So, here we are again, the end of another year.
This time last year I made a “hit parade” style list of my favourite teas of 2019.
I found it a very interesting exercise, one I now recommend every tea head should do, as it kind of highlights the trends in your tea purchasing and drinking habits that otherwise might have remained hidden, or at least partly obscured.
The pandemic had thrown all other areas of life out of kilter, and I was fairly sure that must have included my relationship to tea. Perhaps making the list would show me what and how much things had changed.
I started out with an initial “shortlist” of 22 teas. Even getting to that stage was troublesome. That’s the downside of steeping and sipping so much good gear over the course of a year – when the time comes to pick out the best of the bunch you start having to make some tough decisions, and it’s inevitable that some really nice teas that you have had nothing but good times with will have to be nudged to one side.
The final list, the top 10, was written, binned, and then re-written at least half a dozen times. At some point or other during those early versions every one of the initial 22 made an appearance, but late one night over a pot of sheng I finally arrived at the end point – my best of the best for 2020. Weirdly enough once I had the final 10, putting them into ranking order was a relatively easy and pain free experience.
And so, in reverse order, my top 10 teas for 2020 are…
There had to be a place for one of the wonderful Georgian teas I’ve drunk this year on the list, and this was the best of them.
Similarly, it was no surprise to see one of the excellent Taiwanese black teas I encountered here, especially this complex, fruity, flowery, spicy tea.
My haul from Rare Tea Company was one of the highlights of the year, and this enigmatic African twist on the Chinese classic was a big hit with me.
This is perhaps the real outlier here – back in October I was well surprised by this “fascinating, odd, complex, weirdly enjoyable tea”, as I described it.
This was my first tango with teas from Fengqing county and the Sanning tea company, and this brain melting tea, with its seemingly endless sessions left me wanting to find out more.
Autumnal teas rarely float my boat, but this smooth, slick, sheng sure did.
All three of the teas I received from Farmer Leaf made this list, one of which was this complex, robust white tea.
It was going to take something special to keep the Farmer Leaf teas from claiming all three top spots in the list, but this tea managed it. This unusual stem tea had it all – sweet wood aromatics, candied fruits, floral fragrances, and a slight astringent nip. Superb.
This luscious brain tonic packed a sky-high Qi rating, and was just edged out by…
This came as a free, 20 gram sample with my Farmer Leaf order, which when taken as a whole was by far and away the highlight of my tea drinking year. It would be impossible to summarise the impression this tea left on me in a few pat sentences or buzzwords. Its brilliance was only made more bittersweet knowing that, as far as I’m aware, there’s none left, anywhere. I had just three sessions with this tea, but man alive, they made me a true believer, a real Farmer Leaf fanboy, and recalibrated my ideas of what good sheng was all about.
One thing struck me immediately once I’d finalised this top 10 listing – there was no room at the inn for shou Pu-erh or Oolongs. This was a bit surprising at first, seeing as I’ve certainly had some very nice teas of both types, such as the Zealong, and House of Tea’s Lincang Old Tree Shou. I think this might be because the fantastic teas from Farmer Leaf and Rare Tea Company dominated the list, leaving less room at the top table for other types of tea, or maybe because I just drank less shou and Oolong this year. As I said above, making this list really does provide food for thought…
One project I’ve already started on that will continue well into the new year is a long term sipdown challenge, with the aim of making space in the stash cupboard for new teas. So far I’ve said a fond farewell to these leaves…Georgia Etseri Wild Black Tea, Floral Guranse Handrolled First Flush, Yunnan Yin Zhen, Hong Ya, Georgia Wild Forest Black Tea, Bai Hao Hong Cha, and Kocha Satsuma.
I’m also thinking about building some kind of little tea hut in the forest behind the extended family’s house in the country. Nothing special, just a rough wee bushcrafty type shelter, with just enough room for a few people to sit around a small fireplace, somewhere to heat water and steep leaves, a space between the oaks and pines to forget the din of the world…
All that remains is for me to wish tea friends old and new from both near and far a safe and prosperous 2021. May our kettles always sing, and may our cups never be empty…