February 21, 2020

Cultivars in Taiwanese Black Tea Production


All tea is made from Camellia sinensis and its varieties (var. sinensis, var. assamica). One of the main differences among tea types--white, green, yellow, oolong, black, etc--is processing. White tea is the least processed tea with two steps from plucking to finish. Green tea undergoes the least oxidation thus maintaining the green color of the leaves. Chinese versus Japanese green teas differ in how they are withered; Chinese green teas are pan fried while Japanese green teas are steamed. Oolong runs the gamut of oxidation from minimally oxidized green oolongs to highy oxidized dark oolongs. Finally, black teas undergo the greatest degree of oxidation which is responsible for the dark color of the leaves and the flavor profile (briskness, brightness, astringency, and strength, per Uhl (2016)) of the final tea.

Cultivars also play a key role in the flavor profile of teas. Cultivars are bred to produce specific tea types and styles. For example, leaves of the Longjing #43 cultivar are used to make one of China's most famous green tea, Longjing or dragonwell tea. There are 100s of tea cultivars in Japan, and tea producers match the properties of the cultivar to the profile of the tea they'd like to create. In this post, I review two Taiwanese black teas courtesy of Eco-Cha Teas. These two black teas are illustrative of the effect of cultivar in tea production.

Related Link - Tea Cultivars - 12 Chinese Tea Cultivars


Eco-Cha Small Leaf Black Tea

Eco-Cha Small Leaf Black Tea was made with Qing Xin cultivar which is known for its aromatic profile. This cultivar is used to make Taiwanese oolongs such as Shan Lin Xi, Dong Ding, Ali Shan, Bai Hao (Oriental Beauty), and Li Shan. For this tea, Qing Xin leaves were harvested in June and processed as black tea. The farmer who made this tea also makes Dong Ding. The standard Dong Ding is floral and vegetal with a creamy texture. This small leaf black tea did not taste like a green oolong. It drank like an Oriental Beauty.

The dry leaves of Eco-Cha Small Leaf Black Tea were variable in size and color. The infused leaves smelled like Oriental Beauty. The liquor was honey colored. I steeped 3 grams in 212-degree F in a professional tasting cup for 3 minutes, 4 minutes, and 5 minutes. The first infusion tasted like Oriental Beauty. It was honey sweet and fruity with notes of brioche bread and dried apple rings. The 4-minute infusion was also very good. The final infusion was sweet and floral.


Eco-Cha Red Jade Black Tea

Eco-Cha Red Jade Black Tea was produced from cultivar T-18, a hybrid of a Burmese var. assamica tree and a southern Taiwanese wild tree (Gascoyne et al. 2011; Eco-Cha Teas). T-18 is the standard cultivar used to make Taiwanese black tea. This cultivar is grown in the Sun Moon Lake region. Its flavor profile has a strong note of mint.

The dry leaves of Eco-Cha Red Jade Black Tea were consistent in size and color. The infused leaves were sweet and minty. The liquor was orange-red. I steeped 3 grams in 212-degree F in a professional tasting cup for 3 minutes, 4 minutes, and 5 minutes. The first cup was medium to full bodied with sweet, minty, malty, and dry cocoa notes. The 4-minute infusion was equally delicious. The final infusion was like drinking the minerals and woods of the forest. Next time, I hope to detect dark, dried fruit flavors.

I steeped each of these teas four times. The second infusion was accidentally done with 175F water producing liquor of lighter character though the Red Jade had more intensity than the Small Leaf.


The Takeaway

A couple of things were striking about this tasting. One, a black tea can taste like an oolong. How should I be categorizing Oriental Beauty oolong? Second, a black tea produced from a cultivar traditionally used in oolong production had no hint of green oolong flavor. The processing method overrode the bred characteristics of the cultivar.

I highly recommend both teas. If you are enjoy Oriental Beauty, then choose the Small Leaf Black Tea. If you like breakfast blends, then pick the Red Jade Black Tea. The latter would be a great choice in the morning or with afternoon tea.

Eco-Cha Small Leaf Black Tea and Eco-Cha Red Jade Black Tea were provided by Eco-Cha Teas for review.

December 05, 2019

Tea Shops in Greenwich Village, NYC


Thinking about the tea scene in New York reminds me of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” song. Every type of tea is represented in NYC. Every type of tea has made it here. The NYC tea scene has something for every type of tea drinker. This walking tour of tea shops in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan highlights the diversity within the major categories of tea and the breadth of tea cultures.

Image: Tea and Sympathy c/o Oh, How Civilized

Tea & Sympathy
108 Greenwich Avenue
website: teaandsympathy.com

Our walk starts with British tea culture at Tea & Sympathy on Greenwich Avenue whose logo is “All Things British.” Tea and Sympathy is a grocer and a restaurant. You can purchase British groceries and teas in the market. The adjoining restaurant serves afternoon tea and British breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert staples. Reservations are accepted for Monday through Friday. Walk-ins are welcome on Saturday and Sunday. The restaurant is cosy so expect to sit close to your companions and other guests.


Te Company
163 West 10th Street
website: tecompanytea.com

Tucked into the triangular micro-neighborhood south of the Jefferson Market Library is Te Company, a tearoom owned by wife and husband Elena & Fred. Only pure full leaf oolongs from Taiwan are served here; 22 pure teas to be exact. The shop also sells "bespoke blends." A limited but incredibly delicious menu is offered. If it's on the menu, I highly recommend the tortilla de patata. The famous pineapple linzer cookie can be purchased on the website. I've enjoyed many tea sessions here with family and friends.


McNulty’s Tea & Coffee
109 Christopher Street
website: mcnultys.com

Moving further west and back in time is McNulty’s Tea & Coffee. Our previous stop, Te Company, opened in 2015. McNulty’s was founded in 1895! It’s hard to imagine tea and coffee co-existing well in the same space, but McNulty's is known for both. The shop was awarded Best of New York in the Tea Shop category in 2012 by the NY Daily News.


DAVIDsTEA
275 Bleecker Street
website: davidstea.com

DAVIDsTEA differs in a couple of ways from the teashops we have seen so far. It is an international chain. The company was founded in Canada. The décor is contemporary bright and white. Unlike Te Company for example the focus is on blended teas. The brand is known for its seasonal teas and accessories. One of my favorite infuser mugs is from DAVIDsTEA. The mug is heat sensitive; the exterior color changes in response to hot water.


Luv Tea
37A Bedford Street
website: luv-tea.com

Luv Tea is tucked on Bedford between 6th Avenue and Carmine Street. I have only been to the tea shop once or twice. I should go more often. The tea shop is on a route I take regularly and its specialty is Taiwanese oolong, which is one of my favorite types of tea.


Sullivan Street Tea & Spice
208 Sullivan Street
website: onsullivan.com

Tea and spice and everything nice is what you'll get at Sullivan Street Tea & Spice. Walking into the shop is like a dose of aromatherapy. The owners describe the store as “a new shop with old world charm.” I imagine there were many more shops like this in 19th century New York City. You can order hot tea to go, buy tea, spices, and herbs in bulk, or join the monthly tea club. When I want to warm up between errands in the neighborhood, I stop in and order a cup of tea. Lately, I have been sampling my way through their black tea catalogue. I appreciate that I can purchase an ounce of tea to start then commit to a larger quantity. Also, it's good for the local economy to support local businesses.


Bosie Tea Parlor
506 LaGuardia Place
website: bosienyc.com

Bosie Tea Parlor moved from Morton Street to LaGuardia Place this year. Bosie Tea Parlor's new location is larger and more sophisticated. You can drink your tea at the bar or opt for more space at one of the tables. Bosie carries teas from l'Âge de Thé. You can purchase tea online and pick up in the shop. I haven't visited the new space--read my review of afternoon tea at the former location--but I'm happy Bosie stayed in the neighborhood. It's great to have an affordable afternoon tea spot downtown.


Can't get enough tea? Stretch this Greenwich Village tea walk with T Shop at 247 Elizabeth Street and Harney & Sons  SoHo at 433 Broome Street. T Shop owner, Theresa Wong, shared her favorite tea ware on this blog. Break on through the east side with three popular East Village tea spots: Setsugekka Matcha Teahouse, Tea Drunk, which I reviewed in 2013 , and 29B Teahouse.

September 30, 2019

Camellia Sinensis Flower

Image: Camellia sinensis flower by Reji Jacob

I am not a trained botanist but I am very interested in botany. I spend a lot of time looking at the flowers of trees. As a tea drinker based in the northeastern U.S., and one who hasn't traveled to see tea gardens or farms, I have not seen the Camellia sinensis flower IRL. Thankfully, I can access images of the flower on the internet.

Image: Various types of tea leaves by Damitr

Camellia sinensis is an evergreen plant. The plant is categorized as a shrub or small tree, though it's listed as a shrub in the Kew database. All true tea is produced from the leaves of C. sinensis, its varieties and cultivars.

Image: Camellis sinensis tea blossom in Hangzhou by Kuebi

Image: Camellia sinensis fruit on Maui by Forest and Kim Starr

The flower of the tea plant, not to be confused with blooming teas, is a perfect flower having both stamen (male reproductive parts) and pistil (female reproductive part).  The tea flower has many stamens surrounding a single pistil. If fertilization is successful, the ovary will develop into a fruit. The tea fruit is a capsule, botanically, meaning it is dry, not fleshy, and opens along a seam to release its seed(s).

The processed leaves of Camellia sinensis is one way that humans can consume this plant. I found several references to tea seed oil, made by cold pressing the seeds of species within the Camellia genus including C. sinensis. Are you familiar with tea seed oil? While you can't eat the flowers, they are scented. I would enjoy cut flowers of C. sinensis. I might try my hand at growing a tea plant for the flowers!

June 30, 2019

Shincha Tea, Japan's First Flush Tea


Teas classified as "first flush" are those made from the buds and leaves plucked at the beginning of spring. The stress of winter weather contributes to high concentrations of flavor compounds in the new spring shoots. The most well-known first flush tea is Darjeeling First Flush, typically harvested between mid and late March. Other first flush or first harvest teas include Pre-Qing Ming Dragonwell and Silver Needle from China and the spring harvests of gaoshan teas in Taiwan.

What is shincha?

Shincha aka ichibancha is the first flush tea made from Sencha cultivars. Sencha is the most commonly produced green tea in Japan. Sencha accounts for 63.4% to 80% of Japan's total tea production. Most of the Sencha harvested in Japan is grown in Shizuoka. The typical harvest period for Sencha is late April to mid May.

How are sencha and shincha made?

Although Shincha is made from Sencha cultivars, their production processes are different. Sencha is made by sorting and blending different batches of aracha or raw tea. The aracha process includes steaming, rolling, and drying. To create aracha for Sencha, the leaves undergo different lengths of steaming.  Asamushi Sencha is steamed for 30-45 seconds while Fukamushi Sencha is steamed for one to two minutes. After the leaves undergo the full aracha process, they are sorted by size and then blended. Shincha undergoes less processing to maintain the entire spectrum of spring flavors.


Brewing sencha and shincha

Both types of Japanese green tea can be prepared using the same technique.
  1. Add 2 tbsp (10 g) of tea to your 7 oz (210 ml) kyusu or teapot.
  2. Pour 80 C water gently over the leaves in your kyusu.
  3. Steep the leaves for 60 sec (Sencha) or 40 sec (Shincha).
  4. Pour the tea into your drinking cup (do not leave any liquor in the kyusu).
  5. Infuse the leaves twice more (Ippodo Tea Co. recommends pouring the hot water over the leaves then immediately transferring the liquor to the cup).

How does Shincha taste?

Shincha hit many of my tongue's taste buds: sweet, salty, savory (umami). Thankfully, the tea exhibited no bitterness. The texture was lush. I noted vegetables and herbs in my cups of Shincha. If you haven't tried this type of tea, I recommend the Ippodo Tea Co. 2019 Shincha 2019.

Shincha Newly Harvested Sencha 2019 courtesy of Ippodo Tea Co.

April 30, 2019

The Scoop on Black Tea


While all black teas are made from the fully oxidized leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, all black teas are not the same. There are many types of black tea. They look and taste different. If you read my Q&A with The Daily Tea you'd know that the first tea of my day is a black tea so I spend a lot of time thinking about this type of tea. Here I share my notes on black tea with you.

How is black tea made?

To make black tea, the tea leaves must be completely oxidized. The typical process includes the following steps: plucking, withering, rolling, oxidation, drying, and sorting. Rolling breaks down the cells within the leaves and exposes them to oxygen which triggers the oxidation process. Oxidation times vary and the length of oxidation influences the aromatic profile of the tea. Once the leaves have been oxidized to meet the tea master's criteria, they are dried to stabilize the tea.

Where is black tea produced are the black tea producing countries?

This questions is not simply one of geography. It is also central to figuring out the different types of black tea. Since all (black) tea is produced from Camellia sinensis, theoretically, black tea can be produced wherever C. sinensis is grown. The top 10 tea producing countries are China, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Turkey, Indonesia, Myanmar, Iran, and Bangladesh. I'll focus on the black teas produced in China, India, and Sri Lanka. The variety among the countries is the result of many factors including processing, variety, harvest period or flush, and altitude.



CHINA

When I think of Chinese black tea (or red tea/hong cha as this tea style is known in China), the following teas come to mind.
  • Keemun (Qimen) (Anhui) - a thinly twisted, tippy tea made from leaves with notes of fruit, smoke, and cocoa
  • Yunnan Black Tea aka Dian Hong - a twisted, golden tea made from buds only or a mix of leaves and buds with sweet, wood, and fruit notes
  • Jin Jun Mei (Fujian) - a very expensive bud only tea with floral, fruit, and chocolate notes
Lapsang Souchong is another Chinese black tea I like, and highly recommend this one. My other favorite is no longer available.

INDIA



My favorite Indian black teas are from Assam and Darjeeling. Indian and other South Asian black teas are graded by the integrity of the tea leaves ranging from broken leaves which are used in tea bags to whole leaves (Broken Orange Pekoe to Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) to whole leaves and buds (Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe to Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe). In addition to grades, Darjeeling teas are also categorized by time of harvest or flush. First flush teas are made from an unopened leaf bud and two young open leaves. Second flush teas are made later in the season with a medium pluck of older leaves and leaf buds. Other harvests are the Monsoon and Autumnal flushes.
  • Assam - this type of black tea typically malty, fruity, and sweet; the highest quality Assam are bud only teas
  • Darjeeling, first flush - the loosely rolled leaves of this tea are not fully oxidized (so is it technically not a black tea?) yielding grassy (hay) and floral notes
  • Darjeeling, second flush - the defining flavor of this tea is muscatel

SRI LANKA


Like India, Sri Lanka also grades its black teas. Sri Lankan black teas are further distinguished by altitude similar to Taiwanese teas. In general, high grown teas are delicate while low grown teas are more robust in body and flavor.
  • Low grown teas (below 2000 feet) - Ruhuba and Sambaragamuwa
  • Mid altitude teas  (2000-4000 feet) - Kandy 
  • High grown teas (4000-6000 feet) - Nuwara Eliya, Dimbula, Uva, and Uda Passellawa

How do you drink black tea?



The most convenient way to drink black tea is to steep a tea bag in a cup. One tea bag to 6-8 ounces of boiling water. Tea bags vary in quality of the leaves and the bag itself. You can find non-plastic tea bags filled whole leaf tea. Go the extra mile and look for biodegradable tea bags. Better yet are compostable bags. You can move towards a zero waste tea life by composting your tea leaves and bags.

If you prefer to use loose leaf tea, you can prepare your black tea Western style (low leaf weight, high water volume, long steep time) or gongfu style (high leaf weight, low water volume, short steep time). Here are some general numbers.

WESTERN

One heaping teaspoon of tea (2 to 3 grams) to one cup of water (6-8 ounces or 250 ml) is a general rule of thumb. Steep for three to five minutes depending on the tea. I steep two teaspoons of loose leaf in 250 ml of boiling water for three minutes and 30 seconds.

GONGFU

A small steeping vessel for gongfu holds 200 ml or less of water. My smallest teapot holds 70 ml of water. To determine the amount of tea you need, use the one gram to 15 ml ratio. After rinsing your leaves, start with a short steep time then increase the infusion time to experience the evolution in flavor. You can use a gaiwan too. Read my guide to gong fu tea for step-by-step instructions.

COMPARATIVE TASTING

If you have multiple black teas you can compare them using professional tasting sets. Read my guide to drinking Darjeeling tea for complete instructions on cupping teas.


What food pairs well with black tea?

My tea amigos and I set out to answer this question in our Tea Pairing 101 focused on black tea. The answer is finger sandwiches! My favorite tea and sandwich combination in the Black Tea and Finger Sandwich pairing challenge was Lapsang Souchong (Joseph Wesley) + Cheddar Cheese (Bosie Tea Parlor). A pairing of finger sandwiches and black tea makes sense when you consider that both are the backbone of afternoon tea.

This is not a comprehensive guide to black tea so I'd love to hear from you what I should include in version 2.0.
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