One of the things I like about tea is the constant surprise. 3 or 4 times a month - or more, a tea surprises me by it's smell or taste or something new and different about the leaves. Some of that is probably due to the fact that I am not very knowledgeable about tea. Some is that for us Westerners, quality tea is a new experience.
One recent surprise is that our local grocery store chain, Weis markets, carries loose leaf Lipton tea in a 1/2 lb. box, as well as Twinings loose leaf. Granted, the former didn't look too appetizing, but it was there.
Simpson and Vail http://www.svtea.com/ is now carrying three types of Bolivian tea - two greens and a black. From what I have read, they may be the only ones. Bolivian tea has been given high marks by no less than Jane Pettigrew. Apparently the climate where the Andes meet the Amazon River basin is an ideal climate for tea growing. This is doubly interesting to me as a few months ago I had heard about Bolivian tea and Googled it, only to find that it usually referred to cocaine or substances that had been adulterated with the drug. It is also good to know that the tea produced is coming from a cooperative of small farmers who apparently control the tea from the field to the shipping containers.
My best surprise this week is an Oolong tea I really like. My experience of Oolong has been decidedly mixed, most heavily weighted on the awful, awful side. Some due to the tea preparation, some due to just not liking it.
I had been given a sample as a gift from another tea blogger, Organic Wuyi Oolong from Aura Teas, a Canadian company http://www.aurateas.com/ . It is one of their small sample sizes, but even so, came in a nice little tin. When I opened it I was surprised that it smelt strongly of chocolate! I brewed it about 180-190 for about a minute and then 2 more brewings for 30 seconds and then 50. It brews up to a very light color, with the first sample toasty, steamy with a bit of gentle fruit. The second infusion had a stronger toast taste, with a gentle hint of woodsiness. The third was another surprise, as it tasted of marshmallows, of all things with a hint of floral and candle wax. Amazing! I really, really liked this tea
I had read that often when one brews tea like this for a group, one combines the three infusions to insure everyone is treated the same, so I did. I felt that while it was good,too much was lost in the process and the combination meant that everyone suffered. So, tiny cups of each infusion so all can taste the nuances.