A Farewell For Now

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Dearies, Kat just gave me the most exciting news! We’re going on a trip around the world! Apparently she’s been planning this trip for quite some time, but kept it as a surprise. We’re going to see some amazing tea-growing regions! Isn’t it thrilling? We are going to tour though India, Sri Lanka, China, Taiwan, and Japan! We may even get to Africa! Oh I’m so excited that I can hardly sit still in my saucer. I’m going to learn so much more about tea! How it’s grown, processed, and sold! It’s the trip of a lifetime.

If you’re wondering how a fragile tea cup will travel, don’t worry! Kat will wrap me up very well, and she even has a special velvet-lined box for me. I feel positively royal! Lately I’ve been longing for my travel days with dear old Char, and I’m so delighted that I’ll get to have all new adventures with her granddaughter Kat. I think this time around things will look quite different! It’s been a very long time since I’ve left the house, let alone travelled to a far-away place.

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Of course, this means the blog may be quiet for a while. I won’t have access to our computer since we’ll be out and about. I am sad that the blog will go dark for a while. I’ll certainly miss all of you dear readers very much! I cherish our twitter conversations! But thank you so much for being loyal followers and reading all I have to say about tea. It’s been a pleasure to share with you. I do hope we can connect again soon. This is farewell for now, but I hope to see you all when we get back! Take care Dearies, and happy sipping.

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.

Books About Tea

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Dearies it’s been so cold lately, all Kat wants to do is stay home, curl up and read a good book. Can you blame her? I certainly can’t. I always make sure to add a nice warm cup of tea to accompany her reading. The other day I noticed just how many tea books she has on her shelf! It made me wonder, do all of your lovely readers have favorite tea books too? If you are interested in starting a tea book collection, here are a few that Kat and I recommend:

The Art and Craft of Tea by Joseph Wesley Uhl: This is one of Kat’s newest favorites. The book has bold graphics, and gorgeous photos. It gives information on tea from all around the world and even has wonderful tea-centric recipes to make at home. This book has great information on tea growing, processing, and drinking all around the world.

The Ultimate Tea Lover’s Treasury by James Norwood Pratt. Mr. Norwood Pratt is one of the most interesting and important living tea experts. This book combines beautiful prose, tea history, tea facts, and tea drinking culture from around the world. It’s a lovely book to pick up and read something new and interesting each time you open it.

Tea: History, Terroir, Varieties by Kevin Gascoyne, Francois Marchand, Jasmin Desharnais, and Hugo Americi- This has been Kat’s trusty tea handbook for years. This book has detailed explanations about all the tea growing regions. Learn all about how tea is cultivated, and processed. It gets into detail on the importance of terroir- the climate, soil, and unique characteristics of each tea growing region- and how this changes the taste of the tea. This is a perfect book for the tea lover that wants to deepen their knowledge.

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There are also books that specialize in types of tea. For example if you’d like to learn more about Puer, you should try Puer Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic by Jinghong Zhang. Puer is a very different variety of tea, and this book will take you through how it’s processed, where it is grown, and give you lots of interesting historical facts. A must for anyone that wants to learn more about puer!

For something tea related but a fun fiction read, you can try the Tea Shop Mystery series by Laura Childs. This mystery series centers around a charming tea shop in Charleston, South Carolina and the vivacious owner.

Enjoy your book and tea reading, Dearies! It’s the perfect time of year to cozy up

Ask Tippy: What is Genmaicha?

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Dearies, it’s time for our next installment of ‘Ask Tippy’! This is where you the readers get to ask me anything you like about tea! Our latest question comes from a reader named Betty.

Q. Tippy, what is genmaicha? I was in a Japanese restaurant over the weekend, and it was on the menu. Is it a green tea?

A. Very good question, Betty! Genmaicha is in fact a Japanese tea blend that includes green tea. The tea is usually bancha or sencha, with roasted and popped brown rice added in. This is a common tea to find in Japanese restaurants, as it’s a mellow, every day drinking tea.

The quality of the genmaicha depends on the green tea used. As I mentioned it is commonly found with bancha or Sencha. Sencha is the most popular Japanese green tea and varies in quality based on the season it is picked. The tea is steamed rather than pan fired, and produces a lovely green hue and deeply vegetal flavor when steeped. Bancha is quite similar but produced from both leaves and stems of the tea plant so the quality is a little lower than Sencha. But both are lovely when blended with the roasted rice. To create the rice for the tea, the rice is soaked, steamed, and then dried and roasted. The rice used can be white or brown, but usually white rice is used. It looks brown from the roasting process.

In Japanese, genmai means roasted rice. Cha means tea. When you first open a bag of genmaicha you may be surprised by the nutty aroma. The roasted rice gives the blend a deliciously earthy, nutty scent that pairs very nicely with the vegetal green tea. The other thing that you may notice is something a bit unique for tea- popcorn? It’s actually popped rice! On occasion the rice will pop while it’s roasted, which makes it look like popcorn!

In some cases it can also have some matcha mixed in. This blend will usually be a bit more expensive than typical genmaicha. If you’re not sure if there is matcha in your genmaicha, you’ll be able to easily tell once you open the bag. The roasted rice will have a greenish hue from the matcha, just like in my above picture.

If this tea sounds interesting to you, definitely seek it out! It’s widely available and is often offered in Japanese restaurants. Enjoy!

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.

Tippy’s Tea Of The Month: English Breakfast

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Dearies, did you know that I just started a Tea Club? That’s right, I’ve recruited a few of my kitchen friends and we gather a few times a month to sit together and drink tea. Just like Kat and her friends do! Many of the appliances are unfamiliar with the various types of tea out there, so I decided that each month we are going to pick one type to focus on. We’ll taste different   varieties of the tea, and learn a little bit about it.

This month we are focusing on English Breakfast. This is a black tea blend, and the flavor differs based on what teas are included. Often you’ll see a blend of Assam, Ceylon, and Kenyan teas. Sometimes Chinese Keemun or even Indian Darjeeling will be added. The blend is always made to be quite strong and robust in order to add milk and sugar (if you wish. Kat actually drinks hers straight up!).

The history of English Breakfast tea is a bit fuzzy. There are different accounts of how it came to be a popular breakfast staple. The name of ‘English’ breakfast may actually have originated in colonial America! I’ve also read that it could have originated in Scotland and became a popular morning ritual once Queen Victoria started drinking it.

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Whatever the origin, I just absolutely love a good cup of English Breakfast. It brings me back to my days with Kat’s Great Aunt Char. She used to start every morning with a good strong cup. She preferred a blend that had Ceylon, Assam, and Keemun. I can still remember the sweet aroma from the dry leaves as soon as she opened the canister.

 These days Kat has been drinking Newman’s Own English Breakfast to remind her of her Great Aunt. The dry leaves have a lovely raisin-like aroma with hints of malt and earth. Char used to say her day didn’t properly begin until she smelled her English Breakfast leaves! This tea brews up rich and bold and just like Char, Kat says her daily cup gave her a spring in her step. Kat shares my nostalgic love of English Breakfast as it reminds her of being in her Great Aunt’s kitchen, stealing sips of her tea.