How to Tell if Your Tea Has Gone Stale

Old Antique Tea Tin

While this is a super cool find its probably best to pitch any tea you find inside.

Tea leaves, when stored properly, will have a long shelf life. However, the flavor will change with age. So here are some tips on how to tell if your tea is stale and its time to feed it to your garden plants.

  1. Tastes flat or like paper. Those paper wrapped tea bags are meant to be used quickly, usually under a year. So don’t second guess yourself when you feel like you can taste the tea bag. If you need to keep those tea bags longer, get them into a resealable plastic bag. If it is not tea bag tea, and it tastes like paper, it’s also stale.
  2. Your tea starts to brew darker than normal. For green and white teas, this will start to come after the one year point. Generally you may not notice it if you are drinking it daily, as the change is gradual. There is nothing wrong with the darker brew, it is just an indication that the tea is aging. Eventually your white tea will brew like a green tea and your green tea will brew like an oolong or black tea if you keep it long enough. To really get the original taste, you need to drink your white teas within 1 year and your green teas in under 2 years.
  3. If your tea is blended with spices or nuts, the shelf life is dictated by those ingredients and not the tea leaves. Those other ingredients will go stale before the tea leaf does, especially the nuts. So if your favorite blend starts to taste weak or has an odd after taste, it is not your imagination, the other items in the blend have gone stale. If there are nut slivers in your tea, you really should drink it all before the 6 month mark to ensure good flavor. Your favorite chai should be consumed within the year to get the full effect of the cardamom and cinnamon.
  4. The hardest tea to tell if it has gone stale is black tea. If stored properly, it can hold its flavor a long time. For stronger blacks, you will notice the ending bite fade and the tea will taste more like stale bread. For the softer Chinese blacks, they will develop a bite that wasn’t there before.

Storage is critical to keeping your tea fresh, which you can learn about here. However, drink your tea regularly. It is meant to be enjoyed.

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3 Oolong Teas Worthy of Cold Weather

Loose Leaf Oolong

Loose Oolong Tea Leaves

As temperatures start to drop, warmer heavier flavors come to everyone’s mind. It is no surprise Pumpkin Spice Chai is popular in the fall, it contains both spice and the flavor of a vegetable Americans associate with fall. There are plenty of other teas that carry warmer, earthier flavors that can fill the bill for a fall/winter tea, without being a chai. Oolong teas can carry the much needed warmth and earthiness while allowing you to enjoy something other than black tea. Here are 3 of our favorite oolongs for colder mornings.

  1. Ruby Oolong – This darker oolong, meaning it is allowed to oxidize longer, from Nepal is amber in color and complex in flavor. It carries earthier flavors than a typical oolong, making it closer in flavor to black tea yet more complex. It has a heavier mouth feel, with a lingering butterscotch flavor on the finish.
  2. Fanciest Formosa – This oolong from Taiwan carries both floral and woody flavors while also being creamy. If you are paying close attention, you can even pick up stone fruit flavors like peach with this tea. It has a slightly sweet finish that is reminiscence of honey pastries and breads. It is not as dark in color as the Ruby Oolong but still brews a golden orange color that reminds us of fall leaves.
  3. Golden Buddha – While having a floral aroma, this tea carries a heavier mouth feel with a stone fruit flavor, like plum or peach. This brews a light amber color and finishes with a sweet caramel flavor that lingers. If you are not sure you want to try oolongs, this is a perfect place to start.

Oolong teas are often overlooked here in the U.S., which is a shame given their wide range of flavors. So explore and enjoy this category of tea with us.

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Hundred Year Tea – A Modern Twist on an Historic Beverage

Loose leaf hundred year tea.

Hundred Year Tea

The inspiration for Hundred Year Tea comes from the first Korean encyclopedia, published in 1614 C.E. The author, Yu Su-gwang, tells the story of an old man punishing another man who appears to be even older still. When chastised for punishing the older man, he replies that the other man is actually his son despite his appearance. He is punishing him because he did not follow his instructions to drink hundred year wine each day and now has aged to the point where he appears older than his father. This hundred year wine, known as Baeksaeju, is available in many Asian markets, and is made of numerous spices found in traditional Asian medicine. We have taken those spices and added them to green tea for our own version of this beverage

Hundred Year Tea: Ingredients from Traditional Asian Medicine

Some of the ingredients that add the spice in this tea are recognizable to most Americans, like the cinnamon, goji berries, ginger and licorice root. The schisandra berries and astragalus deserve some explanation. Both of these ingredients have been used for centuries in Chinese medicine to treat a wide variety ailments.

Schisandra berries are also called the five flavor berries. These red berries look like small cranberries because of their color but they pack a complex flavor. It’s salty, sweet, bitter, sour and pungent all at the same time! It adds a depth to this tea that would otherwise require many more ingredients to get. The Chinese have long used this schisandra berry for coughs, other lung ailments, to regulate blood sugar and assist with liver functions. Schisandra hasn’t been widely tested by the medical community in the United States but the Chinese have derived and use widely liver treatment drugs from this fruit.

Astragalus is a type of legume or bean that is native to Northern China and Eastern Russia. By itself, it tastes like dried hay or wood. Combined with tea, it smooths out the flavor. It is the root of the astragalus plant that is harvested and has long been used in Chinese medicine to boost the immune system. It has been proven to help increase white blood cell counts and assist in decreasing the duration of cold and flu. More recently it has been studied here in the US for its ability to turn on an enzyme in humans called telomerase, which lengths the telomeres at the end of the DNA strands in humans. The US medical community has been studying telmeres in relationship to age related diseases and agree that it is the shortening of telomeres that makes a person susceptible to age related diseases like heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. For now, the medical community thinks the shortening comes with the repeated copying of the DNA, but there are several studies looking at how diet, exercise and environment effect telomeres. In the meantime, we are going to appreciate the fact that humans knew several centuries ago that this plant helped and modern science is now telling us how.

Hundred Year Tea: Taste

While it is nice to see modern proof for a centuries old story, we are more focused on how it tastes. This tea is subtle yet spicy with a flavor profile more complex than Indian chai tea. The spice in this tea removes the grassiness often associated with green tea, making it a good introduction to green tea for those who are not fond of the typical green tea flavors. For the routine green tea drinker, this is fun change that preserves all the health benefits while giving you a new flavors to enjoy. Give it a try and let us know what you think.

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How to Make a Single Cup of Iced Tea

Fresh Iced Tea by the Cup

Preparing a single cup of iced tea.

In warmer weather one of the things we offer in our Purcellville Tasting Room is iced tea in a variety of forms. With over 100 different teas to choose from we don’t want to limit guests to what we have prepared ahead of time or what’s on the nitro tea tap. So we also offer any tea, iced by the cup. And guests regularly ask how they can do the same thing at home.

Making a single cup of iced tea is very easy. So if you are wanting a cup of iced tea but not in the mood for a full pitcher, here is how it’s done.

Single Cup of Iced Tea: Equipment

  • Kettle (yes you can boil water on the stove but its well worth picking up an electric kettle)
  • Glass measuring cup (we love Pyrex 8 oz measuring cups)
  • Strainer
  • Glass to drink from (Preferably 16 oz, but you can scale this smaller or larger)

Single Cup of Iced Tea: Instructions

To make a 16 oz cup of iced tea we are effectively going to make a concentrated cup of hot tea and pour it over ice to rapidly cool and dilute it to the right strength.

1. Start by measuring out double the amount of tea you would use for an 8 oz cup into the glass measuring cup. For large leaf tea, this is 2 tablespoons and for small leaf this 2 teaspoons.
2. Get your water to the right temperature in your kettle and pour 1 cup (8 oz) of water into the measuring cup. Allow the tea to steep for the appropriate time. If you are unsure, just check the for the correct time here.
3. Fill your drinking glass with ice. The trick here is to know how much ice to fill based on the density of your ice. You may need to play a little bit, but generally you will fill the 16 oz glass half full with ice.
4. When time is up, pour the hot tea through the strainer onto the ice. You know you have the right amount of ice when most of it melts and just a few cubes remain.

Hint on sugar: If you want sugar in your iced tea, add it to the hot tea while steep and stir. It will dissolve the sugar/honey quickly and the strainer will catch anything that doesn’t melt.

This method works with all tea types and herbal/tisanes. Enjoy!

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Chinese Solar Eclipse Mythology

Flag of the Qing Dynasty

Chinese solar eclipse mythology stretches over thousands of years. The fun myths and real life stories of the rise and fall of empires around solar eclipses give a unique view into this ancient culture. So grab a cup of your favorite tea and join us in a little historic sun gazing.

Hungry Dragons

One of the oldest Chinese solar eclipse myths is around the hungry dragon. A solar eclipse is a dragon eating the sun. To stop it from consuming the entire sun, a lot of noise has to be made. Originally, pots and pans where beaten to make noise to scare away the dragon. The noise making expanded to include drums, firecrackers and even the firing of cannons on naval vessels. This belief in the hungry dragons led to one of the first words for eclipse to be the Chinese word shi, which means to eat.

What this fun story hides is the obsession with the sky that heavily influenced Chinese culture. It was believed, and is still reference in modern day culture, that the heavens dictate the power of the leader. So understanding the heavens and its signs was a full time job for several members of the imperial court and a serious hobby for many of the commoners.

Chinese Astronomy and Solar Eclipses

Solar eclipses are seen as bad omens for Chinese Emperors, so astronomers where tasked with predicting them and ensuring that the Emperor was aware. If caught off guard, the Emperor was seen as out of favor with the heavens and weak. This opened up the possibility of having to pass the thrown to another family member or an opponent. The first detailed documentation of an eclipse was more of a documentation of the beheading of 2 of Emperor Kang’s astronomers for failing to predict the eclipse in 2134 B.C.E. (To put this in perspective, humans really didn’t have the mathematical equations or equipment to nail down the day and time of eclipses until the 1800s C.E.. So the Chinese advisers used observation of the moon and star placement to predict both solar and lunar equations usually within a few days of the actual occurrence.)

So why so much detail? The moon phases were used to build the original calendars and predict the change of seasons, which helped with planting and harvesting of foods. Getting the planting and harvest wrong, meant people would starve. It was the emperor’s job to tell people when to plant and harvest, so having help in predicting and documenting the sky was critical to the emperor’s success.

The Chinese obsession with the sky lead to a vast amount of documentation of the stars, sun and moon back into 2100s B.C.E. These were so detailed that they were used by the NASA Jet propulsion lab to help calculate the historic rotation of the planet.

 

So as we enjoy the eclipse on Monday, we will toast it with a cup of Jasmine Dragon Tears, as the poor dragon fails to eat the sun.

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