Tea Trekker Featured in Fresh Cup Magazine

Tea Trekker

Café Crossroads

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Tucked up against the railroad tracks of a New England college town may not be exactly where you’d expect to find one of the best selections of Asian teas in the United States, but then tea appreciation in the United states is never as expected. What’s for sure, though, is that Tea Trekker, founded by husband and wife Mary Lou and Robert Heiss, has made their shop in Northampton, Massachusetts—or at least their website—required visiting for tea fans.

To read the article, please visit the Fresh Cup website: http://www.freshcup.com

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Our 2015 Fresh Chinese Green Teas are Arriving

NEWS FLASH – WE WELCOME THE 2015 TEA SEASON 09pie2The first of our 2015 fresh new Chinese green teas have arrived. What is here?

  • Long Jing
  • Longjing Dafo
  • Gan Lu

Also just in…..2015 Winter Frost Tea from Nilgiri, India. This is the first time in nearly seven years that we have had Nilgiri teas.

Click here to see all of our 2015 teas that have arrived to date as well as a listing of other 2015 spring teas that will be arriving soon.

Seasonal teas are wonderful because they contain fresh, vibrant flavors of the new season in their tiny tea leaves. While many who sell tea ignore the notion of seasonal tea production, we feel that it is vital to understand and explore the changes that occur in the taste and flavors of tea from one season to another during the plucking year.

Many tea producers in China will say something like: ‘The tea is not good now.‘ What they mean is that the tea has entered a season in which the taste is less than delicious. This is a weather-driven, size-of-the-tea leaves issue and one that arises in the early summer when the tea leaves have grown too large on the bushes to make ‘good’ tea. One must wait for another season to have sweet, good tasting teas again.

All of China’s Famous Teas and other early spring green teas (such as the above mentioned teas and many more that Tea Trekker will be receiving), are made only in the spring season. Chinese black and oolong teas will begin spring production soon (or have just begun) and some of these teas will have a second plucking season in the autumn as well.

Want to learn more? Please refer to the seasonal tea dating and source information on  teatrekker.com that we list for our teas. And, we discuss seasonal dating in both of our tea books: The Story of Tea and The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook.

More new tea will be arriving this week – keep checking teatrekker.com for details and  announcements.

Aging Pu-erh in an Yixing Tea Storage Container

As we photographed our beautiful Yixing clay storage container last week to put it on our website, teatrekker.com, we learned that on January 31st, 2015, three Qing dynasty Yixing tea storage containers containing Pu-erh tea went up for auction in the USA and sold for record-breaking amounts of money.

We thought this a very auspicious coincidence as the story about these antique storage containers would serve to emphasize the conversation that we continue to have with our customers about storing tea, aging tea, and using the ‘right’ type of tea container for aging those teas.

This year our tea storage container is made from unglazed Yixing clay, and we are pairing with some wonderful shou Pu-erh tea. The tea has already been rested for a few years, so we know it will continue to improve with proper storage. The Yixing tea container is gorgeous and well-made and quite substantial in heft and the tea we are including with it is delicious. All in all, we have priced this dynamic duo very favorably.

Unglazed Yixing clay contains an abundance of minerals that will create good energy for storing tea. It is also a type of clay that ‘breathes’ so it is particularly good for storing and aging Pu-erh, which is a tea that likes to ‘breathe’ while in storage. We think the energy of the container and the energy of this tea will be a good ‘marriage’ for successful aging and pleasurable drinking.

Record Prices at Auction for Qing Dynasty Tea Storage Jars with Pu-erh Tea

In China and Taiwan aged tea is highly desirable and, circumstances depending, very costly. Similar to the way that provenance adds to the value of fine antiques (if the emperor owned an object it immediately becomes more valuable than if the gardener owned it) certain aged teas will be more valuable than others.

Many variables contribute to this. If the tea can be documented to be a certain age or be from a specific time period, or from a famous tea factory that has closed, or from a desirable batch in a certain given year,  then the tea rises in cost. If there are seals on the jar to authenticate the age and provenance of the tea, that is even better.

The three Yixing tea storage containers shown below are interesting to us for several reasons.

1. It reinforces what we have observed in our many tea sourcing trips to various regions of China which is that traditional habits regarding tea drinking, tea storage, etc have changed little over time. How it was done in the past is often how it is still being done. Proven ways are that and often there is no need for improvement.

2.These vessels are excellent examples of documenting the name and age of the tea that one puts inside of a container to age. Proof of the age of the tea (and the clay container) makes all the difference to knowing how long a tea has been aging and to understanding the capacity that tea has for aging. Similarly to long-cellared wines, there is most likely much to still to learn about the potential for Pu-erh (and some oolongs)  to age – does anyone really know when has tea reached the point of being stored ‘too long’ and will be exhausted? I think the possibilities and the variables are too many to ever be sure.

3. Perhaps the selling prices that these Yixing clay crocks of tea brought is enough reason to convince some tea drinkers to store a little tea for either enjoyment or investment in the ‘years down the road’.

Tea does not have to be this rarefied to be worthy, but it sure is fun learning about ones that are.

1. Yixing clay tea jar of cylindrical form in the shape of a bamboo basket with a highly detailed lid. It contains 360 grams of Pu-erh tea from 3rd year of Republic
or AD 1914, Qing Dynasty.

Pre-auction estimate: $9,000 USD       Selling Price: $12,000 USD

 

2. Yixing clay tea jar of cylindrical form containing 360 grams Pu-erh tea from 3rd year of Republic or AD 1914, Qing Dynasty

Pre-auction estimate: $9,000 USD       Selling Price: $12,000 USD

 

 3. Yixing Clay Tea Storage Jar with Pu-erh tea. The paper seal indicates that the tea is from year ten of the Guangxu Period, AD 1884, Qing Dynasty

Pre-auction estimate: $12,000 USD       Auction Price: $14,000 USD

 ……………………………………………………………………………….

Why Age Tea ? 

Because time matures Pu-erh and other HeiCha into a new level of tea drinking pleasure. Think aged wine, aged cognac or scotch whiskey, or cellared cheese: what aging brings to certain foods is richness, maturity, complexity, finesse and outrageous deliciousness.

Tea enthusiasts appreciate the energy and deep, nuanced flavors of an aged tea, similar to the lush, mature flavors that wine enthusiasts appreciate in a fine bottle of aged red wine.

Many Chinese and Taiwanese tea drinkers rest freshly-made shou Pu-erh before drinking it. This encourages the flavors of the leaf to ‘harmonize’ and allows the excessive wuo dui taste of newly-processed shou Pu-erh to dissipate. Aging the same tea for a longer period is even better – it allows tea with promise to develop into something magnificent.

During aging, the tea sleeps, turning inward, waiting to release its flavor and aroma upon contact with hot water. Aged shou Pu-erh has pronounced complexity, condensed flavors, and very little of the brash youthfulness it has early on. The aromas of aged shou Pu-erh are softer, fruitier and sweeter.

The best aged shou Pu-erh has matured under careful conditions for 10, 20, or 30 or more years. This is when doing it yourself comes into importance. Purchasing young tea and aging it yourself is a small investment in future tea drinking enjoyment.

How is Pu-erh Tea Kept for Aging?

The idea is to protect the tea from direct sunlight or strong lamplight; the drying influence of radiator or wood stove heat; and air conditioning. Tea storage containers should be kept where there is minimal temperature fluctuation from season to season and where the tea can relax in a moderate temperature. Humidity in season is fine as long as neither the storage jar nor the tea actually gets wet.

There are many types of containers for aging tea in China and Taiwan that are made from local, unglazed clay. The size can be large or small, and the shape round or square. Yixing clay tea storage jars have a clay lid that will keep the contents of the jar protected.

How Do I Know If My Tea is Aging Well?

We suggest that you resist the temptation to look inside your container too frequently. Perhaps once after the first  6 months has passed, and again at 1 year,  just to be sure that no moisture has crept inside the container. After this, re-seal your container and open it only once a year. It can be a good idea to notate openings for future reference.

After 5 years remove just a few leaves and steep them in a small drinking cup to monitor how the tea is aging. But don’t stop there – the longer the tea ages the more powerful it will become.

Just as an aged wine is opened to celebrate life’s important moments, so too an aged tea is tasted and shared in celebration of life, love and friendship..

The Pu-erh that we are including with our Yixing Tea Storage Container is a blend of 2007, 2009 and 2013 loose-leaf shou Pu-erh. It has been resting together for about a half year, and will continue to meld for many years to come. The older leaf will influence the younger leaf and ultimately in 5 years and on, the entirety will take on deep nuance of flavor and an increased sense of the ‘qi’ that one expects from an aged tea.

To purchase this Yixing tea storage container please visit: teatrekker.com

Channeling ‘Tom Brady’s Wife’ in a Tea Meeting In Japan

Two years ago when I was in Japan on a tea buying trip, I had a series of meetings with several different tea companies to assess their respective teas for a possible purchase. Most of the meetings went well, with translators present to help both sides talk about details of purchasing the tea. I met some interesting men and women that day and tasted both good and lackluster tea.

Every meeting was set up to last 20 minutes and they followed the same course. Introductions via a translator, a presentation by the tea folks, questions by me, and then a taste of one or two teas that they had brought with them for me to consider.

One particular gentleman and his nephew really did not have any tea that I was interested in. This became clear after about 4 minutes into the scheduled 20 minute meeting. As we all just sat there looking across the table at one another without much to say, the Uncle finally looked at me and said in halting English…..”Tom Brady”.

He followed that with two thumbs up and a big smile. I realized that he understood that I was from Massachusetts, so I responded with “Red Sox”. That got an even more enthusiastic thumbs up and a big, big smile from his nephew. We went back and forth like this with the “Celtics” and the “Bruins” until we ran out of this “conversation.”

The Uncle was beginning over again with another “Tom Brady” thumbs up, so I had an idea how to pad out the remaining time. I grabbed the lap top that I had brought with me, and I put the name Gisele Bundchen (Tom Brady’s wife) into the search. I knew that she was beautiful and exotic-looking and might just be the ice-breaker that we desperately needed to add another dimension to this conversation.

It only took me a few seconds to find a photo of her, fully-clad and simply gorgeous. I spun my lap top around and watched the looks on their faces when I pointed to the image on the screen and said “Tom Brady’s wife”. Or I should say that my translator said that for me. She asked me what his wife did and I explained that she was a fashion model. I’m not sure what she told the men, but at first there was not much reaction. Both men seemed stunned.

I feared that I had offended them in some way that I could not possibly imagine. But just a few seconds later they both began to grin with delight and got very chatty with one other and the translator. After a few Japanese OOHS and AAHS I realized that they were both writing down the URL on the screen and her name. They both seemed quite approving and I believe that Tom Brady got another couple of ”thumbs up.”

The meeting was just about over and we parted ways with a lightness of spirit that was missing from the earlier part of the meeting. Later that evening, at a cocktail party for all of the tea sellers and buyers, I noted the Uncle cruising towards me with a big smile on his face. He sauntered past me flashing two thumbs up and gave me a knowing “Tom Brady.”

It felt like we were friends for life now – bonded by a shared knowledge that would be difficult to put into words. He seemed more animated than he was earlier in the day, and tea was no longer on the table as a point of discussion. As I turned to watch him walk away I imagined he was thinking about something other than “Tom Brady.”
Gisele Bundchen

Min Hong Gong Fu Black Teas

A Trio of Min Hong Gong Fu Black Tea

Min Hong Gong fu teas are sweet, very stylish, slightly floral, slightly fruity, slightly malty, tippy black teas made in the eastern part of northern Fujian – north of the Min River, which is a geograpical divider between the teas from north and south Fujian.

These three teas are historic and important teas and are made in Fuan county, Fuding county and Zhenghe county, the same places where authentic Fujian white tea is made. In fact, some of these teas are made with the large leaf Da Bai cultivar that is used to make white tea, and also from a small leaf cultivar named Xiao Ye Zhong.

Min Hong teas were among the first black teas made in China, and Western tea drinkers would have known these teas (or a similar, earlier version) by the late 17th century. Other historic teas made in this area fell out of production in the 20th century, but these superb teas remain in manufacture today.

We are proud and excited to offer our tea enthusiast customers this special sampler of eastern China black teas that are not commonly seen in the US. All of these teas are of a high grade that contains a quantity of sweet tips – sip these black teas plain and you may find that no milk or sugar is needed.

The Tea Trekker Min Bei Sampler includes:

Bai Lin Gongfu

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This slender, slightly twisted, tippy Fujian black tea is produced in the town of Hu Lin in Fuding County. Here, gongfu black teas are processed from the Fuding Da Bai cultivar, which is also used to produce the most famous bud-pluck white tea – Yin Zhen – which is made in some nearby villages.

This is a Chinese black tea for tea enthusiasts who enjoy the style of fruity Ceylon black teas. Bai Lin is light but distinctive and has a soft-flavor profile and underlying sweetness characteristic of many Chinese black teas.

Panyang Gongfu

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Today, Panyang village primarily makes green tea. But fortunately for lovers of fine hong cha, a handful of tea companies still make Panyang gongfu.

This tea is among the finest manufactures of hong cha in China. Once made initially for export to the West,  these fully-oxidized teas are much in demand among knowledgeable Asian/Chinese tea drinkers.

Fine and thin, the well-twisted & rolled budsets of this tea are gloriously perfect in size and form. The tea is comprised of a significant amount of dark-golden tip, more so than what is found in most Panyangs. This gives the tea a bright aroma of tea and caramel, the trademark aroma of Panyang hong cha.

In the cup, the aroma continually changes and shows incredible complexity. Hints of the aroma of grilled meat, to plum sauce, to chocolate cake with a rich pear buttercream frosting are just a few of the ideas proposed by those who have tasted this exquisite tea.

The flavor is complex, with a pleasant astringency. Both chocolate and cocoa are found here, with cocoa being predominant, followed by raisin and mild chile. The overall flavor is rich and mouth-filling and the body is deep and satisfying.

Zhenghe Gongfu

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Thin, straight and wiry, this traditional pluck has a well-balanced proportion of golden tip to budset. The budset and tip are each of an even size and color and the aroma of the dry leaf suggests both biscuit and nut. This is a rich, fragrant but mild black tea with a brilliant golden-amber color in the cup.

The aroma and flavor are complimentary, both offering smooth, soft and round characteristics and a suggestion of  wheat toast and caramel. The leaf has been carefully fired in the manufacture, and the liquor has a touch of ripe stone fruit in the taste.

NOTE:

What is gongfu tea? 

We are often asked about the meaning of gong fu tea as many know this term to refer to a skillful style of Chinese presenting, steeping, and serving tea.

Yes, but the term gongfu alone means ‘skillful’. So, gongfu or gongfu cha is used to distinguish certain high-quality Chinese hong cha (black tea) that are made with discipline and skill and excellent crafting.

Gongfu black tea represents the Chinese approach to premium-quality tea making which values the taste of the tea;  sweet, rich flavors in the cup; and a stylish appearance of the dried leaf. These qualities come from whole tea leaves that have been carefully crafted and fully oxidized.

These teas are not the same as China’s standard black teas that are exported in large quantities and often sold to companies who will add these teas to average quality proprietary blends. Such teas, for example, are sold simply as Fujian black or Hunan black tea without further place of origin attached.

So, gongfu does have two meanings and it can be a bit confusing. For instance, one can serve gongfu cha or congou tea gongfu-style and enjoy a skillful presentation of a skillfully made, delicious tea.