Blog

How To Keep Tea Fresh

by Kyra Fiber

If you are an avid tea collector, you may not get around to drinking all of your teas as quickly as you had hoped when you bought them. And although tea, if kept dry, won’t go rancid, it can get old and stale. But don’t worry! We at Saratoga Tea and Honey are here to help you keep your tea fresh; plus, we can also help you identify which of your green teas have gone old.

Green tea

How Do I Keep My Green Tea Fresh?

Green tea, especially Japanese green tea, is quick to get old and lose flavor. It is important to store your tea properly to allow it a long, happy lifespan. Here are some simple rules to follow to keep your tea from losing its flavor:

  1. If it is in a sealed container, refrigerate it.

Keeping tea in the refrigerator can be hazardous due to the higher humidity, but if your green tea is unopened and sealed, you can keep it in the refrigerator for a short period of time to prolong freshness.

  1. Store away from sunlight.

All tea should be kept in opaque containers in a cabinet to avoid contact with too much light. If the tea is warmed from sunlight, it can change its flavor.

  1. Store in an airtight container.

With air comes moisture and other odors. Moisture can change the flavor of the tea and can grow mold; surrounding smells can change the flavor of your tea. Do not store your tea with potent aromatics, such as spices.

  1. Store away from heat.

Try to find a cool, temperate place to keep your tea. Storing it in a place with large fluctuations can change its flavor.

I keep my own tea in a large metal tin (once home to Christmas cookies) with other similar teas so that the flavor isn’t largely affected. I keep this tin stored away in the pantry, away from anything with too strong of a scent!

How Do I Know When My Green Tea Has Passed Its Prime?

A clear indicator of the quality of all tea is its aroma and its flavor. Smell your tea leaves. You should be able to smell a fresh aroma; if you can’t, then your tea might be a bit too old. Once steeped, smell the liquor itself along with the steeped leaves. If you still don’t get a strong aroma, your tea is likely too old. This will be clear when you take a sip and taste slightly leafy water. It may be time to say farewell and fetch a new bag of tea…

With green tea, the color is a great indicator of its quality. To demonstrate this, I used two teas of my own that I got from Saratoga Tea and Honey of course. I used two Japanese green teas with the staler being Miyabi Shincha (top) and the fresher being Sencha Sumire (bottom).

Sencha SumireMiyabi Sencha

The older tea is yellower and has almost no flavor whatsoever. The fresher tea has a bright green color and a rich, vegetal aroma, indicative of a steamed green tea.

As always, we are happy to help with any specific questions: Email Us, we love to hear from you! We wish you many happy steeps! 

Brewing to a Tea 🌱

Now that many of us are spending more time at home, we are also brewing tea at home more than before. Due to this, we have decided to take a closer look at the brewing process, and review the components that lead to a wonderful cup of tea. Things to keep in mind when brewing a perfect cup of tea include your water composition, temperature, steep time, water to leaf ratio, brew vessel, and the type of tea you are brewing. Together, these components perform a delicate dance that will bring you many great steeps. 

Tea is made up of many different chemical components. Acknowledging these will help us understand later how they are affected by things like water composition and temperature. 

These components include polyphenols, amino acids like L-theanine, enzymes, pigments, carbohydrates, alkaloids like caffeine, minerals and volatiles. Below is a closer look at some tea chemistry vocabulary.

Polyphenols: This is a category of compounds found in plants that are produced to defend the plant against things like ultraviolet radiation, parasites, and plant predators.

Flavonoids: These are the main type of polyphenols found in tea.

Tannins: A compound in the flavonoid group that contributes to the astringent taste of some teas, or the sensation of having a dry mouth when drinking some teas and wines. 

Flavonols: A class of flavonoids that includes catechins.

Catechins: A group of flavonols found in tea, including (-)-epicatechin (EC), (-)-epicatechin-3-gallate (ECG), (-)-epigallocatechin (EGC), and (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). These are the components of tea that are said to have health benefits.

Theaflavins: These form from catechins during the oxidation of tea leaves, and found more in oolong and black teas. 

A variety of aspects determine how much of each of these chemical components are found in tea leaves. These include where the tea was grown, environmental factors, the season it was harvested, effects of pests and disease, and the process the leaves went through once picked.  For example, black tea is more oxidized than green tea. Oxidization, or the browning of the tea leaves when cell walls are broken and polyphenols hit oxygen, is a process done to some tea leaves once they are picked in order to achieve a certain flavor profile. Oxidation will lead to more theaflavins in black tea because polyphenols are converted into new compounds. Japanese shade grown teas are another example of tea producers manipulating the plant in order to produce more of a certain chemical component that will help the tea achieve a desired flavor profile. Shade grown teas are covered because the sun turns amino acids into polyphenols. Amino acids such as L-theanine are responsible for some of the broth like, umami flavor profiles in tea. Therefore, tea producers and growers seeking a tea with umami characteristics such as a Japanese Sencha green tea will cover the tea plants to shade them from the sun, preserving the amino acids.

Gyokuro Shizuoka

The combination of naturally occurring chemical components in tea plants, and the chemical changes that occur to tea when processed all contribute to all of the complex flavors we get out of a cup of tea. These chemical compounds are responsible for the aromas and tastes found in each unique tea and tea category. Generally speaking, teas within the same categories will have similar taste profiles due to being processed in similar ways. The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea describes these flavor profiles as follows. White and Chinese green teas are light in body, Japanese greens are thicker and brothy, oolongs coat your mouth with a milky or creamy sensation, and black teas are thicker and astringent. 

These chemical components, found in different amounts in dry tea leaf categories based on place of origin, harvest season, and processing, will further react and change once introduced to water. The cup of tea that you drink is 98% water, and only 2% compounds diffused into water. Therefore, the quality of water you use when brewing tea will have an impact on the overall taste of your tea. Water that is too high in certain minerals, such as limestone, calcium oxide, magnesium, led, and chlorine should be avoided. Water too high in minerals can taste tinny and metallic. The amount of theaflavins, catechins, and caffeine extracted in tea can be impacted if your water is too high in certain minerals, such as calcium oxide. This can weaken positive flavor profiles produced by these chemical components of tea, such as sweetness or umami. High levels of magnesium and calcium oxide can also result in limescale buildup, surface film, or tea scum to form in your kettle or your cup of tea. Too little minerals in your water may also negatively impact the taste of your cup of tea, leaving it too dull. A water free from any harsh tastes or odors, a balanced mineral content, and a neutral PH level around 7 is ideal. 

Lu Yu, a tea scholar who wrote The Classic of Tea during the Tang dynasty, suggested the best water to brew tea in is water from a mountain stream or spring in the same region the tea was produced. He said the leaves will reveal their true nature when in contact with the water they drank during their lifetime. Obviously, this is unachievable to the everyday tea drinker brewing from home. We are lucky, however, to have a variety of natural mineral springs right in our backyard. The State Seal Spring, located on the Avenue of the Pines in Saratoga Spa State Park, is often regarded as one of the springs with the best balance of minerals and PH levels. At Saratoga Tea & Honey, we use natural spring water gathered from the State Park for tea tasting occasions, such as the Aged Tea classes. 

Water temperature is also an important component of tea brewing. Each tea category, due to levels of chemical components and processing, has a recommended brew temperature guideline. These are as follows, in Fahrenheit. 


White, Spring Teas, Shade Grown Green: 160-170

Green: 160-180

Oolong: 180-200

Black:  190-212

Aged Tea:  212 


The chemical  composition of a cup of tea steeped at different temperatures will vary, sometimes greatly, and so will its taste. An increase in water temperature increases the kinetic energy of the water molecules, making them dissolve molecules in tea more easily. Different chemical components of tea leaves are more or less soluble at different temperatures. Water that is too hot for some delicate teas can dissolve chemical components like tannins and catechins too quickly, resulting in a negative bitter taste. Green tea tends to have more tannins than other types of tea, which is why it can turn more bitter than other teas when steeped in water too hot. Water that is too hot can also destroy or burn the desirable chemical compounds in tea that contribute to flavor. On the other hand, when tea is brewed in water that is too cold, with not enough kinetic energy, chemical compounds cannot dissolve properly, and tea will have less flavor complexity. Bringing water to a full boil and waiting for it to cool may not always be the best way to ensure your water is at the right temperature for your tea, since when water is boiled and cooled, oxygen is removed. This can have a negative effect on the flavor of your water. Keeping track of water temperature can be done with a variable temperature electric kettle, or a thermometer. 

Time is also an important factor in brewing tea. Through osmotic diffusion, compounds on the surface and within the interior walls of tea leaves will diffuse into water, until the concentration of compounds in the leaves reach an equilibrium with the compounds in the water. Different chemical components of tea enter the water at different rates. Ones that are responsible for the aroma of tea tend to be the first, with caffeine, pigments, and tannins needing more time to diffuse. The trick to brewing a great cup of tea is to balance the right temperature of water with the right amount of brewing time to get all of the desired chemical compounds and components to diffuse into your water, without over-diffusing and creating negative flavors. If you increase the temperature of your water, try decreasing the time you steep your tea leaves. If you increase the time you steep your leaves, try decreasing the water temperature. Play around until you find the best combination to reach the desired flavors you want out of your tea leaves.

There are a few more factors that go into steeping your tea, including how much tea to use. Ideally, you would want to weigh the amount of tea in order to keep things consistent. We recommend about 2 grams of tea per 8 ounces of water, or one rounded teaspoon. How dense or airy your tea leaves are can change this ratio, so always experiment until you find the amount that fits your personal preference. The benefit of brewing whole leaf loose teas, in comparison to tea bags, is an increase in resteepability. The high ratio of leaf to water means there is a lot of flavor to be extracted from the leaves over multiple infusions. When given space to spread out in hot water, the tea leaf can rehydrate fully and chemical compounds can diffuse into your water over time. Broken, small pieces of tea leaves, often referred to as tea dust, diffuse their chemical compounds that make up flavor very quickly, and can’t be resteeped as many times. More nuanced, layered, and delicate flavors are also more prevalent in loose leaf teas. The brew vessel is also an important component of brewing the perfect cup of tea. Your vessel should allow your tea leaves enough space to spread out in the hot water. Preheating your brew vessel is another trick to ensuring you are steeping your tea leaves at an appropriate temperature. When water hits an unheated brew vessel, the temperature can drop significantly. There are many different vessels to choose from, ranging from traditional to more modern. Choose what works for you!

The final chemical composition of the cup of tea you consume is a result of these many factors. The long journey the tea leaves make from the plant to your cup makes these steps to a perfect steep well worth it when the result is a beautiful complexity of flavors. Feel free to experiment with the water used, steep time, temperature, amount of tea, and brew vessel until you find the perfect combination that works for you and your unique taste buds. We wish you many joyful steeps!

 

Endnotes:

1. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/polyphenols
Tea and taste - Exploring Everyday Chemistry
2. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/tannins-in-tea#basics
3. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2018/9105261/
4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4276998/
5. The science of tea
6. Chemical Compounds in Tea
7. Gascoyne, Marchand, Desharnais. Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties.
8.  The Influence of Water Composition on Flavor and Nutrient Extraction in Green and Black Tea
9.  Heiss, Mary Lou and Robert. The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide.
10. Kinetics of Steeping Tea – World of Tea
11. Does Water Temperature Change Tea?
12. Tea Brewing Water Temperature Guide
13. Kinetics of Steeping Tea – World of Tea
14. TEA DYNAMICS: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE STEEP TEA?

The Production, Effects, and Benefits of Gabacha Oolong

Currently, there are many uncertainties about what the upcoming weeks will look like when it comes to the health, well-being, and economic state of our communities and loved ones around the globe. Our normal daily routines and schedules have been reformatted, students are no longer reporting to schools, and those who can are working from home. During this time, while readjusting and learning how to adapt to all of these changes, the feelings of stress, anxiety, and worry are some many of us may be feeling. This is why we have chosen one of our favorite comforting and relaxing teas, Gabacha, as our tea of the month. 

Gabacha Loose

Gabacha is unique for its high levels of the amino acid and neurotransmitter gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). Inside of us are neurons, cells that transmit information within the nervous system. Postsynaptic neurons are neurons that receive a signal. Neurotransmitters relay information to postsynaptic neurons, and this information can be either excitatory or inhibitory, meaning it increases or decreases the likelihood of a neuron to successfully communicate to a postsynaptic neuron. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, and therefore inhibits the ability of neurons to send, receive, and create messages (1). 

All neurotransmitters play important roles in our emotions, behaviors, ideas, and thoughts. GABA is specifically linked to sleep and anxiety. Due to the presence of GABA in the nervous system, an excess of synaptic excitation is prevented. If GABA levels are too low, resulting conditions could include epilepsy or seizures. With an increase in GABA levels, neuron activity decreases, and anxiety and stress related messages are prevented from reaching postsynaptic neurons. With the increase of GABA, the less neuron communication, and the more overall sense of calm and relaxation in the brain. 

Many studies have been done on both humans and animals in an attempt to determine the effects of GABA supplements, foods containing GABA such as kimchi and kefir, and GABA teas. However, there is always more research to be done! It is not agreed upon if GABA can successfully enter the blood-brain barrier into the central nervous system, or if it enters through the enteric nervous system, (the gastrointestinal system), more easily (2). It does seem to be more conclusive among scientists that GABA, consumed in conjunction with L-theanine, an amino acid found in tea, seems to have measurable benefits. 

In Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London study, it was found that six weeks of tea consumption, in comparison with a placebo drink, led to “lower post stress cortisol and greater subjective relaxation, and may aid in stress recovery” (3). In a study conducted at the South China Agricultural University in the Department of Tea Sciences, it was found through tests that GABA tea may prevent depression in mice (4). In a 2019 research study, nine children with Autism Spectrum Conditions participated in a study where they consumed an oolong tea high in GABA, a gyokuro green tea high in L-theanine, and a placebo tea. The study found an improvement in fine motor skills, manual dexterity, anxiety levels, and balance highest among those who consumed GABA tea (5). Another 2019 study showed that, among thirty participants, the consumption of GABA tea led to a lower stress score, and an improvement in heart rate variability (6).  The consumption of GABA in conjunction with L-theanine and caffeine, all found in GABA tea, can lead to an improved attention span, decrease in stress, and an increased accuracy when performing tasks, according to clinical psychologist Michael J. Breus, Ph.D (7). It is also said that the combination of GABA and L-theanine have a positive effect on sleep quality and duration (8).

GABA tea was first produced at the National Institute for Tea Experimentation in 1987 by Dr. Tsushida Tojiro and other researchers (9). The process involves the decarboxylation of glutamic acid, a naturally occurring component of tea that gives it an umami flavor. Maocha, or unprocessed tea leaves, are placed in an anaerobic condition, meaning a sealed vacuum free of air for a period of about eight hours. While in the oxygen free environment, the leaves are exposed to nitrogen, and glutamic acid reproduces. The leaves are then exposed to aerobic conditions for a period of time, spun to break down cell walls, and then again put into the anaerobic conditions. During the repetition of this process, the tea leaves undergo chemical changes and the accumulated glutamic acid results in GABA (10).

The tea leaves are then put into machines that spin and fire them at high temperatures. After this, they are brought to a rolling machine that gently crushes them in order to soften and bring natural oils to the surface of the tea leaves. The tea leaves are then dried, reheated, and compressed into blocks. After the blocks are formed, the tea is rolled, and the process of rolling and forming the tea leaves back into blocks is repeated many times. Finally, the GABA oolong tea is formed into the smaller ball shape commonly seen in oolong teas, then roasted to achieve the desired flavor of the client. This whole process is shown in a very informative video, linked below (11). This is the general process of making GABA oolong teas, however, it may differ slightly based on the machinery available at the tea processing location. It may also differ based on what flavor notes the client desires, for example, how much to roast the tea leaves.

Gabacha Brewed

During stressful and uncertain times, the act of carving out a small piece of your day to make time for yourself can be an important practice. Throughout history, people have engaged in tea rituals, ranging from elaborate to simple. The complex flavor notes of Gabacha include dried fruit, sweet spice, and sweet potato. Between the combination of these comforting flavors, and the effects of GABA and L-theanine on the brain, Gabacha is a wonderful choice of tea to relax with. We encourage you to create your own personal tea ritual, brew a cup of Gabacha, and take time to breathe, de-stress, relax, meditate, or reflect.

 

Endnotes:

  1. Gazzaniga, Michael S. Psychological Science. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2012.

  2. https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/health/gaba-supplements-glorious-gimmicky-or-just-garbage

  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=17013636

  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=28836632

  5. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1028415X.2019.1588486TEA & AUTISM - What's the connection?

  6. Hinton, Tina et al. “Effect of GABA-Fortified Oolong Tea on Reducing Stress in a University Student Cohort.” Frontiers in nutrition vol. 6 27. 26 Mar. 2019, doi:10.3389/fnut.2019.00027

  7. https://thesleepdoctor.com/2017/07/11/understanding-l-theanine-sleep-better-night-feel-relaxed-alert-day/

  8.  https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13880209.2018.1557698

  9.   Production of a New Type Tea Containing a High Level of ϒ-Aminobutyric Acid Tojiro TSUSHIDA, Toshinobu MURAI, Masashi OMORI, Jyunko OKAMOTO

  10.  Sawai, Y., Yamaguchi, Y., Miyama, D. et al. Cycling treatment of anaerobic and aerobic incubation increases the content of γ-aminobutyric acid in tea shoots. Amino Acids 20, 331–334 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1007/s007260170049

  11.  Making GABA OOLONG TEA in Taiwan

Discovering White Tea

Of all the tea categories white tea seems to be one of the most misunderstood, and yet quite neatly, the simplest of all. From bud to cup, it is the most minimally crafted of all the camellia sinensis tea categories. Very plainly, high quality white tea is the first glorious bud of spring, plucked carefully after emerging from a short winter dormancy.

Awakening in the spring, the tea plant shoots out the bud of new life which carries the energy, nutrients and glucose needed to develop into leaves and if plucked and dried, has the potential to make a most delicious cup of tea.  The bud itself or 'tip' is covered with a soft downy fur, called 'trinomes', that defend against water loss and bugs.  Caffeine and polyphenols also act as natural deflecting agents against insects and UV rays. 

Bai Mu Dan Wang

White tea buds are carefully plucked and brought to a factory to be withered and dried. It is a short recipe that requires, for good result, the original product to be treated well after it's departure from a very carefully tended tea garden. It is also a tea of prestige, the spring buds are the most precious, and the yield of harvesting only the bud, is so minimal. The varietals used in white tea production in China are the results of years of propagation to reach the desired profile and the polyphenol and caffeine levels are higher than what is often marketed.

Classically, the finest white teas come from Fujian Province, China, but we are also experiencing white teas being produced well in other parts of Asia, Hawaii and South America.  

We carry two white teas, Bai Mu Dan Wang (pictured here), also called White Peony, which consists of buds and leaves, from Fuding, Fujian Province.  Also from Fuding, Bai Hao Yin Zhen (also known as Silver Needles) is the result of more punctilious harvesting, and consists of pure bud.  Nan Mei Wild Tea Trees, from Lincang, Yunnan Province, is the result of the harvesting of wild old tea tree buds and takes quite a bit longer steep than the others.

When steeping white tea, we suggest measuring the quantity of tea by weight, not by volume as with teaspoons.  This is important because white tea is very voluminous, and measuring by weight will give you a much richer cup of tea.

Our recommended steeping times for 2.5 grams of tea per 8oz:

Bai Hao Yin Zhen  185° / 3 minutes

Bai Mu Dan Wang  185° / 3 minutes

Nan Mei Wild Tea Trees  185° / 5 - 7 minutes

Scented White Teas:

The Canfield in Red  185° / 3 minutes

Yaddo Rose Garden  185° / 3 minutes

For continued enjoyment, re-steep the leaves!

Pu Er, Say What?

At the tea shop, we have budding interest curious in our traditional tea selection, including our special aged teas or hei-cha.  In this brief article we are going to begin to touch upon what is pu er tea, a subcategory to hei-cha teas that are produced exclusively in Yunnan Province, China. At the shop, we are experiencing more and more interest in pu er from several different directions:

- Loose leaf tea is becoming more popular in the US, as doctors are advising people to cut back on their coffee intake and people are looking for a more healthful, sustained energy beverage.

- The interest in traditional tea parallels the movement of craft beer, natural wine, single origin coffee & bean to bar chocolate and people are more interested in discovering the vast world of the tea plant.

-The recent popularity of the book, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See, has created specific interest in the aged teas of Yunnan Province, pu er.

Pu Er and Yixing Teapot

So, what is Pu Er?

Pu Er, Pu'er, Puerh (different Pinyin, but the same tea) is a town in Yunnan Province, China where historically tea farmers would bring their tea to be traded in the far regions of Tibet and Mongolia.  Now pu er is the name of a category of post-fermented teas specific to Yunnan Province, whose oxidation is not enzymatic and whose special bacteria fermentation & processing allows for improvement in flavor overtime. Pu er can be separated into two styles of production:

Sheng: "raw" or "green" tea leaves from centuries old trees (camellia sinensis assamica) heated slowly and most often pressed into cakes, which slows oxidation and develops flavor. Ambient yeasts and bacteria in a storage environment of varying temperatures and humidity, take the tea on an interesting journey of development.  Sheng pu er is fermented from 10 to 50 years and not considered mature or vintage until 30 years have passed. Flavor profiles can be very vibrant fruit, mint & spice.

2008 Daxue Tsnuami

Our 2008 Daxue Tsunami Sheng Pu Er

Shou: "cooked" or "ripe" tea leaves from gardens are processed in a similar way as sheng pu er, but exposed to rapid 45-60 day fermentation in pile heaps for an accelerated aging process. Humidity and moisture is under careful watch and is adjusted as needed to encourage fermentation.  Shou pu er may be pressed into cakes or sold loose.  This style of Pu Er was developed in the 1970s in response to the increased interest in sheng pu er. Their flavor profile may improve with some aging, but they are ready to drink after processing and often times have very earthy qualities of leather, forest floor and vanilla.

2012 Menghai Shou Pu Er

This month, our tea of the month is 2012 Menghai, a pile fermented shou pu er that has been pressed into mini cakes or nests, called tuocha.

This is just the beginning of our discussion on aged tea and specifically, pu er.  There is so much more to speak about in terms of culture, styles and pu er as medicine.  More to come in further articles.

 

 

Exploring Mae Salong, Thailand

In the remote woodland hill regions of northern Thailand, in the province of Chiang Rai, tea trees flourish in the tropical climate.  This area is part of the historical tea regions that anthropologists have found as the birth place of tea. This tea belt traverses through Yunnan Province, China to northern Assam, India, Laos and present day Myanmar, into Northern Thailand and Vietnam.

A little town, with a big history lies just south of the Thai border with Myanmar and in the province of Chiang Rai, and it is called Mae Salong. A little group of us, Joe, owner and operator of Saratoga Food and Ghost Tours, his wonderful partner Kim, ​Marcus my fiancé, photographer and videographer and I, set out on a four hour journey north of Chiang Mai in search of Mae Salong.  Though situated in Thailand, this particular village is home to people of Yunnanese (Chinese) descent.  Everything was written and spoken in Chinese and all of our communications were about to be with google translate and gestures.
 
A little on the interesting history of this area:  The ancestors of these people arrived at the conclusion of the 1949 Chinese Civil War as the 'lost soldiers' who refused to surrender.  For protection, they escaped China, settled briefly in Burma, and found their way to northern Thailand for asylum. In exchange for safety, the Thai government sought assistance to push back communist insurgencies at the frontier.
 

​This geographical region bordering Laos and Myanmar was known as 'The Golden Triangle' as it was a hot spot for the production of opium. Today, this area has been turned over by the Thai government to a more sustainable crop, tea.  Tea shares the landscape with cherries, coffee, lychee and wonderful citrus.

We discovered Mae Salong to be a quiet village, with many vendors of tea.  As we explored and stopped for tea tastings, we came across the production of Assam black tea at one of the villages producers.  It is always amazing to experience the fragrance of freshly harvested wilting tea leaves.  It is too beautiful for words.

Many of the tea varieties in this area were brought over from Taiwan decades ago and their style of tea is similar to that of the mountain producers in central Taiwan.  We tasted Jin Xuan No. 12, Oriental Beauty, Qing Xin No. 17 amongst others.  I decided to bring home a Hoarfrost, or winter frost harvest, oolong that has a unique sweetness and is unlike any tea I have tasted.  I also choose a Rose Scented Oolong, as its fragrance and delicacy was enchanting and unique.

  

Fresh Tea Leaves Withering

Women sorting through the fresh black tea, removing stems.

That evening, we were welcomed by the indigenous Ahka tribe just a few miles away.  Their children toured us around their little village, we dined on their local food cooked over a fire and slept in mud huts.  It was really a remarkable experience.

Ahka Children with Hayley and Marcus

I am excited to share some of their tea with you!

5 Ways To Use Spent Tea Leaves

Just when you've steeped your last cup and you think your tea leaves have no goodness left to give, hold on, they actually do!  Our below short list of ideas for spent tea leaves was developed for pure, traditional tea leaves.

Tea Leaf Stock

1. Add your tea leaves to a stock or broth.  More than a millennia ago tea leaves were added to dishes and soups as a flavorful ingredient and we want to bring the idea of culinary tea back!  Dry out your spent tea leaves overnight and pack them with your stock scraps (celery, carrots, onion, mushrooms, herbs) for the next time you throw a pot on the stove. Particularly for our vegan friends, spent tea leaves are a wonderful ingredient to add depth of flavor and color to your stock.

2. Add the spent tea leaves to your garden beds or compost.  Tea leaves aerate the soil and provide nutrients and nitrogen as a great natural fertilizer. 

3. Pickle your spent tea leaves and make a salad. One of our favorite recipes of the traditional Burmese tea preparation, laphet, is from The San Francisco Chronicle.  Find the fermented tea recipe here  along with a Burmese salad recipe.

4. Make Boiled Iced Tea. Boil your spent tea leaves in a small saucepan on the stove for 15-45 minutes.  Cool and refrigerate for iced tea. If using dark teas, we recommend pouring over blackberries, muddling gently, and sweeting with a little Cranberry Blossom Honey.

5. Put your dried spent tea leaves in a little open tin or bowl to absorb unpleasant aromas in your refrigerator, car or small bathroom.  Tea is a natural deodorizer and can even act as a foot soak to reduce odor.  

Little Bugs & Tea: The Story Of Guei Fei

We would like to share with you the unique story of our oolong Guei Fei.  

In September of 1999 Taiwan suffered a 7.6 magnitude earthquake with the epicenter falling in Nantou County.  In the area of Dong Ding, tea farmers were busy rebuilding and repairing their homes and villages and were distracted from their winter harvest of tea.  As a result, little tiny herbivores (Empoasca onukii) or leafhoppers came to nibble on their tea plants.

Disaster?!  Not at all.

Lugu Township

Leafhopper bitten oolong not only can be acceptable, but desirable. In fact, in the north of Taiwan Bai Hao or Formosa Oolong is famously loved for its honeyed notes of sweet succulent fruit. This altered flavor is thanks to the provocation of these little bugs.  

The tea plant, as with other plants, knows when it is being attacked and sometimes is aware even before the attack occurs.  The defense mechanisms can be a sudden change in chemistry that might release toxins, decrease nutrition in the leaf, or release airborne chemicals. In the case of tea plants, airborne volatile chemicals are released when attacked by this 3 mm insect. Curiously, by our perception, a wonderful fragrance is released in the field and then, in the cup.

Brewing Guei Fei

You are able to witness these little bites by looking closely at the unfurled steeped leaves, but most wonderfully, you will witness this little attack by the sweetness of the tea on your palate.

Experience our bug bitten oolongs:  Guei Fei, Bai Hao Jing Mai, and Gabacha.

Our producer of Guei Fei, Mr. Chang sharing some tea with us.

Mr. Chang 

The Women of Tan Huong Cooperative, Vietnam

Just north of Hanoi lies the little city of Thai Nguyen and just a few kilometers away, the Tan Huong Tea Cooperative.  The Co-op is made up of 41 members with gardens, 80% women and is directed by a board of all women. (Isn't it wonderful?)

The Board of Tan Huong

In 2000, the cooperative formed with the help of The Canadian Tea Alliance, a group that helped to empower areas of economic hardship through tea production, and by 2010 these women were producing a superior green tea, a green tea that met the rigid guidelines in place for Canadian import.  While they are one of four cooperatives supported by Canada, they are the only ones to meet strict regulations for export to North America. Logistically, in the early 2000s it was hard to reach this tea garden because of the poor infrastructure, but today these women have put money back into their homes, their town and their roads.  These once struggling cattle farmers and noodle makers, have found their success in high quality tea, and for over a year and a half now we have been proudly carrying their tea.

The Tea Ceremony

The Whole Tea Group

When we drove up to their tea factory and saw a large group of people waving outside, emotions took over.  We were welcomed with such enthusiasm and ceremony.  Their gratitude to sell tea in the west was overflowing.  They greeted our little group with a formal tea reception, followed by a visit to a tea garden and factory, and a beautiful generous lunch with flowing rice wine and many toasts and handshakes. We drank tea and ate sweets and the women proudly displayed their new harvested buds.  The Director held my hand as we explored the garden and the Finance Director showed me her little tea production shack, that must have been 9'x10' large.  When we stepped outside, she told us this that the little room was her family's house, before they made tea. 

Hayley and Director of Finance in Her Garden

Visiting the Tea Garden

 

Lunch at Tan Huong

This visit was so emotional, that when we said goodbye and I thanked them for producing such beautiful tea and for welcoming us so graciously, we all began to cry.  I felt in this moment, the impact of our choices. More directly than I ever imagined, I realized that by buying Tan Huong green tea, I am making an immediate impact on these families and this village. That is a choice we make with all things, when could buy commercial and support an industry or we could buy artisanal and support a family.

Saying Goodbye at Tan Huong

How to Cold Brew Tea

Cold brewing your tea leaves is the easiest method for consistent, delicious results. All it takes is a bit of foresight to plan an eight hour brew!  We love to start our pitcher in the evening so by morning we have a ready to drink tea that will last up to 5 days, if kept refrigerated.

 

Cold Brew Iced Tea at Home

 

From glass to BPA free plastic, shop our pitchers with brew baskets, here!