Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Mandala Tea Temple Stairs 2014 Ripe Pu'er

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: dark brown with visible golden tips
Ingredients: puerh tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: dark reddish brown

There's a chill in the air and I find that my tastes are changing with the shift in seasons. Cravings for roasted oolongs and dark, inky shou puerh has been dominating my tea drinking. There's just something comforting about these darker teas. This tea immediately came to mind on a particularly nippy fall evening.

This 100g cake from +Mandala Tea was beautiful to look at. I almost didn't want to break into it. The leaves were a million shades of brown and gold, especially when I put it inside of my light tent to pictures. They weren't super tightly compressed so I was able to easily break off a portion with just a small needle.

After a quick initial rinse, this tea brewed up an inky dark color. The taste was earthy and sweet with woody notes and hints of vanilla. This is a great introductory tea for those that are new to cooked puerh. It wasn't overly earthy and there was absolutely no fishiness. I did at least five consecutive infusions and then continued to brew a bit the next morning. Later infusions brought out cacao and brown sugar.

Since this shou is on the milder side I definitely recommend being a bit heavier handed with leaf volume. I wound up using about 8g in a 150ml gaiwan. Increasing your steeping times as you go will help to maintain strength as well. Mandala Tea's website is down at the moment but once it's back up you should definitely check out what they have to offer. Their customer pressed teas, like this one, are among some of my favorites.

Temple Stairs 2014 sample provided by Mandala Tea.

Monday, October 17, 2016

How Many Types of Tea are There?

How many types of tea are there? The answer to that question really depends on who you ask. There are many gray areas in tea and there is much left open to interpretation. The western world is also just now discovery categories of tea that have existed in the tea lands for centuries. In this post, I will be listing the categories of tea as I see them.

Before we move on to the different types, did you know that all tea is made from the same plant? The differences just come from how the leaves are processed. Check out this post for more:

Does All Tea Really Come from the Same Plant?

White Tea

White tea is the least processed type of tea. Contrary to popular belief and many tea vendor's websites, it is not rare! After picking, the leaves are laid out to dry in the sun. Hot air can also be used to achieve this. There is no "kill green" step and the leaves are not typically shaped in any way. Some withering occurs but it is not necessarily something producers try to achieve (like they might with black tea or oolong). Silver Needle is probably the most well-known white tea but there are other varieties that are made with more than just buds.

For more on white tea, you might want to read:

Meet the Tea: Silver Needle

Green Tea

Green tea is often referred to as unoxidized but that's not exactly the case. Tea leaves begin to wilt as soon as they are removed from the plant. Heat is applied to the leaves by the tea producer as quickly as possible. This brings oxidation to a halt so as to preserve them in their green state. Chinese teas are typically pan fired whereas Japanese green teas are usually steamed. Some manufacturing methods also use blanching the leaves in hot water.

Yellow Tea

The processing of yellow tea is very similar to green tea. What differs is that the leaves are repeatedly wrapped in paper or fabric in between several firing steps. This process can take several days and results in a smoother, less grassy taste. Yellow teas are rather rare on the western market (as evidenced by the fact that I've only ever written about two of them). There are some admittedly valid arguments that there is no true yellow tea anymore but for now, I do consider it different enough to need its own category.


Oolong tea is partially oxidized. It is the largest category of tea so the tastes can range from very green and floral and dark and roasted. Oolong is often described as being between green and black tea. While that is sort of true, it generalizes things a bit. Leaves destined to become oolong are withered, rolled and carefully oxidized. The producer needs to apply heat at precisely the right moment in order to prevent the leaves from oxidizing completely.

Black Tea

Black tea undergoes the same processing steps as oolong but the leaves are completely (or very nearly) oxidized. Both the finished leaves and the brewed tea will have a reddish brown coloration. This is caused by catechins being converted into thearubigins. The taste of black can vary quite a bit depending on the region and how the tea is made. Although it's usually thought of as being served with milk and sugar, black tea is not always the punchy and astringent kind.

Here's a bit about some of my favorite black teas:

Meet the Tea: Dian Hong
➢ Meet the Tea: Darjeeling

Dark Tea

The category of dark tea, also known as hei cha, refers to any tea that is fermented. It's important to note that fermentation in tea is a different biological process than the one used to produce beer and wine. Puerh falls under this category as do similarly processed teas from regions of China other than Yunnan. Some argue that raw puerh should be categorized as a green tea but there are some key differences. Sheng is heated in a similar fashion but the leaves are dried in the sun rather than by hot air. They retain some of their natural enzymes and bacteria which will allow the tea to gradually oxidize as well as ferment over time.

Check out these past posts for more on puerh:

Raw Puerh vs Cooked Puerh
➢ Tasting Puerh Storage Methods with White2Tea
➢ A Tales of Two Nannou

Please let me know in the comments if you prefer a different method of categorizing tea. I'd love to get some healthy discussion going on this!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Friday Round Up: October 9th - October 15th

Five Mistakes I've Made While Brewing Tea
Rebekah from +Teacups and Blossoms wrote a handy post about some of the things can seriously mess up your cup of tea. We've all been there! Not adding milk before it's done brewing is something that I definitely learned the hard way.

Us Puerh Collectors, Why We are Different
+Cwyn N's posts are always insightful in unexpected ways. I loved the comparison of collecting puerh to raising horses (former equine studies major here!). Puerh is definitely what I'm drinking the most these days but I haven't quite hit the collector stage yet.

Genmaicha Rice Krispy Treats
+Bonnie Eng's creatively tea infused recipes always get an immediate bookmark on Pinterest when I read them. This one, in particular, captured my attention because it features one of my favorite teas to drink during the fall season. She had me at genmaicha!

Honey Scent Red from Terroir Tea Merchants
+Nichole Miller wrote a review on SororiTea Sisters that definitely made me want to give this tea a try. Honey scented teas are a bit of an obsession of mine. Terroir's shop in Victoria, BC has been on my wishlist for some time. This is one selection that I will definitely be checking out if I ever make it there to visit.

The Tea Planter's Wife, a Book Review
+Georgia SS reviewed a book that I recently enjoyed. I'd definitely agree with her point that the story holds an appeal for wider audiences. There's a ton of value there for fans of historial fiction while also drawing attention to the social issues of the time.