November 13, 2020 5 min read
What follows below is the insert for the November 2020 Monthly Tea Club Mailout. If you want to join (which you totally should!), you can join here.
Hello and welcome to the November installment of the Monthly Tea Club. Hopefully, this package finds you in good health and good spirits.
This month we are taking a deep dive into some of the 2020 teas from the Jun Chiyabari tea gardens in Dhankuta, Nepal. We are including three teas this month: 30 grams of Himalayan Spring, 30 grams of Himalayan Orange, and 30 grams of Ruby Red. All are organic. In fact, all are beyond organic as the gardens are transitioning to the ‘natural farming’ farming method as taught by Masanobu Fukuoka (author of “The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming”)
Jun Chiyabari, which translates to ‘Moonlit Tea Garden,’ is a very exciting tea producer with a reputation for super clean, well made, creative teas. They have only been in operation for twenty years, but from day one they approached their project knowing they wanted to be fully organic and that they wanted to move beyond what the tea producers in Nepal had mainly been doing up until that point, which was basically mimicking the style of their very close neighbor, Darjeeling (about 65 km to the west).
Quick detour: If you are not familiar with Darjeeling teas, know that they are highly sought after and a very major player in the global specialty tea market. There is a decent amount of variability in Darjeeling teas, mainly as a consequence of what season the tea was made, but overall Darjeeling teas are distinctively light to medium bodied with a delicious fruitiness and sometimes a ‘muscatel’ aroma.
Darjeeling has protected origin status in India – meaning that if the tea was not grown in one of 87 registered estates within that area, it cannot legally be called ‘Darjeeling.’ However, Nepali tea has had a long history of mimicking its Darjeeling neighbors - because it was profitable for them to do so (a lot of Nepali tea is sold as Darjeeling tea). That is less the case in the last ten years or so, as Nepali tea has gained recognition for its own distinctiveness (which was in large measure due to the success of Jun Chiyabari).
Back on track to Jun Chiyabari. At the time they were getting started, they purposefully chose to move away from the Indo-British model of tea production which was what everyone else in Nepal was doing at that point. They were heavily influenced by Taiwanese, Chinese, and Japanese tea making and tea growing and have many varietals of tea in their gardens from these places, in addition to their local cultivars (which are actually Darjeeling cultivars). All their plants are seed propagated, and at this point, twenty years in, they spend a fair amount of energy cultivating naturally occurring (sexually propagated) tea varietals from their plants from Japan, China, Taiwan, and India. Tea is not native to Nepal, so this is an interesting way to make a native type of tea program.
In terms of terroir, or the natural environment in which the teas grows, Jun Chiyabari has some of the world’s highest growing tea at elevations between 1650 m and 2110 m. The high mountain growing environment means the tea grows more slowly and is under much stress from UV light, weather extremes, and frequent cloudy periods. Stress on a tea leaf affects the chemistry within the leaf, which overall impacts the kinds of chemicals the leaf has at the moment it is plucked and begins the tea production process.
Himalayan Spring is one of their early spring teas, this lot was made on April 8, 2020. At this point in the season, the plants have basically been in hibernation for four months so this first flush, or this first batch of new growth, has a different nutritional/chemical make up than do later flushes when the weather is warmer and the plants grow more quickly. The tea makers said of this tea, it is “an expression of our high mountain seasonality. It is only crafted in spring and tries to capture and encapsulate freshness, new life, and youthfulness of this season.” I have not tried this tea aged, but the tea maker suggested it is a tea that will age well, losing some of its initial floral character and becoming more complex and layered.
Recommended 2 grams of tea for every 100 ml of water used with water at around 185 F for 3 minutes. You may also want to experiment and try this as a chilled tea, in which case you could do 10 grams of tea per liter of cold (not hot, not iced) water in the fridge for 10 to 12 hours. It’s not exactly the weather for chilled tea, but its one of the many ways to get to know a tea so if you’re in the mood to experiment, it promises to be delicious.
Royal Ruby Red is a summer tea, harvested August 25, 2020. This is one of those teas that I instantly fell in love with. It is rich with notes of honey, cinnamon and hazelnut. It is very different from their Himalayan Spring because it comes from a different time in the season and, more importantly, it is made specifically from seed grown varietals originally from Japan, Taiwan, and China.
Again, for this tea the initial recommendation (from the grower) is 2 grams of tea for every 100 ml of water, using a temperature between 194 F and 203 F for four minutes. I have had it also with water at 210 and can recommend that. If you have the patience, try both temperatures and see if you can pick up on how the temperature affects the extraction and which you might prefer.
Himalayan Orange is 2020 spring made tea that represents Jun Chiyabari’s more “everyday” class of teas. This tea is made in the traditional style of the region, which means that it was heavily influenced by tea making from the Darjeeling region. It is a very solid tea with a prominent, pleasing fruitiness – reminiscent of second flush Darjeelings.
The initial recommendation for this tea is 2 grams for every 100 ml of water, using a temperature of 205 for four to five minutes. This will also make a fantastic chilled tea if you would like to try that: 10 grams of tea for every liter of water. Pop it in the fridge and let it steep for about 8 hours.