Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Russian Caravan

Russian Caravan from Coffee beans and tea leaves

After lunch on Monday, I walked across the street to Coffee beans and tea leaves with my friend to check out their loose tea leaves. The thought of buying tea from them have never across my mind. As we sniffed along the little jars, my friend pointed out this Russian Caravan black tea. I was curious enough to ask the server Justin at the counter whether they sell them in small quantity, he gave me a sample about 3 grams. Free tea! Hooray!!!

Russian Caravan has a distinctive smoky aroma, hundreds years ago large caravans carried tea from China traveled a very long way back north, usually upwards of months of traveling on foot. Along the journey, fire smokes from campfires used for cooking and warming left its marks on teas they traveled with. Hence the name and the heavy smoky flavor.

In mid Ching dynasty - 1700's, Russia consumed as much as 40% of its imported goods in tea alone, 80% from China's famous Jun Shang - a group of very successful business men from Shan Xi province - Jun for short. They dominated China's economy and made up most of the military funds by late Ching. But they went bankrupt due to an outdated non collateral banking system invented by themselves, economy slump during war, also exhausted by the never ending drain for military funds. Some of these business men's housing consisted of 1500+ individual units within a compound, resided over 3000 residents, including 800+ family members by the same last name and maids, workers, gardeners, horse keepers etc., there were stores of everything you can imagine within the compound as well, from tea to gold. There are more than 1000 of these large living compounds preserved as museums in the region today. After watching a documentary film on Jun Shang, I had much respect for the integrity of Chinese business men in the old days, unlike the modern days which I find extremely difficult to deal with and in most cases, not trust worthy. Well, this is a whole different topic.

1.5 gram in a gaiwan, boiling water, using Kung Fu Cha method

Dry leaves: dark brown, a few silvery leaves mixed in, sign of machine cut, very strong dry roasted prune aroma, caramelly, smoky

1st brew: pour immediately, red brown color, prune juice without sugar taste, fermented fruity aroma, sour tone, leaves a dry sensation in the back of my throat, unpleasant

2nd brew: 5 sec, deep red brown color, I think this is how dried prune steep in hot water might taste like, fermented fruity aroma, very sour, very dry, using Phyll's words, donut hole feeling in the back of the throat.

3rd and 4th: 5 sec each, similar taste

5th: fermented and smoky aroma and taste is lighter, a hint of sweetness, sour taste is almost gone, still a donut hole sensation

6th and 7th is much better in taste, I am surprised by the long lasting flavor.

After taste: sour, fruity, prunie, dry in the back of mouth and throat

This confirms my tea instinct is correct for not buying tea from such vendors.

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