Tea Life

How to Steep Tea without Instructions

You just found an old bag of tea, or your friend gifted you some special tea, but there are no steeping instructions. Do not fret, steeping without instructions is easy if you know what to look for. IDENTIFY THE CATEGORY OF TEA: What kind of tea do you have? Green, oolong, red, etc. Different categories of tea require different water temperatures. If the leaves are green and small, you are looking at green tea. If the leaves are covered in small white hairs, then it is a white tea. If the leaves are green and big or rolled, you have a light oolong. Dark, big and/or rolled leaves are likely charcoal roasted oolongs. Small, dark leaves are red/black tea leaves. (Pu-erh tea and herbal teas will be addressed in another post.) Try your best to categorize in order to find a water temperature to start with: Green- 160^F White- 180^F…

5 Things to Never do to Tea

1. Leaving Dry Tea Leaves Exposed Dry tea leaves should be stored properly. If dry tea leaves are not stored “air-tight and out-of-light” then they will lose their own essence faster as well as take on unwanted aromas and flavors from the surrounding atmosphere. 2. Using Cold Teaware This is the most frequent mistake that people make. It is imperative to heat your tea pot or gaiwan by pouring hot water in, letting the vessel heat up, and then pour out before adding tea leaves. This assures that the temperature of the water added with the tea leaves will not rapidly cool upon entering the vessel. Proper and stable water temperature is required for a smooth and elegant flavor extraction. 3. Using Boiling Water While some teas can handle boiling water, no tea steeps best with boiling water. Remember: 212^F is boiling 205^F is ideal for most teas (oolong, red/black,…

The gathering place: The tradition of teahouses in Asia

Throughout history, teahouses have been a fixture in the life and culture of Asian peoples, particularly Chinese. Like the cafes of Europeans, teahouses were places to enjoy a favorite beverage, consume small snacks, and to gather over tea and socialize — exchanging innocuous gossip or serious news. As their popularity increased, teahouses caught the attention of the Communist party, who worried the gathering places hosted the opportunity for the educated to congregate and instigate rebellious activities. Due to the Communists’ suspicion, teahouses were shut down for over 30 years. Tea farms went fallow when they no longer had an industry to sell their tea into. Today, however, cities across China are once again teeming with teahouses, now graced by government officials and businessmen of every kind. Tea culture extends into spiritual and formal dimensions in the Chanoyu, the tea ceremony of Japan. Here the elite gather to watch the refined…

The art of judging award-winning tea

How are award-winning teas selected? Surprisingly for most people, tea competitions are fun and exciting. Judges typically consist of tea farmers, tea shop owners, and tea scholars. These experts are known for refraining from drinking alcohol and coffee, smoking, eating spicy food, or anything else which could taint their palate. Gathered around a large table, with tasting spoons in hand, the group obnoxiously slurps down countless sips of the same type of tea, crafted by different artisans. Traditionally these teas are oolongs. With greater expertise and experience required for production, oolongs are said to be the “connoisseur’s tea,” containing the most complexity and fragrance. Judges debate taste, aroma, appearances of leaf, and quality of infusions. After several hours of heated debate, with judges literally shouting and screaming at one another, a consensus on which teas deserve which grades is finally reached. Judges award 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place honors. Unlike…

Step into the world of Artisanal Teas

How do you step into the world of artisanal teas? Some of you have experienced whole leaf teas, thinking that as long as it is not fanning in a teabag, you must be drinking artisanal teas. Others feel that there must be a richer experience out there than just scented or blended teas. In reality, the quality level a tea must reach to be considered artisanal is comparable to a restaurant qualifying for the Michelin star. The depth of flavor and breadth of aroma that artisanal teas offer is more than the world of connoisseur wine or cuisine.  Learning how to enjoy this realm is actually quite accessible — just follow these tips and step right in: Choose single origin tea: The great terroirs of the world not only produce the most suitable tea plants,  but have been doing so for thousands of years, and the tea bushes have adapted…

Commonly-used tea terms from Asia

Ming Qian:  Pre-Ming, literally, before the Ching Ming Festival. This is a Chinese term referring to the same grade of leaves as First Flush. Since Ching Ming Festival occurs around April 2nd to 6th of each year, the late March, early April teas are considered the utmost quality, and is priced by the day. The later the date of plucking, the less expensive. Generally, Pre-Ming is a grade designated for green teas like Longjing (Dragonwell), white teas, and some high value oolongs. Cha Qing:  Pronounced Ching (the Q is a ch sound), Cha Qing refers to the raw material green leaves that have just been plucked. It is very important what day, what time, what elevation, which side of the hill, and even who, picked these leaves, which determines the quality and grading and pricing of the finished product. King’s Grade (Cha Wang):  This grade has no solid definition, other…

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