Trying New Teas for the New Year

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Dearies, do you believe in New Year’s resolutions? Kat’s always making a few, and to be honest, she only ends up following through on a few of them. But this year I’ve decided to help her with one of her resolutions: Keeping an open mind to new teas! I think I could be quite helpful with this, especially since I’m the official tea steeper! Are there teas you haven’t tried, or perhaps teas you’ve been hesitant to try? Here are a few that may be new to you, or at least teas that are on your radar, but you haven’t actually tasted:

Gyokuro- Ok dearies, as far as Japanese teas go, I’m sure most of you have tried Sencha, matcha, and possibly genmaicha. But have you tried gyokuro? This tea is a little more expensive than the others, but it has a wonderful flavor that many call ‘umami’. A good gyokuro almost tastes like broth and has a pleasing sweetness. The tea is different from other Japanese greens because it is shaded before harvest. The shading causes the tea plants to reduce their rate of photosynthesis and the result is that special umami taste. Dearies, I’d love to know who discovered this method of cultivating tea, wouldn’t you? If you are interested, you can learn a little more about Japanese green teas in my post here.

White Tea- White teas are very versatile. Young tea buds and leaves are plucked in spring, then withered and dried. They are just barely oxidized as well. White teas have a range in quality, so it’s important to try a few different varities. The various types of white tea have different flavor profiles but they all have a nice freshness since the leaves are so young and fresh. Look for Silver Needles and White Peony white teas. They definitely are unlike any other kids of tea. Learn more about white teas and their flavors in my previous post here.

Puerh- If you’ve had a puerh, you’ll definitely remember it. This is a fermented type of tea from Yunnan that comes in two main categories: ‘sheng’ which is the raw puerh that ages slowly over time, and ‘shou’ which is aged through a more rapid human-controlled process. Since Puerh is an aged tea, you can keep it for years and if stored correctly it should get even better with age. In fact, Kat has a shou puerh that dear Char brought back from Yunnan many years ago. High quality sheng puerh can be very expensive, especially when it’s an older vintage. This is because the aging process is controlled, and requires a skilled artisan to get it just right. A good sheng can be sweet and grassy,if young, and woodsy and slightly leathery if older, and also a bit bitter. Shou puerh is created with just the right conditions of moisture and heat to rapidly ferment the tea. Because it is produced more quickly, it is more affordable. It has a much more pungent flavor with a dark, thick brew. Puerh can be a bit of an acquired taste, but Dearies there are many people that go crazy for it! They collect it, trade it, and drink it daily. Why not give it a try?

Finally, there are so many herbal blends out there that are far different from things like mint and chamomile. Try turmeric, lemon verbena, basil, and tulsi! Herbal teas are all very different, and can even be fun to blend. You can even try them iced, they are quite refreshing any time of year.

Dearies, this is a New Year’s resolution you can stick to! Just pick a few teas and get tasting. How simple is that? Happy steeping!

Behind The Leaf: Japanese Green Teas

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Many moons ago I visited Tokyo with Char. I still remember the hustle and bustle of the busy city. When I think of Tokyo I still smell of bowls of ramen, freshly sliced sushi, and endless cups of green tea. The Japanese drink a large amount of tea, and they are very serious about it. Various types of green tea can be found in restaurants, shops, and homes. Of course there is also the meditative tea ceremony that features a mindful preparation of matcha.

Char shared her love of Japanese green teas with Kat, and she has quite a few varieties in her cabinet. Here are a few types of Japanese green teas that Kat and I enjoy at home:

Let’s start off with sencha, the most popular tea in Japan. It is widely consumed and produced. In fact, more than 80% of the green tea processed in Japan is sencha! Once young tea leaves are picked, they are steamed to prevent further oxidation which keeps the leaves bright green and retains their vegetal yet sweet flavor. The leaves are then dried and rolled into a needle shape. Sencha has a wide variety of grades based on when and where it was picked, so the taste may vary. Sencha that has stems, stalks and twigs mixed in is called kukicha. This is a vegetal and nutty tasting tea. Green tea that is combined with roasted brown rice is called genmaicha. The rice kernels occasionally pop and look like popcorn! The roasted rice gives a pleasant smooth roasty, nutty flavor to the sencha. I personally love the look and taste of this tea.

Bancha is made from older leaves and stems picked in the late summer or fall. The leaves are a lower grade than sencha, and picked later in the year. It is processed in the same way as sencha, but it is a lower leaf grade. Then there is Hojicha, where the leaves are roasted for a few minutes and quickly cooled. This is a mild tea with less caffeine. Kat loves hojicha after dinner. The nutty, toasty, smooth flavor is very soothing and since it is lower in caffeine she doesn’t mind drinking it after dinner.

Gyokuro is a very interesting Japanese green tea. It is a very high grade of tea and can get quite expensive. This tea is different from sencha mostly because of how it is grown. The leaves are shaded for about 21 days prior to harvest. The shading reduces the rate of photosynthesis in the leaves which greatly changes the flavor of the tea. The result is a broth-like savory tea unlike anything else I’ve ever tried. It is delicious and surprising. A must try if you’ve never had it before.

The first teas consumed in Japan were actually powdered teas. Most of you are probably familiar with Matcha, which is very popular these days. It is high quality green tea ground into a fine powder. It is also used for the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. There are various grades of matcha which determines the price. Culinary grade is a bit cheaper, and it is good for baking and cooking. The ceremonial grade matcha is is much more expensive, because the quality is high enough to be used in a tea ceremony. To learn more about the quality of your matcha, have a look at this article from The Daily Tea.

When you are brewing a Japanese green tea, you must pay careful attention to the water temperature. Follow the directions you are given on the package. These teas are quite delicate and water that is too hot can essentially cook the tea, making it bitter and unpleasant. This is a main reason why so many people think they don’t like green tea! They aren’t preparing it properly. If treated the right way, these teas are delicate and nuanced.

What do you think? There are even more types Japanese green tea, I cover a few of the basics. So I urge you to get out there and taste, learn, and enjoy! What are your favorite Japanese green teas?