Vietnam: Snow Shan Tea

Vietnam is a country long steeped in surprisingly ancient tea traditions, although it is often overshadowed by such industry giants as China, Japan, and India. But unknown to many Western tea drinkers, this small country has a lot to offer when it comes to tea varieties, one of the most impressive of which are the Snow Shan teas. Named for the fine white down that can be observed upon the plucked leaves, these teas are truly unique not only for their excellent flavors, but for the special cultural significance that they hold for the people of Vietnam.

Snow Shan teas are grown high in the mountains of northern Vietnam, where the country is bordered by the eastern edges of the Himalayas. Although this tea region crosses multiple provinces, the largest growth area of Snow Shan is in Ha Giang, Vietnam’s northernmost point. Throughout the country, differences in climate, geography, and terrain produce unique impacts on the tea’s terroir, which in turn leads to many variations in aroma and flavor. In Ha Giang, many of the wild tea trees from which Snow Shan is harvested are over a hundred years old (some are said to be nearly a thousand) with massive trunk sizes over a meter in diameter. A far cry from the small shrubs from which many industrially-produced teas are farmed! These ancient trees are carefully tended by the indigenous ethnic peoples of the regions in which they are grown, such as the H’mong or Dao, who carry with them many generations of Vietnamese tea tradition.

Snow Shan White Tea Buds

Among the subgroups of Snow Shan teas, one of the most interesting and outstanding offerings from Ha Giang are Snow Shan White Tea Buds, grown on the high mountain slopes of Mt. Chiêu Lầu Thi in the rural district of Hoàng Su Phì. Rather than plucked leaves, these woody small bundles (resembling pinecones) are actually harvested from unopened stem buds, taken from the main trunk and branches of the ancient tea trees. When infused, they release a light and delicate aroma in a pale golden liquor, with sweet floral and woody flavors leaving a lingering aftertaste of subtle spice. We are not exaggerating when we say that there is no tea anywhere in the world that can quite compare!

High Mountain Snow Shan Black

Another fantastic example of the best qualities of Vietnamese tea is the High Mountain Snow Shan, a black tea with large full leaves from mature trees grown at elevations around 1,400 feet high. The resulting tea is very smooth and mellow, but still rich with complex flavors and aromas.

While still a relative newcomer to the modern orthodox tea market, Vietnam has a lot to offer when it comes to truly unique tea experiences. If you have yet to try Vietnamese tea, Snow Shan varieties can be a wonderful place to start.

By: Jen Coate

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Lotus Blossom Tea

As you can probably tell by our post history, we love exploring the intersection of tea and culture. For any country that has been producing tea for a long time, certain cultivars or blends are often seen as being particularly emblematic of their cultural heritage. Chinese Dragon Well, Japanese Sencha, Indian Masala Chai – the list goes on. In this post, we’re going to take a look at another such tea of national importance: Vietnamese Lotus Blossom tea.

Tea Scented In a Lotus Flower (unfortunately it can’t travel outside Vietnam).

            For the Vietnamese, the lotus flower is prized for more than its rare beauty and sweet fragrance. Vietnamese poetry and philosophy has long praised the blossoms as symbols of purity, perseverance, hope, and optimism, as the seeds take root in deep mud, sinking below the surface every night before rising to bloom with the dawn. Officially recognized as the country’s national flower, the lotus is a staple of Vietnamese art, architecture, cuisine, medicine, and (of course), its tea.

            The art of infusing tea leaves with the scent of the lotus blossom is said to date back to the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1883), during the reign of King Tu Duc. During the night, when the blossoms were at their most fragrant, the king’s servants would row across the lake to carefully open the closed petals and fill the flowers with green or yellow tea, binding them shut with silk ribbon to keep the tea leaves dry. In the morning, the newly-scented tea would be harvested and served to the king with his breakfast.

            The modern production of traditional lotus tea is still done entirely by hand, although methods of scenting have changed. According to the expertise of Hanoian tea crafters, the only suitable blossoms for this scenting are West Lake lotus flowers. While white, yellow, and green tea are still used for scenting, Russian tea production practices in the 1980s introduced and popularized the use of black tea as base.

Lake of the Returned Sword in downtown Hanoi, Vietnam facing Ngoc Son Temple.
Hồ Hoàn Kiếm or Lake of the Returned Sword in downtown Hanoi, Vietnam

After being harvesting, the base tea is subject to repeated phases of drying to give it a moisture content of 2-3%. Once this is achieved, it will then be ready to be infused with fragrance. Lotus flowers, plucked before dawn to ensure their finest aromatic quality, are harvested for their stamens, which are mixed with the tea leaves. The tea and stamens are left blended together for 36 to 48 hours, during which time the tea will absorb the fragrance and flavors of the lotus flower. When this scenting period is complete, the tea is again dried and then hand-sifted to remove the lotus stamens, after which it is ready for packaging.

Due to the exclusivity of these prized lotus flowers, and the laborious process involved in its production, traditional lotus blossom tea is a treasured commodity in Vietnam, and a rarity in the American market. But its heavenly floral fragrance and smooth sweetness make it a must-try for any tea enthusiast.

By: Jen Coate

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5 Additions to Iced Tea

Multiple Herbs in a Garden for Tea

Last week, we talked about how to brew up simple syrup, which is a wonderful (and easy!) way to add sweetness and flavor to your iced teas. But syrups alone aren’t the only way to jazz up an iced tea. Throughout June, we’ve been experimenting with fun flavor combinations for our favorite teas, and we’ve put together a list of our top five things to try. The best part? They’re no-fuss and easily accessible – some of them might be in your garden right now.

Try a different citrus! Iced black tea and lemon is a classic combination, but other citrus fruits are a great way to add a zesty brightness and tartness to your tea. Try pairing Nilgiri or other black teas with fresh orange slices, or add a few dashes of lime juice to Coconut Oolong for a beautifully tropical combination.

Mint is a must-have for food and beverage recipes alike, and with good reason! This hardy herb is easily grown in the backyard and can’t be beat for its refreshing, cooling flavor. Try adding a few sprigs to your favorite fruit teas – we especially love pairing mint with our Georgia’s Peach and Pear Raspberry Green. For an additional boost of flavor, try muddling a few leaves at the bottom of your glass before adding tea.

Lavender makes a sweet and soothing addition to many teas, with its heavenly aromas and calming properties. We especially love it with our Strawberry Oolong. As always, when harvesting flowers and herbs yourself, take care to ensure that the plants are grown free of any pesticides or other chemicals.

Fresh lemongrass has a flavor profile very similar to many citrus fruits, but with less tartness and a subtle ginger spiciness. Add a few stalks to Japanese Sencha or Vietnamese Green to add a herbal complexity to these fresh green tea flavors.

Basil is a culinary heavyweight with a lot of versatility – a little sweet, a little savory, with a wonderful minty freshness and peppery finish. Try adding a few bruised leaves to our New World Vanilla for a sweet, rich, and earthy experience, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, to Earl Grey to bring out the bergamot’s bright pepper notes.

We hope that these ideas inspire you to try out some flavor combinations of your own! Start small with your additions, as a little bit of flavor can go a long way, and don’t be afraid to get creative and experiment. You never know what unexpected flavor combinations might surprise you.

By: Jen Coate

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Simple Syrups for Iced Tea

Simple syrup, in this case made from honeysuckle.

Have you ever experimented with simple syrup? Although most widely used in the world of cocktails, simple syrup is an easy way to add flavor to your iced tea without relying on expensive artificial sweeteners. Because the sugar is completely liquefied during cooking, it is perfect for mixing with cold beverages, and there are limitless ways to customize it. Here are a few of our favorite recipes to make your own simple and flavored syrups at home.

Simple Syrup

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

In a saucepan on the stovetop, combine water and sugar and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium low, stirring gently until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and pour into a heat-resistant container. Cover and store in fridge for up to two weeks.

Mint Syrup

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

5-6 sprigs fresh mint leaves

Combine water, sugar, and mint sprigs in a saucepan on the stovetop and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring gently until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and allow mint to infuse for thirty minutes or longer, tasting for preference, then strain. Try with our Lemon Drop or Betsy Ross White Tea.

Peppery Ginger Syrup

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

1 knob of ginger (approx. 6”)

1 ½ tsp whole black peppercorns

Peel ginger and slice finely; combine in saucepan on the stovetop with water, sugar, and peppercorns. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, stirring gently until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and allow pepper and ginger to infuse in refrigerator overnight before straining. Try with our Georgia’s Peach Tea or Strawberry Oolong Tea.

Rose Flower

Rose Syrup

½ cup water

½ cup rose water

1 cup sugar

Combine water, rose water, and sugar in a saucepan on the stovetop and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, stirring gently until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and pour into a heat-resistant container. Try with our Moroccan Mint or Japanese Sencha Green Tea.

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5 Teas to Try Iced

Nothing says summer like a tall, cold glass of iced tea. We all have our favorites when it comes to which teas we ice (Classic Iced, Georgia’s Peach, and Adirondack Berries are three of our bestsellers here in our tasting room). But there are many teas out there that are overlooked for their iced tea potential. Here are five of our favorites of these hidden gems.

Glass of iced tea with lemon.
  • Darjeeling: A wonderful way to expand your horizons when it comes to an iced black tea. Darjeeling’s woody, complex flavors brew up to a smooth and refreshing ice tea with a subtly sweet finish. Try icing our 1st Flush for rich floral undertones, or 2nd Flush for its fruity muscatel flavors.
  • Dark Roast Alishan: All of our Alishan oolongs take beautifully to being iced, but we are especially partial to the Dark Roast for how its sweet, nutty flavors shine when served cold. Try it as a lighter substitute for your afternoon coffee.
  • Huang Shan Mao Feng: This savory Chinese green mellows beautifully over ice, bringing its creamy, savory flavors to the forefront. Try pairing it with a cold pasta dish or your favorite Asian noodle dish.
  • Himalayan White: The delicate and refreshing sweetness of this Nepalese white can’t be beat on a hot summer day. This tea is a good candidate for cold-brewing, which helps retain its subtle floral flavors.
  • Matcha-Infused Sencha: If you love the bold flavors of iced Japanese greens, consider experimenting with our Matcha-Infused Sencha. A dusty of matcha powder gives this tea an additional boost of umami richness and a full, satisfying mouthfeel.

When it comes to brewing iced teas, there are many more options out there than you may realize! Try experimenting with your favorite hot tea and see how it does over ice. You may be in for a delightful surprise.

By: Jen Coate

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