Trying New Teas for the New Year

Photo Nov 27, 3 33 19 PM.jpg

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!

Know Your Teaware: Yixing Clay Teapots

yixing

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.

The Basics of Puerh Tea

Brick of Puerh Tea

Such a funny name! “Puerh.” I’ve heard some pronounce it as “Poo – Air,” and some pronounce it as “Poo – Ur.” And while the name might have variations, the provenance of this tea has none. Just as true Champagne comes only from the Champagne region of France (all others must be referred to as sparkling wine), true Puerh comes from the Yunnan region of China (all others must be referred to as Hei Cha). Hei Cha is classified as a dark fermented tea, which is different from what most Americans consider “black” tea.

Fermented tea? You may very well ask. We don’t usually associate tea with fermentation. Yet, as with some wines and cheese, this particular fermentation process can actually add flavors, characteristics and complexities over time that add value to the tea.

This fermentation process includes a highly controlled environment and requires ‘wild’ bacteria available on the tea leaves themselves. If the process is not controlled properly, the result will be a poor quality puerh that may smell of compost or even have a fishy quality. (No, thank you!)

Traditionally, the puerh leaves were pressed into forms or bricks and even used as a form of currency. While puerh is still produced in this way, one may also find it in loose leaf form. Kat has a prized brick of Song Ping Yellow Mark Puerh from Char’s adventures in China. She was always vague about the man who gifted it to her, but every time Char talked about it, she got that dreamy, far away look. I have my guesses… (Sometimes my carrying case got in the way of juicy observations!)

One thing I find so interesting about puerh is the steeping process. It is one of those teas that you brew for seconds rather than minutes. And the lovely thing is that it may be used for multiple steepings! The first steeping might be for 10 seconds. The next for 12 or 13 seconds, and so on. Each steeping has its own unique characteristics. It’s a tea journey, not just a cup of tea!

The next time you’re offered puerh tea, look past the name and give it a try! You’ll be delighted you did!