Friday, June 08, 2012

Discourse on Honey and Puerh

Some nights when my tea selection turns out to be particularly boring (I'm looking at you Haiwan Peacock Quest...), I'll open up my honey drawer to cheer things up a bit.  Actually the photo below is a bit misleading as I also have 5 alternative locations where various honeys are stashed including two different desks at work.  Honeys last for an eternity so you can take tiny spoonfuls periodically for a decade and still not finish it off even when you hold official honey tasting parties and impromptu tastings when friends drop by.  Half of these honeys are older than a decade and the flavors are still quite lively. Some have developed more complex flavors as they liquify and ferment on top.

I've been bending my noodle wondering if honey or pu-erh provide a wider range of flavors. I'm settling on honey because it's directly effected by the tremendous botanic availability of a particular area which can be a single varietal such as chestnut trees in bloom or an incalculable mix of florals. Even a single mountain can produce vastly different honeys within its micro-regions dependent on the season.  

You can see how extremely dark the Miel de Rangiroa is compared to the creamy multi-floral honey from Waimea on the left.  The Rangiroa honey is made by French bees taken to French Polynesia by a French beekeeper Meri Tuam and has a lovely dusky and uniquely sour flavor that is uniquely not french.  One day I will return to this atoll, swim over the Tiputa Pass, and then fill my suitcase with this dark wonder and my life will be complete.  This dark honey tastes very different from another dark varietal - Black Forest pine honey hiding in the back which has a dominant mineral profile. Can you imagine what comes out of the body of  bees who collect honeydew secreted by insects who live on the pine sap. A German friend brought back his uncle's pine honey which is now long gone and replaced by a supermarket jar which is also surprisingly good.  

The first left two honeys both exhibit an effervescent quality that I prize- it's the proverbial champagne on your tongue.  The Ratcliff's honey is an excellent summer multi-floral that I picked up for ~$3 in a chain grocery store in the Isle of Man after hiking around Cregneash. The Manx are so lucky to have such top notch honey and I wonder if they even know it. For the most part, you can expect excellent honey from islands and from the edges of the world.   It's a shame that blandly sweet clover honey dominates the world market.  

The last honey in the row(Lusern) I brought back from South Africa after a particularly grueling stint for work years ago but I love South Africa and the warm South Africans. This Lusern Heuning has a medicinal and unfamiliar herbal flavor which is one of the most sheng-like honey in my collection along with the arbutus honey.

When I think of my jars of hard-earned honey that were lugged home from the various corners of the earth or brought by friends, most jars have an abundance of memory attached to them.  I am a bit sad that I have purchased most of my puerh collection quite anonymously online. Even when a tea comes into your life without any more effort than a paypal payment, it does not diminish a power of a good tea.   Despite their pedestrian internet provenance, a tea can be loved and shared amongst friends. 


  1. What an intriguing post :) I have never thought that one could be a student of honey too. Incidentally, I just found that one of my favourite food stores has about 30 kinds of honey :)
    Thanks for the article!

  2. Dear Jakub,

    You know my eyes literally popped out when I read "30 kinds of honey". Please do post on your blog if you to try any- I imagine the forests of Czechoslovakia hold some hidden gems. Honey tends to be way more affordable than pu-erh and it's harder to get a bad honey as long as you avoid the boring clover and acacia honeys. Color tends to be a rough guide- dark ones have never disappointed me. And you can always give away honey's more easily than a beeng. (Am I pushing to hard?)


  3. Dear hster,
    I re-checked it, it is 43 actually. However, they are generally not local, but from all over the world. You may have a look at them here:
    - google translate should help, if it does not, leave me a message and I'll translate it to english.

    If you are interested in local honey, I think it could be arranged - we have some good forest honey (dark one, as you say, it hardly ever disappoints, as opposed to the light, washy one). I am no expert in honey though - I know only "forest honey" (dark, thick) and "meadow honey" (sweet, much less thick) - so what I consider to be a nice honey may be miles below your standards :)

  4. Jakub,

    Toppotraviny has a most respectable honey selection indeed with honeys I've never tasted (the Quillaja honey from Chile and Pampas grass honey.) But it's also very pricey according to conversion rates. I.e. Manuka is going for 523 CZK= $25. Even in the U.S. breaching $20 barrier is rare. I think your middle man upcharge is steep.

    We could totally do a tea for local honey trade! I am sure your forest honey is probably more delicious and world class than you realize. Although not as distinctive tasting as single variety honeys, wild forest honeys tend to carry more complexity and depth being less blatantly sweet. I have to study your blog more a bit to see even which of my pu-erh would interest you at all.


  5. Dear hster,
    I am afraid that all food is generally expensive in the Czech Republic (or, it costs about the same as in other countries absolutely, but is of lower quality and we have half the wages of the other countries) - since our goverments continue ruining local producers, almost everything is imported and that is done via several resellers so the price becomes high.

    I'd be delighted to send you some honey. We have only one glass of it open at this time, but I'll try to get more as soo n as possible.
    Forest honey rocks indeed :)

    I'd be probably most interested in what you enjoy to drink...

  6. Hster,

    Swell post, as usual. That's a fabulous looking collection of honey.

    Extremely memorable: molasses-black pecan honey from Rodeo, New Mexico. Wish we still had some. Bee-folk in Western Montana speak in hushed tones about fireweed honey. Have you ever tried it? I've not had the pleasure. I also hear good things about honey from bees hived-up near mint farms.


    1. Why thank you Israel. Pecan honey sounds intriguing- I imagine it would be fabulous with vanilla ice cream or a nice goat cheese.

      I had the fireweed honey back in 1998 from the Moonshine Trading Company but don't remember too much. I think Alaskan fireweed is supposedly the best so I should look for it again. Taste is such a subjective thing and I tend to prize taste of dark honeys. The same with tupelo honey- it was highly recommended to me but I just didn't find it too exciting. I prefer even a not very good buckwheat over tupelo.



  7. Once again, what a useful post! Congrats!

    The photos are great and now I just want to try it all! Usually I don't add honey to tea, but there are some types of tea that go quite well with it.

    I particularly like orange blossom honey and tupelo honey, which taste amazing with oolong teas! You should definitely try it!

    And since honey also brings so many health benefits, such as weight loss, it's just the perfect combination!!!