bloom, with the eucalyptus very much gone. By contrast when we tasted it with an almond tea cake with jasmine citrus jam (all cool/cold/warm receptor activators that turn off the hot receptors activated by the tea), the tea simply disappeared—one could possibly argue for a slight eucalyptus hint, but that would be pushing it. 

To find out more about these teas and where to get them, Jeni says to contact her: jenis.tea[at]

And if you are in the Boston area, be sure to contact L'Espalier to find out when Cynthia Gold is holding her next tea tasting—or just go there for a superb meal accompanied by Cynthia's teas!

Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace MD

==>> "Three Basic Teas & How to Enjoy Them" — how flavor arrives in your cup and how you experience it! Available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon!
* Here's Cynthia Gold's secret to serving the teas in wine glasses: use [relatively thick] glasses with no bubbles in them, and they won't shatter, even when the tea being poured is at around 208ºF!