Happy Summer Sipping!
We hope your summer is off to a spectacular start. In this season of vacations, adventures and outings, we’re gearing up to participate in the 3rd Annual TeaFest PDX later this month (07/20/19) while already planning our 2020 adventures with more of our tea growers and makers overseas. For now, though, grab a cup of tea while you enjoy our updates and a brief “tour” of tea types as we invite you to sip adventurously this summer!
Tea Talk – A Summer Tasting Adventure
Rather than focusing our attention on a specific tea this month, we’re going to share some high-level characteristics of various tea types. We all know how easy it is to fall into a comfort zone by eating or drinking the same “favorite” items on a regular basis. However, we encourage you to Sip Adventurously this summer by trying something a bit different from your normal go-to tea. Think of it as an adventure trip for your taste buds!
Green Tea: There are literally hundreds of styles of green tea being made around the world. By definition, leaves for making green tea should not be allowed to oxidize. That means they must be subjected to a brief heating process (e.g., pan firing, steaming, oven baking) promptly after being harvested in order to preserve their "greenness." Green tea from different traditions and locations can vary in taste between one another by as much as green tea differs from black tea. So, if you don’t like green teas from China or Vietnam, you might absolutely love them from Japan or elsewhere.
Astringency (bitterness) in green teas can vary from being quite subtle to intense. In addition, water temperature and steeping time can make a huge difference in how much astringency is revealed in the cup. Follow steeping recommendations at first and then experiment on your own to achieve the result that works best for you.
Common descriptors of green tea include: crisp, floral, grassy, herbaceous, kelpy, mineral notes, nutty, buttery, vegetal, oceanic, smooth, sweet, piney and so forth.
White Tea: With an oxidation range of about 15-20%, white teas often serve as the base for a wide variety of tea blends due to their fairly mellow taste and smooth character. Of course, many a tea aficionado will enjoy a delicate Bai Mudan or Silver Needle on its own for the love of their subtle earthiness and delicate fruit notes. White teas tend to be low in astringency while taste descriptors may include: slightly sweet, supple, soft, or having delicate vegetal notes.
Oolong Tea: Some of the biggest variances in taste appear between teas in the oolong category due to the extremely wide range of acceptable oxidation levels ranging from about 20% to 80%. Oolong teas are generally made with larger leaves rather than the youngest leaves that are often used for the highest quality 1st flush green teas.
The lower oxidized oolong teas (“greener styles” such as Ti Kwan Yin) can have characteristics akin to silky green teas with low astringency. They present tasting notes of minerals, light fruit, honey, orchid or melon flavors. Darker style oolongs (such as Wuyi Rock) can present toasty or woody notes, or display hints of leather or sandalwood, and sometimes subtle fig or other fruit notes. Oolongs can have a long, lingering finish while being very low in astringency. Because the leaf is large and often tightly rolled or twisted, they can yield several successful steeps as the leaves might not even open to their full size until the third or fourth steep. Translation: More bang for your buck.
Black Tea: Oxidation is high, ranging between 80% and 100%. With a few exceptions, many black teas will have higher levels of astringency than other styles. Other terms used to describe black tea may include: pungent, smoky, malty, bold, chocolate, tobacco-like or brisk. To compensate for the higher astringency of some black teas, many people choose to add milk and/or sweetener. Lighter style black teas (e.g., 1st Flush Darjeeling) may exhibit light fruit or floral notes. Because of their relative boldness, many black teas stand up well in blends containing rich spices (e.g., Chai) or strong fruit including citrus (think oil of Bergamot used in Earl Grey).
Pu-erh Tea: The only truly “fermented” tea, pu-erh teas are most often classified as being Sheng (raw, ripe, non-oxidized) or Shou (cooked, oxidized or dark) in style. Sheng-style teas can be aged for many years with flavors evolving sometimes dramatically over time. On the other hand, shou-style pu-erh teas were developed in the 1970s as a way to “speed up” the aging process so that flavors that might ordinarily come with aging can be achieved without the wait. Pu-erhs in general can be quite silky though relatively full bodied while the taste can vary considerably between styles. The taste of sheng-style teas is largely influenced by the age of the leaf at time of consumption. Darker (shou) pu-erh teas are often characterized as having notes of leather, earth or tobacco. Neither sheng-or shou-style pu-erhs have much, if any, noticeable astringency. They can all have a subtle sweetness alongside myriad other characteristics making pu-erh teas one of the most fascinating and complex teas available.
As you consider the descriptors above, keep in mind that terroir* and tea-making techniques play a huge role in the taste variance you’ll experience between teas produced from different gardens to different continents. In any case, we invite you to take your taste buds on a trip to tea paradise this summer!
*(see our article Parallel Worlds: Tea & Wine)
Tea Adventure Pack
To get your summer tea-adventure started, we’ve assembled a tasty little assortment of teas from each of our pure leaf tea categories (i.e.: green, white, oolong, pu-erh & black). Each pack is filled with ½ ounce of pure loose-leaf goodness – enough to brew about five 8-oz servings of each tea or 50 cups in the set plus re-steeps. Included in the collection are two teas from each category that represent contrasting flavors within the designated category as follows:
White: White Prakash (buds and youngest leaf) & Silver Needle (buds only)
Oolong: Iron Goddess (greener style) & Wuyi Rock (darker style)
Pu-erh: Honey Roast Raw (sheng) & Ancient Tree Dark (shou)
Black: Darjeeling (lighter style) & Assam (bold, darker style)
The assortment includes a map highlighting the area from which each tea was grown and produced. Available throughout July 2019 for only $24.95 (a $30 value). Enjoy these for yourself or treat a friend to the opportunity to Taste the World!
July = TeaFest PDX
In just a few days, we'll be on our way to TeaFest PDX at the World Forestry Center in Portland, Oregon, July 20, 9:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Learn more about the Festival, including scheduled classes, live music, mini-teahouses, vendors and ticket sales and more on the Festival website. We'll be in the center of Cheatham Hall sampling an assortment of pure leaf and herbal teas as well as our highly acclaimed matcha. And, we're keeping our fingers crossed that our first batch of Premium Culinary Matcha will arrive in time from Japan to take with us! We hope to see you at the Festival.
A Fresh New Look
In the coming weeks we expect to roll out a new look on our website as we make a few updates and enhancements. One noticeable change will be how the teas are arranged within each category as we move away from numerical listings (e.g., 038 Premium Sencha) to sorting teas alphabetically. While the layout will feel a bit different at first, we hope the enhancements will make future visits more intuitive, efficient and informative.