Behind the Leaf: Chinese Green Teas

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Dearies, do you know where your green tea comes from? I did a post about popular Japanese green teas recently, and now I’m going to discuss some popular Chinese green teas. I remember traveling through China with Char. The big cities are so very interesting, and the rural areas we saw were just beautiful. Travel was a bit tough at times and I constantly worried about chips and scratches, but it helped that we were offered amazing tea everywhere we went. Chinese green teas vary depending on region and processing. Here are some of the more common types you’ll find:

Long Jing- grown in Zhejiang Province. In English it’s referred to as Dragonwell. This is the most well known tea in China, and because of that it’s also the most copied. Be careful and know your source! Why is this called Dragon well? According to legend, a Taoist monk came across a dragon hiding in a well. There was a lack of rain and drought in the area,  so the villagers prayed to the dragon to come to their aid. After the prayer it started to rain!  This tea has a flat shape. You’ll taste marine notes such as seaweed and ocean. It also has a lovely cooked veggie flavor that reminds Kat of steamed green beans. There is even a hint of sweetness in this tea. It is the most popular tea for a good reason!

Anji Bai Cha- also grown in Zhejiang. The word bai actually means white, but this is definitely a green tea. The white refers to the leaves which are so pale, they are practically white!  The leaves here are thin and long. The flavor is grassy, floral, and vegetal. It has a surprising tanginess as well. It’s a lovely, complex tea.

Mao Feng- grown in Anhui province. This pretty tea has lots of fine buds. It has a green bean fresh veggie flavor. But it’s more like raw veggies and not cooked like long jing. The freshness makes it mild and quite sweet.

Liu An Gua Pian- grown in Anhui province. This tea means ‘melon seed’ because of the shape of the leaves. They’re flat and a bit oval. This tea uses the second leaf, not the buds. Using these more mature leaves is very different from most other Chinese green teas that use the buds and young leaves. Since the leaves are a bit more mature, they have a more concentrated flavor. This tea is not delicate or vegetal. It has a toastier flavor due to being fired in the wok multiple times, with a nice floral finish.

Bi Lo chun (spring snail)- grown in Jiangsu province. These trees also produce Dong Shan tea, which is harvested after the bi lo chun season. This tea is called spring snail because it’s rolled into a spiral that looks like a snail and of course harvested in the spring. This tea has a delicate taste and floral aroma.

These are just a few of the many glorious Chinese teas you can find. All of these teas can be brewed in a gaiwan, grandpa style (loose in the cup/bowl), or also in a western style teapot. We like using a gaiwan as much as possible for these teas, as it extracts a large amount of flavor and you can get multiple steeps.

How many types of Chinese green tea have you tried? Dearies, they are all a bit different, so get out there and taste as many as you can.

Tippy Interviews Li Juan the Gaiwan

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Hello Dearies! A little while back I did my very first interview. It went so well, that I decided it was time for another! Today you’re going to learn about Li Juan, a very beautiful Chinese Gaiwan. Li Juan now lives with Kat’s friend Sansan, who brought her back from a trip to China a few years ago. The gaiwan is used to steep tea in the gong fu style. You can learn a little more about this method and see another picture of Li Juan right here. But I’ll let you learn more about this beautiful vessel in our interview below!

How are you used? I hold a large amount of tea leaves with a small amount of water. You can use the highest quality leaves you can find, because I extract as much flavor as possible from those beautiful leaves. I steep the leaves very quickly, only a few seconds for the first couple of steepings. I can be tricky to use, as you have to balance my lid and often my saucer in one hand while pouring out the tea.

What’s your favorite thing about steeping tea in the gong fu style? I love how I get to give the tea taster a full flavored brew. I give you a true taste for the tea. I also love that with each steep you can watch the leaves start to unfurl while they change in flavor. Using a gaiwan helps you get more interactive with your tea. It is also quite meditative.

Are you usually used with any other teaware? You could pour the tea I steep right into little tasting cups, but it’s best to first pour the tea liquor into a fairness pitcher, or cha hai. This is a small pitcher used to make sure everyone’s tea is steeped exactly the same. It’s easier to distribute and pour into the cups using a pitcher, and it even lowers the temperature of the tea a little bit, which makes it a bit more comfortable to drink.

What teas do you work best with? I urge you to try and steep all different types of tea in your gaiwan and see what the results are like. Play around with the amount of leaves and see what you like best. But I am mostly used for oolong, puerh, and Chinese white and yellow teas. But as I said, have fun experimenting!

What is your favorite tea to steep? I love many types of teas but my most favorite to steep are raw puerh teas. I just love that you can steep these aged teas for many, many infusions. Sometimes you can enjoy them all day long! The flavors greatly change over a period of steepings. Some of my favorite raw puerh teas have surprising flavors such as sweet fruit and woodsy notes.

Is there anything important you’d like to tell my readers about using a gaiwan? well I’d ask that you please make sure to practice on a sturdier gaiwan before trying a more delicate vessel like mine. It takes bit of practice to pour the water into the fairness pitcher. Don’t forget that if you’re using black teas or roasted oolongs, the temperature of the water can be quite hot, and it takes practice not to burn your fingers! Don’t be ashamed in quite a bit of practice before trying a fancier gaiwan!

Oh thank you so much Li Juan for taking the time for this interview! Dearies, I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about being a gaiwan as much as I did.

Tea Scene: Portland

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It seems like all of Kat’s friends are visiting Portland, Oregon these days. It’s a mecca for cool young folk looking for delicious food and artisanal goods. Kat is planning a trip there and has discovered there are quite a few interesting tea destinations in Portland. We discovered an amazingly long list of place to visit. Here are some of the highlights that we found:

Smith Tea You may have seen Smith Teas in specialty shops around the country. They have their home base in Portland, with two beautiful tasting rooms. The shops are sleek and industrial. You can try a flight of teas to really get to know a particular type, or just a relaxing pot of tea. They also get experimental with interesting blends that they create themselves. If they happen to be offering a tea on nitro, go for it! It sounds mysterious, but trust me you won’t be disappointed.

The Jasmine Pearl Tea Company– This is the perfect place to get loose tea, sparkling teas, and tea lattes. They serve sweet and savory food, and have fun pieces of teaware for sale. Teas can be served in the gong-fu style in traditional and modern vessels, and you can taste teas from all around the world.

Behind The Museum Cafe– This place is just what the name says- behind the Portland art museum cafe, there is a beautiful little Japanese tea shop. Beautiful Japanese tea and teaware line the walls, such a pretty sight! They even have a gallery space for Japanese art and culture. The cafe serves homemade Japanese sweets, sandwiches and savory dishes. You can get matcha and beautiful wagashi while relaxing after an afternoon at the museum.

Tea Bar– This is a light and airy place, comfortable and relaxing to enjoy a well-sourced cup of pure tea, tea latte, matcha, iced tea and kombucha. They also make their own bubble teas! Kat had a few friends visiting Portland that went back to Tea Bar a few times to try all of their different iced selections.

Townshend’s Tea House– This mini chain of tea houses is a lovely place to pop in for a reliable cup with 100 different kinds of loose tea, and kombucha on tap. It’s a good place to keep in mind if you are running about the city.

Red Robe Tea House & Cafe– This is a Chinese tea shop in the heart of Portland’s Chinatown. They have a large selection of Chinese teas with a focus on oolongs. The serve the teas in elegant gong-fu vessels such as gaiwans. They also have a lovely menu of delicious food items to pair with your tea.

Dearies these are just a few of the many exciting tea places Portland has to offer. I can’t wait to visit with Kat. This little teacup wants to hang out with the cool kids! If we’ve left out your favorite Portland tea shop, please let me know.

Thai Iced Tea!

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The weather is warming up nicely, and it’s time to start thinking about iced teas! My tea lovelies, we’ve talked quite a bit about iced tea on this blog, but there are so many delicious ways to enjoy it. Have you ever had Thai iced tea? Oh Dearies, it is so delicious! It’s creamy, sweet, with interesting spice notes. Whenever Kat goes to her favorite Thai restaurant, it’s the first thing she orders. She’s admitted to me that she often suggests eating at Thai restaurants just so she can get the delicious iced tea!

Since Kat loves this drink so much, I decided find recipes to make at home. The tea ingredients will vary based on taste and authenticity. Some have sweetened condensed milk added (Kat’s favorite), some have star anise and other spices. I’ve come across recipes that also use coconut milk or evaporated milk. The tea is usually black tea, often strong a strong Ceylon tea. I do like using Ceylon in this drink, as the strength and brightness of the tea holds up to all the other ingredients. It’s important to use a bold tea, so the flavor shines through the milk and sweetness.

I love the idea of making Thai tea at home, because many of the versions found in restaurants contain food coloring. You can find pre-mixed Thai tea blends in many Asian grocery stores, but most of those also contain dyes. Besides the coloring, it’s just such a fun and easy drink to make at home. Here are a few of my favorite Thai tea recipe finds:

Here is a basic and simple recipe to prepare. It gets the flavors just right. The perfect balance of sweet, milky, and a bit of zingy spices.

I found this delicious vegan version. It uses coconut milk, vanilla extract, and black tea. yum! It has a more tropical flavor that is perfect for sitting outside during those warm spring and summer days. I’m thinking a little dash of rum wouldn’t hurt, either!

I like the use of both star anise and vanilla in this recipe. The spices give it an authentic flavor, yet keeps things well balanced. I like the the recipe also makes a large batch for a crowd. Perfect for those spring BBQ gatherings! This would even make a nice frozen treat- try pouring the mixture into ice pop molds! I think I need to have Kat start experimenting with this…

Thai Iced Tea is perfect for company, or just when you want a creamy, delicious glass to brighten up your day. Dearies do you share Kat’s love of Thai Iced Tea? Do you have your own favorite recipe? You know I want to hear about it!

 

NY Tea Scene

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Dearies, I have traveled all over with Char and Kat, and we’ve experienced tea in many different places. I thought it would be fun to post about different cities that have a vibrant tea scene. Tea is becoming very popular in the states, with tearooms and tea shops opening around the country I’m going to focus on various cities with growing tea scenes in the US. Today I’m going to discuss the New York City tea scene. Kat and I have been to NYC many times, and there is always a new tea place to visit! Here are a few of our favorite places:

Té Company– This is a newer tea shop that Kat has bookmarked to visit on our next trip. Oolong tea is the specialty here. There is a carefully sourced menu of all types of oolongs. Think you know what oolong is? Go to Te, and try as many as you can. They even offer tasting flights so you can try a few at a time. If you are hungry, there is a gorgeous, small menu of seasonal offerings. Teas are served from beautiful small clay teapots.

T-Shop– This place focuses on seasonal Chinese and Taiwanese teas sourced by the owner through personal trips. The little shop is hard to find but worth the effort! Teas are served gong-fu style poured from a gaiwan or small yixing teapot.

Tea Drunk– The focus here is also on Chinese teas, carefully sourced. It’s a great place for a pot of puerh or Chinese green tea. Each table has a tea tray, gaiwan, and tea accoutrements ready for brewing.

Cha-an– This is a Japanese tea house serving delicate Japanese cuisine and lovely teas. The focus is on Japanese green tea.

If you are looking for a matcha fix, you’ll have to visit Chalait, and Matchabar. Both of these cafes focus on the magic of matcha. You can get matcha whisked up in dozens of different ways. Iced, in lattes, even in hot chocolate.

If you’re looking to purchase tea in a shop, you can’t go wrong with Harney & Sons or Palais des Thés.

Don’t forget afternoon tea! There are loads of hotels doing the fancy teas. If you’re looking for something a little more low key, try Bosie Tea Parlor, Tea & Sympathy, or Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon.

Dearies, what favorites have I missed? NYC is so large, you can probably just pick a neighborhood, walk  around, and see what tea places you discover. If you have a favorite place in NY, be sure to mention it. We’ll check it out on our next visit.

Do you have a favorite city that has fabulous places for tea? I’d love to hear about it! Please do leave me a comment below, and it may become our next travel destination.

Tippy Interviews Asya, the Turkish Tea Cup

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Dearies, I’ve decided it’s time to add a new series to the blog. As you know, I’m a traveling tea cup, and have been all over the world. I meet so many interesting pieces of tea ware, and it’s time that you started to learn their stories. Today, I’m interviewing Asya, a tea cup from Turkey that now lives in the US with one of Kat’s friends. I hope you enjoy!

Tippy: Please introduce yourself to my readers. Asya: my name is Asya, I am a glass lotus-shaped tea cup from Turkey. I was created in Turkey but now reside in a kitchen in the US I am a very busy tea cup, I get used all day long. I don’t have a particular saucer to call my own, my owner will pair me with whatever saucer she feels like using that day. She has quite a few colorful options. I love spending time with people, giving them lots of delicious tea to sip.

When are you used most? well, as I mentioned, I’m really busy all day long. Turks take their tea very seriously! I am used during breakfast, when company comes, for mid-afternoon work breaks, and after-dinner relaxation.

What kind of tea do you usually hold? In Turkey, lotus tea cups hold mainly bold, black tea. We refer to tea as çay. We brew our tea very strong, and then dilute it in the glass with hot water. Sugar is available as Turkish tea loves like tea sweet. We even have special tea kettles to prepare the tea.

Can you tell us a little more about the special tea kettle? Yes, we use a special double tea kettle, which is similar to the Russian samovar. It basically looks like one teapot stacked on top of a second one. Black tea is brewed in the top pot, and water is boiled in the bottom. The water is used to dilute the tea for each individual glass, so everyone can drink the tea as strong or as weak as they like.

Where do the tea leaves come from? The tea we prefer to use is grown and processed in Turkey on the coast of the Black Sea. Not many people realize that we grow tea in Turkey! We are actually the world’s sixth largest producer of tea.

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Everyone has heard of Turkish coffee, but is tea really that popular in Turkey? Yes, tea is really quite popular in Turkey. It is always offered to guests and visitors as a sign of hospitality. As I mentioned I am used multiple times a day at home, and people also consume tea in cafes.

Is the custom to drink the tea by itself, or add any milk, sugar, or anything else? We usually drink our tea without milk. As I mentioned you can add sugar, often two lumps will be sitting on my saucer ready for use. You may add the sugar to your tea, or people in some areas like to put a sugar cube between their tongue and cheek, and let it slowly dissolve with each sip. The only other thing that may be added is a slice of lemon.

Can you tell us one of your most memorable tea experiences? Well, when my owner Natalie was visiting her family in Turkey, she was taught how to brew tea using our special kettles. One afternoon she was alone in the house when a family friend dropped by. After greeting the friend, Natalie offered her something to eat, but not any tea! After a little while I was able to get her attention and explained that she must offer her guest tea. When her parents came home, she was reprimanded for not immediately offering her guest tea. It’s considered very rude not to have tea ready for guests! Everyone was laughing at Natalie’s mistake, but she was quite embarrassed. I am actually fond of this memory, because it’s the first time I was able to help Natalie out with tea time.

Thank you so much Asya for the interview! See Dearies, I’m not the only chatty teacup! I hope you enjoyed the first interview in our series. If you have any questions for Asya, let me know in the comments!

Drinking Tea In Bowls

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Dearies, it seems everywhere I look these days, people are posting pictures of food in bowls. Noodle bowls, rice bowls, breakfast bowls with all sorts of healthy ingredients. Dearies, I’m proud to be a cup that is of the larger variety- you can wrap your hands around me as you sip, just like a bowl! Kat loves using both hands while she drinks, she says she is comforted by cradling the warmth of the tea in both hands.

Did you know that drinking tea from bowls dates all the way back to Lu Yu’s The Classic of Tea, written during the Tang dynasty? Lu Yu actually lists a few different styles of tea bowl and prefers the beautiful celadon glazed bowls best. Tea cups did not get handles until the 1700s!

For all you matcha lovers out there, do you have a chawan? A chawan is a Japanese tea bowl. It’s used in the Japanese tea ceremony, and is essential in making a traditional matcha. Chawan are wide, with enough room to whisk up your matcha. Matcha bowls can range in design and be quite minimal, or have beautiful artisanal pottery glazes. Kat and I often get lost in online searches for handmade tea bowls. I often have to stop her from purchasing every one she sees! If you study the art of the Japanese tea ceremony, you’ll learn all the proper ways to handle the tea bowl, and how to present it to the drinker. It’s quite beautiful. You can learn a little bit more about the tea ceremony in my previous post here.

Kat thought it would be funny to have an ‘all bowl’ brunch for her friends. Perhaps a yogurt and granola bowl, fruit bowl, and of course a bowl of tea! A bowl of fruity tea-infused sorbet would be a lovely ending to the meal. Have you tried making any of the ice creams or sorbets in my post about DIY tea ice cream?

Dearies, isn’t it comforting to have a large, satisfying bowl of tea? Please don’t tell anyone I said that, the other teacups in the kitchen might start to ignore me! Don’t get me wrong, I do love my handle. But sometimes it’s nice to just have that warm bowl nestled in your hands.

Tea and Glamping

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There’s a new form of camping that is sweeping the nation, and I, for one, am a fan! Glamorous + Camping = Glamping!  Gone are the days that a tea cup would fear the rogue cast iron pot or errant log in the campsite. And for Kat, there’s no need to dread a musty sleeping bag on a slowly deflating air mattress.

Voila! The luxurious campground that features beautiful and spacious safari tents, luxurious beds with soft, cool bed linens, cushioned seating, hanging lanterns, and even a dinner box with all the ingredients, tools and implements needed to cook your food over the campfire.

This is an environment where a tea cup can get comfy. Boil some water on the portable gas stove, and set me on a proper, if rustic, dining table as I steep something warm and wild for you.

Here’s a short list of glamp-grounds Kat and I are considering:

Camp Orenda in the Adirondacks offers “Canvas Cabins” (I LOVE that!) with all of the comforts of a luxury hotel: Down comforters, fleece blankets, daily cabin service, including delivery of logs for your own wood-burning stove, and access to an open-flame gourmet dinner menu that looks divine! Each Cabin is nestled thoughtfully in its own private natural sanctuary but with easy access to all of the camp amenities such as yoga, hiking, fishing, canoeing and more.

Dunton Hot Springs in Colorado is a collection of authentically restored log cabins (with a tent cabin or two available as well) that are conveniently located near the local Saloon and Dance Hall. A great private getaway or a fun meet-up adventure with friends, we hear the kitchen will even pack you a custom picnic to take along with you as you explore the area.

El Capitan Canyon in California has a choice of cedar cabins and safari tents in a lush landscape. Willow beds, down-style duvets, and your own grill and fire pit for cooking or roasting marshmallows. Kat could cook her own meals or we could pop over to the Canyon Market and Deli for whatever she needs.

I’m already envisioning myself in these beautiful settings, admiring the forest, watching the birds flit from branch to branch. This is the type of camping a tea cup could get used to!

And, of course, a glamorous outdoor adventure would not be complete without accompanying adventure teas.

First, Fresh & Easy’s Chai Black Tea. I can’t think of a better way to start our morning in the great outdoors than with the fragrance of cinnamon, ginger and anise. Add some milk and sugar, and it’s an adventure with your senses! Sweet, spicy, cozy, and warm.

Then, something special to wind down the day. We’ll have a campfire, a luxurious safari-style tent in the background… this calls for Fresh & Easy’s Rooibos Herbal Tea ! Made from the leaves of the rooibos bush commonly found in South Africa, this tea is caffeine free, and has a wild, sweet, fruity quality to it. The warmth, the soothing sips, the untamed flavors will be just the thing as we talk about what was seen and heard throughout the day and what the plans will be for the morrow.

I can’t wait for the adventure to begin!