Friday, December 20, 2019

Coombergram Direct From India, Malt and Fruit

(This post was languishing in my drafts from early December...)

We take a break from our usual puerh musings to enjoy the box of teas from another vast populous country that is not China but India. The main purpose of this tea load was to procure some dark malty assams that will wean me off my stubbornly persistent morning coffee habit.  And friends, it look less than 3 days of STGFOP assam to fade coffee.  Success!  I guess it was the caffeine all along because these here higher grade assams literally make your hand shake. I guess the grocery store assam that is heavily fermented floor sweepings in convenient sachets could not do the job for lack of fire power. The China black teas I have on hand are too mentally stimulating to start the day.  It's was combination of a robust non-distracting cup delivering enough buzz that was the key in kicking coffee to the curb.

For India teas which are fairly well-known quantities, selection and price are often the consumer driving factors. It must be challenging for vendors striving for customer stickiness as frequent buyer programs goes only so far. I used to get my darjeelings from Vahdam Teas formerly Golden Tips.  Teabox currently offers a more diverse collection in assams and nilgiris and they were holding very aggressive Black Friday sales. This kilo of mostly quality tea set me back only $66 with free shipping.

Teabox is backed by venture capital and having raised ~$5M this summer, they may be absorbing some of the cost to grow their customer base.  $8 for 100g of Castleton muscatel 70% off is a crazy low price and in hindsight, I should have just bought a motherlode.  But the secondary teacloset is already crammed with darjeeling part of a 3 year aging experiment.   A savvy consumer should take advantage when investors are providing such subsidies.

I've easily spent upwards for 10+ hours agonizing about a puerh tea order. I take a much more relaxed approach to India tea purchase as navigating the inventory is refreshingly manageable. There is nothing like the risk and drama for gambling on a single $80+ beeng that may end up as musty leaf clippings.   Since most of the Darjeeling tea estates are a familiar product- Goomtee, Castleton, Giddapahar, Jungpana, one can buy confidently based on flush.  Because the tea prices on the whole tend to be reasonable(compared to puerh) and the expected enjoyment factor moderately assured, you can casually load up your cart.  Also more friends and acquaintances drink India teas so it's easier to share excess. (Try off loading some tongue scraping plantation bulangs or a barnyard shu to a friend...)

I'm not as picky about Assam tea estates as I've been treating assams as more of a commodity tea. I've had Mangalam, Harmutty and other estates but none had been memorable enough to imprint a preference. It's a bit like paying for the best dianhong where the premium after a certain level has vastly diminishing returns in enjoyment.

When trying to get a grasp on a new tea vendor's inventory, even if assams tend to be low risk, one still has to parse out code words for less attractive traits.
  • "unripe tree fruit", "unripe fruit"=astringency
  • "raw fruit" = tartness(?) 
But to a puerh drinker, the astringency and bitterness in India tea doesn't even register on the low end of the scale.  I pick unripe apples off my tree because I just don't like it when fruit gets sweet so I'm not daunted.

The first of my low to mid-range assam selections- the Coombergram promises a "full-bodied, well-rounded, fruity" cup.  I've mixed feelings about high-grade STGFOP  assams.  For being a STGFOP1,  this Coombergram lacks golden tips and is reflected fairly in the price.   I'm hit with the same adjustment my husband would not make with coffee- after decades of dark roast, he refuses to drink floral fruity light roast Ethiopians.  Floral fruity notes I enjoy most in oolongs, darjeelings, and purple leaf but when a meaty roasty assam shows up with such a fruit patterned dress, my palate is flummoxed. I love the pairing of malt and dried fruit flavors but higher notes of raw fruit was not a match I instinctively liked.  As in such cases where I'm unsure, I served the Coombergram to my man.  He really enjoyed it but would not say much more. I guess when you are relaxing in front of your wood stove, one doesn't want to be tea interrogated.

The second assam I pull out- Dikom has much more of a sprinking of golden tips and is appropriately priced at $9.99 instead of $6.99 per 100g for the Coombergram.  These two assams esp. the Dikom is very close in taste to Yunnan dianhong.  Because I'm more habituated with the taste of quality dianhong, I initially had a mental block accepting these assams.  Yunnan blacks are like a rich oil painting while the assams felt like a water color that has been too heavily painted opaque like a gouache.  My natural impulse is that I'd rather be drinking imperial dianhong.  (I tried filling up a cart with dianhong from YS but I was struck with such a hard case of decision paralysis while browsing the puerh section that I've given up for now.)

After a month of these assams, I've come to appreciate them for what they are and I've not thought much about coffee- desire for the bean just evaporated.  That was strangely much too easy after more than two years of trying to rid myself of that addiction. Even weirder is that I only require one strong cup of assam in the morning and desire for further tea drinking is quenched. So I can happily go into 2020 as a tea drinker again.
* Dikom has the distinction of being one of the "dry" gardens in Assam.  Early this year 130 unfortunates died from bad batches of illegal country liquor in Assam.  Dikom purportedly banned all alcohol from the tea garden as chronicled in this fascinating youtube video.  But human ingenuity always has a malicious way of defeating limitations for addictive vices.  There is the dark side to tea production that we promptly forget when enjoying the comforts of our favorite beverage.

Related posts:  coffee, darjeeling