Behind The Leaf: Scented Teas

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We’ve been enjoying a particular type of tea these days. A tea that melts the snow and warms our hearts. These special teas are scented teas. Have you tried Jasmine tea before? If so, you’ve had a scented tea. These are teas that have flowers added to the pure leaves, and are allowed to absorb the heavenly floral aroma. These steeped teas impart a gorgeous floral aroma to the air while they brew. Scented teas are only flowers and tea- not any other added flavors. It can take a few weeks to scent tea naturally with layers of flowers. It is a delicate process that takes patience. They are a bit harder to find but worth the hunt.

 Scented teas are not all created equal. It’s not easy to find just the right balance of flowers to tea. You don’t want to overpower the tea, just enhance it. Finding that balance takes a tea master. Scented green teas are most common but you can also find scented black and oolong teas. A few of our favorites are:

Jasmine: it’s easy to find Jasmine tea, but finding a tea scented just with jasmine blossoms is a bit more challenging. Make sure you’re not getting a tea scented with added aromas or oils. Jasmine tea was invented in China during the Song dynasty. Quite a long time ago.

 Rose- if you love roses as much as we do, why not try it as a tea? The soft, soothing rose flavor is immensely pleasing. Perfect for a quiet afternoon with a few French macarons on the side. Quite a sophisticated cup!

 Chrysanthemum- this delicately sweet tea is subtle and delicious. The flavor is reminiscent of honey and also has a mild herbaceous note. This tea is supposed to have quite a few medicinal benefits as well, but we like to drink it just for the taste and for how relaxed we feel afterwards. This is a tea you can typically find at Chinese restaurants, along with Jasmine tea.

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I love floral teas all year round and especially love them in the wintertime. That gentle floral flavor brings the hope of spring, even on the coldest, most blustery day.

 Other scented teas will contain flowers such as chamomile, and hibiscus. These can also be found as herbal blends, and not necessarily scented teas. But the possibilities are endless, and finding new and interesting scented teas is such fun!

 You should brew your scented teas just like you would the pure tea it comes with (ex: the temperature for green tea, if your base is green). We love using small glass teapots for scented teas, as you can see the beautiful flower petals dancing along with the leaves. It makes for a much more enjoyable experience. Watching those vibrant petals just brings the warm spring sunshine indoors.

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Behind The Leaf: Silver Needles White Tea

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Dearies we’ve talked about white tea before. This is such a delicate, delicious, beautiful tea. I know we’ve mentioned that there are two main types of white tea, White Peony (Bai Mu Dan) and Silver Needles (Bai Hao Yin Zhen). Silver Needles is the more delicate tea with more fuzzy white buds. I thought it would be fun to focus a little bit more on this tea, since it’s so special.

Silver Needles is grown in the Fujian province of China. It is more costly than other white teas because only the young fuzzy buds are picked. The tea plant used is called Da  Bai, which means ‘large white’. Makes sense, right?

I like to drink Silver Needles in the wintertime, mostly because it’s quite soothing. Everything from the sweet and hay-like aroma to the fuzzy tactile experience of the dry leaves is pure comfort. This tea is comprised only of young, tender fuzzy tea buds. The buds are picked early in the spring, and still have that downy fuzz attached. This is what gives the tea the silvery appearance.

This tea is plucked, then withered and dried. There is a slight oxidation process happening since it’s not steamed immediately like green tea. This is why the leaves are silvery and not a more grassy appearance.

The taste of silver needles is going to be subtle, soothing, smooth and sweet. Notes of honey and slight vegetal notes can also be present. The hay-like aroma of the dry leaves can also be found in the brew.

This is quite a delightful tea that could be enjoyed in the morning or early afternoon. Kat prefers it in the late morning, as she likes a tea that’s a bit bolder first thing. But don’t be fooled by that mellow taste Dearies- there is still a good amount of caffeine in white tea.

To prepare this tea, make sure the water is below boiling. You don’t want to scald the delicate leaves, so using water around 167°F is appropriate. Steeped for about 5 minutes, your cup will be a light golden color, with a beautiful sheen to it if it’s fresh. You can steep this up in a small teapot or a gaiwan.

Dearies, I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about Bai Hao Yin Zhen! Please feel free to ask me if you have any questions.

Behind The Leaf: Matcha

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We all love matcha, don’t we? It tastes delicious and is quite energizing. It has a natural sweetness and is balanced out by slightly bitter and vegetal notes. You can make it the authentic way or just shake and go. You can even cook and bake with it. It’s quite the versatile tea! No wonder it’s so popular. But do you know really what matcha is, and why it’s powdered? I’m happy to tell you a little bit more about this elusive tea.

As you probably know, matcha is ground green tea. You may also know it’s used in the Japanese tea ceremony called chanoyu. But Japan wasn’t the first to use powdered tea. It was actually brought to Japan in the 12th century by Buddhist monks. Grinding tea to a powder actually began in China and it was consumed this way before it became popular in Japan. Whisking powdered tea in a bowl eventually went out of fashion in China, but Japan has kept this traditional alive.

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Before you purchase that magical ground green tea powder, much needs to happen. Leaves are picked by machine, then withered and steamed. Steaming the leaves is unique to Japanese tea which gives it that vibrant green hue. The teas are then dried and rolled. After this process the leaves are carefully sorted, and the tough veins are removed. The processed (but not yet ground) leaves are called Tencha. The tencha is ground to create the fine matcha powder.

The highest quality matcha can be found in the Uji region, using leaves that have been shaded before plucking. The shading causes an increase in chlorophyll and creates a more intense, sweet vegetal flavor. Higher quality matcha will have a smooth, sweet taste with just a touch of bitterness. Lower quality tea will be more bitter and won’t have that lovely smooth texture. When you’re buying matcha you should look for a bright dark green vibrant powder, not a light green or pale green powder. The shade grown leaves are darker and vivid green, and will have more sweetness and flavor. But if you are on a tight budget please select the matcha that’s best for you! It’s still a lovely tea experience, no matter what grade you choose.

Behind The Leaf: Indian Black Teas

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India is known for some of the most delicious black teas. I’m sure you’ve had many of them in blends and didn’t even know it! They can be bold and brisk, or delicate and nuanced. India is also starting to produce white, green, and oolong teas, but for today we’re going to stick with the black teas that grow all throughout the country.

There are three main growing regions in India: Assam, Nilgiri Hills, and Darjeeling. These three areas make delicious black teas that taste very different from one another. That’s due to terroir. The climate, altitude and soil all have an effect on the flavors. Also the plant cultivars used also change the flavor.

First up, let’s discuss Assam- This region is in Northeast India near Burma. It is a tropical region that has about 900 gardens! The elevation is about sea level, and the weather is mild and can get very hot during monsoon season. Much of the tea grown in this region is processed as CTC (cut, tear, curl) tea. Small cut leaves that create an even stronger brew that steeps up quite quickly. The cultivar that grows here is camellia sinensis var. assamica and was of course named after the region. The tea is brisk and malty. It can commonly be found in English Breakfast and English Afternoon blends. It’s made to steep up strong, as the Brits like to add milk and sweetener to their cups. This is also a tea commonly used for Masala chai.

Nilgiri is a mountainous region of southeast India and the 3rd largest tea growing area. Growing here started in the mid-19th century. The teas are well balanced and quite dark with a bit of fruit and spice. The climate is tropical and ideal for year-round growing. Many of the plants here are of the Assamica variety, and most of the teas are processed using the CTC method. Can you believe there are more than 30,000 gardens in this area?? That’s an immense amount of tea!

Finally the area most tea lovers know, Darjeeling. Teas here are grown in the Indian Himalayas. The first plantation in Darjeeling was started in 1856, and today there are about 86 tea gardens. The gardens are planted on the slopes of the Himalayan foothills, which help the plants drain well from the heavy rains that pass through the region.  There is just the right amount of cloud cover high at this altitude to give the plants the perfect amount of sunlight. The frequently foggy atmosphere creates a beautiful mist that hydrates and protects the plants while keeping them at an ideal temperature. The plant variety here is different from Nilgiri and Assam. It’s mostly comprised of camellia sinensis var sinensis, which is a smaller leaf than Assamica and actually is native to China. The British brought seeds of the plant to the region in 1841 and realized it was a perfect climate for growing. To learn a little more about the picking seasons and flavors of Darjeeling teas, you can check out my previous post here. To really appreciate the beauty of Darjeeling tea, it’s best to find teas grown and processed from just one estate.

Dearies, next time you drink a black tea blend, you can think about all of the beautiful areas of India where your tea is grown. I hope you try as many varieties as you can to learn how they differ.

Behind The Leaf: Chinese Black Teas

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Black teas can be grown and processed in many regions all over the world, and some of Kat’s favorite hail from China. I’m sure you’ve had a few Chinese black teas, but how many? I thought it would be helpful to document the most common types of Chinese black teas.

Black tea was first processed in China during the early 17th century. It’s thought that it came about by farmers looking to take their lower quality green teas and create something beautiful. By fully oxidizing the teas, the green leaves became darker and sweeter. Interesting notes of fruit and malt, even chocolate start to appear.

Black tea is called Red Tea in China. So if you find yourself looking at Red Teas that aren’t herbal, they are most likely Chinese black teas. Chinese black teas are found mostly in the south, in Yunnan, Anhui, Fujian. Now that you have a little bit of background, here are a few of the most famous Chinese black teas:

Keemun– This tea is grown in Qimen in Anhui province. It’s actually a favorite among British tea drinkers. This tea can be found in English Breakfast blends, and can be quite extraordinary on its own. The higher grade Keemun teas are velvety smooth, with a rich yet mellow flavor. Other grades have a deep, bold flavor and can often have a hint of smoke. Most Keemun teas work well with milk, but if you have a very high grade, you’ll want to drink it by itself.

Lapsang Souchong– This tea comes from the Wuyi region, in Fujian province.  These leaves are smoked  over a pine wood fire, which of course imparts a deliciously smoky flavor. It reminds me of a crackling campfire. The tea also has wine and fruit notes. It’s quite an interesting tea. A must if you’ve never tried it. Kat says it reminds her of whiskey!

Yunnan Dian Hong- True to its name, this tea is grown in Yunnan province. You may also occasionally see a variety called Yunnan gold. You can have a high quantity of beautiful golden tips in this tea, which are the buds of the tea plant. The tips produce a mellow, gentle, sweet flavor. Strong malty and cocoa notes are also present. It’s a naturally sweet, bright brew. This is one of Kat’s favorites to drink in the morning. The flavor is nuanced but it’s strong and wakes her right up.

Bai Lin gongfu– This black tea hail from Fudan, in Fujian province. It has a sweet and creamy flavor with delightful hints of dried fruit and caramel. This tea also contains golden leaf buds, fuzzy and sweet. There is very little astringency in this tea, yet it has good strength.

Dearies you can travel through China just by drinking these beautiful teas. Chinese black teas have a surprising range of flavors, and you should try as many as you can find. If you have any questions on these teas, please do let me know in the comments!

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.

Behind the Leaf: Darjeeling Tea

darjelingEvery time I sip a Darjeeling tea, I can see the green trees shrouded in mist with a view of the Himalayan Mountains. Darjeeling is one of my most favorite teas. It tastes unlike any other. Did you know Darjeeling tea plants are mostly Chinese? The Chinese seeds were brought to this Indian region by the British in the mid-1800s.

While Darjeeling teas can be processed as any type, I’m going to focus on what is considered black tea. Darjeeling is considered a black tea although it’s not quite as oxidized as most black teas you are familiar with. It’s a bit more similar to oolong. The tea has delicate, nuanced flavor with floral, citrus, and musk notes.

This tea is called the ‘Champagne of teas’ because of the grapey muscatel flavor. This flavor gets its name from muscat grapes. That Darjeeling muscatel comes from the land it is grown on, its climate, and can only be found in teas from this region. Also like Champagne, a tea cannot be called Darjeeling unless it’s from the area.

The flavor of Darjeeling teas depends on when it’s picked during the year. I love that you can basically taste the season in a cup of tea! The various seasons of growth and harvest are called flushes- a flush is the period when the trees develop new leaves and are harvested. The tea will taste quite different depending on the flush.

The first flush happens after the spring rains. This is usually in late February through April. These leaves picked in the spring have delicate, floral and grassy notes along with some astringency.  The leaves have a greener hue to them, and smell quite fresh. These leaves are closer to oolong than the other flushes.

Second flush leaves are picked in late May and June. These leaves have a more robust, with strong muscatel notes with sweetness and nuts. There is a little bit of astringency as well. It is not nearly as delicate as the first flush.

Monsoon flush- this growth occurs from the heavy rains in July and august. These leaves have a stronger flavor and fewer nuances due to the large amounts of water absorbed by the plants. This is usually considered a lower quality tea, and can often be found in tea blends.

Autumn Flush- this harvest happens in late October and November. These leaves are larger and much less delicate than a first or second flush. The brew is dark but nutty, sweet, and woodsy. It has a lighter body than the monsoon flush, and can also often be found in blends.

You can prepare this tea in a gaiwan or a traditional teapot. Whatever you use, just make sure you have enough room for those big, beautiful leaves to expand. You should seek out single estate Darjeeling teas instead of blends if possible, to get a taste of the true flavor. Start with a first flush tea and get to know the flavors. You should then move on through the flushes and see what you like best! Or, do as Kat and I do, and love them all!

Behind The Leaf: White Tea

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My lovely tea friends, I know you’ve had lots of black and green teas, but how much do you know about white tea? I find white teas to be quite surprising. The brewed tea ranges in color and the flavors are not always as light as you’d expect. The flavors can be quite nuanced. These teas are subtle and smooth, but so much more!

All tea comes from the camellia sinensis plant. The main differences are in terroir, plant varietal, and of course processing. White teas are produced mainly in China’s Fujian province, and they are the least processed of all teas.

You are probably thinking, ‘Tippy, tea leaves are green, aren’t they? Why is this called white tea?’ Well, white tea gets its name from the silvery-white fuzzy buds that are often used. The buds are very young, and they haven’t had a chance to go from fuzzy and silvery to the green you’re used to seeing. They don’t have that bright green chlorophyll-laden color of more mature leaves. This also means the leaves are more tender than older ones. I do love those fuzzy buds, but they tend to tickle when Kat brews tea straight in my cup!

To create white tea the young leaves are plucked in early spring, withered and then dried but barely oxidized. After drying they are sorted and heated again. The withering process is long, and can take up to 2 days. Because the leaves are minimally processed they have a lovely crisp freshness. They are even lighter than green teas. White teas have notes of grass, honey, fruit, vanilla, chocolate, even citrus flavors.

There are two common types of white teas:

Silver Needles (Hao Yin Zhen)- These leaves are the highest quality. They are comprised of all silvery, fuzzy buds and no other leaves. The brew is pale yellow and the flavor is subtle, smooth, and sweet. I find the flavor of this tea mellow and relaxing, but please note, because the leaves are young and the tea is minimally processed, it has a good amount of caffeine. The taste is subtle, but it’ll definitely give you a bit of energy.

White Peony (Bai Mu Dan)- This tea is delicious but considered lower quality because it has both silver buds and young leaves. The brew is a little bit darker and has more robust notes of fruit and honey. Kat sometimes has this white tea in the morning, because it has bit more flavor and wakes her right up.

Because these teas are tender and minimally processed, you don’t want to use boiling water to steep them. Refer to the directions for exact temperatures, but you’ll usually want to use temps around 180. I love to watch those downy needles dance while they brew, so we usually use a small glass teapot to brew the leaves. A gaiwan would also work well to extract as much of the delicate flavor as possible.

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Kat has a few different white teas in her cupboard, and right now she’s been enjoying a pomegranate white tea from Private Selection. The earthy, grassy white tea pairs nicely with sweet pomegranate and tangy lemongrass. This tea steeps up to a beautiful red color that is perfect for this festive time of year. She enjoys this tea all on its own as an afternoon escape. It has so much flavor that she doesn’t need to add sweetener. The strong pomegranate and lemongrass flavors do not mask the white tea. It is mellow yet refreshing. Kat recently had this tea at a family holiday gathering. Her aunt served it in beautiful little glass cups, so everyone could enjoy the pinkish red color. A few days later she saw the tea in her grocery store, and she happily brought a box home with her.

So what do you think, my tea lovelies? If you haven’t tried a white tea before, are you curious? I do hope you seek out a few white teas to try, they are quite a unique experience.