Playing with Water Temperature: 3 Black Teas to Brew Below a Boil

Water temperature is a critical component to a good cup of tea. Brew tea too hot and you can burn it, leaving it tasting bitter. Brew tea too cold, and you don’t get any flavor. So playing with water temperature can get you very different cups of tea all from the same tea leaf. This holds true not just for green and oolongs, but for black teas as well. Here are 3 of our favorite black teas to brew at water temperatures well below a boil. We are still steeping the teas for 5 minutes, we are just using water at 190° F.

  • Darjeeling – This champagne of teas is traditionally brewed at a boil. Those complex fruity, floral and honey flavors that are common for this tea remain at colder temperatures. However, those floral notes become stronger and the astringent (drying) finish becomes much softer. The difference is most dramatic in a 1st flush, but is still noticeable in a 2nd Flush Darjeeling.
  • Yunnan Sunrise – This partially oxidized black tea from China is malty at a boil. Dropping the water temperature, even as far as 175° F, brings forward more honey and floral aromas.
  • Ceylon – Sri Lankan tea is often overlooked as an everyday tea. It is woody in flavor and has an astringent finish. However, this beautifully complex black tea becomes herbal in flavor at lower temperatures.

So play with your water temperatures and enjoy a whole new cup of tea. Share your experiences with us, we would love to hear about them.

Note: To drop water temperatures, pour that boiling water into a cold ceramic mug and wait. Water will lose approximately 5 degrees per minute, so 3 minutes after pouring you at a great temperature for what we recommended above.

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Caffeine Free vs Decaffeinated: What’s the Difference?

Caffeine Chemical Makeup

Chemical Makeup of Caffeine

Caffeine free and decaffeinated mean two totally different things, yet many Americans use the words interchangeably. Here is what you should know, especially if you are trying to limit or minimize caffeine in your diet.

Caffeine free means that all ingredients occur in nature without caffeine. Therefore, there is no special process to remove the caffeine from them. Real tea is never caffeine free. Other plants, like rooibos, honeybush or chamomile which are common in herbal tea are caffeine free. If you are looking for a 100% caffeine free drink, you need to use the term caffeine free and not decaffeinated. Tisanes and herbals are caffeine free and get to count toward your water consumption since there is zero caffeine in the final brew. Decaffeinated teas do not.

Decaffeinated means that the product has undergone a special process to strip most, but not all, of the caffeine out of it. CO2 decaffeination is commonly used in the tea industry to remove caffeine from tea leaves. To read in depth about this process, take a look at this blog post. The decaffeination process, however, still leaves residual caffeine. In both the United States and Europe, there is not set amount of residual caffeine, but a percentage of the original caffeine of the batch that is allowed. Given that the original amount of caffeine can vary dramatically between teas and even harvests of the same tea, there is no exact way to find the amount of caffeine remaining. Quite frankly decaffeinated teas do not and cannot taste as good as the original tea. While the caffeine is being removed, other polyphenols are also being removed that provide the original flavor to the tea. This normally leaves the decaffeinated tea tasting flat, so for many people, tisanes and herbal teas are more appealing when avoiding caffeine.

These differences between decaf and caffeine free make a huge difference in your tea drinking experience. Use them wisely.

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3 Fun Ways to Enjoy Blooming Teas

Flowering Tea in Glass Pot

Lychee Flavored Osmanthus Blooming Tea

Blooming teas are hand tied balls of tea and flower petals that open up into flower designs when steeped in hot water. These fun teas are not just about the tea, but about appreciating the floral creations. Here are 3 suggestions on how to enjoy these pieces of art.

  • Share the blooming tea with friends. Designed for large glass tea pots that serve at least 2 to 6 people, these pieces of artwork are perfect for entertaining guests. The blooming teas use green tea as leaves, so they brew lighter in both color and flavor. This makes them an easy accompaniment to just about any treat you may wish to serve with the tea.
  • Enjoy these teas out in nature. The Chinese believe tea is best enjoyed outside in a natural setting. This allows the drinker of the tea time to relax and enjoy the benefits of being outside. The mind is given time to calm and clear with exposure to trees, birds, sunshine and water. A picnic in China is incomplete without tea. So join the Chinese in enjoying tea outdoors and bring along a blooming tea to your next picnic. Better yet, enjoy your tea in your own backyard during a beautiful spring day.
  • Enjoy blooming teas as center pieces. The Chinese will often preserve the bloom after drinking the tea by placing it in a vase large enough for the bloom to be completely open. They fill the vase with cold water and 2 Tbsp of white vinegar and then submerge the open bloom. The bloom will continue to impart color to the water, so you may need to change it every couple of days. However, the bloom itself typically will last for a couple of weeks a beautiful centerpiece.

This is a fun type of tea to explore and share with friends. Let us know how you enjoy blooming teas.

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New Teas for New Habits

With the new year right around the corner, we thought we would share some teas to help you form new habits. Whether it is expanding your horizons by trying new things, reducing your caffeine intake or adding a cup of green tea to your daily routine, here are some of our picks to help you get off on the right foot.

Reducing Caffeine

Generally tea has half the caffeine of coffee and one third the caffeine of soda. So replacing those beverages with tea is an easy answer for reducing caffeine. Not only that but the caffeine in tea is less jolting too! If you are looking to replace coffee, check out this post on 3 teas for coffee drinkers. However, if you are like us and tea is your go-to constantly, then we have to talk tisanes (French term meaning tea like drink without tea). One of our favorite tisanes is Honeybush. This cousin of Rooibos is slightly sweet and woody. It is naturally caffeine free and a great substitute in the evening just before bed.

Adding Green Tea

It is almost daily that we are asked about the health benefits of green tea. They are numerous, but to get them you must drink at least one cup daily. For some, this may be somewhat daunting, especially if milk and sugar are part of your tea routine. Green tea should not be drunk with milk or sugar. There are a few green teas that make it easier to transition to this tea type. Hundred Year Tea is one of these since it is blended with other ingredients that give it a slight spiciness and help to tone down the grassy flavor of tea. The other is Liu An Gua Pian, also known as Melon Seed Tea. This green tea from Anhui, China is subtly sweet and much less grassy in flavor than most green teas, making it a good introduction to this type of tea.

Trying New Things

Expanding one’s horizons is often a fun resolution and gives you a reason to expand your tea drinking habits. This leads us tea drinkers into the world of Puerh Tea. Admittedly the flavor profiles on these fermented teas range from peat moss to collard greens, which may not be appealing to all. However, this category of tea surprises many and opens up a wide range of highly crafted and cared for teas, whose history is thousands of years old. A good place to start is sampling a few of the teas in a flight of tea at our shop or picking up a sample size of Golden Fortune Puerh or Puerh Leaf Satemwa.

There are many teas out there that can be incorporated into your new habits for the new year. So join us in exploring them all!

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Christmas Traditions in Japan

Col. Sanders are Santa in Japan

A New Japanese Tradition: Kentucky for Christmas. Photo by Flickr User ‘rumpleteaser’.

Would it surprise you to know that Christmas traditions in Japan are a reflection of American and European culture? For this huge tea producer and a nation with less than 1% of its population identifying as Christian, it celebrates the holiday with same gusto as America. It turns out a mix of good timing, similar cultural stories of big bellied men, and American marketing made this possible.

Santa and Hoteisho

The story of Santa is not that different from the story of Hoteisho. A large bellied, jolly Buddhist monk with a curly mustache that is said to have eyes on the back of his head to see whether or not children are behaving. Hoteisho travels with a large sack full of good fortune to pass out to people as he spreads cheer and good fortune to all. He is one of the seven lucky gods in Japan and a product of a mix of Hinduism and Buddhism that occurred in Japan in the 13th century. As it turns out, Japan had its own Santa Clause long before exposure to Europeans.

This may also help explain why the Japanese culture had no problem adopting this European tradition. They saw Santa as the European version of Hoteisho.

Christmas Decorations and Gifts

After World War I, Japan became was the largest manufacturer of Christmas decorations purchased in Europe and America. Dresden, Germany had held that title previously, but was so decimated by the war that it never caught back up to Japan’s manufacturing. World War II shifted this again, but the legacy of making Christmas decorations stayed with the Japanese culture. The glass balls on Christmas trees where not that different from the paper ornaments hung by the Japanese in celebration of spring. So Christmas trees, lights and ornaments can be found all over Japan during the month of December. It is very popular to take evening walks along the malls and parks to see the Christmas lights and ornaments.

Gifts in Japan are actually exchanged on New Year’s Day as a way of wishing your loved ones well for the new year. So Christmas Day and Christmas Eve are reserved more for parties, family gatherings and outings than actual gift exchange.

The Emperor’s Birthday

As it turns out December 23rd is a national holiday in Japan to honor the Emperor’s birthday. This is one of the few days that the inner grounds to the Imperial Palace, which is currently located in a park in Tokyo are opened to the public. Many people gather there to wish the Emperor good health and happy future. Think of it like President’s Day in the US, only we have a tendency to focus the deceased Presidents more than the living ones. Since the Emperor’s birthday is so close to the week before the New Year, it marks a time when many Japanese go on vacation to visit family and celebrate the end of the year and the beginning of a new one. Schools are closed between the Emperor’s birthday and the new year. This makes it convenient to slide in Christmas, and Christmas traditions, which is what KFC did in the 1970s.

Fried Chicken Christmas Eve

When KFC entered the Japanese market in the 1970’s it was looking for as many ways as possible to get the Japanese into their fast food restaurants. In 1974 they launched their Kentucky for Christmas campaign, which worked beautifully. It was targeted at dating couples to celebrate their blooming relationship and experience a little US hospitality Christmas eve. It took off and is still very popular in country. You have to actually put in for a reservation for a spot Christmas eve, and now you can order for pick up that afternoon to consume at home.

Though a bit quirky, Christmas in Japan is not all that different from Christmas here in the United States.

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