Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday Round Up: March 19th - March 26th

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.