Tea Education

Where Is Tea Grown? Different Regions for All of Your Favorite Teas

When you think about tea, what countries come to mind? The typical countries of China, Japan, and India probably come pretty quickly, but did you know that tea is grown all around the world? Different regions lend themselves better to different types of tea such as black teas, green teas, and oolongs.

Tea plants thrive in warm, humid areas with consistent rainfall throughout the year. The ideal temperatures for tea growing is between 64.5 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit, however there could be fluctuations at night. Climate can influence the volume and quality of the harvests. Excessive humidity produces inferior crops to areas with drier weather. Higher altitudes improve the quality of the harvest, but it also limits the output. Another important factor is sunlight, which is required in order to develop the essential oils that give tea its aromas. Diffused light is the most beneficial, which is why many plantations plant tall trees in regular rows. The trees help to stabilize the soil as well as filter the sunlight. Tea plants have a low tolerance for windy conditions.

A worker on a tea plantation is sorting tea leaves

Asia

Asia is most likely the first region that pops into your head when asked where tea is grown, and China and Japan are probably the countries that you think of specifically. However, there are so many countries throughout Asia that grow and produce tea. Taiwan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Papua New Guinea are countries that also grow delicious teas. 

China

China produces every type of tea, but green tea seems to be the favorite for local tea drinkers. The cultivation of tea is concentrated in the southeastern provinces such as Fujian, Zhejiang, Yunnan, and Anhui.

Fujian province is well-known for the largest varieties of teas, but they are best known for white, green, jasmine, high mountain oolongs from the Wu Yi Shan mountain range, and smoked teas

Zhejiang province is exclusively known for green teas, more specifically gunpowder teas and Long Jing

Yunnan province has been one of the two largest Chinese black tea producers for 60 years. They are also a principal region that produces Pu Erh, aged tea that is fermented and compressed into cakes.

The Anhui region is known for high quality teas while also having relatively limited production. They are famed for their spring harvest green teas as well as black teas

Taiwan

Taiwan is an island located beneath the Tropic of Cancer and has the ideal conditions for producing tea. Over half of the territory has high altitudes which lends itself well to growing certain oolongs. Some of the oolongs from Taiwan are rolled into dense pearls, which helps to keep the leaves fresh and prevent crumbling, such as Dong Ding, Jin Xuan, Ali Shan, Shan Lin Xi, and Nantou Four Seasons. Taiwan is also home to the bug bitten Bai Hao oolongs as well as some black teas and green teas. Taiwan has been known for over a hundred years for lightly oxidized teas, so it is interesting that the plantations have expanded more into production of dark teas.

Japan

Tea is an integral part of Japanese culture. The country consumes so much tea, that it is necessary to import tea from China, Indonesia, and Vietnam in order to have any product to export. Japan is most well known for green tea, but there are a few examples of black teas that are exported. Matcha, Sencha, and shade grown green teas are most commonly associated with Japan.

A bowl of Japanese green tea is on tray overlooking woods

India

Tea is popular in India, but few continue the traditional British ritual of tea drinking. Throughout their society, chai has become a daily treat combining black tea with spices, sugar, and boiling whole milk. India produces black tea almost exclusively and there are three regions that are the principal tea producers for Indian tea. They are Assam, Darjeeling, and Nilgiri.

Darjeeling is India's best known and most prestigious tea producing region. Darjeelings are almost entirely reserved for export due to the high prices. There are four annual harvests, which all have distinct flavor profiles. The July- August monsoon season crop is considered mediocre quality.

Assam is in northeastern India between Bangladesh, Myanmar, and China. It produces almost half of Indian tea. The four harvests possible are spring, summer, monsoon, and autumn. However, the springtime crop is rarely plucked due to the fact that it is less sought after than the summer harvest. Most production occurs between April and October. Fun fact: Your English Breakfast tea is a black tea from Assam! 

Nilgiri is located in southern India and is the second largest tea producing region. Tea is harvested in Nilgiri year-round without interruption. Almost the entire region produces CTC leaves, which is a process that prepares the leaves for tea bags (CTC stands for Crushing-Tearing-Curling.)

Nepal

Nepal produces mostly black teas which are usually used in tea bags. There are three tea producing regions in Nepal: Terai, Ilam, and Dhankuta. The teas from Ilam and Dhankuta are often exported at very high prices.

Terai is a lowland area that produces tea that is primarily used for CTC production. 

Ilam produces lovely teas that try to mimic Darjeelings. Some Darjeeling plantation owners have bought tea from Nepal and add it to their Darjeeling harvest in order to increase their production, which changes the tea from single origin without the consumer's knowledge. 

Dhankuta is relatively new to tea production. The plantations in this area only go back 15-20 years and were planted with young tea plants selected from the best varieties. The harvest schedule is exactly the same as the Darjeeling region in India. Small producers play an important role in this region due to the lack of large-scale plantations on the British model. Tea is also cultivated in a way that protects wooded areas. 

A view of a tea plantation in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka produces black tea almost exclusively and exports nearly 95% of its tea. Tea has little visibility in Sri Lanka culture which is odd considering how many tea plants are around the island. There are six principal areas for growing tea Galle, Ratnapura, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Dimbula, and Uva. The teas from the island are distinguished by altitude, not the location where they grow. Fun fact: Our Ceylon Orange Pekoe is grown in Sri Lanka! Orange Pekoe is a specific grade of black tea, although it is unknown where name for this grade originated. We do know that the term has been used since Dutch and British involvement in the trading of tea.

South Korea

Korea is not a major tea producer or avid consumer of tea, despite its ancient history. Teas that are produced in Korea are sold domestically and are usually expensive. Korea produces mostly green teas which are harvested in the spring. There are three tea-producing areas, all located in the southern part of the country. South Gyeongsang is a historic region and home to the oldest tea plantations. Boseong is a little further west and is the peninsula's other large cultivation zone. The volcanic island of Jeju is home to some of Korea's most magnificent plantations. It is home to the most favorable conditions for growing tea; ideal soils, a mild, humid climate, and ample sunshine and rainfall.

Other Tea-Producing Countries in Asia

Thailand was introduced to tea-cultivation in the 1980s by the Chinese community that settled in the Mae Salong region in northern Thailand. Small quantities of excellent quality tea are produced using techniques similar to thosethat originated in Taiwan. 

Laos began growing tea when small-scale coffee producers were hit hard by falling prices. They produce primarily compressed teas from wild plants near the Chinese border.

Myanmar is the historical birthplace of tea. Tea grows wild in their forests, and the Burmese have harvested and produced tea throughout their history. Tea cultivation has also developed in the mountainous region in the north and east. They have been influenced by the manufacturing practices of the Yunnan province in China.

Other Asian countries that produce tea are Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Papua New Guinea.

Workers from a tea plantation in Thai Nguyen province stand in front of a table with their products

Africa

Tea was introduced to Africa by the British in the late 19th century. What started in South Africa and Malawi expanded to Mount Cameroon and Tanzania with help from German colonists. Many other countries adopted the cultivation of tea during the 20th century and are now some of the leaders in the tea trade. Africa's teas are primarily classified as CTC, but there are some artisanal growers experimenting with teas inspired by recent developments in China, India, and Japan. Principal tea-producing countries are Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Congo, Mauritius, South Africa, Zambia, Reunion, Madagascar, Mali, and Seychelles.

Around the Black and Caspian Seas

Tea was introduced to the Caspian region through trade routes, and tea was initially a luxury item imported from distant locations. It wasn't until later that tea became a part of the indigenous culture. After numerous failed attempts, tea was finally successfully grown in the mountainous areas between the Black and Caspian Seas. The Mongols and merchants who travelled the Silk Road are credited with bringing tea to this region. 

Russian Teas

Russia produces black tea primarily for domestic consumption. Extensive plantations in Georgia made the former USSR the world's fifth-largest producer. Teas from Russia are sometimes referred to as "Russian teas" because they are prepared in a samovar. They shouldn't be confused with "Russian-style" varieties which are blended Chinese black teas, sometimes flavored, that were popular in the Russian court at the end of the 19th century.

A Samovar of tea is on a table with sweet treats

Turkey

Tea consumption came before cultivation in Turkey. Tea was introduced to the Ottoman court in the 15th century but wasn't cultivated until the 1920s, using seeds imported from the USSR. The plantations are mostly located on the south coast of the Black Sea. Turkey is the world's sixth-largest tea producer with most of the tea providing for the country's consumption and leaving a small amount for export.

Other Countries in the Region

Iran, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Montenegro, and Russia are also tea-producing countries in this region.

South America

South American teas don't try to compete with the great teas of Asia. They are exclusively black teas, adapted to the "British taste", and primarily produced for tea bags and American soft drinks. 

Argentina

Argentina is the only major tea producer in South America and the ninth-largest in the world. However, most people associate Argentina and Brazil with the yerba maté plant which is used to make the popular South American beverage, maté

A gourd of yerba mate sits on a table with a bottle of water

Other Tea-Producing Countries

Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, and Colombia

North America

While tea cultivation is an ancient practice, it is still relatively new to regions in North America. There are plantations growing throughout the southern states, as well as plantations in Hawaii and even Oregon. The U.S. League of Tea Growers reports that there are 60 farms in 15 states, with many of them starting to branch out into tea growing in 2000 or later, with some only being five years old. Hawaii's volcanic soil is ideal for growing tea. Tea was introduced to Hawaii in the 1800s, but the islands have started to grow their own cultivars. The volcanic soil makes the tea take on a distinct flavor which is recognizable from any other teas produced around the world, which is usually bright with notes of citrus and honey. While the tea production is newer in North America, the growth over the last few decades seems to point towards the United States becoming a region that will continue to expand in the cultivation of tea.

Tea production may vary from country to country, but it's safe to say that no matter the differences, tea is a plant that can and has brought the whole world together. Tea makes it easy to transport yourself from your office desk or couch, to a teahouse in Japan, China, or even Africa.

 

Resources

Tea Sommelier: a Step-by-Step Guide, by Delmas François-Xavier et al., Abbeville Press Publishers, 2018, pp. 102–124.

Helmer, J. (2017, March 28). Pinkies up! A local tea movement is brewing. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/03/28/521380607/pinkies-up-a-local-tea-movement-is-brewing.

Chan, K. Y. L. (2015, May 8). Hawaii's volcanic soil makes the state a tea-producing paradise. Eater. Retrieved from https://www.eater.com/drinks/2015/5/8/8558789/the-rise-of-tea-in-hawaii.

What is White Tea?

More so than any other article in our "What is Tea" series, the answer to "what is white tea" feels elusive and delicate, much like white tea itself.

Partly this feeling of ambiguity around white tea may be a volume issue - white tea is only made from the bud and perhaps first two leaves of the tea plant (camellia sinensis), and then only from the first harvest in spring. This harvest occurs in a narrow two or three week window in the early spring and can only take place in dry weather conditions (i.e., no rain and low humidity). Additionally, white teas are only produced in the Fujian Province in China (with some more recent productions in Darjeeling), further limiting total production.

Is it any wonder, then, that White Teas are less known and less widely understood? That white tea feels precious and ephemeral and not wholly tangible?

silver needle white tea in a bamboo scoop with teapot and cup

The Origins of White Tea

Like most types of tea, the origins of White Tea are shrouded in myth and the mists of time. What we do know for certain is that White Tea comes to us from Fujian Province, now primarily from Fuding, and that it gets its name from the furry white down that coats the buds known as "Hao". 

White Tea was popularized within China during the Song Dynasty (920-1269), but there are references to White Tea dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Like many of the world's famous teas, White Tea came into popularity as a favored tribute tea, and may at one time have been solely reserved for royalty. 

It wouldn't be until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) popularized loose leaf tea that white tea as we know it today began to be produced. Prior to this transition, all tea was pressed into cakes and often powdered and whisked like matcha, rather than steeped. 

During the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), Fuding White Tea was discovered in 1857. This new cultivar had a dense pekoe (young leaf) growth with large, fragrant buds. It is from these trees that the first Silver Needle white teas were made.

Though this type of tea is centuries old - and was even a tribute tea to emperors - white tea remains one of the least studied and discussed types of tea, especially in the West. This is in part due to its relatively small production yields and delicate nature - at the beginning of the tea trade it simply would have been impossible to export White Tea to the West, as it most certainly would have been compromised on the rough and moist ocean or overland voyages to Europe.

But in recent years White Tea has been getting more attention, not least due to its potential to have even more healthful properties than long-admired Green Tea. So what is White Tea?

How is White Tea Made?

Production Methods for White Tea

White Tea is made primarily in Fuding in the Fujian Province in China. White Tea is the least handled of all the tea types, undergoing minimal processing so the first, downy buds of spring retain the delicate, burgeoning flavor of new growth.

1. Plucking

Springtime's first downy buds, and perhaps the first two leaves, are harvested by hand during a two week period in late March or early April. This harvest is very delicate and can only be done in dry weather, making white teas the most susceptible to poor harvest years.

2. Withering

The leaves are spread out to dry on bamboo racks for 12 to 14 hours. Sometimes fans are used to increase the air circulation and speed drying.

3. Sorting

Broken leaves and other residue are sorted out with sieves of differing sizes. Larger pieces like stems and branches are removed by hand. 

Did you notice something missing??

If you've been reading our other What Is Tea series blogs, you may have noticed a glaring omission in the processing of White Teas: there's no mention of oxidation or halting oxidation! 

This is not a mistake! Part of what makes White Teas so delicate and unusual is their lack of oxidation, as well as their lack of a step in the process to completely stop enzymatic oxidation. Even Green Teas undergo heating (either panning in China or steaming in Japan) to deactivate the enzyme that causes oxidation. But White Teas do not - they are allowed to dry fully on their own, with minimal interference from their producers. 

This is one of the reasons we think of White Teas as delicate, and a big reason why they were not good candidates for export prior to the modern age.  

Types of White Tea

There are five main types of white tea:

Yin Zhen (Silver Needle) - The most desirable white tea, Yin Zhen is made from only long, needle-like silver buds that are uniform in shape and color. Generally Yin Zhen is light on the palate with floral and woodsy notes.

Bai Mu Dan (White Peony) - Second only to Yin Zhen, Bai Mu Dan is a premium white tea consisting of silvery buds and the first two leaves. Generally, Bai Mu Dan is sweeter on the palate with floral and sweet spice notes.

Gongmei (Tribute Eyebrow) - Made of young leaves but no buds, Gongmei has a more robust flavor and finish than Yin Zhen or Bai Mu Dan.

Shou Mei (Noble Eyebrow) - Usually made from the leaves not deemed suitable for Yin Zhen or Bai Mu Dan production, Noble Eyebrow is still a quality tea. Expect similar flavors to green oolong.

Fujian New Craft - Production of this new type of White Tea began in the 1960's, and yields a less fragrant but more robustly flavored cup. 

Is White Tea Low in Caffeine?

Made from downy buds and perhaps the first two leaves, White Tea has a reputation for being delicate - delicate in preparation, handling, color, taste, and even caffeine levels.

But new research is challenging conventional thought on the caffeine levels of White Tea, and it is becoming evident that which White Tea you are drinking and how you infuse your White Tea plays a large role in how caffeinated your cup will be. 

Silver Needle White tea is comprised solely of the tea plant's first downy spring buds. These buds are covered in little, white downy hairs that both give White Tea its name and protect the bud from the vagaries of spring weather patterns. And it's these little downy hairs that play havoc with caffeine levels in your cup. 

The downy hairs on White Tea buds are hydrophobic, meaning they are designed by nature to keep the buds from becoming saturated with moisture and then being harmed by frost should temperatures dip below freezing overnight.

This hydrophobic nature of the buds of course plays into how you steep white tea - and also how much of the caffeine, polyphenols, and amino acids are extracted from the tea. 

As with most teas, longer steep times correspond to more extraction of all elements of the tea leaf, including caffeine. Higher temperature steeps will also lead to higher caffeine concentrations. 

In general, if you are looking for a lower caffeine traditional tea, Silver Needles may be your answer if you steep them at a low temperature for a relatively short period. But we recommend a stem and leaf tea (like Kukicha or Wood Dragon) or a roasted tea (like Hojicha) or a wild tea (like Nan Mei Wild Buds) instead. 

How to Steep White Tea

We'll go into more detail on this in our How to Steep White Tea blog, but in general you can think of White Tea as "low and slow". We recommend brewing at 175-185° F for 3-7 minutes depending on the composition of your white tea. Brew towards the longer end of the interval for Silver Needle teas and the shorter end for bud and leaf or leaf-only teas. 

 Shop White Tea Green button with Bee logo

Sources: 

Gascoyne, K., Marchand François, Desharnais, J., & Américi Hugo. (2016). Tea: History, terroirs, varieties. Firefly Books. Ltd.

Zhang, Haihua, et al. “Influence of Brewing Conditions on Taste Components in Fuding White Tea Infusions.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, vol. 97, no. 9, 2016, pp. 2826–2833., https://doi.org/10.1002/jsfa.8111.

Taiwanese Oolongs: History, Production & Terroir

Taiwan is a small archipelago with the perfect climate for cultivating tea. Though their tea growing history is comparatively short, Taiwan's tea growing regions are some of the most famous and highly regarded in the world. 

We've previously discussed oolongs and their history in general, but the Taiwanese oolongs are so special and unique they deserve an entire post of their own!

hands presenting steeped and dry taiwanese oolong leaves infront of cups of brewed tea

In this photo, you can clearly see how the dry beads on the right unfurl to reveal large, full leaves when steeped (center).

History of Tea Production in Taiwan

Just off the coast of China, across the South China Sea, Taiwan has a complicated history with tea. Though native, wild tea trees have been found in southern Taiwan near Kaoshan, the history of tea and tea production in Taiwan is inevitably linked to the long history of world powers vying for control of the tea trade and this strategically located island, ideal for exporting goods to Europe.

It was the Dutch, who controlled the island in the 17th century, who first began the tea trade on Taiwan. But it was after Taiwan was annexed to China in 1683 by the Qing dynasty that a wave of immigration brought with it tea plants, seeds, and production expertise. Many of these immigrants were from the Anxi and Wuyi Mountain areas of the Fujian Province (where oolong teas are believed to have originated). 

At first families cultivated tea for their own consumption, but over time the tea trade started to develop, becoming more substantial around the end of the 18th century. This slow increase in tea production caught the eye of European traders, and in 1866 John Dodd became involved in in the trade, offering to finance tea plantations and set up factories for tea processing (eliminating the need to send the leaves to Fujian for the final stages of processing). 

The Japanese then occupied the island from 1895 to 1945 and greatly encouraged black tea production to take advantage of the demand for this type of tea in the US and Europe - as well as avoid competing with Japan's own green tea production. Further development of the tea industry was highly encouraged under Japanese occupation, with the government offering training courses and gifting plants and fertilizers to Taiwanese peasants. 

After the second world war, focus for the tea industry in Taiwan shifted yet again with the arrival of the Chinese. Now production was mostly oriented to green teas being exported to North Africa, and in 1965, Japan. But during the 1970s, strong competition from China and Japan forced Taiwan to reassess its role in the tea market once again, shifting focus to production of the local favorite: oolong. Fortuitously, household income for most Taiwanese had increased during this time, and tea growers serving a domestic market were able to focus on quality instead of quantity. These changes and skillful introduction by the government of educational programs like tea festivals, museums, etc. directly led to the production of the beautiful Taiwanese oolongs we so enjoy today. Quality has become such an important marker for Taiwanese tea producers that there are many contests in tea producing regions. Winning the prize, of course, increases the value of the tea!

By the numbers: To give you an idea of just how important domestic tea production is to Taiwan, growers produce around 16,500 tons of tea every year and Taiwan exports less than 1/4 of that yield (around 4,100 tons). The rest is consumed domestically. All 12,000 tons of it!

What Makes Taiwanese Oolongs So Special?

Taiwan - Tea Regions, Topography & Terroir

Google Maps View of Taiwan with topography

Taiwan is an archipelago with one main island just across the South China Sea from China. Taiwan has a very special combination of topography and climate that makes their western regions an ideal environment for producing tea. 

You can see in this topographical map courtesy of Google Maps that a large, long, and tall mountain range runs down the middle and eastern sides of Taiwan. The Zhong Yang San Mai mountain range protects the western third of the island from storms coming in off the ocean from the west. This, combined with temperate conditions that rarely drop below 55° F and an average rainfall of 79" a year, makes the western slopes of the mountain range a wonderfully hospitable climate for growing tea. 

Taiwan's Main Tea Regions

Taiwan has several different tea growing regions, many with one or more mountains famous for their particular terroir and tea production. 

District of Nantou

Located in the center of Taiwan, Nantou is the principle growing region on the island and includes both Mount Dong Ding and Mount Shan Lin Xi

Producing around 12,000 tons per year, Nantou produces over half the tea grown in Taiwan. However, outside the famous mountains of Dong Ding and Shan Lin Xi, both of which are home to exceptional tea gardens, much of the tea produced in Nantou is of medium quality. This may in part be attributed to the high volume of tea produced, as well as advanced mechanization and processing of tea harvests shipped to Nantou from other areas of Taiwan.

Mount Dong Ding & Mount Shan Lin Xi

Celebrated for their high altitude teas, Mount Dong Ding hosts tea gardens that produce oolongs at 1,650 - 2,600 feet and Mount Shan Lin Xi is home to gardens that reach as high as 5,400 feet. Dong Ding is known for its honeyed notes of lilac and vanilla. Shan Lin Xi teas are sweetly vegetal with aromas of cherry and white flowers.

District of Taipei

In the north, Taipei is the original home of tea in Taiwan, and it is still the second-most important growing region. As Taipei became less important as a key location for exporting teas, and the area grew more industrialized, many tea plantations moved south to Nantou. Still, Pinglin and the Mucha Mountains are home to many beautiful gardens. 

Pinglin & The Mucha Mountains

A village to the west of Taipei, Pinglin is home to a type of twisted leaf oolong known as Bao Zhong. Most Taiwanese oolongs today are rolled into little beads, making Pinglin Bao Zhong rather rare among Taiwanese oolongs. The Mucha Mountains are home to the Tie Guan Yin cultivar, brought to the mountains south of Taipei by the Tsang brothers from Anxi, China in 1875. Mucha Tie Guan Yin is known for its intense, roasted flavor. 

District of Chia Yi

If tea production in Taiwan as a whole is relatively new, tea production in the Chia Yi district is in its infancy. Yet this small but mighty region produces some of Taiwan's best known Gao Shan Cha, or high-altitude teas. 

Ali Shan Mountain & Yu Shan Mountain

Ali Shan is home to several gardens at altitudes between 2,300 and 5,600 feet. A protected park with soaring evergreens at high altitudes and lush vegetation that gives way to palm trees, banana trees, and other fruit trees at the base, the beauty of this mountain shows through in the teas produced there. Ali Shan merges with Mount Yu Shan. Though Yu Shan peaks at 12,966 feet, its tea plantations are at around 4,250 feet. Teas from this region tend to have heady and rich floral aromas with supple, smooth liquors that give off notes of the exotic fruits and flora found on these mountains. 

District of Hsinchu

Home of the famed Oriental Beauty, Hsinchu is in northwestern Taiwan, an area of plains that lie at about 650 feet above sea level. This region produces mainly dark oolongs that are oxidized between 40 and 60 percent. Included among these is Oriental Beauty, the bug bitten oolong that is the most popular tea in Taiwan. 

Districts of Hualien and Taitung

Both located on the eastern coast of Taiwan, these regions are lesser known. In recent years Hualien has been moving towards organic productions, but its gardens are more subject to the capricious nature of storms coming in off the ocean. These regions generally produce different kinds of tea, not just oolong. 

District of Taichung

Like Chia Yi, this district is young but mighty. Only around 20 years old, tea production in this central district focuses on the high mountain oolongs produced on Li Shan and Da Yu Lin Mountains. 

Li Shan and Da Yu Lin Mountains

Li Shan (Pear Mountain) is home to growing areas between 5,250 and 8,700 feet. This area has traditionally been home to fruit orchards, but high demand is shifting focus so rapidly the government has had to step in to avoid excessive expansion into tea and away from fruit. Nearby, the gardens on Da Yu Lin Mountain are at an altitude of 8,500 feet and among the highest anywhere in the world.

The Terroir of High Altitude Taiwanese Teas - Gao Shan Cha

The distinction of Gao Shan Cha, or high-altitude tea grown above 3,300 feet, is relatively unique to Taiwan (only Sri Lanka joins Taiwan in distinguishing between high-altitude and low-altitude teas). With some of the highest elevation tea gardens in the world, it makes sense that Taiwan would distinguish between low- and high-altitude tea, but what makes altitude worth distinguishing?

High-Altitude Climates & Their Effects on Tea

Anyone who's gone hiking in and around our beautiful local peaks in the Adirondacks will tell you that a warm sunny day at the base of the mountain can be a bit chilly and cloudy by the time you reach the peak.

To put the mountains in Taiwan in perspective for those familiar with the Adirondack State Park, Mt Marcy - the highest point in New York - has an elevation of 5,344 feet (1,629 meters). Mount Ali Shan in Taiwan is 8,737 feet (2,663 meters), with some of its tea gardens reaching to 5,600 feet above sea level - higher than the highest point of Mt Marcy! And Mount Ali Shan is not even the highest tea producing peak in Taiwan!

The climate in Taiwan is temperate, but even on sunny days the high-altitude tea gardens often experience fog and low-lying clouds that linger in the mornings and evenings. This low-lying, misty cloud cover acts much like the man-made shading techniques in Japan, naturally forcing the tea plants to work harder for sunlight, concentrating their leaves with sweet chlorophyll. The high-altitude shoots are extremely dark green and concentrated in amino acids and nitrogen compounds. The fog also has the additional effect of moistening the leaves, keeping them tender and supple - perfect for later processing into the characteristic rolled beads.  

Additionally, the temperatures are just enough cooler at altitude to slow the growth of the tea trees. Slower growth means the plants' aromatic oils are more concentrated in the leaves of high-altitude teas than their lower-altitude counterparts. 

All this combines with the specific terroir of each mountain to produce teas that are more complexly aromatic and flavorful than their lower-altitude brethren. 

Taiwanese Oolong Tea Production

The Taiwanese differentiate between lightly oxidized oolongs (10 ~ 30%) and more oxidized oolongs (40 ~ 70%), referring to oolongs with less oxidation as green oolong and oolongs with more oxidation as black oolong. Both teas follow a similar production process, with the black oolongs spending longer in the oxidation phase. 

Processing Green Oolong Teas

Day 1

Day one of oolong production concentrates on the very important, delicate, and instinctive task of oxidation.

  1. Plucking - Plucking on the mountainous slopes of Taiwan's most famous tea gardens is done manually, mainly by women. For the tea plants to be ready for processing into oolong tea, the bud and the three following leaves must be open before plucking. 
  2. Withering - Picked leaves are spread out on large sheets for 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the weather. This withering stage drys the leaves slightly so their moisture does not damage the leaves in processing.
  3. Oxidation - Oxidation determines the final flavor of the tea and is still largely instinctual, requiring experienced tea growers. Oxidation releases the aromas and begins stabilizing the leaves. Growers will spread out leaves on bamboo trays in a controlled temperature environment of about 68 - 77° F, with humidity of 60 - 85%. The leaves are then stirred at 1 - 4 hour intervals to create friction, breaking down the cellular structure of the leaves. This releases the aromatic oils and thus starts the enzymatic process of oxidation. Oxidation may take 10 to 18 hours and is not a science but an instinct. Experienced tea growers will touch and sniff the leaves to know the precise right time to stop oxidation.
  4. Firing - Enzymatic oxidation is halted by heating the leaves once the leaves have reached their required level of oxidation. This is done by placing the leaves in a heated rotating cylinder. The leaves are heated to 572° F for about 5 - 7 minutes.  
  5. Rolling - Right after firing, the warm leaves are rolled by a mechanical arm for about three to five minutes.
  6. Drying - This first drying stabilizes the aromas and removes residual moisture. They start drying low, at about 158° for 5 - 6 minutes, then increase the temperature to 212° for another 20 minutes to a half hour. After this heating, the leaves are spread out on bamboo trays and left to stand overnight (6 - 8 hours).

Day 2

1. Shaping - On Day 2, the Taiwanese follow an important and repetitive cycle that will be repeated dozens of times. The steps are first repeated 10 - 20 times in a heated cylinder and then 30 - 40 times in a non-heated cylinder. It is this long, labor-intensive cycle that creates the distinctive, characteristic bead shape.
  • Heating / Stirring - First the leaves are softened in a heated, rotating cylinder for a few minutes.
  • Rolling - Next the leaves are divided into 44 pound packages, wrapped in a special fabric, then placed in a special machine that compresses it into a round shape using four rotating rollers.
  • Compression - Another machine then turns and rolls these fabric-wrapped packages for about 10 minutes while applying compression pressure.

2. Final Drying - Final drying further stabilizes aromas and ensures there is no  more than 2 - 3% moisture remaining in the leaves. Final Drying lasts        around 5 - 10 minutes at around 212° F.

3. Sorting - Although this could be mechanized, usually the remaining small stems are removed by hand. Sorting is a purely aesthetic - and extremely tedious - part of the process, making the teas look more beautiful, but not affecting the taste.

4. Roasting (Optional) - Most producers in Taiwan do not roast their oolongs, though some consumers do ask for this step, which imparts a characteristic toasty and somewhat nutty flavor to the teas. Typically, this step would be done not by the grower but by the tea merchants. In roasting, the leaves are heated one final time in either an electric oven or in bamboo baskets over an electric heater, then stirred at 20 - 30 minute intervals for 2 - 60 hours. Roasting balances the flavors of the liquor and produces a sweeter and less astringent cup, while also reducing the caffeine levels in the tea.

 

Processing Black Oolong Teas

We will not go into as much detail about the process for Black Oolong Teas, as it is essentially the same we described in our What is Oolong Tea? blog. Black oolong teas are generally twisted instead of rolled, eliminating the need for the second day of processing that includes the rolling and compression cycle. The steps for making a black oolong are as follows:

  1. Plucking
  2. Withering
  3. Oxidation
  4. Panning
  5. Rolling
  6. Drying & Firing

Learn more about processing black oolongs >>

Shop Oolong Tea Online

Sources: 

Gascoyne, K., Marchand François, Desharnais, J., & Américi Hugo. (2016). Tea: History, terroirs, varieties. Firefly Books. Ltd.

    What is Oolong Tea?

    Oolongs are among the teas that are simultaneously most beloved by those who drink them and most ignored by those who don't. Part of this stems from their name: oolong. Green teas and black teas are obvious. Green teas are green and taste, well, green. Black teas are dark and taste dark. But oolongs? Oolongs sound fancy and unapproachable. 

    Today we're going to lift the veil and completely demystify oolongs, from taste profiles to production methods and regions to the best and most famous oolongs. 

    First, what is in a name? In Chinese, the name for what we call Oolong in the west is actually two characters meaning black (wū) dragon (long): 烏龍. This name is thought to refer to the shape of the leaves after they've been rolled into balls that resemble little dragons.

    Oolong, sometimes spelled wulong or wu-lung in English, is a semi-oxidized tea that goes through unique processing and can range from 10% - 70% oxidation. Because of this unique processing, oolong teas often have a mellow and balanced tannin without the astringency of green or black teas.

    (Note: For the purposes of this blog and explaining certain parts of the history of oolong tea, we will probably bounce around between the different spellings.)

    The Origins of Oolong Tea

    three white dishes against wood holding gabacha oolong wet leaves, dry leaves, and brewed tea

    I'm More Interested in How to Brew Oolong Tea >>

    China - The Birthplace of Oolong

    The official origin of oolong teas is lost to history, but there are several origin myths, if you will, that make convincing arguments. 

    Two origins hold that oolong teas likely originated in the Fujian province as part of a tea tradition known as Beiyuan - a type of tea given as tribute to the emperor. Located around the Phoenix (Fenghuang) Mountain in Fujian, which still produces some of the world's best teas today, this famous Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE) tea was compressed in little cakes. 

    The first origin story holds that oolong tea came into being as the aforementioned Beiyuan tribute teas transitioned from tea cakes to loose leaf teas, when the cakes fell out of favor with royalty during the Song Dynasty. The two tribute teas are long (dragon) and Fenghuang (phoenix). In this story, the new form of processing gave rise to the name Black Dragon, or oolong in English. 

    The next story is that during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912 CE) a man nicknamed Wulong in the Anxi region of Fujian became distracted during the harvest and accidentally allowed his leaves to oxidize. This is very, very similar to the founding myth of black tea, which blames an inconveniently invading army for interrupting the harvest, causing the good townfolk to abandon their crop and allow the leaves to fully oxidize. 

    The final origin story for oolong assumes that oolong was named for the Wuyi mountain range, where it was documented in 12th century Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) poems. This theory makes a lot of sense to those of us in the west because Wuyi sounds an awful lot like wulong, and many of the most famous Chinese rock oolongs hail from this region. Neat, right? But transliteration is a tricky game, and the Chinese characters for the Wuyi Mountain range literally translate to Mountains of Warrior Barbarians ... nothing to do with the color black OR dragons. 

    This brings us to a brief side note on Chinese words in English:

    The characters for oolong are: 烏 (wū, meaning black) 龍 (lóng, meaning dragon)

    The characters for the Wuyi Mountains are: 武 (wǔ, meaning military or warrior) 夷 (yí, meaning barbarian) 山 (shān, meaning mountain)

    It is worth noting here that transliteration is very imprecise, and more art than science. Transliteration is essentially the process of taking a word in one language and transcribing it in the alphabet of another language so it is easier to pronounce in that language. An easy example would be the English name Munich for the capital of Bavaria rather than the German München. For character languages like Chinese, transliteration into the Roman alphabet used in English is very imprecise and words are often written many ways. Hence: oolong, wulong, and wu-lung. 

    You can see, then, why it would be tempting to conflate Wuyi and wulong. After all, we write and pronounce Wulong and Wuyi the same way in English. Alas, the characters are different and pronounced differently in Chinese. The "wu" in wulong is "wū" while the "wu" in Wuyi is "wǔ". 

    All this is a long way to say that the origins of the word oolong are murky, but the simplest answer is probably the correct one: tastes and tea styles changed, and a new type of tea was born.

    Taiwan - A Hospitable Climate

    Taiwan is an island directly across the South China Sea from the Fuijian Province in China. With the very tall Zhong Yang San Mai mountain range in the middle that protects the western side of the island from large storms coming in from the ocean, and a temperate climate that rarely drops below 55° F with over 79 inches of rainfall on average, the Western regions of Taiwan are ideal for growing tea.

    In the early 1800s a tea merchant decided to see if tea would grow in Taiwan. A very hospitable climate for tea, the cultivation of tea quickly spread throughout the island. It wasn't until 1868, however, that the Taiwanese began processing oolongs themselves, having previously sent the leaves to Fujian for processing. John Dodd, a British merchant, decided this was incredibly inefficient and persuaded tea masters from Fujian to begin processing teas in Taipei. Beginning then and continuing till now, oolong is the most exported tea from Taiwan. 

    How is Oolong Made?

    The Process for Making Oolong

    Like most teas, oolongs go through a six or seven step process of plucking, withering, oxidation, firing (halting oxidation using heat), rolling, and drying. After drying, some teas will then be roasted to impart a warm, nutty, almost cereal-like flavor to the teas. 

    The Chinese and Taiwanese tea producers have different methods for producing oolongs, with Taiwanese rolled oolongs like our Ali Shan or Shan Lin Xi going through additional processes on the second day called heating/stirring, rolling, and compression. This process, repeated 10-20 times, is how Taiwanese oolongs are shaped into very tiny, compressed rolls of tea that unfurl when infused into beautiful, full leaves. 

    Oolong Tea & Oxidation Levels

    Oolong can be the most intimidating category of tea because there is no clear cut rule for what oxidation level classifies tea as oolong. Instead, oolongs exist in this nebulous category of semi-oxidized, which can range from 10% - 70% oxidation, making it difficult to say definitively "I like oolongs". You may find that you love high mountain Taiwanese oolongs but you're not a fan of rock oolongs from the Wuyi Mountains, for example. 

    A quick glance at our shelves of oolongs in the store, or the oolong page on our website, nicely visualizes the range in oxidation, from the very lightly oxidized Ali Shan with its pale gold liquor to the heavily oxidized Shui Xian Lao Cong with its liquor of a clear, deep amber.

    You can use both the color of the liquor and the production regions as reliable indicators of whether or not you will enjoy a certain oolong. The best way to figure this out? Taste, taste, taste and taste some more teas!

    What is oxidation?

    Oxidation is a natural enzymatic process that becomes possible as soon as the leaves are plucked from the tea trees. Green tea is an unoxidized tea, so the leaves are handled as little as possible during the withering phase to avoid triggering oxidation, then the leaves are quickly heated to halt natural enzymatic oxidation after being allowed to wither for a short time. Black teas, by contrast, are fully oxidized teas, and this oxidation is further encouraged by rolling the leaves after withering to break down the cell structures that trigger oxidation. 

    You may have guessed by now that oolong teas are the goldilocks of oxidation. Oolongs came into being because tea producers mastered the oxidation process, making it a precise art. This precision allows them to start and stop oxidation to achieve the perfect expression of their leaf and terroir.

    How does oxidation affect the way oolongs taste? 

    Lightly oxidized (green) oolongs will be light in character and have delicate, floral aromas.

    More oxidized (black) oolongs have notes of wood, spice, and fruit and may even have a hint of sweetness.

    The Role Altitude Plays in Oolong Production

    You may have noticed in our discussions up to now that we've mentioned several mountains, both in China and Taiwan. This may, in turn, have caused you to wonder if there's a special connection between either tea and mountains or, more specifically, oolongs and mountains.

    While tea does not need to be grown at higher altitudes, there is a definite correlation between altitude and quality of harvest. Many of the world's best teas come from small, high-altitude gardens, where the terroir (the flavors soil, climate, and environment contribute to a food or beverage) and production methods combine to produce highly flavorful and aromatic teas. 

    Taiwanese High Mountain Oolongs

    All tea trees grown above 3,300 feet (1,000 m) are referred to as Gao Shan Cha, meaning "high altitude tea". Taiwan is one of the only tea producing countries to distinguish between high and low altitude teas, with high altitude oolongs being the more sought after due to their complex aromas and flavors. The colder weather at high altitudes slows the growth of tea trees, concentrating the aromatic oils in the leaves, while thick fog often reduces sunshine to just a few hours per day. As with shading for Japanese green teas, this reduced sunlight increases the plant's chlorophyll production and causes the tea trees to produce amino acid and nitrogen-rich, vibrantly dark green shoots. The fog adds another advantage, moistening the leaves and keeping them soft, which helps the leaves to remain supple and aids in processing. Some beautiful high mountain Taiwanese oolongs include our Ali Shan, Dong Ding, and Shan Lin Xi

    Chinese Rock Oolongs

    Soil and environment also plays a large role in high altitude teas. The most famous example of this would be the rock oolongs from the Wuyi Mountains, which retain the mineral flavors of their rocky, high-altitude soil once brewed. We encourage you to try either Da Hong Pao or Qi Lan Wuyi to experience rock oolong for yourself!

    How Do You Brew Oolong Tea?

    To prepare your oolong, you will first want to look at the dry leaves. If the dry leaves are tightly rolled, we recommend adding a hot water rinse to your usual tea preparation in order to help the leaves unfurl and fully infuse. This step is particularly important when brewing in the gongfu method with a gaiwan or yixing! 

    For a western-style brew, we recommend 5 grams of tea to 16 ounces of water. For most rolled oolongs, this will be about 1 tsp of tea. Twisted oolongs like Da Hong Pao will likely require 1.5 teaspoons because they are more voluminous in their dry state. 

    Most oolongs, regardless of oxidation, will be brewed at 195° F for about 3 minutes in a western-style cup or teapot. You will notice as your tea brews that the tightly furled rolls open to reveal large, full leaves. For this reason, we recommend a large infuser like our 400ml Glass Infuser to make sure your leaves have plenty of room to unfurl and interact with the water.

    A note for those who love milk and sweetener in their teas! We recommend holding off on your usual splash or spoonful and tasting your oolong before diving into your tea preparation ritual. In general, oolong teas have very mild tannin, and you might decide they do not require your usual amount of either milk or honey!

    Learn more about the different methods for brewing Oolong teas >>

    Green box with bee reading: Discover Oolong

    Sources: 

    Gascoyne, K., Marchand François, Desharnais, J., & Américi Hugo. (2016). Tea: History, terroirs, varieties. Firefly Books. Ltd.

     

    What is Black Tea?

    Pouring black tea into a flowered tea cup with a pile of black tea leaves

    The Origins of Black Tea

    Black tea is a delicious, robust tea with warm flavors and an often distinct astringency. It is delicious plain, with a dollop of milk, or sweetened with honey. We drink bracing black teas to warm up on cold winter days, sweet iced black teas to cool down in the summer, and weakly brewed teas with lots of honey for sore throats. For these and many other reasons, black tea is the tea we are most familiar with in the West. But interestingly, black tea is a relative late comer to the tea world and did not exist as we know it today before the 17th century. 

    Prior to the invention / discovery of black tea, most Chinese people consumed primarily green teas and oolongs. In the 17th century, however, Europe began importing tea and a whole new market opened up - but this new market was not without its challenges. It is thought that the Chinese started experimenting with oxidation and fermentation to prolong the shelf-life of teas that now had to make very long ocean or overland voyages to an increasingly voracious foreign market in Europe. And, thus, black tea was born!

    Today, black tea is produced in many different countries, including China, Japan, Taiwan, India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Rwanda, and more!

    How is Black Tea Made?

    If you started reading this article thinking that there is a black tea plant and a green tea plant, you are not alone! This is a common misconception in parts of the world where the tea plant (camellia sinensis) doesn't grow natively - like here in the United States! It is natural to assume that two beverages with such wildly different colors and flavor profiles must come from different plants. In practice, however, how the leaves are processed changes their appearance, flavor, and even chemical composition, creating the beautiful white, green, oolong, black, and pu erh teas we enjoy so much.

    The Process for Making Black Tea

    1. Plucking

    Most black teas are made from mature camellia sinensis leaves and may be plucked either by hand or by machine. Special black teas like golden bud teas and teas known as “beautiful teas” are carefully plucked by hand to ensure composition and quality. 

    2. Withering

    Chinese Black Teas

    During the withering phase, leaves are withered either naturally or mechanically. In natural withering the leaves are spread on the ground or bamboo racks for 5 to 6 hours with frequent stirring. Mechanized withering takes about 4 hours and uses sieves over brick containers that are heated using hot air circulated from wood fires (this gives Chinese black tea its characteristic smoky flavor). Withering removes about 60% of the moisture from the leaves and allows the leaves to soften, preparing them for rolling.

    Indian Black Teas

    In India, producers reduce the water content of leaves by spreading the freshly picked leaves out in withering vats. The leaves are spread on grids of metal, jute, or plastic that allow air to circulate. The humidity and temperature are constantly monitored during withering, and after 14-17 hours the moisture content of the leaves will be reduced by 60-70%. 

    3. Rolling

    Once the leaves are withered and softened, they are rolled by hand or by machine to break down the structure of the cells, triggering enzymatic oxidation. 

    4. Oxidation

    Black tea is fully oxidized, giving the leaves their characteristic dark hue that brews to a beautiful, deep-reddish-brown liquor. How your black tea is oxidized depends on the traditions of the production region and tea estate. 

    Oxidation is the defining step of black tea production, and it all comes down to some pretty interesting chemistry. During oxidation, the originally colorless polyphenols in camellia sinensis leaves are transformed into theaflavins and thearubigins. It is this breakdown that gives black tea its color and astringency - and also leads to the interesting way your body processes the caffeine in different teas (hint: black tea might not be as caffeinated compared to green tea as you think!)

    If your oxidation period lasts too long, the tea will develop a thick liquor and a strong, almost fermented taste. Too little oxidation results in a thin liquor and a green or raw infusion. 

    Chinese Black Teas

    Dependent on the conditions of the day and location, the oxidation process for black teas may last 8-12 hours. During oxidation, the leaves are spread out and covered with wet cloths to further stimulate the enzymatic oxidation reaction. The ambient temperature should be around 72°F. 

    Indian Black Teas

    Indian black teas are spread out on ceramic or steel trays in a humid environment between 68 and 86°F. For quicker oxidation, the leaves are spread in a thin layer. Alternatively, if the producer is looking for a slower oxidation, the layer will be relatively thick. In modern times, humidity may be controlled by a humidifier to maintain at least 90% humidity. Some first flush Darjeelings may only oxidize for 15-30 minutes! Many teas from Assam, in contrast, will oxidize for up to 4 hours. Either way, this is far less time than it takes to oxidize leaves using the traditional Chinese method. 

    5. Drying

    Oxidation is halted and residual moisture is removed using various techniques until the moisture content is down to 2-6%. Most methods in China involve blowing warm air through conveyer belts. Indian black teas are placed on conveyors or revolving trays in heated machines. 

    6. Sorting & Sifting

    At this point in the process, the tea leaves are sorted into different grades and undesirable elements like dust, branches and other residue are removed. In China, higher quality teas are usually hand sifted using a bamboo sieve. In India, the leaves are sorted using vibrating grids of varying sizes placed on top of each other. This keeps the larger leaves on top, intermediate leaves in the middle, and crushed leaves and dust at the bottom. (Fun Fact: In Darjeeling all teas are sorted this way and leaf size is used as an indicator of grade.)

    7. Firing (Optional - Chinese Black Teas Only)

    This last, optional stage of the process further reduces moisture content and aids batch standardization. 

    Is There a Difference Between Chinese Black Teas and Indian Black Teas?

    In an effort to reduce trade reliance on China, the British developed the tea industry in India in the late 19th century. Their focus in this development was as much if not more about efficiency than quality, and almost all Indian teas are processed mechanically. 

    The key differences between Chinese black teas and Indian black teas is characteristic flavor. Most Chinese black teas will have a more mellow tannin and may have a slightly smokier flavor depending on how they are withered and fired. 

    Most Indian black teas, on the other hand, have a more prominent and astringent tannin. If you are a fan of Breakfast Teas, you prefer the strong, robust flavors of an Indian black tea like Assam. Darjeeling is a bit more nuanced with particularly high quality tea estates producing extremely aromatic teas with notes of spice, fruit, and malt.

    These differences in flavor are attributable to both terroir and production. Below we go over some of the key differences between how Chinese and Indian tea producers process black tea.

    The Orthodox Method - India

    Developed around 1860, the Orthodox Method uses a largely mechanized process and is used to produce the higher grade Indian teas. This process includes all the steps mentioned above: Plucking, Withering, Rolling, Oxidation, Drying, and Sorting.

    The CTC Method - India

    Developed in the 1930s, the Crush-Tear-Curl (CTC) method speeds up the oxidation process and increases the quantity and speed of harvest yields. Rather than the more complex Orthodox or Chinese methods for processing black teas, CTC consists only of a quick withering followed by cutting and crushing rather than rolling. The leaves are then further torn apart in a machine called a Rotorvane. Then the leaves are rolled into small beads in a large barrel. Usually the leaves used for CTC teas are of a coarser, inferior quality.

    This method of course revolutionized the tea industry in much the same way that mechanization changed the world during the Industrial Revolution. Similarly, this revolution in efficiency was at the expense of quality in favor of efficiency, volume, and uniformity. 

    Camellia Sinensis Sinensis vs. Camellia Sinensis Assamica

    Most black teas are made from the tea plant camellia sinensis var. assamica. Assamica is native to both India and the Yunnan Province in China, and it was the discovery of assamica in India that allowed the British to establish the tea trade in that country. Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, with sinensis referring to China, literally means Chinese tea plant. Today, there are many different cultivars from both var. sinensis and var. assamica grown to produce teas and you will find both varietals in multiple regions. That said, it is safe to assume that if you are drinking a black tea it is likely var. assamica, even if it's not from the Assam region in India!

    How is Black Tea Different from Green Tea?

    Black tea and green tea differ in one major area: oxidation. In green teas, the natural enzymatic oxidation is halted after withering using either steaming (Japan) or panning (China). This additional step of heating the leaves until the enzymes that cause oxidation lose their potency is essential in keeping green teas, well, green!

    What is the Best Black Tea? (Black Tea Grades)

    As with many things, what you think is the best black tea will be subjective and based on your own tastes. With that said, black tea grades are not necessarily an indication of quality, though it is true that most whole leaf teas will be of better quality than crushed. This is because whole leaf teas brew a more nuanced and aromatic infusion while broken and crushed leaves result in a darker liquor with a flatter flavor profile. 

    The three major tea grades are: whole, broken, and crushed, referring to the state of the leaves. 

    If you’re looking for a way to differentiate your whole leaf teas, in China the quality of tea is usually indicated by growing region and producer. You will find that terroir (the character soil conditions impart to a tea) is an excellent way to determine whether or not you will like a particular tea. Both Yunnan and Fujian Provinces are renowned for their black teas and are an excellent place to start your explorations!

    In India, the British and Dutch traders established a complex grading system based on the size and quality of the leaves. 

    Some key grading vocabulary:

    • Tippy - the presence of flowering buds
    • Golden - the tips (buds) that turn golden after oxidation
    • Flowery - the floral aroma released by buds
    • Orange - a historical reference to the first European importers of tea: the Holland-Nassau Dutch royal family 
    • Pekoe - meaning “white down,” pekoe comes from pak-ho and refers to the final bud on the branch typically covered in a fine, white down.
    • Quality Indicators: Special, Finest, 1

    The producers will use the first initials of these grading terms to indicate the quality of the tea. Sometimes they will add Special, Finest, or the numeral 1 to indicate exceptional batches. 

    Our Ceylon Orange Pekoe, therefore, is not an orange flavored black tea, but a whole leaf black tea with buds from Sri Lanka (colonial name: Ceylon)!

    How Do You Prepare Black Tea?

    While there is definitely room for nuance in the preparation of black teas (for example, some First Flush Darjeelings may benefit from a shorter steep and cooler water), most black teas may be brewed for 3 minutes with water that’s just under boiling at 205°F.  

    We recommend 5 grams of tea to 16oz of hot water (this is our standard to-go size at our tea bar). Most mugs at home will hold about 6-8oz of liquid and use 2-3g of tea. Don’t forget whole leaf teas may be re-steeped several times in the Western method at increasing time intervals. 

    For traditional brewing, you will fill your Gaiwan or Yixing about 1/3 full and brew at 205°F for about 45 seconds to 1 minute. Full leaf black teas brewed in this manner will steep 5-6 times at decreasing time intervals as the leaves open more fully. 

    Shop Loose Leaf Black Teas Online Green Button with Saratoga Tea & Honey Bee

    Sources: 

    Gascoyne, K., Marchand François, Desharnais, J., & Américi Hugo. (2016). Tea: History, terroirs, varieties. Firefly Books. Ltd.

    What is Green Tea?

    You've probably heard the buzz-worthy news stories about how green tea is the healthiest tea or green tea is the best tea for weight loss or that green tea has the most caffeine. But what is green tea, really?

    two cups of green tea served with a tea cake

    So... what is green tea, really? 

    While part of me wishes we could simply put a sentence here that says "Green tea is..." and give you a one line definition, the other part of me doesn't want to oversimplify a tradition literally thousands of years in the making. So first, I'm going to roll things back a bit and very briefly discuss tea as a whole before diving into what makes green tea green. (If you're too impatient, you can skip down to: How is Green Tea Made?)

    What is tea (and where does tea come from)?

    Tea is a beverage made from steeping the dried leaves of the tea tree (latin name camellia sinensis) in hot water. The tea tree is a plant native to China and other tropical and subtropical regions with a few notable variants. Over thousands of years, humans have cultivated tea trees, developed processes for creating a variety of delicious beverages from the camellia sinensis leaves, and fought many wars to ensure they can continue cultivating and drinking tea.

    Do green tea and black tea come from different plants?

    tea plants (camellia sinensis)

    In a word, no. But if you thought green tea and black tea were different plants, don't spend too much time dwelling on it. The idea that green and black teas come from different plants is a common one - especially in Western countries where tea is consumed but not cultivated, like much of North America and Europe. In fact, until botanist Robert Fortune disguised himself as a tea merchant to gain access to Chinese tea gardens in the mid-19th century, most Europeans labored under this exact misconception because it makes so much sense. Black tea and green tea taste so wildly different, it's almost more fantastical to believe they come from the same leaves. (Aside: We're going to ignore the shady corporate espionage aspect of this discovery for now and save that for another day and another blog.)

    All types of tea that we drink come from the same plant: camellia sinensis. As with many plants, there are different varieties that may lend themselves better to growth in certain regions or to the production of one type of tea over another.

    Camellia sinensis var. sinensis is mainly cultivated in China and is used to produce all types of tea, from white to green to oolong to black to pu erh

    Camellia sinensis var. assamica was discovered by Scottish Major Robert Bruce growing wild in the Assam region of India in the early 19th century, and it is now mainly grown in India, Africa, and Sri Lanka to produce black teas. 

    Camellia sinensis var. cambodiensis is rarely used to cultivate teas since it is less aromatic and flavorful than the sinensis and assamica varietals, but it is often used in the creation of new cultivars. (Cultivars are hybridizations selected for their specific characteristics, like flavor, hardiness, etc. Some famous cultivars include Long Jing 43 or Tie Guan Yin.)

    (Note: Most Pu Erh from the Yunnan province in China will be from var. assamica, which also grows wild in Yunnan, while Darjeeling is actually cultivated from var. sinensis plants the British transplanted from China.)

    Does green tea have more caffeine than black tea? Learn more >>

    How is Green Tea Made?

    freshly picked tea leaves being sorted into baskets in Taiwan

    There are six main stages to making green tea. These stages will vary based on country, tradition, and type of tea made. For purposes of this blog, we will only break out the most significant differences in production between the two most prolific producers of green tea in the world: China and Japan.

    1. Plucking
    2. Withering
    3. Panning (China) / Steaming (Japan)
    4. Rolling
    5. Drying
    6. Sifting

    1. The Process of Making Green Tea: Plucking

    Plucking is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: harvesting the tea leaves. For high quality teas, especially in China, much plucking is done by hand. Most green teas consist of the bud and first one or two leaves of each stem, though there are exceptions. Japanese green teas may be plucked by hand or by machine depending on the type of tea and region. 

    2. The Process of Making Green Tea: Withering (Mostly China)

    Once the leaves are plucked, they are immediately transferred to the factory where they will be withered to remove the water content of the leaves. Withering time will vary based on the leaves themselves, weather conditions, and the type of tea being made. Traditionally in China, leaves were withered on bamboo racks for 1-3 hours. Now they may be mechanically spun dry for a few minutes while fans blow air through the leaves. 

    This is also the step where green tea begins to differ from oolong and black teas. As soon as the leaves are plucked, they begin to undergo a natural process of oxidation in which the enzymes in the leaves are reacting to the air. To create green teas, this process of oxidation must be interrupted and halted, which brings us to our next step in the process of making green tea.

    3. The Process of Making Green Tea: Halting Oxidation

    Chinese Green Teas: Panning

    Stopping the natural oxidation reaction is a key part of creating the green teas we all know and love. In China, the traditional method to stop the natural oxidation reaction is called panning. Small quantities of the leaves are pressed to the bottom of pans or vats heated with wood, coal, or electricity. The leaves are stirred constantly to prevent them from burning. 

    Panning may also be a mechanized process, in which leaves are heated in rotating cylinders at least three times.

    Halting the oxidation in this manner gives Chinese green tea its characteristic nutty aroma. Try our Organic Long Jing Zhejiang (Dragonwell) for a stellar example of a lovely, nutty Chinese green tea.

    Shop Chinese green teas >>

    Japanese Green Teas: Steaming

    While some Japanese tea producers will wither their leaves, many opt to send freshly plucked leaves straight to the steamer. 

    How long the leaves are steamed has a surprisingly intense effect in regards to the aroma and flavor of the teas. Short steaming periods (20 to 40 seconds) produce light teas with larger, broken leaves and notes of green vegetables in the Asamushi style. Longer steaming periods (40 to 80 seconds) cause the leaves to soften, leading to smaller, more broken leaves with a more intense flavor and color. This is known as the Fukamushi style and is the type of Japanese green tea preferred by most in Japan today. Our Kabusecha Takamado is a lovely example of a longer-steam Japanese green tea. 

    Japanese Green Teas: Cooling & First Drying

    At this stage, Japanese green teas undergo two extra steps: cooling and first drying. Once the leaves are steamed, they are cooled in one of two ways: by being blown through tubes using air jets or being placed in large rotating cylinders. You can think of this as almost a reversal of the middle two steps in Chinese green tea processing: the Japanese remove the moisture and excess humidity from their green tea leaves after halting oxidation instead of before. 

    After cooling, the Japanese green tea leaves are then dried in a rotating cylinder at 210 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 min, then again in a similar machine at a lower temperature (about 175 degrees Fahrenheit). These cylinders contain mechanical arms made of bamboo that mix the leaves continuously and affect color, tannin, and - of course! - taste.

    Shop Japanese green teas >>

    4. The Process of Making Green Tea: Rolling

    After stopping natural oxidation, the tea leaves are rolled. In Chinese teas, this step gives them their characteristic shapes and breaks down the cell structures to release aromatic oils. Rolling Japanese green teas softens stems and similarly releases aromatic oils.

    5. The Process of Making Green Tea: Drying 

    Chinese green teas are dried to stabilize the aromas released during rolling and reduce any remaining moisture content to about 2-4%, eliminating the risk of mold. 

    Japanese green teas also go through a second drying after rolling for 20 to 40 minutes at 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Similar to the reasoning for the drying in processing Chinese green tea, this step stabilizes the aromas and oils released in rolling and reducing moisture content further.

    Japanese Green Teas: Shaping & 3rd Drying

    After the second drying, Japanese green teas are then manipulated into their characteristic needle-like shape in a mechanized process that takes 40 to 60 minutes at high temperatures (between 158 to 248 degrees Fahrenheit). 

    After shaping, Japanese green teas will then circulate on a conveyor belt for about 30 minutes for a third drying at about 185 degrees Fahrenheit. 

    6. The Process of Making Green Tea: Sifting & Sorting

    Both Japanese and Chinese green teas are sifted and sorted to remove leaves that broke during the process, sort out stems, etc. Different batches may be grouped together and blended. 

    Japanese Green Teas: Final Drying

    After grouping, sifting, and sorting, Japanese green teas will undergo one final drying at about 105 degrees Fahrenheit, though temperature and time will depend on the type of tea and desired taste. As with Chinese green teas, the longer the Japanese green tea leaves are fired in this final drying, the more the leaves will move away from their fresh, grassy notes towards aromas of fresh, grilled nuts. 

    Why is green tea called green tea?

    And now we come to the 'Thank you, Captain Obvious' portion of our blog where I get to tell you that green tea is called green tea because... it's green! 

    Green tea is prized for being as close to the original color and flavor of the tea plant as it is possible to get. Thanks to the many, many people who figured out how to process tea leaves over thousands of years, we are able to halt the natural oxidation process and create the drink that truly resembles the fresh, vibrancy of the living tea plant. This is why tasting notes for green teas will often include words like vegetal, spring shoots, or even grassy. 

    Which is your favorite green tea? Explore our collection of Chinese and Japanese green teas and let us know which style you prefer on Facebook or Instagram!

    Green button reading: Shop Green Tea

    Sources: 

    Gascoyne, K., Marchand François, Desharnais, J., & Américi Hugo. (2016). Tea: History, terroirs, varieties. Firefly Books. Ltd.

    Does Green Tea Have More Caffeine Than Black Tea?

    A seemingly innocuous question with a surprisingly complicated answer, we both relish and dread the frequently asked: "how much caffeine is in X tea?". 

    We relish this question about caffeine in tea because the answer is fun, but we dread it because the answer is anything but straightforward. In a day and age when you can pull out your phone, google "how much caffeine is in black tea versus green tea," and have a conversion chart pop up on your screen, most people just want a number. 

    We've compromised over the years and developed a chart with a caffeination range for each type of tea (below). But if you want the whole story about how much caffeine is in your daily cuppa, keep reading. 

    green tea steeping in a traditional gaiwan set on a bamboo tea boat

    How Much Caffeine is in Tea?

    How much caffeine is in your tea is a complicated combination of factors, not the least of which are: brew time, water temp, quantity of tea, and amount of water used. There's also some really cool science stuff to do with how the caffeine molecule in tea binds with a specific phenol that we will get to in a bit. 

    Why we beat around the bush about how much caffeine is in your tea

    If a guest asks us which tea to buy to get the most caffeine, the answer is easy: Matcha. Since matcha is powdered green tea, you're consuming the entire tea leaf and ingesting all of its amazing nutrients, antioxidants, and - yes! - caffeine molecules. Ergo, matcha has similar amounts of caffeine as coffee!

    Find out if matcha is a good replacement for your daily coffee! >>

    When it comes to how much caffeine is extracted by infusing tea leaves, however, the story gets a bit more complicated. 

    How much caffeine is in any particular cup is going to be very dependent on the strength of your cup: ie., brew time, temp, quantity of tea, and amount of water used.

    A few obvious notes about tea and caffeine:

    • More tea = more caffeine
    • Longer steep = more caffeine
    • Second steep = less caffeine 

    Just those few variables can make quite a bit of difference in how much caffeine is in your tea. And don't even get us started on cold brew versus hot brew iced tea! (Hint: Cold brew tea has less caffeine and mellower tannins.)

    But honestly? That's not even the most interesting reason we hesitate when it comes to telling you how much caffeine is in your tea. (See below: the cool science stuff about how your body processes caffeine in tea.)

    A few less obvious notes about caffeine in tea:

    Growing, harvesting, and processing techniques also all play a role in how much caffeine is in your cup of tea. 

    • Green and white teas made from early buds and leaves = more caffeine in laboratory tests 
    • Roasted tea = less caffeine
    • Stem tea = less caffeine
    • Added spices and herbs = less caffeine

    For this reason, pu erh (aged) teas and oolongs are generally lower in caffeine than green and black teas. Scented teas will also be lower in caffeine simply because there is less tea per volume in your cup. 

    Why the amount of caffeine in tea might not correspond to how your body processes it

    Caffeine in tea is processed differently in the body than the caffeine in other drinks like coffee because tea contains an antioxidant called catechin.

    Catechins have a lot of awesome properties, but the most interesting is how they bind with caffeine in tea. This bound molecule is much harder for your body to digest than regular caffeine, which is why many people report that the caffeine in tea does not make them jittery, improves focus, and lasts longer than a cup of coffee. 

    Even more interesting, different teas have varied levels of catechins. Green teas have much more catechin than black teas because oxidation breaks down the catechins and creates a more complex polyphenol. These new polyphenols in black tea do not bind to the caffeine in the same way, making the caffeine much more easily digestible.

    For this reason, even though a green tea may test higher in caffeine in a laboratory setting, you may not notice its effects in the same way you would the more easily digestible caffeine in a black tea that tested lower in caffeine. In fact, you are more likely to report that green tea improved your focus for a longer amount of time because your body took longer to process the caffeine.

    Cool, right?

    Finally, a chart on caffeine in tea

    Because there are so many variables contributing to how many milligrams of caffeine there are in any given cup of tea, not to mention how your body processes it, we have put together a chart with caffeine ranges for each type of tea. 

    As a general rule of thumb, tea has much less caffeine than coffee (with the notable exception of matcha). Green and black teas will have comparable levels of caffeine, but your body will process the caffeine differently, so it may seem like black tea has more caffeine per cup in terms of how you experience the effects of caffeination.

    If you're looking for caffeine free options, check out our naturally caffeine-free herbal tisanes! >>

    Caffeine content of tea versus coffee

    *Caffeine Content range based on liquid chromatography-UV of teas infused in a teapot with 2 cups water; matcha was whisked in a bowl with 1/2 cup of water.

    What is Boba and How Do You Make Bubble Tea?

    A cup of boba sits on the counter at Saratoga Tea and Honey with the chalkboard menu visible in the background

     

    DISCLAIMER: We do not currently serve Boba at our Tea Bar. We encourage you to try the bubble milk tea at Storied Coffee just down the road in Scotia, instead!

    You asked and we answered! Saratoga Tea and Honey has been working behind the scenes to bring you boba tea pop-ups! Of course we wanted to make sure you got what you wanted but it had to meet certain standards for us. Instead of just adding boba to any of our teas, we have been working to make sure that you get the full experience of the tapioca pearls (boba) blending with our tea and honey. 

    Where Did Boba Come From?

    The history of boba includes a story that seems almost like a made-for-tv movie. In the 1980s, several different people claim to have created the tea that has become the unofficial, official drink of Taiwan. Some of the stories seem to be more believable than others though.

    In the first story, there is a teahouse in Taichung whose owner noticed that people from Japan enjoyed iced coffee, so he decided to try doing the same thing to teas, and it became a hit! He was having a meeting one day and the product manager decided to add tapioca balls to her iced tea and the staff loved it. Bubble tea eventually made its way to their menu.

    In another story, an artist was visiting a market in Tainan and saw vendors selling tapioca balls which were a childhood favorite snack. He decided to add the white tapioca pearls to his green tea and decided to sell it. He also experimented with adding the bigger black tapioca pearls, which are the boba that we have come to love in our bubble teas today. 

    So I know you are asking yourself sure this is dramatic but what makes it a story built for a made-for-tv movie? Well, there was a lawsuit filed in order to have the court decide who the rightful creator of boba was. This lawsuit dragged on for 10 years! In the end, there wasn't an "Aha!" moment where the court announced the creator like the winner of American Idol though. The court decided that it didn't matter who the creator was, it only mattered that anyone could make bubble tea and everyone can enjoy the experience of drinking it.

    How to Make Boba

    While it is easy to go out and buy boba already made, there are ways to make your own at home. This recipe could come in handy with the possibility of a boba shortage due to the pandemic. 

    What you will need:

    1/4 cup buckwheat honey

    70 mL (or 70g weight) water 

    1/2 cup tapioca flour plus more to coat

    1. Bring honey and water to a rolling boil. Add a few tablespoons of tapioca flour and mix in really well. Add remaining flour and work in until it forms a soft ball. You may need to add another dusting of flour to coat dough before transferring to work surface. 
    2. Knead the dough until smooth. It will be hot so be careful, but don’t let it cool too much because it gets harder to work with as it cools, which is important for the next step.
    A ball of uncooked boba dough sits on a glass cutting board on a marble kitchen counter
    3. Divide into three parts and roll each part into approximately a 1/4” diameter snake, then cut into about 1/8” pieces to form balls.
    A glass bowl is full of uncooked boba pearls on a marble kitchen counter
    4. Toss with a dusting of tapioca flour to keep them from sticking. 

    *Yields: 75-100 pearls depending on the size 

    To make boba for bubble tea:

    Bring 400 ml water and 1tbsp buckwheat honey to a boil. Drop in tapioca balls and boil for 3-4 min. Remove from heat, strain boba if using right away or reserve simple syrup for boba storage. 

    A mason jar with uncooked boba pearls sits on a marble kitchen counter next to a honey jar with cooked boba in a simple syrup

    How to Make a Bubble Tea

    There are a few elements that are necessary in order to make a bubble tea also known as boba. There are the obvious ingredients such as the tapioca pearls and tea, but most boba also contains milk or a nondairy milk option. 

    In a cup, add about 100 boba pearls with buckwheat simple syrup. In a cocktail shaker, add ice to fill up halfway then top with approximately 4 oz. of milk or oat milk. Top off the rest of the shaker with iced tea that has been brewed to be super strong. We have been using Russian Caravan for a traditional black tea or One Night in Rio to provide a fruity option. Shake well and pour over boba pearls to serve.

    Resources:

    McEneaney, Ciaran. “A Brief History of Pearl Milk Tea.” Culture Trip, The Culture Trip, 26 May 2017, theculturetrip.com/asia/taiwan/articles/a-brief-history-of-pearl-milk-tea/.

    Wong, Maggie Hiufu. “The Rise of Bubble Tea, One of Taiwan's Most Beloved Beverages.” CNN, Cable News Network, 30 Apr. 2020, www.cnn.com/travel/article/taiwan-bubble-tea-origins/index.html.

    15 Most Refreshing Iced Teas for Summer 2021

    three cups of iced tea with green and white striped straws

    The sun is shining, little bits of green are already starting to peek through in our upstate gardens, and the days are getting longer and warmer...  This of course has us thinking about what iced teas we're going to be enjoying at home, on the lake, and at our Tea Bar this summer!

    There's nothing more refreshing than an ice cold glass of cold brewed tea on a hot summer's day, and we're going to share a few of the best teas for making iced tea based on customer reviews and our experience of how well they brew. 

    Whether you are looking for an invigorating boost of morning caffeine or a refreshing afternoon thirst-quencher, our favorite teas and caffeine-free herbal tisanes for making iced tea are sure to be a hit with you and yours. 

    The Best Iced Teas for Summer

    Since taste is a rather subjective measure, we are organizing our best iced teas by category and caffeine content rather than a ranking system. But stick around to the end of the article to find out what our most-requested, number one best iced tea is according to our CommuniTEA!

    Best Iced Green Teas

    Matcha

    A wonderfully vibrant and brisk green tea made from powdered green tea leaves, Matcha is a highly caffeinated and invigorating drink - especially iced! Shake your matcha in a cocktail shaker with ice, water, and a little Mango Honey simple syrup for a delightfully tropical start to your morning!

    Long Jing

    One of the most famous Chinese green teas, the lightly vegetal and sweetly nutty character of Long Jing green tea makes for a refreshingly light iced green tea. We recommend pairing this delightful iced Chinese green tea with Peach Honey to make a luscious and thirst-quenching peach tea.

    Kukicha

    Bright and sweet, Kukicha cold brews to a brilliant lime green and has just as much lively character as its color would suggest. One of our absolute favorites iced, Kukicha pairs well with our fruit infused honeys (but we think it's best enjoyed plain)!

    Best Iced Black Teas

    Darjeeling

    Darjeeling has long been one of the world's most popular black teas for a reason: it's absolutely delicious and extremely versatile! Well-balanced tannins with notes of malt and dried fruit make Darjeeling the perfect answer to both cold winter mornings and hot summer afternoons. We love how our Darjeeling cold brews to perfection for an excellently balanced iced black tea. Pair with local Wildflower Honey for sweet tea sippin' and front porch sittin'. 

    Keemun Mao Feng

    Keemun Mao Feng is probably the most-brewed iced black tea on our Tea Bar menu here at our Saratoga Springs flagship store. The lovely and mellow notes of sweet potato and chocolate give way to even tannins, making Mao Feng the perfect choice for iced black tea - whether you plan to brew it cold or hot. We recommend our Mao Feng without honey, but sweet tea lovers will enjoy Tupelo Honey in this delightfully balanced black iced tea.

    Best Iced Oolong Tea

    Da Hong Pao

    One of our more oxidized rock oolongs, Da Hong Pao has excellent character iced. Brisk and rustic enough for the tannins to come through even cold-brewed, we love the rugged quality of this oolong for beating back the heat of summer. If you're enjoying your Da Hong Pao hot in the morning, brew your second or third steep extra long and then cool down for a refreshing iced treat in the afternoon!

    Get Started on Iced Tea Season with our Good Libations Iced Tea Sampler....

    Best Flavored Iced Teas

    Blueberry Bumble

    Lightly fruity and perfectly refreshing, this blueberry scented white tea is a makes an excellent afternoon pick-me-up or way to cool down at Fourth-of-July BBQs. Cold brew this tea for best results and enjoy a berry iced tea that's uniquely satisfying. We recommend this blueberry tea with our Lemon Tree Honey for a light and refreshing afternoon drink. 

    Moroccan Mint

    Nothing quenches thirst quite like a mint green tea on a hot, steamy day. The refreshing combination of invigorating mint and energizing green tea is sure to cut through any heat-induced stupor and get you going for a fun afternoon in the sun. Pair our Moroccan Mint green tea with Wildflower Honey for a sweet but refreshing pairing.

    One Night in Rio

    Sipping this gorgeous combination of black tea, pineapple, and coconut will transport you immediately to white sand beaches and crystal blue waters. We recommend adding a splash of Mango Honey for extra tropical vibes and think this iced tea pairs particularly well with rum for adult drinks!

    Strawberry Fields

    Fruity drinks have a particularly thirst-quenching quality, and iced Strawberry Fields is no exception. Delightfully light, Strawberry Fields is a refreshing blend of berries, green, and white teas. We recommend cold brewing this tea and serving lightly sweetened with Lemon Tree Honey.

    Best Caffeine-Free Iced Teas

    Blood Orange Hibiscus

    Citrusy blood orange and tart hibiscus combine with stevia in this caffeine-free tea to make a naturally sweet and refreshing iced tea. Blood Orange Hibiscus is one of our favorite recommendations for iced tea because its sweet-tart flavor profile makes for a particularly satisfying glass. Brew this tea hot and then cool overnight in the refrigerator before straining for best results. Pair with Lemon Tree Honey for extra sweetness.

    Crimson Berry

    Even in winter, this sweet-tart combination of ripe berries and hibiscus is popular iced at our tea bar. A particularly refreshing combination of black currants, cranberries, elderberries, and hibiscus, our Crimson Berry is reminiscent of some Teavana faves. Brew this herbal tisane hot and cool in the refrigerator for several hours before straining for best results. Our CommuniTEA loves Crimson Berry plain with Mango or Wildflower Honey or shaken with Matcha for a berry-kick.

    Fountain of Youth

    On the other end of the caffeine-free spectrum we have this turmeric, black pepper, and cinnamon tisane that will appeal to black tea and coffee drinkers looking for a way to quench their summer thirst without caffeine. Wonderfully spicy and revitalizing, you'll definitely want this anti-inflammatory tisane in your summer rotation. Brew this herbal tisane hot and cool overnight in the refirgerator. Pair with Ghost Pepper Honey for a surprising, extra kick!

    La Provençale

    Named for southern France's famous lavender fields, La Provençale is a gorgeous blend of lavender, mint, rosemary and other herbs that will immediately transport you to summer in the French countryside. Brew this herbal tisane cold and steep overnight in the refrigerator. Shake your iced La Provençale with Matcha and Lavender Honey for a CommuniTEA favorite: the French Matcha.

    Spirit of Life

    A refreshing combination of grapefruit, apple, and spices, Spirit of Life is one of those fruity teas that will appeal to almost all palates. Invigorating spice from the cinnamon and cardamom will win over lovers of black tea and coffee while the grapefruit and apple appeal to lovers of bright fruit flavors. Brew this herbal tisane hot and steep overnight for best results. Pair with Orange Blossom Honey for a little extra sweetness. 

    The Number 1 Iced Tea in Saratoga

    iced matcha green tea in a mason jar being presented on a tray

    Have you guessed which one of these iced teas is consistently considered the best in Saratoga by popular demand? If you guessed either Matcha or Crimson Berry, you'd be right! Iced Matchas are hands-down our most popular iced caffeinated drink and weeks without Crimson Berry on the menu have been known to inspire an increase in submissions to our suggestions email. 

    Crimson Berry + Matcha

    That said, lots of teas make excellent iced teas - even those that didn't make our short list. Learn how to cold brew iced tea below and let us know your favorite iced tea on Instagram or Facebook - or in person the next time you're in our Saratoga Springs store!

    How to Cold Brew Iced Tea

    We find that cold brewing makes the best iced tea when you are brewing traditional teas in the green, black, white, or oolong families (yes, this includes scented or flavored teas with traditional tea bases). Many herbal tisanes, on the other hand, benefit from being started hot (though we do recommend letting them steep overnight as well). 

    Ingredients:

    12 grams of tea per 1 quart of water. 

    Directions for Teas:

    Steep 12 grams of tea per 1 quart of water in tap water overnight in the refrigerator (~12 hours). Strain in the morning (or after 12 hours) and enjoy within a week or two. 

    Directions for Herbal Tisanes:

    Steep 12 grams of tea per 1 quart of water in 205F hot water. Cool to room temperature and steep overnight in the refrigerator (~12 hours) before straining. 

    Recommended Iced Tea Pitchers

    two glass iced tea pitchers with infusers

    We've made a lot of iced tea over the years and have finally decided on our two favorite pitchers for brewing iced tea at home. We love the Takeya 2 quart pitcher with infuser basket and the 64oz Mist Iced Tea Jug. Both are excellent for brewing iced tea at home, though they are perhaps for different audiences. 

    While both pitchers are excellent quality and wonderful for brewing iced tea, we do recommend them for different purposes. The Takeya pitcher is a workhorse - we use these pitchers behind our tea bar and they are great for families where small hands pour glasses of tea and fridge space is limited. The Mist Jug is more elegant and refined, making a gorgeous addition to summer tablescapes and afternoons on the porch. 

     Image of three iced teas with the words "Buy Your Iced Tea Starter Kit"

    How Much Caffeine is in Chai Tea?

    chai latte surrounded by loose leaf masala chai tea on wood background

    Chai lattes are a perennial favorite at our Tea Bar, served hot for a cozy pick-me-up during the winter months or iced for a refreshing summertime treat. We generally have two types of chai available at the bar: one with caffeine and one naturally caffeine-free for our caffeine-conscious CommuniTEA. But recently we've found ourselves wondering - what is the actual caffeine content of traditional Masala Chai (spiced black tea), and how does the caffeine in chai compare to coffee or other teas?

    Does chai tea have caffeine?

    To answer this frequently asked question in a nutshell: yes, traditional black tea chai contains caffeine. (Which is why we've created a spicy herbal chai with a rooibos base for chai lovers who want to enjoy a cup of sweet and spicy deliciousness without the added kick of caffeine.)

    But first, let's back up a step and talk about what chai is, exactly, and why there's some confusion about its caffeine content. 

    What is Chai Tea?

    A cup of "tea tea," anyone?

    Masala Chai literally translates to "Spiced Tea," with "Chai" as the word for tea and "Masala" referring to any number of traditional Indian spice mixes that generally contain spices like cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, black pepper, and other similar spices (depending on personal taste and family recipe, your masala might also contain cloves, star anise, cumin, coriander, or even mace!). Masala Chai is a combination of this Masala spice mix and Indian black tea, traditionally Assam, though some recipes use Ceylon Orange Pekoe instead.

    Referring to Masala Chai as chai tea (or "tea tea") is a redundant habit that Western tea drinkers have developed due a lot of complicated linguistic and political history. But the gist is that somewhere along the line in late-colonial and post-colonial India, the word "chai" became synonymous for English-speakers with spiced black tea served sweet with warmed milk, instead of the entire phrase: "Masala Chai". Decades later, Merriam-Webster has officially defined chai in the English language as "a beverage that is a blend of black tea, honey, spices, and milk." In an effort to avoid confusion and appease the search engines, we will use it that way. 

    What is a Chai Latte, anyway?

    The next source of confusion for many people is the word latte in Chai Latte. In Italian, latte is simply the word for milk. English-speakers, however, have started to associate the word latte with espresso drinks. Often these drinks are ordered dropping the caffe from the original Caffe Latte. It is now very common for someone in the US to ask their local barista for a small latte with skim milk, for example, and as long as you're not in Italy - or faced with a particularly pedantic barista - this probably works just fine! But using latte in this way has lead to some confusion when it comes to other drinks with milk.

    Unlike the simple redundancy of chai tea, using latte in this way has lead to some confusion when other drinks with foamed milk are ordered - like a Chai Latte or a Matcha Latte. Both Chai Lattes and Matcha Lattes are teas served with foamed milk and nary a drop of espresso to be found (unless you order your chai dirty...). As you can imagine, this has lead to many questions about whether or not there is coffee in Chai Lattes. The simple answer is: not unless you put it there!  

    So, long story short: we are going to continue to use chai to refer to spiced tea, but use the original definition of latte to indicate a drink made with milk, not a specific type of espresso drink.

    To differentiate between our traditional Indian spiced chai teas and Westernized versions when you're browsing our website or ordering at the Tea Bar, you can look to the first word in the name - our Masala Chai is our traditional offering, while Golden Dragon Chai, Pumpkin Pie Spice Chai, and Saratoga Red Chai are spiced teas.

    Caffeine in Tea ( ...and a little about its health benefits)

    All traditional teas have caffeine, so any chai made with a black, green, or oolong tea base will contain some amount of caffeine. The caffeine content of your cup of tea will vary depending on the ratio of tea to water, steep time, and proportions of tea to scents (like the spices in Masala Chai). The chart below is a good place to start with understanding how much caffeine is likely in your cup of traditional tea, with the ranges given for each type of tea being a typical though by no means exhaustive representation of that type of tea. 

     

    Chart of caffeine in tea versus coffee per 16oz To-Go Cup. Coffee: 192 mg, Black Tea: 22-58 mg, Green Tea: 27-50 mg, White Tea: 15-32 mg, Oolong Tea: 17-49 mg, Aged Tea: 19-23 mg, Matcha: 126 mg

    *Caffeine Content range based on liquid chromatography-UV of teas infused in a teapot with 2 cups water; matcha was whisked in a bowl with 1/2 cup of water.

    Before we delve further into the complicated sorcery of divining how much caffeine is in your chai latte, we want to take a moment to talk about caffeine in tea and how its affects may differ from the caffeine you're used to experiencing from coffee. 

    While the caffeine in tea is the same compound found in coffee, caffeine in tea bonds differently with other substances than the caffeine in coffee. Specifically, the caffeine bonds with the tannins in tea, and the tannins then prevent the caffeine from being released rapidly into the body. This is why tea produces a longer and more stable caffeination than coffee.

    Another difference between the two types of caffeination is how the caffeine in tea affects and interacts with the central nervous system and cardiovascular system. Unlike the direct effect that caffeine in coffee has on the blood circulation and therefore heart rate, the caffeine in tea instead enlarges the diameter of the vessels in the cerebral cortex. In other words, the caffeine in tea is more of a stimulant than an excitant, sharpening the mind and decreasing fatigue (according to Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties; Second Edition). 

    Caffeine in Chai Tea & Chai Lattes

    You probably noticed we did not include Masala Chai in the above chart about caffeine in tea. Mostly, that's because we do not want to be reductive, so we are giving it its own chart below.

    The caffeine content of your chai is going to depend on a lot of factors:

    • What is the ratio of tea to spices in your chai recipe?
    • Are you drinking your chai as a regular infusion of 5-8g in about 16oz of water?
    • Is your chai a concentrate that was steeped for a long period of time and then reduced? 

    Assuming that your chai is about a half/half ratio of tea to spices, we can infer that a regular infusion of chai would have about half the caffeine of a regular black tea, or 11-24mg. However, there's one big factor that we haven't addressed yet: the length of your infusion will change the amount of caffeine in your tea. 

    Studies show that while the majority of caffeine in tea is released in the first 3 minutes of steeping, caffeine is still released after those initial minutes with the curve beginning to level out around 10 minutes. In an infusion of the same Huiming green tea, a 4.5 minute steep in 1 cup of water released 13mg of caffeine while a 10 minute steep released 21mg. Comparing that to our 16oz to-go cups in the chart above, the 4.5 minute steep would contain about 26mg while the 10 minute steep would contain about 42mg, not quite double the caffeine in a little over double the time! Because of this, the caffeine content of a chai concentrate like the one we use at our Tea Bar for chai lattes is going to be higher than a regular cup of chai at a one-to-one ratio.

    But things are about to get complicated again because chai concentrate is generally served with milk to make what we call a chai latte, while a regular infusion of chai would be drunk black or slightly sweetened... so we can't do a simple one-to-one comparison.

    Ready to tear your hair out yet? (If so, the main takeaway here is that Masala Chai tea has caffeine, and if you want a caffeine-free substitute we recommend Saratoga Red Chai!)

    Still, we will do our best to break down for you the ranges of caffeine in chai based on how you are consuming the beverage in the chart below!

    Chart of caffeine in chai and chai lattes per 16oz to-go cup. Masala Chai (black tea): 11-24 mg, Masala Chai Latte: 30-40 mg, Golden Dragon Green Tea Chai: 13-25 mg, Golden Dragon Green Tea Latte: 35-45 mg, Pumpkin Pie Spice Chai (black tea): 11-24 mg, Pumpkin Pie Spice Chai Latte: 30-40 mg, Saratoga Red Chai (herbal tea): 0 mg, Saratoga Red Chai Latte: 0 mg

     

    *Approximate caffeine levels based on standard latte concentrates and proportions; caffeine levels will vary based on steep time and ratio of concentrate to milk. 

     

    click through image of chai latte and green plant with the words Shop Chai

     

    Resources:

    Gascoyne, K., Marchand, F., & Desharnais, J. (2013). Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties (Second ed.). Firefly Books.

    USDA. (n.d.). FoodData Central - Tea, hot, chai, with milk. FoodData Central. Retrieved February 25, 2021, from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/1104278/nutrients

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