Yunnan Province, China – Birthplace of Tea

Yunnan Province China is considered the birthplace of tea.

Yunnan Province China and the broader Asian neighborhood.

Yunnan Province is the most southwestern province of China and is considered to be the birthplace of tea. It is a large province, at approximately 152,000 square miles, making it slightly bigger than the state of Montana. There are approximately 46.7 million people living there as of the 2011 census. That is 9 million more people than the most populated US state of California.

Terroir of Yunnan Province

Yunnan is situated on the eastern side of the Himalayan Mountains, far enough south that the Tropic of Cancer crosses through the provenience. The average elevation in the province is 9,200 feet with the tallest peak being just over 22,000 feet. This provides just the right amount of elevation and warmth to produce a truly flavorful tea. Yunnan Province is also home to six major rivers that feed water from the Himalayan Mountains into the South China Sea and into eastern China.

The oldest tea trees in China, some of them older than 1,000 years, grow along a trail outside of Mangjing Village, in the southwestern part of the provenience. It is outside of the city of Lincang, which is home to the Tea Culture Garden. It is also along the Tea Horse Road which leads south to the city of Puerh.

People of Yunnan Province

Men working on the Tea Horse Road carrying large bundles of tea.

Tea Porters Along the Tea Horse Road, by Ernest H Wilson, CC BY 2.0

The population of Yunnan Province is very diverse with a wide range of traditions and ethnic minorities. This is a reflection of the location of Yunnan as the cross road to other countries of Vietnam, Tibet, Burma, and Nepal. One minority, the Blang, have a holy shrine near the ancient tea trees. Every four years, the Blang sacrifice an ox to the Spirit of Tea. Interestingly, the Chinese government, which tried in the early part of the Communist rule to eliminate minority religions, and still only sanctions five religions which does not include the Blang, actually highlight the Blang and their beliefs in their tourist materials. Most of the tea farmers near Mangjing are Blang and work to maintain the ancient tea tree forests even though they do not produce anywhere near the same amount of tea as a modern plantation. However, the annual harvest from these forest usually fetch top dollar in the local markets and never make it overseas to America.

Tea of Yunnan Province

The birthplace of tea is best known for Puerh. Being home to the Tea Horse Road, Puerh was created in Yunnan and continues to be one of its best quality products. Yunnan also produces fabulous black teas that are both fruity and brisk at the same time, like Yunnan Sunrise. So the next time you are looking for a black tea or Puerh, look for a product from Yunnan Province and enjoy centuries of tradition with every sip.

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Focus on Nepali Tea

Our focus at Dominion Tea is on finding great tea from around the world that we can share with our customers. Since our definition of great tea is actually a combination of great quality loose leaf tea, its ties to history and culture, and having a great story, we are thrilled to be offering a number of great Nepali tea products from the rugged landscape of eastern Nepal where farmers work together to share in production and success from specialty loose leaf tea.

Nepali Tea from Ilam District

Napli Tea comes from eastern Nepal at the foothills of Sandakphu peak.

On the way to Sandakphu peak. By flickr user meghma. CC BY-SA-2.0

As we’ve mentioned before in our post on the history of Nepal tea the country has a significant lack of infrastructure and getting products out of the country can be quite difficult. The Ilam District of Nepal, which has emerged as the major tea producing region of the country, is located 350 miles from Kathmandu. However, travel to Ilam averages 18 hours. Compare this to a trip of similar distance from Washington, DC to Hartford, CT which would take closer to six hours and one can imagine just how difficult travel can be in the country. Despite the difficulties, or perhaps because of the relative closeness to Darjeeling India, which is about 45 miles away, the Nepali government has focused on developing the tea industry in this region.

The Ilam region is dominated by  Buddhism and Hinduism and lies in the shadow of Sandakphu peak. The area is very rugged and a favorite of hikers and trekkers from around the world. In the Nepalese language, Sandakphu is a place for monks to meditate. It is the highest habitable point near the district of Ilam. The Ilam district is located on the far eastern edge of Nepal, adjoining Sikkim and the Darjeeling hills of India. This area is famous for the Maipokhari Ramsar Site, which is a world heritage site for mountain wetlands and the Maipokhari Holy Shrine. In addition, this tranquil environment has a biodiversity that is highly unique, and is home to many endangered species of wild flora and fauna. The character and flavor profile of Sandakphu produced teas is unique to its bio-diversity, relatively new plants, and its high altitude location.

Nepali Tea Production

The production of Nepali tea products which we selected come from tea gardens located between 6,500 feet and 8,000 feet and above. The location is in the foothills of Sandakphu peak and while it is relatively close to Darjeeling, the tea crafted here provides flavors and character which can be compared to none in the world. It is a unique cooperative tea enterprise and is unlike many others in the industry. In additional to the woman who owns the production facility, local farmers actually own the property, tea plants and are share-owners in the factory. This helps ensure that farmers have a significant stake in the success and, as shareholders, directly benefit from the high quality product. Tea quality starts from the green leaf that is provided to the factory for processing, and since ownership of the garden is at farmers’ level, the farmers commit to grow and harvest only the finest leaf for processing resulting in outstanding product.

Nepali Tea Products

Ruby Oolong Gourmet Tea - A Nepali Tea

Close up of steeped Ruby Oolong tea leaf.

We’ve selected a number of these great teas to offer at Dominion Tea. They run the gamut of white, oolong, black, and green tea. Our Nepali tea offerings include:

 

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How to Brew Loose Leaf Tea

We can’t tell you the number of times we’ve been asked how to brew loose leaf tea. Despite those who would tell you its complicated or exacting, brewing loose leaf tea is simple! At its most basic, making loose leaf tea only requires a bit of attention to water temperature, a working clock, and some way to separate the leaves from the water after steeping. Nothing complicated there.

How to Brew Loose Leaf Tea: Leaf Separation

How to brew loose leaf tea - use a modern infuser

A modern infuser will help brew a better cup of loose leaf tea.

It is extremely important to separate the tea leaves from the water after about 3-5 minutes unless you like bitter tea. This is no different when brewing loose leaf tea vs a tea bag. When brewing from loose leaf tea, removing the leaves requires a strainer of some kind and this is where you have several options.

  • Grandma’s Tea Ball  - Perfectly acceptable but generally does not give the tea leaves enough room to move and expand which will affect the taste of the tea. Also, it may very well be real silver, which means it should not be going through the dishwasher. There are lots of updated designs which look fun but still provide little room for tea to breathe.
  • The Modern Infuser – Our recommendation in most cases is the modern day tea ball, aka an infuser. Designed to give tea leaves lots of room to move, absorb water, and release plenty of flavor, the modern infuser will fill a large portion of your mug. Most are metal and dishwasher safe and sit comfortably on the lips of an 8-14 oz. cup.
  • Single Use Tea Bag – If you find it more convenient to use a tea bag there are are several options available, though all generally provide ample room for the tea to move around and allow easy removal and disposal of the leaves. You can even pre-make several single-use tea bags in advance. Just be sure to store them in an airtight container away from other varieties of teas.
  • Kitchen Strainer – You don’t really need an infuser of course. You just need vessel to brew the tea in and you can then pour the liquid through a standard kitchen strainer or use a spoon to trap the tea leaves in the vessel as you pour off the liquid into your cup.  You can also use a French press, just be careful if you have brewed coffee in it before, as it is highly likely your tea will come out tasting like coffee no matter how many times you try to clean it.

You will also need a teaspoon or tea scoop to measure the tea, and if you are one for precision a small kitchen scale you measure your tea by weight.

How to Brew Loose Leaf Tea: Time, Temperature & Amount

Typically you will want 3 grams of tea per 8 ounces of water. Knowing that most people don’t have a kitchen scale handy that weighs that small amount, 3 grams is approximately 1 teaspoon. Note that the 1 teaspoon rule does not work with light, very large leaf teas, like White Peony, Asian Pear & Spice White, or Cherry Blossom White, where you will want to use 1 tablespoon. Place the tea leaves in your choice of above infuser or add them to a small pot if you plan to pour the liquid off through a strainer. Hopefully your water has been coming up to a boil while you were measuring out your tea. A quick side note on water. Do not reboil water as it looses the oxygen and minerals causing the water to become flat. Always use fresh water and never distilled. The production of distilled water requires the water to be boiled and the steam from the boiling water is collected creating the distilled water. The steam has none of the minerals from the original water so the tea will be flat and lack flavor. So before you rule out a tea as not having a good flavor, double check your water. Once your water has reached a boil we need to put it in the cup. However, we need to know what kind of tea you are drinking before telling you whether or not to pour the boiling water on to the tea leaves. Take a look at the chart below for guidelines on how to introduce your tea leaves to the water and for how long they should stay there.

How to Brew Loose Leaf Tea: Time, Temp, and Amount
Type Temp/Steep Time Amount/8 oz. Water Quick & Easy(From Boiling)
White Tea 170-185°F for 1-3 min 1 Tbsp. Wait 2-5 minutes before putting tea leaves into the water

Green Tea 170-185°F for 3-5 min 1 tsp. Wait 2-5 minutes before putting tea leaves into the water

Yellow Tea 160-170°F for 1-3 min 1 Tbsp. Wait 5-7 minutes before putting tea leaves into the water

Black Tea 190-212°F for 3-5 min 1 tsp. Pour boiling water immediately over the tea leaves

Oolong Tea 185-212°F for 3-5 min 1 tsp. Pour boiling water immediately over the tea leaves

Rooibos, Tisane, Herbal Tea 180-212°F for 5-8 min 1 tsp. Pour boiling water immediately over the tea leaves

Dominion Tea Loose Leaf Steeping Guide - Specific Directions for Your Tea

How to Brew Loose Leaf Tea: Steeping Guide

Allowing the boiling water to cool slightly before putting the tea leaves into the water ensures a better cup of tea. White, green, and yellow teas take on a very bitter flavor if you pour boiling water on them. If you are looking for instructions to steep a specific tea, check out our steeping guide. Now that you know how to brew loose leaf tea correctly, there are plenty of teas worth trying, so explore them all!

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Keemun Black Tea: A Favorite of Anhui Province

We recently highlighted the discovery of a hundred year old box of Qimen black tea in Anhui China. The story of this century old tea, though short, featured a beautiful wooden box that was typical at the time for shipping finished teas around the world. Though few producers actually ship in this type of wooden box any longer it was a handy excuse to focus a post on this wonderful tea from Anhui Province, China. Qimen or Keemun black tea, which incidentally forms the base for our Colonial Breakfast, tea has been produced in China for hundreds of years and like so many others has a history of it own.

Keemun Black Tea from Anhui Province was represented by 30 growers at the 1915 Expo

Keemun Black Tea won gold at the Panama Pacific International Exposition (Public Domain)

Keemun Black Tea

Black tea has been produced in the region of Qimun County in Anhui, China and the area around it for about 200 years. The name Keemun, as we know it today, is an Anglicized version of the name. Black tea from this region is known for having a very unique aroma and taste. The aroma is often described as having hints of honey while the taste is often said to be sweet and mellow. It can take milk and sugar though is often consumed straight. The tea was common in the United States dating back to the colonies and has been part of some blends of English Breakfast Tea over the years.

Keemun black tea has been awarded international recognition many times as a gourmet tea product. In 1915, at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, which had 30 tea companies from Anhui Province, Keemun Black Tea was awarded a Gold Medal. Much more recently, in 1987 it received a gold medal for food quality in Brussels. Over the years there have been many other awards as well and it has been the gift of choice for visiting dignitaries.

Qimun Region Tea Production

Keemun Black Tea is the base for our Colonial Breakfast Tea

Keemun Black Tea is the base of our Colonial Breakfast Tea

The Qimun region dates back to the Tang Dynasty in 766 C.E. and is about at the same latitude as Northern India, falling due West of Shanghai and North Northwest of Taiwan. Although inland a bit, the region isn’t far from the East China sea. It lies in the general vicinity of the famous Yellow Mountains and the Yangtze River. It is a mountainous region at about 2000 ft above sea level with large temperature swings between day and night and often has very high humidity. Tea is a major industry in this part of China with hundreds of thousands of farmers producing tea on tens of thousands of hectares of land.

Not all of the tea produced in the area is black, of course, with green tea featuring prominently. Most tea produced in the region is for domestic consumption and the majority of Chinese drink green tea regularly. Indeed, black tea production has been on the decline in this part of China according to the Qimun County Government for a number of years. Reasons for the decline include international competition by Indian black tea, Ceylon black tea, and others. The competition from international black teas and continued low consumption of black tea in China has contributed greatly to the black vs green tea production decisions.

Steeped in history, Keemun Black Tea continues to be a wonderful example of Chinese black tea. Despite production falling off from the height of its demand, this tea continues to delight consumers around the world, even if not consumed so much in China itself.

 

Sources

Qimun [Keemun] County Government, The Rise and Fall Keemun Bicentennial (translated), January 4, 2010, http://www.ahqimen.gov.cn/DocHtml/1/2010/1/4/2197202312203.html 

CPC Huangshan Committee, the People’s Government of Huangshan, Tea Industry, http://www.huangshan.gov.cn/en/NewsList.aspx?cid=10680&tid=10690

Official Catalogue of Exhibitors, Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, California, 1915, pg 80, Digitized at: https://books.google.com/books?id=c-VFAQAAMAAJ

Cultural China, Food Culture, Keemun Black Tea, http://www.cultural-china.com/Kaleidoscope/en/131Kaleidoscope294.html

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Tea with Milk and Sugar

Tea has been consumed with milk and sugar for centuries, so why did we get in the habit of doing this? In trying to find and answer to this question, I turned to the British as they are well known for adding milk and sugar to tea.

Economics of Tea with Milk

Rail car for hauling milk with "Express Dairy - Milk for London" written on it.

Milk Wagon, By David Merrett from Daventry, England (6 Wheeled Milk Wagon) [CC BY 2.0]

Tea was extremely expensive in Britain when it was first introduced to the public in the mid-1600′s and remained that way for more than a century. In 1785 the duty on tea was slashed by the government because local tea merchants saw profits drop as people purchased tea on the black market. From its first days of import, the British government had a very high tax on tea that made it too expensive for most of the country. At first the tax was levied on the beverage itself, the coffee house would make it in the morning, pay the tax collector and then sell it throughout the day. So the customer buying the tea in the afternoon was getting a beverage that was brewed that morning and then reheated. Tea oxidizes once brewed, so that afternoon cup was dark and bitter. Thus began the use of sugar in the tea.

Loose leaf tea was also available to purchase at the time, but again, was taxed heavily so the buyers were only the wealthy. Wealthy women enjoyed tea at home, as it was not considered appropriate for a woman to spend time in the local coffee house. This paved the way for the afternoon tea party and high demand for fine porcelain cups. Porcelain originally came from China, hence why Europeans and Americans refer to porcelain plates and cups as fine china. The first porcelain cups produced in England where made in 1742 after the British got hold of the instructions on how to make porcelain that were written by a French Jesuit Father Francois Zavier d’Entrecolles about the techniques he saw porcelain producers using in China use to craft their wares. Those letters made their way all over Europe and allowed for the creation of porcelain locally, dropping the price of tea cups and fine dishes down to a range that was affordable by more than just the aristocracy. Interestingly, there was a time when it was believed that milk was added to the tea cup to protect it from the boiling tea water because the cups had a nasty habit of cracking if boiling water was poured directly on the cup. (A true porcelain cup would never crack when boiling water was put it in). It is quite possible that a cracking tea cup was a problem at the time. Porcelain made locally was a soft paste porcelain, meaning it was fired at a lower temperature than the Chinese porcelain. If it was made to look as thin as the Chinese porcelain, which would have been what was demanded at the time, boiling water would have cracked the tea cup. It took the British some time before they perfected true porcelain in the late 1700′s, and even then those who perfected it kept it a secret as they had the advantage of matching the Chinese in quality allowing them higher prices in the market. So milk protected the low quality porcelain tea cup.

Fine China (Porcelain) of the Qing Dynasty

Qing export porcelain with European Christian scene 1725 1735 by World Imaging CC BY-SA 3.0

There is a second story to the introduction of milk to tea. A Dutch merchant by the name of  Jean Nieuhoff wrote of his dinner with the Chinese Emperor, as part of a Dutch delegation in 1655, where he was served tea with milk. Given that this would have been the time of the Qing Dynasty, which came from northern China, this is not a surprise. Northern Chinese, at the time, herded goats and where frequent consumers of yogurt, cheese and milk from these animals. Unlike most of the Chinese,who did not consume dairy products, the Emperor would have been raised on goat’s milk. So this presentation, while not commonly seen in China at the time, would have been common place for the Emperor. The writings of Mr. Nieuhoff made their way through the Netherlands, France and England exposing more people to the idea of drinking tea with milk. This would have presented a fabulous idea on how to stretch your tea longer and hide counterfeit tea (a very big problem at the time) – just add milk.

Tea with Milk

So if you are in the habit of drinking milk with your tea, you should probably know that the British have actually studied this and recommend that you will minimize the possibility of curdling the milk and altering the taste of the tea if you add it after pouring the tea into the cup. Now with that said, some of the best tea with milk that I have had is a traditional Masala Chai tea from India, which is made by boiling the tea leaves in a combination of milk and water. So at the end of the day, it is all in personal preference.

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