Winter Morning 2023
Winter Morning tea is a special occasion around here. We offer it as a way to celebrate the changing of seasons, close out the year, and welcome the new one. And just like each year is different from the last, Winter Morning is too.
As the weather turns cooler on these shorter days, I find myself craving warming and comforting black teas. So when I set out to create Winter Morning, I reach out to trusted tea partners to ask about their finest current examples. We talk through current options and narrow the field. From there I ask for samples, cup them, and start to formulate ideas about which will go together to make a tea that doesn’t yet exist. I’m looking for teas on the smoother end of the spectrum, with naturally occurring malt, cocoa, warming spice, and fruit notes. So far this has led me to the immense variety available from China.
I recently cupped and assessed new samples, and combined them to see what unfolded. Based on what I tasted I zeroed in on two ideas, one inspired by our 2017 blend that featured a golden bud tea from Yunnan, and another by our 2019 blend featuring the cocoa-y Golden Monkey. Both of these teas contribute softness and luxurious mouthfeel, but each with a different flavor profile and approach.
The next session was a head to head cupping of the two competing ideas with roaster and tea production lead Cory Morgan. I weighed out components, blended them, and brewed both blends side by side. Both teas showed up with interesting flavor, but each with a markedly different delivery. The Yunnan-led blend was crisp and assertive with a fruited spice character. Everything showed up all at once and carried through. Solid.
The Golden Monkey-focused blend initially seemed almost oolong-esque in its mellowness. It was smooth and subtle, with a stone fruit come-on that meandered and bloomed into chocolate malt and a long, beautiful trailing finish. It’s the finish that Cory commented on that set it apart for him, in the way that a good whiskey does. I didn’t disagree. What at first seemed a little subtle ended up delivering in depth and complexity. The second blend was the clear winner, and I’m excited to launch it into the world!
Here's what to know about the components of Winter Morning 2023:
Tea appreciation begins with the visual of the leaf itself, and Chinese tea names often refer to this. Golden Monkey is a famous Fujian Province tea named for the golden buds and a leaf shape said to resemble a monkey’s paw. Just one leaf and a golden bud are plucked from each stem. The selective plucking accounts for the more delicate flavors, and takes much more work. It’s an early harvest spring tea when the flavors are at their most delicate, and production is very limited. This lot has a soft mouthfeel with flavors of malty raisin, cocoa, and mandarin.
Ming Qian Keemun Mao Feng is another early season tea, this time from Anhui Province. It’s picked in early April, while the young leaves are still tender and sweet. Careful handling at every step, including hand-rolling, charcoal firing, and hand-sorting helps to concentrate the flavors of malt and honey. This lot also shows a prominent tart fruit note we’re not used to tasting in Keemun teas. Many Keemun teas we enjoy are Summer harvest. They tend to be heavier and often show a toastiness with subtle, cooked fruit notes. Spring teas like this one typically start out crisp and vibrant, and over time mellow and increase in body. Part of our appreciation of them is noting how they’re unique to begin with, and then how they mellow and change over the course of many months. Sometimes they get better with age.
Yao Qing Hua Xiang “Fresh Fragrance”. This is a Wuyi Mountain tea I was introduced to four years ago, and was immediately blown away by its insanely prominent fruitiness. At the time I said “...it reminds me of ripe melon crossed with strawberry kool-aid!”. This lot is no less sweet, but it's more in the stone fruit realm that reminds me of a “bug bite” oolong. There’s a perfumy quality to it that really stands out in a cupping, and a little goes a long way. So it doesn’t take much of it to noticeably add dimension and flavor interest to this blend.
Winter Morning launches at the same time as Celebration, but unlike the coffee we’ll continue to offer it into the new year and through the Winter season. I hope you enjoy this tea, and that it gives you some warmth and pleasure.