5 Different Teas for the New Year

An exploration of different teas means puerh is a must.

Puerh Cakes and Bricks available at our Purcellville, Virginia tasting room just outside Washington, DC.

Here are 5 different teas worth trying in the new year if you haven’t had them before. Why should trying new teas make it onto your goals list? Very simply, it will teach you more about yourself and your tastes than you give the simple cup of tea credit in doing each day. New taste experiences, even if they are unpleasant, help you understand which flavors and mouth feels you like better and helps you appreciate your favorite teas even more. So now on to those teas.

  1. Puerh – This daily tea in China is not drunk as often in the United States. Puerh (a.k.a. pu-erh) is a fermented tea that comes in two forms: ripe (black tea) and raw (green/white tea). This earthy and vegetal tea is an experience that may open up a whole new world of tea for you. Here are a few more posts to learn about puerh in case you are curious and need more convincing: Intro to Dark Tea and Raw versus Ripe Puerh.
  2. Bai Hao Silver Needle – This simple and elegant white tea is often over looked because it has a very delicate smell and brew color. But don’t let its simplicity fool you. This first flush tea is made from the bud of the tea plant and is prized for the silver hairs that grow on the outside as a protection mechanism for the plant (bugs have a hard time chewing through the hairs much less standing on them as they try to eat).
  3. Kukicha – This Japanese tea is made from the stem of the tea plant. It produces a light creamy brew that is slightly salty. It doesn’t have the history of our previous two picks, but if you are a fan of efficiency and using every part this could be your new favorite tea.
  4. Single Estate Ceylon tea – We are all familiar with Ceylon teas. These are usually beautiful black teas from Sri Lanka. What most people don’t know is that they are made at shared manufacturing plants on the island as most of the farms are too small to support their own facility. So finding a single estate Ceylon tea, like Vithanakanda, is a true joy.  Vithanakanda Estate is in southwestern Sri Lanka, and they produce a beautifully complex black tea that has notes of caramel, licorice and a slightly floral nose
  5. Oriental Beauty Oolong Wet Leaf Up-Close

    Oriental Beauty is just one of many different teas to try in the new year (shown here after infusion).

    Oriental Beauty – This beautifully complex oolong from Taiwan is created with the help of green leaf hoppers. The tea leaves are harvested after green leaf hoppers pass through the tea fields and munch on the tea plants, which causes the plant to produce additional polyphenols.  These polyphenols give the tea a smooth mouth feel and a complex flavor.

Enjoy the new year with 5 different teas and learn more about your favorite beverage and yourself at the same time.

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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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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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Gongfu Style and the Yixing Teapot

A Yixing Teapot with Stamp

Significant Artistry in Yixing Teapot Production

In previous posts we’ve highlighted just a couple of the many tea pots and vessels used to prepare tea (mugs, infusers, and teabags aside). We’ve touched a bit on using a Japanese kyusu for preparation of green tea. We’ve also touched on how using a Chinese Gaiwan can enrich the enjoyment of tea as well as bring out more subtle flavors in teas like Bao Zhong Oolong. In this post we are going to look at another traditional Chinese vessel for preparing tea; the Yixing Teapot.

The Yixing Teapot

Yixing (pronounced ‘ee-shing’) teapots, also known as zisha or ‘purple sand’ teapots, have been around for at least 500 years. While they are normally associated with preparing oolong and pu’erh teas, they really can be used to prepare any kind of tea while adjusting for temperature. An authentic Yixing teapot comes from the town of the same name in Jiangsu province in Eastern China (near Shanghai). Pottery has been made in this area for thousands of years though the development of the Yixing teapot design is a much more recent development. They are believed to have been created as a better vessel for tea preparation at a time when preferences shifted from powdered tea to that of loose leaf.

The Yixing teapots are quite small, generally sized for 2-4 people, un-glazed and typically found in red, green, or black colors. Being un-glazed these teapots become seasoned with use taking the aroma and flavors of the teas prepared in them. For this reason it is best to use one type of Yixing teapot for each type of tea. Additionally, since they are un-glazed Yixing teapots do a great job wicking remaining liquid away from tea after steeping keeping the leaves fresh and ready for many subsequent infusions.

Three Yixing teapot designs.

Yixing teapots come in many styles and colors though simple designs are better for making tea.

Yixing teapots are art in and of themselves. While some are highly decorated, the best and most valuable are typically quite plain in appearance. Highly prized, there are substantial fakes on the market which may be artificially colored, may not have the right density or porosity, and may have lids which don’t have the perfect fit known for this type of pottery. Knowing how to spot a fake is far beyond the scope of this post but do be careful if you are seeking to spend hundreds, thousands, or even more on one.

Gongfu Style Tea

Yixing teapots and the Gongfu style of tea preparation go hand in hand. Gongfu, aka Gong Fu or ‘Kung Fu’, actually means to do something with great skill, and represents a high investment in learning and practice. And while Kung Fu is often thought of in a martial arts concept, Gongfu style tea represents preparation of tea with great skill. Those who have studied Yixing teapots and practiced Gongfu style for many years are truly masters. They are able to quickly identify the best pots for a given tea. What’s more they have a feel for how long to steep, how to adjust steeping times between steepings, and ultimately how to extract the best taste and flavors from a tea.

Yixing Teapot and Two Small Cups

Gongfu Style Tea is an Art Form

While the full ritual of preparing tea Gongfu style has many steps its loosely distilled into:

  1. Rinse and heat the teapot and cups.
  2. Add tea and rinse the tea briefly.
  3. Steep the tea for 10-15 seconds and fully pour out the contents into a small pitcher.
  4. Serve the tea in small cups.

In this manner more water can be added for multiple subsequent infusions, each of 10-15 seconds, repeating five to ten times ore more.

Expand Your Tea Horizons

We’ve barely scratched the surface of the experience you can have with a Yixing teapot and an exploration of Gongfu style tea. However, if you have become a fan of straight teas, find yourself drinking some of the many wonderful teas less known in the west, and/or have discovered Oolong or Pu’erh tea then an exploration of Yixing and Gongfu has got to be next on your list.

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Tie Guan Yin (aka Ti Kuan Yin) – Iron Goddess Oolong

Tieguanyin, Ti Kuan Yin, or Tie Guan Yin are named  for the Iron Goddess of Mercy

Iron Goddess of Mercy – Guanyin – By Jakub Hałun (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0

Tie Guan Yin, also known as Ti Kuan Yin, Tieguanyin, or other variant, is one of the oldest oolongs produced in China. Originating in Anxi in the Fujian province of China in the 1800s, it is named after the Mahayana Buddhist’s Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin. Tie translates into Iron, so the full translation is Iron Goddess of Mercy. Like other Chinese teas, its origin is tied to a myth.

Ti Kuan Yin Myth

A poor farmer named Wei who everyday on this way to the fields walks past a small run down temple to Guanyin. He stops and sweeps out debris from the temple and leaves burning incense each day. One night Guanyin appears in a dream to him and tells him there is a cave behind the temple that holds a treasure and that he is to take the treasure from the cave, plant it and share it with the other farmers in his village. The next morning, the farmer found a tea sprig in the cave, which he took to the fields where he planted and cared for it. When it grew into a bush, he discovered it made a very flavorful tea. He cut off sprigs and gave them to his fellow farmers to plant as well. Everyone in the village began growing tea and named it after Guanyin. The tea provided enough money for the farmers in the village that they restored the temple to Guanyin as a tribute to her sharing the tea with them.

Ti Kuan Yin Oolong Production

The production of Ti Kuan Yin is rather complex, like other oolongs, and can take anywhere from 3-5 days to complete. Like all teas, it is plucked and withered in the sun. Once withering reaches the desired level the leaves are lightly rolled/twisted to damage the leaves to help speed along the oxidation process. The leaves are usually left in bamboo baskets or trays to oxidize between 40-70%. The leaves are not fully dry but are damp. The leaves are then rolled/twisted into their desired form and may be returned to withering if it is determine to be necessary. This process can be repeated multiple times. Once the desired shape and flavor is reached the tea is then baked. It is the baking that creates the nutty flavor of a traditional Ti Kuan Yin.

Types of Ti Kuan Yin

Ti Kuan Yin (aka Tieguanyin) Loose Leaf and Liquor

Ti Kuan Yin, aka Tieguanyin or Tie Guan Yin – Iron Goddess Oolong Tea

There are a few different types of Ti Kuan Yin. The type is tied to the time of year the leaf is picked and how long the tea is allowed to oxidize. A traditional Ti Kuan Yin is picked in the spring and again in the fall. It is oxidized closer to 70%. A Jade Ti Kuan Yin is a less oxidized Ti Kuan Yin that is more like a green tea than oolong that is picked only in the spring. The Jade Ti Kuan Yin is more flowery in flavor while the traditional is nutty in flavor. In drinking any type of Ti Kuan Yin, allow the boiling water to cool to at least 180° Fahrenheit before putting the tea in the water.

As you explore the world of tea, pay tribute to the Goddess of Mercy and enjoy a cup of Ti Kuan Yin.

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