Tippy’s Tea of the Month: Longjing

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Dearies I know we’ve talked about Green Teas quite a bit, but there is one in particular that is a Chinese staple with an interesting story, Longjing. This tea’s name translates to ‘dragon well’, and is grown only in China’s Zhejiang province. Why is this well-loved tea called Dragon Well? It all goes back to the legend! There are actually a few different versions of the legend, but in my favorite version, a Taoist monk discovered a dragon hiding in an old well. The season had been in drought, and once the villagers learned of the Monk’s discovery they prayed to this dragon to bring the rain and fill the well to capacity. After the prayers, it started to rain! This water flowed from the well and nourished the surrounding tea is grown.

 The tea itself has a flat needle-like shape with a lovely jade green color. This tea is pan-fired which gives it a nutty taste (it often reminds me of chestnuts) with a fresh vegetal aroma. It also has a cooked veggie flavor which we often associate with green beans. The tea is nutty, vegetal and sweet.

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 The quality of longjing depends on when it was harvested. The earlier in the spring, the more expensive the tea will be. For the highest quality, one leaf and one bud is picked. These young leaves and buds create a very gentle, fresh and tender flavor for the tea.

The highest grade leaves are pan fried in small batches in a wok. They  needed to be heated as soon as possible to prevent oxidation. The pan-firing technique creates the lovely nutty flavor you taste in the tea. The leaves are pressed to the sides of the wok to make sure they are properly dried. This also creates the flat needle-like shape of the finished leaves. If your tea leaves have an even color to them, you know they were dried very well, to make sure the heat was even for the whole batch. Lower grades of longjing are also pan heated but usually in large revolving drums. The teas that are machine roasted are still quite delicious and more affordable.

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As with many coveted teas, longjing can be ‘faked’. You may not be getting spring harvested tea, or tea grown in Zhejiang. The best way to tell is use your eyes and mouth. Does it look like a vibrant green tea? Does it smell and taste like early spring? Veggies and chestnut? It is smooth and gentle or is it bitter? If you taste enough good quality longjing you will know what to look for. As always dearies, it’s about tasting, tasting, tasting!

To brew your longjing you can use a gaiwan, or a small teapot. My favorite way is to just add the leaves right in the water using either a bowl style cup or tall glass. Just keep filling up your vessel with hot water as you finish it, re-steeping those beautiful leaves. This is the way it’s commonly consumed in China.  Dearies no matter how you steep it, it’s a beautiful tea. If you try it you’ll understand why it’s so revered in China. Happy Steeping!

Behind the Leaf: Yellow Tea

 

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Dearies we’ve discussed all kinds of white tea, oolong tea, and black teas. But did you know we missed a category from the camellia sinensis plant? Yellow teas are harder to find, but they are a tea type that you all must try.

Yellow tea is more time consuming to process, than other teas which makes it less available. There are only three regions in China that process it, Hunan, Sichuan and Anhui provinces. It is processed like a Chinese green tea, but then after firing they go through a controlled oxidation. The leaves are steamed under wet cloth or thick paper, and often the process is repeated. This process can take a few days, and creates a mellow yet aromatic cup of tea. It also has a nice bit of sweetness.

Because this tea is given a heated fermentation, it’s type is a mix between a green tea and a puerh. Yellow teas were originally considered tribute teas, which means they were exclusively grown and picked for the Emperor! How very special.

Because it is similar to a green tea, you can brew this the same way you would your Chinese greens. I recommend using a gaiwan, going grandpa style, or using a small teapot with multiple short infusions. Yellow tea isn’t as prone to bitterness as greens are, so you can use a water temperature a bit higher, from 160-175° F.

The most famous yellow tea is Junshan Yinzhen, from Hunan province. This tea can also be called Mount Jun Silver Needle tea, as the leaves resemble the white tea called silver needles. This tea is picked only from late march to early April, a very short window of time. This tea consists of tender, fuzzy buds, similar to white silver needles. This is actually was a favorite of Mao Zedong which is why it is so well known.

Two other yellow teas you may come across are Meng Ding Huangya from Sichuan province, and Mo Gan Huang Ya from Zhejiang. Be sure to purchase your yellow teas from a reputable source that is knowledgeable in these leaves. As I mentioned, these teas are hard to find, but worth the effort.

As a teacup I’m of course going to promote any and every tea I can. But I must say Dearies, yellow tea is really special. If you come across it, do give it a try. You’ll be quite pleased!

 

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.

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.

Know Your Teaware: Gaiwan

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Dearies we’ve talked a little bit about different teaware, and today I’m featuring a vessel that helps you brew your tea carefully, with attention and reverence for the tea leaves. One of the ways to get the full flavor out of full leaf tea is to use a gaiwan. If you are a tea enthusiast you’ve probably seen one of these vessels, and perhaps you own one yourself!

 A gaiwan is a bowl-shaped vessel with a lid and saucer. You put a large amount of leaves inside, and use short steeps of tea. You use the lid to carefully hold back the leaves as you pour out the tea into a pitcher, and then pour into cups. It’s a simple way to prepare tea, and extract the full flavor of the leaves. Kat likes using a gaiwan because it helps her get to really know the tea. You brew small batches with quick steeps, and re-steep many times over. By brewing this way you can see how the flavor of the tea changes with each steep, and watch the leaves open up and release all of their unique flavors.

 You can use just about any loose leaf tea with nice big leaves. Kat uses her gaiwan for everything from Chinese green and black teas, to puerh, and oolongs. It takes a little bit of practice to get used to brewing and pouring with a gaiwan. So be sure to use one that is inexpensive and sturdy for your first experience. Kat picked up an inexpensive thick ceramic gaiwan in her local Asian market for just a few dollars. It worked nicely as a practice vessel. She’s now graduated to one that’s slightly more delicate but she hasn’t purchased an expensive one as she still feels a bit clumsy with it. She also has a glass gaiwan that gets used all the time. It’s sturdy and you can watch the tea leaves change with each steep.

 The best way to learn how to use a gaiwan is practice. A visual aid is handy, and this video is a great introduction. Since the vessel is usually ceramic or glass, you don’t need to worry about using it for one particular tea, like a yixing teapot. You can simply clean it out and use with a different tea. Kat has started using a gaiwan to prepare small cups of tea for friends because it makes a delicious cup of tea but also is fun to watch! You get a little table side theatrics with your tea tasting.

 Kat likes to set up her tea table with flowers and a favorite tea pet (dearies, learn more about tea pets here!)This makes the gaiwan brewing process a bit more personal. Do you have a favorite gaiwan? What teas do you enjoy preparing with it?

Know Your Teaware: Tea Pets

If you’re a fan of tea, chances are you’ve run into a tea pet either in person or in a photograph. Dearies, these little figures are just so irresistible! A tea pet is a true symbol of the enjoyment of tea- it’s a little friend to share the tea with, and enhance the experience. Kat likes to put a tea pet or two on her tea table, to bring a friendly warmth to the tea session.

 A tea pet is a small clay figure kept on the tea table for good luck. It’s a little tea companion to join you as you sip. When Kat first started collecting these creatures, I started to get a little jealous. She usually selects a couple of them to join us when we have tea in the Chinese gongfu style. They merrily sit on the tea table as we steep multiple infusions of tea. I started to realize they are just fun little companions, and can’t ever really complete with the importance of a teacup like me.

 Tea pets are often found in animal forms, usually creatures that are popular in Chinese culture. I’ve also seen buddhas, monks, and even Lu Yu, the revered tea sage. It’s difficult to find historical information on tea pets, but I noticed them on many tea tables throughout China while traveling with Char. With a bit of research, I did discover that tea pets seemed to evolve from the leftover bits of clay used to make teapots. When Char was interested in purchasing a tea pet, she was told to look for one that spoke to her. Kat has also selected tea pets that called her name. It was fun to search through online tea stores looking for the tea pets that called out to her. Kat has a few made of yixing clay, and she also has one that is made with a ruyao glaze. This is a coating over the clay that over time develops tea stained crackles all over the glaze. It gives the teaware a beautiful appearance.

Chinese New Year Teas

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We just celebrated the beginning of 2016 but there is another New Year’s celebration soon to come. The Chinese New Year is February 8th, which is fast approaching. This is the year of the red monkey! I just love Chinese New Year traditions. Char had a very close friend who would share the festive celebrations with her and I’ve been trying to teach Kat all about it. The decorations, food, and tea are amazing.

Homes are cleaned and decorated, gifts are exchanged, and delicious foods are prepared and served. High quality teas are served by themselves, so they can be enjoyed without any other flavors interfering.

On the first day of the New Year festivities, there is an important tea ritual that can be performed. A pu-erh or oolong tea is chosen and served to the eldest family member. This individual enjoys a sip of tea, and then passes it to the next eldest family member. The tea bowl gets passed along down to the youngest member of the family. Prayers and blessings are passed down along with the cup of tea. The generations are connected in this special ritual. Assorted sweets are served on the ‘tray of togetherness’ where all family members share delicacies to start the new year. In certain parts of China a sweet tea will be served to also symbolize a sweet life. Red envelopes containing monetary gifts are presented to the children and unmarried family members. I just love the colors, tastes, and aromas of this holiday.

A popular food to enjoy is the beautiful tea egg. I mentioned this eggs once before in our tea-infused brunch post. You’ll find a recipe there as well. Making tea eggs takes time, but it’s a simple process and yields delicious, artistic results.

Char’s friend used to give her a gift of a superb dong ding oolong every year during the lunar new year. It’s traditional to give tea and sweets as gifts. I just love dong ding oolong, it is sweet, nutty, with hints of fruit and a roasted comforting flavor. I’d steep this tea for Kat every day if she’d let me! It’s especially warming in the colder months.

The lantern festival at the end of the 15 days of celebrations is quite a breathtaking display. The air is simply electric during this festival!  Floating and hanging lanterns, fireworks, and dragon dances illuminate the night.  Sweet glutinous rice flour dumplings are served to close the festivities with a hope for a sweet year to come.

Try to steep up a pu-erh or oolong tea in a gaiwan if you can. That’s a traditional way to prepare the teas. Here’s to the year of the monkey, and I look forward to connecting with all of you in the tea-filled year to come!

Know Your Teaware: Yixing Clay Teapots

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The last teapot we discussed is the brown betty. Today’s teapot also has a brown hue, but is very different! You may have seen these teapots in specialty tea shops and online. They are usually small, because they should be used with large amount of leaves in a small amount of water.

Yixing is a county in China, that has a special type of clay that cannot be found anywhere else. The clay has special minerals that make the teapots porous, so it absorbs the flavor of your tea. If you use one particular tea with your yixing teapot, it will ‘season’ the pot and develop a beautiful patina. It is thought that using one type of tea in a yixing will create a pot that produces an exceptionally nuanced cup of tea. The best teapots from Yixing will either be of purple stone clay (zisha) or clay made from yixing mud. They build up the essence of the tea you steep in it so you should only use one type of tea in the pot.

True yixing pots are very expensive because they are crafted by skilled artisans using true yixing clay. These days with a quick search you can find yixing teapots everywhere online. There are many that are faked, and also cheaply made. It’s of course absolutely fine to get a cheap yixing teapot, but beware if you are looking for an expensive handmade pot. There are many that are called handmade but are actually fake machine made pots. When you are buying online make sure it’s from a reputable source. If you are unsure, you shouldn’t purchase it. The best way is to examine the pot up close. Here are some important things to look for in a good yixing pot:

Check the lid: wiggle that lid around. It should fit perfectly and not move around. When you spin the lid around in the pot, it should feel smooth, and not stick or grind. It should also fit securely.

Check the inside: Look at the inside of the pot- does it look handmade? There should be evidence that it was made by hand and not through a machine or poured into a mold. You might notice slight fingerprints or dimples where fingers formed the pot. There are many good pots that are assembled with machine made pieces but finished by hand.  So try to keep an open (but critical) mind.

Check the color: Yixing pots can vary in color but they should never be shiny. If the color is too bright or shiny, it could be a painted or treated pot.

Because these pots change with every use, you can watch your pot evolve over the years. The color will slowly change, and the flavors it absorbs will enhance your tea. These pots are usually quite small, because they’re made for quick infusions with generous portions of leaves. This is the traditional Chinese gongfu way of tea preparation.

As I mentioned, you need to choose one type of tea to use in this teapot. This way you’ll properly season the pot and have a truly exceptional cup of tea. The best teas to use in a yixing are Puerh, certain oolongs, or black teas. You want to stay away from green and white teas in your yixing, the pot retains too much heat and could ruin the taste of your tea. If there is one type of oolong, puerh, or black tea that you love most, season your yixing with it, and the pot will be your teatime companion for years to come. There are many different ways to season a Yixing pot. This is the way that Kat seasoned her little pot, and she was very happy with the results.

Yixing pots date back to the 15th century! When Kat uses one of these pots she says she can feel the history in every special sip. Dearies do you use a Yixing teapot? Where did you get it? What tea do you steep in it? I’d love to learn more.

Tea Traditions Around the World, Pt. 1

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I’ve traveled all over with world with Char and recently Kat and I have taken a few adventures as well. One thing we’ve learned is tea can be found in every corner of the globe. I’ve seen it offered as a sign of hospitality, expertly prepared in an intricate ceremony, served at large gatherings, and of course just consumed at all times of the day. There are so many cultures around the world that enjoy tea. It would take pages and pages to discuss it! Here are a few places where we’ve had memorable cups of tea.

In Morocco, we were greeted with mint tea everywhere we went. Many households offer it to guests in greeting when they visit. It is a sign of hospitality we greatly enjoyed. These teas are a mixture of green tea and mint leaves, often served quite sweet. I loved how it is usually served in little glasses and poured out of a teapot perched high above the glass. It is theatrical and delicious! I remember how lovely those vibrant green mint leaves looked floating in the tea, dancing as they poured into the cup.

To re-create Moroccan mint tea at home, Kat often brews a pot of green tea and will add loads of mint to each cup. For the colder months when mint isn’t available, Kat picked up a box of Wegmans Peppermint Tea to add to her green tea. This tea only contains cooling, refreshing peppermint so it is a perfect substitute to using the leafy green herb. After bringing this tea home from the store, Kat was surprised at just how aromatic it was.  She drinks it alone to relax in the evenings, or uses it for her Moroccan tea fix. After a few sips she imagines she’s sitting amongst the vibrant Arabic art and architecture.

In India, masala chai of course is the drink of choice. Whenever I think of India I see steaming cups of fresh tea infused with ginger, cardamom, cloves and pepper. You can find it on the streets sold by chai wallahs.  I recently discussed masala chai in a previous post. The flavor of masala chai depends on the region you visit. I recently found this wonderful website that tells stories of the chai wallahs in India. Reading through it makes me wish Kat would whisk me back there.

In Russia, black tea is made into a concentrated brew and then diluted with boiling water. Traditionally the water was boiled with a samovar, but these days the gorgeous urns are mostly ornamental. You can find a few tips on how to create the concentrated tea and water mixture here.  Russian tea is often sweetened with a spoonful of jam. The teas are usually smoked black blends, and adding jam gives an amazing combination of smoky and sweet.

In China tea is of course ubiquitous. You’ll find green, oolong, puerh, white, and black teas depending on the region. People often prepare tea with the leaves directly in the water and leave them in when it’s time to drink. They’ll simply use their teeth to act as a strainer. This technique is often called ‘grandpa style’ brewing. Grandpa style is super easy to do, and it only requires tea and a cup or bowl to drink out of. For more details on brewing tea this way, check out Nicole Martin’s helpful YouTube video. Kat’s brother-in-law recently visited China and I overheard him explaining that many people walk around with a plastic tumbler filled with leaves that they drink from all day long. They refill the water as needed.

These are so many more ways to enjoy tea around the world, so stay tuned for another post about tea in other countries! Is there a tea culture that you’d like to learn more about? Do let me know and I’ll be happy to post about it.