Fang Gourmet 2013 Tea Expo - Part 2: More Tea but Also Nut Butter and Jelly?

March 17, 2013

For a quick recap of the meal, check out the slide show at the bottom of the post. 

To read the first half of this post, click HERE.

Bundled oolong tea leaves. 

In the weeks following my first trip to Fang Gourmet’s 2013 Tea Expo, A. and I returned several times to satisfy our curiosity and taste buds. Not only did we drink more tea, we also sampled some unique treats from Taiwanese tea culture.

Determined to broaden our horizons, our game plan was to drink a variety of distinct tea styles (as opposed to fixating on the nuances within one class). In total, we tried several specimens from the Chinese red, tieguanyin, green oolong, semi-roasted oolong and cliff tea categories. Within these styles, 2 really stood out as my favorites.

Light, refreshing and great for cold-brewing in the summer. 
I’ve always had a bias towards Taiwanese high-mountain oolong but Fang’s Da Yu Ling solidified my love for this type of tea. Named after the highest tea-growing peak in Taiwan, Da Yu Ling is a lush, lightly-oxidized oolong that exudes a beautiful floral scent. The brewed product has a gorgeous pale chartreuse color and lasts surprisingly long – even after 5 steeps, the tea retained its clean, smooth flavor and barely-there sweet finish.

Since tea generally takes on characteristics from its environment, the Da Yu Ling’s clean flavor is a likely result of the pure air and temperature swings of Taiwan’s mountain ranges. In addition, the misty weather quality of the peaks aid the oolong in developing a unique, rounded mouth feel that reminds me of breathing in fresh water vapor. To me, this delicate tea epitomizes soft, feminine grace.

It's hard to believe that this tieguanyin and the Da Yu Ling are from the same type of tea plant! 
A powerful contrast to the demure Da Yu Ling is the 30% roasted tieguanyin. Translated to “Iron Bodhisattva,” tieguanyin is also an oolong by virtue of horticulture. However due vast differences in the fermentation and roasting process, the end product is generally separated into its own style. The tieguanyin we tasted was extra special: it was the winner of the expo’s tea aging contest.

Triumphing over other competitors with its exceptionally smooth mouth feel, this tieguanyin was sealed in an airtight container for a little over a year. The color of the tea leaves and the brewed product were both a lovely dark ochre. Upon my first sip, the tieguanyin tasted distinctly of charcoal and coffee with nutty overtones that made me almost forget I was drinking tea. In addition, its year-long aging did really make an impact – there was no bitter aftertaste and I couldn’t feel any dry patches in my throat. To be honest, I felt totally out of my league with this tieguanyin. Smokey and nuanced, this tea is definitely something I will need to revisit as I continue to develop my palate.

The ingredients and tools for making lei cha. 
Moving away from traditional tastings, A. and I also explored some other tea-related delights. From the recesses of Fujianese/Taiwanese tea culture, Fang managed to revive a tradition that few in the U.S. (including myself) have heard of: lei cha. Meaning “pestle tea” or “pounded tea,” lei cha is a beverage produced by grinding down nuts, seeds, and dry tea leaves into a fine, oily paste and hydrating the mixture with pre-brewed tea. With a texture like natural peanut butter, the mixture must be ground as fine as possible to allow for proper infusion.

Beginning to crush the nuts...
Hand-ground nut butter - not an easy task...
That said, we had no idea how labor intensive making lei cha was until we began manning Fang’s large mortar and pestle. After close to an hour of surprisingly sweat-inducing effort, we were left with a glossy paste that was then combined with premade powder and hot tea.

Even though I knew there was no sugar in the tea, the opaque green color made me expect a sweet milk tea flavor. Instead, the lei cha was prominently vegetal. This was not surprising considering the beverage was made from raw pumpkin seeds, raw walnuts and green tea. While I grew to like the lei cha’s flavor, I wasn’t a fan of the unstrained nut byproduct that settled into the bottom of my cup. Gritty and overly rich, it made the overall experience feel more like eating than drinking.

I’m glad I was given the opportunity to try lei cha but I probably won’t seek it out in the future.

Tempting me with their glisten...
The last delicacy we sampled was Fang’s expo-only, homemade tea jellies. Available in plum tea, jasmine green tea and pudding, these Jell-O-like snacks were dainty and delicious. The jasmine jelly was especially refreshing. The cold, slippery texture combined with the sweet perfume of fresh jasmine made each bite feel like a splash of cool water on a hot summer day.

Some of the wonderful volunteers that worked the expo. 
My experience at Fang’s tea expo was really a month long discovery process. Not only was I exposed to many varieties of tea, the staff at Fang also walked me through each tasting and help me learn the basics of appreciating tea. Since then, I've purchased a set of amateur teaware and begun tasting on my own. A.and I still have a lot to explore but it was really awesome to have an unexpected introduction to a cool new hobby.

Slide Show (Click the “i” for More Info on the Pictures):

Fang Gourmet Tea
135-25 Roosevelt Avenue
Queens, NY

Fang Gourmet 2013 Tea Expo - Part 2: More Tea but Also Nut Butter and Jelly?

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

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