Tag Archives: stoneleaf

Kuwapani Royale 2015 Second Flush

This delightful surprise was sweet and quite chocolatey. I felt like I was drinking a fancy dark chocolate. The effect was notably drying but with a wonderfully thick mouth-feel that raised my spirits considerably after drinking (not that I was feeling particularly down to begin with, but still).

I had the good fortune to stop by Stone Leaf Teahouse on my birthday for a few pots of Chá (actually, this “good fortune” was thanks to the wise suggestion of my wife). I enjoy every chance I have to talk to the owner, John, and this time he informed us that the shop had recently acquired not one, but TWO Nepalese second flushes (the summer harvest) from a well-known garden called Kuwapani. I’ve enjoyed many Kuwapani teas before, both first and second flush, and I’m always interested to try new lots. One of the versions that John had on tap was named “Kuwapani Royale”, and with a name like that I naturally I had to have a pot.

kuwapani-royale-dryAt this point if you’re asking yourself, “but what kind of tea is this?”, what we’re looking at is a black tea (or red tea to be more accurate). But Nepal produces black tea with leaves that are more akin to Chinese cultivars than the large Assamica style so popular in Western black tea. The result is a light and very aromatic infusion modeled on the teas of the Darjeeling region of India, just over the mountains to the south. As I’ve mentioned a few times before, tea from Nepal and Darjeeling have become increasingly difficult to distinguish, and I think this is ultimately a good thing. Both regions are producing superb-quality leaf and I’m very happy to see such amazing tea coming from countries like Nepal who possess less of a tea-growing pedigree.

Second flush leaves tend toward brown with hints of green left-over from the plant’s early-season energy. Compared with first flush leaves which can be mostly green with only a hint of darkness creeping in, you can definitely see the effects of a later harvest. Just like a first flush, well-made second flush leaves should be mostly full (unbroken) and leathery with at least a few tips present in the mix. This Kuwapani has everything I’d expect in appearance: tippy, hints of green and gold, small twisted leaf sets, but I suppose I might not pick it out of a crowd. The rich taste and chocolate aroma are what really sets it apart.

kuwpani-royale-wetA good three-minute steep was needed to really draw out the flavors from my second and third infusions, which is surprising given what I know about Darjeeling and Nepal teas. My experience has shown the style to be fairly delicate. It seems that this tea holds on to its energy tightly. A nice side effect of this was that there wasn’t a hint of bitterness in the cup afterward, which is definitely not what I was expecting.

Altogether a great birthday tea (among many!) and one I’m going to be drinking again. If only all second flushes were this great.

Tri Roasted Ali Shan

Not too long ago I had a chance to attend a tea class held by John at Stone Leaf Tea. The topic was Taiwanese tea, since he had just returned from travels on that venerable island. When we were there we tasted a tea that was stunning in both its creation as well as its flavors. I recently prepared a tasting at home to try and capture more information.

The tea is a Tri Roasted Ali Shan Oolong harvested last spring, and quite a treasure it is. Probably my favorite style of oolong in recent years is Hong Shui, and this tea reminded me of it instantly.


The aroma permeates the senses. When I take a sip it feels like standing next to a cauldron of roasting nuts in a field of fragrant flowers. Even minutes after the cup is empty, I want to just sit and inhale the scent left behind.

Although this is undeniably a roasted oolong, I definitely wouldn’t call it a “dark roast”. There’s none of that intense charcoal flavor, nor is the roast similar to the autumn-leaf dryness of Yan Cha. There’s none of the fruitiness that accompanies a Phoenix or the honey of a Bai Hao. I can detect the High Mountain characteristics that I’d expect from a greener Ali Shan, but this has so much more character.

The taste reminds me of buttered pecans. Rich and aromatic in both the leaves and in the mouth, this tea has everything. It’s energy is very balanced, neither too bright nor too mellow. Leaves like these show a real skill in both processing and roasting.

This amazing leaf was roasted by Mr. Huang, the brother of Stone Leaf’s main Taiwan tea supplier Mr. Liao. His pretty unique “Tri-Roast” consists of a careful charcoal roasting (a rare skill these days) followed by an electric roast in bamboo baskets and lastly a small electric oven roast. Each of these steps requires a great deal of labor and talent as each roast must be tweaked and adjusted based on the results of the previous one. As Stone Leaf’s owner John wrote to me:

A big part of the skill with roasting is knowing what the tea will be like months AFTER it is finished. It changes so much in that time period…so to have 3 different methods triples the number of variables that are present to change the results.

My entire day noticeably improved after this tea session, and I can still sense the aroma in my mouth several hours later. And what a session it was! Eight infusions in, the liquor was still a buttery yellow-gold. The leaves were like a soup of collard greens, massive and heavy when they unfurled. Not too many full leaf sets were present, but plenty of full leaves that seem to glow like a cedar tree in winter.

Many thanks to Stone Leaf tea for finding and sharing this piece of craftsmanship. I hope every tea drinker can experience a cup like this at least once.

A tale of two Bi Lo Chun

As soon as I open the package I know this is going to be a special tea. The aroma of freshly harvested leaves is like clouds and mist floating through the air after a spring rain. I’ve had several opportunities to try 2014 Bi Lo Chun (碧螺春) in the last month and I’ve been really pleased each time. Here I’d like to compare a few that I have in my home: Teavivre and Stone Leaf Tea House.bi_lo_chun_teavivre_and_stone_leafTeavivre’s sample was delicate and beautiful. The silver-green leaves are loosely curled and covered in a glow of fuzz as is traditional for a “Green Snails in Spring” (the usual translation for this tea). This small-leaf style of green tea originates from a mountainous peninsula in Jiangsu province near Suzhou, and that is where this tea was harvested not too long ago. In recent years, Bi Lo Chun made in Taiwan has also become popular and, in my experience, is also very delicious! The key differences I’ve noticed (and I’m sure that there are exceptions) are that Taiwan Bi Lo Chun tends to have slightly larger leaves and the aromas tend more toward oceanic. This makes a kind of sense to me since Taiwan is surrounded by ocean and the original is harvested on a mountain surrounded by a lake (Tai Hu).


I infused about 4g of this tea for 1 minute at around 80°C, following my instincts, although the package suggests a similar brew. The result was a transparent jade liquor with a few leaf bits and a delicate aroma that lingers both in the mouth and in the mind. The taste is slightly dry and has an energizing cha qi which doesn’t appear until the liquor reaches the back of my tongue.

My first infusion of the Stone Leaf Bi Lo Chun was made with the same details for the sake of comparison. This tea is made in Taiwan, and as I mentioned above the leaves are larger and darker in appearance with fewer of the white hairs on their surface. The taste and aroma are deep and rich, bringing to mind a Japanese gyokuro, but not quite. Immediately it seemed that while the Teavivre Bi Lo Chun had a vegetal and bright energy quality, Stone Leaf’s was more floral and mellow. What an amazing variety!

bi_lo_chun_wet_teavivire_and_stone_leafTwo more infusions were made of these delicious teas, increasing the time and temperature a bit with each one. Both teas became more cloudy and drier on the tongue, and they maintained their separate qualities: vegetal energy in one cup and floral mellow in the other. I felt as though drinking the Teavivre Bi Lo Chun was walking through a spring field and the Stone Leaf Bi Lo Chun was swimming in a summer pond.

As the infusions progressed, the nuances of aroma began to fade. This isn’t a bad sign for a green tea; indeed it’s quite common for a green to give up its most potent flavors in the first two infusions. Still, the third infusion was just as pleasant, even as the fading aromas evoked a more full bodied mouthfeel. This is the life that tea shows us: dramatic and delicate, comforting and fleeting. We must be present with our cup to notice these things. Happy sipping!

Gui Fei at Stone Leaf Tea House

Yesterday was a beautiful lazy Saturday, and my wife had the brilliant suggestion to spend our afternoon drinking tea someplace we don’t get to nearly often enough: Stone Leaf Tea House in Middlebury. As we sat and tasted some fine Gui Fei oolong I realized I have never written about this wonderful tea destination, despite it being one of the three nearest tearooms to my home. (Of course, I have written about some of the tea before.)

Photo Feb 22, 4 55 12 PM

My favorite part about visiting Stone Leaf is the intimacy of the experience; when I step in the door and look across the beautiful wooden counter, I’m immediately greeted by John (the owner and a friend) or another one of the skillful tea masters who work there. I tend to immediately launch into a discussion about the newest teas on the menu or some new tea pot on display. Talking about the tea helps me to settle into the space as I consider what I’d like to drink that day. I can be very indecisive (there’s so many great options!), but John is very skilled at guiding the conversation toward a specific few teas that I will probably enjoy. I see it happen even with those customers that are brand new to the greater tea world: before they even sit down there’s often already a perfect tea picked out.

To be fair, this sort of skill in tea recommendation is what I appreciate from all of my favorite tea shops. What I think sets Stone Leaf apart is the unhurried nature of the exchange. I know first-hand how difficult it can be to run a tea room and try to give each person the attention they deserve in a shop full of customers. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. This may be just the times I happen to visit, but I’ve never felt a need to hurry up when at Stone Leaf.

Photo Feb 22, 4 17 42 PM

Finally, and not the least impressive: the selection of teas is top-notch. Stone Leaf is always importing the freshest tea nearly as soon as it is harvested. John even roasts some of his own oolongs; there are very few tea shops in the West that can claim that skill. I definitely recommend some house roasted Jin Xuan, if you have the opportunity to visit.

The Gui Fei we tasted was gentle and smooth with a really entrancing aroma and a light body. The air around the tea seemed to take on a delicate floral sweetness, like standing in a field of spring blooms: not pungent or overwhelming, but undeniably present and comforting.

The consistency of the leaves was a welcome find. Each rolled ball contained around five full leaves all still attached to the stem. The leaves were of small-to-medium size, but I think that the presence of so many complete leaf sets helped to create the smoothness of the tea. After the fifth or sixth infusion the liquor began to take on a more bold, coconut aroma and flavor. I love a tea that presents a whole new side of itself as the infusions progress.

A heart-felt thanks to Stone Leaf for bringing us such a fine tea!

Photo Feb 22, 4 54 36 PM

2013 Yunnan Mao Feng

A fantastic fresh Chinese green tea from Stone Leaf. My fiancée describes it as “like pesto”, and she’s right. There’s the salty, the sweet, the nutty, and the green.

The aroma is gently, according to my tasting chart, empyreumatic: kind of toasty, but certainly the fresh vegetable taste carries most of the weight. We had trouble coming up with which vegetable we noticed specifically, and I think it’s watercress. Crisp and sweet.

The body is medium and not over-strong and the liquor is a spring green. The aftertaste is that Yunnan dryness, certainly, but it’s almost overwhelmed by the sweetness that lingers at the tip of the tongue.

I would say we got a good four infusions before the flavors started to wane. Even the fifth infusion was still bold and sweet, although I had to steep it a little long (maybe 2 or 3 minutes).

If you have not tasted a fresh Chinese green, I cannot recommend it highly enough. There is an energy, a bright qi, that just does not exist after a few months.