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Journal

Introducing our next “new”-long, this is a High Mountain Alishan oolong.  It’s been a while since we’ve had a fresh Alishan (our last one was the darker “Snowy” Alishan).  It’s nice to have another option for those seeking a classic green high mountain alternative to our popular Lishan.

What’s the difference? Well, for starters the teas come from different mountains–Mt. Li in North/Central Taiwan, and Mt. Ali in Southwestern Taiwan, respectively.  If push comes to shove, Lishan is probably the most famous tea-producing mountain in Taiwan (at least, the teas grown in the Da Yu Ling area of Lishan command some of the highest prices to be found on the island), but both mountains have distinctive characters.  To my palate, Alishan oolongs tend to be just a bit bolder in flavor–bright and forthright but occasionally finicky when it comes to brewing without making a slightly bitter cup.

This fresh batch exhibits typical Alishan characteristics–it’s nice and floral and even has a tiny bit of a vegetal note, which may appeal to some green oolong aficionados.  Despite its exceedingly green profile, it’s easy to see the standard level of edge-of-the-leaf high mountain oolong oxidation.  The leaves open up nicely during steeping to reveal just how well-treated a truly hand-harvested tea can be.  Try it side-by-side with our Lishan to see how they compare!

Elliot

Although we’ve been quiet on the blogosphere, there are a lot of things happening at Miro Tea, not least of which include a lot of cool events and fun changes around the store.  On the tea end, things have been exciting.  Our source in Taiwan has supplied us with a clutch of really impressive teas–both classic Taiwan oolongs as well as some very interesting and more unusual teas, some of which I’ve never even heard of before!  As we introduce the new teas to the staff, first impressions are as important as ever–to one of our more poetic team members, the fresh oolongs have become known as “new-longs!”  Over the next few weeks we’ll be featuring these on the blog with tasting notes and descriptions.  Of course, they’ll be available in the store by the cup and pot on our enduringly-popular seasonal oolong menu, and if you get in early enough you might be able to snag a few ounces to take home!

For starters, our Oxidized Buddha Hand oolong has been restocked, and this time it’s a winter harvest.  This was probably my favorite of the last batch of oolongs we received from Taiwan.  Buddha Hand (pinyin Fo Shou) oolong has personally intrigued me for quite a while with its enormous leaves and inimitable fruity notes.  This tea is quite a pleasure to drink because the higher oxidation (which tends to bring out fruity or generally sweet notes) has amplified the Buddha Palm cultivar’s natural flavor profile into a rich autumnal (forgive the strange word choice, but it just seems to fit the way this tea tastes) fruity-floral combination.  Compared with our “Green” Buddha Hand oolong (which, at the time of this writing, is still in stock), the body is a fair bit thicker.  Although this tea may not develop quite as much over repeated brews, the oxidized taste is endearing and so unlike most Taiwanese oolongs that it doesn’t really matter–it’s nice to just bask in the unique flavor.

Some tea leaves are called “big” because of their length, but the immensity of this cultivar’s leaves is really noticeable in the astounding breadth as shown by the gargantuan example above.  You can also see the bruised edges that have contributed to the oxidized nature of this oolong.  I’m excited that we get to prolong the magic of this tea by carrying another season’s harvest–we too often have to say “goodbye” to interesting teas too soon!

Stay tuned–we’ve got even more noteworthy teas on the horizon.  We’ll be continuing next post with our first green High Mountain Alishan Oolong in over a year.

Elliot

Today it’s my pleasure to introduce a very special tea we’ve recently begun serving at the store. Jeannie purchased this Chinese black tea at the end of 2007–three years ago! Until now it’s sat sealed in a faraway corner of Miro’s storage. Jeannie recently remembered the tea and upon trying some was pleasantly surprised. Not only had the quality of the tea not degraded during its storage, the astringency had mellowed considerably and the tea was actually much more pleasant to drink than it had been three years ago!


Unfortunately because of the time that’s elapsed we know little about this tea other than the fact that it’s a high-grade Chinese black–the large bags it was stored in have only generic tea labels and the words “Special Grade” handwritten by our wholesaler. So, in absence of a more accurate name, we’re calling it “China Vintage Special.” I recently took the opportunity to give this tea a try and was quite pleasantly surprised. I don’t drink a lot of black tea but always appreciate a complex tea no matter what genre it belongs to. As you can see above, this tea’s leaves are quite long and though there are some golden buds present, it’s nowhere near as tippy as our Yunnan Gold Fancy.


When you see this tea in the cup, it’s easy to understand why the Chinese call black tea “red” tea; they’re going off of the liquor color not the dry leaf color! Indeed, this tea is a deep amber red with a nice surface sheen but great clarity, to be expected from the leaf profile. The word that kept ringing in my head while tasting this tea was “clean;” there certainly is no excessive astringency, nor is there any muddiness or harshness of flavor that can often plague cheap black tea. The flavor is a balanced mix of both high, sweet notes and a lower, maltier, medium-bodied base. Compared with our other Chinese blacks, this tea’s certainly unique. The range of flavor and mouth sensation is much wider than that of our bassy Keemun; compared with Yunnan Gold, it’s a bit drier, less pungently sweet, and purer. Additionally, there’s a definite vibrant energy to this tea’s mouthfeel and finish that really reminded me of the experience of drinking fresh Chinese green tea.

Because it’s been aged a couple of years, I recommend brewing this tea just a little bit stronger to reawaken its complexity. As shown above, the leaves don’t open fully even after a full steeping–a sign that this tea will actually be good for a few tries or maybe even steeped gong fu style. Stop by and try this special tea soon–we’ve only got a limited quantity and it’s already proven popular with our more discriminating black tea drinkers!

Elliot

Check out this recent Wall Street Journal article regarding the famous Wuyi Yan Cha Da Hong Pao. The gist is that Da Hong Pao prices have recently skyrocketed in China because shops and individual people have been speculating with the tea–purchasing it for the purposes of investment. This article is illuminating for a number of reasons; some are obvious and some are not so obvious.


For starters, it reminds us Western tea fans that tea really isn’t “our” beverage–when it comes to Chinese tea, domestic demand almost always trumps exportability. In this case, the market has (rather unrealistically) decided that there’s enough demand for Da Hong Pao that 1000% price increases accurately value the tea. As the article makes clear, though, this price is unsustainable and vendors aren’t able to sell much of the oolong at current inflated prices. Moreover, it’s pretty interesting to see how integral tea is to Chinese culture. What do you invest in when real estate and stocks are unstable and high-risk? How about a rare tea? It’s funny to think about as an American, but this sort of thing (including the 2007 pu-erh market bubble) indicates that some Chinese view tea as a viable form of investment–however, the pacing of this surge also seems to suggest that any potential profit has already been made and that the late-comers are stuck with some (hopefully delicious) unsellably expensive tea.

From another angle, this article is a good reminder that no matter how fun a hobby tea can be, it’s still ultimately a commodity and is subject to even the most basic economic principles of supply and demand. For those of us who don’t reside in China, it’s easy to feel toyed-with when the price increases are piled onto our already marked-up tea prices. Additionally, when a tea’s value achieves such a status, on come the fakes–you can bet there are hundreds of kilos of cheap Shui Xian being sold as “real” Da Hong Pao. Another bad sign for us consumers. What to do? It’s still the best policy to buy from vendors you trust who have as long a history as possible and a close relationship with their tea producers–one of the reasons we count ourselves lucky to partner with Seven Cups, who I’ve just now seen has its own article on the same subject!

Finally, this article provides yet more evidence that there’s a lot more going into your tea cup than just a few leaves from a bush somewhere in the far East. It can be pretty interesting and bewildering to dive down the rabbit hole and find out just how much is going on before the hot water hits the leaves in front of you.

Elliot


“What is the best tea to infuse with vodka?” a friendly customer asks me one day. 

With a store of over 200 teas, meeting customers looking for specific teas for very specific purposes, becomes a game of “Stump the Chump” on a very regular basis.  Luckily, I love a good challenge.  To me, it adds variety to our work and it’s also one of the reasons why we provide such a vast variety of teas to begin with.  You can never get the type of customized service, advice and variety of product from a grocery store or even online, than from a brick and mortar tea shop. 




“No problem.” I tell him.  But honestly, I was a little in over my head because I’m not much of an alcohol drinker and my least favorite liquor was certainly, vodka.  While I did not want to be the cause of a failed experiment, I remained confident.  I knew my teas and I knew what I IMAGINED a good tea-infused vodka would taste like.


We quickly decided that black teas were the best tea to play around with an experiment like this.  Black teas have robust yet accessible flavors, and their amber coloration when steeped always make them ideal teas for infusions in beverages, cooking and baking.  I picked out three contenders.  New Vithana Ceylon, a gorgeous flowery ceylon with tightly rolled golden tips.  It’s best drunk alone to enjoy it’s mellow honey-like flavors.  Meleng Assame, a good everyday tea that represents all the qualities of a typical assam — hearty, robust and clean, brisk flavor.




And finally, Mokalbari Assam, my go to tea for anyone looking for a strong, malty yet smooth tea.  It has a lot of complex flavors that can grab a hold of a tea drinker’s attention and the flavor doesn’t fade away as quickly when combined with milk or other additives.  After sampling each of the teas, he settled on my favorite, Mokalbari Assam, believing the strong woodsy and almost sweet flavor of the tea would compliment and stand up well infused in a vodka.  It proved to be a wise choice.

A couple of months later, while sipping tea outside the store on a warm and pleasant day, the same customer came back, greeting me with a generous bottle of freshly infused tea vodka!  The experiment was a success!  He encourages me to “serve it with some tonic with a spritz of lemon and it will taste just like a real iced tea.”  Well, I’m sipping this vodka now (straight) as I write this post and I have to say that the results are surprisingly good.  The vodka used in this experiment was Svedka vodka, an affordable wheat grain vodka that’s strong with an unexpected smoothness.  The Mokalbari Assam did the job beautifully, as the distinct flavors of the black assam lingers in gradually, blending very easily with the vodka and providing hints of fruit at the end of a tasting.  As the mouth salivate and puckers in the finish, a clear taste of ripe green grapes can be detected.  Who would of thought!

To make tea infused vodka at home, it’s as simple as adding tea leaves to vodka and forgetting about it.  Choose a tea that’s strong enough to hold it’s own while complimenting the base flavor of the liquor.  Black teas are always a good choice but a Japanese green tea (like a Sencha or Gyokuro) may be interesting as well.  Use at least 1-2 ounces of tea per bottle and leave it in the liquor for at least 2 days, either in the refrigerator or in room temperature.  Then strain out the tea and enjoy!
Now that my mind has been opened to the possibilities of infusing alcohol with tea, I’m really looking forward to playing around with other tea and vodka combinations.  Readers, if you happen to have any experience in this (or decide to embark upon some experimenting on your own), please share with us interesting results you have discovered.  I’d love to read more about the possiblities.  Cheers!

There’s no denying that fall is now upon us–as we say goodbye to those hot summer days (or in our case here in Seattle, give up on this year’s summer ever actually happening), it’s natural for our tea tastes to shift a little bit. Those vegetal green teas and light, floral oolongs that were thirst-quenching during summer months may not seem quite as comforting when the weather starts cooling off and daylight hours wane. Wuyi oolongs to the rescue! These oolongs are traditionally higher-oxidized and much more roasted than your typical green Tieguanyin and High Mountain Taiwanese oolongs, which means their pure floral notes are rounded–a bit fruitier and accompanied by a robust roasted note, which makes them perfect for cold weather! Coincidentally, these teas are traditionally given a period of several months to rest after processing to allow the flavors to blend successfully, which means they’re drinkable right when fall comes around!

We’ve just received this year’s harvest of five different Wuyi rock oolongs–Da Hong Pao, Tie Luo Han, Rou Gui, Old Bush Shui Xian and Shui Jin Gui. Like last year, we sourced these teas with a whole lot of help and legwork from our good friends at Seven Cups tea. It’s exciting to get these teas because of the change in season, but also because it gives us a chance to compare a second season of tea with last year’s harvest. The above shot (photos by Jeannie) of our new Da Hong Pao’s luscious leaves tells the story pretty well–the leaves are dark brown with a few rusty edges, a sign of plenty of careful oxidation and roasting. In the cup it’s dark reddish amber, which is another great sign. Tasting these teas, I was really excited to notice plenty of fire taste–the roasting is still pretty apparent, and that’s the way I like my Wuyi rock oolongs. With a heavier roast, the tea’s quality is less susceptible to deterioration (if it’s well-stored, of course), and its characteristics will continue to develop as time passes.


Since we still have a small quantity of a few of last year’s Wuyi oolongs, we’ve also had an opportunity to compare what a year does to a similar tea. Tasting last year’s Old Bush Shui Xian, I was really surprised how much the roasting flavor has mellowed in a year’s time (considering we haven’t stored the tea specifically for aging). The gentle floral notes and mineral aftertaste are more prominent and the roast lingers in the background. The 2010 counterpart, on the other hand, is quite robust with up-front roasting and floral notes that are more apparent in the nose after swallowing. Most interesting, though, is that it’s possible (even easy) to draw a clear connection between this year’s tea and last year’s, despite the obvious differences. Likewise, the Da Hong Pao’s incomparable high acidic notes, Tie Luo Han’s rich broadness, and Rou Gui’s fruity/spiciness all are apparent, there’s just more of an element of fire in the mix.

Everyone has their own tastes for oolong. Right now, these teas taste perfect to me. They’ve been in my cup almost every day since they arrived (a very good sign!). As they mellow out in the next few months, though, I think they’ll become even more accessible and balanced, which is one of my favorite things about Wuyi oolongs–they’re always drinkable, but they’re also always changing.

One of the greatest perks for me of owning and running my own business has been the freedom to customize what we do, so I can dabble in other interests that are also meaningful to me, one of which is art.  Mind you, as much as I wish, I don’t have a lick of skill, talent or drive to be an artist myself but it doesn’t lessen the fact that I love art.  As an entrepreneur, I empathize with the process of having an idea or vision and then to brave the process of extracting that idea out of our heads and into the real world, where it is made tangible and experienced by others. There is very little in this world that is more satisfying to me than the process of creation.  But unlike business, the enjoyment of art, similar to tea, has the ability to calm and focus my thoughts, forcing me to be in touch with my senses while being honest with myself, to be refective.  What do I see?  What are my reactions? How do I feel about what I see? What do I know or don’t know that would help me understand what I see?  In tasting tea, I ask these same questions but in context of smell and taste as well.


Finding a space with over 15 feet tall ceilings and almost enless amounts of wall space for artwork, has given me the opportunity to combine my love of art and tea. I have so thoroughly enjoyed working with all the artists that have shown at Miro over the last several years.  Witnessing how each month, our store is morphed and injected with new style and energy with each new artist. And this month, we welcome the month of October with the beautifully painted oil landscapes of Kathleen Wolfe.

There is something special about oil landscapes that warms a space and makes you want to curl up in your favorite corner with a good book and a cup of tea.  They transport you to another place and time, make you nostalgic for old libraries and simpler times.  This month, Miro Tea has been transformed again with dreamy scenes of places forgotten and unseen.  The store feels warm and cozy and in some ways, more intimate.

As with most artist’s works, Kathleens’ paintings are best viewed in person.  My photography fails to capture all the depth and variegation of colors as well as the heavy textures from her loaded brush that brings great dimension and mood to the each of the paintings.  You can see more close up photos of her work on her blog, here, but they truly are worth seeing in person.   My favorite one is in the top photo, in the bottom left corner.  When viewed up close, the blossoms of the cherry trees glisten as the sun shines through and fragments onto the grassy slope.  Everytime I look at that painting, I want to dive in and sit under that very tree and stare up at the pretty white flowers and just be lost for awhile.   

If you would like to learn more about the Kathleen and her work, I invite you to join us Oct. 9th from 6pm – 9pm, for the monthly Ballard Artwalk. You can view the paintings in person and speak with the artist herself.  Hope you can come!

Hmm . . . where to start?  It’s been almost a year since our last entry; the blog looks very different now, and I am not Elliot.  So I guess that means an introduction would be in order :)

Tea break at the Pearl River
Mart in NYC

My name is Jeannie and I’m the founder of Miro Tea.  I was awakened to “real” tea when I was in college in one of those ‘a-ha!’ moments when you discover something the way that it was truly meant to be. Before that, my knowledge was limited to strong, bitter cups of Chinese green tea, prepared by my parents who believed that the more bitter the tea, the better it was, and that drinking tea was done more for medicinal reasons than for pleasure.  However, when coffee failed to give me the steadiness and concentration I needed to finish my college papers at 3:00 am, I was re-introduced to tea by a good friend, who showed me that good tea, when prepared properly, enables you to discover and appreciate its full, beautiful and nuanced flavors.  Flavors that one did not even know existed in this world.  And so with that, my future changed.  I decided early in my life that I wanted to own my own business, and I also believed deeply in the Buddhist ethic of not profitting from another’s suffering or misfortune. I also felt that the American public–and specifically coffee-buzzed Seattlites–was ready to re-discover an alternative to their caffeine habit.  And so the idea of Miro Tea was born.


Our mission with Miro Tea is simple.  Encourage more people to drink and love tea.  There’s no snobbery or pretense at Miro Tea.  We just love talking about and drinking teas of all varieties, and we believe strongly that the best way to encourage people to explore and ultimately adopt a new product is by appealing to ALL of their senses (sight, smell, taste, touch and even sound) in an environment that is as warm and approachable as the people serving and educating you about the product.

Our blog re-launch parallels our increased efforts to source even better teas (and talk more about them), and to recount the day-to-day activities of our store (which includes our beloved customers and staff) that is ultimately the heart and soul of Miro Tea.  In the coming weeks and months, we will have a total of three different TEAm members who will be contributing regularly to this blog. Elliot (whom you have previously met via his eloquent tea tasting entries) will delve deeper into the details of specific teas than one would think is even possible.  Rachael, our arts and events coordinator, will be sharing more information about upcoming art and music events, as well as the tea workshops that we have been busy pulling together. And finally me, to talk about everything else that Rachael and Elliot don’t cover!

Since it’s been 20 years since my last diary entry (and this being my first blog entry), please bear with me as I spend the coming months getting accustomed to the notion of sharing my opinions, experiences and passion for tea with you through this online medium rather than doing it with you in person at our store.  Please feel free to comment or email us if you have any feedback or have any questions about tea, what you see on this site, or about Miro Tea in general.  I look forward to hearing from you.  Gan bei!


Greetings, patient readers! I’ve had precious little tea news to report for a long stretch; unfortunately, managing day-to-day store operations takes precedence over fun blogging projects, and we’ve been quite busy in the store preparing for the holidays and attending to our loyal customers. This news, though, is too tasty to keep under wraps: With the help of Seven Cups we’ve recently acquired a selection of five top-quality Chinese Wuyi oolongs, which we are now featuring in a special seasonal menu in the store–and just in time for this spate of extremely cold days!

High-quality and authentic Wuyi oolongs can be difficult to come by, which is why Seven Cups’ sourcing skills (they literally personally source all of the teas they carry, traveling to each province of origin and purchasing teas from the tea masters who produce them) are much appreciated–these are great teas.

If you’re not familiar with Wuyi oolongs, here’s a brief introduction from way-back. Generally, these are stripe-rolled, roasted Chinese oolongs. Most are named after the cultivar, or genetic “type” of tea plant that they come from. My goals with bringing our customers these teas are first to replace our out-of-stock Wuyi offerings, and second to offer a broad range of teas that exhibit the potential quality Wuyi oolongs can aspire to, as well as the differences between different tea cultivars and processing, with special emphasis on roast level. So, without further ado, here are some brief impressions on our new teas.

Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) pronounced DAH hung POW
The most widely-acclaimed Wuyi oolong is also the most often-faked. Because of its international popularity, authentic Da Hong Pao is almost always one of the most expensive Wuyi teas, but its popularity is earned. This Da Hong Pao blends the tea’s unique acidity with a really smooth body, making it a little less bright but more balanced than some other examples. The roasting is on the lighter side of medium, with plenty of room for the tea’s floral and buttery aspects to shine, and the rich mouthfeel marches along nicely through the infusions. Da Hong Pao is the standard by which all other Wuyi oolongs are measured, so trying a good one like this is “required tasting,” both so you can understand the ideal characteristics of these teas, but also so you can understand what makes the other cultivars different. Most importantly, though, if your only Wuyi experience has been low-grade, over-roasted generic Wuyi oolong with the words “Da Hong Pao” slapped on the box for the purposes of extra profit, get ready to have your eyes opened!

Lao Cong Shui Xian (Old Bush Water Sprite) pronounced LAOW CHONG SHWAY see-en
Shui Xian is the most widely-cultivated Wuyi oolong (not sure why, but I assume it’s because of the plant’s hardiness and yield); it’s even popular enough that it’s also cultivated in Taiwan and Feng Huang in Guangdong province. This particular Shui Xian is grown toward the center of the Wuyi reserve and it comes from plants that are over 30 years old. This means the roots have had plenty of time to penetrate the rich soil and receive a well-rounded nutrient supply. This tea offers one of the higher roast levels of the five, but I’d still say it occupies the “medium” range of the spectrum. Shui Xian offers a really balanced flavor with equal measures of flowers, fruits and a wee bit of spice. On first tasting, this is near the top of my list for favorites, and it’s one of the better values of the five. I really enjoyed the thick mouthfeel, and there were some interesting changes from infusion to infusion.

Rou Gui (Cinnamon/Cassia Aroma) pronounced ROW GWAY
Rou Gui is another very popular cultivar, and one of the most distinct-tasting ones at that. Like the name implies, this tea tends to be spicy. I was really impressed by this tea’s medium roasting; many Rou Gui I’ve tried tend to be heavily roasted. To my tastes, a medium roast compliments the dark spice notes more elegantly, although I do have to say I’d prefer heavy roasting to a light roast. This tea has a good, strong tea base, and is honestly probably my favorite Rou Gui I’ve ever tried.

Shui Jin Gui (Golden Marine Turtle) pronounced SHWAY jin GWAY
Shui Jin Gui is one of my favorite Wuyi cultivars; in my experience it tends to be medium-light roasted, silky smooth, with a pure flavor that makes me want to keep drinking and drinking. In the past week, this tea has already become a favorite with some of our regulars–it’s complex, mellow, and the lightly toasty aroma is remarkably chocolatey. In the cup, it’s one of the lighter of the teas, but I think a lighter roasting is appropriate for a tea with such a nice, darkly floral character.

Tie Luo Han (Iron Warrior Monk) pronounced TEE-eh luh-wo HAHN
Finally, we have this light-roast Tie Luo Han. Although the roasting level is denoted as “light,” after tasting this tea a few times I’d place it more on the medium level, although it’s certainly not as heavy a roast as this tea traditionally receives. I’ve been really surprised by this tea’s flavor, which strongly reminds me of the sort of spiced apple desserts that are a hallmark of fall and winter American cuisine. The lighter roasting really showcases this fruitiness, whereas a high roasting would probably obscure this element and completely alter the character of the tea. This tea might win the award for most complex of the selection as well.

I hope you’ll take the opportunity to stop in and try a few of these teas–In China, winter is traditionally viewed as the best time to drink these warming, roasty teas, and I find myself agreeing more and more with every sip!


Tomorrow night we’re hosting a very special guest for the October Artwalk: Brian Sterkovsky.

Not only does Brian play and build harps, he also plays electric banjo and writes and sings his own words and poetry. Not only does he do all this, he’s one of our favorite regular customers at Miro Tea! Tomorrow night at 7pm Brian will be performing on harp as well as doing some spoken word performance for the Artwalk opening of Maryam Tohidi. For a taste of Brian’s work, you can visit his MySpace (http://www.myspace.com/briansterkovsky)–you’ll get a sampling of his eerie harp originals, as well as his spoken word and gitjo songs. He’s also got two albums worth of material (one of harp and one of gitjo/singing) available for purchase digitally or on CD.

Brian is extremely talented and a great friend of Miro Tea, so come on down tomorrow night, grab a roasted apple fig and walnut crepe (with ice cream) and a cup of Irish Breakfast tea, and show your support!

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