Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tea Tasting in the Capital

I recently attended a tea tasting seminar organized by LivingSocial in downtown Washington, D.C.’s Penn Quarter.  LivingSocial is a web based social events network that features deals on the best things to do in your city.  I once bought a 50% discount gift card from them for dinner at a great French restaurant near me and since then I regularly check LivingSocial for more deals.  I wasn’t expecting to see a tea tasting event, so I was thrilled to see LivingSocial featuring one.
The tasting was held at a beautifully renovated Georgian/Romanesque style building at 918 F Street in downtown Washington.  It’s a majestic 1890’s building with original Seneca sandstone façade, exposed brick walls, and a cage elevator.  By contrast, the interior rooms are thoroughly modern and minimalist in style.

http://www.capitalteas.com/Capital Teas, headquartered in Annapolis, Maryland, co-hosted the event and provided the teas.  Their Vice President, Mr. Nkaiso Akpabio, presented the class “Five Tea Tastings From Around the World” to a group of fifty or so students.  Some attendees came with friends, many came alone, and all came to sample and learn about the teas.  Akpabio’s enthusiasm was infectious and he had the class laughing and asking questions such as: “Is it safe to drink the tea leaves at the bottom of the cup?” [Yes];  “Why do some add milk and sugar to their tea?” [taste and tradition]; and, “What is the process to decaffeinate tea?” [one way is to rinse the tea leaves with hot water before steeping].

We sampled 5 teas – or 4 “real” teas and 1 tisane.  Akpabio explained that technically all “real” tea comes from the Camellia Sinensis plant.  Teas such as green, black, yellow, white, pu-erh and oolong are from the Camellia Sinensis plant.  Tisanes, on the other hand, are beverages brewed from herbs, spices, or other plants.

Unmodified photograph.
License & credit: Jon Aslund
Of the “real” teas we sampled, the Genmaicha green tea from Japan stood out. It looks like it is mixed with pieces of popcorn! Actually, those bits are roasted rice kernels, which also burst open upon roasting like corn kernels of popcorn do.  This Genmaicha had a toasted wheat-like flavor balanced by the more earthy taste of the green tea leaves in it.  According to Akpabio, Genmaicha is considered the “People’s tea of Japan.”  Originally, the rice was used as a less expensive filler for the less affluent tea drinkers.  Now it’s popular across all segments of society.

The Earl Grey tea from Sri Lanka also stood out.  It smelled chocolatey.  Ironically, there was no chocolate in it.  Instead, it had vanilla mixed with the oil of bergamot and the Ceylon tea.  In general, bergomat oil is what makes an Earl Grey an Earl Grey.   Bergamot oil comes from the rind of a Bergamot orange.

The class sampled an Oolong from the Fujian province of China, an Indian Darjeeling with a TGFOP Grade – that’s Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (we’ll cover grading in a future posting), and a Chamomile tisane from the Nile Delta in Egypt.  With so many teas to sample and lively questions and answers, the 90 minute lesson ended all too soon.

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