More 2014 Chinese Green Teas Have Arrived

Our store has suddenly become a whirlwind of boxes and air cargo deliveries of tea.
Tea, glorious tea – fresh and fragrant and newly born from emerging tea leaves in awakening tea gardens.

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Zhu Ye Qing

 

Several of the 2014 Chinese green teas that many of our customers have been waiting for are now here. These are Pre-Qing Ming teas meaning that they were processed before April 5th. This is what we have:

We announced the arrival of these teas on Sunday to our loyal tea enthusiast customers on our mailing list and several of these teas now have a big dent in the remaining quantities. So do not dally if you are interested in purchasing some of these very fresh and newly made teas.

Remember, that these teas are ONLY MADE ONCE A YEAR  (now) and WHEN THEY ARE GONE, THEY ARE GONE.

More 2014 spring China green teas are still to arrive as the spring unfolds and the teas come into production. But the teas mentioned above are made in the smallest quantity given the time-frame of their harvest dates (mid-March until April 5th).

 

 

2014 New Harvest Tea versus ‘New’ Tea

This post is a re-post from last year. Because many new tea drinkers may not know how to evaluate some of the claims of ‘new tea’ that are being touted this time of year, we hope this will help. As well as be a good reminder to those of you who know this but need a little re-fresher on this topic.

Soon the earliest plucks of fresh tea from the 2014 spring tea harvests in China, India, and Japan will begin arriving in the US. In fact, Tea Trekker has already received 3 new 2014 season teas from Western China.

News Clip ArtConfusingly, it is also the time when some tea vendors add ‘new teas’ to their inventory that are not from the new 2014 harvest. So it is important for tea enthusiasts to understand what they are purchasing by paying attention to harvest dates. Some of you know this information, many of you may not, so it is worth repeating:

In the next two months, simply because a tea is advertised as ‘new’ to a store or website does not mean that it is new tea from the 2014 harvest, and tea enthusiasts should not fall into the trap of assuming that it is.

If the tea is not dated, it may be last year’s tea (or tea from anytime, really) that is simply ‘new’ to that merchant or tea vendor. Which does not mean that last year’s teas should be avoided – that is not the point.  Some of last year’s green teas are still tasty; but many are not.

But my point is two-fold:

  1. one should be an informed consumer and not assume that a ‘new’ tea is fresh, new harvest tea unless that tea is clearly identified as such
  2. do not  stock up heavily on last year’s green, white or yellow tea unless that is what you mean to do. Some of these teas will keep quite nicely for several more months or even a year if the weather in that place of production had all of the right elements going for it. But in general, one does not want to purchase large quantities of green, white or yellow tea when the new season teas are just around the corner.

It is helpful to know in what period of spring premium Chinese green, black and white teas are made:

  • a few teas are made from the end of March to April 5th ( pre-Qing Ming teas)
  •  most teas are made in mid-April (Yu Qian)
  •  some teas are made from the end of April to the end of May (Gu Yu and Li Xia teas) when the spring tea season is over

Tea production times follow roughly the same pattern each year with slight allowances for weather, and there is an order to when tea factories make certain teas. It most often depends on when the leaf is the right size on the tea bushes to achieve the characteristic appearance of the tea, and that the flavor components of the fresh leaf is properly developed.

So awareness of when certain teas are made will help tea enthusiasts determine if it is possible for a certain tea to have been made in the new tea season or if it must be from last year’s harvest (or older!) For instance, spring high mountain oolong from Taiwan is not plucked until May, so any spring tea of this type being offered now is from last winter or last spring as it is too soon for 2014 high mountain oolong from Taiwan to be in the marketplace.

Our 2014  eastern China teas ( a handful of pre-Qing Ming green, yellow and black teas ) will be arriving as early as next week, followed soon by an early round of 1st Flush Darjeelings.airplaneOnce the season is underway our tea deliveries arrive fast and furiously.To appreciate the absolute fresh goodness of these tea we will air-ship them to arrive at our store as fast as possible. (Watch your in box for email alerts that the tea has arrived – some sell out quite fast each year!)

Tea from the 2nd seasonal plucking (Yu Qian -April 6th to April 20th) of black, white and yellow teas, oolongs and Pu-erh will follow along as their production season arrives.

The 2014 green teas from Japan (with the exception of Japanese Shincha which will be available sooner) are still 4-6 weeks away from being harvested, depending on the region and elevation of the tea gardens. Weather depending, production in most regions will begin at the end of April or in early May. Which puts arrival of 2014 Japanese green tea to our shop about the middle to end of May. ( Again, watch your in-box for emails).

IMG_7473-1So plan your tea purchasing accordingly and make sure that you understand what you are purchasing regarding the dates of harvest. Tea enthusiasts who know what these dates and differences in freshness will end up with fresher tea than those who are unaware of what they are purchasing.

Hooray for spring and happy fresh new tea drinking!

Hand-carried Tea from Tea Farms in Taiwan

How much tea can two suitcases hold ? Not as much as what you see Mary Lou surrounded by in this picture, but enough to return home with two new winter oolongs that were made just two weeks ago and announce their arrival. Now that is service and that is FRESH!

Yes….Mary Lou has just returned from a tea buying trip to Taiwan to select our 2013 winter oolongs. She visited several tea producing regions and went high into the mountains to visit each of the tea farms that make our oolong teas. She carried back our high mountain ( gao shan) Shan Lin Xi and Tung Ting oolong – more tea is on the way but it is being shipped.

Winter teas are our favorite oolongs – they are rich, creamy, and seductively aromatic. Spring tea brings the gaiety of youth and the flush of a new season to its flavor while winter tea is confident and more assured. After their summer resting period, these tea bushes, coddled by constant daily moisture from the weather phenomenon known as clouds and mist that develops in the afternoon, produce large, juicy, leaves that experienced hands turn into the deepest and fullest tasting teas of the year. The tea bushes will soon be ready to enter their winter dormant period, but for now they still have vigor and good energy for this last seasonal production.

Winter oolongs are plucked and processed from late October to mid-November. The winter harvest and the spring harvest are the two most important harvests of the year – the summer and fall harvests do not yield premium oolong tea, although the summer is the time for a small quantity of excellent black teas to be made.

The mountains of central Taiwan are tall and steep, and home to an assortment of birds and wildlife, lush forests and several temperature zones. During the winter harvest ( late October to mid November ) the temperature can be warm during the day but bring crisp, cold nights. Tea covers much of the land in certain areas of these mountainous regions. During the day moist blankets of clouds and mist rise up from the valley floor and roll and tumble over the tea gardens bringing a layer of nourishing moisture. Because of this, the leaves on the tea bushes grow thick and juicy, and mature slowly.

The terroir of these mountain tea gardens and the weather create tea that is fragrant and sweet and thickly textured in the cup. Our tea farmers/producers are humble men who are proud of the quality of their tea. These are small family tea businesses – third, fourth and fifth generation tea makers who are intimately involved with the cultivation and manufacture of their tea.

We treasure opportunities to meet the people who make our tea as we believe that it is essential to form and maintain these relationships, and we think that it is important to the tea makers, too. For they know that we will promote their tea to our customers, and that we will share with our customers an appreciation for the hard work that it is required of small tea farmers/producers. In essence, we scratch each others backs – we get the opportunity to select the tea we want for our store from their best batches and they in turn are happy knowing we can deliver increasing sales to enthusiastic tea drinkers.

No matter how often we have watched tea being made, every experience gives us new insights into fully understanding the processes and techniques that are unique to each style of tea making.  The four Taiwanese tea farmer/producers who supply our gao shan and other oolong teas are very hands-on tea makers. They are fully invested in their tea – their pride is evident in their conscientious work and in the taste of their tea.

While they have others working alongside them in the tea factory, it is their hands-on involvement with the crucial oxidation portion of the process that will ensure a successful batch of finished tea. Taiwan semiball-rolled style oolong production is a 2 day process, and the fresh leaf undergoes many processing steps. Each step builds on the previous one to reach a successful end product.

Initially, the fresh leaf undergoes both outdoor and indoor leaf withering ( 6 -10 hours, weather depending ). Then the fresh leaf is put into a bamboo cylinder tumbler/dryer multiple times, and rested in-between each tumbling. As the fresh leaf loses moisture and begins to wilt, the tea farmers spend much time turning and shuffling the leaf by hand and watching its progress. From experience, they are able to tell by feel and smell how well/quickly/slowly the oxidation is proceeding and when it is time to stop it with initial drying.

We truly believe that the tastiest and most well-made teas come from small tea farmers/producers who maintain the health of their tea gardens and care about he end result – the tea. Simply put, there is no substitution for the hands-on supervision of experienced tea makers. In essence these men are the tea, and without their skills something unique would be lost in the world of tea making. So we applaud the craft of these artisan tea makers, and encourage our customers to experience these stunning and delicious oolongs – each is a wonderful expression of the terroir of their mountain locales and the craft of experienced Taiwanese tea making.

In addition to the Tung Ting and the Shan lin Xi, look for the arrival of our Alishan and Jin Xuan in the next few weeks.

Oh, yes….Mary Lou also purchased a few other special and less well known Taiwan teas that we eagerly look forward to introducing to our customers. More on those teas later…..

Cheers!

Bob

Thoughts on Re-steeping Tea

0187_korean_pour_1We are frequently asked about what is meant by the idea of re-steeping tea. Increasingly, tea drinkers are aware of the fact that some teas can be re-steeped, but many are not sure exactly what it means or if it applies to all teas or even how to go about it. (Before we begin to address this topic let me say that everything said here refers to the type of tea that we sell – premium loose-leaf tea – you will not get these results from supermarket or teabag teas).

This is what our customers frequently ask us:
• which teas can be re-steeped?
• how many times can tea be re-steeped?
• what is the best way to re-steep tea?

But is re-steeping as simple a concept as just adding more water to the teapot and re-using the same tea leaves?

No, but as with most in-depth topics, there is no 30-second answer.

To really understand this topic and be able to re-steep teas with the best results, we believe that tea drinkers should:

• be familiar with which classes of tea ( green, yellow, white, oolong, black and heicha) are best for re-steeping.

• develop an understanding of the variation in tea leaf size in different teas within each class and how the size of the leaf responds to steeping/re-steeping. Not all leaf reacts the same way in water nor gives the same results as another type of tea.

• realize that the size of your teapot will affect the ratio of leaf to amount of water and the resulting character of the tea in your cup and on the ability to successfully re-steep the tea.

• understand that for all tea leaf there is an optimum amount of total time ‘ in the water.’ But how one approaches this will yield quite different results.

• experience the way that tea will differ in taste when steeped/drunk and re-steeped using Asian tea steeping methods versus Western tea steeping methods. Tea steeped by each method is quite different in character, and once one becomes familiar with the difference, it becomes easy to appreciate how it is that the Asian method is better suited for re-steeping tea.

Here is our advice on this topic, beginning with the all-importance difference between Asian-style tea steeping and Western-style tea steeping.

Asian-style tea steeping = MULTIPLE STEEPINGS
This is achieved by steeping tea in small teapots or tea vessels that have a maximum capacity of 4 or 5 or 6 ounces.

A substantial quantity of tea leaf is placed in these tea vessels – usually enough to fill the vessel half-full – and a small quantity of water is added to fill the tea vessel to capacity.

The tea is steeped for only for 20,30, 45, etc seconds, and then poured into cups and drunk.

The leaf will be steeped again in a similar manner and all the tea drinkers will be able to enjoy the flavor of the tea as it changes in each re-steeping.

The tea will continue to be re-steeped until the leaf is exhausted of flavor.

This is not a matter of frugality but a tea steeping method that draws the best flavor from the tea.

Depending on the tea in question and the size of the teapot and the amount of tea/water and the steeping time, etc, some tea can be re-steeped as many as 3 – 15+ times.

All aspects of this method of tea steeping work together to allow the tea leaf to slowly release the flavor locked within the dried leaf over a series of multiple steepings.

This method uses basically twice as much tea to less than half as much water as Western-style tea steeping.

Each successive steeping of tea will taste full and rich and slightly thick – not watery or thin – until the leaf eventually becomes exhausted of flavor.

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Western-style tea steeping = A SINGLE STEEPING
This is the method of tea steeping that is familiar to most Westerners.

Large teapots with a capacity of 24 or 32 ounces are used, and a small measure of 4 -5 teaspoons of tea is added to the teapot.

The teapot is filled to capacity with 24 – 32 ounces of water and the tea is steeped for 4 or 5 minutes.

The leaf is not customarily re-steeped, as this ratio of quantity of water to leaf exhausts the goodness of the leaf in a single steeping.

Essentially Western-style tea steeping uses half as much tea and more than twice the amount of water than tea steeped Asian-style.

Most tea re-steeped in this manner, especially oolong and Pu-erh, will taste thin and watery in comparison to that which is steeped Asian-style in a smaller vessel when less water/more leaf is used.

0246_russian_setFor those who wish to read about steeping tea, please refer to: Steeping the Perfect Cup of Tea on pages 29-39 of our book The Tea Enthusiast Handbook (Ten Speed Press, 2010) or our Tea 101 Tutorials on our website: www.teatrekker.com/steeping-tea

Which teas to re-steep and the tea vessels to Use
Not all teas re-steep as well as other teas, and not all teas are selected for long tea sessions among friends at home or in a teahouse. Chinese oolong and Pu-erh teas are the best re-steepers, followed by green and white tea from China, Japan and Korea. Large leaf China blacks such as Yunnans and some eastern China blacks re-steep well too, as do our large leaf hand-rolled Nepal black teas. But we find other black teas from Africa, India and Sri Lanka to be disappointing re-steepers.

Why? Because teas that re-steep successfully are whole-leaf teas with large leaves or buds that have abundant surface area. Also, Chinese teas are hand-plucked teas, and premium Chinese teas are made from unique tea bush cultivars that are indigenous to their particular regions. The nature of these teas, coupled with a small teapot and an understanding of the importance of the ratio of leaf to water and a short steep time is the reason that these teas are so successful for re-steeping. Teas that are fine-cut and made of chopped leaf become exhausted of flavor early on in the steeping process.

Oolongs and Pu-erh teas are the teas that are drunk during long tea tasting sessions with many re-steeping. Green tea may be carried around and replenished with water during the day by taxi drivers, workers, students, etc, but an afternoon or evening spent drinking tea in a teahouse is usually spent exploring an magnificent oolong or Pu-erh. These teas are often steeped in an Yixing or other type of un-glazed clay teapot or in a porcelain gaiwan.

Consider one of the following Asian tea vessels for steeping your Chinese, Taiwanese or Korean tea.
For oolongs and Pu-erh, the only way to obtain the expected taste characteristics and re-steepability is to use one of these vessels.

porcelain gaiwan (3-6 ounces)
• small un-glazed China Yixing clay teapot (3 – 6 ounces)
• small un-glazed Japanese Tokoname teapot (5 -12 ounces)
• small porcelain teapot (3 -5 ounces; 12-16 ounces)

This steeping methodology will give you remarkable flavor each time and the opportunity to re-steep the leaf several times. This may not be a practical way to steep tea on workday mornings, but on weekends or when relaxing with friends this is a wonderful way to experience the flavor nuances of tea and enjoy the appreciative aspects of leisurely tea drinking.

Teas that we re-steep
Green tea: we always re-steep green teas, usually 2- 4 times, depending on the tea. Some teas diminish in flavor significantly when re-steeped, others hold up well. Japanese green tea will have a stronger flavor in subsequent re-steepings than China greens.

Black tea: we re-steep most Chinese black teas and our large-leaf Nepal black teas, too. Even then, some black tea will re-steep more successful than others. We always re-steep: large-leaf Yunnan blacks; particularly tippy dian hong; Bai Lin; Golden Monkey and other Panyang Congous; large-leaf Keemuns such as our Longevity and Mao Feng; Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong and Lapsang Souchong

Oolongs, Pu-erh and other HeiCha: re-steep always! You are wasting tea and losing the opportunity for the tea to show you its different facets of flavor if you do not. We always rinse these teas, sometimes discard the 1st infusion, and then re-steep as many times as the tea has flavor to give: 6,8,12, or more re-steepings.

White tea: we think that leaf/bud white teas such as Bai Mu Dan re-steep the best. Also, large-bud Yunnan white teas hold up well, too But if subtlety is what you seek, then you may find 2 -3 additional steepings of Yin Zhen to be nirvana in a teacup.

Think about the chemistry behind steeping tea
Steeping leaf tea is simple chemistry. It is using leaf tea (of varying sizes with differing amounts of surface area) that is submerged in hot water for a determined amount of time. The tea leaves release their soluble solids into the water and produce the tea liquor that we enjoy drinking.

The size of the leaf and its surface area, combined with the total amount of time ‘in the water’ determines the amount of taste/body/astringency in the tea liquor. Total time in the water means all the time that the leaf is exposed to the water – primary steeping as well as subsequent re-steepings.

For example, total time in the water could be one 5-minute steeping or three 2-minute         (approx) steepings. While the total quantity of leaf steeped is the same, the ‘taste’ and character difference of the tea in the cup will be quite different depending on how the time in the water is allocated.

Try it and see what you think.

We view re-steeping tea as a gift of the leaf and each tea is unique – there are no hard and fast rules regarding how many re-steepings one should expect to obtain from any given tea – only suggestions and thoughts to share about what to do and ways to do it.

Essentially, we suggest that tea enthusiasts experiment with whatever tea they are steeping by re-steeping it a 2nd time. If it is tasty – great! If it is not, then there is no harm done.

Tea Information and photographs shared on Tea Trekker’s Blog is original material protected by copyright. Please ask permission before referencing our work.

Traditional Tea versus Commodity Tea

TRADITIONAL TEA

Our tea is exceptional. We sell traditionally-made teas crafted by experienced tea artisans. Not commodity tea grown by big business. So just what do I mean by traditionally-made tea and commodity tea? Please read on…..

   

Commodity tea is tea grown by large companies in newly-planted tea fields in areas of the world not usually associated with tea growing and that have no prior tea making history. Conversely, traditionally-made tea relies on well-established methodologies and techniques to do what tea workers and mother nature do best together – make distinctive tea. Traditional tea making utilizes the terroir of each place (soil, geography, climate, weather, etc) and local tea bush cultivars to show a tea garden’s best flavor advantage.

The process of traditional tea making utilizes hundreds of years of knowledge and experience in the crafting of fine tea. No two tea producing countries produce tea the exact same way, and for that we are thankful. It is differences both great and small that give tea a national identity – and many regional differences, too.

Our teas come from China, Japan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Taiwan where traditional tea is made by tea workers who are in harmony with the seasons of the year. They craft teas of exceptional beauty and elegant flavor. We select tea from small family tea farms, small village production, and tightly controlled tea co-operatives. In these gardens, the ability to make great tea is a point of pride for the tea makers, and generations of the same family carry on tea making traditions established by previous generations.

Traditional tea farmers/producers must be in tune with nature and understand the vagaries of weather, soil conditions, how to maintain healthy tea bushes, and how the keen senses of a skilled tea master (sight, smell, touch and hearing ) influence from start to finish the outcome of the finished tea. The livelihood of each family or tea village depends on knowledge of nature and the ability to wrangle with problems and situations that arise during the harvest times. For these people, tea is their life and their life is tea. This accounts for the care and respect they accord their tea.

Traditional tea production is sustainable on many levels.Traditional tea uses methods of pest control ( such as encouraging the presence of birds in the tea gardens and environs and the introduction of plants that discourage the presence of certain pests) and organic farming practices ( soil enrichment, worm production and natural fertilizers made from food sources and manure) that work with nature and not against it. A traditional tea garden does not make use of copious amounts of pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

A traditional tea garden is almost always small and is often broken up into patches of tea bushes located here and there. The elevation is high, away from the pests that plague low elevation tea gardens. The garden is comprised of mature tea bushes (which produce the best teas) that are well-adapted to their environment. In such tea gardens local varieties of tea bushes or tea trees will have been growing in that place for decades. This means that the roots of these tea bushes will be well dispersed under and throughout the soil, allowing healthy soil to nurture the bushes through the roots. Local tea bush cultivars add complexity and individuality to finished tea and keep the diversity of taste alive and well from region to region.

COMMODITY TEA

In comparison, commodity tea ( or industrial tea, agro business tea, etc ) is just that – intensively grown and frequently harvested leaf that is grown for high harvest yields, not for distinctive flavors or unique qualities. This tea is grown for wholesale packagers of commercial grade tea, flavored tea blends and bottled tea drinks. The goal for Industrial tea producers is low production cost and abundant yield, a combination that does not result in premium quality tea.

Commodity tea is grown in large industrial tea gardens in flat, low-lying agricultural areas in non-historic tea producing countries where tea growing is a relatively new industry. The techniques used are standardized and mechanized – typical of agribusiness agriculture.

Tea gardens such as these exist throughout most of Africa and parts of South America. Whereas most English and Irish tea companies once used China, India, and Ceylon ( Sri Lanka ) teas in their blends, these tea sources have been replaced in the last 20 years by teas grown in newly-planted tea gardens in unusual places. Part of this switch is based on simple supply issues ( there is not enough traditional tea in the world for large companies to use even if they wanted to pay higher prices ) and price issues ( these new modern teas can be grown and harvested at far less cost than traditionally-made tea.

Because there is no rich soil for the plants to depend on, large amounts of pesticides and commercial fertilizers are required to maintain such tea bushes. Because of this artificial condition, the roots of these plants mass together in a ball just under the surface of the soil, which means that what is nourishing the plants is the applied chemicals, not the soil.

There is no sustainability in this scheme – without the continued heavy application of fertilizers there is no ability for the soil to sustain the tea plants. And, there  is no diversity among the tea bushes – all the plants are clones of one type and genetically the same. So, there is no effort made to ensure layers of flavor or subtle differences in these teas.

And lastly, commodity tea has no history, culture, inherited knowledge, high-elevation location, cooling clouds and mist, or moisture-laden weather, seasonal differences, or other historical or cultural elements that are part of traditional tea making culture. It is business-grown tea, pure and simple.

Commodity tea is not the type of tea that we want to drink or sell to our customers. But it is the reason that we are committed to selling traditional tea and supporting the efforts of artisan tea makers who produce delicious, awe-inspiring tea.

So, given the choice, which tea do you want in your teacup?