Friday, January 19, 2018

Friday Roundup: January 14th - January 20th

2017 Yunnan Sourcing Blinded Puerh Tasting Event Alpha & Beta

Back in the day, bloggers used to hold blind tea tastings that I found really fascinating. Back then my understanding was limited but I still learned a lot from their posts. Matt over at Mattcha's Blog revived the tradition for 2018 and I am eagerly reading the results.

Hojicha mochi muffins with hojicha tahini drizzle

The Tea Squirrel strikes again, this time with a delicious recipe infused with hojicha. This Japanese green tea is so tasty but very underrated. I'll definitely be giving this one a try. The tahini drizzle really takes things over the top.

Qian Jia Zhai Puerh AKA The Thing Sheng

It's always interesting to find out what leads us to order a particular tea. In this week's post, Kayleigh Jade from Kitty Loves Tea writes about a puerh cake whose wrapped drew her in with a green mask. A cool wrapper doesn't always indicate a good tea but in this case, it seemed to have worked out.

Tea Production in Vietnam: A History and Evolution

I've tried a few teas from Vietnam over the years but they definitely don't garner much of the spotlight despite being the 6th largest producer in the world. World of Tea shared an eye-opening guest post that definitely made me want to dig into the specialty teas from this region more.

Review: Totem Tea Oriental Beauty Reserve

Sara at Tea Happiness reviewed a delicious sounding Oriental Beauty from Totem Tea. I love the contrast of her fancy teacup and the wabi sabi of the side handle teapot with a rustic wooden handle. I love teaware made by Emilio from The Jade Leaf and this pot is one of my absolutely favorites.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Friday Roundup: January 7th - January 13th

5 Reasons Why It's Better to Drink Tea in Small Cups

Ricardo at My Japanese Green Tea wrote a post this week that is close to my own heart. He lays out some excellent reasons for downsizing your drinking vessel. I've long been a proponent of small teacups. How about you?

Can We Grow Tea in America?

Bruce Richardson, The Tea Maestro, shared an interesting excerpt from his book A Social History of Tea. Tea growing has a surprisingly long but not quite successful history in the U.S. I'm actually about halfway through reading this book and I'll be sure to review it here on the blog once I'm done.

Afternoon Tea - Japanese Style (Manhattan - NYC)

Tiffany at #sheblogstea visited Cha-An, an NYC restaurant that I have been meaning to return to. Their tea and food are always delicious but in truth one of my favorite things is the fancy Japanese toilet in the women's room!

Whisky Barrel Wood Smoked Black Tea – Kaneroku Matsumoto Tea Garden

Kayleigh Jade over at Kitty Loves Tea reviewed one of the most memorable Japanese teas that I have ever tried. The leaves are smoked with whisky barrel wood. Be still my Irish heart! Her vivid descriptions make me want to make a pot right now. If you haven't tried this offering from Yunomi yet, you definitely need to.

Matcha Jasmine Rice

Nazanin at Tea Thoughts concocted yet another delicious recipe. This one has all of my favorite things. Garlic, jasmine, and matcha are not flavors I ever thought of combining but I will definitely be giving this one a try. My fiance definitely won't eat this but that just means that there will be more for me. 😉

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Songyi Tea Roast Lishan Oolong

Country of Origin: Taiwan
Leaf Appearance: somewhat dark, tightly rolled
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: deep gold

In Taiwan, oolong teas are commonly named after where they are grown rather than for the cultivar or other characteristics. Teas grown at over 1000 meters are considered high mountain oolong, otherwise known as gaoshan. High elevation teas are generally considered to be better quality but they will also carry a heftier price tag than their low grown counterparts. Ideally, a tea vendor should be able to supply this information and more about their offerings.

Songyi Tea is a new find for me that does exactly that. I've got a bevy of samples to review, starting off with this medium roast Lishan oolong. A quick glance at their website reveals that it was made from the Qingxing cultivar, otherwise known as "green heart", at an elevation of 2,300 meters. This is the good stuff! I love that they show specifically where the tea is from, right down to the village. The oxidation level is around 40% which is right where I like it, not too green but not so high that you won't taste the character of the tea.

The roast was at the forefront for the first few infusions. It had an almost dry toastiness to it that reminded me of unsalted sunflower seeds along with a slightly mineral quality. Hints of nectarine crept in as my session progressed. Some floral notes, orchid in particular, are to be expected of an oolong but this tea was definitely not a flower bomb. They stayed in the background, only complimenting the other flavors and never overpowering them. This tea would be a great choice for those who aren't into super flowery teas.

The only issue I had was with the recommended steeping directions. Too little leaf and too much water make for a weak cup of tea. Even for a western style brew, 1g per 50ml is not nearly enough for a tightly rolled oolong. I bumped up the leaf volume to my usual 6g in a 150ml gaiwan and the results were much better. This is partly personal preference since I'm a gongfu head but I'd hate to see people miss out on an awesome tea because they followed the recommendations.

Roast Lishan Oolong sample provided for review by Songyi Tea.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Tea Nerd Dictionary: Heicha

Heicha, aka dark tea, is a category of tea that many of us in the western hemisphere are just becoming familiar with. Its defining characteristic is that the leaves undergo post-fermentation. This step is called wo dui and it involves wet piling the tea. Bacteria, yeast, and microscopic organisms all play a role in what the final product will taste like. The Kunming Tea Factory is often credited with inventing this process in the 1970's but other regions were producing heicha long before then.

Shou puerh is arguably the most widely known type of dark tea. That being said, some puerh is heicha but not all heicha is puerh. Still with me? Puerh is a specific place in China's Yunnan Province so only the teas that are produced there should carry the name. There are fermented teas being made in many other places within China as well as abroad. Sheng puerh is generally considered a separate category because although some level of fermentation happens slowly over time, the leaves are not wet piled during processing.

Liubao. This picture isn't super clear but you can just barely make out the "golden flowers" that this tea is known for. 
This is by no means an exhaustive list but I thought it might be useful to include some of the common types with brief descriptions.


Liu An is a fermented tea from Anhui province. This is region is probably better known for its green teas such as Gua Pian. The leaves are processed in much the same way as a shou puerh. Once dried, they are steamed and packed into 500g baskets. Production was stopped during the Mao era and older vintages are considered highly desirable.


Hunan Province is well known for their fuzhuan cha, popularly known and marketed as fu brick tea. The leaves are tightly compressed into a brick shape and then slowly dried in a warm room. This step leads to the development of golden flowers, a beneficial mold. You'll see its many supposed health benefits proclaimed all over the internet but take these with a grain of salt.


Much like Liu An, Liu Bao is packed into bamboo baskets but usually in much larger quantities of up to 60kg. It is sometimes repacked into smaller baskets for individual sale. Liu Bao was traditionally exported to Malaysia where it was served to Cantonese tin miners there. It was believed to cure the body of dampness and soothe the lungs.


You might be surprised to hear that Japan has two types of heicha. Goishicha comes from Kochi prefecture. The leaves are fermented in two ways. First, they are stacked in a room and covered. After this fermentation is completed the tea is a pickled in a barrel. They are then cut into small blocks and then dried in the sun. Batabatacha is made in Toyama prefecture. The leaves are dried, steamed, and then pressed into a wooden box. The leaves are loosened and then recompressed periodically for about a month before a final drying step. When the brewed tea is served, it is whisked using a special double whisk in order to create a white foam.


A bit of an exception in this list is lahpet, a pickled tea that is eaten rather than steeped. The leaves are steamed, rolled, and then packed tightly into burlap sacks with plastic lining. The bags are then placed in cement containers buried in the ground. Weights are placed on top to help compress the leaves. They are then allowed to ferment for a long as two years. The leaves are served as a salad.

Other Regions

It is now pretty common to find teas that resemble sheng and shou puerh from nearby regions such as Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam. Leaves are sometimes smuggled over borders in order to take advantage of the demand that exists in the market for puerh tea. I've even tried a fermented tea from Malawai! While they may be worth exploring in their own right, these teas are not puerh and should be labeled as such.

If you're just starting out, I recommend buying from a reputable established tea dealer rather than gambling on eBay or Taobao. There will be time for plenty of tuition tea in the future but it is better to educate your palate about what these teas should taste like first.

Have you ever tried heicha that wasn't from Yunnan? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Friday Roundup: December 31st - January 6th


Connie at Tea in Spoons is about to embark on an incredible adventure, interning at Obubu Tea Farms! I can't wait to follow her experiences. She created a new logo for the blog and it looks awesome so make sure you check that out.

Hojicha Cheesecake Roll Cake

Jee from Oh, How Civilized and her friend Queenie are a dynamic duo of tea infused deliciousness. I have a roll cake pan in my cabinet that has never been used but I think this recipe is going to change that.

Tea Education 101 - Bartenders & Mixologists
I have friends who do very cool things but none are as cool as Jo of Scandalous Tea. She's had some incredible tea travels this year, including having the opportunity to host a 4 city tea education tour. Jo is on trend and fashionable throughout this post, as always.

2017 Tea Consumption and Stash Data Report

One post I always look forward to Char from Oolong Owl's annual stash report. She tracks everything in a detailed spreadsheet and the results are always fascinating. If only I could be so organized! Lucky for all us, she shares her template.

The Art of Tea and Chocolate Pairing

Chocolate is one of my favorite things (besides tea, of course). I don't often pair it with tea since I am usually analyzing what I drink for reviews but the mood does strike once in while. Lu Ann from The Cup of Life offered some great tips for doing just that this week.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

3 Leaf Tea Ceremonial Grade Matcha

Country of Origin: Japan
Leaf Appearance: fine powder, deep green
Water Temperature: 160 degrees
Preparation Method: bamboo whisk and bowl
Liquor: frothy, deep green

I receive more inquiries for reviews of matcha than any other type of tea. Unfortunately, I wind up turning most of them down. Nothing is a bigger turn off than "matcha" that is marketed with hype, filled with artificial sweeteners, or that isn't even from Japan. My interest was piqued when Luciana from 3 Leaf Tea reached out to let me know that she's rebranded to focus only on the green stuff. I am ever the skeptic but she had me at Uj.

Monday, January 1, 2018

5 Things You Should Know About Wuyi Oolongs

1. The Wuyi mountain range is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Wuyi oolongs can only be made in the Northern Fujian mountain range that is their namesake. This region was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999 for its cultural value, scenic views, and biodiversity. It is interesting to note that unlike most other oolong production areas the tea here is not grown at high elevation (only about 700 meters). That doesn't mean they aren't good quality though! The traditional growing area for Wuyi oolongs is called Zheng Yan and it is carefully protected. Older trees within this area are referred to as Lao Cong. These teas will fetch a much higher price tag but buyers need to be aware that fakes abound in both China and abroad.