Four Imperial Teas

In a prior blog, we talked about the working-class origins of the British “builder’s tea”, favored by laborers to push through long hours of physical toil. This time, we thought we would take a look at how the other half lived and highlight a few of our favorite teas with royal reputations.

 

Bai Hao Silver Needle (白毫銀針)

Also Called: Baihao Yinzhen, White Hair Silver Needle

Bai Hao Silver Needle Tea Leaves

Bai Hao Silver Needle

This highly prized Chinese white tea is traditionally sourced from either Zhenghe or Fuding, northeast in the Fujian province. It is very lightly oxidized and features only the unopened buds of shoots plucked early in April during the plant’s first flush. These buds are covered in fine silver hairs, giving it its characteristic color. The flavor of this tea is smooth, lightly sweet, and delicately floral. This exquisite tea is said to have been first cultivated during the Song dynasty (960-1279 CE), and for centuries was reserved exclusively for the Emperor.

 

Da Hong Pao (大红袍)

Also Called: Big Red Robe

Da Hong Pao Mother Trees in Wuyi

Da Hong Pao Mother Trees in Wuyi

This oolong is grown on the steep slopes of Mt. Wuyi in Fujian. The rocky cliffsides and unique mineral compounds making up the mountain’s slopes give this tea its rich, full, mineral flavor. Due to its rarity, expense, and reputation, Da Hong Pao remains a traditional “gift tea” in China reserved for honored guests or special occasions. According to legend, the mother of a Ming Dynasty emperor was cured of a deadly illness by drinking this tea; in gratitude, the emperor sent his own royal red robes to cover the four bushes that produced it. These bushes are still be producing tea to this day.

 

Dragon Well (龍井茶)

Also Called: Longjing

Dragon Well 1st Grade Pre Qing Ming

Dragon Well 1st Grade Pre Qing Ming

Dragon Well is one of the most famous teas to come out of China, and is certainly the most renowned of its green teas. Its long leaves are flattened by hand and pan-fried to stop oxidation, and boast a sweet and grassy flavor with light astringency. The highest-prized Dragon Well teas are sourced from Longjing Village in Zhejiang, and must be plucked from the first shoots that appear before the Qingming Festival in early April. Dragon Well tea was granted the status of Gong Cha, imperial tea, during the Qing Dynasty by the Kangxi Emperor (1661-1722).

 

Huo Shan Huang Ya (霍山黃芽)

Also Called: Huoshan Yellow

Yellow tea floating in gaiwan

Belonging to the rare category of yellow tea, this tea was produced in Anhui as an imperial tribute during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 CE). It is thought to have been developed specifically to have a yellow color, in honor of the imperial family, to both its dried leaf and its steeped liquor. The flavor is delicate and subtle, with both floral and buttery notes. Due to its intensive production process and niche position in the market, this tea can be difficult to find. But like all royal teas, its complex and unique flavors make it worth a try for any tea enthusiast.

By: Jen Coate

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Builder’s Tea: A Workman’s Tradition

Builder’s Tea is a uniquely British concoction that is both indispensable to its working class and a fascinating unsung contributor to its tea culture. This creation of Yorkshire Tea is still a staple that drives its marketing, like the ad for Yorkshire Tea starring Sean Bean, which we enthusiastically recommend that you treat yourself and give it a watch (we’ll include a link at the bottom). “Proper brews… for Yorkshire!” Now that’s the passion that good tea deserves.

Worker's Enjoying Tea

Worker’s Enjoying Tea – Gunbower District, Victoria

Builder’s tea has been around far longer than there has been a name for it, but it is thought to have developed in the 1970’s, as the U.K. was finally regaining its economic footing in the decades following WWII. The British manufacturing industry was on the rise, domestic production was highly valued, and skilled laborers were in demand to work assembly lines and construction sites. A new blue-collar culture began to emerge, and with it, a demand for low-cost, quick-brewing tea that could provide these workers a rapid dose of refreshment. This need was especially vital for those working outside factories and offices, where deadlines were tighter and breaks more sporadic – everyday tradesmen like carpenters, electricians, and bricklayers.

The essential elements of a cup of builder’s tea were thus tailored to the demands of the laborer. Traditionally, the blend utilized would consist mostly of Keemun (also known as Qimen or Qimen Gongfu) a Chinese black tea out of southern Anhui Province. First produced during the Qing Dynasty, this tea has been popular in the West since the late 19th century. Its characteristics make it ideal as the base of builder’s tea, which needed to be inexpensive, highly caffeinated, and with a flavor able to withstand a fast and brutal preparation. Historically favored brands include Tetley’s, PG Tips, and – of course – Yorkshire.

Colonial Breakfast Tea Liquor and Loose Leaf

Colonial Breakfast Tea

Builder’s tea was always brewed directly in mugs instead of a teapot. Boiled water was poured directly over teabags (loose tea was never preferred), and each mug was then subject to vigorous stirring. The idea was to extract as much flavor and caffeine from the teabag as possible in an abbreviated amount of time, and stirring was thought to speed the process along. Once the desired steep strength was reached, the bag was discarded, and generous amounts of full-fat milk and white sugar were added for an extra boost of energy and calories.

These days, although still conspicuous on any British construction site or factory floor, builder’s tea is waning in popularity as coffee blends and energy drinks seek to crowd out competition. Brands like Yorkshire Tea, however, still insist on keeping builder’s tea alive. And if you’re curious to try a strong black tea to get you through the workday, we at Dominion Tea recommend Colonial Breakfast. This Keemun blend boasts a malty kick and a delightful smoothness, and is perfect for both a morning start or an afternoon pickup. Hard to beat that for a proper brew!

By: Jen Coate
Yorkshire Tea Commercial: https://youtu.be/8cipMoGKXGE

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History of Tea Caddies

Portrait of Queen Catherine of Braganza (1665)

In our current era of cardboard boxes and plastic packaging, caddies may seem like a peculiar and cumbersome way for anyone to store their tea. But don’t be fooled by their decorative exterior – tea caddies, while they may not look it, boast a surprisingly practical origin.

The first records of tea trade in Europe are found at the beginning of the 17th century. Catherine of Braganza is credited as having popularized tea-drinking in the British court with her marriage to Charles II in 1662. Until the middle of the 18th century, tea was a commodity rarely seen outside specialty shops and apothecaries, but its growing popularity gave rise to a robust black market that enabled its purchase by private homes. The cost was still prohibitively expensive to the lower class, which led to a desire among the wealthy to keep their tea properly stored and safe from theft.

Enter the tea caddy. The term caddy is thought to have derived from the Malay word “kati”, a unit of weight used throughout China and Southeast Asia. Early caddies closely resembled ginger jars, with a long bottle shape and pull-out stopper. These were made in a variety of materials, including glass, porcelain, and silver, and were always fitted with a keyhole. The caddy would be kept within the drawing room, and its key in the possession of the lady of the house. Whenever tea was to be served, hot water would be fetched from the kitchen, and the lady herself would take charge of its preparation.

Wooden Tea Caddy

Wooden Tea Caddy

Eventually, the canister shape fell out of popularity in favor of a box or chest design, which was the predominate form of tea caddy throughout the 19th century. These caddies were commonly constructed with two lined compartments on either side for tea storage, and a reserved space in the middle for sugar, which was also expensive. Like their bottle-shaped predecessors, chest-style caddies could be very elaborate, with mahogany and rosewood being popular materials for their construction, sometimes with ornate inlays such as brass or ivory.

As tea grew more commonplace as a household good (and subsequently less expensive), tea caddies gradually declined in production. Prepacked and bagged tea has since made the practical use of caddies obsolete, but the ones that remain are a fascinating and often beautiful window into the European tea culture of the past.

By Jen Coate

References

www.ascasonline.org/articoloMAGGI128.html

www.hamptonantiques.co.uk/index.pl?id=2251

colnestour.org/magazine_article/tea-tea-caddy-brief-study-early-history-tea-containers/

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The Four Types of Kyusu: Part II

Ceramic Atode no Kyusu

Atode no Kyusu with rear handle.

In Part I, we talked about two of the most common type of Japanese kyusu, or teapot. Kyusu have evolved over many centuries to best suit the needs of the diverse range of Japanese green teas. The two kyusu we introduced last week – yokode kyusu and houhin – trace their origins back to Chinese teapots adopted by the Japanese in the mid-Edo period. The other main types of kyusu, atode and uwade, are likewise the result of years of adaptation and evolution.

Atode no Kyusu

Just like the yokode kyusu, the word “atode” (後手の急須), meaning “on the back”, refers to this teapot’s structural design. Modeled to resemble western-style teapots, this teapot is especially suitable for Chinese and western-style black teas with a high water temperature and longer steep time.

Decorative Uwade Kyusu

Uwade Kysu or Dobin

Uwade Kyusu

“Uwade” (上手の急須), which translates to “on the top”, is also known as a dobin (土瓶) in Japanese tea ceremony terminology. Shaped like a western tea kettle with a long, curving handle over the top of the pot, uwade kyusu are larger than any other type of kyusu and intended for serving many guests at once. The placement of the handle is designed to accommodate the heavy main body of the pot, which would be difficult to pour with a side or back handle. When these teapots are made of cast iron and intended to be hung over the hearth, they are called tetsubin (鉄瓶).

Kyusu can be a fun way to experience Japanese culture and traditional tea preparation. If you are a fan of Japanese green teas, why not experiment with a kyusu of your own?

By: Jennifer Coate

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The Four Types of Kyusu: Part I

We’ve written before about the kyusu before – a small, traditional Japanese teapot perfectly designed for brewing up sencha, konacha, gyokuro, and many other types of green tea. Kyusu have been around for centuries, having evolved from the Chinese Yixing teapot when Buddhist monks first brought tea into the country during the early Heian Period (794-1185 C.E.). As Japanese tea is hugely diverse in style and steeping requirements, the form of the kyusu has changed and adapted over time into several different subtypes: yokode kyusu, ushirode kyusu, uwade kyusu, or houhin. Although there may be some variation in the appearance of the kyusu depending on artisan or manufacturer, the word kyusu itself is still an umbrella term for any Japanese teapot of these four basic shapes. In this post, we’ll explore two of the most frequently seen kyusu in Japan: yokode and houhin.

Yokode no Kyusu

The simplicity of the Japanese Tea Ceremony has inspired other accessories.

Japanese Yokode Kyusu

Yokode kyusu are the most common type of kyusu used in Japanese tea preparation. Its name reflects its appearance – “yokode” (横手の急須), meaning “on the side”, refers to the large, conical handle protruding from the right-hand side of the pot. This design allows the tea to be poured quickly and easily from a kneeling position, and is especially efficient when pouring small amounts into multiple cups. Yokode kyusu are suitable for most types of Japanese green teas, especially sencha. In fact, it was the rising popularity of sencha in the mid-Edo period (1603-1868 C.E.), that brought about a need for teaware specifically for brewing leaf, rather than powdered tea. Inspired by the leaf teas currently popular with Chinese Ming dynasty officials, early yokode kyusu were likely modeled after China’s purple clay Yixing teapots.

Houhin

Japanese Teapot with No Handles

Houhin ‘Treasure Chest’ Kyusu

Houhin (宝瓶), meaning “treasure chest”, is a small kyusu with a wide spout and no handle. It is usually used for steeping gyokuro and high-grade sencha, like shincha, as its shape and size allow for very quick, highly controlled steeping and pour times. Although these kyusu do not have handles, the low temperature at which these teas are steeped means that the pourer does not have to worry about burning their hands. Like yokode kyusu, houhin usage began in earnest during the mid-Edo period, as tea merchant and monk Baisao began to promote and popularize sencha and other whole leaf tea traditions. The houhin vessels we see today are likely a modified offshoot of the Chinese gaiwan. This is the type of kyusu that we here at Dominion Tea prefer to use when steeping our gyokuro, konacha, and shincha, as the fine filter and rapid pour allow us to brew these teas perfectly every time.

In our next post, we’ll take a look at the two other types of Japanese kyusu: atode and uwade kyusu.

By: Jennifer Coate

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