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!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Friday Round Up: January 29th - February 4th

Gongfu Tea Part 1: Getting into Gongfu Tea
The Tea Letter is a new to me blog that I just started subscribing to. This week's post is a perfect introduction to the world of gongfu brewing.

Loose Leaf vs Tea Bag
Hannah Ruth Tea put together a great video comparing the differences between loose leaf and tea bags. She did a great job of explaining the advantages without coming off as a tea snob.

Black Teas of the Arakai Estate
+Geoffrey Norman has a knack for finding a good tea story. This one about a tea harvester bike in Australia is a must read.

A Trip Around Sri Lanka with Teakruthi
Sri Lanka has long been synonymous with commodity tea and Sir Thomas Lipton. That being said, there's been some really unique specialty teas being produced there in recent years. Kitty Loves Tea explored some of them in this week's post.

Ladurée in Beverly Hills
+Bonnie Eng's gorgeously photographed tour of LadurĂ©e's new Beverly Hills location reminded me that I still have yet to visit them in NYC. That must be corrected soon!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

La Colombe Ruby Oolong

Country of Origin: Thailand
Leaf Appearance: dark, tightly rolled
Ingredients: oolong tea
Steep time: 4 minutes
Water Temperature: 195 degrees
Preparation Method: glass infuser mug
Liquor: reddish amber

As I'm sure most of you know by now, coffee just isn't my thing. I actually love the smell but I'm not at all a fan of the taste. Sometimes the worlds of the bean and the leaf do meet, though. When La Colombe announced that they were debuting a new line of teas and tisanes I just had to check it out. They worked with Rishi Tea to source and develop a carefully curated collection.

This ruby oolong was the offering that piqued my interest the most. It was produced in the Doi Mae Salong Mountains of Thailand and is certified organic as well as Kosher. The elevation is 1,600 meters and it was harvested in October of 2015. They had me at Thai oolong. There have been some really exciting teas coming from this region in recent years and I had a feeling that this would be one of them.

It arrived packaged in a foil bag within a beautifully designed cardboard box. I love that the label included tasting notes, origin information as well as detailed brewing directions (for multiple infusions to boot!). My only wish is that the bag was resealable but that was quickly remedied with an inexpensive clip. The dry leaf was dark and tightly rolled with a slightly glossy sheen.

Gongfu is always my go to so I gave it a try with this tea before using the western style directions provided. I used 8g of leaves but definitely could have gone as high as 10g without it negatively affecting the taste. The initial sips had woody notes that reminded me a bit of tobacco. As my infusions progressed a brown sugar-like sweetness swept in to bring balance.

Western style brewing (in this case a glass infuser mug) brought similar but slightly softer and rounder flavors. I can't say that I have a strong preference a particular method here. I would reach for either my mug or my gaiwan depending on my mood. On a day off when I have the time to leisurely steep multiple infusions, gongfu is definitely the way to go. For late night binge watching Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix, a simple infuser mug wins out.

Have you had a chance to try any of the tea offerings at La Colombe? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Ruby Oolong sample provided by La Colombe.