Malawi Tea and Satemwa Estate

One of many flags of the world, in this case the flag of Malawi

Malawi Flag (Public Domain)

We’ve recently added three specialty teas from Malawi to our growing tea collection so it only felt right to provide a bit more background on this land locked African nation.

Profile of Malawi

The country of Malawi is located in Africa, south of the equator near Madagascar and is about on the same latitude as Brazil and the northern part of Australia. Given that it isn’t too far south of the equator it should come as no surprise that agriculture is a large part of the economy of Malawi. According to the CIA World Fact Book, this country which is about the size of Pennsylvania, exports tobacco, tea, sugar, cotton, coffee, and peanuts in decreasing order.  Indeed tobacco is the largest by far making up more than 50% of exports from the country.

As countries go, Malawi is relatively young. It was created as a British protectorate in 1891 and only became an independent nation in 1964. While it is a democracy now the people of the country experienced many strict laws under the one-time “President for Life” Hastings Banda.

Today Malawi continues to experience some challenges as it grows and develops including a poor reputation for environmental production, low education rates, and high rates of HIV/AIDS. As recently as January 2015, the country experienced severe flooding which left hundreds of families in the south of Malawi homeless in the southern part of the country including nearby Thyolo and Bvumbwe and Satemwa Estate. As recently as mid-February the area still recovering with 4,500 families impacted by the flooding.

Malawi Tea from Satemwa Estate

Satemwa estate is in Southern Malawi near Thyolo and Bvumbwe

Map of Malawi with insert of Southern Malawi and Thyolo.

Located in the southern tip of Malawi, Satemwa Estate has been producing tea and coffee since 1923, long before Malawi became an independent country. It produces a wide variety of tea products including specialty orthodox tea. The tea estate is located in the southern highlands of the country well south of Lake Malawi and a mere 35 minutes from the countries highest peak, Mt. Mulanje.  The Satemwa Estate actually has tea fields spread around the city of Thyolo extending up to Bvumbwe  including a field at higher elevations along the slopes of the Michiru Mountain Conservation Area.

The Satemwa Estate tea plantation employs a large number of people in the region. While Malawi struggles in many areas, the plantation features numerous programs to support the well being of its staff. Programs include a health clinic which provides medical care to all employees and their families along with students from the Satemwa Primary School. Its health efforts even include work with the United Nations International Labour Office (UN ILO) to increase awareness and protection around HIV/AIDS. It is supporting national efforts for community policing and even has sporting activities for its employees. Finally, the estate maintains a primary school to combat education challenges in the country, providing schooling for about 900 students.

Satemwa Estate is also committed to reducing its impact on climate change, protecting the environment, and sustainable farming demonstrated through training programs for workers and community members. It is Fair Trade Certified as well as holding certification by both UTZ and the Rainforest Alliance.

Dominion Tea’s Selection of Specialty Tea from Satemwa Estate

Dominion Tea offers three teas from Satemwa Estate:

  • Treasure Variety Satemwa Estate – This handmade black tea from Satemwa Estate in southern Malawi features caramel and floral notes. The beautiful large leaf unfurls when steeped to release a bright golden liquor. 
  • Puerh Leaf Satemwa Estate – Produced in the modern style (cooked vs aged), this leaf puerh produces a mild, earthy, and woody experience. Although China is known for its Puerh, this leaf puerh from Malawi shows that it can be done in other parts of the world.
  • Bvumbwe BSP Satemwa Estate – This white tea from Malawi features broken leaf of various sizes, shapes, and colors. Grown on a very specific field along the Michiru Mountain Conservation Area in southern Malawi, Bvumbwe BSP is named for a nearby village. The infusion yields a delicious brew with hints of caramel and an aroma that smells a bit of sweet bread and chocolate.

Sources Referenced

CIA World Fact Book, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/mi.html

Satemwa Estate, http://www.satemwa.com/

Malawi: Heavy Rains Leave 700 Families Homeless in Thyolo, By Sungeni Nyoni, January 16, 2015, allAfrica.com, http://allafrica.com/stories/201501161479.html

Picking Tea and Condoms in Malawi, United Nations International Labour Office, http://data.unaids.org/pub/ExternalDocument/2009/20090402_ilomalawi_en.pdf

Thyolo-Thava MP Reaches Out to More Flood Victims, February 18, 2015, The Malawi Voice, http://malawivoice.com/2015/02/18/thyolo-thava-mp-reaches-out-to-more-flood-victims/

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Tea Eggs and the Chinese Spring Festival

The lunar new year is fast approaching and with it a chance to look into the Chinese culture and find new ways to use tea. The Spring Festival, which used to be the Chinese New Year, was renamed in 1913 when the Communist Party took over China and put the country on the Gregorian calendar (this is our modern calendar which was introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII). The Spring Festival corresponds with the lunar new year, which starts this year on February 19th. In Chinese culture, It is considered a time for cleaning, gathering of families and celebrating a fresh start.

Like every family gathering, no matter which country you live in, there is plenty of food. A typical dish, which uses tea in a unique way, are Chinese tea eggs. These are basically spiced hard boiled eggs. The combination and concentration of spices are unique to every family. So while I use one combination below, feel free to modify for your taste.

Chinese Tea Eggs Spicing

Spicing for Chinese Tea Eggs

Chinese Tea Eggs

  • 6 large eggs
  • 4 tablespoons of Soy Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of Black or Puerh Tea (traditionally this is made with Puerh)
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • ½ tablespoon anise seeds (3 to 4 Star Anise if you happen to have a good spice shop nearby)
  • 1 tablespoon dried orange peel
  • ½ tablespoon peppercorns

You will need tongs, a bowl with ice and water to cool the eggs and a spoon to crack their shells.

Place the eggs in sauce pan or large pot. You will want the pot big enough to hold the eggs in a single layer and allow you to pour in enough water to cover the eggs entirely. Place the eggs in the pot and fill it with water. Bring the water to a boil and then lower to simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the eggs from the water and put into the bowl with ice water. This will cool the eggs enough for you to handle them without burning yourself.

Chinese Tea Eggs

Completed Tea Eggs

Assuming none of the eggs broke during the initial cooking, just leave the water in the pot as you will be putting the eggs back in it. If one did, drain out the water, it will be foamy, wipe out the pot and fill with fresh water. Pull an egg out of the ice water and use a spoon to crack the egg shell. You are trying to make a lot of small cracks without removing the shell. Don’t worry if you lose part of the shell, just crack the entire shell then place the egg back in the pot. Do this to the remaining eggs.

Once all the eggs are back in the pot, add in the soy sauce, tea and spices. Add more water if necessary to get the liquids above the eggs. Turn the heat back on and bring the water up to a small simmer and allow to cook for at least 2 hours, if you want a darker web on your eggs you can simmer up to 3 hours.

This makes a salted and slightly spicy hard-boiled egg that is also colored by the tea and soy sauce.

Enjoy the lunar new year with a new way to use tea.

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Puerh Tea and an Introduction to Dark Teas

Pu-erh Tea is truly fermented unlike other teas.

Puerh Tea (tuo cha) – Fermented tea formed into cakes and producing a very dark infusion.

If you’ve been exploring tea for a while you’ve undoubtedly heard a bit about puerh (aka pu-erh), or fermented tea, though you may not yet given it a try. If you consider yourself a regular tea drinker then puerh and dark teas really are a must for your tea ‘bucket list’. Originally from China, puerh and dark teas offer a very different experience. Smooth and earthy, this class of tea is produced using a very different process from other teas and offers a different taste profile which may even serve a as a great entry for coffee drinkers looking to add tea to their repertoire.

Unlike white, green, black, and other varieties of tea which are oxidized and heated or fired to stop oxidation, puerh tea is truly fermented. It develops, usually in the form of compressed tea cakes over years, developing flavor and becoming smoother the longer it ages. Unlike other teas, puerh is produced by partially heating tea leaves to stop most oxidation. Then they are rolled and bruised slightly before being processed into compressed forms. The compressed forms such as bricks, discs or cakes, and small birds nest shaped, called tuo cha, are then either artificially aged or left to age naturally, sometimes for decades.

Puerh Tea History

The development of puerh teas dates back many thousands of years to Yunnan province in China. The necessity of trade led to packaging of tea in compressed discs which could be more easily transported along the tea horse road and other trade corridors. At the time tea was traded for war horses and other goods and often traveled hundreds of miles over long periods of time. During the this time, in hot and humid conditions, the tea naturally fermented and turned into dark tea by the time it reached its destination.

Puerh and Dark Tea

Its often stated that the types of tea include white, yellow, green, black, oolong, and puerh tea. However, this isn’t really accurate. Puerh is actually one variety of dark tea, albeit the most famous one. In 2008, China recognized dark tea from Yunnan as being geographically protected meaning this is the only dark tea that can be called puerh despite the fact that a number of other provinces produce fermented dark teas using much the same process and tea plant varieties.

Steeping Puerh Tea

Steeping your puerh tea is relatively straight forward but is slightly different than other teas. While you should steep with boiling water like a black tea, you will likely be able to steep puerh at least four to six times if not upwards of 10-15 times depending on the variety. Wake up the tea initially with enough boiling water to cover the leaf and quickly pour off the liquor. If you are steeping in a pot or mug with infuser then use 3 grams of puerh or dark tea and steep 3-4 minutes and re-steep another 2-4 times. If you are using a gaiwan, use a bit more tea, about 5 grams, and steep the first time for 2o to 25 seconds. For each additional steeping at about 5 seconds more steeping until it becomes thin.

Although dark and puerh teas are unfamiliar to many western tea drinkers they can be a real treat. Unlike the other teas in your collection, if stored properly, with fresh circulating air, away from other smells and aromas, these will keep and mature for many years to come. And for those looking to make a switch from coffee, you may find both the color and flavor to be a logical first step.

There is much to explore with tea, and puerh as well. This was only an introduction to the world of dark and puerh tea. In the future we will explore more to include the world of counterfeit puerh, other regions producing dark teas, and more so stay tuned.

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Scented Tea – Creating Exquisite Tea Aromas

Pearl shaped tea is often found scented.

Jasmine Scented Tea (Jasmine Dragon Tears)

Scented teas are certainly very popular. They have been around for hundreds of years and continue to be favored by many today. This isn’t really too surprising. We scent everything from moisturizers to dryer sheets and even pine scented air fresheners for our cars. In the case of specialty, loose leaf, teas, the most popular scent is jasmine though others may be used. Scenting is used to enhance the aroma and taste of many different types of teas including silver needle, oolongs, white teas, and of course pearl shaped green teas.

Most of the time loose teas are scented as a way to add value to the finished product. In other words, take an already good tea and make it a bit better through additional floral aromas. At the same time there certainly are producers who seek to scent teas as a way to hide defects or salvage teas that might otherwise not be sold. Attempts to cover up bad tea or hide defects have been occurring for hundreds of years and likely as long as scenting has been occurring. More than 120 years ago, Joseph M. Walsh noted in Tea, Its History and Mystery, “though scenting in general is supposed to be confined to the choicer grades of tea it is as often applied to the inferior sorts, with the object of disguising or concealing their defective or damaged condition, and imparting a pleasant odor, a much larger quantity being used in the latter.”

Scenting of teas is possible since tea, after processing has been processed and fired to remove most of its moisture.  This results in leaves which are hygroscopic, readily absorbing both moisture and flavor. It is the same property that causes tea stored at home to readily absorb flavors and aromas from the mint or garlic stored nearby that enables tea to be scented.

Scented Tea from Jasmine

Jasmine flower for producing scented tea.

Scented tea is often produced using jasmine petals.

The production of scented tea, or huāchá, originated in China as early as the Song Dynasty (960 CE to 1279 CE) and quickly gained popularity.  During the Ming and on into the Qing Dyanasties, scented tea production continued to gain in popularity to be a large commercial endeavor with scenting of tea practiced throughout much of China.

The actual production of loose leaf scented tea begins with the tea maker selecting the type of aroma for scenting and acquiring the flowers.  In much the same way that specialized tea cultivars have been developed, so too have various cultivars of flowers used in scenting. Most notably in creating jasmine scented teas, several key cultivars have been developed for their aroma and flower style.  Similarly cultivars have been developed even to fine tune the time of day when the flowers will open after plucking with some opening earlier in the evening and others opening later.

Workers pluck jasmine blossoms early in the day looking for just the right size such that they will open that evening.  If the blossoms have already opened then they do not impart as much aroma and oils.  Blossoms that aren’t quite ready at the time of pluck will never open and thus don’t help with the scenting process.

Tea to be scented is heated to further reduce its moisture and cooled in preparation for scenting.  Jasmine flowers are selected for optimum size.  Tea is spread out in a layer and jasmine flowers spread on top.  Another layer of tea is added and so on to create multiple layers of tea and jasmine.  The mixture is left for several hours before the jasmine leaves are separated out and the tea is dried again.  Depending on the tea being made this may be repeated multiple times to create the finished product.  Great care is taken to ensure jasmine isn’t left too long with the tea and the tea is adequately dried for final shipping.

The result, of course, is a great jasmine scented tea, be it a simple green tea, jasmine scented pearls, or other types of tea.

Photo of a rose bud which can be used to create scented teas.

Scented tea can use other flowers or ingredients besides jasmine.

Scented Tea Using Alternative Ingredients

Jasmine may be the most well known flower used in the scenting process but it is by no means alone.  Since tea readily absorbs aromas from flowers, any number of things can be used in the scenting process.  After jasmine, scented teas one of the next popular teas today are rose scented teas.  Typically, black teas are scented with rose although increasingly some producers are scenting green and puerh teas.  In the case of scenting with roses some petals are often added back for aesthetic purposes. Other popular flowers for use in scented teas over the past 100 years include osmanthus, chlorantus, gardenia, and iris. Throughout history other things including seeds, roots, and dried fruits have also been used in scenting teas.

Last but not least, smoke can also be used in scenting teas, notably with Lapsang Souchong, a smoked black tea from China. Production of Lapsang Souchong occurs through the drying of tea in smoke produced from pinewood fires. It is a very distinct tea that has strong flavor and aroma and is certainly an acquired taste for some.  This tea is rumored to be one of the oldest teas still available today.

Scented teas are loved by many, though certainly isn’t for everyone. There are a great many options in scented teas and serves to add yet more avenues for exploration.  For many, scented teas may even be the first exposure to a broader world of specialty, loose leaf, teas, just as white zinfandel can be a first step toward fine wines.  If you are new to specialty teas, you may find that jasmine scented teas serving as an excellent gateway to a broader world of green and oolong teas.

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