Beyond the Leaf
Two days before New Year’s Day we received our annual big shipment from China by sea. Two days after New Years we received our annual big shipment from India, also by sea. (For reference, we also receive numerous smaller air shipments from China, India, etc. throughout the year).
So, it’s been busy around here and we’ve got some new teas and decided to shine a spotlight on them during our Web Party. All of these teas will be offered at 20% off regular price, both on the web and in-store. Prices below reflect this 20% discount.
India, Darjeeling, Jungpana Estate 2nd Flush FTGFOP1, Organic
Special price $9.51 per 4 oz.
I got lucky; this black tea is a steal. Full-bodied (for a Darjeeling), smooth, flavorful, a little fruity (muscatel grapes), and a lingering tingle on the tongue instead of astringency. Excellent black tea at an incredible price.
Wuling Mountain Black
Special price $7.59 per 4 oz.
Roasted cocoa, that's the aroma of this gorgeous, wiry, twisted leaf. The steeped cup is deep, rich, toasty, slightly sweet, and completely satisfying. This unique black tea is only available in limited quantities. This lovely black tea is grown in northern Hunan province of China. This tea is also referred to as Xiang Cha, roughly translated this mean ‘fragrant tea.’ When steeped, this tea has an almost Keemun like character, i.e. wine-y thickness to it. I strongly suspect this black tea has some of the chemical compound myrcenal (a totally naturally occurring chemical compound found in some Anhui tea bushes) that is generally considered responsible for the classic Keemun winey/sweet taste and aromatic characteristics.
Golden Mao Feng
Special price of $7.18 per 4 oz.
If there was such a thing as cocoa-honey, this tea is what it would taste like. Large, golden, wiry, twisted leaves with a sweet, dark aroma produce a liquor that is very thick, velvety, sweet, almost cocooay. This black tea is from Guangxi province in southern China (just east of Yunnan), so it sorts of tastes like a cross between a Yunnan tea and a Keemun tea.
Rare Orchid Oolong S
pecial price $14.78
This rare regional oolong, from Wuyi Mtn, Fujian, yields a light liquor, but with great aroma, taste, and texture. You'll experience: sweet nutty, fruity, honey, and silky over many steepings. These long large twisted bronze/brown leaves are produced at more than 1000 feet elevation from the Qi Lan cultivar.
Silver Bud White tea (aka Ya Bao)
Special price $7.19
This rare white tea from Yunnan is a winter-pluck tea with huge downy buds and leaves from wild growing tea trees and produces a liquor that is mellow, sweet, slightly fruity (ripe plums?), and lingers with a soft floral finish. Can also be aged, as a puer. This tea is from the wild growing tea trees in the mountains around Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province, China. It is all hand-plucked and processed and rarely seen outside of China. It is processed as a white tea, but is also meant to be aged as a puer. So, in one sense, it is similar to a sheng puer. But, as with many Sheng puers, it is also marvelous to drink as is immediately, without waiting the aging process.
2007 Guangxi Dark Tea Cake
Special price of $34.39 per cake
This tea will be shipped in a special presentation gift box, including a stainless steel puer knife at no extra cost. This 357 gram dark tea cake from the Baise district of Guangxi province is very similar to an aged sheng puer. The liquor is very fresh, vibrant, crisp, invigorating, and smooth with a hint of a toasty note. The leaves (local Guangxi tea cultivar Lingyun White Downy tea) for this tea were grown in 2005, then aged and made into this cake in 2007. An exceptional and very unusual dark tea.
Up & Coming
Our annual big shipment from Sri Lanka (Ceylon) is due any week now and we have two new very cool teas coming in. We’ll get these on the web as soon as they arrive.
Ceylon Burning Sun
This tea from the Lumbini Estate, grade of FBOPF, is a perfect blend of strength and complexity-which is pretty rare. The Lumbini Estate has blended many broken golden tips into this tea, giving it a thick/weighty mouth feel, with multiple dark fruit notes, a clarity and brightness as you sip, and a lingering finish with just a hint of briskness.
Ceylon Oodooware Estate BOP
This is a wonderfully aromatic tea from the southern regions of Ceylon. The large wiry leaves produce a liquor that is very smooth, mellow, with a hint of a melony sweetness, in a cup that is very balanced and full-bodied.
Our new website is FINALLY up and running.
First, thanks to everyone who helped make this happen and thanks to all our customers for their patience and suggestions. If you have never launched a retail website, I swear it’s more work than opening a brick and mortar retail store.
So, to celebrate, we’re going to have a party…. a web party. The whole week of Sunday Jan. 19- Jan. 26, we’ll be celebrating. Every day we will be doing something different and hopefully fun on the website. Lots of prizes, games, contests, discounts etc.
Sunday, January 19, – TeaSource Swag
Every web order placed on Sunday Jan. 19th gets a FREE TeaSource Swag Bag containing a TeaSource mug, magnet, tattoo, pen, and bumper sticker.
Monday, January 20, - Free Cupping Journal & New Teas
All of our new (December & January) teas will be on the website (and in-store) at 20% off. All web orders will receive a FREE TeaSource cupping journal. This cupping journal is a new item. It has 64 pages, is pocket-sized, and is perfect for tracking your impressions of all of the teas you taste. Regularly price at $5.99.
Tuesday, January 21, - Facebook Share Contest
We will post a picture on the TeaSource Facebook page and our Twitter feed. Everyone who shares or retweets this graphic between January 21st and 25th will be automatically entered in a drawing for a FREE teapot or teaset of their choice (excluding only Tetsubin iron teaware). Trust me; you’ll be dying to share this picture with your friends.
Wednesday, January 22 – Talk To TeaSource
We will be hosting a LiveStream.com event with Bill Waddington owner/founder, of TeaSource, from noon-1:00 pm (central time). Get all your tea questions answered, hear Bill ramble on and on and on about the joys of tea, see some demonstrations of different ways to make tea and more. We will also take questions from Facebook and Twitter.
We hope EVERYONE participates. It will just be too depressing if I am out there on Livestream talking to myself for an hour.
Thursday, January 23 – TeaSource Scavenger Hunt
We will post five questions on FB and teasource.com The answers can be found within our new website. Everyone who emails us the correct answers will receive a coupon for FREE SHIPPING on their next web order (the coupon is good until February 28, 2014).
Friday, January 24 – Teas of Japan, 20% off
All Japanese teas and tea merchandise will be 20% off today, on the website and in the stores. We will also be featuring informational/educational/fun stuff about Japanese teas. TeaSource will be highlighting the Teas of Japan throughout 2014; this is the kick-off.
Saturday, January 25th – Tea Photo Contest
We are asking all customers to snap and share a tea (or TeaSource) related photo and post it to TeaSource on Facebook or Twitter. Our three favorite photos (voted on by TeaSource employees) will receive $25.00 gift cards.
Sunday, January 26th – Thank You & Contest Winners Announced
The winners of the share contest and photo contest will be announced and posted.
Thanks to customers, employees, and vendors who have made 18 years of TeaSource possible!
-Bill Waddington TeaSource, owner
Manufacturing tea is an art, it’s poetry in motion, it’s farmer-chef-craftsman-mechanic-chemist, all melded together. A few weeks ago, I did it in a conference room in Atlanta, GA. And "they" were right, even trying this was crazy... but, son-of-a-gun, the teas actually turned out pretty good. You can come to TeaSource Eden Prairie on Sunday, December 8th from Noon-2p and taste them for yourself!
In late October, I co-presented a workshop to tea professionals at the World Tea East Exhibition in Atlanta, GA. This workshop was called Processing Tea: An Experiential Workshop. The idea was we would fly in just plucked tea leaves from Hawaii by Overnight Air. Then over the two days of the workshop, using these fresh tea leaves we (along with the class attendees) would manufacture: white, green, yellow, oolong, and black tea. I presented this class with Donna Fellman of the World Tea Academy (part of World Tea Media). Donna and World Tea Media deserve tremendous credit for taking a huge chance, putting up the cash necessary, and providing all the support possible. Donna is one of the world’s great tea educators. For the record, this was the third time we did this class. In this blog, over the next few posts, I am going to tell the story of what happened. In Hawaii, Eva Stone, proprietor of Tea Hawaii & Co., supplied us with fresh plucked tea leaves.
Based on experience, Donna has developed a system of packing and layering and insulating the tea leaves using dry ice and coolers: so that when we unpacked the tea leaves in Atlanta, they looked like they had been plucked off the bush about three hours before.
Take a look at those leaves. This is what tea leaves look like, a few hours after being plucked. A relatively small amount of withering has taken place, so the leaf gets kind of floppy (I try to avoid the word flaccid). This also happens as the leaves come in from the fields to the factories. In our case, the withering took place on the FedEx plane ride, but this withering was slowed down considerably by the packing and dry ice. The leaves arrived pretty much ready for the first step in manufacture.
During two, three-hour workshops, over each of the next two days, we were going to try to mimic what happens at a tea factory, as the freshly plucked tea leaves are brought in from the field. By definition, this is kinda crazy. We weren’t in a tea factory—we were in a conference room at a convention center. We were going to try to make five different types of tea: all in the same room, at the same time. We didn’t have any of the equipment available at a tea factory. The climate was totally wrong and uncontrollable (we were battling hotel-level air conditioning). And most importantly we are NOT tea manufacturing experts. Donna’s a great communicator, and I’m just a tea merchant. They were right, this was crazy—who the heck did we think we were ??? But we were determined to try and manufacture by hand all categories of tea: except for Dark Tea & Puer --- I admit it, we chickened out on this --- maybe next year. And not only were we going to manufacture these teas, we were also going to demonstrate and teach others how these teas are processed.
Donna and Eva, kicking off the class.
Over the next few posts I will show and tell details about processing all five of these teas. The bottom line is, the class worked. And on Sunday, December 8th from Noon until 2:00pm at our Eden Prairie TeaSource we will be steeping and sampling all five of these teas we made. I should note there is not much of each tea, so when we run out (and we will) that’s it. This is almost a once in a lifetime experience, especially if you are unlikely to ever visit an actual tea estate.
Also, I will be there just to talk about tea, answer tea questions, and chat about all things camellia sinensis. Stop by if you get the chance.
What is a Gaiwan?
A gaiwan is a small vessel for brewing tea. It is often referred to as a “covered cup.” It takes the place of a teapot. Gaiwans have been used in China since the Ching Dynasty (1644-1912). A gaiwan has three parts: a bowl, a lid, and a saucer, and is typically small enough that all three parts can be picked up in one hand.
Benefits of a Gaiwan
A gaiwan allows the tea drinker to re-infuse their leaves many times, so they are most commonly used for oolong, green, white, and puer teas (black teas are less likely to retain their flavor in subsequent steepings). A gaiwan also allows for greater control of the steep. Because the leaves are floating freely in the gaiwan, you can watch as they writhe and expand, releasing their full flavor. The gaiwan makes you feel like you are driving the tea experience, not just along for the ride.
How to Use Your Gaiwan
- Put the tea leaves in the bowl. The amount varies depending on the density of the tea and the preference of the sipper. Typically you should use more than you would in a teapot and steep it for less time. Experimentation is encouraged.
- Steep the leaves. Add hot water to the bowl (the temperature varies depending on the type of tea you use). Use the lid of your gaiwan to stir the leaves, and watch in fascination as they swirl and swell.
- Crack the lid. When the steeping is done, this can be as little as 10 seconds or as much as a few minutes, return the lid to the bowl. Tilt the lid so it is slightly askew. There should be an opening big enough for water to flow out, but small enough to keep the leaves from escaping.
- Hold the Gaiwan. There are several ways to pick up your gaiwan. Experiment and find the method that feels natural for you. Try using your thumb and middle finger to hold the rim of the bowl. (Hold just the very top to prevent scalding fingers.) Then use your index finger, or index knuckle, to hold the lid firmly in place. It is acceptable to use both hands and lift your Gaiwan by the saucer.
- Decant into a cup. Holding your gaiwan firmly, tilt it toward your drinking vessel. Do this with confidence and the tea will pour out smoothly. It takes a little practice. Do not practice over a computer or a beloved pet. Give your gaiwan a few firm flicks to ensure all the liquid is out. If liquid is left in your gaiwan the tea will continue to steep and will taste bitter. Sip your tea blissfully knowing you look really cool. When ready, add more hot water to your gaiwan and re-steep the leaves.
As the Tea and Cheese Pairing Class drifts into history, the flavors are still lingering in our minds. On the afternoon of October 26th, Steven Levine, a local cheese Guru, showed up at the Eden Prairie TeaSource with eight exceptional specialty cheeses. Class attendees took their seats as regular customers looked on with curious expressions tinged with jealousy.
The fragrance of cheese was threatening to overwhelm the aroma of tea, so I got the first tea steeping and the class commenced. The pairings ranged in flavor, intensity, and complexity. Some were smooth, decadent, and buttery like the Delice de Bourgogne Brie with Milk Oolong, Traditional. Others sharp and brisk like our ‘Everyman Pairing’: the Collier’s Powerful Cheddar with the classic breakfast blend style tea, Ceylon Lumbini FBOP.
The favorite tea of the evening was the new Fujian black tea, Jin Jun Mei, for its rich depth and unique bold character. This is not an inexpensive tea, but it would make a fabulous holiday gift. The cheese that stole the show, and my personal favorite, was the beautiful Humbolt Fog. This cheese literally tasted like fog. It was so complex that every tea we paired it with pulled another layer of flavor out of the cheese.
Our final pairing was St. Pete’s Select Blue Cheese with the exquisite 1999 Sheng Puer, both aged and riddled with active microbes. This Puer comes as compressed cake of tea, a tea-making method new to the West, but with deep roots in China. This tea reminds me of something Aragorn would have carried across Middle Earth and steeped up for the Hobbit’s breakfast on the road to Mordor!
All of the incredible cheeses for this workshop were purchased from Surdyk’s Liquor and Cheese Shop - my favorite place in the Twin Cities to buy cheese (and wine). Their variety and quality is fantastic.
Everyone went home full of calcium and caffeine, making it a tea and cheese success story. I speak for both Steven and myself when I say the class was exceptionally fun, filling, and informative. We hope we can teach it again for the spring class cycle.
Chevre Goat Cheese 88th Night Shincha Collier’s Powerful Cheddar Ceylon Lumbini FBOP Delice de Bourgogne Brie Milk Oolong, Traditional Bent River Camembert 1995 Aged Pouchong Spanish Garrotxa Jin Jun Mei Humbolt Fog Tung Ting Light Roast Five year Gouda Assam, Harmutty Estate St. Pete’s Select Blue 1999 Sheng Puer
Black tea is black tea (as opposed to purple tea) because of oxidation. If you cut an apple (or banana or zucchini etc.) in half and let it sit, within a few minutes the exposed flesh start to turn brown. That’s oxidation.
Turning brown: which is perfectly safe, it’s just oxidation
And that is what happens to make black tea. They roll, crush, tear, cut, and/or curl the tea leaves; this is the equivalent of cutting the apple. Thus they expose the interior of the plant, disrupting the cell membranes to air. A rolling machine in Sri Lanka, crushing the leaves, making them juicy—the precursor to oxidation.
The tea leaves get all juicy, just like an apple gets juicy if you cut it. If they are making black tea, they spread the juicy leaves out on a long flat surface, like a trough, table, or even the floor (using a tarp), and let the leaves turn brown. That's oxidation. If they leave the leaves out long enough, they oxidize fully and become black tea. It is relatively easy to stop or prevent oxidation. Apply gentle heat to the leaves, which kills the enzymes in the leaf and prevents oxidation from occurring, or stops the oxidation at that point. No browning.
Why do tea folks bother with oxidation? Without it, all you would have is white or green teas. I love white and green teas, but if someone took my Grand Keemun away I would go crazy. The date and origin of deliberate oxidation as a process for making black tea is not certain. Fujian has been making what would now be considered black tea since the late Ming dynasty, but large scale production did not take place in China until the 19th century. It is important to understand that for all intent and purposes black tea is NOT drunk in China—at all. They make a remarkable amount and variety of black teas in China, but they don’t drink them. It’s not completely crazy to speculate that oxidation was “invented” by mistake.
What happens during oxidation? The plant gives off H2O (water evaporating) and absorbs extra oxygen from the atmosphere which, with the enzymes in the leaf, triggers a whole bunch of chemical reactions, causing the leaf to turn black/brown, the flavor and aroma to change, etc. etc.
Tea Geek facts about tea oxidation:
- If you really want to be annoyingly literal about it, ALL tea goes through some degree of oxidation, albeit, sometimes a VERY minor degree of oxidation. Because oxidation begins the moment the leaf is plucked from the tea plant.
- -White and green tea both go through probably less than 5% oxidation- basically just what happens during transport and handling-- in fact they are trying to prevent and arrest oxidation. Oolongs can be oxidized through a large range, anywhere from 12- 90%.
- Black teas typically go through close to 95-100% oxidation
- Teas going through oxidation smell AMAZING: intoxicating, addictive, intense, sweet, fruity, alive….
- When black teas are going through oxidation, the leaves are spread out on a surface, maybe a table--that's called the "dhool" table.
- Oxidation is fast, for whole leaf teas it can be up to four hours or so. For a small particled tea (CTC), as little as 90 minutes.
A dhool table (or trough) in Ceylon, the tea would be spread out across these areas.
And yes, there is a purple tea. In fact, there are two kinds of purple tea, both are real tea from the camellia sinensis plant- one from Africa and one from China. Watch this blog for more info.