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Friday, September 19, 2014

How to Calculate the Real Price of Your Tea

So often we here how expensive fine teas are. This is equally often said by folks who are sipping on that ultra hot cuppa $5 coffee-ish substance from the mega chain store coffee shop. Yet, grand cru (great growth) teas are far more likely to break down to a much lower cost per cup than even the “bargain” bagged teas from the local grocery store. The key is how these teas are infused. Multiple steeps is the big factor here. The formula is pretty straightforward, as shown below, and maybe our way of calculating is a little more involved than the way others do it, but we wanted to take a number of things into account and even things out between the size of a typical steeping of these teas versus a typical cup of other teas. We’ve also put together a few samples for you of teas we carry, just to give you an idea of the difference.

The Formula

Many fine teas are sold by the gram versus ounces or pounds. So we calculated using grams and then did a column that gives you the cost if you had an 8-ounce cup of that fine tea (it is usually infused in smaller amounts).
  1. Price of unit (cake, etc.) divided by Grams per unit = Price per gram
  2. Ounces of water used per infusion times number of infusions per session = Total ounces of liquid tea
  3. Grams per unit (cake, etc.) divided by Grams of dry tea used per infusion session = total infusion sessions possible from unit of tea
  4. Price of unit divided by Number of sessions = Cost per session
  5. Cost per session divided by Total ounces = Cost per 8 oz. cup
  6. Other Costs (guesstimated 50 cents per cup for water, heat source such as electricity, gas, charcoal, plus labor, clean-up, etc.)
  7. Cost per 8 oz. cup + Other Costs = Total Cup Cost
A lot of folks, when doing cost comparisons, leave out #6, but you need to include something here since you are incurring those costs one way or another. For example, you may need to buy bottled water or use a water filter.

The Calculations

We pulled quite a few teas to give a good cross section. Row W is the most expensive tea and therefore has the highest per 8-ounce cup cost ($2.30). In some cases we pulled teas such as row AH that are sold in different size pouches to show how the per cup cost compares. In Row U, we compare three different grades of a Dancong oolong – the per cup cost is so little that you might as well go for the highest grade.

Click on image to enlarge

Compared to Popular Bagged Teas

We avoided the U.S. brands and compared with some of the top UK brands. They range from 52 to 60 cents per cup. As you can see on the chart above, a number of the fine teas come out to about the same cost. It would seem that those fine teas aren’t such an extravagance after all. Which leads to the question of why people settle for blended stuff in teabags. We like to think it’s just because they don’t know this. Hopefully, now they do.

Click on image to enlarge

We also realize that the teabags are presented as a time saver, but with some practice, you can steep up loose leaf tea just as quickly. And you can get a far superior cup of tea than at those coffee shops, not to mention saving a ton of money.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Dissolvable Tea?

We wrote about the distinction between brewing, steeping, and infusing tea. Thinking that this issue had pretty much been addressed (ha ha! no such thing, apparently, in the world of tea), we then came across a tea that isn’t brewed, steeped, or infused. It’s dissolved! Yes, just add hot water and let the dry tea completely merge with the water. Magic … sorta!

The original dissolvable tea – Matcha Powder 1000 Mesh EU Organic-Certified

Matcha is a dissolvable tea. Actually, technically speaking it is a suspension where the molecules of the tea are dispersed rather evenly among the molecules of the water. In this state, you can drink both without experiencing any chalkiness or gritty residue.

http://www.myteadrop.com/tea-selections/
Dissolvable tea shapes
But we’re seeing other kinds of dissolvable (or should we call them suspendable?) teas out there, including one that looks like a calendar where every day of the year is made from a different tea (or flavored tea) and a newcomer where the tea leaves and ingredients are ground up and pressed into stars and other shapes (put one in a cup and pour hot water over it – the tea supposedly leaves no gritty residue).

As folks who strongly prefer to infuse their teas loose (unbagged and without an infuser of any kind), we approach the idea of dissolvable/suspendable tea (other than matcha) with a bit of healthy skepticism. We don’t appear to be alone in this. An online chat (that sadly devolved into a discussion about the definition of matcha which further devolved into petty name calling) included remarks such as that it sounded fishy unless they meant matcha, and that a particular brand was more like instant coffee and just as distasteful.

However, we have to stick with the idea that you all must choose your own way to enjoy tea. Plus life can get hectic, and you may need some way to have that occasional cup of dissolvable tea when you’re in-between meetings or classes or other events where your normal gongfu approach is a bit too much.

http://www.interiordesign2014.com/other-ideas/a-cup-of-tea-a-day-calendar/
Tea calendar
A better way to have that quick fix of tea, though, might be to make some up ahead and put it in a travel mug. The tea will stay at a reasonable temperature.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

How Your Customer Comments Help Us

You buy a product. You like it. You don’t like it. You don’t bother to tell the store manager or online vendor either way. We understand. Your life is busy. It can take time to post a comment on their site or Facebook page with your feedback. But your efforts can really help that store or vendor in serving you better and improving their line of products. And it can help us achieve our goal.


We want to be your “go to” for the finest teas from China and Taiwan (and a few from nearby areas like Darjeeling, India, and northern Thailand). The best way to do that is to hear from you. Good, bad, so-so, or whatever else you care to tell us. They all help. And your time and effort are greatly appreciated. Your feedback can help guide our decisions in what we select from our suppliers. No sense getting in more of a tea that many of you tell us is bitter tasting or unpleasant.

Another benefit to both you and us is the shared camaraderie of infusing and trying these teas, enjoying some (hopefully many) and not others (hopefully few), and then sharing your tasting notes with us. We don’t just sell these teas, we enjoy them, too! We try to take time to post some of our own tasting notes, too, on Facebook, this blog, and elsewhere. It helps us all when we share this type of information, especially since so many things can affect the flavor of your tea: water quality and temperature, steeping vessel (ceramic teapot, Yixing clay teapot, gaiwan, glass, etc.), ratio of tea leaves to water, infusion time, and even how the tea was stored.

With your help, we can also improve the infusion instructions on some of our teas and add instructions to others where they are lacking. So, we hope you will take a moment and let us know how your tea experience went. Thanks!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Storing Teas for Aging vs. Preservation

A lot of talk about aging various teas beside just pu-erhs has been popping up online recently. So, we wanted to take time to differentiate between just storing a tea to preserve it for later and storing a tea to age it.

http://www.jas-etea.com/aged-liu-an-black-tea-1999/

Storing Tea to Preserve It

A lot of information is available about storing teas to help them last. The goal is to keep the flavor about the same as when the tea was first processed. Air, odors, moisture, and light are all shut out. Plus the teas are kept in a cooler environment, sometimes even in a refrigerator or, under the right conditions, in the freezer. If done well, the tea can last months and even years. Considering the time, effort, and expense of growing, harvesting, and processing them, this seems very worthwhile.

Storing Tea to Age It

This seems to be increasingly common. The goal seems to be to modify the tea’s flavor through a process similar to what pu-erhs undergo. An example is in an article where the author discusses his experience with aged white teas in Fuding, China. The oldest were from 2006. He describes the flavors as unlike the faint ones from most white teas on the market (I’ve seen numerous comments from folks who say that white teas are tasteless) – the aged versions progressed to richer and more honey sweet flavors with fruity fragrances (he names dates, figs, and grapes) the older they were. Aged oolongs are also being marketed. The question remains as to whether they are made better by the aging or if they are just being preserved. One site says the tea master examines their tea every 2-3 years and possibly re-roasted if they contain excess moisture – this will help retain the tea’s flavor. However, after 3 years, the flavor changes are said to begin, mellowing noticeably, until at about 15 years they are considered mature. Another oolong expert (oolongs seem to be the type of tea used most for this non-puerh aging) emphasizes the flavor change while keeping the same mouthfeel or even increasing it slightly.

Proper Aging Techniques

The idea here is to keep the tea viable and not let it go stale during the aging process. The key is to start with a tea that still has good fragrance in the leaves and not too much moisture (if you want to age an oolong, experts recommend that you start with a roasted oolong with a strong mouthfeel – Baozhong, Dong Ding, and Iron Goddess Tie Guan Yin are top choices). The aged tea will lose its original taste and fragrance but will develop new ones. Key techniques for this aging process are a proper container (an airtight stoneware canister is recommended), a cool environment (50-60°F), and occasional examination of the tea, especially during the first few years, to watch for excess moisture build-up. You know you’re on the right track if after 5 years you begin to detect raisiny, pruny, or even herbal aromas.

Why Bother

In our “gotta have it now” society” waiting 10-15 years to age an oolong, white tea, or other in order to improve the flavor is a real test of patience. So, why bother? The flavors that await you. They will be richer, warmer, and more complex. And some report an increase sensation of “cha qi” (tea energy) from these teas. Only you can decide if it’s worthwhile for you.

We carry several aged teas that seem to have borne up well over the years.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Signs That Your Pu-erh Needs a Bit of Air

Unlike most types of teas out there, pu-erhs need a bit of air. So, how can you tell when your pu-erh needs a bit of air? Here are some signs:


A whiff of moldy aroma

It can be very faint and only hit your nostrils on first opening the wrapper, so you’ll have to pay close attention to detect it. If you’ve had the cake stored awhile, you’ll want to check the humidity level in that area and perhaps have a small fan running in the room just to keep the air moving around. The moldy quality, if it’s only very faint, can be removed by airing out the cake. If the cake is a fairly new one to your stock, check it carefully for any visible signs of mold. This indicates poor storage somewhere along the way (tea factory, distributor, tea vendor, etc.) or even possibly a bad cake. Air it first with that fan running in the room (but not blowing directly on the cake) for a couple of days and see how it goes. If the odor goes away and you seen no other signs of mold, you just saved your cake. Otherwise, play it safe and say “Sayonara!”

A generally stale, lifeless aroma

Ever unwrap a cake you’ve had stored awhile and have your high expectations met with a totally lackluster aroma to the cake? Try letting the cake sit outside its wrapper for an hour or two just to get some air. It has worked for me once or twice. Worth a shot. But bear in mind that even if the aroma does not liven up with that air interaction, the flavor could still be good.

Odd flavors when infused

So, you select a cake from storage, unwrap it, break off a nice piece, and prepare for a steep session deluxe. Your tea table, pre-seasoned Yixing teapot, chahai, tea cups, etc., are all set. You do that first short wake-up rinse. And then the moment of truth comes – the first actual steep that you will drink. They are usually only about 15 seconds, depending on which pu-erh you’re infusing. The timer dings. You pour into the chahai and from there into the cups. You sip. Your friends sip. Then come the grimaces. Something is off – waaaaaay off! Stop right there. Toss away the leaves in the teapot. Then, take the cake they came from and set it in a cool place (not the kitchen) that is fairly free of extraneous odors, and let it air for a minimum of 24 hours and ideally about 48 hours. Then, break off another chunk and see how it goes.

Let us know how these work for you.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Difference Roasting (Baking or Firing) Makes in an Oolong Can Amaze You

We’ve been following the adventures of several oolong experts out there for awhile now (at least a couple of years, probably longer), and wanted to gather together some things we’ve learned, from them and other sources, about the difference roasting (or baking or firing) makes in an oolong tea. It can be quite amazing.


Why Roast/Bake the Tea Leaves

Tea leaves go through various processing steps from the moment of harvest to when they are packaged for shipment to tea vendors. A final step for many oolongs is the roasting (also called baking and firing) of the leaves. This halts any oxidation of the leaves and removes more excess moisture from them. The roasting (baking or firing) has an enormous impact on the final flavors of the tea, often being the difference between something delightful and something very burnt-tasting (like the charcoal often used in the roasting process). Even the wood used to make the charcoal can matter. For example, a Taiwanese oolong uses Taiwan Longan wood or Taiwan Acacia wood for the charcoal. Teas from the Wuyi Mountains area, where oolongs (using leaves from the Shui Xian cultivar) are said to have originated, are roasted to develop a sweet, caramelized flavor. It also gives them a longer shelf-life. Some oolongs are roasted more than once to bring out even more flavor complexity. Citric notes can become more evident after roasting. If the roasting does not significantly alter the flavor, then technically it is not a roasted oolong.

Roasting/Baking Levels

High (Strong) – 90-100% roasted. Best for preserving the tea and adding a honey-like sweetness (sometimes described as more like smoky caramel) in the aroma. Store the tea for about a year to let some of the roasty quality fade. The flavors will also become more complex. Store in a cool, dry environment.

Medium – 40-90% roasted (some vendors break this range down further – there does not seem to be any set standard). Good for preserving the tea, and you should also store this one for 6 months to a year, letting any smoky quality dissipate.

Light – 30-40% roasted. The teas can’t be stored as long, but you can drink them right away without any overly roasty or smoky quality.

Different roastings use different temperatures. For example, some Dancong Phoenix oolongs are roasted four times (starting at 120°C and reduced for each subsequent roasting to 60°C on the last one), and each lasts 5 to 10 minutes, with the leaves resting 1 to 2 hours between each roasting. This isn’t the final stage. The leaves are sorted to remove any inferior leaves (set aside for other uses) and a finishing roast is done, with the time and temperature dictated by the desired tea at the end. Roasted oolongs that have been stored may need to be re-roasted even if stored well. They will naturally absorb any moisture around them, which the additional roast will remove. This will also restore some of the tea’s original flavors.

Some Tea Examples

Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess) Oolong is a roasted/baked/fired oolong that is most familiar to folks in the U.S. and Europe. The best ones balance a roasty body with a floral quality in the aroma.

Tung Ting Oolong is roasted in the traditional manner using charcoal made from Longan fruit wood.

Dancong Phoenix Oolong goes through a process of shaping the leaves into twists, then multiple roastings, as described above, and a final finishing roast.

Final Notes

The trend for roasting tea leaves at home is growing. Sounds good to us, since it will show more of an appreciation of how tricky this step of the processing can be. Of course, it might even result in some amazing efforts and make you the Betty Crocker of the tea world. Fabulous!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why the Aftertaste of Your Tea Matters

The taste of tea is a top reason people even bother with to drink tea. (Another big reason is the hope that various health benefit claims have some grains of truth in them.) The aftertaste, therefore, can make or break that experience and, in fact, are the keys to that experience. Read on to see why.

Tiny (by Western standards) sipping cups help you experience aftertaste.
A bit about what aftertaste is: as the term implies, this is the final impression on your tastebuds and the roof of your mouth, even in your nasal passages, after you swallow the liquid. For some tea connoisseurs, the aftertaste is everything. In fact, you could say that it reveals the tea’s true nature.

Bad Aftertaste Ruins the Experience

Recently, I read a tea review where the author stated that the aftertaste of the tea in question was so unpleasant that it ruined the entire experience. I could relate to that from my own personal experiences. A tea I had recently had a wonderful initial flavor and mouthfeel. Then I swallowed. The aftertaste was like a cup of liquid charcoal in my mouth. The joy of that initial flavor was obliterated and then some. For centuries, this bad aftertaste prompted people to add things to tea to mask that aftertaste. A prime example is CTC Assam tea, where the aftertaste is quite bitter. Along comes the solution: masala chai, full of spices and milk. It’s a tasty brew but a far cry from a nice tippy black tea from Assam where the flavors are not marred by that strong and unpleasant aftertaste. Also, many folks claim that green teas have a bitter aftertaste – and they do if they are improperly infused. In fact, the importance of properly infusing teas cannot be stressed enough here. Proper teawares, proper water temperature and quality, and proper infusing times are the biggest factors. An overly roasted tea that is also overly infused will give you an burnt aftertaste that will linger in a most unpleasant manner.

Good Aftertaste Makes the Experience Worthwhile

A good aftertaste, as previously mentioned, can reveal your tea’s true nature. This seems to me to be especially true for floral oolongs. Dancong Gardenia, for example, will have a lovely gardenia floral quality to the aftertaste. One way to enhance your perception of that aftertaste, and thus increase your tea experience, is to slurp. Yep, slurp. Take in a modest mouthful (about a teaspoonful for most of us) along with some air. It will help increase the aroma perception, and that will enhance your taste experience, including the aftertaste. Some teas won’t have that pleasantness no matter what you do, but most premium teas will, so make the most of them. Here’s also where proper teawares will come to play. If you are using a ceramic teapot that is holds 16 ounces or more for such teas, consider switching to a Yixing teapot (you will need a separate teapot for each type of tea you make) or even a gaiwan (you can use the same one for various types of teas – just be sure to clean after each use). Consider getting an aroma/sipping cup set so you can enjoy these teas in a manner that is often what the tea master had in mind – taking in the aroma and then slurping the liquid in for a full mouth experience.

Don’t miss out on the best part of your tea – the aftertaste!