I love tea. I love its history, its growth, its production but most importantly I love its taste. Tea is ultimately something you drink so for me flavour has always been what I've chosen to focus upon.
Every single tea I have sourced and selected for driftwood I have done so because I believe it tastes great and is among the highest quality examples currently available of that tea.
When selecting fresh loose leaf teas I follow a simple but passionate ideology - focus on the flavour and freshness over specific grades of loose leaf, wonderfully exotic names or amazingly obscure sources (I do not believe monkeys were ever trained to pick teas from cliffs and it certainly doesn't happen these days)!
I am confident that my 'flavour and freshness first' approach can be tasted and appreciated in each and every whole leaf tea that is found in my online tea shop.
James Henderson Robe
Owner of driftwood tea™
Hsinchu County, Taiwan
Summer Harvest 2013
While most frequently referred to as Oriental Beauty, this famous oolong is also known as Dong Fang Mei Ren, Formosa Tea, Champagne Oolong or Pong Fong. Originally however, this tea was simply called Bai Hao which roughly translates as White Tip. This name arose due to the fact that only the silver needle bud and top two leaves are selected for its production.
While uniformity of colour is fairly often used as an indicator of a tea's quality, the reverse is true of Oriental Beauty. Here the finest examples are those that show a range of colours; from the silver needle tips to smaller green, golden brown and even darker coloured leaves. Personally I find this dry loose leaf tea to be one of the most beautiful to look at and its modern name highly appropriate.
Our Oriental Beauty is probably my favourite tea of 2012 and it certainly ranks among the finest teas I have ever tried.
Harvested nearly a month later than Taiwan's other summer oolongs, over this period farmers allow leaf hoppers (Jacobiasca formosana) to begin nibbling upon the edges of the leaves. The damage caused to the leaf starts the oxidisation process while the leave is still on the bush, as well as causing the plant to releasing an enzyme to prevent further attacks. Fortunately for us, once the leaves are picked and processed, this enzyme produces the highly aromatic and sweet honey like flavour that Oriental Beauty is revered for.
When brewed this tea produces a bright golden liquor that is filled with a complex array of distinctive flavours and provides a smooth, rounded feel in the mouth. Delicate fruit and citrus notes combine with hints of honey, sweeter spices such as cinnamon, along with edges of tropical woods. This tea leaves a delightful sweet, lingering muscatel and fruit sugar aftertaste in the mouth.
Nantou County, Taiwan
Summer Harvest 2014
From a country whose climate and terroir are renowned for producing some of the world's finest oolongs, Red Jade is proof - if proof were needed - that Taiwan can equally produce a black tea that is easily comparable to the finest black teas being produced anywhere else in the world.
Many Taiwanese teas remind me of the shift between the old and new world wine producers. The new world producers, the ones who adopted technology such as temperature controlled fermentation, and tried modern varieties of grape, are the same ones who're leading the way for the wine industry at the moment.
I believe similar can be seen with many of Taiwan's tea farmers, and the Tea Research and Extension Station (TRES), an organisation dedicated to the science and development of tea in Taiwan.
Red Jade (Hong Yu) comes from a variety called TTES No.18 developed by TRES in the 90's. Combining an Assamica strain of Camellia Sinensis from Burma, with a local strain of wild tea, TTES No.18 or Red Jade was found to flourish in the Taiwanese countryside and when oxidised and finished produces a fantastic black tea with superb depth of flavour.
Fujian Province, China
Spring Harvest 2013
Our Silver Needle is a fantastic example of an extremely high quality white tea from China's Fujian Province. I selected this tea because it is still harvested by hand, ensuring that only the youngest, tenderest buds - which have yet to experience sunlight hence they retain their soft white down - are selected.
This is a wonderfully refreshing tea, that's extremely high in antioxidants, and one that's perfect to serve in a crystal glass while you sit down, relax and savour its subtle, long-lasting flavours.
While not officially certified by the USDA as organic, the farm where we source this beautiful silver needle from uses only traditional methods of farming and production when tending to their crop. They insist on not using artificial pesticides, or modern chemicals, which they believe would ruin the delicate taste of this tea. With its growth in popularity in the west many silver needle farmers are now rearing their crops more intensively, simply to meet the demands of the market, while showing little regard to the final taste. Personally I think this is a dreadful shame given how exquisite silver needle white tea really can be - which I'm confident our version is.
Fujian Province, China
Spring Harvest 2013
Tie Guan Yin is another tea that, depending on where you are, is know by many different names including: Iron Buddha; Iron Goddess of Mercy; Ti Kwan Yin and several others. However, what remains constant is the fact that this tea is among China's finest, and probably its most well known oolong - no matter what it's called.
As with most of China's famous teas there are beautiful legends that describe their origin. Tie Guan Yin is no exception.
The most widely know legend involves a poor farmer in Anxi County, Mr Wei, who became disheartened by the state of an old temple that contained an Iron statue of the empress and bodhisattva Guanyin. With no money to repair the temple he chose to clean it himself, and as a small offering burn incense in her honour. He continued doing this for many months until one night Guanyin appeared to him in a dream and told him that behind the temple, in a cave, there was a treasure which he was to share with others.
When he went to the cave he found nothing but a small tea plant that he took to his own field and cared for until it grew into a large bush. He then shared cuttings from this plant with his neighbours who all began producing the finest tea which they called Tie Guan Yin. The farmers prospered as word spread they were selling such an exquisite tea and, with the money they made, the temple was repaired and became one of the most beautiful in the region.
Our Tie Guan Yin comes from a small farm in Anxi County, Fujian Province. It has an incredible sweet pea aroma that gives way to the brightest notes of honey suckle sweetness and supremely smooth rounded florals. These flavours continue to develop over multiple infusions and leave a delicious, sweet buttery aftertaste.
This tea was found for us by a friend in China and I first bought it for our online tea shop in 2012 simply based on his description - without actually trying it first - however, I am delighted I took this risk. This truly is one of the finest examples of a spring harvest Tie Guan Yin any of us at driftwood have ever tried.
I realise I've been fairly quite over the past couple of months however, our small team here has been busily working away to make some major changes to driftwood tea. The biggest of these we quietly launched today, our new website!