Aged Oolong Tea

2009 Aged Oolong Tea CakeBack in December, we wrote about aged white tea cakes, a recent innovation out of Fujian, China that has slowly been gaining popularity here in the United States. Like puerh, aging white tea can give it a whole new array of flavors and complexities. But puerhs and whites aren’t the only teas that can benefit from aging. Unknown to many Western tea drinkers, the tradition of aging oolongs in Taiwan and China is nearly as old as oolong tea itself.

Much like white tea (and in contrast to puerh), aged oolongs do not require fermentation to kick off their processing. Instead, they are traditionally baked or roasted over charcoal and carefully kept sealed from light and moisture. Too much moisture will produce a distinct tartness or sourness that can overpower the delicate complexities acquired in aging. Some producers of aged oolongs will re-roast their teas every few years to ensure a proper dryness. But this step is not always needed so long as the tea is stored properly and in the right environment.

Generally, an aged oolong is not considered ready for consumption until it is six to eight years old – although some connoisseurs argue that oolongs should wait until they are at least thirty to lose their “greenness”. Regardless, a well-stored oolong will continue to age and improve for many decades. The resulting flavor is both mellow and complex, and can contain notes of honey sweetness or cooling herbs. Superior aged oolongs have a soft and silky mouthfeel and a pronounced smoothness.

Like puerh and aged white teas, not every oolong is considered suitable for aging. The leaves must be of a high-enough quality, and the plucking and processing done with special care, so that the aging tea will be able to acquire the prized complexities and flavors and not merely taste stale. Traditionally, high-mountain Taiwanese oolongs, like Dark Roast Alishan, with a moderate to heavy roast are considered very suitable, as well as “rocky” teas from mountainous regions like Wuyi in the Chinese mainland. The flavors that are already naturally imparted through these high-elevation, mineral-rich terroirs are perfect for development through aging.

View inside an aged oolong tea cake and its brew.Although still a relative rarity in the U.S., aged oolongs are slowly coming into the western market, mostly through specialty tea houses. Some are sold loose, in their semi-balled form, while others are compressed into cakes of varying shapes and sizes. Here at Dominion Tea, we are excited to now be offering 2009 Aged Oolong Cakes, which are available for both online orders and in-store pickup. Whether you’re new to aged teas or a seasoned veteran, aged oolongs are a wonderful way to explore a corner of the tea world not often noticed in the West.

By: Jen Coate

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Compressed Tea

Compressed tea is tea formed into a solid shape, usually after it has been taken through the traditional steps of processing. Over history these shapes have taken various forms, from flat discs (also referred to as cakes) to bricks, birds’ nests, melons, mushrooms, and hearts. Such shapes also include decorative panels meant for display instead of drinking. While compressed tea is often made of puerh there is plenty of experimentation with other types of tea.

History of Compressed Tea

The origin of compressed tea is unclear. Written documentation mentioning the consumption of compressed tea dates back to the Jin Dynasty (266-420 CE) in China. The documentation points to the increased popularity of compressed tea at the royal court and in the wealthy merchant class. Up to this point, in northern China, tea was drunk as loose leaf lightly dried in the sun or over fire, similar to what we now call green tea. Southern China, however, was another story.

The Silk Road has been in operation since 65 CE as a tea trading route from the Yunnan province. It is believed that tea was compressed as bricks and discs for such trading purposes, as loose tea takes up too much room for transportation on horseback or by foot for long distances. And since this journey took many months in the heat and humidity a kind of natural fermentation occurred resulting in a new type of tea; puerh. Given the Silk Road began long before the Jin Dynasty, it is much more likely that compressed tea was in circulation a lot earlier than appears in written documentation.

How Tea Was Compressed

In the Yunnan province, home to puerh, tea was compressed by hand until the Ming Dynasty, when clay and pottery allowed for the making of standardized molds to evenly compress the tea. The melon and mushroom shapes came as creative tea merchants sought favor from their Emperors through tribute gifts.

Today, the tea is pressed and steamed in metal models to ensure no transfer of flavor or unwanted bacteria between batches of tea. However, you can still occasionally find the hand pressed cakes.

Modern Compressed Tea

Compressed tea has made a huge comeback in China due to the focus of the Communist Party on Chinese history and traditions, which are thought to bring strength to the country as it undergoes rapid change and modernization. This focus on history brought puerh and puerh tea cakes to the top of the tea market. Not to lose ground, manufacturers of white and oolong teas began producing their own aged cakes to compete  for the attention of the newly born middle class Chinese consumer. Using much the same technology as the puerh makers, these manufacturers are charting new territories in tea production, while still using the traditional methods.Follow Dominion Tea: Facebooktwitterpinterestrss

Tea for Fasting or Ketosis

Buddha

Future Buddha, Emei Lake, Hsinchu County, Taiwan

This post is something of a departure from most of our others where we focus on history, culture, and simply great tea. But intermittent fasting, longer fasts, and a ketogenic or low-carb high fat (lchf) lifestyle is something we (the owners of Dominion Tea) have adopted and seen great personal benefit from. We are very focused on how to maximize our health over our entire lifespan and see this lifestyle as part of how we do this. So many modern ill’s today (heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and potentially even cancer) have roots in the standard American diet.

We’ve made significant changes to our lifestyle over the past 18 months and are more convinced than ever that real food is critical to the prevention of many, perhaps even most modern illnesses. Real food is ideally nothing heavily processed nor has much of an ingredient list. Most of the time it doesn’t event come from a package!

This gets us to the point of this post. Tea is widely accepted within the keto/lchf community as a support for those doing intermittent fasting or even prolonged fasts. This isn’t anything new though. Some of the earliest associations of tea and fasting come from Buddhism. Monks during the Han (206 BCE – 220 CE) and Song Dynasties(960 – 1279 CE) would have tea to support meditation (Buddhism and Tea). Buddha even recommended intermittent fasting and one meal a day to his followers, with nothing consumed after noon (Food & Insight).

Real tea has caffeine which some can’t live without and has been found to suppress hunger in some people. Tisanes have no caffeine but can also provide something to hold one over during fasts. Either option is a great tool to support an overall keto/lchf lifestyle which may or may not include some fasting.

What really bothers us though are the “keto teas”. They go along with the keto bars, keto deserts, and other “keto” products that marketers are coming up with to sell products you really don’t need. So keto teas, for the most part, are really nothing more than simply tea having some added ingredients that may have beneficial qualities — though these claims usually lack strong evidence or require amounts far in excess of what’s in the tea itself. Worse still are products manufactured as “ready-to-drink” or tea “crystals” that have been heavily processed to effectively make an instant tea product.

Looking for a great tea to compliment your keto lifestyle? All you need is a great quality tea with a flavor you like. We prefer green teas and herbal/tisanes during fasting.

Green Tea Suggestions for Keto

  • Ginger Biscuits – Organic Green Tea, Organic Ginger Root, Organic Lemon Grass, Organic Lemon Mytle
  • Hundred Year Tea – Organic Green Tea, Organic Schisandra Berries, Organic Goji Berry, Organic Astragalus, Organic Cinnamon, Organic Ginger Root, Organic Licorice
  • Jasmine Green Tea – Organic Green Tea with Jasmine
  • Moroccan Mint – Organic Jasmine Green Tea, Organic Peppermint
  • Matcha Infused Sencha – Organic Japanese Sencha Green Tea, Organic Japanese Matcha Green Tea
  • Sencha – Organic Japanese Sencha Asamushi Green Tea

Herbal/Tisane Suggestions for Keto

  • Amber Mint – Organic Rooibos, Organic Peppermint, Organic Orange Peel, and Safflower Petals
  • Ginger Honeybush – Organic Lemon Myrtle, Organic Goji Berry, Organic Honeybush, Organic Ginger Root, Organic Fennel Seed, Organic Lemon Grass
  • Lavender Dreams – Organic Lavender, Organic Raspberry Leaf, Organic Blackberry Leaf, Organic Chamomile, Organic Licorice Root, Organic Lemon Myrtle, and Organic Peppermint
  • Martha’s Mint – Organic Peppermint, Organic Spearmint
  • Moroccan Nights – Organic Rose Buds and Petals, Jasmine Flowers, Organic Spearmint Leaf
  • South African Chai – Organic Cinnamon, South African Organic Rooibos, South African Organic Honeybush, Organic Ginger Root, Organic Cardamom Seed, Organic Fennel, Organic Clove, Organic Star Anise, Organic Peppermint, and Organic Black Pepper

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Aged White Tea History

Aged White Peony Tea Cake

If you’re a more adventurous tea drinker, you may already be familiar with compressed tea, which is tea that has been processed and pressed into a brick or a cake. Durable, shelf-stable, and easy to store, these cakes are typically Chinese puerh teas that are fermented and designed to improve with age. In recent years, however, a new type of compressed tea has been moving into the market: white tea cakes, first innovated during the early 2000s in Fuding, Fujian Province.

To better appreciate the role that white tea cakes have come to play in the aged tea market, we must first step back for a look at contemporary Chinese history. In the late 1970s, after the death of Chairman Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping assumed leadership of the People’s Republic of China and began a series of sweeping economic reforms designed to modernize the country. To provide a sense of stability and cultural connection amidst such changes, Deng and the Chinese government encouraged citizens to consider the values and doctrine of classical Chinese thinkers. Ancient literary and philosophical masters such as Confucius and Lu Yu (see Notable People in the History of Tea), previously condemned by the Communist party, were looked to as a source of stability and national identity. With this change in ideology came a renewed appreciation for all things traditional, historical, and aged – classical texts, classical education, classical tea.

Aged White Tea Manufacturing in Fuding

Aged White Tea Manufacturing in Fuding

The next few decades saw a surge in demand for compressed puerh. Savvy merchants emphasized the value inherent to aged dark tea or thousand-year old cultivars, and puerh cakes sold briskly in both domestic and foreign markets. Inspired by the ongoing trend, white tea growers began to experiment as well. Their hope was to produce a tea that, while not fermented, could withstand aging and even improve in flavor over time. By the early 2010s, Bai Mu Dan (White Peony) tea cakes had begun to sell across China and were moving into Western markets. As it turned out, the floral and delicate characteristics of this white tea matured beautifully over time, gaining a woody complexity and sweet, muscatel finish. What had begun as a gamble to take advantage of market trends had actually produced a complex and high-quality tea unlike anything that had been seen before.

As the world of white tea cakes continues to expand, more and more varieties are appearing in Western tea stores. In addition to Bai Mu Dan, Bai Hao Silver Needle and many other white teas are beginning to become available in aged cake form. As tea producers look to history to inspire new innovations, many cite an ancient Fujian proverb: “One year a tea, three years a medicine; seven years, a treasure!”

Here at Dominion Tea, we are excited to currently be carrying 2014 Bai Mu Dan tea cakes, 2019 Moonlight White cakes, and perfectly travel-sized aged White Tea Buttons. Stop by today to explore this new and innovative corner of the tea world yourself!

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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.

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