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

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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

Compressed Tea Cake Utensils

We’ll admit it: tea cakes can be daunting! Although compressed tea is a delightful way to explore unfamiliar traditions and flavors, we know that starting out may be intimidating. Maybe you’ve recently purchased a brick of your favorite puerh or aged white and aren’t certain how to use it. Maybe you’ve been given a handful of tuo cha by a well-intentioned friend. Or maybe you’re looking for a gift for the tea connoisseur in your life. Whatever the reason, we at Dominion Tea are here to help. Here’s a list of our favorite tea cake utensils, perfect for either the seasoned tea veteran or the novice just starting out.

    1. Tea Needle/Pick: These handy tools come in a variety of shapes and sizes designed to help break off sections of tea from your brick or cake without damaging its form. Picks and needles are used by sliding them horizontally between leaf layers in your tea cake, allowing you to gently pry free small measures at a time.
    2. Cha Ze Scoop: Traditionally made from bamboo or wood, Cha Ze scoops are an elegant way to measure out and present your tea after you have broken off the sections that you need. The high walls and long body of this tool make it perfectly shaped for transferring tea into your teapot for brewing.
    3. Cha Jia Tongs: Cha Jia serve a variety of purposes, especially if you are serving your tea traditionally. These bamboo tongs can be used to handle broken-up sections of compressed tea, pick out brewed leaves from a pot or pitcher, and

      Compressed Tea Cake Utensils

      Compressed Tea Cake Utensils

      handle hot cups during a Gong Fu ceremony.

    4. Breaking Tray: Also referred to as a Judging Tray when it is used for evaluation purposes, this small and shallow tray provides an ideal surface for breaking up compressed tea cakes. One bottom corner is always cut out, which allows you to easily pour your dry tea into your Cha Ze, gaiwan, or teapot.
    5. Tea Knife: Just like picks and needles, tea knives are specially designed to help you pry apart your tea cakes without causing excess damage to the leaves. Look for a small, flat, and very rigid blade that can easily slip between the dense layers in your tea cake. A good puerh knife can be a work of art in its own right, and many are designed to be beautiful as well as functional.

 

If you’re feeling intimated by the thought of a tea cake, why not pick up a few new utensils to try with it? (We carry them in our Purcellville, VA store.) Just like any other art, when it comes to tea preparation, having the right tools can make all the difference.

By: Jen CoateFollow Dominion Tea: Facebooktwitterpinterestrss

New Teas for New Habits

Green Tea in a Glass Gaiwan

With the new year right around the corner, we thought we would share some teas to help you form new habits. Whether it is expanding your horizons by trying new things, reducing your caffeine intake or adding a cup of green tea to your daily routine, here are some of our picks to help you get off on the right foot.

Reducing Caffeine

Generally tea has half the caffeine of coffee and one third the caffeine of soda. So replacing those beverages with tea is an easy answer for reducing caffeine. Not only that but the caffeine in tea is less jolting too! If you are looking to replace coffee, check out this post on 3 teas for coffee drinkers. However, if you are like us and tea is your go-to constantly, then we have to talk tisanes (French term meaning tea like drink without tea). One of our favorite tisanes is Honeybush. This cousin of Rooibos is slightly sweet and woody. It is naturally caffeine free and a great substitute in the evening just before bed.

Adding Green Tea

It is almost daily that we are asked about the health benefits of green tea. They are numerous, but to get them you must drink at least one cup daily. For some, this may be somewhat daunting, especially if milk and sugar are part of your tea routine. Green tea should not be drunk with milk or sugar. There are a few green teas that make it easier to transition to this tea type. Hundred Year Tea is one of these since it is blended with other ingredients that give it a slight spiciness and help to tone down the grassy flavor of tea. The other is Liu An Gua Pian, also known as Melon Seed Tea. This green tea from Anhui, China is subtly sweet and much less grassy in flavor than most green teas, making it a good introduction to this type of tea.

Trying New Things

Expanding one’s horizons is often a fun resolution and gives you a reason to expand your tea drinking habits. This leads us tea drinkers into the world of Puerh Tea. Admittedly the flavor profiles on these fermented teas range from peat moss to collard greens, which may not be appealing to all. However, this category of tea surprises many and opens up a wide range of highly crafted and cared for teas, whose history is thousands of years old. A good place to start is sampling a few of the teas in a flight of tea at our shop or picking up a sample size of Golden Fortune Puerh or Puerh Leaf Satemwa.

There are many teas out there that can be incorporated into your new habits for the new year. So join us in exploring them all!Follow Dominion Tea: Facebooktwitterpinterestrss

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.Follow Dominion Tea: Facebooktwitterpinterestrss