Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Tibetan Tea (Brother Friendship Tea Company)
As I found out in my tea-chugging trip to Chengdu, Sichuan has a large Tibetan population. Historically, Sichuan was the portal for trade between Tibet and China proper, with large amounts of two-way trade - mostly horses from Tibet for tea from China. Tea is important in Tibetan cuisine for making po cha (butter tea), a hearty and invigorating (albeit heavy) drink. Tea shipped to Tibet was often lower-grade black tea pressed into cakes, much like pu'er but without the fermentation. While most folks in Tibet get their tea from the grocery store now, the Brother Friendship Tea Company in Ya'an, Sichuan, continues to make this traditional, pressed black tea and to promote Tibetan tea culture.
The package contains five 50g bings of tea, each like a thin hockey puck. The leaves are large, dark brown with some twigs, compressed tightly and with a sweet honey and raisin aroma. The bing doesn't come apart easily, I really had to go at it with my tea knife.
The first steeping had a murky, dark brown liquor that looks not unlike coffee. The aroma is sweet and a bit citrusy, with an aroma of honey, raisins, lemon and plums. On the tongue, it's a surprisingly smooth and light black tea - there's very little astringency. It's a bit mineral with notes of sweet potato, plums, raisins and a slightly floral aftertaste.
The second steeping is a bit lighter in colour with a toastier aroma with less citrus. The first sip is very sweet and smooth with a gentle, floral flavour and a plummy aftertaste.
I thought this would be a much rougher and heavier tea, as traditionally lower-quality black tea is used. However, this tea was light and flavourful and quite lovely. I'm pleasantly surprised!
Tibetan Tea at Brother Friendship Tea Company (in Chinese)