Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev in 1987
Tea and politics in the United States have gone hand-in-hand since the founding of our country. Tea has influenced many a decision maker and brought together disparate minds over important topics. So it is fun to highlight some of the more frequently served types of tea in the White House. Below are just a few of the favorites of former First Ladies.
Abigail Adams – Abigail Adams served many different teas at the White House. Most formal occasions required a black tea, which during that time in America would have been black tea from the Fujian province in China. Remember that this is shortly after the American Revolution and trade with England and the British East India Company was not in the picture. So there would have been almost no tea from India at this time. Abigail took it upon herself to blend the black tea with rose petals to make a softer tea that she would serve for closest friends and family.
Nancy Reagan – The repeated meetings between President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, that would ultimately lead to the fall of the Berlin wall in Germany and communism in Russia, required Nancy Reagan to entertain Raisa Gorbachev. This was done over a series of teas. During the one hosted by Mrs. Reagan, she offered a decaffeinated almond tea to Ms. Gorbachev, who seemed to enjoy it. Quite a bit was written by Mrs. Reagan about how uncomfortable these teas where in her memoir. As the conversations whether rather impersonal, with Mrs. Gorbachev talking about communism (she was a political science lecturer at many of the Russian universities) while Mrs. Reagan tried to steer the conversation toward talking about their children. Much was written in the press on the importance of these teas to international relations even though they were rather uncomfortable for Mrs. Reagan. At least she had her favorite tea with her during those trying meetings.
Jacqueline Kennedy – Another First Lady who entertained with many afternoon teas, Mrs. Kennedy used those affairs to help redefine the role of the First Lady in national politics. Now, much like Abigail Adams, those afternoon teas where formal affairs requiring a more formal tea. So a traditional black tea, this time Indian tea, as trade with China had not resumed, was usually served. It isn’t until she is away from the limelight that you learn her favorite tea was actually a black iced tea blended with mint, orange juice, and lime juice. She usually enjoyed this during the summer months while reading.
These are just a few of the First Ladies, so many more drank tea routinely, it is just rather difficult to get to the type of tea they liked. It should be noted that tea has had a long role at the White House and continues to be a way to connect with visiting dignitaries from all over the world.
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The Chinese New Year is the largest celebration in China. Lasting 15 days, this holiday is a chance for families and friends to come together and celebrate the new year. Gifts are exchanged and a lot of food is eaten. In finding the right New Year gift, many Chinese choose food items or teas that focus on health and long life. Since the Chinese see all teas being healthy and helping to aid in a long life, it seems hard to figure out how to narrow the field. This holiday is considered the biggest in China and one of the few where gifts are exchanged, so the quality of the tea is going to play a big roll in what is chosen as a gift. Also, with the new year during the dormant period for tea plants, much of the available tea in China will be fall and winter harvest oolongs and aged puerh. So with this in mind, here are 3 oolongs that would would be considered an appropriate to both give and serve as part of the Chinese New Year .
Ti Kuan Yin – This beautiful oolong from Anxi in Fuijan province of China carries the name of Iron Goddess of Mercy. Kuan Yin, or Guanyin, gave guidance in a dream to a local farmer in Anxi on how to care for the tea plant and make this balled oolong. This brought prosperity to the farmer and the village. So this oolong is not only associated with health, but with prosperity. So it covers two of the biggest Chinese beliefs around the new year making it a perfect candidate for giving and serving.
Fenghuang Dancong – This Phoenix Mountain oolong from Guangdong province is plucked from tea plants that are allowed to grow wild in gardens of other plants. These plants are older and larger than the plants kept in a traditional garden. The flavor profile is both sweet and vegetal. These oolongs have been around for centuries and are considered one of the best lighter oolongs from China. Tea from old tea plants is always valued in China and shows a level of care from the giver of the tea.
Wen Shan Bao Zhong – This high elevation oolong from Taiwan (keep in mind China does not recognize Taiwan as a separate country), is also a fall harvest oolong and is prized on the mainly for its light creamy flavor. Taiwan oolongs are considered the best quality, even by mainland Chinese. So this would be both an exotic and highly prized gift.
Regardless of which one you choose, all of these oolongs are worthy of any holiday.
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Liu An Gua Pian
Liu An Gua Pan is a unique Chinese green tea that has been around for centuries. It is considered to be one of the top green teas within China. So let’s explore a little of its history and how to best prepare this tea.
Liu An Gua Pan History
Liu An Gua Pan, also called Liu’an Melon Seed Tea dates back to the Tang Dynasty (733-804 C.E.), making it about 1,200 years old. Its historical location of production is in region around Lu’an City in western part of the Anhui province of China. The region is roughly halfway between Guangzhou and Beijing and is due west of Shanghai.
Produced only in the spring, this tea has a very unique plucking style. Unlike many other teas where the pluck style is a bud and some number of additional leaves, the pluck style for Liu’an Melon Seed Tea is only the second leaf on the tea shoot. During production, the growers will actually trim off the bud and first leaf and then pluck the second leaf to make this tea. Also unique is that during manufacturing the central stem of the leaf is either removed completely or trimmed down to match the thickness of the rest of the leaf. The tea is then pan fried to stop oxidation.
Liu An Gua Pan Name & Brewing Techniques
Liu An Gua Pan is also called ‘Melon Seed’ tea. This name references the flat, oval shape of the leaf which is said to look like a melon seed. Admittedly, that shape is more evident before the manufacturing of the tea than after. However, you can sometimes still recognize the seed shape in the final product.
Like other green teas, this tea is enjoyed in a gaiwan in China. They may also brew it in a small clear glass to enjoy looking at the tea leaves will drinking. It can also be easily enjoyed in a teapot or brewed in an infuser in a cup. Melon Seed tea is brewed at lower temperatures (185°F) with shorter steep times (start at 1.5 minutes and work up to 3 minutes).
We encourage you to explore Liu An Gua Pian and enjoy its unique flavor.
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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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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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