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!

By Jen Coate

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Shincha – 1st Flush Sencha

Shincha -- a first flush sencha.

First Flush Shincha

Within the world of Japanese teas, sencha and shincha are two terms that can easily be confused, especially by English speakers. But while sencha is a broad category of popular Japanese green tea, shincha refers to a specific harvest of sencha that is highly prized among tea connoisseurs.

Sencha, with its vast array of varieties, has long held sway over the Japanese tea market, accounting for more than 80 percent of the country’s overall tea consumption. Production styles vary tremendously depending on region and desired quality. Highest-graded sencha is typically harvested and processed from late April to mid-May. Like all Japanese teas, sencha is steamed shortly after picking to dehydrate the leaves and forestall oxidation, giving it a characteristic vegetal and grassy freshness.

When cultivating sencha, Japanese tea growers divide the growing year into four harvests – referred to in the industry as flushes – named for their order in the year: ichibancha, nibancha, sanbancha, and yonbancha. The first flush, ichibancha, is what produces shincha. Delicate buds and top leaves, harvested by hand and briefly steamed, are plucked when they are still small. By plucking these leaves early, growers capture the intense expression of the all the rich nutrients and flavors that have been cultivating in the soil during the plant’s winter dormancy.

Bright green infused liquor from shincha.

Shincha Fresh from a Kyusu

Shincha leaves are small, tender, and vibrant, with a scent that is both freshly herbaceous and faintly mineral in character. When infused, shincha leaf steeps into a smooth paste yielding a bright green-gold liquor. The flavor, as compared to standard sencha, is notably bolder, livelier, and complex. A strong oceanic minerality overlays undernotes of fresh vegetation, with a faintly bitter finish that gradually gives way to a lingering stonefruit sweetness. The mouthfeel is full and sharp, slightly less astringent than sencha but still decidedly pronounced.

Like other Japanese green teas, shincha is perfect for brewing in traditional kyusu, but is just as delightful steeped in a pot or an infuser. Steep three grams of tea at a low temperature, between 160°-185° Fahrenheit, for two to three minutes. Shincha can also be enjoyed for multiple short steepings.

By Jennifer Coate

 

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Caffeine Free vs Decaffeinated: What’s the Difference?

Caffeine Chemical Makeup

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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3 Tips for Adding Home Grown Herbs to Tea

Multiple Herbs in a Garden for Tea

Your Herb Garden Can Enhance Your Tea Experience

It is easy to add home grown herbs to your favorite tea. With all the work that goes into maintaining a garden, your herbs can be enjoyed in your beverages as well as food. Here are 3 tips on how to make this the best tea experience possible.

  1. Pesticides/Fertilizers – Be careful with how you fertilize and protect your herbs. Even if you don’t use a liquid fertilizer or pesticide in your herb garden, if they are used in your yard, transfer can happen with the wind, animals or you. Obviously, rinse your herbs before drying or consuming. Nobody wants fertilizer or pesticide in their cup of tea.
  2. Dry vs. Fresh – The herbs can be added both ways. You should blend by the cup, meaning pick and add when you are ready to consume. This is because you need to be super careful with storage. Fresh herbs should generally not be stored with your dry tea. The moisture will be quickly absorbed into the tea. Mold can easily grow if it occurs in your dark, airtight container (which is how you should be storing your tea). If you are drying your herbs, you can mix a batch with your tea and store it for later consumption. Just be absolutely certain they have been thoroughly dried. Any moisture in those herbs will find its way to the tea and may cause mold in your mix.
  3. You can have too much of a good thing – Herbs have beautiful smell and flavor and can quickly overpower your tea. So think of a flavor profile for your tea before you mix. You should also realize it won’t take much herbs to flavor your favorite tea. If you are wondering the ratio to use, with a few exceptions, anything over 10% will over power your tea and generally 5% does the trick.

So have fun playing with your home grown herbs. You will be amazed at which ones compliment tea well.

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5 Flowers Found in Tea Blends

Tea blends can have all kinds of additions. Flowers are hugely popular.

Safflower and Blue Cornflower – Common Flower Additions to Tea Blends

Flowers have been added to tea for centuries. How many of the 5 of the most common flower petals do you recognize from your favorite tea blends?

  1. Calendula – This golden yellow petal is a member of the marigold family. It has been used for centuries in food as the petals are edible. They were originally used to dye cheese and other food items a creamy yellow. It also acts as a replacement for saffron. Brewed by itself, this petal has a very leathery flavor. However, added to tea, it smooths out the astringency of drink. We use it to soften the tea flavor in our Georgia’s Peach.
  2. Cornflower – The cornflower is a member of the Asteraceae family. Commonly used as a decorating plant in flower beds, this pale to dark blue flower has been long prized for its color. The petals are edible and are easily used to dress up any food item. The color in the petals transfers out in hot water, which will affect the color of the tea brew. We love how this looks in our Shenandoah Blue.
  3. Safflower – This red or yellow flower is also a member of the Asteraceae family. This plant has been used by humans for centuries. Its seeds are where safflower oil comes from and its petals have been used for dyes. For tea, they are used to dress up the dry leaf by adding some visual interest. You won’t be missing this flower in our Cherry Blossom White.
  4. Jasmine – First used by Chinese to scent tea, this famous night blooming flower is known more for its scent than its petals. It is pale white and quite fragile, which helps to explain why the petals do not appear as often in tea blends as you might think. The other reason they don’t appear often in tea blends is that when brewed they impart an unsalted steamed green bean flavor, not the scent imparted by the pollen of the flower.
  5. Rose – This famous flower has thousands of cultivars and not all of them are safe for culinary uses. The Food & Drug Administration allows only the use of certain species in food, which are Rosa alba L., Rosa centifolia L., Rosa damascena Mill., Rosa gallica L., and varietals of these species. These beautiful petals add both scent and a slight astringency to the tea they are added to. We give them a starring role in The Rose Garden tea.

The next time you are exploring tea blends be sure to look at the ingredients and see if you recognize any of these flowers.

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