Friday, September 21, 2012

Temple of Heaven Gunpowder Green Tea

I've heard for years that the Chinese eat all sorts of weird things, and I've known for some of those years that things like 1,000 year old eggs aren't actually as nasty as they sound. Some other things, like bird's nest soup, are even worse than they may appear. FYI, 1,000 year-old eggs are preserved for a mere 100 days, which is somewhat less gross than those ten times older. Bird's nest soup, which sounds like some sort of crunchy Euell Gibbons bark-eating extravaganza that'll keep your bowels in working order, is made with a nest that is made with saliva, which is an incredibly disgusting notion.

Keeping in mind that oddly named Chinese food is an adventure, I found it hard to walk away from this box of "special gunpowder" green tea when I found it on the shelf of a middle eastern market for a mere $1.89. The market, if anyone is interested and in the area, is in Santa Clara, CA and is called "Zad Grocery". I mention it mainly because this is a very low price for this tea compared to what I found for it via online sellers. Amazon carries it for $5.69, but I'm guessing that ethnic groceries in various areas would offer a more competitive price just as Zad Grocery did for me.

When I bought this, I didn't really believe it was going to include gunpowder. Well, I sort of felt it might be. After all, bird's nest soup does include a spit-based bird's nest. Sometimes things are what they sound like. However, before I set the tea a steepin', I investigated it to see what the deal was and it is one of those things which has a name based on appearance rather than on ingredients. The tea leaves are rolled such that they resemble gunpowder. No actual gunpowder was to be ingested. Part of me was relieved. Part was disappointed. The latter part must be some sort of suicidal streak for which I should seek some sort of psychological intervention.

As for this tea, one thing I was careful about was the steeping time. I know from experience that over-steeping green tea of any sort can render it undrinkable. While overdoing black tea (English tea) can make it bitter and involve large lashings of milk to off-set the tannin overload, it completely kills green tea if you let it soak too long. I used a timer and watched the color and it seemed that around a minute and a half worked well for my tastes. It was strong enough for some distinct flavor, but not at a funkified state. Note that I used a tea ball infuser and only about half a teaspoon of tea leaves so there was plenty of room for them to bloom as it steeped. I also swished the infuser around several times during the steeping. The water was a shade below boiling.

I usually don't make hot tea in this sort of glass, but I had to use something clear to show the color. I risked burning my hand for my dubious "art". 

Note that I read awful reviews of this on Amazon from people who claimed that there was "dirt" in the tea. My guess is that they expected it to be like Japanese green tea which is, well, green. I've had "golden" green tea from Hong Kong before and it is actually brown. This tea is also brown. That's not because it's dirty or has dirt in it, but because that's rather a natural color for certain types of tea including black teas. You'd think people would be a little less freaked out by brown tea after years of Tetley and Lipton in their cups, but I guess they took the "green tea" part literally (though I'm guessing they didn't get nearly so worked up that it wasn't a box full of gunpowder and that that was not something they took literally).

 The smell and taste of the tea reminded me strongly of oolong tea. It had just a hint of chlorophyll which moved it a notch closer to Japanese green tea, but it's such a vague whisper that I may even have imagined it. This is a very serviceable tea for those who like it straight and with a vague almost "roasted" flavor and earthy highlights. I've heard that oolong tea is made by allowing the leaves to wither on the vine a bit, and I think that is what separates it from Japanese green tea.

I wouldn't say this is the most incredible tea I have ever had, but it is tasty and suits one on a cool autumn evening or a cold winter night. I imagine it'd be just as good or possible better served cold in summer. If you can get it economically, as I did, it's absolutely worth a try. I'm not sure I'd pay more for it than oolong tea, but I wouldn't mind always having a box around for when the mood strikes me, and I'm guessing drinking it may have some health benefits as well. Besides, having a box of it on your shelf is sure to be a conversation starter for those evenings when you're entertaining boring guests or relatives.

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