English Breakfast Tea

There are a number of teas that might be considered staples today including Masala Chai, Lapsang Souchong or Earl Grey tea. One of the best known of these “staple” teas is English Breakfast Tea, a bold, eye opening tea that many turn to for that first cup of the morning. However, English Breakfast Tea isn’t a consistent blend and has somewhat cloudy history like many other tea.

English Breakfast Tea History

Wall Street Between 1870 and 1887

English Breakfast Tea was rumored to have been “invented” near Wall St in the 1800’s. [by George Bradford Brainard – Public Domain]

One of the reasons we love tea is the wealth of stories around tea and English Breakfast is included in this. Many websites will have you believe that English Breakfast Tea never even existed in England until it was brought over from the US after being “invented” by Richard Davies in New York City in 1843. Most of these websites cite a fascinating story in the “Journal of Commerce” as the source for this. Unfortunately, finding the source material for this has proven elusive and the nearest we could find was a reference to the same story in the Daily Alta California from February 1876. It too cites the “Journal of Commerce” though no date of publish, issue number, or other means to track it down. Partial collections of the New York Journal of Commerce are squirreled away in the rare book stacks around the country and if that weren’t bad enough there were “Journal of Commerce” periodicals in many cities across the US and Canada making it possible that the source came from another journal entirely.

From another corner of commerce in the 1800’s comes Robert M. Walsh, author of Tea, It’s History & Mystery, Tea Blending as a Fine Art, and A Cup of Tea. The last of these publications, circa 1884, suggests that English Breakfast was really Chinese Bohea tea; an oolong or black tea produced in the Bohea hills of northern Fujian Province in China. He speaks of Bohea tea as  “a distinct variety, differing in color, liquor, and flavor from the Oolong species, and known to trade in this country [United States] as “English Breakfast” tea, from its forming the staple shipment to England.”

Then there is the Anhui Tourism Administration which states that Keemun was produced by a failed civil servant who sought to bring black tea manufacturing from Fujian to Anhui which had previously only produced green tea. According to the website the result was so good that it quickly gained popularity in England and became the prominent base to English Breakfast Tea.

We are great believers that the truth to most stories is likely somewhere in between. In this case it is likely that what we know as English Breakfast was already enjoyed elsewhere before it was “invented” and marketed to an eager consumer.

English Breakfast Tea Blends

English Breakfast Tea Loose Leaf and Liquor

English Breakfast Tea by Dominion Tea

Today English Breakfast Tea is typically a blend of black teas from Assam, Sri Lanka, and Kenya. Although this is not a hard and fast rule with many including a Chinese Keemun or other black tea instead. The selection of teas used to make English Breakfast are chosen for the qualities they offer to color, flavor, aroma, and mouth feel.  Even if the same teas are used, the ratio of each are bound to be different. The ratio may even be changed from batch to batch to account for subtle differences in one or more of the ingredients. Since tea is an agricultural product the “same” product from the same vendor will have different qualities from year to year.  Each blender chooses the combination that gives just the right taste that they have in mind and which they believe will best meet the needs of their customers. Thus, blends vary widely and will almost certainly be different from company to company.  So no matter what the blend, if a smooth black tea sounds appealing in the morning, reach for some English Breakfast.

 

Sources Cited
Daily Alta California, Volume 28, Number 9436, 5 February 1876, Page 4, http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=DAC18760205.2.38#

Types of teas in Anhui Province, Qimen Black (Keemun) Tea, China Daily, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/m/anhui/travel/2010-04/29/content_9791685_2.htm

A Cup of Tea, by Joseph M. Walsh, 1884, pg 108-109, https://archive.org/stream/cu31924023998184#page/n113/mode/2up

Follow Dominion Tea: Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestrss

Black Fusion Doke Estate and Bihar Tea

Black Fusion Loose Leaf Tea from Bihar India

Black Fusion, Doke Estate, India

We continue to be fascinated by India and a recent addition of Black Fusion from Doke Estate in the state Bihar only feeds our interest in this dynamic and complicated country. In prior blogs we’ve spent some time discussing Darjeeling, Assam, and even Nilgiri far to the south and west of the country. As we add Black Fusion to our offerings we figured it would be great to provide a bit of background to this region which is far less well known for tea.

Doke Estate

Doke Estate, established in 1998 originally for CTC production, is located on the banks of the Doke River in Pothia within the Kishanganj district of the state of Bihar.  The district technically borders both the Darjeeling District of West Bengal and the country of Nepal, though is actually quite flat, sitting about 800 ft above sea level. This is in dramatic contrast to high grown tea estates of Darjeeling ranging between 4,000 and 6,000 ft in elevation. Owned by the well known Lochan family, this estate was built on land previously thought to be useless for agricultural purposes and is now used for hand made orthodox teas. The nearby Doke River, now with water year round, used to be monsoon fed and is now providing water for irrigation thanks to a nearby hydro-electric power dam and making tea production possible. While their Black Fusion has garnered a lot of attention the estate does produce other hand-made teas as well including green and white teas.

Kishanganj and Pothia

Bodh Gaya - Pilgrimage site for followers of buddhism.

Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya by Man Bartlett, CC BY 2.0

Pothia, where Doke Estate sits, and the broader region of Kishanganj in Bihar isn’t nearly as well known in tea circles as its nearby neighbors of Assam and Darjeeling. While it has had tea plantations since the 1990’s it has struggled to develop it into a large industry and still must rely heavily on processing facilities in West Bengal. However, the industry has continued to grow bringing much needed jobs to the region and slowing migration away from the district.  (Prasad)

Tea aside, this district which at one time was part of Nepal, is about the size of the Hawaiian island of Maui with a population about the size of Idaho. It is one of the poorest regions in India with a 30% literacy rate (~18% among women) and has suffered severe floods and high rates of Polio infection leading UNICEF and other organizations to organize large efforts to immunize large parts of the population.

The state of Bihar is well known in Buddhist circles as it is home to Bodh Gaya, the most holy place on earth for its followers, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Black Fusion, Doke Estate

Doke Estate, Black Fusion leaf and liquor.

A fresh cup of Black Fusion.

We’ll admit to choosing to add Black Fusion before learning a lot about Bihar and now that we have, we hope to learn more. The 2014 Black Fusion is an exceptional black tea. This tea is unique in that it carries qualities of both assam and darjeeling teas yet is grown at a low elevation on flat land. The flavor is fruity with a clean finish expected of assam.

In appearance this is a large, long wiry leaf which is beautiful to admire both prior to steeping and after infusion. The pluck is two leaves and a bud most of which are fully intact and unroll nicely when infused. Steep 3-4 grams slightly cooler than a typical black tea at about 195°F for a more complex buttery flavor profile or hotter with 205°F for a slightly bolder and more malty taste.  

Sources

Tea City status eludes Kishanganj, by Bhuvaneshwar Prasad, Oct 20, 2010, The Times of India, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/patna/Tea-City-status-eludes-Kishanganj/articleshow/6777156.cms

Evaluation of Social Mobilization Network (SMNet)- FINAL REPORT, January 2014, UNICEF, http://www.unicef.org/evaldatabase/files/India_2013-001_Evaluation_of_Social_Mobilization_Network_Final_Report.pdf

Kishanganj District Profile, http://www.kishanganj.bih.nic.in/District%20Profile.htm

Follow Dominion Tea: Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestrss

A Brief History of Tea

Statue of Lu Yu

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

The history of tea is too long for a single blog post, but here we try to hit the highlights and key milestones in time.  Tea has been consumed by humans for a really long time and has influenced international relations for centuries.  According to legend, tea was discovered in 2737 BCE in China when the leaves of a nearby evergreen fell into the boiling water of the Emperor Shen Nung creating a beverage that reinvigorated him.  The first credible texts referencing tea plantations and the consumption of tea appear around 1000 BCE.  However, it took until the Tang dynasty (618-906 CE) for tea to become China’s national beverage.  It was during this dynasty that Lu Yu wrote the first book entirely about tea called Ch’a Ching, The Classic of Tea.

Tea appears to have first travelled beyond China during the late 500’s CE to Japan by way of Japanese Buddhist monks who utilized tea during their meditation rituals to maintain alertness.  Tea was first offered to the Russians in 1618, but the Czar did not like the taste, so tea failed to take hold there until the middle of the 1600’s.  Once the taste did develop in Russia, tea traveled thousands of miles in a caravan and was most likely the same Pu-erh tea that was traded with the Mongolians and Tibetans. Even though European explorers like Marco Polo mention tea in their logs as early as the 13th century, Europeans did not come into contact with tea in any large scale until 1627 CE by way of a Portuguese trading vessel.  As an American, tea is considered to be British, but it was the mainland of Europe that adopted tea first and it wasn’t until Charles II married a Portuguese princess, some forty years later, that tea took hold as fashionable in Britain with the British East India Company placing its first order of tea in 1664 (UK Tea Council, 2014).  Today, Europe still maintains a significant role in the tea trade with parts of the continent exporting more tea than some of the countries that actually grow it commercially.

Painting by Lai Fong of an American Clipper Ship

Portrait of an American Clipper Ship by Lai Fong (Lai Fong of Calcutta, fl. 1870-1910) currently at Childs Gallery, Boston, MA

Tea traveled with the colonists to America and it is the tax on tea that is credited as pushing the colonists to their breaking point with the British monarchy, helping to instigate the American Revolution.  While America was trying to figure out how to be a country, the Chinese emperor decided that foreign trade was to be paid for with silver, putting a very large burden on the British East India Company.  In response, they began to heavily export opium to China at the time to off-set the silver requirement, since the Chinese government did not stop the merchants from accepting opium instead of silver.  Simultaneously, the British began trying to figure out how to cultivate tea in India.

At about the same time that the British had success in growing tea in the Assam region of India, 1839, the First Opium War broke out between the British and Chinese.  At the start, it was estimated that the amount of opium flowing into China had increased to 40,000 chests annually from the pre-silver requirement level of 4,500 chests, prompting the Emperor to have local government officials arrest opium merchants and seize their stocks to be destroyed (Greenberg, 1951).  In response, the British sent troops from India both decimating the Chinese coast and ultimately giving Britain control what is now Hong Kong.

It is the consumption of tea by the British, and later the thirst for ready-to drink and iced tea by Americans, that fueled cultivation of tea not just in India but into Africa and then South America by some of the largest tea producers in world.  While China and Japan may produce more tea, this is mainly for domestic consumption rather than export.

Timeline of Tea

A Brief Timeline of Tea by Dominion Tea

Since tea cannot be commercially grown in every country and it continues to be the second most consumed beverage on the planet, I suspect it will remain a factor in international relations.  I can only hope that it brings more peaceful relationships in the future.  Do you think it can?

Let us know by commenting here, or sharing on Twitter or Facebook.

Hillary

Works Cited

Greenberg, M. (1951). British Trade and the Opening of China, 1800-42. In M. Greenberg, British Trade and the Opening of China, 1800-42 (p. 113). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

UK Tea Council. (2014, January 5). Tea – A Brief History of the Nation’s Favourite Beverage. Retrieved from UK Tea Council Web site: http://www.tea.co.uk/tea-a-brief-history-of-the-nations-favourite-beverage

Follow Dominion Tea: Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestrss

Terroir of Tea

Tea Plantation

A Tea Plantation somewhere in Alishan
By Alexander Synaptic (Flickr id)
CC BY-SA 2.0

Terroir (ter-war) is used to define the characteristics of a place (soil, water, altitude, latitude and climate) that effect the taste of a final agricultural product.  Wine is the main agricultural product defined by terroir.  The French really drove the use of terroir in describing agricultural products with its regulations requiring use of region in labeling of French wine. For example, wines produced in the Bordeaux region of France are classified by a sub region in relation to where they are to the Garonne River – Saint-Estèphe, Paulliac, Saint-Julien, Margaux, Graves, Saint-Émilion and Pomerol.  These classifications were originally made in 1855 and have been adhered to since then because they have helped the producers to distinguish their products from each other, define quality and drive up prices.  Tea can also be defined by terroir; the only problem is that the producers of tea are not always using this to their advantage.  India is one exception – Assam, Darjeeling, Kangra, Dooars, Terai and Nilgiri teas are all named after the region in which they are grown and marketed in a fashion that helps the consumer associate the region to the flavor of the final beverage.

So what conditions does tea need to grow?  To its advantage, the tea plant is a very versatile perennial, so it can grow in a variety of soil types.

Photo of Dragon Well Plantation

Dragon Well Tea Plantation – Hangzhou
By Dave Proffer (Flickr id)
CC BY 2.0

However, for optimal production the soil should be acidic, between 4.5 to 5.5 ph., loose enough to allow the 6 foot tap root to burro down to its preferred length, and contain a good mix of nutrients (Nitrogen, Magnesium, Calcium, etc.) that the tea plant uses to grow.  Like other plants, it will strip nutrients from the soil necessitating replenishment via some manner of fertilization.  The Japanese use grasses to re-fertilize their tea plants, which influence the taste of the final tea and is credited by the tea farmers for the complex flavors of their teas.

Five hours of direct sunlight is optimal, however, less light disturbs the chloroplasts in the tea leaves, creating more aromatic oils and slowing growth.  This is why high altitude teas are considered the higher quality tea, they get between 2-3 hours of sunlight, creating more aromatic oils.  Those oils create the complex flavor of those teas.  More than five hours and plant will continue to grow, but the flavor will be dramatically different.

The tea plant likes lots of water, but doesn’t want to sit in it.  Plants need at least 50 inches of rain annually and 70-90% humidity.  By definition the water and humidity requirement put the plant in the sub-tropic to tropic zone, and while it can handle some weather variation it cannot survive prolonged dry seasons or freezing.

Latitude effects terroir through the length of the growing period.  The closer to the equator (think Kenya and Argentina), the longer the growing period.  In Kenya, tea is harvested year-round while it is only harvested twice a year (spring and fall) in most Chinese regions.  Tea in Taiwan is harvested five times a year between April and December with the July and August harvests continually ranked as the finest.

Photo of Munnar Plantation

ST831850 – Munnar tea plantation
By fraboof (Flickr id)
CC BY-SA 2.0

So how does one use terroir when purchasing tea?  Look for where the tea comes from, and if possible search for single origin teas from one tea plantation.  This will allow you to identify the flavor unique to the tea produced in that region, for instance Assam tea is consistently malty in flavor.  Dongding Oolong produced in the Nantou county of Taiwan is said to gets its unique award winning flavor from the constant fog in this mountainous region.  There are many black teas from China associated with the provenience it is grown it.  A Yunnan black tea tastes very different from a Fujian black tea.  So treat your teas like wine, know where they come from, learn their flavors and enjoy comparing them.  It makes drinking a cup of tea a truly special experience.

What do you think?  Can you taste the terrior in your tea?

@HillaryColey

Follow Dominion Tea: Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestrss