Witch’s Brew: Blending Your Own Tea

For Halloween, let’s brew up some unique tea blends using existing teas. Over the next four weeks, we will walk you through the craft of blending tea while creating four new blends to enjoy. So grab your measuring spoons, cup and infuser and join us on our blending adventure.

1st Recipe: Strawberry Jasmine

This blend is a mix of our Strawberry Oolong and Jasmine Green teas. Generally a tea blender would not opt for this mix as the density and size of the two teas are not similar, so the possibility of separate in the final storage container is rather high. Separation has to be considered as it leads to an inconsistent flavor on a cup by cup basis. So this is a blend you would make by the cup as opposed to making it in a large scale.

In crafting this blend, we choose to favor having a stronger Strawberry flavor with a Jasmine highlight. Picking a flavor to focus on is critical in making a tea blend. Ironically, if there are too many flavors in a blend it becomes hard for the drinker to figure out what they are drinking, which leads to confusion and a nonoptimal tea experience.

Recipe for Strawberry Jasmine – 12oz Cup

3 tsp (flat) – Strawberry Oolong

1 tsp (flat) – Jasmine Green

Steep for 3 minutes in 175°F water.

2nd Recipe: Caramel Apple

This blend combines our Dulce de Leche and Apple Blossom teas. Pretty routinely you will find that flavored teas are inspired by other food combinations. When building a blend on a known flavor it is important to think about what components are in the flavor and is there a dominant flavor characteristic. For Caramel Apple, the caramel is dominant with a slight apple finish. So you will notice that in this recipe, if you want more apple, adjust the Dulce de Leche down and the Apple Blossom up. Much like our last recipe, this is a blend to make by cup as the Dulce de Leche is rooibos based, making it very small and dense, while the Apple Blossom is puerh based, making it big and lite.

Luckily, this blend combines teas that require boiling water and have the same steep time, so no adjustment is needed there. If you have not had puerh before, we would highly recommend you drink some Apple Blossom on its own. It is a great introduction to puerh and its earthiness, without being overwhelming.

Recipe for Caramel Apple – 12oz Cup

2 tsp (scant – less than full, think 90-95% full) – Dulce de Leche

1/2 tsp (flat) – Apple Blossom

Steep for 5 minutes in 208°F water.

3rd Recipe: Almond Joys

When aiming to recreate a known flavor profile, in this case a famous candy bar, the goal is to find the balance in the flavor. Sure, a cup of tea will not contain the sweetness of the candy bar, which gives you some flexibility in what flavor to amplify. So feel free to play with the ratios to highlight either the chocolate or the coconut of this combination. We combined our Chocolate Almond Fantasy and Coconut Oolong to make this cup of tea. If you need that sweetness as well, add your sugar after you brew.

Blending with nuts is a tricky business, first you need them cut into the right size to roughly match the size of the tea leaves and then you need to factor in their shelf life. Slivered nuts have no where near the shelf life of tea. A good black tea can easily stay fresh, when stored correctly, for 5 years. Slivered nuts, on the long side, might have 1 year, but are more likely going to start to turn bitter at 6 months. So if you like teas with nuts in them, drink them frequently and do not save them for the future.

Recipe for Almond Joys – 12oz Cup

1 tsp (round) – Chocolate Almond Fantasy

1 tsp (flat) – Coconut Oolong

Steep for 4 minutes in 195-200°F water.

4th Recipe: Bourbon Peach

This recipe is a little more complex as we blend together 3 teas, including the smoky Lapsang Souchong. The good news is the teas we are working with are all black, have the same density, and shelf life. So this can be blended in a larger batch and stored. So Bourbon Peach is a blend of our Georgia’s Peach, New World Vanilla and Lapsang Souchong.

If you have not had a cup of Lapsang Souchong, add this to your tea bucket list. The original Lapsang Souchong teas come from Wuyi in the Fujian province of China and are pine smoked. Currently, you can also get cedar smoked tea from the Anhui province of China that sometimes also gets called Lapsang Souchong. Obviously, they won’t smell or taste the same. You can read more about this historic tea in this blog post. Just know that when working with a smoky tea, less is more.

Recipe for Bourbon Peach – 12oz Cup

1 tsp (flat) – Georgia’s Peach Tea

1 tsp (round) – New World Vanilla

1/4 tsp (flat) – Lapsang Souchong

Steep for 5 minutes in 212°F water.

Follow Dominion Tea: Facebooktwitterpinterestrss

Aging Tea at Home

Ceramic tea jar for aging tea.

As we’ve covered in previous posts, the world of aged teas is incredibly diverse. In addition to puerh, the most famous of the aged teas, certain white and oolong teas can also be left to mature to delightful effect.

If you’re new to the world of aged tea, you may be wondering how to begin. The truth is, no two teas age exactly the same. Aging tea at home requires a little bit of experimentation and a whole lot of patience. But for anyone just starting out, there are a few key principles to keep in mind: quality, airflow, humidity, and time.

Tea Quality

Aging tea does change its character, but maturation isn’t magic. Just as time can’t fix a bad wine, attempting to improve the flavor of a cheap tea through aging will only result in stale leaves. Set yourself up for success with a quality tea that has a proven reputation for aging well, like a sheng puerh or a high-elevation oolong.

Airflow

How much airflow should you allow your teas when you store them? The answer varies depending on type. For puerh teas, which are fermented, some airflow is essential for the microbial processes that give them their flavor. Thus, puerh storage can be as simple as keeping the tea wrapped in the paper packaging it came in.

But for white and oolong teas, oxygen is the enemy. These teas need to be kept airtight. A simple, if less elegant, approach, is to keep it in a zip-top bag. Clay or ceramic crockery can also be effective, provided that the vessels have sealed lids. This approach is similar to traditional storage methods in China and Taiwan, where the tea would be sealed into clay jars with wax to prevent airflow.

Regardless of type, aging teas should be kept in separate containers from other teas, and away from anything that may produce a strong odor, to prevent them from picking up unwanted flavor notes.

Humidity

When it comes to aged teas, humidity is a tricky business. Too dry and cold an environment can flatten flavor development. On the other hand, too much moisture may cause your teas to taste sour, or even start to mildew.

For puerh teas, a humidity anywhere between 60 – 85% should suffice. For drier climates, a moisture pouch button, such as those sold to maintain tobacco freshness, can be stored alongside the tea. White and oolong teas, however, should generally be kept away from excess moisture.

Time

No exact formula exists to say how long a tea needs to mature, and how long it will last before the flavor starts to degrade. Type, cultivar, growing region, and leaf grade can all have an impact on how long tea should be aged. Generally speaking, during their first couple years of aging most teas will still taste relatively fresh and young. An awkward “middle period” can be expected from years two to five, and from five to seven years onward most will begin to develop their richer, more complex flavors. White teas usually begin to mature fastest, followed by oolongs, and then puerhs. If stored properly, all three types can last for decades before they begin to lose flavor.

Have you had any experience aging tea at home? How do you like to store your teas? Drop a line in our Facebook comments to let us know!

By: Jen Coate

Follow Dominion Tea: Facebooktwitterpinterestrss

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

Follow Dominion Tea: Facebooktwitterpinterestrss

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

Fenghuang Dancong – Phoenix Oolong

A product of Phoenix mountain in Guangdong Province, China

Fenghuang Dancong — Phoenix Oolong

Fenghuang Dancong is one of many oolong teas that comes from Southeastern China. This oolong grows in a highly mountainous region north of Hong Kong and west of Chaozhou in the Guangdong province. The word Fenghuang literally means phoenix, which refers to the name of the mountain where the Dancong is grown, while the word Dancong means single bush.

Fenghuang Dancong History

Oolongs have been produced since about the Ming/Qing Dynasty, somewhere around the late 1600’s to 1700’s. Often called Qing Cha, referring to a blue-green color, oolongs cover a wide range of oxidation between green and black (15-85%) and can be found twisted, rolled, balled and any number of combinations of forms and oxidation levels. Typically have much greater complexity in the overall production process than other teas. Dancong oolongs specifically are twisted in shape and grown in the Wudong Mountains at high elevation.

There is no particular story behind these oolongs, like with many other older Chinese teas. Instead, the important item to note is that the flavors of a true Dancong oolong are complex and offer a wide variety flavors ranging from orange blossom to grapefruit. Dancong are produced from 10 distinct cultivars of the tea plant, without mixing the cultivars together. Instead, multiple days of harvest are mixed together to produce a batch. Dancong bushes are also allowed to grow wild, so plucking them requires a ladder and the flavor is very much influenced by the combination of cultivar, terroir, and other flowering plants and trees nearby.

Fenghuang Dancong Preparation for Drinking

This oolong is lighter in oxidation, so it can be brewed between 170°-190°F for 4 minutes. You need 3 grams for 8oz of water. Steep at least 3 times before discarding the leaves.

If you are willing and have the time, this is a perfect oolong for a gaiwan. Start your stepping times in the gaiwan at 30 seconds and gradually increase by increments of 15 seconds on subsequent steeps. We found that roughly 1.33 grams of tea per oz of water in the gaiwan produces both the expected flavor and mouth feel. Gaiwans vary greatly in size, so use a measuring cup and figure out how much water your gaiwan can hold before measuring in the tea.

This oolong is worthy of your time to explore and appreciate.Follow Dominion Tea: Facebooktwitterpinterestrss