Tea Plantation in Fog by Flickr user Matthieu Sévère
So the very early spring weather here in Northern Virginia has has thinking about the current growing conditions in our favorite tea growing regions. The first pluck in China will occur at the end of this month, so here are 3 tea growing conditions you can use to impress or bore your friends the next time weather pops into the conversation.
- Bring on the rain. Camellia sinensis, or tea, needs at least 50 inches of water a year (Northern Virginia averages 38 inches a year). In places like India, it can receive as much as 98 inches of rain a year before it starts to be too much water for the plant. It cannot sit in the water, so well drained soil is a must, which is why you will often find those tea farms on the sides of mountains.
- Cold is not its favorite temperature. Tea grown in the high elevations, like in China or Darjeeling, India, will go dormant as soon as the night time temperatures routinely drop below 50 degrees F. The plant will be just fine and require no intervention so long as the temperature does not drop below 25 degrees F. At that point, the plant needs to be covered to prevent damage to the main stem. Keep mind, in both China and India, these are tropical climates, much like the southern United States. They just happen to be mountains, where that is not the case here in the US.
- Direct sunshine not required. Tea does not need a lot of direct sunlight to grow, as little as a few hours a day. Too much can cause problems for the plant if it dries out the soil. The more complex tasting teas grow in light to moderate shade. Granted, that shade slows their growth. It is that slow growth that helps create the complex flavor.
So keep thinking warm weather for our favorite tea fields, because Terroir of Tea is critical to our final cup.
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Idyllic Picture of Darjeeling Tea Plantation
Protected Geographic Identification is a distinctive name or sign that indicates the originating territory of a particular product’s country, region or locality where its quality, reputation or other characteristic is linked to its geographic location. In the world of tea, as with other products like wine, geography matters. It is in the soil, weather, and altitude that tea derives its flavor. We call that terroir. Without knowing where the tea is grown, you have a harder time judging its quality.
For instance, Sencha grown in China has a dry grass flavor while Sencha grown in Japan has more of a seaweed flavor. Which one is better quality? To tea snobs, it is cleary the Sencha grown in Japan! Sencha is historically a Japanese tea which is steamed to stop oxidation and not baked. Since green tea is often associated with a more healthy option in Europe and the US, its quite common to see teas being marketed as Sencha that are not grown in Japan at all.
Darjeeling is one of the first teas to get geographic identification protection, which has helped to reduce significant the use of the term Darjeeling on tea that was not grown in the region. Sri Lanka has dipped into geographic identification protection for Ceylon teas and China is just getting started. Unlike other countries, China has a much harder job in determining how to carve the geographic boundaries around certain teas. Tea has been grown in that country for thousands of years, so the style of manufacture has spread and evolved throughout the country. What’s more, China has its own folklore around the origins of specific teas like Dragonwell and Puerh, which will be a starting point for them in negotiating in this space. There are a great many named teas that could use the protection of this international agreement.
If you aren’t familiar with Protected Georgraphic Identification, just look at the cheese counter at your local grocery store. You will see that many of them, like parmigiano reggiano, have these protections. Even the Idaho potato has protected geographic identification. So we hope more teas are able to get these protections so consumers can better understand how important location is to the taste of their favorite beverage.
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Chinese New Year Festival (photo by Flickr user Paul)
The Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, dates back to Shang Dynasty (1766 BCE-1122 BCE). Just about every subsequent dynasty put their own spin on the celebration. The Han Dynasty (206 BCE-9 CE) added an early version of fireworks by burning dried bamboo. When the bamboo is set on fire its core expands causing the stick to explode open with a loud pop. The Tang Dynasty (618 CE-907 CE) added the red lanterns, which are still part of the celebration.
Chinese New Year Traditions
New Year’s Eve dinner with family is one of the biggest traditions of this holiday. It is so big that it causes over 3 billion people to travel just prior to the New Year in China. The New Year’s travel rush begins almost 14 days before New Year’s eve to allow all the transit systems to move all these people. When that is compared to the 48.7 million Americans that traveled to be with family this past Thanksgiving (measured over a 5 day period), it makes our crowded roads and lines at airport security seem empty.
Once every one makes it to dinner, a feast is served that includes a whole chicken or fish (including head, tail, feet or fins) as they symbolize prosperity and completeness, noodles, dumplings, and Niangao. Each family will have different spins on these dishes based off of which region of China they are from. Tea is served and brought as gifts for other family members and for the alter that is setup for deceased family members to honor them.
The family stays up after dinner and watches fireworks that are set off at midnight. Everyone is to stay up all night and all lights are to remain on in the house until the sun rises. After sunrise, gifts are exchanged, which are usually red envelopes with money as they symbolize prosperity and wealth for the new year. Firecrackers may be set off as they are to scare off the “Nian”, a monster that arrives at the New Year who brings bad luck. Red is worn through out the New Year celebration since it is the color of luck. Black is avoided as it is the color of death.
Chinese New Year Around the World
Due to the world increasingly getting smaller, there are many celebrations for the Lunar New Year around the world. In fact, the largest celebration of the Lunar New Year outside of China occurs in San Francisco. If you cannot make it there, Washington DC has a Chinese New Year parade as well as many other large American cities. So join in the celebrations!
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Yes, January is Hot Tea Month! So as in all silly holidays and observances of food related items, this one comes from industry. Hot Tea Month first appeared in 1994 in the United States. Its not a surprise to learn it is also observed in Canada and Europe. As someone who drinks tea daily, this just makes me roll my eyes. However, it does present the opportunity to share our favorite beverage with our friends. So here are a few ideas on how to celebrate Hot Tea Month.
Have Tea with Friends
It sounds so simple, but it works well. Inviting friends over for tea gives you an excuse to show off your tea making skills and have your friends consume your favorite beverage. So clean off the teapot your grandmother gave you and put it to good use this month. If you don’t have time to make tea, go out for tea with your friends. Tea naturally lends itself to good conversation.
Cook with Tea
Stumped on how to incorporate your favorite beverage into food, we have you covered with a lot of different Tea Recipes. Given that this is generally a cold month, we love the tea-infused butter for warm bread or smokey mushroom soup.
Try New Teas
After you have encouraged your friends to have tea and fed tea to your family, it is time to treat yourself. Nothing like a holiday to get you to do something new, so go out and find a few new teas to try. There are thousands of teas out there to try, and even those of us who have made a career out of drinking tea still find new ones. If you are not sure where to start, try our post on new teas to try in the new year. If you have had those, pick a category of tea that you do not normally drink, like white or green, and go looking for teas from specific countries that you are pretty certain you have not had and have a cup.
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Malty Assam Black Tea and Infused Liquor. This crush-tear-curl tea even looks like ground coffee beans.
We get a lot of people in the shop that love tea but will not abandon their morning cup of coffee. This is a shame given all the benefits of tea. So, here are recommendations on the 3 teas to replace coffee, especially that first cup in the morning. We have seen, first hand, their success in converting those whose are willing to try.
- Malty Assam – This bold black tea from the Assam region of India is the only CTC (cut-tear-curl) tea we carry. The CTC method for manufacturing tea gives you small balls of tea leaves. The small surface intensifies both the flavor and briskness of the tea. This tea holds up to milk and sugar, in case that is the real reason you love your morning cup of coffee.
- Ceylon OP – This beautiful tea from the mountains of Sri Lanka features malty flavor and brisk mouth feel to help get the morning started quick. It’s a wonderful tea on its own with no need for milk and sugar.
- Kosebei TGFOP – From Kenya, this beautiful black tea has flavors of currant, malt, and moist earth. It can also handle milk and sugar without losing its flavor.
Yes, all these teas are black. Their woody and earthy flavors accompanied with their astringent/brisk finish is fairly similar to coffee. However, they are easy to drink without milk and sugar, so we recommend you try them straight first. You may be pleasantly surprised that you can get rid of the milk and sugar calories. The other big difference you will notice is that the caffeine doesn’t disappear out of your blood stream as fast, so there is no energy crash an hour later. For those of you who already drink tea in the morning and are looking for new ones to try, take a look at our piece on new teas to try in the new year. Personally, we start our morning with a wide variety of teas, some days green, others puerh and so on. So don’t think black tea is the only way to start your morning.
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