Tag Archives: Tea

Panamanian tea field with flag

Visiting a Panama Tea Plantation in Boquete

Panamanian tea is not a phrase you hear in the tea industry as I write this blog. However, if one entrepreneur has his way that may change in the future. During our travels, regardless of country, David and I are always looking for tea. We were shocked to find a tea tour offered in Western Panama. It’s available in a larger portfolio of tours alongside zip lining, coffee tours and general outdoor eco-adventures in Boquete. Even with the $30/person price tag, David and I had to find out if they really had true tea.

Panamanian Tea Tour – Boquete, Panama

Panama is better known worldwide for its Geisha or Gesha Coffee. As a side note to my tea drinkers, find this coffee – it tastes like tea! In fact, it was this association with tea that led to the tea plantation experiment. It’s also hardly a surprise that Gesha Coffee got rebranded as “Geisha” to improve marketing in Asia, especially Japan.

So, finding a steep mountainside of Camelia Sinensis Assamica in Boquete, growing at about 5,700 ft above sea level, was truly a delight.

Planting Tea in Panama

Boquete is a rural town about 9 hours by car outside of Panama City. The closest airport is about 45 minutes away in the town of David. It is high elevation, wet and sunny with plenty of fog, especially during the rainy season. This climate is similar to Sri Lanka or the Nilgiri region of India. It is home to large number of coffee farms, most of them owned and run by Americans and Europeans, and a few by Panamanians. Kotowa Tours (aka Boquete Tree Trek) is a Panamanian company, with a Panamanian owner, that has been around for over 100 years. While their properties are for outdoor recreation, like zip lines and hiking, they are growing coffee, chocolate and tea there as well.

Octavian and Hillary in the tea fields looking at a young tea plant.

Our tea tour began with a walk through the tea fields with Kotowa’s tea master in training, Octavian. Currently, plants cover less than 1 acre, but there is plenty of room to grow. The first of the tea plants went in 7 years ago and Octavian and his team of four other grounds keepers have been diligently collecting seeds and replanting every year progressing higher up the mountain. The plants are in beautiful shape, with just a few grasshoppers leaving an occasional bite mark on some of the leaves. The biggest “pests” are armadillos. They periodically burrow in to the ground near the roots killing a tea plant here and there. It was fitting to be climbing through the fields, only to be hit with incoming morning mountain fog and rain. The plants are truly in their perfect environment and their huge dark green leaves let you know it.

Harvesting and Manufacturing Tea

The plants are so happy that Octavian and his team are harvesting roughly every 25 days, year round. Now, that is not unheard of in Sri Lanka, India and parts of Africa. So we posed the questions about which months produced the better tasting harvest. It was not surprising to hear the December-March produce a sweeter tea since those are the “dry” months in Panama.

The entire harvest and processing is done by 5 people. They are plucking, rolling and shaping the leaves by hand. With only an acre, their largest given harvest is only about 250 kg (roughly 550 lbs) at a time. That will become roughly 50 kg of finished product, which is only 110 pounds of tea. This is very manageable for a team of 5 people. From harvest to finished product, it is only 4 days, with most of the time spent waiting on the tea to dry.

The processing of the tea will likely change as the tea plants expand and there is more to harvest and produce. Plucking will remain by hand as the mountainside is too steep for machines. We had a good laugh about finding tea manufacturing machines with instructions in English\Spanish and available replacement parts in the Western Hemisphere – there aren’t any.

Cupping Panamanian Tea

Dried and twisted green tea leaves in a glass container

Kotowa is currently trying to make white, green, oolong and black tea. With the help of an experienced tea master from Taiwan, Octavian is playing with withering times, baking times, and steaming techniques. We had a great time talking about his lessons learned and where he thinks he will continue to play and fine tune flavor.

Given his tea master is Taiwanese, it was no shocker that the teas where lighter and smoother, mimicking Taiwanese tea. The green tea has a real chance of being a unique flavor profile, as they are steaming the green, which is causing it to taste and smell like the corn meal on the outside of a Panamanian tamale (this is a sweet vegetal taste because the tamales are steamed in banana leaf wrappers).

We expect Octavian will have success in making uniquely Panamanian tea and wish him the best of luck!

Rose Tea Cupcakes with Jasmine Tea Icing

Tea & Cupcakes

Rose Tea Cupcakes with Jasmine Frosting

Rose Tea Cupcakes are a unique treat for your tea loving Valentine. These cupcakes can be made in advance and keep well in the refrigerator for about 5 days, if they last that long. While this cupcake recipe uses The Rose Garden tea, it can be made with your favor tea. The trick is to infuse both the butter and milk before making the cupcakes, which we will outline below.

Rose Tea Cupcakes-Ingredients

2 tablespoons of The Rose Garden tea
1 stick of butter
1/2 cup of whole milk
3/4 cup of white granulated sugar
3 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt (Omit at your own risk, your cupcakes may not be as fluffy as you would like without this)
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1 cup of All purpose flour (keep around a couple of tablespoons of flour in case you need to add more to the batter)

Jasmine Green Tea Frosting-Ingredients

2 tablespoons of Jasmine Green Tea
1 stick of butter
1/3 cup of whole milk
4 oz (1/2 block) of cream cheese
3 cups of confectioners sugar

Making Tea Infused Butter

Butter & Tea

Prepping Tea Infused Butter

We have made tea infused butter before. For the cupcakes and icing, you will make 2 separate batches of infused butter. With each one you will need 1 stick of butter and 3 grams of tea (or a rounded tablespoon).

For the cupcake batter, melt one stick of butter with 1 rounded tablespoon of The Rose Garden Tea. This should be done on the cook top and not in the microwave. Put both the tea and butter into the pot. Once the butter melts completely, remove from the burner and allow the tea to steep for another 10 minutes. Strain off the tea and allow the butter to cool. Feel free to use a spoon to press on the tea to squeeze out the butter that it absorbed. Make sure the butter is solid before adding it to the recipe for the cupcake. It will return to a solid state much faster if you put it in the refrigerator. I found it is easier to make the butter a day or two before the cupcakes so I am not tempted to use the liquid butter.

Repeat the same steps as above for the butter for the Jasmine icing. Just use a rounded tablespoon of Jasmine Green tea instead of the The Rose Garden tea. This butter also needs to be solid, but at room temperature for the icing to work correctly.

Making Tea Infused Milk

Milk infused with rose tea.

Rose Infused Milk

Just like the butter, we are going to heat the amount of milk shown above with a rounded tablespoon of the associated tea on the stove top. Do not walk away from the milk as it is heating as you do not want it to come to a boil. You are looking for steam to rise and a few small bubbles along the edges of the milk and you should start to smell the tea. Feel free to stir and make sure the tea leaves don’t just float on the top. As soon as the steam remains as you stir, pull the milk off the burner and allow the tea to steep in the milk for 10 minutes before straining. Again, feel free to use a spoon to press the tea against the strainer to squeeze out the milk it absorbed. The 1/2 cup of milk for the cupcakes will become roughly a 1/3 cup and the 1/3 cup for the icing will become a 1/4 cup. This is fine. Make sure the milk cools to at least room temperature before using in the recipe. It is fine to make this a day or two before making the ice cream, just store in a container with a tight fitting lid in the refrigerator.

Making Rose Tea Cupcakes

  1.  Make sure you have made the tea infused butter and milk and they have cooled before doing anything else.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325°F and line your cupcake/muffin tray with paper liners for the cupcakes.
  3. Using an electric stand mixer, beat together the The Rose Garden tea infused butter with the sugar. It should be mixed until lite and fluffy, about 5 minutes. You should stop the mixer a few times during the process and scrap down the sides and bottom to make sure everything is mixed evenly.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, salt and baking powder.
  5. On low, adding 1 egg at a time, mix in the eggs with the sugar and butter.
  6. Once all 3 eggs are mixed in, add the flour mixture and milk to the bowl, alternating about 1/3 of each at the time. Make sure each time that the ingredients are fully incorporated. Once down, take a look at the batter and pinch out a small amount. If is really shiny and feels oily, you will need to incorporate more flour. Using 1/2 tablespoon at a time, mix in the flour until the batter is shiny but doesn’t feel oily.
  7. Put the batter into the paper liners, filling them about 2/3 of the way full. Put them in the oven for 25 minutes. A tooth pick should pull out clean. Do not over cook. These cup cakes will be pale yellow to white in color, you do not want brown edges.
  8. Pull out the cupcakes and allow them to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before removing them from the tin and placing them on the cooling rack to come to room temperature.
  9. Once the cupcakes are at room temperature, you may ice them.

Making Jasmine Green Tea Frosting

  1. Put the cream cheese and Jasmine Green Tea Infused butter into an electric mixer and blend until fully incorporated, about 5 minutes.
  2. Then mix in 1 1/2 cups of the confectioners sugar until fully incorporated.
  3. Next add the Jasmine Green Tea Infused milk  Mix until combined, it will look runny.
  4. Last mix in the remaining 1 1/2 cup of the confectioners sugar. The icing should look thick and fluffy. It is a heavy frosting because of the cream cheese.
  5. Using an icing knife or a butter knife, apply the icing to the cooled cupcakes in a circular motion. Scoop out about 1 1/2 tablespoons of icing at a time to apply. If you icing starts to run on the top of the cupcake you did not let them cool enough. You can package up the icing and put it in the refrigerator and apply it within 2 days of making the cupcakes. It will start to get to hard after that ice cleanly for you.

Celebrate Chinese New Year with Niangao


Next week marks the start of the Chinese New Year, and what better why to mark the occasion than with a Chinese sweet traditionally served during the New Year celebration, Niangao. This is a very sweet and dense rice cake with a simple almond flavor that pairs nicely with a cup of tea. This cake is traditionally steamed, not baked. So make sure to check the section on equipment and setup for steaming a cake, it is actually easier than it sounds.

Niangao – Ingredients

2 cups of water
16oz or 1 pd of Dark Brown Sugar
16oz or 1 pd of Sweet (Glutenous) Rice Flour (Asian Market, this is NOT Brown Rice Flour)
2 tsp of Almond Extract
Toasted Sesame Seeds for Garnish
Pitted Chinese Dates for Garnish – Sliced in half or small pieces (These are not always easy to find at the Asian Market, so feel free to substitute Medjool Dates)

Niangao – Equipment

9 inch round cake pan or 1 large loaf pan
Large deep pan with lid that is big enough to hold the cake pan
Aluminium foil
Cooling rack
Electric stand mixer
Small pan to boil water and sugar in
Large spoon for stirring
Kettle full of hot water

Niangao – Instructions

  1. Before you even pick up the ingredients it is critical to build your steamer. Now if you are used to using a bamboo rice steamer and your cake pan fits in it, go ahead and use that. For those of us that don’t have a bamboo steamer, we need to do some simple construction to build one. First make sure your cake pan fits nicely inside your large pan that has a tight lid, you need to have at least an inch of room above the cake pan when you set it in the bottom. If the lid is not tight, you will need to adjust your cooking time up to compensate for losing steam from the pan. Second, tear off 2 pieces of aluminium foil about the length of your forearm and shape them into snakes. If you are opting for the bread loaf pans, you may need 3 pieces. Do not crush them flat, you are building a platform to put your cake pan on so it does not sit in the boiling water. Shape the snakes into S or C and place into the bottom of the pan and put your cake pan on top. Adjust the height of the snakes so that the lid still fits over without touching the cake pan. Try your best to make them level otherwise you will find that your cake may come out thicker on side versus the other. Once you know everything fits, spray your pan and place it on your snakes. Start up your kettle full of water, you will use this water to fill up the pan at the appropriate time.
  2. Take out the second pan and put in the 2 cups of water and dark brown sugar. Place it on a burner set to high and start stirring. The goal is to melt the sugar without allowing the water to come to a boil, so you cannot walk away. It will only take about 5 minutes for the water to steam and for you to no longer have sugar crystals along the side of the pan. Remember, do not let it boil. Once you know you are sugar crystal free, take the pan off the burner and put aside.
  3. Put all the rice flour into the bowl of your stand mixer and slowly pour in the hot water. Set the mixer to low until all the water is in and then put it on medium. Once the water looks incorporated, stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom and start it again. Put in the almond extract and mix for a couple of minutes and then stop.
  4. While your electric mixer is going, pour water out of the kettle into your steamer set-up. Take out the cake pan so you do not get it wet. You want enough water to come up about 3/4 of your snakes. Go ahead and turn on the burn the pan is sitting on. Since you already have warm water, set the burner to low. We want a simmering boil while the cake steams, not a rolling boil. Put the cake pan on your snakes and pour in the batter from your mixer bowl.
  5. Sprinkle the toasted almonds and arrange the dates on top of the cake. Put the lid on the pan and allow to cook for 60 minutes. You should check the pan and possibly refill the water at the 25 minute mark. You will probably not need to refill the water if you have a tight fitting lid. If your lid is not tight fitting, plan on checking every 15 minutes. Remember we do not need the water at a rolling bubbling, just a gentle simmer.
  6. When an inserted tooth pick comes out clean, the cake is done. Turn off the burner, and transfer the cake to your cooling rack. It needs to cool completely, which can take upwards of 3 hours. If you try to slice it sooner, it is a sticky mess. The cake can be cooled in the refrigerator.

To serve, slice the cake into thin pieces and rewarm in the microwave for 30 seconds so they are not rock hard. You can also fry them in a little sesame oil.

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3 Teas to Replace Coffee

Malty Assam Black Tea and Liquor

Malty Assam Black Tea and Infused Liquor. This crush-tear-curl tea even looks like ground coffee beans.

We get a lot of people in the shop that love tea but will not abandon their morning cup of coffee. This is a shame given all the benefits of tea. So, here are recommendations on the 3 teas to replace coffee, especially that first cup in the morning. We have seen, first hand, their success in converting those whose are willing to try.

  1.  Malty Assam – This bold black tea from the Assam region of India is the only CTC (cut-tear-curl) tea we carry. The CTC method for manufacturing tea gives you small balls of tea leaves. The small surface intensifies both the flavor and briskness of the tea. This tea holds up to milk and sugar, in case that is the real reason you love your morning cup of coffee.
  2. Ceylon OP –  This beautiful tea from the mountains of Sri Lanka features malty flavor and brisk mouth feel to help get the morning started quick. It’s a wonderful tea on its own with no need for milk and sugar.
  3. Kosebei TGFOP – From Kenya, this beautiful black tea has flavors of currant, malt, and moist earth. It can also handle milk and sugar without losing its flavor.

Yes, all these teas are black. Their woody and earthy flavors accompanied with their astringent/brisk finish is fairly similar to coffee. However, they are easy to drink without milk and sugar, so we recommend you try them straight first. You may be pleasantly surprised that you can get rid of the milk and sugar calories. The other big difference you will notice is that the caffeine doesn’t disappear out of your blood stream as fast, so there is no energy crash an hour later. For those of you who already drink tea in the morning and are looking for new ones to try, take a look at our piece on new teas to try in the new year. Personally, we start our morning with a wide variety of teas, some days green, others puerh and so on. So don’t think black tea is the only way to start your morning.

Japanese Sencha Tea

Sencha leaves are known to be flat needle shape and dark green in color.

Dry Sencha Tea Leaves and Liquor

One cannot talk about Sencha tea without talking about the history of tea in Japan.  Sencha is the most consumed beverage in Japan, whose beginnings date back several centuries. Tea was introduced to Japan in the 9th century via a cultural exchange with monks although it did not really take hold until the 12th century when Emperor Saga encouraged tea plant growth.  This allowed tea to expand from religious use to upper class consumption.  At the same time Japan adopted an isolationist policy, stopping communication with China, which left Japan to develop its own distinct way of manufacturing tea. Whereas most Chinese teas are pan fried to stop oxidation, most of Japanese green teas are steamed to stop oxidation.  This gives the tea part of its distinctive flavor and bright green color found with the first forms of Sencha.

Japan, more than other tea drinking countries, has mechanized most of tea making process.  This mechanization, along with local demand for tea, has lead the industry to focus heavily on cultivars that work well with the harvesting machines while still maintaining the flavor characteristics expected from a Sencha.  The main cultivars used for Sencha are yabukita and okuhikari.

Due to the geography of the Japanese islands, no tea field is more than 75 miles from the ocean, regardless of the prefecture where it is grown (Kevin Gascoyne, 2011).  Most of the Sencha grown in Japan comes from Shizuoka prefecture.  The Kagoshima, Nara, and Mie prefectures also grow Sencha.   The terroir of this tea gives it a marine flavor on top of the natural grassy notes of a green tea. Not surprisingly, there are many types of Sencha, few of which make it to the US for consumption given the high local demand.  Below is table describing the more unique types of Sencha:

Name Description
Shincha or Ichibancha This is the first month’s harvest of Sencha.  This Sencha is very hard to come by outside of Japan since it is highly prized.  It typically comes to market in late April through May.
Kabuse Sencha or Kabusecha This is Sencha that has been grown in the shade about a week before harvesting.  This is a milder Sencha in flavor.
Asamushi This is a Sencha steamed for less than the traditional 15 to 20 seconds to stop oxidation.
Chumushi This is a Sencha steamed for 30-90 seconds.
Fukamushi or fukamushicha This is a Sencha steamed for 60-120 seconds.

Photo of Japanese Sencha Tea after it has been infused.

Infused Sencha Tea Leaf

As defined by the North American Tea Championship, a Sencha will have flat green needle shaped dry leafs with a grassy smell.  The wet leaves will have a rich green color and fresh aroma.  The liquor will have a light green to bright gold color with possible particulate and the taste will have grassy and briny notes with a medium to full-body feel.  For the rest of us, to get that taste, we need to steep the Sencha between 175° to 180° Fahrenheit.  Should you choose to try it at the boiling point of 212°, most of the complex flavor will be lost to the heavy astringency and with some Senchas it tastes more like a mouth full of briny ocean water than anything else.  In fact, it is mistakenly brewing Sencha and other green teas with boiling water that often turns people off to green teas entirely.

If you are new to Japanese green tea, Sencha is a great starting point.  If this is a tea you consume regularly, try cold brewing it for summer (unlike black teas, green teas often do not brew well with conventional iced tea machines).  It is a very refreshing way to enjoy this tea on a hot summer day.


Works Cited

Kevin Gascoyne, F. M. (2011). Tea: History Terroirs Varieties. In K. Gascoyne, F. Marchand, J. Desharnais, & H. Americi, Tea: History Terroirs Varieties (pp. 98-99). Firefly Books Ltd.