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!

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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?

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!

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.

Re-steeping Your Tea Leaves

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Tea isn’t just a delicious drink, it is also economical. Even the most expensive tea leaves seem a bit more reasonable when you realize those leaves can be used more than once. Dearies, don’t get rid of those leaves after one cup! You can get a few servings of tea with just one batch of leaves.

For whole leaf teas, you can get quite a few steeps out of those leaves. The color and flavor of the teas change after each steep. Many teas get lighter, but oolongs and pu-erhs will start to change drastically. New flavors will be introduced after a few cups. I love hearing Kat’s reaction as she goes for her 3rd or 4th steep of one of these teas. She is always amazed at how the flavors transform.

If you are using a bagged tea, whole-leaf bags are best to get more than one steep. Bags with small leaf bits will not do as well. When the leaves are cut into small pieces, the flavor is infused much quicker, so there is less to give in a second steep. But it never hurts to try and see what happens.

Black teas will lose the most flavor after a couple of steeps. But the larger the leaves, the more you’ll get out of them. Pu-erh teas are amazing for re-steeping. Some can get upwards of 20 steeps! Oolongs also hold up to many steeps and green teas can get a few as well. Basically the larger the leaf, the more life you’ll get out of them.

Kat and I always steep up a storm, and here are a few of our re-steeping tips:

-Be careful making that first serving of tea. You don’t want to over-steep the leaves! That will take away some of the power for the next infusion. To make sure you don’t over-steep your leaves, follow the suggested steep time and temperature for the tea, and use a timer.

-If you are using a teapot or cup, use a tea strainer for the leaves. That way you can take the leaves out once they are infused and stop that steeping process.

-You can also use a gaiwan, which is a traditional Chinese tea vessel. When brewing in a gaiwan you generally use more leaves, steep quickly, and empty the liquid out each time you infuse into a separate cup. If you’d like to learn more about using a gaiwan, you can check out this helpful guide.

-When you re-steep you may want to increase the brew time just a little bit with each steep. The leaves are losing their potency, and can use the extra infusion time.

It’s difficult to say exactly how many steeps you can get out of a particular tea. Taste is subjective, so just go with your palate. Don’t be afraid to try one more steep. If the brew still tastes good after a few infusions, go for one more!