Last Sunday was Mother’s Day in Canada, so it was the perfect opportunity to give my mom a gift that I had been saving for a while: a lovely ruby and zoisite pendant. I originally bought it for her birthday in July (hence the ruby, since that’s her birthstone), but I bought a matching pendant for myself, and couldn’t wait any longer to give it to her since I wanted to wear my own.
(By the way, I bought the pendant from fellow Steepster-denizen and tea lover Kitty Loves Tea. Her Etsy store is worth a look if you like wire jewelry!)
This seemed like the perfect opportunity to try some tea I bought from a Canadian company that had a sale a few weeks back: Zen Tea. I bought 10 varieties to try, and I’ll get to them all in due time, but the one I’m going to talk about today is called, fittingly enough, Taiwan Ruby.
Taiwan Ruby Black Tea
The long and lush, twisted leaves create a very deep and mellow tea with a natural cinnamon fragrance and a light peppermint flavour. This enchanting fragrance and flavour is from the mountainous Nantou county of Taiwan.
The dry leaf of this is long, spindly, and a dark matte brown. The leaves are relatively straight, rather than being all twisted and curled up, and there isn’t much evidence of silver, white, or gold leaf tips. Dry, they smelled kind of fruity and woody, like prunes or bark.
I brewed this tea twice, and in so doing used up the entire sample. First, I did a traditional western steep with a giant mug — 2.8 grams of leaf in 2 cups of 95°C water for 2-3 minutes. After steeping, I had a sip that tasted of rose and citrus, like a Ceylon tea. However, it was much too hot to drink so I let it sit for a bit; while the fresh tea was a warm amber colour, it darkened considerably once it cooled. The cooler tea also tasted quite different, because the flavour turned from citrus to something more resinous, like camphor or pine.
The remainder of the leaf was brewed up gong-fu style in a gaiwan. I used 5.3 grams of leaf in 95°C water, started with a 20-second steep, and increased each subsequent steep by 5 seconds, ultimately getting about 6-7 steeps before letting things rest. Each steep of tea produced a cup of beautiful amber-coloured liquid.
And here is where words fail me, because this tea was so good. Every single steep I had smelled like cinnamon. And not just your bog-standard chai cinnamon sort of smell. No, this stuff smelled like whole cinnamon sticks, like cinnamon and sugar. Sweet, spicy, tingly, vibrant.
The taste was quite different, though, and that camphor/resin note I experienced when steeping it western style showed up again here. It felt very herbal and healing, like I was drinking some sort of tincture meant to restore my health. I could feel the dry woodiness of it all the way into my sinuses and nasal cavity.
As the steeps continued, the cinnamon note of the aroma started to give way to something fruitier, like plums or prunes. For one magical steep (steep 5? steep 6?), the cinnamon and fruit notes were balanced perfectly so it smelled like apple cider! If I could have every cup of tea smell like that, it would be a happy world indeed.
After 7 or so steeps, I called it a night, and gave the gaiwan a last loving inhale: the aroma of the spent leaves was plummy, malty, and rich. The leaves were also easy on the eyes, too, a beautiful rich brown:
Assuming the day ever comes where I manage to get my tea collection under control, I would seriously consider giving Zen Tea’s Taiwan Ruby Black Tea a permanent spot on the shelf.
Update: In order to make room for the incoming spring harvest, Zen Tea is having a sale on all tea and teaware until May 22nd, so take a look!