5 Different Teas for the New Year

An exploration of different teas means puerh is a must.

Puerh Cakes and Bricks available at our Purcellville, Virginia tasting room just outside Washington, DC.

Here are 5 different teas worth trying in the new year if you haven’t had them before. Why should trying new teas make it onto your goals list? Very simply, it will teach you more about yourself and your tastes than you give the simple cup of tea credit in doing each day. New taste experiences, even if they are unpleasant, help you understand which flavors and mouth feels you like better and helps you appreciate your favorite teas even more. So now on to those teas.

  1. Puerh – This daily tea in China is not drunk as often in the United States. Puerh (a.k.a. pu-erh) is a fermented tea that comes in two forms: ripe (black tea) and raw (green/white tea). This earthy and vegetal tea is an experience that may open up a whole new world of tea for you. Here are a few more posts to learn about puerh in case you are curious and need more convincing: Intro to Dark Tea and Raw versus Ripe Puerh.
  2. Bai Hao Silver Needle – This simple and elegant white tea is often over looked because it has a very delicate smell and brew color. But don’t let its simplicity fool you. This first flush tea is made from the bud of the tea plant and is prized for the silver hairs that grow on the outside as a protection mechanism for the plant (bugs have a hard time chewing through the hairs much less standing on them as they try to eat).
  3. Kukicha – This Japanese tea is made from the stem of the tea plant. It produces a light creamy brew that is slightly salty. It doesn’t have the history of our previous two picks, but if you are a fan of efficiency and using every part this could be your new favorite tea.
  4. Single Estate Ceylon tea – We are all familiar with Ceylon teas. These are usually beautiful black teas from Sri Lanka. What most people don’t know is that they are made at shared manufacturing plants on the island as most of the farms are too small to support their own facility. So finding a single estate Ceylon tea, like Vithanakanda, is a true joy.  Vithanakanda Estate is in southwestern Sri Lanka, and they produce a beautifully complex black tea that has notes of caramel, licorice and a slightly floral nose
  5. Oriental Beauty Oolong Wet Leaf Up-Close

    Oriental Beauty is just one of many different teas to try in the new year (shown here after infusion).

    Oriental Beauty – This beautifully complex oolong from Taiwan is created with the help of green leaf hoppers. The tea leaves are harvested after green leaf hoppers pass through the tea fields and munch on the tea plants, which causes the plant to produce additional polyphenols.  These polyphenols give the tea a smooth mouth feel and a complex flavor.

Enjoy the new year with 5 different teas and learn more about your favorite beverage and yourself at the same time.

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Science of Tea: 3 Fun Chemistry Facts

Theaflavin

Theaflavin – Just one of many compounds in tea the contribute to taste and mouth feel.

Understanding the science of tea leaves leads you into the vast world of chemistry. It is here in the chemistry labs that we being to truly appreciate the complexity of the plant that produces our favorite beverage. Below are 3 fun facts on what drives the flavor in our tea cup.

  1. There are over 2,000 bioactive compounds in a single tea leaf. (Higdon, Drake, & Delage, 2005) Bioactive compounds are compounds that will interact with living tissue, i.e. the human mouth and sinus cavity, eliciting a response from us that could be either good or bad. The bulk of these compounds are polyphenols which directly affect the flavor and mouth feel of a cup of tea.
  2. The twisting and balling of leaves breaks open the cell membranes allowing polyphenol oxidase (enzyme) to combine with flavan-3ols (a type of flavonoid) to produce theaflavins and thearubigins (Higdon, Drake, & Delage, 2005). It is the theaflavins and thearubigins which give black and oolong teas their astringent feel in your mouth (that dry feeling in your mouth after you swallow).
  3. It is polyphenol oxidase that is the driver of oxidation. This enzyme protects the plant from microbial and viral infections (Wageningen University, 2014). In a tea plant, this enzyme lives in its own cellular compartment. Once the tea leaf is plucked, a set of cellular components have been broken allowing the polyphenol oxidase to interact with the other compounds and water in the plant. To stop the oxidation in tea, heat is used to remove water and inactivate the polyphenol oxidase.

If botany is more your thing, read about terroir to learn about the proper climate for growing tea.

Works Cited

Higdon, J., Drake, V., & Delage, B. (2005, January 31). Retrieved from Oregon State University, Linus Paulling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center: Tea: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/food-beverages/tea

Wageningen University. (2014, August 14). Enzymatic browning. Retrieved from Food Info Initiative of Wageningen University, The Netherlands: http://www.food-info.net/uk/colour/enzymaticbrowning.htm

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5 Fun Facts about US Tea Consumption

Most tea in the US is consumed as iced tea.

Ice cubes, an American Invention, play a starring role in the consumption of tea in this country.

Much is said about US being a coffee drinking country, but US tea consumption is pretty impressive by itself. Here are some facts about how Americans consume their tea.

  1. 85% of all tea is consumed iced in the United States. For those of us that know that ice in beverages is a US invention, this is not a shocker. You can read a little about the history of ice cubes in our blog post about Making Tea Ice Cubes, and if that does not convince you that Americans love iced tea there is our blog on the History of Iced Tea. We have been consuming this beverage for almost as long as our country has been around.
  2. On any given day there are around 158 million cups of tea being drunk in the US. I smile at this one as I know a lot of tea drinkers, myself included, that will consume around 4-6 cups a day. So it is probably more fair to say there are around 50 million die hard tea drinkers in this country. To put the 158 million cups in perspective, China consumes 1.5 billion cups of tea a day. Granted, China has a population of around 1.3 billion and the US has population around 316 million, so it isn’t a completely fair comparison. However, it does show there is plenty of room from growth in tea consumption in the US.
  3. In 2015, 285 million pounds of tea was imported into the United States, making the US the third largest importer of tea on the planet. In case you are curious, Russia and Pakistan where number 1 and 2 respectively.
  4. Black tea is still the most consumed type of tea in the US at about 85%, followed by Green tea at 14% and other teas accounting for the remaining 1%. This statistics excludes tisanes.
  5. 69% of tea consumed in the US is from a tea bag. This one makes me cringe. The good news is that this is decreasing as Americans learn about loose leaf tea and how much better it tastes than a tea bag. So I raise my cup to all of you who help to educate your friends on why they should abandon those tea bags for the good stuff.

Many thanks to the Tea Association of the United States for these interesting tidbits on the state of tea consumption in the US.

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Cleaning Tea Accessories (For Optimal Tea Enjoyment)

Tea deposits brown tannin stains over time.

Before And After – Cleaning Tannins from Tea Cups

At the start of spring, the inclination to clean and freshen up from the winter kicks in and we should use this habit for cleaning tea accessories that may not have been as thoroughly cleaned as needed from our routine use. Below are some tips on how to properly deep clean your tea accessories.

Tea Infuser

Cleaning this tea accessory is generally the easiest since they are usually dishwasher safe and hopefully you have been doing that. However, if you are like me, my infuser is not always near a dishwasher or I don’t want to risk it disappearing from the dishwasher at work. So to help clean out the tea stains soak the infuser in boiling water for 10 minutes and then rinse under cold. Dispose of that boiling water and repeat. You can also use a toothbrush to help get stuck tea leaf parts out of the holes in the infuser. Gently scrub with the toothbrush after the infuser has soak in the boiling water for at least 5 minutes.

Tea Cups & Tea Pots (Porcelain)

So with age, our favorite porcelain tea cups and pots start to turn brown on the inside. This is a natural formation of the tannins from the tea. This is harmless, but if the color bothers you, you can remove it by combining boiling water, the juice and peel from a quarter of a lemon and 2 tablespoons of baking soda. Allow it to sit in the teapot or cup for at least two hours if not over night. Pour off after it has soaked and wipe down with a gentle cloth. You may need to repeat if the stain is very stubborn. Before putting in your next pot of tea, make sure you rinse with at least one pot or cup of plain boiling water.

Tea Pots (Silver)

So silver tarnishes both inside and outside. I am not one to put silver polish on the inside of my silver teapot, so this is a better method for getting rid of that tarnish. Line your kitchen sink with aluminium foil, shiny side up, and pour in 1/2 cup of salt and 1/2 cup of baking soda. Then fill the sink about 2/3 full (enough so the tea pot fully submerges in the water) with water that is just shy of a boil. Allow the teapot to soak for 1-2 minutes and then pull it out and dry immediately with a soft cloth.

Before and after photos of tarnished followed by clean silver pots.

Cleaning Silver Teapots in 2 Minutes Flat! (aka a great science experiment with kids)

Tea Pots (Iron)

These pots are the easiest to clean as you can clean them after each use by pouring in boiling water and allowing it to sit for about 3-5 minutes and then drain. Do not use a scouring sponge on this pot as it will cause scratches on its surface. If your iron pot develops rust, all is not lost. Generally, the rust is not a problem to consume and some cultures, like the Japanese, like the taste of tea from a rusted iron pot. If rust is not your thing, take some used tea leaves and put them in the pot with boiling water and allow it to sit for 20 minutes. The tannic acid from the tea leaves will react with the rust and create a coating that will prevent future rust formation assuming you don’t leave standing water in your teapot.

Don’t forget after you have cleaned your tea accessories, you should probably check those shelves in the pantry that are home to your tea collection and review our storage guide to help you determine which teas may need to head to the compost pile. Happy Spring Cleaning!

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Notable People in the History of Tea

Statue of Lu Yu

Lu Yu – In Xi’an on the grounds of the Great Wild Goose Pagoda
Nat Krause
July 26, 2005, CC – 2.0

The history of tea is intertwined with religion, commerce, early notions of wellness and more. Understanding where tea has come from requires looking at the notable people who influenced the production and consumption this fine drink across the globe. Given that tea has been around for a few thousand years, there are many people to consider, from religious scholars, to corporate spies, and even accidental inventors. There are really too many, in fact, for one blog post so we’ve selected a few of our favorites to touch on briefly.

Lu Yu

As the man credited with documenting the production and consumption of tea in China, his work, The Classic of Tea, still has meaningful insights into ancient production of tea. Born in Hubei, in central China, Lu Yu lived between 733 and 804 C.E. This book gives a view into the Chinese practices around tea and its status as one of the seven necessities in life. The poems and quotes in the book are still relevant today, about 1200 years later!

Eisai

This buddist monk, also known as Eisai Zenji (or Zen Master Eisai) is credited with bringing tea seeds to Japan and planting them near Kyoto, creating the first tea farm in Japan. He is also credited with writing the first book about tea consumption in Japan during his lifetime from 1141 to 1215 C.E. His writings on tea are credited with spreading tea culture throughout Japan and setting the stage for the Japanese tea ceremony.

Robert Fortune played a critical role in the history of tea and its move to India.

Robert Fortune – An early example of corporate espionage.

Robert Fortune

As the botanist for the British East India Company, he is credited with stealing seeds and tea plants from China that where then taken to India to plant. While these initially failed, Fortune (1812 – 1880 C.E.) helped to identify the native camilia seninsis var. assamica, which is considered the backbone of Indian tea. He helped the British East India Company break the monopoly that China had on tea.

Arthur Campbell

Living from 1805 to 1874, Arthur Campbell planted camilia seninsis var. seninsis seeds in the Darjeeling region of India. Without him, the British East India Company would not have expanded tea production into Darjeeling and we would be missing a seriously good tea (see Darjeeling – The Champagne of Tea).

Thomas Sullivan

The story goes that in the early 1900’s Thomas Sullivan started sending tea samples to customers in small bags. Not knowing that this was simply meant as a convenient way to ship the tea, his customers dropped the entire bag in water, soon after complaining that the silk was too fine all the while demanding more tea bags from Mr. Sullivan. He was not the first to create it, but just make it a commercially viable design that was widely adopted. The first to patent the tea bag in the U.S where Roberta C. Watson and Mary Molaren. They were unable to turn their patent into a commercial business, but their design looks pretty similar to the modern day version minus the string to pull it out of the water.

There are so many people that have contributed to the history of tea through thousands of years and this is just a small sampling. Do you have a favorite?

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