For most of us, the closest we get to tea appreciation is gulping down a cup of pearl milk tea from Gong Cha on a hot day. After all, tea is pretty much the same across board, earthy and maybe slightly bitter unless loaded with milk and sugar.
It’s understandable why people would prefer bubble tea to a sit-down cup of oolong. Who has time to steep the tea and add in sugar and milk yourself? However, drinking tea is most enjoyable when time is taken to appreciate it – there is a reason why teahouses exist in the first place. Thus, that’s exactly what Gryphon Tea decided to do, help us appreciate the in-and-outs of tea by organising a tea appreciation session to introduce their new Grand Cru tea collection.
The Grand Cru collection comprises of 24 exclusive single origin teas harvested from the top tea regions in China, India and Japan. The term “single origin” refers to teas that consist only of leaves grown in one specific area. This results in a specific taste unique only to that region. So oolong tea grown on China’s Wuyi Mountain would taste very different from the one grown in Taoyuan, Taiwan.
It is this detail of quality that makes paying more for this collection of teas, than characterless supermarket brands. As Mr Lim said, “By enjoying a cup of single [origin] tea, you are immersed in the spirit and commitment that is embodied within each leaf.”
We started off not by delving straight into tea but with a rather surprising water appreciation session by FIJI Water. Although, if you think about it, the importance of water has been constantly overlooked in brewing of tea. After all, water is the basis of tea; it is alike to bread in a sandwich. If stale bread is used, even the best jam in the world can’t save the sandwich.
They set out distilled, spring and FIJI water for us to taste and brought us through the differences between the waters. In a nutshell, distilled and spring water had a harder texture than FIJI, spring water had a salty taste, distilled was metallic and FIJI was clean finish. Now, I know it seems rather exaggerated when I describe the differences – water is water – but I guess it could only be truly understood when you try it yourself. Suffice to say, FIJI definitely seemed the best suited for tea brewing. It’s soft on the palate with no outstanding taste, perfect for absorbing the flavours of the tealeaves when brewed.
We couldn’t have asked for a better tea master (of sorts) than Mr Lim Tian Wee, the founder of Gryphon Tea. He was incredibly passionate, well-versed in the world of tea and friendly – always encouraging us to share our opinions on the teas and answering our questions.
He brought us through five different kinds of teas – white (Silver Needle from Fujian, China), green (Gyokuro Pearl Dew from Kyoto, Japan), oolong (Dan Chong Magnolia from Phoenix Mountain, China), black (Darjeeling Margaret’s Hope TGFOP from Darjeeling, India) and a vintage Pu’erh from Yunnan, China – and showed us the nuances in each one.
We smelt and felt the dried and brewed tealeaves, while Mr Lim explained to us the origins of each tea and how they are picked and produced. He was incredibly knowledgeable and spoke almost as if he had a personal relationship with each tea.
All the teas were rich with flavours unique to their origin. None of the teas could be mistaken for the others. However, the two outstanding teas in my opinion were the green tea and the vintage Pu’erh.
The Gyokuro Pearl Dew (second from left) smelled like hay when dry and had a texture and taste comparable to mashed up spinach when wet. However the brewed tea was nothing of the vegetative sort. It had a delicate balance of umami and bitter flavours and the aftertaste was a pleasantly tart and savoury. Definitely nothing like the kind in Japanese restaurants where the tealeaves are left to steep forever.
The vintage Pu’erh (last) was indeed an eye opener. All those years disdain for the diluted and characterless Pu’erh teas at fancy Chinese restaurants were forgotten. This Pu’erh tea had incredibly depth to it and you could almost taste all the time that was put into maturing it. It was definitely stronger than the generic kinds, but not so that it was unpleasantly bitter. It was earthy but not in a muddy sense; it was rich yet with a subtle refreshingly floral taste. I finally understood why my parents would rejoice at a gift of authentic Pu’erh tealeaves from China.
I think the fact that those two types of teas are probably my least favourite says something about how good the session was in dispelling notions of boring and bland tea. It’s true; the fine things in life do need time to be properly appreciated.
I also must mention a black forest tea blend that Gryphon Tea created exclusively for luxury home appliance maker, Gaggenau. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of black forest cake – I find it too cloying – but I absolutely loved the tea blend. It smelt like a rich black forest cake, but was incredibly light yet flavourful on the palate. The intense flavours of the cake were toned down and beautifully balanced by black tea leaves. You had the fruity nuances yet none of the overbearing sweetness of the cake. So if you ever need a new oven and have a $5000 budget, this tea blend is a very delicious reason to consider Gaggenau.
Prices range for the Grand Cru Collection from $38 for White Peony tea to $78 for a Iron Goddess of Mercy tea.
Each tin holds 40-80g of premium quality single terroir loose leaf teas.
Orders can be made via telephone at +65 6779-2948 or throughemail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to FoodNews for the invite!
Photo credits: Han Qi Guang, Gaggenau