Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Round Up: April 16th - April 22nd

A Short Tea Adventure in Vancouver
+Payton Swick visited Vancouver last week and shared a bit on his blog about o5 Tea. This spot has been on my wish list for a long time.

How Much Tea is in a Teaspoon?
I've been an advocate of weighing tea leaves for a long time now. +Georgia SS did an awesome comparison that shows exactly why this is important.

2016 Cream Shou Puer from White2Tea
+Charissa Gascho reviewed a shou puerh from White2Tea that definitely piqued my interest. I love her trial by fire bombproof test.

A rare tea and artisan chocolate soiree curated by The Tea Squirrel
+Anna Mariani hosted an amazing chocolate and tea pairing event in San Francisco. The pictures are beautiful and I can't wait to try some of these combinations myself.

Remembering Mary Lou-Heiss
The tea industry lost an important pioneer recently. +Jo J's tribute to Mary Lou-Heiss of Tea Trekker was both personal and touching.

Monday, April 17, 2017

What is Puerh Tea?


We've arrived at the final installment of introductory guides to each type of tea. I was worried that these posts might be too "old hat" for seasoned tea drinkers but also felt that they were important to have here for newbies. Thanks for hanging in there folks!

Origins


Puerh is a fermented tea, part of a larger category known as Hei Cha (dark tea), that is produced only in the Yunnan Province of China. Most of the tea trees used are of the larger leafed variety, Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica. Tea production in this region dates back as early as the Han Dynasty. Puerh is unique in that the leaves are often compressed into flat cakes called bings as well as other shapes like mushrooms, bricks, and birds nests.


Varieties


Puerh can be divided into two distinct types. Sheng, or raw, puerh has a greener appearance because the leaves are allowed to retain some of the natural enzymes, allowing them to ferment and age over time. This process can be sped up by storing the tea in a carefully controlled, humid environment. Shou, ripe or cooked, puerh has a very dark appearance because the leaves are artificially fermented prior to being pressed into cakes. This process also dramatically affects the taste, making it dark and earthy.

A typical sheng cake, silvery buds mixed with darker greens and browns

A typical shou puerh cake, dark with more broken leaves

Processing


Sheng and shou are handled similarly in the initial stages of processing. After harvesting the leaves are withered and pan-fired. The heat level is high enough to bring oxidation to a near halt but it isn't stopped completely. They are then rolled, by hand or machine, and then dried in the sun. The finished leaves are referred to as mao cha, or rough tea. Raw mao cha can be sold and consumed as is but it is most oftenly lightly steamed and compressed into a cake.

Shou puerh then undergoes an additional step of wet piling known as wo dui. The leaves are then sprayed with water and covered in order to maintain a moist environment, effectively creating a tea compost. Beneficial bacteria such as Aspergillus spp. and Penicillium spp. play a role in this process as do yeasts and other microflora. This artificial fermentation process was invented in 1973 as a way to quickly replicate the aging process that can occur in very old raw puerh.


Taste


The two varieties are very different from each other in taste and I find that most people will have a strong preference for one or the other. Sheng is bright and astringent with complex vegetal and floral notes. It can be quite bitter but is also known for hui gan, a comeback sweetness that most people will feel in their throat. I often describe raw puerh as a green tea that punches you in the face, but in a really nice way.

Shou puerh can be described as extremely dark and earthy (think forest floor after it rains) but it will usually have a natural sweetness with very little astringency. Notes of dark cocoa and even dried fruits can pop up if you find a really good quality one. Poorly processed tea can be so unpleasant that it borders on fishy so be wary of buying from unknown sources.

How to Brew It


When using a western method water temperatures are usually around boiling point, 212° Fahrenheit. If you are finding a young puerh to be too bitter, try dialing it back to 175° Fahrenheit. Steep times can vary between 3 and 5 minutes depending on the tea. Puerh can be really hard to measure, especially if it is compressed, but weighing your leaves will help make sure that you are using the right amount. Most teas will call for 2 to 2.5 grams of leaf per 8oz cup of water. 

Gongfu is my go-to way to prepare puerh because I really like the way it concentrates the flavors. Gaiwans are a handy tool with any tea, particularly with puerh because you have more control over the heat level and pouring speed. Yixing or Jianshui clay vessels are also very popular. Water temperature will usually be from around 212° Fahrenheit with steep times will usually be about 30 seconds.

Pro Tip: If your shou puerh is too earthy, try giving the leaves a short hot water rinse (10-20 seconds) before making your first cup.

What is your favorite region for puerh? Let me know about it in the comments!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Friday Round Up: April 9th - April 15th

DIY Tea Dyed Easter Eggs
Easter is right around the corner and +Lu Ann Pannunzio has the perfect way for tea drinkers to celebrate. I'll definitely be trying my hand at using tea to dye eggs this year.

Tea Experience: Cha Le Te
Michelle at One More Steep wrote about her experience at a new-to-me tea shop in Vancouver. Even though I'm close to NYC, I definitely have some serious tea envy when it comes to Canada.

Tasting: Tea Dealers Thurbo 2nd Flush Darjeeling
It's been far too long since I had a really good Darjeeling. +sara shacket's post this week reminded me that I need to change that immediately.

We May Have to Slap Some People
There are few who hate teabags more than +Robert Godden.  I had a feeling this rant was coming after I saw a recent news article.

Gingham Sencha Tea Cakes
+Bonnie Eng has done it again, this time with sencha infused cakes that are almost too cute to eat. The sweet gingham pattern is super fun!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Two Teas from Down Under


My favorite thing about being involved in the world of tea is the wonderful friends that I've made from around the world. Tea people really are the best kind of people! Way back in 2013 I crossed paths with an Aussie named Effie and she's exactly as effervescent as her name implies. Last year at World Tea Expo she generously shared some Aussie grown teas and I realized that I completely forgot to share them with you all here.


Perfect South Australian Grown Sencha

The dry leaves were a bit more spindly and larger than most Japanese grown sencha that I've seen. They did appear to be rolled in a similar but less refined way. The taste was grassy but not quite as marine as a "real" sencha would be. Overall it was pretty refreshing with a natural sweetness. The vendor's brewing directions recommended between 1 and 3 minutes. I erred on the side of caution and went with a 2 minute steep. This was a little bit stronger than my preference so I'll probably dial back to 1 minute going forward. Was it the best sencha that I've ever had? Definitely not. Is it worth giving a try for yourself? Absolutely.


The Art of Tea Tasmanian Black Tea

Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia. I've definitely heard of Australian grown tea before, mostly the more common Daintree kind, but this was not a tea region I had heard of before. The dry leaf looked a bit rough, fairly broken with lots of stems. I even spotted a few seed pod shells. I was a bit surprised at how light the taste was. It had sweet woody notes with hardly any bitterness. The steeping directions said to use boiling water but no time was given so I went with 3 minutes. I definitely could have brewed it for longer or even left the leaves in the water without hurting the taste.

Have you ever had a tea that was grown in Australia? Let me know about it in the comments!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Friday Round Up: April 2nd - April 8th

MattCha: Can a Modest  Ol' Tea Blog Make a Comeback?
I'm loving all of the tea blogs of the past that have made a comeback lately. This week brings us a surprise post from MattCha's Blog, the first in three years!

The Tea Horse Road
I don't know how I never heard of TeaStorys before but I'm really glad that I found them. The Tea Horse Road is definitely one of the more fascinating stories that the tea world has to offer.

Three Teas from Tea Dealers
+Georgia SS reviews some very intriguing teas from Tea Dealers, including a white lotus tisane from Korea. The charcoal roasted TGY is definitely on my wishlist now.

Old Ways Tea Company: Black and White, a Wuyi Tea Review
+Amanda Freeman compared a black tea and a white tea, both from the Wuyi region of China. I've definitely never heard of a white tea from there before.

Tea Review: Organic Sun Drop Pink Tea 2nd Flush (Kanes)
+Heather Porter had a chance to try the elusive Sun Rouge, a purple tea that is now being produced in Japan. The color of the liquor after adding lemon is really eye catching. Her tasting notes remind me quite a bit of some of the Kenyan purple teas that I've had.

Monday, April 3, 2017

What is Black Tea?


Origins


The history of black tea can be traced to the late Ming Dynasty in the Fujian Province of China. There are various legends about how it came to be but the very first black tea was Zhen Shan Xiao Zhong, otherwise known as Lapsang Souchong. Fujian is still the main production area but Anhui and Yunnan black teas are also very well known. As black tea became preferred by European tea drinkers the tea plant (and black tea production methods) were spread to India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Malawi, and more.

It is important to note that black tea has always been referred to as hong cha, or red tea, in China because of the color of the liquor. European traders called it black tea because it was darker than the green tea they were previously exporting and the name stuck. Rooibos is often sold under the name of red tea as well, further adding to the confusion.


Varieties


China


  • Bai Lin Gongfu 
  • Jin Jun Mei
  • Zhen Shan Xiao Zhong
  • Keemun
  • Dian Hong

Taiwan

  • Sun Moon Lake

India

  • Assam
  • Darjeeling
  • Nilgiri
Black tea produced in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) and most African nations is typically separated into leaf grades rather than distinct types. You'll find slight variations in style from estate to estate, though.

Processing


In order to make black tea, the leaves are withered and then bruised. This breaks down the cells of the leaf and speeds up the process of oxidization. During this stage leaves that destined to become CTC tea are cut into small pieces. Once they have turned to a coppery brown color, the leaves are dried to stop the oxidation process and remove moisture.

Black tea leaves made in India, Sir Lanka, and most African countries are then sorted using sieves in order to separate high-quality whole leaves from broken pieces that are better suited for tea bags. Manufacturing methods can vary pretty widely between all of the different producing countries. Indian black teas won't ever be made in the exact same way as a Bai Lin Gongfu from China. That doesn't make them better or worse, they're just different.


Taste


The taste of black tea can be pretty diverse thanks to its wide range. Chinese black teas from Fujian tend to have sweeter cacao like flavor profiles while Yunnan teas are earthier and maltier. Darjeeling has an almost fruity quality, reminiscent of muscatel grapes. Sri Lankan black teas will have a unique citrus note.

Black tea gets a bad rap among tea connoisseurs sometimes because of its close association with poor quality bagged teas. Just keep in mind that not all teas are created equal. Black tea is a category that deserves just as much exploration as green tea and oolong. Changing up your brewing method can also make a dramatic difference.


How to Brew It


When using a western method, water temperatures are usually around 195 to 212° Fahrenheit. Steep times can vary between 3 and 5 minutes depending on the tea. Oolong can be difficult to measure as the leaf shapes often don't fit in a typical teaspoon. Weighing your leaves will help make sure that you are using the right amount. Most teas will call for 2 to 2.5 grams of leaf per 8oz cup of water. 

Gongfu is a great way to experience black tea, especially those from China and Taiwan. Thicker walled brewing vessels help to retain heat, making sure that you extract all of the flavors from your leaves. My trusty ru yao celadon teapot is my usually go to but a gaiwan will serve you just as well. Water temperatures will range from around 195° to 212° Fahrenheit with steep times will usually be about 30 seconds. 

What is the first black tea that you really fell in love with? Let me know about it in the comments!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Friday Round Up: March 26th - April 1st

The Art of White2Tea (72 Hours) Made Me Cry
Tea can affect us both physically and psychologically. Cody at The Oolong Drunk reminds us of that as he recounts his experience with a very special puerh.

Exploring the Teas of Sichuan and Fujian with Jeff Kovac 
+Tony Gebely interviewed one of my favorite tea people, Jeff Kovac of Four Seasons Tea Co. In case you missed it, you can check out my interview with him for my YouTube channel.

Nandi Hills Black Tea from JusTea
There are few things that make me smile more than when I see the unexpected return of a fellow tea blogger. +Tea Journeyman, aka Kevin Craig, surprised me this week with an out of the blue tea review.

Women in Tea: Shiuwen Tai
I've been really enjoying the "Women in Tea" series of posts on Steph's Cup of Tea. This week focuses on +Shiuwen Tai of Floating Leaves Tea. We have met to meet in person but I already know that her shop is on my to-do list if I ever visit the pacific northwest.

Simple Home Storage Solutions
Figuring out how to store your puerh collection is a problem that many tea drinkers are faced with. +Tea DB gives some practical tips on how to keep it simple while also keeping those leaves safe and sound.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Bitterleaf Teas Hummingbird 2013 Spring Jing Mai Ancient Tree Raw Puer

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: loosely compressed
Ingredients: puerh tea
Steep time: 15 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: pale gold

Jing Mai is one of my favorite puerh growing regions but this is the first tea from there that I've written about in almost a year. So much tea, such little time! The 2016 Year of the Monkey, also from +Bitterleaf Teas, was one of my favorite shengs in recent memory so I was really looking forward to diving into this one.

Life has been a bit crazy lately so I don't have time to gongfu tea as often as I might like to. The one upside is that I tend to enjoy what I drink a lot more. This tea exactly what I needed in that moment.  All I could say is "Wow, that's good!" and pour myself another cup. This also led me to use up my entire sample over the course of a weekend. Several late night sessions even led to continued steeps in the morning.

I was struck by how sweet this tea was from the very first sip. Heady floral notes danced around a pleasant vegetal crispness. Although the taste was on the mellow side I think that the aromatics more than made up for it. The mouth feel was so thick and viscous that it almost made the tea seem creamy. There was very little bitterness or astringency, making this a perfect option for those that have trouble handling finicky young puerh. The leaves have had time to mellow out and it shows.

I love that there are so many options for purchasing this tea. I'm unlikely to ever commit to a full 357g cake but a "mini-tong" of 10g mini cakes is definitely up my alley. How handy would those be for traveling? A sample size is also available of just 30g for less than $10.

Hummingbird 2013 Spring Jing Mai Ancient Tree Raw Puer sample provided for review by Bitterleaf Teas.



A post shared by Nicole - Tea for Me Please (@teaformeplease) on

Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday Round Up: March 19th - March 25th

Trek to Brooklyn 2017
I was a bit bummed to miss the NYC Coffee and Tea Festival for the first time in many years. Thankfully I was able to live vicariously through +Jo J's blog post.

Meet my tea pet
Regular readers will know about my obsession with tea pets. +Anna Mariani introduced us to her squirrel tea pet and the adorable story that goes along with it.

Notes from the Tea Underground
I've said it before and I'll say it again, +Geoffrey Norman gets to go to the coolest tea events! Portland definitely has one of the most unique tea communities.

What I Like About Japanese Green Tea
+Ricardo Caicedo answers a question that I've often wondered, what made a guy from Colombia become so interested in Japanese green tea?

Cupping an Assam and an Uva
I've been avidly following the adventures of +Georgia SS as she takes an ITEI tea course. Comparing black teas from different regions can be so interesting.

Monday, March 20, 2017

What is Oolong Tea?


Origins


The birthplace of oolong is the Fujian Province of China. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when production first began but it is likely to have been after the Ming Dynasty as this area was known for its compressed teas prior to that time. Oolong is the anglicized version of the Chinese Wulong, meaning black dragon. There are many legends about the origin of that name but it seems to mostly be tied to the dark, twisted appearance of the oolongs produced in the Wuyi Mountain area. Tea plants from Fujian were first brought to Taiwan in the early 1800's.


Varieties


Oolong is one of the largest and most diverse categories of tea. The oxidation levels can range from as low as 8% to as high as 80%.  For that reason, it is a tea of many faces. There are a massive number of varieties so a list of all of them could go on forever. For the sake of simplicity, I'm going to list a select few that oolong beginners should definitely check out.

Chinese

  • Tie Guan Yin
  • Da Hong Pao
  • Mi Lan Xiang

Taiwanese

  • Dong Ding
  • Oriental Beauty
  • Ali Shan

There are also some really tasty oolongs coming from Vietnam, Thailand, and other regions being produced.


Processing


Oolong tea uses larger, more mature leaves than those used for white, yellow, or green tea. It's a bit of a misconception that larger leaves are poorer quality and oolong is proof that this isn't always the case. Tender buds just wouldn't be able to survive the rolling process. For this reason, oolongs are harvested a bit later in the year.

After plucking the leaves are withered in the sun to remove excess moisture. This also makes them more malleable. They are then bruised by carefully tossing them on a bamboo or wicker tray. The leaves are then allowed to oxidize, slowly turning from green to red in color. Heat is then applied at the appropriate stage in order to halt oxidation. This is what stops the tea from fully oxidizing into a black tea. 

Depending on the type of tea, the leaves may then shaped and/or rolled. Anxi and Taiwanese oolongs usually have a distinctive ball shape while Wuyi and Guangdong oolongs have a long, skinny appearance. The leaves will then be heated, often by charcoal roasting, to remove residual moisture and make them more shelf stable. Some types of oolong also have a roasting step that takes place after processing. This is frequently done by tea merchants rather than the producer themselves.


Taste


Due to the wide range of oxidation levels, the taste of oolong can be just as diverse. Lighter oxidized teas will usually have a more grassy quality. Anxi and Taiwanese oolongs are very aromatic and floral but there are lots of nuances within that. Wuyi oolongs are dark and toasty with a strong minerality. Phoenix oolongs mimic everything from fruits to nuts and even specific flower varieties.

How to Brew It


When using a western method, water temperatures are usually around 180 to 212° Fahrenheit. Steep times can vary between 3 and 8 minutes depending on the tea. Oolong can be difficult to measure as the leaf shapes often don't fit in a typical teaspoon. Weighing your leaves will help make sure that you are using the right amount. Most teas will call for 2 to 2.5 grams of leaf per 8oz cup of water.

Gongfu is definitely my preferred way to make oolong tea. Yixing clay or thicker walled teapots can be a great tool because they retain heat, making sure that you extract all of the aromas from your tea. Gaiwans are also a great method because you can use the lid to control the heat. Water temperatures will range from around 195° to 212° Fahrenheit with steep times between 15 seconds and 30 seconds.

What is your favorite oolong tea? Let me know about it in the comments!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Golden Leaf Tea Sun Moon Lake

Country of Origin: Taiwan
Leaf Appearance: long, dark, spindly
Ingredients: black tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: reddish amber

For some reason, certain kinds of tea tug at my heartstrings more than others. Ruby #18 is one of them. Just the idea of a black tea from Taiwan really blew my mind when I first discovered it. Growing up in a Lipton Orange Pekoe family, a "self-drinking" black tea was completely new territory. The history behind this variety is also pretty fascinating. I will definitely have to revisit my old "Meet the Tea" series so that I can tell its story in another future blog post.

The taste was malty, as you might expect from a tea made from var. Assamica, but it was also mellow with a lot of natural sweetness. Notes of cinnamon spice and dark cacao danced around a vanilla note that almost gave the tea a creamy quality. By gradually increasing the infusion time I was able to get an impressive number of infusions from 6g of leaves. I found myself still drinking after most of the flavor had faded because it still had a really nice sweetness.

Feel free to experiment with your brew times and leaf ratios. Ruby #18 can take the heat like few other black teas can. Bitterness is rarely an issue, even when they are pushed fairly hard. If you've never had the opportunity to try "red jade" then I highly recommend that you treat yo' self by picking some up. You won't be disappointed. Their Honey Red Jade is also definitely worth trying.

Sun Moon Lake sample provided for review by Golden Leaf Tea.





Monday, March 13, 2017

What is Green Tea?


Origins


Humans have been cultivating and drinking tea for thousands of years. Green tea was the only type that existed for the majority of that time. Sichuan Province is generally considered to be the birthplace of the smaller leaved var. Sinensis. Tea cultivation and its use as a medicine soon spread to surrounding areas.

Prior to the Ming Dynasty, it was a bit different than the form that we know today. The leaves were pressed into cakes, then ground into a powder, and whisked into a froth. This preparation method was later adapted by Japan to make matcha. The Tang Dynasty brought tea drinking to a whole new level as it became a cultural art form.

Many people don't realize that the first tea exported from China was green tea. Spring picked "Hyson" and "Singlo" were favored by the well to do of England and America. A significant amount of green tea was even dumped into the harbor during the Boston Tea Party. More oxidized tea varieties eventually became more favored by the western world because they were better able to survive the long sea voyage.

Varieties


There are more types of green tea than I could possibly list here. Green tea is produced in many other corners of the globe. China and Japan are the dominant producers, though. This makes sense as they have the longest history of tea growing. These are my favorite kinds:

Chinese



Japanese

  • Bancha
  • Gyokuro
  • Hojicha
  • Matcha
  • Sencha

Let me know in the comments if there is a tea I missed that should be on this list!

Gyokuro

Processing


Green tea is defined as a tea that is not oxidized. The leaves are withered for several hours in order to reduce the moisture content. This process also softens them, making them more malleable. Heat is then applied in some way in order denature the enzymes that cause oxidation. This step is often referred to as the "kill green" for that reason.

Chinese green teas are usually heated in a wok-like pan whereas Japanese green teas are steamed for a short period of time. Some types of green tea, such as Dragonwell and Bi Luo Chun, are shaped during this period. The leaves might also be dried afterward using an oven or commercial dryer.

Taste


Green tea is generally described as having a vegetal taste. They can certainly be more complex than that. I feel like green tea sometimes gets ignored in favor of sexier, more aromatic teas like oolong. Although the taste can be much more delicate a good green tea is well worth the effort. Chinese green teas will often have a floral, nutty character. Japanese green teas, on the other hand, are almost oceanic tasting.


How to Brew It


Green tea is almost always brewed with lower temperature water. When using a western method, water temperatures are usually around 175° Fahrenheit. Steep times can vary between 1 and 3 minutes depending on the tea. Leaf volume might vary a bit but most teas will call for 2 to 2.5 grams of leaf per 8oz cup of water.

Green teas can be brewing using gongfu methods but they do require a bit more care. Your water temperature should be in the 175° to 185° range with infusion times no longer than 30 seconds. I don't recommend using yixing clay or other thick-walled vessels because they retain too much heat. Glass is a great way to go for that reason but keeping the lid off of your brewing vessel in between infusions can help a lot as well.

Grandpa style is my absolute favorite ways to drink green tea. There's nothing better than slowly sipping tea while watching the leaves dance in a tall glass. The key to avoiding bitterness is making sure that you use just barely enough leave to cover the bottom of the cup.

What is your favorite green tea? Let me know about it in the comments!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Friday Round Up: March 5th - March 11th

United States of Tea - Mauna Kea Tea, Hawaii
+Georgia SS did an awesome interview with the owners of Mauna Kea Tea, one of my favorite U.S. based tea growing operations. Their passion really comes through in their answers to her thoughtful questions.

Confessions of a Tea Cake Artist
It's official, +Geoffrey Norman has the coolest friends. This week he shared a bit about Kristin Barger. She's a talented baker who just created a line of tea-infused treats.

The Moonlit Tea Garden: A Conversation with the Founders of Jun Chiyabari
Jun Chiyabari is one of my favorite Nepalese tea gardens. +Tony Gebely interviewed the founders and the results were really fascinating. I had no idea that the majority of their tea is exported to Germany.

A Thousand Posts Later...
+Amanda Freeman hit a major milestone, writing over a thousand blog posts. Congrats! I can definitely sympathize with her feelings of burnout and needing to cut back. This is sometimes I've been through before and am struggling a bit currently.

A Taste of Taiwan with High Mountain Tea
+Lu Ann Pannunzio got a taste of taste of Taiwan from a Toronto newcomer. I've heard really great things about their offerings and this blog post confirms it. I'll definitely need to give them a try soon.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Friday Round Up: February 26th - March 4th

Want It Wednesday: Toronto Tea Festival 2017
Rachel at Tea Nerd put together a list of some of her favorite finds from the Toronto Tea Festival. I need all of the tea things! The matcha deodorant particularly caught my eye.

Hooty Tea Travels - Fridays at Phoenix Tea
It's official. I need to visit Seattle! eattle! +Charissa Gascho visited +Phoenix Tea where she got to hang out with +Crimson Lotus Tea and +Tea DB.

Tea Session - 1970's Fuzhuan Brick (People's Unification Tea)
Varat at The Guide to Puerh Tea indulged in a rare tea from China's past. I'm not sure how adventurous I would be about drinking a brick with such a high concentration of "golden flowers".

A tea speakeasy?
+Anna Mariani got to visit the private tea tasting room run by tea friend Chris Kornblatt, founder of +QuantiTea. Bai Mu Dan? Jin Jun Mei? Yes, please!

The science and nomenclature of tea processing. Part 2: Microbial ripening.
+Eric Scott of +Tea Geek addressed one of the biggest debates in the tea world this week. The microbial processes that occur in puerh are still being studied and the science behind it all is fascinating.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Tea Lover's Travel Diary: Phoenix Single-Tree Oolong Tea Tie Kuan Yin Oolong Tea by Jason C.S. Chen

I read A LOT of books throughout the year. I try to write about the tea related ones that really stand out here but sometimes they get lost in the shuffle, amidst tea reviews and everything else going on. This is one of those books.

It had been on my Amazon wishlist for a while but I finally bit the bullet nearly three years ago. The author is the owner of Bellevue, WA tea establishment Smacha. An introduction by tea industry favorite James Norwood Pratt was also a big selling point.

The first thing that struck me was the photograph heavy layout of this book. Rather than relying on words, the author lets the pictures tell the story. I found the pictures of the mountains where the teas are grown particularly stunning. There is some text of course, but only just enough to explain what is happening.

The reader really feels like they are along for the ride as Jason travels through Fujian and Guangdong. I really enjoyed that the focus was on two specific teas, Tie Guan Yin and Phoenix Mountain oolong. Although they are the same type of tea, the differences between the two are highlighted in an easy to understand way. Everything from terroir to production methods is covered in detail.

Most of the content is about where and how the tea is made but there is a small guide to brewing at the end of each of the sections. My one qualm with this book would be here. Directions are given for yixing clay teapots, western style teapots, and the tea brewer that the author created. There is no mention of gaiwans or other brewing methods. This section definitely could have used more in-depth information, particularly for those that are new to tea.

Nearly all of the books on tea that I have read take a very generalist approach, trying to cover a vast world in just a few hundred pages. There is just too much there for tea nerds to really be able to dig in on a particular subject. For that reason, it was refreshing to read something so specialized. This is a book that even those who aren't interested in tea will find interesting.

You can find out more about this book here.

Monday, February 27, 2017

What is Yellow Tea?


I know what you're thinking. There's a yellow tea? This category is little known and often forgotten, particularly in western markets. There are several respected books on my shelves that make absolutely no mention of it for that very reason.

Origins


Yellow tea is made primarily in the Anhui, Sichuan, and Hunan provinces of China. No one is really sure exactly when it first began being produced. As the tea world changes and grows, processing techniques are also shared and copied. I've had yellow teas from several regions outside of China, including Nilgiri and Darjeeling.

Because its production is difficult and time-intensive, yellow tea has primarily been consumed by locals. As the demand for easier-to-make green tea has increased in the West, many have abandoned the production of yellow tea in favor of green, and knowledge of the yellow tea-making process is being lost in China. Today, there are few tea masters alive with the skills required to make yellow tea.

Varieties


Jun Shan Yhin Zhen


Jun Shan Yhin Zhen is Silver Needle's noticeably darker yellow tea cousin. It is grown on the mist-covered mountain of its namesake Jun Shan Island in Hunan Province. 

Meng Ding Huang Ya

Also named after the place where it is grown, Meng Ding Huang Ya is produced in Sichuan Province. It is made up entirely of tender buds with a slightly flattened and greener appearance.

Huo Shan Huang Ya

This yellow tea hails from Anhui Province. The plucking standard consists of one bud or one bud and two leaves. It is very close in appearance to and often confused with Huang Shan Mao Feng, a green tea that is produced nearby.



Meng Ding Huang Ya


Processing


Similarly to white tea, yellow tea is slightly oxidized. After plucking the leaves are withered and the undergo a "fixing" step, also known as the "kill green", in order to denature the enzymes responsible for oxidation. This is usually done by firing them in a pan. Up until this point the processing methods are very similar to those of green tea. 

After firing leaves that are destined to become yellow tea are wrapped in material, usually paper or cloth. This allows them to cool down in temperature and oxidize very slowly. The process is repeated several times with the leaves being dried in between to remove excess moisture. It can take more than three days just to finish a single batch of tea. 

Taste


The slight oxidation that takes place in the processing of the yellow tea also changes the taste the ends up our cups. Yellow tea is often described as smoother and less grassy than green tea. It can be a bit hard to understand the difference without experiencing it yourself. I often describe it as having a more buttery texture which sounds weird but trust me, it's a good thing! Yellow tea also has a striking aroma that lingers after each sip.


How to Brew It


Yellow tea is usually treated like a green tea when it comes to brewing. Think cooler water, about 175°, and shorter infusion times. The leaves are absolutely beautiful to watch so I usually brew them in glass vessels. This also helps to make sure that your teaware doesn't retain too much heat, negatively affecting the taste. 

As I often recommend, it is better to weigh your leaves because teaspoons are not an exact measurement. Western style brewing will usually call for steep times of about 2 to 3 minutes with about 2 to 2.5g of leaf per 8 oz of water.

Gongfu brewing requires a higher leaf:water ratio. I usually go with about 4 to 6g per 100ml with 30 second infusions. You can adjust to your personal taste and preferences though. One of my favorite ways to drink yellow tea is also grandpa style.

Note: I suddenly found that I had no yellow tea on hand to photograph for this article. I'll be sure to update the images once I am able to get some better shots.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Friday Round Up: February 19th - February 25th

Oollo Tea's Oriental Beauty
Michelle from One More Steep reviewed a tea that sounds as beautiful as it looks. The shot she got that showed the fuzzy hairs on the leaves is awesome! I haven't tried anything from Oollo Tea but now I definitely want to.

Garfunkle's: Afternoon Tea at a Speakeasy
Gatsby-esque afternoon tea in NYC? Yes, please! Jennifer at Inspired by Tea gives her report of this must see experience. For anyone who remembers Janam Teas from Jersey City, that's who is supplying their tea.

Tea Sessions Episode 1: What Tea Taught Me About Empathy
Mike at The Tea Letter added a podcast to his blog post this week. I really like the extra dimension that it adds. I can definitely relate to his struggle when it comes to having patience for fellow tea drinkers.

Isshin Tea Shop in the Hague: A Japanese Tea Geek's Garden of Eden
I love learning about tea shops around the world. It's unlikely that I'm going to be visiting the Netherlands any time soon but just in case I do, I now know where to get my Japanese tea fix thanks to Tea Leafster.

Yunomi: Furyu Batabatacha, Rare Bancha Tea, A Tea Review
+Amanda Freeman reviewed a fermented Japanese tea that not many people have heard of, let alone tasted. I've always found the double whisk that is traditionally used to prepare this tea so fascinating. She did a pretty good job of whipping it with a chasen though!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Denong Tea 2015 Early Spring Harvest Elegant Tranquility Raw Pu-erh

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: loosely compressed,
Ingredients: puerh tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: deep gold

I discovered Denong Tea at World Tea Expo last year where I fell completely in love with their Enchanting Beauty. So much so that I told everyone about it which led to them selling out by the time I went to grab some to take home. I got this tea instead. All I can say is, best consolation prize ever!

The cake survived the trip home from Las Vegas very well. I must confess to waiting a pretty long time before opening it. Part of that was because Denong Tea was kind enough to send me samples of some of their teas. Another part was because the wrapper was just too pretty. Once I finally brought myself to open it I found that the cake was loosely compressed with leaves that were mostly whole. Some of them were downright fuzzy (in a good way).

This tea started out very smooth, almost surprisingly mild for a young sheng. I don't mean to say that it was weak because that wasn't the case at all. There was a definite bitterness but it was tempered by an immediate comeback sweetness in the back of my throat. It was so sweet that I'd almost think this was a Yiwu tea if I didn't know any better. It's actually from Jinxiu Village in Lincang. My initial infusions brought heady floral aromas and notes of wildflower honey. That gave way to a vegetal note akin to bamboo sprouts and a pleasing minerality. As tea cooled the mouthfeel became increasingly viscous. The leaves held up to an untold number of infusions. I even found myself steeping them the next day after a late night tea session.

I'd really like to see how this one ages but I don't think I'll be able to stop myself from drinking it on a regular basis. This cake was only opened a week ago and already has a sizeable dent taken out of it. At only $26 for 100g, this tea is a real steal and definitely worth picking up if you plan on placing an order with them.

2015 Early Spring Harvest Elegant Tranquility Raw Pu-erh purchase from Denong Tea.




Monday, February 20, 2017

What is White Tea?



It dawned on me that I've never done an introduction to each of the tea categories. Information like this might be old hat for some of you but I think those that are new to tea who might find it useful. Over the next few weeks, I'll be covering a different type of tea each Monday. Please let me know in the comments if there's something you'd like to see covered for yellow tea, green tea, oolong, black tea, or puerh tea.

Origins


White tea originates from China's Fujian Province. It is heavily debated when people first began producing it. Some sources say that it is the first tea ever consumed but others say that this processing technique has only been around for a few centuries. Fuding, Zhenghe, and Jianyang are the main production areas. White is often marketed as being rare but this simply isn't the case, especially as western interest continues to increase.

Varieties


Bai Hao Yin Zhen 
  • aka Silver Needle
  • Made exclusively from unopened buds. 
  • The highest grade of white tea.

Bai Mu Dan 
  • aka White Peony. 
  • Made using unopened buds as well as larger leaves. 
  • The leaves are largely unbroken and should still have a green hue.

Shou Mei 
  • aka Longevity Eyebrow. 
  • Contains a higher leaf to bud ratio than Bai Mu Dan. 
  • The leaves are more broken and may be a bit more brownish in color.

Gong Mei 
  • aka Tribute Eyebrow. 
  • Made mostly with larger leaves with some scattered buds. 
  • The leaves will be mostly broken and brown in color. 
  • The lowest grade of white tea.

The Chinese definition of white tea stipulates that it must be grown in Fujian and made from the Da Bai variety of the tea plant. This definition was established at a time when China was the only producer of white tea. Now that we have white teas coming out of other regions like Ceylon and Darjeeling it becomes a bit of a gray area. That doesn't mean that they aren't worth exploring, though!

Processing


White tea is processed by withering the leaves to reduce the moisture content and then drying them. Traditionally this is done by laying them out in the sun. Nowadays it is common to dry them mechanically with an oven or dryer. Unlike most other teas, leaves destined to become white tea are sorted and separated before processing. Little else is done to the leaves with the possible exception of rolled pearl style or blooming teas.

White tea is often referred to as the least processed category. I tend to not use that word because processed can take on a negative connotation in the food world. This isn't the Chicken McNugget of tea that we're talking about. Lightly oxidized is sort of accurate but that isn't always the case either.


Taste


Floral, fruity and slightly vegetal are all words that are used to describe the taste of white tea. Think cucumber, melon, meadow flowers, and snow pea. Notes of hay or grass might also pop up. White tea can be very delicate and mild. particularly for those who are used to stronger tastes, so don't give up if it doesn't grab you right away. 

Pro Tip: Try taking a sip of room-temperature water and eating a salty cracker first. This will help wake up your taste buds.

How to Brew It


First, it's important to keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to brew any tea, All that matters is that you enjoy the end result. White tea is commonly treated like a green tea, with lower water temperatures. High-quality ones can stand up to much hotter water but poor quality teas will show their faults under pressure.

When using a western method, water temperatures are usually around 160 to 175° Fahrenheit. Steep times can vary between 3 and 8 minutes depending on the tea. White tea leaves tend to be fairly fluffy, making it hard to measure in teaspoons. Weighing your leaves will help make sure that you are using the right amount. Most teas will call for 2 to 2.5 grams of leaf per 8oz cup of water.

Gongfu is definitely my preferred way to make white tea. A gaiwan or glass pitcher is best because yixing teapots retain too much heat. Water temperatures will range from around 175° to 212° Fahrenheit with steep times between 30 seconds and 1 minute. I also really enjoy white tea grandpa style when I'm feeling a bit lazy.

What was the first white tea that you ever had? Let me know in the comments!

Header image attribution: WJ Houtman, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, February 17, 2017

Friday Round Up: February 12th and February 18th

My tasting notes: Indonesian rolled black tea
+Anna Mariani's pairing of this Indonesian black tea with homemade olive oil challah bread and olive oil passion fruit curd sounds absolutely delicious. She got to share lunch with Melanie Halim of Harnedong Organic Tea Estate too!

Going Back to Bitaco...with Video
+Geoffrey Norman is doing a sequel month on his blog, revisiting some of his favorite gardens. He had so much to say about this Colombian grown tea that there was no choice to make wonderfully rambling videos of his thoughts.

Tea & Oranges
+Linda Gaylard drew some inspiration from Leonard Cohen's Suzanne. She paired four different teas with four different kind of oranges. The photography she took of her experience is impeccable as always.

White2Tea - Long Jing (February 2017 club)
Microshrimp's blog is one that I've always enjoyed but it's fallen a bit silent lately. It's nice to see something new pop up in my feed again this week. +White2Tea is usually known for their puerh so this post really made me sit up and take notice.

2016 Midas Touch Sheng Puer from Crimson Lotus Tea
+Charissa Gascho, otherwise known as Oolong Owl, reviewed a tea that's been on my wishlist for a while now. I don't think I've ever seen puerh compared to drinking pepto bismal. But now I want to experience it for myself.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Eco-Cha Four Seasons Spring Oolong Tea

Country of Origin: Taiwan
Leaf Appearance: deep green, tightly rolled
Ingredients: oolong tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: pale green gold

Whenever I get asked for Taiwanese oolong vendor recommendations, +Eco-Cha Artisan Teas is one of my immediate go-to. I've been writing about and enjoying their teas for close to five years now. Andy and Nick have both been contributors on the blog as well as inside the pages of Tea for Me Please Quarterly. Trust me when I say that these guys really know their stuff.

Four Seasons is produced from the Si Ji Chun variety, which is so named because of its ability to be harvested four times a year. I find that it often gets written off when compared to sexier high mountain teas like Dong Ding but Four Seasons is still one of my favorite oolongs. As Eco-Cha explains on their website, this particular tea is actually only harvested three times a year. The tea garden where it was sourced is a prototype for sustainable tea farming.

The taste was intensely floral with notes of orchid and a noticeably viscous mouthfeel. Later infusions transitioned to more fruity aromas with a refreshingly vegetal finish. Crisp pear and sweet apples were what came to mind as I sipped. The leaves of this tea were handpicked and it shows in the end product. I couldn't help but marvel at the whole bud sets that I pulled from my gaiwan. It performed equally well in porcelain as it did in a thicker walled yixing. This tea is almost sold out so make sure to get your hands on it soon!

Four Seasons Spring Oolong Tea sample provided by Eco-Cha.




Monday, February 13, 2017

Guide to Tea Blogging: Ethics, Reviews, and Sampling


I kicked off a series called Guide to Tea Blogging back in December but haven't had a chance to revisit it. New bloggers often reach out to me asking for advice so it will helpful to have blog posts on different topics to direct them to. The ethics of sampling come up pretty often so it seemed like a logical next installment. 

Ethics and Sampling 


One of the obvious perks of writing a tea blog is indeed receiving free samples. However, getting free samples should not be the reason that your blog exists. The same rule applies for press passes to World Tea Expo and other events. Unscrupulously greedy bloggers give the good ones a bad name, making some retailers avoid us all together. The CEO of a major tea chain famously painted us all with one brush in a LinkedIn group several years ago for this reason. I have never once solicited a company for samples yet I usually have more tea than I know what to do with. If you write good quality, engaging content companies will contact you.

Another important part of blogging is being upfront and making your process is clear to any company that you're dealing with. I strongly recommend that every blogger put together a review policy and permanently post it on their site. Some things you'll want to include are personal likes and dislikes, how to get in touch with you, and lead time to publication. Most of the email inquiries that I receive don't take the time to read my review policy but it's a lot easier to have a link I can forward them to rather repeating myself over and over again. As your blog evolves, your taste in teas will too. Don’t be afraid to politely decline a sample if it’s not something that you’re interested in.

Above all else, a blogger must always be honest. This can be difficult when we receive product for free or other forms of compensation. Your readers will know the difference though and they will stop reading if they think that you are acting like a shill for a particular company. On the flip side, you should avoid being unnecessarily mean or harsh. It's important to keep in mind that just because you didn’t like something doesn’t mean that other people will feel the same way. I learned this when I first started writing reviews for Teaviews.com. I was sent a sample of a tea that contained chili peppers. My sensitive sinuses screamed from all of the spice and I absolutely hated it. Another reviewer who grew up in Southern California loved it and thought that it tasted like home. If a tea is really undrinkable, I won’t publish a review of it.

Reviewing 


When you first get started, it’s often hard to articulate what a tea tastes like. Reading other blogs can help you with the basics. I’ve also referred to tasting wheels from the wine world when I’m struggling to find the word to describe what I’m experiencing. It will become easier as you become more experienced and your train your palate for tea.

Tea Reviews make up a large portion of the content of many tea blogs. That doesn't have to be the case but most folks do seem to start out that way. Everyone has their own style and you should try to find the one that works the best for you and the way that you drink tea. However, there are a few rules that you should follow:

-Let your readers know how you made the tea. 

They might go out and purchase the tea after reading about it on your blog. What you write will be their guide so be sure to include information about leaf volume, the tools you used (gaiwan, infuser basket, etc.), steep time, and water temperature.

-Follow the retailers brewing directions! 

If you want to play around with steep times and water temperature afterward then, by all means, do so. It is one of my biggest pet peeves to read a bad review of a tea because it was prepared incorrectly. Tea is one of those few consumables that can be truly ruined by user error. If you aren’t sure how to make a tea, find out before even attempting a review (i.e. don’t make green tea with boiling water and complain about it being bitter).

-Try to include a link to the product page whenever you review a product. 

It helps your readers find the tea and brings attention to the company it came from. This is especially important if the tea is a free sample that was provided for you. It's also essential that you disclose whether or not the tea was provided by the company (and use "no follow" links if that is the case).

Is there something that you think should be added to this list? A topic you'd like to see covered as part of this series? Let me know about it in the comments!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Friday Round Up: February 5th and February 11th

The science and nomenclature of tea processing. Part 1: Enzymatic browning.
The science behind tea processing is something that we are still learning about and there are a lot of myths still being floated around out there. Thankfully we have +Eric Scott at +Tea Geek to fill us all in on the particulars.

The Current State of Organic Orthodox Tea in Nepal
Nepal has been producing some really fantastic specialty teas in recent years. This week World of Tea brings us a status report on the progress that has been made there and the work that still needs to be done.

A Winter Nightmare with Puer
Puerh storage is a foreign concept for many tea drinkers and it can be really tricky to figure out for those of us in North America. Cody at The Oolong Drunk conducted some pumidor experiments that sadly went awry.

Toronto Tea Festival 2017 Recap and Thoughts
Ever jealous of Canada's rapidly developing tea culture, I eagerly read +Lu Ann Pannunzio's post this week about her experience at the Toronto Tea Festival. I'm still in wedding savings mode so traveling is unlikely to happen for me soon but I hope to be able to attend myself in a few years.

The Many Oolongs of Four Seasons Tea Co.
Speaking of tea loving Canadians, +Mel Had Tea wrote about one of my favorite oolong tea specialists. Her photography makes me want to try those lovely teas all over again.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Little Red Cup Tea Company Yunnan Black

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: needle-like with golden hairs
Ingredients: black tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 210 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: dark reddish amber

In a world where tea companies seem to come and go frequently, it's nice to see that a few have stuck around through the years. I reviewed my first tea from +Little Red Cup Tea Co. way back in 2012 after discovering them on the now extinct flash sale site Fab.com. They recently surprised me with a couple of samples in my mailbox and this was the first packet that I grabbed.

I'm a sucker for fuzzy leaves, especially black tea from Yunnan. This particular one was produced in Lincang. My notes made me giggle after this tasting because I had written all in caps, "IT'S SO FUZZY!". There tends to be a bit of an overemphasis on super golden and fuzzy leaves in the market, often sacrificing aesthetics for taste. It's safe to say that this tea was a good balance of both The dry leaf had a wonderfully warm and earthy aroma that had me sticking my nose into the bag more than once.

Dian Hongs tend to have a bit of a yam-like quality to them. This one leaned more towards sweet potato but that aspect was definitely there in the flavor profile. The taste was malty and sweet with notes of dark cocoa. Western style brewing brought out a hint of spice that I found really comforting and warming. Gongfu was definitely still my preference though. This tea held up well to multiple infusions. I found myself drinking long after the leaves were spent because of the pleasantly sweet aftertaste.

Yunnan Black sample provided by Little Red Cup Tea Company.





Monday, February 6, 2017

4 Simple Ways Restaurants Can Improve Their Tea Service


I think almost every tea drinker I know has bemoaned the sad state of tea in American restaurants at one time or another. Even high-end establishments disappoint with tepid water and poor quality tea bags, although there are some rare exceptions like NYC's Eleven Madison Park. I'm always confused by this because very often the same place will offer coffee from one of the so-called "third wave" vendors. Here's the thing, making tea isn't hard. It doesn't require a gargantuan effort. There are some really simple changes a restaurant could make to transform the customer experience.

Don't Make It an Afterthought


Tea is usually found at the very end of a menu, often as a single line item. This sends a subliminal message to any tea drinker that this establishment does not care about the tea they offer. More than likely we will be brought Lipton or Tetley alongside water of questionable temperature and taste. Surely paying customers deserve better than grocery store fare. There are a ton of options for restaurants to upgrade the quality of the tea that they serve. Companies like Harney and Sons, Adagio Teas and Rishi Tea all offer food service options. If you don't have the time and knowledge to dedicate to curate a tea selection, consider asking your coffee distributor or hiring a tea professional.

Offer Loose Leaf


I'm just going to say it. Loose leaf is better than tea bags. Call me a tea snob but this is an inevitable truth for anyone who takes the time to really explore the tea world. Offering loose leaf tea is probably the most impactful step that a restaurant can take to improve their tea service. The customer experience is immediately transformed from one of apathy to one of epicurean novelty. For most Americans, tea that does not come in tea bags is still a fairly unfamiliar thing. Your restaurant is sure to stick in a customer's mind for a long time if you are the one to initiate them to the wonderful world of tea.

Dedicate an Electric Kettle


There is nothing worse than a cup of tea that was made with coffee pot water. Dedicated coffee makers will only dispense water that tastes like dirty bean soup. Yes, we can taste the difference! Investing in an inexpensive electric kettle will allow you to heat water when needed without compromising the customer experience. Another reason why you need an electric kettle is temperature. Coffee is typically brewed at around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. If you had your customer water that hot to make green tea, the result is not going to be pretty.

Don't Use Paper Filters


I've been to a lot of places who have good intentions. They offer a variety of loose leaf but then cram said leaves into a paper filter. This is not any better than using regular ol' tea bags. The tea cannot expand and your customer winds up with an awkwardly messy beverage. The customer is forced to leave said filter in the cup since tea needs time to steep and they understandably don't want to stick their hands into a very hot cup. The result is an over-brewed disaster that they are very unlikely to enjoy.

As a consumer, I would gladly pay more for a cup of tea (and often do so) if what I'm getting is actually enjoyable. Is there something that you would like to see restaurants do to improve their tea service? Let me know about it in the comments!