By A.C. Cargill
Signs of Autumn are everywhere. The leaves are turning colors and beginning to fall and gather on the ground. The days are getting noticeably shorter. And the grocery stores are sporting jaunty displays of squash in different colors and sizes, as well as ever larger piles of pumpkins. Time for a nice Autumn cup of tea — but which tea?
My first thought is for a nice Dragon Well tea (or Long Jing as the Chinese call it). It’s nutty and woody tasting (reminds me of the smell of a pile of leaves being burnt by neighbors when I was a child — appropriate for Autumn). Small wonder that it’s the most famous Chinese green tea. The leaves are plucked from the Camellia Sinensis plant, then flat-fried by hand in large woks, producing leaves shaped like sword blades. The name comes from the Dragon’s Well, a landmark in a government-protected garden in Hangzhou province, where the tea is said to have originated.
Then, there’s Ceylon with its clean, bright, full-bodied taste. One special Ceylon tea is Sinharaja. It’s particularly rich, derived from dark, loose Camellia Sinensis leaves in the Ceylon hill country. With a distinct caramelized finish, Sinharaja is famous for a molasses-like consistency that takes sugar and cream well — perfect for staying warm and toasty on these increasingly chilly Autumn nights. Ah! I can almost see the Great Pumpkin rising from Charlie Brown’s pumpkin patch as I take a sip.
Of course, I can also have Darjeeling — always a favorite that’s often described as having a delicate, muscatel flavor and aroma, plus a crisp astringency. That’s the tea experts’ description. To me, it tastes full-bodied and a bit smoky. The kind called “first flush” is the best and most pricey. It’s picked from the first crop harvest of the year and is fermented more lightly. This preserves its brisk character and guarantees a complex aroma, sort of like semi-fermented Oolong. (Also similar to virgin olive oil, known for its richer, more complex taste, that is made from the first, and therefore most delectable, pressing of the olives). I can almost taste it now.
But then, I could go whole hog and have a nice Pu-erh. There are two basic kinds: fermented in a pile (shu pu-erh) and non pile-fermented (sheng pu-erh). The latter is steamed and preserved only. The earthy, smooth flavors are quite tantalizing. The tea is said to have certain health benefits, such as weight loss and beauty, reduced cholesterol and hangovers, and improved dental hygiene. It also grows stronger with age since the fermentation process continues even after it is packaged for sale. A bit pricey, this is one of my special occasion teas, being just a struggling artist. My first Autumn cup of tea certainly qualifies as a special occasion.
All of these go great with Autumn dishes like pumpkin pie or baked squash.
Decisions. Decisions. Decisions.
While I’m trying to decide, I need to get that acorn squash baking (with a couple pats of butter and a sprinkle of garlic). Ah, Autumn!
A.C.’s blog is full of more advice on living the Tea Life!