Vietnam: Snow Shan Tea

Vietnam is a country long steeped in surprisingly ancient tea traditions, although it is often overshadowed by such industry giants as China, Japan, and India. But unknown to many Western tea drinkers, this small country has a lot to offer when it comes to tea varieties, one of the most impressive of which are the Snow Shan teas. Named for the fine white down that can be observed upon the plucked leaves, these teas are truly unique not only for their excellent flavors, but for the special cultural significance that they hold for the people of Vietnam.

Snow Shan teas are grown high in the mountains of northern Vietnam, where the country is bordered by the eastern edges of the Himalayas. Although this tea region crosses multiple provinces, the largest growth area of Snow Shan is in Ha Giang, Vietnam’s northernmost point. Throughout the country, differences in climate, geography, and terrain produce unique impacts on the tea’s terroir, which in turn leads to many variations in aroma and flavor. In Ha Giang, many of the wild tea trees from which Snow Shan is harvested are over a hundred years old (some are said to be nearly a thousand) with massive trunk sizes over a meter in diameter. A far cry from the small shrubs from which many industrially-produced teas are farmed! These ancient trees are carefully tended by the indigenous ethnic peoples of the regions in which they are grown, such as the H’mong or Dao, who carry with them many generations of Vietnamese tea tradition.

Snow Shan White Tea Buds

Among the subgroups of Snow Shan teas, one of the most interesting and outstanding offerings from Ha Giang are Snow Shan White Tea Buds, grown on the high mountain slopes of Mt. Chiêu Lầu Thi in the rural district of Hoàng Su Phì. Rather than plucked leaves, these woody small bundles (resembling pinecones) are actually harvested from unopened stem buds, taken from the main trunk and branches of the ancient tea trees. When infused, they release a light and delicate aroma in a pale golden liquor, with sweet floral and woody flavors leaving a lingering aftertaste of subtle spice. We are not exaggerating when we say that there is no tea anywhere in the world that can quite compare!

High Mountain Snow Shan Black

Another fantastic example of the best qualities of Vietnamese tea is the High Mountain Snow Shan, a black tea with large full leaves from mature trees grown at elevations around 1,400 feet high. The resulting tea is very smooth and mellow, but still rich with complex flavors and aromas.

While still a relative newcomer to the modern orthodox tea market, Vietnam has a lot to offer when it comes to truly unique tea experiences. If you have yet to try Vietnamese tea, Snow Shan varieties can be a wonderful place to start.

By: Jen Coate

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Lotus Blossom Tea

As you can probably tell by our post history, we love exploring the intersection of tea and culture. For any country that has been producing tea for a long time, certain cultivars or blends are often seen as being particularly emblematic of their cultural heritage. Chinese Dragon Well, Japanese Sencha, Indian Masala Chai – the list goes on. In this post, we’re going to take a look at another such tea of national importance: Vietnamese Lotus Blossom tea.

Tea Scented In a Lotus Flower (unfortunately it can’t travel outside Vietnam).

            For the Vietnamese, the lotus flower is prized for more than its rare beauty and sweet fragrance. Vietnamese poetry and philosophy has long praised the blossoms as symbols of purity, perseverance, hope, and optimism, as the seeds take root in deep mud, sinking below the surface every night before rising to bloom with the dawn. Officially recognized as the country’s national flower, the lotus is a staple of Vietnamese art, architecture, cuisine, medicine, and (of course), its tea.

            The art of infusing tea leaves with the scent of the lotus blossom is said to date back to the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1883), during the reign of King Tu Duc. During the night, when the blossoms were at their most fragrant, the king’s servants would row across the lake to carefully open the closed petals and fill the flowers with green or yellow tea, binding them shut with silk ribbon to keep the tea leaves dry. In the morning, the newly-scented tea would be harvested and served to the king with his breakfast.

            The modern production of traditional lotus tea is still done entirely by hand, although methods of scenting have changed. According to the expertise of Hanoian tea crafters, the only suitable blossoms for this scenting are West Lake lotus flowers. While white, yellow, and green tea are still used for scenting, Russian tea production practices in the 1980s introduced and popularized the use of black tea as base.

Lake of the Returned Sword in downtown Hanoi, Vietnam facing Ngoc Son Temple.
Hồ Hoàn Kiếm or Lake of the Returned Sword in downtown Hanoi, Vietnam

After being harvesting, the base tea is subject to repeated phases of drying to give it a moisture content of 2-3%. Once this is achieved, it will then be ready to be infused with fragrance. Lotus flowers, plucked before dawn to ensure their finest aromatic quality, are harvested for their stamens, which are mixed with the tea leaves. The tea and stamens are left blended together for 36 to 48 hours, during which time the tea will absorb the fragrance and flavors of the lotus flower. When this scenting period is complete, the tea is again dried and then hand-sifted to remove the lotus stamens, after which it is ready for packaging.

Due to the exclusivity of these prized lotus flowers, and the laborious process involved in its production, traditional lotus blossom tea is a treasured commodity in Vietnam, and a rarity in the American market. But its heavenly floral fragrance and smooth sweetness make it a must-try for any tea enthusiast.

By: Jen Coate

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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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