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!