The increasing popularity of tea is propagating the plant in more and more places, and one of the latest areas to nurture and expand a tea industry is Thailand. (Not to be confused with "Thai tea," a sweetened, sometimes spiced, drink usually made from Ceylon teas.)
At a recent local tea event, I was given several samples from Daokrajai, a company producing organic tea on a 550-acre estate in northern Thailand. Two of their blends are worth noting.
First, their red tea is really red. It's 85 percent red (black) tea, 15 percent rosella, a variety of hibiscus common in Thailand. When I opt for herbal teas, I most often look to something with hibiscus in it, as I find it adds a heft often missing from typically dainty herbals. I've actually suspected that a mixture of hibiscus and regular tea might work; after drinking this oddity I can say, it actually does. The tangy fruit flavor of the hibiscus, the razor's edge of bitter and tannin in the tea — it's like mixing berries with chocolate. There's a balance, but it's kind of a tough combo to crack. Even the Daokrajai site admits it's "a confusing combination for the tongue to decipher, making you concentrate on the flavours more intently." The hibiscus came on strong in my sample, as if the ratio was greater than 15 percent, and the hibiscus left a tell-tale red ring at the rim of my cup. This would be a great foil for a mild dessert.
The second sample I'm still trying to get my head around — an herbal called Jiao Gu Lan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum). This plant — a trailing vine — is a common folk remedy in Asia, allegedly with some serious antioxidants. It's one of the strangest flavors I've encountered. The liquor in the cup (a ghastly jaundiced grey) has a soapy odor, and the brewed leaves are large with jagged edges, looking remarkably like real tea. The taste is sharp and surprising, at once bitter but with a sweet edge, as if it was a cup of bitter tea from the bottom of the pot newly sweetened with, say, some stevia. The bitterness camps out right on the tip of the tongue, doing battle between hints of banana, tin, and grass. Folk medicine is the only context in which I could imagine this.
Another heralded Thailand tea estate is Suwirun; see some stunning photos from that plantation here.
Read more about tea in Thailand here (pdf).
2 years ago