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 Coate

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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!

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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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Sheng Puerh Production

Puerh Tea Cake

Raw Sheng Puerh Cake from CNNP

We’ve looked at puerh twice now and the last time we spoke of the difference between raw and cooked pu’erh. In the spirit of ‘there no such thing as too much of a good thing’ this time we want to spend a bit more time on the manufacturing of raw ‘Sheng Cha’ puerh.

From Tea Tree to ‘Mao Cha’

While many Chinese teas are produced from a variety of c. sinensis var sinensis, the most desired puerh teas are typically from c. sinensis var assamica (see Camellia Sinensis). This is a much larger leaf version of the tea plant than var sinensis. Even more desired are the spring picked leaves of old growth wild tea trees rather than younger wild trees or cultivated tea bushes.

After picking the leaves undergo a process of heating to quickly ‘kill the green’. This process of heating the leaves effectively stops most oxidation, makes the leaves more flexible and pliable, and leads to the next step of rolling. Rolling, in turn step serves to break down the cellular structure inside the leaves allowing the juices inside the leaves to move about more freely and creates small tears in the leaf structure. This critical step enables extraction of flavor when the tea is infused in water many years in the future.

Once the leaves have been rolled they are left in the sun to dry out. The amount of time, like other steps in this process vary from factory to factory but can be up to a couple days. It’s at this point that we have ‘Mao Cha’ and the process diverges for raw ‘Sheng’ puerh vs cooked ‘Shu’ puerh.

‘Mao Cha’ to Raw ‘Sheng Cha’ Puerh

Sheng and Shu Puerh is pressed in various shapes for storage and shipping.

Various Shapes of Pressed Puerh – By 静葉 (Pu-erh tea allstars) [CC BY-SA 3.0

The real magic happens with Sheng Cha after the initial steps leading to Mao Cha. At this point the normal process is to process the Mao Cha into finished pressed tea cakes. The rough product is often stored for some amount of time before its ready to be pressed. When the manufacturer determines it is time the rough Mao Cha is sorted into grades and steamed to prepare it for pressing. This steaming ensures the leaves are pliable again and slightly sticky so the resulting form holds together.

Steamed and ready to go the tea is pressed into a desired shape. This is often a large round disc or cake but can take many other forms like bricks, coins, balls, or even a sort of mushroom shape. Traditionally this would be pressed into the shape by a heavy stone placed over the form though mechanical presses often do this in many factories. Pressed tea is much more dense and easier to handle. During the time of the tea-horse road this was essential to facilitate trade and today it still makes the tea much easier to handle and transport.

Pressed into the desired shape, Raw ‘Sheng’ Puerh is now stored for long term ripening, or fermentation. Unlike other forms of tea which are best used within about a year, raw puerh is best when aged. It mellows over years of aging and becomes more sought after the older it gets.

If you haven’t tried puerh its best to take some time and learn about it. Sheng and Shu puerh both provide very unique experiences. However, to fully enjoy them its best to also get a Yixing tea pot and learn how to quickly infuse this tea many times, exploring how the taste changes between infusions.

 

 

 

 

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