At the end of every year, I like to review our tea sourcing work and select the one tea that I am most proud of sourcing. This year we have sourced more teas than ever before and of course, we love all of our teas and tisanes. The Tea of the Year is not about selecting my favourite tea but more about which tea I am most proud of sourcing for our Mei Leaf collection.
Let's begin with our runner-ups (in no particular order):
It came and it went in a blink of an eye. In fact, all of the cakes left our warehouse a couple of days after they arrived and I did not feel that we even had it in stock! This tea was the oldest tea in our Jade Star series and the character was sweet and fruity and I treasure the cakes left in my private collection. We are always on the search for the next Jade Star and we will not source any old aged white unless it meets the expectations that come with the Jade Star label.
So many Whites from Fuding find their way to our tea tasting sessions and most of them are good but not worth the price. So, for the past few years, we have been sourcing our Silver Needle from other areas in China but that changed when we sipped on this one. Finally, a Fuding White that lived up to its price tag. Aged for a couple of years, this tea displays melon and jasmine sweet notes with that archetypal Fuding nuttiness.
This is a tea which landed in our lap as a result of a problem with a different supplier which left us stranded in Yunnan without any plans. We travelled up to Yiwu on a really tenuous lead and found the most welcoming family with incredible tea forests. After tasting their sweet nectar-like PuErh it felt so serendipitous that we managed to find these leaves. The tea is so easy drinking, soft and syrupy and has already become one of our client's favourite brews.
Totally nuts and unique PuErh made with the Zi Juan purple cultivar. This tea has a wacky flavour transition from creamy and fudgy through to earthy and mineral and finishing with a refreshing blackcurrant sourness. The physicality of the tea is a bit wild, with a fascinating, dry, quenching finish. This was so close to winning Tea of the Year on wackiness alone.
After nearly two years of tasting samples, we finally managed to source an excellent Eastern Beauty full of those muscatel and geranium aromas. This is one of the most fragrant teas out there and I cannot fathom anyone who is not wowed by its charms.
A late night tasting session led to the revelation of this premier Yan Cha. This tea has some of the strongest Yan Yun (Rock Rhyme) that I have ever encountered, with its rising aroma and thick almost crunchy minerality.
An heirloom tea which we stumbled on during a tea session in China. This may well be the perfect Shu PuErh for my tastes. It has incredible clarity and generosity in flavour and will give you well over 20 infusions. The body sensation is one of my favourites of 2018.
My Tea of the Year 2018 is:
My Tea of the Year goes to Night Forest Muse. Not because of its premium origin of Bing Dao or its Gushu credentials. Not because we had to fight off stiff competition from Chinese collectors to acquire this whole batch. Not because of its price. I have selected this tea because it is a totally enigmatic PuErh which I cannot get my head around despite multiple sessions. It is like a seduction game - I know that the tea has such a strong character but I cannot quite pin it down and that makes it all the more alluring. For anyone who has tried this tea and does not 'get it', I would say that it is exactly this bewildering and unfathomable character which is the charm of this and any Muse.
The wrapper artwork perfectly defines this tea. The expression on that face is mysterious - seductive and coy yet intense and threatening. On the one hand, it has a light, gentle and soft flavour but after you swallow there is a rising mineral vaporous quality which reveals its strength and a body sensation which creeps up on you. This tea seems to change personality with every session both in terms of taste and effects but one thing is for sure, it never fails to leave an impression of subtlety and power unlike any other tea I have experienced and this is why I have given it the Tea of the Year accolade.
So there you go, some of my highlights of 2018. The sourcing never stops and, as I write, we are tasting samples of Yan Cha and Nepalese Greens! I am excited to find out which teas will be gracing the shelves of Mei Leaf in 2019 and I readying myself for another busy year of sourcing.
I am sending out a big THANK YOU to everyone who allows us to express our passion for True Tea. You are the heroes in this movement and I am so very thankful for all of your support for Mei Leaf.
I raise a cup to every one of you,