We hope you’re enjoying a nice start to the month of September. The past few weeks have been fairly mild in our area with some mornings dipping into the low 40s already. Of course, that’s all the more reason to start the day with a nice warm cup of tea. As for updates to share with you this month, it’s sort of a mixed bag as we share exciting news about some new teas as well as information about new realities facing the global marketplace.
Let’s start off by introducing two new “Limited Edition” teas that just came our way from Japan. But, wait! They’re probably not what you think they’re going to be. These are two small batch black teas coming from Southern Japan – a rare treat, indeed.
Introducing: Yakushima Island Black
Our organic Yakushima Island Japanese black tea is grown on the Fujiwara family tea garden situated on Yakushima Island - a UNESCO World Heritage site. The island has a mountainous tropical climate and is located south of Japan's Kyushu Island in the East China Sea. This tea is a rare and unique example of black tea coming from Japan - a place highly regarded for its exceptional green teas.
This Yakushima Island Black tea is made using two cultivars of the Camelia Sinensis (tea plant), specifically Yabukita and Yutaka Midori. To make this black tea, the freshly picked tea leaves are intentionally exposed to air for several hours after plucking. During this time, they are tumbled and allowed to oxidize to the point of the tea maker's preference. Once the leaf has reached the desired level of oxidation (typically 80%-100% for black teas), the leaf undergoes a brief heating process to prevent further oxidation followed by further processing including shaping and final drying.
The Yakushima Island Black tea leaf brews up a transparent amber-brown liquor with an aroma and taste somewhat reminiscent of darker style oolongs. It is a smooth, medium bodied black tea that yields moderate astringency with woody notes and a hint of peach.
For more information about Yakushima Island from which this tea originates, please visit the UNESCO site.
Introducing: Benifuuki Black
Grown on the Shimodozono BioFarm in the beautiful Kagoshima Prefecture of Southern Japan, Benifuuki Black is a pure leaf organic black tea that's rich with aroma and flavor. Given the long history of tea grown and produced in Japan, black teas from the region are relatively young in their existence, appearing around the late 1800s. By far, the Japanese are known for their incredible array of green teas. While very few tea makers currently focus on black tea, we have found this exquisite example of just how lovely black teas can be from this part of the world.
Our Benifuuki Black tea is so named for its cultivar: Benifūki. This cultivar is part of the Camelia Sinensis var. Assamica (variety) rather than the var. Sinensis from which most Japanese green teas are produced. The Benifūki cultivar has also been used in recent decades for making green teas. The cultivar is said to contain the highest levels of polyphenols (catechins; EGCG) of any tea available providing antioxidants that serve to protect against cellular damage caused by free radicals.
Both the aroma and taste of this rare and delightful black tea have notes akin to the malty Assam teas of India in combination with a subtle floral note of rose petal. The liquor is a warm amber color with remarkable clarity. Overall, this tea seems to present as if it were an elegant combination of our Assam and Darjeeling black teas. The delicate floral note offers a nice finish to the slight malty notes and astringency presented in this medium to full bodied black tea.
The leaf holds up well to multiple infusions, offering you successive opportunities to enjoy its delicious, complex character.
For more reading on the Benifuuki Cultivar, check out this ARTICLE on the National Agricultural and Food Research Organization website.
Have You Met Wakōcha?
The two new black teas that we introduced in the preceding paragraphs are actually called Wakōcha - a Japanese term meaning Black Tea. For more reading on the subject of black teas coming from Japan including its history, how they are made, and more on cultivars and such, we hope you'll enjoy reading this ARTICLE from the Global Japanese Tea Association.
A Shifting Global Economy
Events of the past year or two have led to many hard hitting impacts on the retail marketplace with supply chain interruptions, increased labor costs, continued tariffs, shipping delays and unbelievable increases in shipping costs for imported items including tea. For example, we’ve seen increases of over 400% in just a one year period where incoming freight is concerned. We’ve also experienced increases of 50% or more on the cost we pay for some teas depending on growing region.
We're also seeing a few increases in minimum order quantities (MOQs). You've no doubt heard the term "Economies of Scale" and can probably appreciate that there are indeed cost savings proportional to increased levels of production and purchase requirements. Higher MOQs are fine when we're considering top selling items though they can offer challenges when it comes to lesser sold items especially when freshness remains a priority.
Some of the impacts we note above may indeed be temporary effects of life during a global pandemic while others are just the new way of doing business going forward.
We have enjoyed nearly 15 years of work in the tea business and have weathered various storms in the process, none of which have come close to the changes we’ve seen in recent months. Many hundreds, if not thousands, of tea shops have permanently closed around the U.S. over the past 18 months or so. We were fortunate to have an already established online presence which allowed us to remain viable during these tumultuous times.
Why are we bringing all of this up now? The impact of the scenarios described above will start to become noticeable where our offerings and prices are concerned going forward. While we have absorbed much of the incremental increases in our costs over the past 18 months, some of these increases are here to stay. As such, we are critically assessing each and every ingredient and tea we source to ensure we’re meeting the following important principles, wherein we strive to...
1. Source only high quality, organic ingredients;
2. Maintain inventory levels that allow for optimum product freshness; and
3. Maintain fair and competitive pricing for our customers.
With over 40 pure leaf (non-blended) organic teas on our menu, and a list of over 50 additional ingredients necessary to make our wide array of blended teas and tisanes, there’s a lot to consider with the impacts noted above.
Going forward, we will adjust prices accordingly as we try to find balance between fair pricing and keeping the bills paid. Additionally, some items will be removed from our collection over time as we weigh demand (sales volume) against the three principles listed above. For any tea we might ultimately discontinue, we will offer them as “Clearance” items on our Sale and Clearance page in advance. While a given tea may not be to everyone’s liking, it is likely someone’s absolute favorite. We get that! Thus, the reason for this overall explanation and a thoughtful analysis going forward.
At the end of the day we need to ensure quality, affordability and freshness above all else. Your patience and understanding will be greatly appreciated as we go about this work. And, more than anything, we are truly grateful for your loyalty to us and our teas and we look forward to serving you long into the future.
We appreciate your business and invite you to enjoy the opportunity to sample something new on your next order. Just let us know the name of a tea (excluding “Limited Edition” items) that you’re eager to try out by leaving a note in the “Order Comments” field during checkout.
Thanks for reading along. We wish you a wonderful month of September and look forward to serving you delicious, healthful tea!
Peace, Love & Tea!