Drink Your Tea Like a Local

We are often asked what is the best way to enjoy green, oolong, Pu-erh (and other Hei Cha), and white teas. Many tea drinkers wish to expand their range of tea drinking, and the usual questions are milk or not? and sweetener or not?

0394_tea_pilesWe are thrilled that many are beginning to understand that there is a preferred way to drink most tea. In truth, some teas are manufactured with the intention that milk /sugar will be added while other teas are meant to be drunk plain. It is good to learn to discriminate between the milk-teas and the non-milk teas. Habitually adding milk/sugar to any and every tea because that is what you are used to doing will be sure to disappoint.

0187_korean_pour_1But this is not how many go about preparing a cup of tea (neither is it for a cup of coffee). In all of our years selling tea we have heard just about every variation on how people like to drink their tea. Sometimes the reasoning is not clear to us behind why they do what they do, and we wonder if it is not the variety of add-in options that is confusing the issue. Remember the scene in the movie LA Story where the Steve Martin character orders a particularly confusing cup of coffee: I”ll have a half-double decaffeinated half-caff with a twist of lemon?” Huh?

For instance, we have been told:
” I drink black tea plain but I add almond milk to green tea.”
” I add honey to green tea and sugar to black tea.”
” I add non-dairy creamer to black tea and 2% milk to green tea.”
” It depends on my mood.”
” If I have left it in the teapot too long I add milk.”

And so it goes. We always wonder why so many add so much to their tea, and why some teas are given different add-in’s than others. For in truth, premium tea such as we sell is a far cry from the sharp, astringent blends one finds in packages of supermarket tea. It really only needs simple preparation to be truly delicious.

  • Do these add-in’s really give some tea a better taste or is a dash of this and a bit of that added by habit and from the taste of ‘familiarity’ that these products add to the core beverage?
  • Or do these add-ins help to cover up the taste of tea that was carelessly steeped?
  • Or is it simply because most Western tea drinkers drink black tea and adding milk and sugar is how we grew up thinking it should be done. Because, of course, any good Brit will tell you emphatically that yes, that is how it should be done.

For example, I recently happened to catch a few minutes of the 1943 movie “Lassie Come Home” that features child-star Roddy McDowell and a 10-year-old Elizabeth Taylor. In the story, Lassie treks from Scotland back home to England to be with her young owner. Along the way she rests for a bit in the care of an elderly Scottish couple. As the kindly woman gives Lassie the last of the milk in the house, her husband points out to her that she will have no milk for her morning tea. The woman says: “Well, I hear tell that in America now they drink their tea without milk.” He chuckles and replies: “That’s just because they don’t know any better.”

Was this movie referring to a trend towards green tea drinking that had caught on in a small way in America in the 1930’s and 1940’s or was it just dialogue? One may never know, but it does underscore the absoluteness of adding milk to black tea for that gentleman.

0121_Indian_ClaySetIt is true that Westerners are historically black tea drinkers. Chinese black tea and dark oolong (most likely these teas were not quite as we know them today) were the types of tea that first filled the larders of European households from the 17th century onward. And to properly drink this exotic beverage, handled tea cups, large tea pots and the numerous other tea wares and tea tools were devised to suit the Western sense of table-wares and decorum. This in turn gave Americans and Europeans a way to fuel their ever-growing desire to drink more tea in fancier and nicer ways.

photo courtesy of the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, Toronto, Canada

photo courtesy of the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, Toronto, Canada

The use of black tea consumed with milk/sugar (which was the European way with all temperance beverages and which fulfilled their voracious sweet tooth, as well) continued in America and Europe – and still continues today. Which means that most of us grew up drinking black tea steeped in a large pot (or from a teabag ) served with milk/sugar.

So, this familiar way of drinking tea leads some to suspect that the answer to how to drink certain other teas can be broken down simply as: “yes on milk /sugar for black tea and hold on both for all the others.”  While this approach might work some of the time it is a bit simplistic.

Since we always like our customers to look at the large picture, this is how we look at the answer to the milk/sugar question.

0284_puerh_teasFirst, think about which tea producing country made the tea in question. The methods of tea manufacture are different in every tea producing country, and the types of tea that each country produces is based historically on one of two purposes.

  • is the tea produced:1. as a product for local consumption and 2. as an export commodity?
  • or is the tea produced: 1. as an export commodity and 2. as a product for local consumption?

1.  China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan have the longest histories of tea production. Historically, tea production was begun and perfected in each of these countries with the intention of pleasing their local populations of tea drinkers. Over time, these countries exported their tea to other places, but the tea that was exported (with a few exceptions such as border tea and trade-route tea, and teas drunk by forest-dwelling ethnic groups in southwest China) was essentially the same tea that was being drunk in these countries. The important thing to think about here is that all of the tea made in Asia (which includes all of the six classes of tea: green, yellow, white, oolong, black and dark tea or Hei Cha) is manufactured to be drunk plain. These teas were and still are manufactured to please the local tea drinking preferences first, and as an export product second.

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2. India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and the collective countries of Africa, Indonesia and South America are all relatively new tea producing countries. The commercial tea industries in all of these countries were begun by foreigners, primarily the English and Scottish, in the 19th century to fill their home markets with strong, dark style black tea that was to their liking. Which means that these teas are manufactured to be drunk with the addition of milk and sugar, and so were made to stand up to this dilution without losing flavor or character.

With the exception of 1st Flush Darjeeling and some Nepal black teas which are light, fruity and tastier when drunk black, teas from the above mentioned tea producing countries will be most delicious with the addition of milk/sugar and less agreeable when drunk plain. English-style black teas are usually small in size, even when whole leaf, and tend to be quick steeping and astringent.

0273_tinsIn contrast, Chinese black teas are smooth, and complex and elegantly perfect to drink plain. These teas are whole-leaf teas of varying sizes that yield very little astringency in the cup. Their subtle flavors and aromas are masked by the addition of milk/sugar.

0382_gaiwan_potSo in a nutshell, if you know where a tea was made you will know how it is meant to be drunk.You may still prefer to drink your tea with a bit of this and a splash of that, but before you begin adding milk/sugar as always, taste the tea first. When in doubt as to what to do, remember that any tea will taste best when you ‘drink your tea like a local.’

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Sun Moon Lake Black Tea from 100-year old wild tea trees

Sun Moon Lake black tea from 100 year old tea trees
            

In the region surrounding Sun Moon Lake in central Taiwan, black tea was developed for export by the Japanese during their occupation of Taiwan in the years preceding and during WWII.  In 1925 the Japanese tea research center imported tea seeds from Assam, India, with the intent of cultivating tea bushes for the production of  black tea for export in Yuchih Township.

The Japanese succeeded in establishing these tea bushes, and later, after the departure of the Japanese from Taiwan, the Taiwan Tea Research Institute continued the research into suitable tea bush cultivars for the continued production of black tea.

The resulting cultivar was a cross between  indigenous Taiwan tea cultivars and the tea bushes established by the Japanese in 1925.  These tea bushes were named Ruby Red or No. 18,  and came to be the tea bushes cultivated for production of Sun Moon Lake’s black tea.

Black tea production in Taiwan went into decline for a period, but a resurgence in interest in this unique tea has come about in recent years. Today, most Sun Moon Lake Black tea is plucked from large-leaf tea bushes that are descendants of the original plants, and the leaf is carefully plucked by hand.

Our Sun Moon Lake 100-year old wild tea is, however, even more special. It was made in February 2011 by our friend Lisa’s great-uncle, a gentleman and former tea man in the Sun Moon Lake region. It is made with leaf from 100-yr-old wild tea trees ( not the cloned tea bushes ) and it is hand-processed only once a year. He doesn’t sell his tea on the open market but distributes it to friends and family. We are thrilled to be included in this select group of those who are privileged to drink this fine tea.

Our tea has large, twisted leaves and its delicate, woodsy flavor suggests sweet osmanthus, cinnamon, and candied orange ( marmalade ) with a tiny hint of old-fashioned garden mint in the background.

This tea is delicious and has a good amount of dynamic qi, which stems from the organic cultivation, healthy growing conditions and careful cultivation of these deeply rooted 100-year old tea trees.

The quantity of tea that we have to sell is small, so if you are interested in experiencing this truly delicious tea, you must act quickly.

Click here to read more: https://www.teatrekker.com

More 2011 Tea to Arrive @April 20th

Next week we will received our 2nd round of 2011 early spring teas from China and some lovely winter pluck oolongs from Taiwan.  These teas are in the air as I write this, and we expect delivery to be about April 2oth ( plus perhaps a day or two for unexpected snags at customs, weather delays, etc).

Many of you are asking about certain teas, so this is the latest listing of what is coming on this shipment. When the tea is actually here we will post again to this blog and add the teas to the 2011 seasonal tea listing on the homepage of  www.teatrekker.com. And, FYI, more new teas will bee arriving after this shipment as well.

CHINA:

Green Tea
2011 Pre-Qing Ming Longjing Dafo
2011 Pre-Qing Ming Longjing Meijawu Village

White Tea
2011 Before the Rain Bai Hao Yin Zhen
2011 Before the Rain Bai Mudan

Black Tea
2011 Pre-Qing Ming Bai Lin

TAIWAN:

2010 winter pluck Sun Moon Lake Wild Black tea
2010 winter pluck Li Shan – farmer grown
2010 winter pluck Li Shan – lightly roasted, farmer grown
2010 winter pluck Li Shan – commercial gardens

Update on the Embargo of Darjeeling Tea

March 31, 2011

Last week I spoke too soon about the end of the tea embargo. Yesterday, March 30th, it was reported in USA news that the embargo was in force once again as discussions continued to break down and the tea remained held captive. Today I learned that the embargo has been lifted on tea from the 63 tea gardens that are members of the Darjeeling Tea Association.

Just this morning I learned that the embargo of the tea has been lifted once again and that the tea will begin moving from the tea gardens. Our 1st flush Darjeeling tea samples are expected to leave India on Friday. Clearly this is still a very volatile situation and we have our fingers crossed for a good outcome for the tea workers as well as the tea gardens owners.

Read the latest reported news from the Calcutta India Telegraph:

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1110330/jsp/siliguri/story_13784077.jsp

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March 23, 2011

Just as I was about to publish this post, I found out that the embargo has been lifted and the dispatch of tea is beginning. Happily, our tea samples will be on the way in a day or two. Which means that we should have our first-of-the-year Darjeeling teas in early March, which is right about on schedule. I thought that I would post the story anyway, for its information and context.

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Embargo in Darjeeling Prevents 1st Flush Tea from Leaving India

In the Darjeeling tea producing region of West Bengal, the GJMM (Gorkha JanMukti Morcha), a majority party in the hilltown of Darjeeling is supporting a charter of worker demands over wages, housing and fuel issues and medical benefits. As a result, and until the demands are negotiated and settled, the GJMM is disrupting the dispatch of newly made 1st flush Darjeeling tea.

Essentially, the newly-made 1st flush spring teas are being blocked from leaving the 80-plus Darjeeling tea factories, a move that could be financially crippling to the already shaky financial situation of many tea factories in Darjeeling. The wage demands by the GJMM are asking for a nearly doubling of the workers pay, a sum which many of the tea gardens are not financially able to meet. Thousands upon thousands of tea workers are needed to meet the seasonal demands of the tea harvest in these tea factories over the course of three seasons, and not all of the tea produced fetches the high price that 1st flush Darjeeling tea commands.

The majority of voters in the hills are tea garden workers as well as members of the GJMM. The prevailing belief is that the GJMM has taken this position in order to try and secure three Assembly seats in the hills when voters go to the polls on April 1st. By taking this position the GJMM would gain new members in the Darjeeling hills as well as in neighboring tea producing regins of the Dooars and Terai.

Tea gardens owners are pleading for the tea to be released and for talks to resume after the release of the tea. The tea gardens fear that the 1st flush teas from neighboring Nepal will be used by tea companies around the world to replace Darjeeling teas in their tea blends. As of March 17th, no further progress has been made in this situation.

For us here at Tea Trekker, we will proceed with our orders for 1st flush Darjeelings ( and 1st flush Nepal teas, too ) and take delivery of these teas as they become available. We do not need to contract for, or cancel and adjust for, our Darjeeling 1st flush teas because we offer them straight and un-blended. We trust that negotiations will bring tea parties to a middle ground and that the strike will not cripple the gardens ability to function.

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1110318/jsp/siliguri/story_13731323.jsp

More New 2009 Tea

Nepal Hand-Rolled Tips

Nepal Hand-Rolled Tips

New shipments of tea are arriving here daily and in rapid fire. These new additions are late spring /early summer green and teas that have been shipped by sea from China and Taiwan, and second flush Darjeeling and Nepal teas that have been shipped via air-cargo.

We are in the process of  unpacking all of them, and it is a lot of work to make sure all is well with the tea and to get all of the peripheral information recorded. For example, we must literally unpack all of the tea to make sure it is all there. Then, we must taste it all to insure that each tea is indeed the tea that we ordered. Then tea information must be written and added to our website and blog in a timely fashion. The jars we sell the tea from must be labeled and the individual labels that we use for customer purchases must be made, too. The tea must be inventoried in the appropriate place in our warehouse and last but n0t least, of course, the tea must be put into jars so that customers may purchase it.

Despite all of this work, we love the excitement of having new tea arrive. We always spend a few minutes as we unpack each one  to admire it’s unique texture, color and shape before we taste it.

Several of these new teas are of particular note. First up are two hand-rolled black teas that we ordered directly from the producers in Nepal as soon as we tasted their samples. These teas are from the Everest Tea Estate and the Shangri-La tea factory. Both are gorgeous and worthy of a place in the finest tea collections.

We chose these hand-rolled teas first, because they are delicious, and secondly, because they are spectacular examples of the tea makers craft. Nepal is one of the last places on earth that is still makes hand-rolled black teas, and we would like to support that effort and see it continue. Click here for more details: http://tiny.cc/aZd6P

2009 Competition Grade Tai Ping Hui Kui

2009 Competition Grade Tai Ping Hou Kui

Tai Ping Hou Kui has never looked so lovely or tasted so fresh. In fact, this tea is so fresh you will swear that the leaf is still attached to the bush. If you look carefully at this picture you can see the little cross-hair marks embedded in the leaf from the weave of the paper that is used to line the top of the tea-firing baskets during manufacture. This paper absorbs moisture so that the leaf does not have to spend as much time over the charcoal fire as it otherwise would.

Tai Ping has some of the largest leaves of any green tea and this batch is certainly the most magnificent that we have ever had. This particular batch of competition-grade Tai Ping is a splendid example of the results that specific leaf plucking yields . The vivid green color and vegetal in flavor reveal that the tea was plucked in the early spring.  Click here for more details: http://tiny.cc/kLvfB

Bai Hao Oriental Beauty

Bai Hao Oriental Beauty

Bai Hao Oriental Beauty is Taiwan’s most beloved tea. Oddly, Bai Hao is not as well known in the USA as the semi-ball rolled teas such as Tung Ting and the High Mountain gao shan oolongs. Or even Baozhong. This is a pity because Bai Hao is very labor intensive to produce and can only be made for a short period of time in June. Taiwanese tea lovers favor this tea for its mellow and seductive apricot and melon flavors and its light, elegant style. The leaf for quality Bai Hao is an odd-looking mix of dark, medium and light colored leaves.

But that is as it should be and the best Bai Hao is not a blend. Bai Hao is given a long outdoor and indoor wither, which contributes to the customary appearance of this tea. Japanese tea drinkers adore Bai Hao and when they visit the island searching for tea to bring home, they willingly pay very high prices for the best tea. Accordingly, we made sure that our Bai Hao tea maker saved some of his great tea for our customers, too. Click here for details:  http://tiny.cc/7CQnv