Monday, February 18, 2013

On Gimmicky Tourist Tea...

The rise in the popularity of tea in Western culture, over the past decade or so, has led to a greater demand for teas that were once known and loved only by those Westerners, who were truly "into" tea, usually people, who had been introduced to these teas from China, Japan, and other Eastern countries by peoples of those lands. Teas of the oolong and pu'erh varieties never found large inclusion in the classic English tea times, yet their lack of hyper-popularity actually lends weight to their filling the role of "tourist teas." I guarantee that a visit to the local Chinatown or Oriental market will reveal an abundance of options in these varieties. Often, they are so attractively packaged, as to make wonderful souvenirs...yet the price paid for them can only be for one thing, and it is not the quality. (Yes, I do mean that you pay for the packaging...The tea inside is probably worth less than a tenth of what the cost is...gimmicky, no?)

There is a good example of what I mean, but, first, a bit of definition to provide background. This is from Wikipedia (the information is sound, here): "Pu-erh tea, also spelled as Pu'er tea, is a variety of fermented dark tea... Fermentation is a tea production style in which the tea leaves undergo microbial fermentation and oxidation after they are dried and rolled...All types or pu-erh can be stored for maturity before consumption and that is why it has become common for the products to be labelled with year and region of production." The technicalities of this description could probably be argued, but, for the sake of this article, it is not worth getting into it. Okay, excellent, now that you know what pu'erh tea is... I was in San Francisco's Chinatown, today, and came across these fun-looking items:

"Guang He Jie Pu Cha" reads the label. A small tangerine, stuffed with pu'erh, which has been aged together, imparting some of the tangerine flavor to the pu'erh tea. After buying one of them, knowing that it would be mediocre (at best), I took it home and brewed it. My suspicions were confirmed. While I am not an expert in pu'erh teas (though certainly not an amateur), I can tell you that these are cheap, definitely mediocre, and not worth even the few dollars that they will cost. Are they unique and attractive to tourists? Absolutely! And, because of that, they can be found in Chinatowns from San Francisco to Chicago to New York (yes, even these same little dried tangerines - the same brand at every location, often times).

I am, by no means, railing against such teas. It is my intention, only, to give warning to those, who might be drawn in by the "uniqueness" and left feeling cheated by the pretty packaging, when the taste does not match the flashiness. "You get what you pay for" does not always apply to tea.

A note on the new tag, "teadrunk-en rambles": Being teadrunk is a real thing. I know that it sounds, as gimmicky, as the above tangerines, but, rather than take my word for it, allow me to direct you to some additional information. Lindsey Goodwin at Coffee & Tea has a good description, here, as does Phyll Sheng and Sandy Bushberg, both of T Ching. The euphoric feeling is the aspect that I, personally, feel the most. Today's adventure in Chinatown involved about four hours, straight, of drinking aged pu'erh, followed by a several mile hike and then several more hours of drinking pu'erh, when I returned to where I was staying. Certainly a good time!

Technical tea note: The tea inside in the tangerine is most definitely a shou, yet it is so young as to have a sheng aftertaste and the bite of an immature pu'erh. At the location, where I purchased it, the shopkeeper confirmed that it was only about five years old, probably less. The flavor could probably be improved by five or more additional years in conditions suitable for pu'erh aging, but whether it is worth the time is questionable.

1 comment:

  1. you should try aging some! It would be a fun experiment, and if it's not any better, then at least you didn't ruin good tea with the experiment, right?