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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Ceylon Tea and Sri Lanka History

Sri Lanka, Kandy, and Colombo - Home to Ceylon Tea

Map of Sri Lanka. Home of Ceylon Tea.

Sri Lanka is one of the worlds largest tea producers behind only India, Kenya, and China. While today tea is a widely consumed and offered to visitors, this custom has developed only over the past century. Indeed, it was colonization by the Dutch and British which led to this small island nation becoming a powerhouse in tea and ultimately the infusion of tea into its culture.

History of Sri Lanka and The Beginnings of Ceylon Tea

The island nation of Sri Lanka is roughly the same size as the state of West Virginia located only about 35 miles to the southeast of India. Its populations date back to the 5th century B.C.E. and are made up of Sinhalese, Tamils, Moors, and Malays with Buddhist and Hindu religions playing a significant role in the culture over time. Though it has developed largely separate from India there has been a close relationship with its neighbor and likely inherited its first taste of Buddhism from there.

The country itself is split into two major parts; a dry side and a wet side and early populations may well have been separate from each other for centuries. Over time, however, the island nation became a significant trading hub with visitors from all over. Rulers rose and fell over the years in Sri Lanka and finally Portugal became the first of the European colonizers at a time when cinnamon was a major product of the island. The rule of Portugal didn’t last long however and local powers worked with the Dutch to kick Portugal out in the mid 1600’s. Unlike Portugal, the Dutch were only focused on trading spices, not on ruling the island itself which they did until an 1801 peace treaty with England which ceded control of Dutch territories, including Sri Lanka.

With British colonization brought British influence into the lives of those of Sri Lanka (at the time called Ceylon). They began adopting British ways, customs, and even education. However, it wasn’t until the 1870’s that tea as a major agricultural product came to Sri Lanka. Prior to this time coffee production was the largest cash crop. However, an influx of coffee rust led to the demise of the crop. Many alternatives were tried but ultimately tea became a major crop for the country. It was at this juncture that a young Thomas Lipton, a grocer from Scotland, arrived on scene at the right time to purchase several estates and establish his tea plantations.

The colonization by Britain had brought tea but also brought with with it British ideals. Many in the local Sri Lanka population began to see tea consumed every day and began to consume it as well. Now in addition to growing tea for export it was also widely consumed.

In 1948 the British handed over control and Ceylon became an independent nation. More recently in 1972 it changed its name to Sri Lanka.

Flag of Sri Lanka - Incorporated in Ceylon Tea brand.

Flag (and Lion) of Sri Lanka

Ceylon Tea Today…

Though British colonialism is long gone and the country has changed its name, tea continues to be a major part of the economy for Sri Lanka. It claims to be the third or fourth largest exporter of tea worldwide and the largest orthodox tea exporter. Most plants are a relative of the c. sinensis assamica originating in India instead of the c. sinensis sinensis variety originating in China. The name Ceylon Tea is well known around the world, despite the country changing its name and the Sri Lanka Tea Board promotes Ceylon as a brand in its own right seeking to ensure its reputation as a high quality producer of tea consumed around the world. Accoding to the Sri Lanka Tea Board:

To qualify for the special, legal distinction denoted by the words ‘Ceylon Tea’, and for the famous Lion logo that goes with it, the tea must not only be grown and manufactured entirely in Sri Lanka; it must also conform to strict quality standards laid down and administered by the Sri Lanka Tea Board. It cannot, moreover, be mixed or blended with tea from any other part of the world. Even a blend that is 95% Sri Lankan cannot be described as Ceylon Tea.

Tea continues to be a major part of the culture of Sri Lanka. It is consumed in most households and offered to guests who visit. The industry employs as many as 1 million people directly as well as a large number indirectly employed in Tea Tourism which allows visitors to come and stay on many of the countries plantations.

Tea from Sri Lanka, like that from any number of other countries, brings with it many great stories and tastes and shouldn’t be missed along the path of your own tea exploration.

 

Sources

Culture of Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Travel and Tourism, http://www.srilankatravelandtourism.com/srilanka/culture/culture.php

Ceylon Tea Museum – History, http://ceylonteamuseum.com/history.html

Sri Lanka Tea Board, 2011 Annual Report – http://www.pureceylontea.com/index.php/2014-02-26-10-02-57/downloads/category/3-annual-reports

Tea, by Kendra Wilhelm, http://www.panix.com/~kendra/tea/index.html

 

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5 Things About Orange Pekoe Tea

We continue to be amazed by the wide variety of flavors found in the tea world. In an effort to differentiate themselves tea companies are always looking for new flavors and blends to set themselves apart. One thing that still amazes us is to hear people say they love the flavor of Orange Pekoe tea. Since it is not a flavor at all, it seemed inevitable that we would need to dedicate a blog to what Orange Pekoe actually is. In short:

  1. Orange Pekoe is a grade of black tea that a marketing department went wild with.
  2. There is no orange in Orange Pekoe
  3. Tea grading based on Orange Pekoe isn’t mandatory and is primarily for industry buyers.
  4. Grading based on Orange Pekoe generally follows British Colonial influence.
  5. Orange Pekoe says very little about the taste of your tea.

#1. Orange Pekoe is a grade of black tea that a marketing department went wild with.

Orange Pekoe is really a grade of black tea, not a flavor. Major tea bag producers did a disservice to the North American tea drinking public when it decided to market tea with the name Orange Pekoe. At some point they decided, like so many other companies, that marketing should win out over accuracy. At least one of the major brands refreshed their packaging a few years ago so that the word Ceylon (this is now the country of Sri Lanka) started to appear in the same size font in front of Orange Pekoe.

There is no orange in orange pekoe.

No Orange in Orange Pekoe Tea

#2. There is no orange in Orange Pekoe

There is no orange flavoring in the tea. How orange came to be attached to the grading system has several theories, ranging from a marketing ploy to just highlighting the variety of colors residing within the dried leaves. The marketing ploy is an interesting story theorizing that the Dutch East India Company added Orange to the front of the Pekoe, which is a mis-translation of the Chinese word for Bai Hao (Morrison, 1819), to honor the ruling Dutch family, Orange-Nassau.

#3. Tea grading based on Orange Pekoe isn’t mandatory and is primarily for industry buyers.

Grading around “Orange Pekoe” is not a mandatory grading system. Instead it is an agreed upon set of definitions in the industry around the appearance and size of dried black tea leaves. The system is followed by those in industry and anyone who abuses it are quickly corrected by their peers.  The system developed as a way for the Dutch and British to be able to communicate to the growers what they wanted in countries where they did not speak the language. It allows further description to their buyers what, specifically, they wanted.  The system helps to distinguish between the different sizes of whole black tea leaves. Leaf sizes are determined by sifting the tea through fine mesh strainers at the end of the production run. Ultimately, the grading system has nothing to do with quality or taste.

Grade Name Definition
SFTGFOP or SFTGFOP-1 Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe – The tea maker considers this to be the best of the best in both color variation, amount of unbroken leaf buds present and size of leaves

FTGFOP Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe – Shows the grower considers this a truly special tea both in both color variation, tea leaf size and the amount of unbroken leaf buds in the batch

TGFOP Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe – Not just unbroken whole leaves but leaf buds that have not unfurled are present and are typically gold or silver in color, shows an expert handling of the leaves, this is going to be a colorful tea ranging from silver to dark brown

GFOP Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe – Larger whole tea leaves, unbroken, with oxidized tips on some leaves that appear golden in color creating a wider variety in color in the dried leaves

FOP Flowery Orange Pekoe – Whole tea leaf with little to no broken parts that is more loosely rolled than orange pekoe so it appears wider in size than orange pekoe, more variation in shades of brown

OP Orange Pekoe – Whole tea leaf that may be slightly broken from processing but is generally whole.  Typically it is a tightly rolled leaf and the color is going to be consistent

 

#4. Grading based on Orange Pekoe generally follows British Colonial influence.

This system is typically used on black tea from India, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Kenya, and some South American countries. While the grading system outlined above is for whole leaf there is a grading system for tea that is crushed for tea bags.  China did not use this system until more recently, in response to market demand, and furthermore it is not used by all tea manufacturers in China either.

#5. Orange Pekoe says very little about the taste of your tea.

Kosabei Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe

Large full leaf tea with silver and gold leaf tips.

Experiment with the different grades of black tea and with the country your orange pekoe tea comes from and you may be surprised to learn how diverse orange pekoe flavors can be.  The OP is going to be a more robust blend with a malty flavor, while the SFTGFOP is going to be much lighter in flavor because of all the leaf buds.  Even within the same category the tea is going to taste different because it is an agricultural product and should vary in taste year to year just like the rainfalls and temperature that create the terroir of the tea.  I hope you enjoy the exploration!

Works Cited
Morrison, R. R. (1819). A Dictionary of the Chinese Language, Vol. 1, part 2. Macao: United East India Company.

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Tea Harvesting

Woman Plucking Tea in Assam India

Tea Plucker in Assam by Diganta Talukdar CC-BY-2.0

For centuries the only way to harvest tea leaves was to hand pluck them, and in many countries that is still the primary means of harvest.  This may be intentional or may be due to the lack of capital necessary to purchase the equipment.  For those farms who chose to use modern agricultural equipment there are multiple options from which to choose that can be implemented at various points in the harvesting season.  For example, in Japan, some farmers choose to hand pluck the first flush of a season and use mechanical means for subsequent harvests.

Tea does have a harvesting season, though the length and number of flushes varies widely. In China it is typically in the spring and fall. As mentioned in our earlier blog Camellia Sinensis, season is effected by water, location and temperature.  During a harvesting season the tea is usually picked once every week to two weeks.  In places where harvesting can occur year round, during the peak season, the tea can be picked multiple times during a week.

As you can imagine plucking tea by hand is very labor intensive work where typically, the bud and first two leaves are plucked.  In regions of China, on top of plucking the tea leaves, the pluckers are hiking up and down mountainous terrain to get to the leaves.  In some of the oldest farms, the pluckers are also climbing into the old ungroomed tea trees to pluck.   Pluckers will carry some kind of means to collect leaves as they pluck, often a bag or bamboo basket.  They will add leaves as they pluck and when full they carry their harvest back to the farm before returning to the fields to keep plucking.  In many countries women make up the predominant portion of the plucking workforce.  In China, this is driven by the belief that women have just the right touch in plucking leaves, not leaving the tea tree brushed or damaged at the breaking point.  This is extremely important for future harvests, because the tea tree will not continue to produce leaves on a branch where it is bruised or damaged.

Tea Harvesting by Machine in Japan

Tea Harvesting by Machine by Oli Studholme CC-BY-2.0

Knowing that the tea tree is sensitive to where the plucking occurs, it is hard to imagine how big farm trackers or automatic pruners could to the same job.  However, the Japanese have implemented laser technology to allow their automatic pruning machines to be hand-pulled over the tea trees with cuttings sucked into either bags or shoots that go back to the main staging area for the plucked tea.  This laser guidance allows the pruners to cut at just the right place and angle so the tree continues to grow from the same branch.  Since oxidation begins immediately after harvest it is critical, especially for green tea, to start the manufacturing process as soon as possible and this system allows much faster transport of leaves to processing facilities.  I imagine that other countries, like Sri Lanka, which are experiencing labor shortages on their tea farms as younger generations leave the farm for jobs in the cities, will eventually turn to this technology to allow harvesting to continue.

While many countries still utilize substantial labor to harvest tea, Argentina plantations almost exclusively use large elevated tractors that drive above the tea trees to harvest tea leaves.  Machine harvested leaves don’t usually have the bud and two leaf combination but individual leaves instead, some with and some without stems.  Given that the plantations in Argentina are able to harvest year round, it is not a surprise that they use equipment.

Mechanically harvested tea is not always destined to tea bags.  Quality loose leaf tea can be harvested by machine, you will just not see a bud and two leaves in the tea.  Instead you will find single leaves and buds and in some cases no stems on the leaves with an almost perfectly straight edge at the base of the leaf.  As for whether plucking by hand or machine effects the quality of the end product, it is hard to imagine that it does.  Of course, I am just an American that is accustomed to John Deere tractors harvesting everything from oranges to wheat, so why not tea?

by Hillary Coley

Follow me on Twitter @HillaryColey or @DominionTea

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Where is Tea Grown?

We recently attended a tasting session featuring teas from around the world. The teas were outstanding to be sure, however, they represented teas from only a small portion of the world. The countries represented included China, Japan, Tibet, India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya and provided a very diverse set of teas. These included white, yellow, green, black, dark, and even purple teas. But our tasting from “around the world” barely even scratched the surface. There are a huge number of countries growing teas. In fact, more than 50 countries grow tea today including many from Asia, a good number from Africa, and some perhaps surprising locations like former Russian states, Iran, Argentina, Brazil, and yes, even the United States, though not always at a high enough to be globally competitive. While the top four growers (China, India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya) far and away surpass the others, tea production is very much a global business. The average American consumer tea is most likely from China, India, Sri Lanka, or Kenya. However, to illustrate just how global the business is, a somewhat dated report by the U.S. Department of Labor noted in 1996 that Germany, which grows virtually no tea, has consistently been one of the top countries supplying tea to the US market (Department of Labor, n.d.)!

China and India account for 55% of global tea production.

Countries grouped by relative global share of tea production. Based on 2011 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization data. http://www.fao.org/statistics.en/ (Full Tableau Visualization)

Tea as a Global Commodity

Tea is the second most consumed drink in the world, behind water, and demand continues to grow year after year. While tea is consumed in the form of loose leaf, bagged tea, and chai, innovations in ready to drink teas, and powdered tea drinks in Asia continue to drive additional growth. One of the fastest growing segments in Asia, according to Euromonitor (Friend, 2013), is the powered tea segment with products like Xiang Piao Piao, which is a single serve cup of instant powered tea in a variety of sweetened flavors. According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Group on Tea, demand for black tea has exceeded supply since 2009. This long term demand is expected to keep the price of tea high for years to come (United Nations, 2012).

Coffee Rust

Photo of Coffee Rust – by Carvalho et al – CC-BY-SA 2.5

Where demand exceeds supply the price generally stays high until supply rises enough to meet that demand so it is reasonable to expect that more countries will see commercial tea planned and those already in the business may increase both the land area under cultivation and work to improve the yield of existing plantations. Additionally, some coffee plantations may choose to change over to tea. This is because coffee rust is increasingly impacting coffee plantations in South America and pushing down coffee production rates. Rust isn’t actually new, it’s what drove Sri Lanka to switch from growing coffee to tea back in the mid to late 1800’s. However, it is now impacting South America, parts of which are seeing the worst outbreaks of coffee rust since it took hold in the 1970’s. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expecting significant decline in crop yields for the 2013-14 season on top of already significant declines in 2012-13 (U.S. Departement of State, n.d.)

Given the growing appreciation and demand for ready-to-drink products and specialty teas in the United States, Canada, and other parts of the world we may very well have increased opportunity to experience an even wider variety of tea products from a wide variety of countries in the years to come.

[ See Related Post:  Tea vs Coffee Imports – Who are the superpowers? ]

Works Cited
Department of Labor. (n.d.). ILAB – TEA. Retrieved from Bureau of International Labor Affairs: http://www.dol.gov/ilab/media/reports/iclp/sweat4/tea.htm

Friend, J. F. (2013). Global Tea Opportunities in Retail and Foodservice. World Tea East. Atlanta: Euromonitor.

U.S. Departement of State. (n.d.). Retrieved from Coffee Rust Outbreak in Central America, Southern Mexico, and the Caribbean: http://www.state.gov/e/eb/tpp/abt/coffee/index.htm

United Nations. (2012, February 29). UN News Centre. Retrieved from Global tea prices set to stay strong this year, says UN agency: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp/story.asp?NewsID=41411&Cr=Food+Prices&Cr1=#.UoS9i94o601

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