I wish you all the best of times surrounded by whatever brings you comfort during these holiday times (Also...tea!)
I've been busy on the Holiday boutique scene and filling tea orders as you all stock up on your teas and gifts. But I want you to know how much I appreciate your support, whether you've become a regular customer or are an occasional visitor to the website.
These first couple of years of getting my tea business up and running have been a beautiful struggle; both to spread my passion for tea and to create a viable business bringing you consciously sourced specialty tea. It's a struggle to be a small-margin micro-business competing against the Amazons of the world, the commodity tea market, and hyper-capitalism. As the big guys have holiday sales with discounts that are bigger than my profit margins and offer free shipping even as I get emails from USPS about more rate increases, I keep plugging along trying to offer fair prices without feeding the consumer frenzy of the holidays. That being said, I acknowledge that tea is a wonderful gift and appreciate all of you that have made these festive weeks so busy for me.
Once again, thank you! And I hope you are taking plenty of time to simply make tea.
Tea meditations/experiments on water
Lu Yü, in his 8th-century Classic of Tea, had this to say about water:
"On the question of what water to use, I would suggest that tea made from mountain streams is best, river water is all right, but well-water tea is quite inferior. (The poem on tea says, When it comes to water, I bow before the pure-flowing channels of the Min.)
Water from the slow-flowing streams, the stone-lined pools or milk-pure springs is the best of mountain water. Never take tea made from water that falls in cascades, gushes from springs, rushes in a torrent or that eddies and surges as if nature were rinsing its mouth. Over usage of all such water to make tea will lead to illnesses of the throat.
Of the many streams that flow through mountain and valley, there are those that are clear and pure but which sink into the ground and are absorbed before finding an outlet. From the hot season to the time of frost, the dragon may be sequestered and noxious poisons will accumulate within them. One taste of the water will tell you if it is all right. If the evil genius of a stream makes the water bubble like a fresh spring, pour it out.
If you must use river water, take only that which man has not been near; and if it is well water, then draw a great deal before using it.1”
Obviously, quality water is super important to a quality cup of tea. It can negate any advantage of specialty tea leaf and make a cup of commodity tea undrinkable. My tea friend Rie Tulali inspired me to experiment with different waters, as she has done in her wonderful tea experiments on her teacurious2 blog. We’re 13 centuries on from when Lu Yü warned us about the dragons in the water, so most of us don’t have access to water that “man has not been near.” But there are still places where delicious water can be found. One such place is Camp Myrtlewood outside of Myrtle Creek Oregon.
I’ve worked at Camp Myrtlewood’s Not Back to School Camp session for the last 10 years. I’ve served a lot of tea there, both in workshops and on the famous “tea stump”. This is the first year I got around to trying the water from the spring there in my tea. Their water trickles down mountain from their spring, getting naturally filtered as it flows down towards the Coquille River. The water for use at the camp is captured and filtered through a few stages of natural filtering. As a public facility, they then have to treat the water for public usage before it is sent to the taps around camp. That means chlorination. I bypassed that last step and so basically had filtered spring water. To be safe, I did boil it before bringing it down to the temperature for the teas but have since learned I didn’t need to do that.
1st Cupping: Shi Feng Long Jing Green Tea
2g tea/4oz water; 176˚ 2 minute infusions
- Darker, more yellowish liquor
- Grassier taste
- Bigger mouthfeel
- Liquor color still darker and not more green
- Bigger mouthfeel
- Liquor color still darker and tending to browner tone
- Lighter, more straw-colored liquor
- Slightly more astringent
- Dryer mouthfeel
- Alfalfa, hint of asparagus
2nd Cupping: Jin Ya Black Tea
2g tea/4oz water; 196˚ 2 minute infusions
- Slightly darker and browner liquor
- Sweet malt and tobacco notes
- Bigger mouthfeel
- Again darker liquor
- Preferred taste of tea with this water
- Lighter, orange’ish liquor
- Flatter taste
- Preferred color of tea in this water
One other thing I noticed is that my kettle remained super clean after bringing a gallon or so of water to a boil. I’ve been places where my kettle was coated after a pint of water (looking at you, Las Vegas!).
So while the difference was subtle between my home filtered and Camp Myrtlewood water, I definitely preferred it both in taste, color, and from my heart, as it is one of my favorite places on earth.
My next water experiments will be with some of the bottled water I have to use when traveling. Also, after seeing references to gathering snow for tea water in the Chinese Literary classic, the Chin P'ing Mei (The Plum in the Golden Vase), I'm going to grab some snow next time I get caught in a blizzard at my home ski mountain of Mammoth Mountain in the Easter Sierra Mountains of California. I'll keep you posted!
With tea, it’s always great to play around with your brewing techniques, ingredients, and parameters. But in the end, as Lu Yu says, “the quality of the tea is in the mouth.” So figure out what you like, drink tea and be happy.
Blog Post by J. Davis, YogiTeamonger
1 The Classic of Tea: Origins & Rituals / by Lu Yü; Translated & Introduced by Francis Ross Carpenter; Illustrated by Demi Hitz, The Ecco Press 1974
2 Water Matters! Comparing Bottled Waters for Green Tea / by Rie Tulali, teacurious
Heirloom cultivar Sencha from Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan
This delicious sencha is made with the Asanoka cultivar. Asanoka means “Morning Aroma” and is a cross between Japanese Yabukita and a Chinese cultivar. It was developed at the old Kagoshima Tea Research Center.
One of the things I’m passionate about with tea, and food in general, is unique and heirloom varietals or cultivars. So I was very excited to find this single cultivar sencha NOT made with the ubiquitous Yabukita cultivar. Of course there are fabulous senchas made with Yabukita but I’m all about preserving and encouraging diversity in specialty tea. The region of Kagoshima where this Asanoka was grown has a high temperature difference between day and night which helps the tea develop a deeper flavor that is vegetal and umami with a light sweetness and without much bitterness
- Origin: Hioki, Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan
- Grower/Teamaster: Itaru Kawaji
- Elevation: 250m
- Harvest Date: April 2019 (1st Harvest)
- Cultivar: Asanoka
- Cultivation: Certified Organic at source but not at packaging point (Leaves of Cha)
- Plucking Standard: Machine harvested
- Processing Notes: Fukamushi (deep) steamed
- Nickname: Asanoka means “Morning Aroma”, but is also sometimes called “Senkou Ka” (“Incense Stick Aroma”) for its unique fragrance.
- History/Pedigree: Grown only in Kagoshima prefecture, Asanoka is a cross between Yabukita and a Chinese tea cultivar (鹿Cp1 or Kago Cp1)
- Vegetal, bright, slightly sweet, with prominent umami. The brewed tea has a pronounced scent that is reminiscent of Thai Basil and Honeysuckle flowers with a hint of brine.
Find it on the website here.
The amazing shade grown Green Tea from Yame
Gyokuro (“Jade Dew”) gets its name from its intense green color and the historical ball-shaped preparation of this tea. Nowadays, the leaves are straight needles like sencha, but the shading process prior to harvest still gives the tea its deep, saturated green color and rich umami flavor.The Yame growing region is known across Japan for its excellent Gyokuro. Production of Gyokuro involves a 10-day period of shading the tea plants prior to harvest. The shading forces the plant to boost its chlorophyll production and retain its store of amino acids, leading to a deep green color and rich umami.
- Origin: Yame, Fukuoka, Japan
- Grower: Hoshino Village Farmers
- Elevation: 200m~300m
- Harvest Date: May 2019 (1st Harvest)
- Cultivar: Yabukita & Oku Midori
- Cultivation: Conventional
- Plucking Standard: Machine
- Processing Notes: Fukamushi (deep steamed), high firing
- Nickname: Jade Dew
- History/Pedigree: Developed in 1835 by Yamamoto Kahei in Uji, Kyoto, Japan, Gyokuro became the first shaded tea in Japan to be consumed as a loose leaf tea. The original Gyokuro was called “Tama no Tsuyu” and involved the leaves being curled into tight balls, but through the years, this tea came to be processed like Sencha, with the familiar needle-shaped leaves.
- Savory, marine, buttery
Purple varietal white tea
This rare tea’s leaves come from wild purple tea trees that grow in the high mountain areas of Jinggu. The trees are a varietal often referred to as purple “ye sheng”. Since the trees are completely wild and relatively remote, this tea is produced in tiny quantities and production cannot be scaled. The cost of the tea is almost entirely due to the labor of finding and plucking the leaf material. It takes about 15 days for them to collect enough to process into 15kg of tea. I sampled 25g in 2017 and loved it. When I decided a month later to add it to the Tea Chest it had already sold out for the year. I don’t expect it to be around for me to reorder before the 2019 harvest, so get it while you can.
(I know, I know, another purple tea…I just love them so much. I’ve noticed their rarity often means more (hand)craftiness and skill goes into their making than the more common cultivars. And I’m all about that handmade tea and those heirloom and non-commoditized cultivars)
- Origin: Han Gu Di village area, Jinggu County of Simao, Yunnan, China
- Grower/Teamaster: Mr. Zheng
- Elevation: 1600-1750m
- Harvest Date: Spring 2018
- Cultivar: Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica Dehongensis, a varietal of what is often referred to as Purple "Ye Sheng".
- Cultivation: Wild tea trees growing without cultivation; naturally organic, no certification.
- Plucking Standard: Bud pluck
- Processing Notes: Brief withering and hot dry air exposure to halt the oxidation
- Nickname: Sweet Ya Bao, 甜芽苞
- History/Pedigree: This is a new tea to the market outside of China.
- Beautiful to look at in the brewing vessel and intensely aromatic for a white tea. Floral sweetness with fruit undertones. Like nothing I’ve tasted before.
Cupping the latest harvest
Long Jing is one of the most famous teas of China, and the authentic tea grown within the National Designated Protected Zone (NDPZ) of the original five West Lake villages is especially prized. The last lot of Long Jing on the LoC website was from Meijiawu Village, one of those villages. It was delicious and amazing. One of my lucky customers has bought out the last of it, on sale no less, so kudos to them. Unfortunately, due to it's rarity and the demand for it, the prices have skyrocketed way past what the U.S. market will typically support. Indeed, most of the "official" Long Jing from the NDPZ is now bought up in China and never gets out of the country. I only saw Meijiawu Long Jing in one place this year and it sold completely out in a matter of days. I also missed the opportunity to get a little of it for my own enjoyment.
I love the taste and craft of Long Jing, so I am exploring alternatives from outside of the area that use the Long Jing cultivars and are crafted with the same skill and love. Because of its popularity, Long Jing style tea is grown everywhere in China with varying degrees of success and quality. While the quality of the taste is "in the mouth" and subject to your preference and tastes, the ultimate success of the tea as "Long Jing" depends on how closely the terroir matches that of the NDPZ, the cultivars used (traditional heirloom, the commercially developed culitvar Longjing #43, or something else entirely) and the ability of the teamaker in matching the Long Jing style.
The picture above is from my cupping of a couple of candidates I am sampling. I hope to have a delicious alternative up on the website shortly. Another alternative that I love, is our Bao Hong Mountain tea, which is similar in appearance and shares some palette notes with Long Jing, even though it is a completely different cultivar than the ones use for Long Jing. And it is devotedly grown and processed by a family that has been producing this tea on their land for 10 generations.
I will notify all the subscribers when the new Long Jing is up!
Small Farm Tea from Darjeeling India
Yanki Special 2nd Flush is a black tea from Darjeeling, harvested and crafted in small batches from small farms. It is one of the first Darjeeling teas of its kind in the market, as most Darjeelings are from large estates. The small-batch processing allows for a higher standard of quality and ethics for the growers and teamakers.
Yankhu Tamang founded the Society to "Promote Small Farmers, Socially and Economically”. The group is trying to change the narrative of Darjeeling tea production by empowering small growers to make their own tea, including both standard Darjeeling teas and handcrafted quality batches like this Yanki Special Darjeeling. This empowerment of the local Gorkhas, who have always supplied the manpower for the big tea estates, cannot fail to improve the quality of the famous Darjeeling tea and improve the livelihoods of the farmers and teaworkers.
Outside absentee ownership of those large estates has led to a decline in overall quality and a commoditization of most Darjeeling on the market, as well as being a factor in the unrest3 currently happening in the region.
- Origin: Mirik Valley, Darjeeling, India
- Grower/Teamaster: Darjeeling Small Growers Society/Yankhu Tamang
- Elevation: 2,100m (7,000ft)
- Harvest Date: Spring 2016, 2nd Flush
- Cultivar: Camellia Sinensis Sinensis
- Cultivation: Natural (Organic, but no certification)4
- Processing Notes: harvested and crafted in small batches; hand-rolled
- History/Pedigree: One of the first small-farm Darjeeling on the market, as most Darjeeling comes from large estates
- Smooth and even flavor with hints of sweetness that vary over different brewing parameters
Find it on the website here.
Blended Yunnan Green Tea
This jasmine green tea was too beautiful and delicious to pass up even though the Leaves of Cha tea chest is primarily filled with straight teas. This delicate and aromatic blend is produced in the traditional way using just jasmine flowers steamed under the green tea and then also added to the finished tea.
- Origin: Wu Jia Village, Yun Xian county, Lincang Prefecture, Yunnan (Jasmine flowers: Wen Shan area)
- Grower/Teamaster: Mr. Yang
- Elevation: 1650 meters
- Harvest Date: April 10th 2017
- Cultivar: Yun Kang Bi Luo Chun (cross of Bi Luo Chun and Assamica)
- Cultivation: Natural, no pesticides
- Plucking Standard: Bud Pluck
- Processing Notes: Jasmine flowers are steamed underneath the finished tea leaves, then fresh jasmine Flowers are mixed in for additional fragrance and beauty
- Nickname: Jasmine Floating Flower
- History/Pedigree: Yun Kang Bi Luo Chun varietal was first developed in 1992 by the Yunnan Tea Research Institute. Cultivation was encouraged for more than a decade before it gained popularity as a finer green tea cultivar.
Incredible jasmine aroma that balances out in the cup to wonderful pair with the umami and vegetative notes of the green tea; all enhanced by the beauty of the jasmine flowers left in the tea leaves. Jasmine notes will be most prominent on first infusion.
Find it on the website here.
Green Tea from Shizuoka Japan
Kukicha, or “stem tea”, is a specialty green tea made from the stems of green tea leaves. Kukicha typically is only made during the spring using a careful process to separate the leaves and stems. This kukicha is made even more delicious by using the flavorful first flush of the tea plants, after they have gone through their period of winter dormancy.
This wonderful tea is from Toshiaki Kinezuka's small, completely organic farm in Shizuoka. Their natural growing practices are an anomaly in the midst of Japan’s typically heavy use of chemicals in their industrialized tea industry.
The farm is now being led by Toshiaki's eldest daughter, Ayumi Kinezuka. Her passion is to keep Japanese tea traditions alive, while also gaining knowledge from other tea traditions. She studied black tea production in Sri Lanka.
She works alongside her father, mother, younger brother, and younger sister on the farm. Leaves of Cha is especially proud to support women-run tea businesses in what is a primarily male-run industry.
- Origin: Nakayama Village in Fujieda, Shizuoka, Japan
- Grower/Teamaster: Kinezuka Family/Ayumi Kinezuka
- Elevation: 350m (1150ft)
- Harvest Date: Spring 2016
- Cultivar: Yabukita
- Cultivation: Natural (Organic, no cert.) Toshiaki Kinezuka started farming with all-natural methods back in 1976, so the farm has been grown with organic practices for 38 years.
- Plucking Standard: First flush pluck.
- Processing Notes: made completely of stems carefully separated during the production process
- Nickname: Stem Tea
- Brilliant bright green appearance and a bright, rich aroma. The flavor is sweet and grassy with fresh citrus notes and a hint of seaweed, with very little bitterness and a very refreshing aftertaste. Cold-brews great for iced tea!
Find it on the website here.
Yunnan Green Tea
This Bao Hong green tea is just the kind of tea that gets me excited in this world of generic, commodity teas. It’s delicious, it has history, and it is cultivated and made with dedication and love. I’m still trying to sleuth out the name of the cultivar, if it has one, but the original plant is believed to have been brought to Bao Hong Mountain by a wandering monk from Fujian. Cultivation started during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907) around the same time as the Bao Hong Si Buddhist Monastery was being built on the mountain and has continued ever since. The Liu Family has been growing this tea for at least 10 generations.
This tea is similar to Long Jing/Dragonwell is many respects. It has a unique history and provenance, a similar appearance in the dry and steeped leaf, and in its taste. Yet it is unique in its own right and a great value given the skyrocketing price of authentic Long Jing.
- Origin: Bao Hong Mountain, Yi Liang County, Yunnan Province, China
- Grower/Teamaster: Liu Family
- Elevation: 1550-1630m
- Harvest Date: March 2017
- Cultivar: Still researching; from a Fujian varietal
- Cultivation: Natural cultivation in a remote un-adulterated environment
- Plucking Standard: Fine Picking; bud & two leaves
- Processing Notes: leaves picked in a two hour early morning window
- Nickname: Bao Hong
- History/Pedigree: Cultivation started during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907). The Liu Family has been growing this tea for at least 10 generations.
- The leaves brew up full and plump for their small size, with the downy hair from the leaves floating in the liquor. Fragrant with grassy and mineral notes coming through especially on the second infusion.
Find it on the website here.
Being of Service: The Tea Monger as volunteer Adaptive Ski Instructor
2017 National Disabled Veteran's Winter Sports Clinic, Snomass Colorado
At Leaves of Cha, we believe in being of service. Last week, the Teamonger was in Snowmass Colorado volunteering as an adaptive ski instructor at the 2017 National Disabled Veteran's Winter Sports Clinic. This is my sixth year at the Clinic and it is one of the highlights of my year. This year almost 400 disabled veterans participated, including around 150 new participants. They were supported by about 1000 volunteers, including 200 of the top adaptive ski instructors in the U.S.A. and Canada. On top of that there were the veteran's own caregivers and supporters: family members, friends, and professionals who accompany the veterans and make it possible for them to attend.
Here's a little "taste" of what I do when I'm not brewing tea...
The 2017 Tea Harvest
Keep checking the Leaves of Cha website for new and restocked teas
So look for some new teas to be added and for most to be restocked. Some teas might not be available this year because the quality was not there or the cost was too high to make it commercially viable. But I am always on the lookout for unique teas with provenance, with a story, and whose quality "is in the mouth."
Keep checking the Leaves of Cha website for all the developments. Drink With Me!
10% off all Teaware through March 22nd The Ides of March was not a good day for Julius Caesar. But everyday is a great day for tea. And great tea deserves great teaware. Check out all the great choices at Leaves of Cha here; from functional teaware to lovely handmade pieces that perfectly complement the handmade teas we sell here.
10% off through 3/22.
"Et tu, BrewTea?"
In order to use it, enter the gift code above at checkout.
February 25th & 26th, 2017 in Las Vegas
If you are looking to get out of whatever weather you are experiencing (it seems like everyone is too hot, too cold, too wet, or too dry!) and immerse yourself in tea, come visit my table at the Southwest Tea Festival. The Festival aims to unite tea educators, retailers, and growers with tea drinking consumers and hobbyists. This two-day festival will provide tea knowledge, cultural experiences, tastings, cuppings, pairings, and demonstrations for tea enthusiasts.
This will be Leaves of Cha's first Tea Festival and it's very exciting. I would love to see your there and meet you face to face over a cup of tea. AND, I have a discount code for my customers good for 25% off the ticket purchase price! Hope to see you there.
In order to use it, visit www.swteafest.com and choose to purchase tickets. When you are in the window where you get to choose the number of tickets that you would like to purchase, there is an option in the top right corner to enter a discount code. Once the code is entered, it will immediately take 25% off of the purchase price.
Cooking Demo with Tea Talk
Surfas Culinary District, Costa Mesa and Culver City CA
Leaves of Cha has teamed up with the talented Bridget Reilly, owner of Costa Mesa's Royal Tea & Treatery for a couple of demonstrations at the Surfas locations in Southern California. The first one was at the Costa Mesa location before Valentine's Day and featured the making of delicious gluten-free, dairy-free treats. Whenever Bridget paused to prep or cook her treats, I would talk about and sample teas. The picture above is in the Surfas Test Kitchen at the event.
We have another one coming up at the Culver City location on Saturday, March 4th. Keep an eye on the Leaves of Cha Facebook page or other social media for more info on this event as it becomes available.
Holidays are stressful. Have a cup of tea
I hope everyone of my customers are taking time for themselves this holiday. Let's face it; they can be stressful for the simple reason that they are "supposed" to be happy. It's a little more complicated than that. So for me, I breath, I meditate, I make a cup of tea.
I hope you have some on hand so you don't even have to worry about purchasing some. But in case you don't, I have special pricing on some of my teas here. And don't worry that you have to do it now...while supplies last, I'll keep the sale going through for a week or so.
Thank you for all your support and for your love of tea. Peace.