Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Peerless Teas

Review of Peerless Coffee and Tea Company Teas

(image posted from Peerless' Website)

I bought four tea samples from this local company, spanning a gamut of the world's black teas:

Assam, Keemun, Darjeeling, and English Breakfast.

The teas were all similarly priced, and quite cheaply at that, the most expensive being the Darjeeling at $10.30 for a pound. But I definitely got what I paid for. Here are some notes on each variety:

Assam ($9.35 for 16 oz.)

Peerless' website describes this tea as "A very dark Indian tea with a heavy cup - strong and pungent." The dry leaves were small and whole to roughly cut, about 1/4" long, with some golden leaves peppering the mostly black bits. The golden leaves, fair leaf size, and robust smell made me expect a decently good cup. Boy, was I wrong. This was definitely my least favorite of these four teas. While it produced a dark tea liquor, the strength was mediocre at best. But the taste... that's what really killed this tea. A minor detail to skimp on. The taste was musty, like old hardbound books that smell of years on a shelf in a bookshop. While this can be pleasant to smell on an old book, causing nostalgic wonder about where the book has been, it is not a flavor that is pleasantly ingested. I even rinsed the leaves before brewing, but this musty flavor predominated.

Overall rating: 1/10. Not really drinkable.

Keemun ($8.35 for 16 oz.)

This tea is described as having "Superb bouquet, rich and perfume-like." The leaf bits of this tea were about 1/4", or about yay long: ==. After brewing, the leather-brown leaf pieces had not opened up, and there were quite a few twig bits. The tea liquor was also brown in color, and not too dark. I enjoyed the interesting flavors this tea presented, mostly because it was different from any black tea I've tried. The taste itself wasn't terribly complex, but the way this singular taste unfolded in my mouth made drinking it an experience. While not strongly affecting the taste buds on the surface of my tongue (at least compared to most Indian black teas), tangible waves of flavor passed through the deeper layers of my gustatory viscera. The most curious was an aftertaste that kicked in about three seconds after swallowing: a wave of slight bitterness that began on the front of my neck and traveled up my adam's apple and through the center of the tongue muscle to its tip. I had never experienced this before, and it happened sip after sip. Definitely an energetically charged tea. This made me wonder about the meaning of "keemun" in Chinese, which I found to be written as qímén in Pinyin and hence pronounced "chee-mun." Qi as in energy/breath/air? No, that qi is pronounced with the fourth tone, written qì in Pinyin, and written as . The of Keemun means 'pray' or 'abundant', and is written as 祁 . Mén, or 门, means door. I assume that together qímén, which refers to the county in China that this tea comes from, means something like "gate of abundance." Any insight here, anyone?

Besides the interesting evolution of flavor waves in my mouth, the tea had a woodsy taste something like oak... not piney, however. When trying to describe the taste in words as the tea lingered in my mouth, wise also seemed appropriate.

Overall impression: 6/10. While not incredibly tasty, the experience of this tea was a surprise. It was a reminder as to how incredibly complex the tea world is, and a fun branch of the "tea tree" to climb.

Darjeeling ($10.30 for 16 oz.)

Peerless calls this one "
An Indian tea with a strong, fragrant, full-bodied liquor." I love the way Darjeeling looks, with its confetti of colors: green, gold, auburn, black... The confetti bits of this tea were not at all rolled or shaped, and the flakes simply expanded upon brewing, the largest to the size of a pencil eraser. They produced a golden brown liquor after a two-and-a-half minute steeping. The scent that effused was floral, reminiscent of a tie guan yin oolong. The taste, however, was slightly sweet, smooth, with a winey character. An astringent bite followed, and each sip dried my mouth out, making me want more. Maybe it was just my mind fantasizing, but the tea actually tasted like India, inducing images of camels carrying burlap sacks of mountain grown tea (I bet you're thinking, "don't camels live in the desert?").

The experience synopsized: 5/10. I like this tea, especially its "just enough" astringency.

Two out of three ain't bad. Fortunately for Peerless though, they are better known for their coffees!

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