Kukicha: Japanese Stem Tea

Photo of Kukicha leaf and infusion.

Kukicha ‘Stem Tea’ Leaf and Infused Liquor

Kukicha is a uniquely Japanese Tea. Made primarily from the main stem of the tea plant, this tea has a light salty and creamy flavor.

Kukicha History

So the tea industry loves the mythical stories about the creation of tea. Yet, Kukicha doesn’t have one. In fact, this tea is barely reviewed or talked about in the troves of books about teas. It may get a small review of how to brew it and what it is made of but no one talks about where it came from. This is a shame, but it is also an indication this is a more modern tea. So while we too have no origin story, we have a reasonably good idea of when this tea appeared.

Japan started to mechanize the harvesting and production of tea in the early 1900’s. However, it wasn’t until after World War II that this process took off and became the norm in the tea industry for the country. Anyone who has studied business or modern history will have heard of William Deming and his profound effect on the Japanese manufacturing sector after World War II. His focus on quality through consistency of production is often pointed to in the automobile industry as to why Japanese car makers overtook American car markers by the 1980’s. The automobile industry was not the only industry that implemented Deming’s processes, it was adopted everywhere in Japan.

Kukicha makes sense as a product of this era. It uses the leftover materials from the production of Sencha, Gyokuro or Hojicha. The stems are cut to uniform size and blended with the leftover leaf. The uniform size of the stems is a key component to assessing the quality of the tea. The more uniform the stems, the higher quality the tea. A beautiful representation of the care needed in proper manufacturing of any product.

Brewing Kukicha

As mentioned above, Kukicha can be made from the leftover stems of Sencha, Gyokuro or Hojicha. Each produces a slightly different flavor. All must brewed at a lower temperature, like other green teas,between 165-185°F. They can steep for up to 3 minutes, but are quit good with multiple short steepings. Kukicha, like other Japanese teas, is a perfect tea for a Kyusu.

This beautiful tea is often overlooked, but it deserves your attention. So give it a try!

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3 Popular Tea Gifts

Gifts for Tea Lovers - Chinese Gaiwan

Stunning Glass Gaiwan with Dragonwell

Admittedly, buying gifts for a tea snob can be very hard. Beyond figuring out what they like to drink, there is all the equipment, which they may already own. So we like to turn to the experts at giving tea gifts, the Chinese, to find the right tea with the right meaning for our favorite tea snobs. Below are the 3 popular gifts for tea lovers in China and the stories behind why they are so popular.

  1. Ti Kuan Yin – This beautiful oolong named after the Iron Goddess of Mercy is prized for its beautiful flavor and story about its creation. It is also one of the oldest oolongs produced in China, having been created sometime during the 18th century. Giving the gift that came from the Iron Goddess of Mercy shows the gift receiver that you wish them health and prosperity well into their future.
  2. Puerh from Yunnan Provence – Given for its health benefits, Puerh tea is thought of as the fine wine of tea. It only gets better with age. This fermented tea is over 2,000 years old and can be made with a black, green or white tea base. The bacteria that is added to allow for the fermentation creates a naturally sweet and smooth tea with lots of complex flavors. This tea is usually purchased in cakes or bricks and is broken apart to make a cup of tea.
  3. Bai Hao Silver Needle Organic - Classic Chinese Tea Gifts

    Bai Hao Silver Needle – Exquisite first pluck of the newest growth of the tea plant.

    Bai Hao Silver Needle – This prized white tea has been under production during the Song Dynasty (969-1269 C.E.) but did not enter the European literature until the 1800’s. Its soft and floral flavor as well as the silver hairs on the tea leaves are distinctive characteristics that cannot be found in other teas. This is a more expensive tea as it can really only be plucked during the first harvest of the season. This tea was often given as a gift to the reigning Emperor as it was the first tea of the season.

There are a few characteristics these teas share, each one has been manufactured for centuries, given as gifts to Chinese Emperors to bring them good health and luck, and have exquisite and complex flavors.

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Forget Pumpkin Spice Chai: 3 Fall Flavors

Maple syrup during production.

Turning Maple Sap into Syrup (photo by QUOI Media Group)

It’s that time of year again. Pumpkin Spice Everything!!! But for those of us who aren’t the biggest pumpkin fans and look for a Pumpkin Spice Chai alternative  this  fall, there are other robust flavors that make a perfect tea for those crisp fall mornings. Here are just 3 of our favorites to consider.

1. Pine Smoke – Lapsang Souchong drinkers will recognize this immediately. Lapsang Souchong is pine smoked tea and the oldest known black tea from China. For those of us who have a habit of rotating our teas from season to season, nothing warms me up on a crisp fall morning like Lapsang Souchong. It is reminiscent of the smell of an early morning camp fire. If you are comfortable with the smell, the tea itself is has a smooth and full mouth feel and slightly sweet finish. There’s also our Dominion Caravan blend which offers a bit more complexity and less smokiness.

2. Ginger – As temperatures drop, spicy flavors become more popular. Ginger’s warmth and slight bite make it both a soothing and spicy alternative to Pumpkin Spice Chai. When combined with green tea, it gives you the warming sensation of ginger with the lighter flavor of green tea. This is a refreshing pick-me-up without the heaviness that often accompanies a chai tea. Ginger Biscuits is our favorite because it is combined with lemon myrtle and lemon grass to give it a sweet finish.

3. Maple – Maple tea brings with it the taste and smell of maple syrup. Yes, you can have maple syrup year round, but the combination of maple with a hearty Indian tea base brings a smooth and warming cup. It also brings up all the memories of baking and the delicious goodies like maple cinnamon rolls and pancakes with maple syrup. So add Highland Maple to list of teas to try this fall.

So whether Pumpkin Spice Chai is your favorite fall flavor or you want to try something else, there are plenty of other fall flavors that give you the spicy and warmth also present in this tea. So expand your list of fall teas and enjoy the season.

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Golden Tipped Yunnan

Golden Tipped Yunnan

Yunnan Sunrise (aka Golden Tipped Yunnan)

Golden-tipped Yunnan also goes by the name Dianhong. Dian is the short name for the Yunnan province and hong means red tea, so the name is Yunnan Red tea. Keep in mind, what Americans and Europeans refer to as black tea is called red tea in China. The red refers to the color of the brew, while the black refers to the color of the leaf. Neither name is wrong, they just refer to different characteristics of the tea.

Origin of Golden Tipped Yunnan

As the name suggests it is produced in the Yunnan province of China. Known more for puerh and bricks of packed tea, Yunnan province did not move into producing loose tea until the late 1800’s to early 1900’s.  Their loose black teas are some of the most complex with rich flavor, most notably by the inclusion of golden buds in the black tea. Most notably the golden-tipped Yunnan is made from the cultivar Yunnan Dayeh, which has a broad leaf, stronger and thicker buds (making it easier to twist and keep whole at the same time), and an earlier sprouting meaning they are harvested in early March instead of late March, allowing the farmer to harvest more during the growing season.streaming The Bye Bye Man film

Golden Tipped Yunnan Production

To produce the golden buds, there are additional steps in the production of this tea than in a typical black tea. As with all tea, after the leaves are plucked they are immediately withered in the sun or climate controlled warehouse to allow the leaves to be pliable and to remove around 60% of their moisture. Next they are rolled either with machine or by hand to help breakdown the cell membrane and speed along oxidation. Then the leaves are laid out and allowed to rest while they oxidize. After assessing the moisture of the leaves, they may be covered with wet cloths to speed the oxidation processes. This is where the Golden-tipped Yunnan deviates from the standard production. The leaves are not allowed to oxidize fully and a slow oxidation process is needed to control it properly so the cloths are not used. They are allowed partial oxidation with the tea master inspecting often to ensure those golden tips don’t turn fully black. They are dried by a variety of techniques by blowing warm air on the leaves. They are then sorted by size to be sold. In some cases, a second drying may occur to further reduce moisture if needed and increase the golden color.

Loose leaf Golden Tipped Yunnan after infusion.

Infused leaf of Golden Tipped Yunnan.

Golden tipped Yunnan (Yunnan Sunrise) has a beautiful mix of golden and black buds with a slightly hoppy smell. It brews a beautiful reddish-brown with a complex mix of orange, malty and smooth finish. The partial oxidation on the leaves allows this black tea to be brewed like an oolong, at lower temperatures, which produces a more creamy flavor.

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Bao Zhong Oolong – Green Oolongs

Bao Zhong Pouchong

Bao Zhong Oolong leaf and infused liquor.

Bao Zhong Oolong is a light creamy oolong that belongs to a group of oolongs called pouchong oolongs, or green oolongs. These oolongs are lightly oxidized, around 20%, which is typical of a green tea. However they are characterized as oolongs due to the steps taken in their manufacturing process and their sharper more melon like flavors.

History of Bao Zhong Oolong

The name Pouchong translates to “paper wrapped” tea. A reference to the older manufacturing process of wrapping the tea in paper as part of the drying process. As technology advanced to allow for more consistent ovens that better controlled the temperatures during the baking process to stop oxidation, this practice has stopped. Bao Zhong Oolong is now produced mainly in the northern part of Taiwan. However, you can periodically find Bao Zhongs from the Fujian province of China. Pouchong oolongs where produced in mainland China for many centuries, but fell out of favor during the 1800’s. Taiwan at that time was looking to distinguish its tea manufacturing from China and adopted the practice of Pouchong teas, which it still keeps today. Bao Zhong is produced in the Wen Shan mountains of Taiwan about 30 miles south of the capital city of Taipei. The terroir of the region is high mountain with ocean mist and fog blanketing the mountains most mornings and burning off later in the day. This gives the the right amount of moisture and sun, allowing for the perfectly subtle and yet complex flavors that are expected from this tea. This oolong is hand twisted as opposed to being balled like Ti Kuan Yin. The minimal handling and light oxidation of this oolong creates a light, creamy oolong that is closer to a green tea than most other oolongs.

Bao Zhong Pouchong

Infused Bao Zhong Oolong Leaf

How to Prepare Bao Zhong Oolong

Like other oolongs, you are going to use a lower water temperature. However, because of its green tea characteristics, the water temperature can be dropped even lower to 175°F. You can use 3 grams to 8 ounces of water and keep your steeping times between 2-3 minutes. If you happen to own a Gaiywan, and enjoy this way of consuming tea, this is a perfect tea to steep in it as it does contain smaller particulates that will come out  of the twisted leaves when brewed that give it a full mouth feel when consumed in the water. Bao Zhong oolong should sit on every tea drinker’s list as a tea you must try at least once to consider yourself a true tea connoisseur.

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