This is the official Blog of www.JAS-eTea.com.

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!

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Relative Sizes of Teawares – Asia vs. Western

Sip cup about half the size of typical Western style cup.
In many parts of the world, generally categorized as Western or simply “not part of Asia,” teaware sizes are quite different than many used in Asia. The reason is simple: a very different approach, generally speaking, to enjoying tea.

How the Tea Is Enjoyed

Bagged tea is extremely popular and common in Western (non-Asian) countries around the globe. This innovation led to a couple of things: steeping tea without a teapot, usually by dunking the teabag into a mug of hot water; and grinding tea to a fine dust so that it will be easier to bag and steep up faster and stronger in that mug. It also led folks away from the real enjoyment of tea – of watching tea leaves expand, of infusing them multiple times and getting subtle nuances of flavor and aroma each time, and of connecting with those who make the teas. Also lost is that precious time spent infusing those leaves when you can break away from all the commotion around you for some truly quality “me time” (a bit of a cliché, but very true and so very needed these days). However, you can also steep up these teas (even bagged ones) by the potful for yourself, family, and friends to enjoy. Tea becomes something to have with various foods and drunk in larger amounts.

The Asian way, generally speaking here, is often from whole leaves or somewhat broken leaves. They are steeped for fairly short times in tiny Yixing (eeshing) teapots made of zisha clays, ceramic, or even glass, and gaiwans (steeping bowls) that are usually porcelain, ceramic, or glass. Multiple infusions are common as is a full appreciation of the tea – dry leaves, aroma after infusing, flavors, and the leaves when steeping is done. More times of infusing the same leaves means smaller amounts of liquid being used. Otherwise, you end up with gallons of liquid (well, maybe quarts or pints). Thus the smaller teawares.

Size Comparisons

Typical sizes of various Western (non-Asian) style teawares:
  • Teacups: 4 to 8 ounces
  • Tea mugs: 6 to 12 ounces
  • Teapots: 1 to 10 cups*
* Each cup is assumed to be 8 ounces here.

Typical sizes of various Asian style teawares:
  • Sipping cups: 35-70ml* is typical, with some being 100-170ml
  • Aroma cups: 30-40ml* is typical
  • Gaiwans: 100- 200ml* is pretty typical
  • Yixing clay teapots: 70-225ml* is a normal range, with plenty of examples outside that range
* sizes sometimes given in cc’s, ml’s, or ounces – we stuck with ml, since it seems more common

The Size Factor on Aroma and Flavor

Shapes of tea cups, gaiwans, teapots, and teacups can make a difference in how you perceive the flavors and aromas. Straight-sided aroma cups help funnel the scents to your nose, increasing your perception of the flavors of the tea. The more flared and rounded sides of the tea cups help cool the tea. The teapots are usually wider than they are tall with a squat appearance – the basic shape assures maximum contact of the leaves with the water – and the smaller size makes them more suitable, as earlier stated, for multiple infusions of the leaves. Gaiwans are well rounded and also assure the leaves interact well with the water and can be infused many times. The materials can also make a difference, with many Westerners swearing by porcelain and bone china as the only way to enjoy a nice cup of tea and those who prefer the Asian style preferring those small sipper cups (usually ceramic) for their thin edges and smooth surfaces. The larger Western teapots ensure enough for guests, especially since the tea is usually only infused once.

Just some thoughts and observations for you to keep in mind when using them.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Keep the Lid on Your Gaiwan!

Awhile ago, we wrote about some tricks for using a gaiwan. One of the things we didn’t include, because quite frankly it seemed too obvious, was keeping the lid on the gaiwan during steeping. Amazingly, though, some folks are surprised at the need to do this. What is causing this confusion? The plethora of photos online showing gaiwans with the lids off and tea leaves supposedly steeping. The assumption is that this is how it’s done. Not quite. Time to clarify.

There are actually two good reasons to keep that gaiwan lid on: 1) to keep some of the heat in; and 2) to keep some of that great aroma in until it’s time to enjoy it. The lid is also great for keeping those tea leaves in the bowl when you pour – well, most of them anyway.

Keeping in the Heat

Many of you are probably thinking: “How much heat can be lost during those brief steep times?” Good point. Sometimes the steeps are 10, 15, 20 seconds. Not a lot of heat lost there – right? Sure. But longer steeps will incur some heat loss. Some think this is good and avoids “cooking” the leaves. Others think that a drop in temperature will fail to get the flavors out of the leaves. From personal experience, we can say that keeping the heat in is best and can shorten the steeping time a bit.

Hoarding that Aroma

Yes, hoarding. Keep that aroma under the gaiwan lid until it’s ready to be enjoyed. The lid is a dome and holds air in place over the liquid and leaves. The steam will rise off the water into that air space. Minute drops will attach to the underside of the lid. When you lift that lid at the end of the steeping time, take a whiff to get that aroma burst. Then, put the lid back on the gaiwan bowl to strain the leaves when pouring.

Get the most from your fine teas. Gaiwans are a great way to do that, if used properly. One caution: they can get hot to the touch, so handle carefully.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Chinese Hyson Green Tea vs. Other Hysons

When a tea term gets used for teas that vary widely in their aspects, the term becomes rather meaningless. “Hyson” is one of those terms, now being applied to green teas from Anhui province in China all the way to Sri Lanka. There is even a tea company in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) that uses “hyson” in its name. And a Ceylonian version of Hyson is popping up in the market. The Chinese version is also known as “Lucky Dragon.”

Many sites online give definitions of “hyson” that say, almost without exception, it is a green tea from China. Some say it has two grades: young hyson from the early crop and hyson skin made of inferior leaves. Others say it has three grades: Mi Si, Cheng Si, and Fu Si. The term is based on hei-ch'un (Cantonese) which means “bright spring” or “flourishing spring.” The main location where this tea is grown and processed is Anhui province, but it also comes from other locations in China, including Zhejiang province. Not one of them says that the green tea from Sri Lanka is part of this category. It seems to be a term that the Sri Lankan tea industry just glommed onto to promote their green tea. Nothing wrong with that as long as you keep in mind the difference.

Some descriptions of the Chinese versions:
  • Anhui version: Grayish green color. Large, loosely twisted tea similar to FOP of Orthodox Manufacture, but could contain a few stems.
  • Eastern China version: Uses young leaves from high altitudes picked before the spring rains. The leaves are wok fired to prevent oxidation and during the second wok firing are hand-rolled and tightly twisted. The resulting tea brews golden-yellow with a slight sweetness from the young leaves and a robust flavor uncharacteristic of most green teas. This was one of the tea types thrown overboard in the Boston Tea Party.
  • A medium-quality tea from many provinces, an early-harvested tea.
  • A classic green tea from Putuo Island, off the coast of Zhejiang province. The leaves are curly and pan-fired and brews a light amber-green cup with surprising strength and body for a green tea.
  • A green tea made with twisted leaves that unfurl during steeping. This tea has forgiving steeping conditions and makes for a soft grassy flavor, very amenable to novice green tea drinkers.
  • Generally, hyson tea is thought of as a low-grade or mediocre quality tea. However, young hyson is considered high quality, is harvested earlier (before the rains), and has a full-bodied, pungent taste, and golden color. Young hyson tea is subdivided into Chun Mee (a hard, small, twisted leaf), Foong Mee (a long, large, curly leaf), Saw Mee (a small, non-hard, twisted leaf), and Siftings.
  • A wonderful Chinese green tea that comes from the Anhui and Zhejiang provinces in China. It distinguishes itself from other green teas by the way the leaves are twisted and shaped.
The version from Sri Lanka is made of tougher, darker colored leaves, and in the dry form is shaped more like wads than fine brows. The flavor, though, is known to be quite pleasant but different from the Chinese versions. It can have a seafood quality to it, according to some tea reviewers.

Whichever kind you try, steep it gently in water no hotter than 175°F for 1 to 3 minutes.

Friday, August 8, 2014

5 Things to Look for When Shopping for Professional Tea Tasting Sets

If you go online to sites like Facebook, you’ve seen photos of rows of those professional tea tasting sets – this one by Rajiv Lochan, owner of Doke Tea Garden where our Doke Black Fusion tea is from. They were once found only in tea factories (shown here is the Jungpana Tea Factory, one of the Darjeeling tea gardens). More and more tea aficionados are purchasing these sets to have at home. They can be handy and give a quick series of infusions of your teas. Shopping for these professional tea tasting sets is pretty straightforward, too, but you should keep a few things in mind.

1 – Get a set with all the needed components

Mostly, these sets are comprised of the infusing cup with lid and a sipping bowl. Simple. But others come with extras, such as a saucer for the sipping bowl or a tasting spoon for that professional style slurping experience.

2 – Watch the notch

The lidded cup for infusing the tea will have one or more notches on the side opposite the handle. They seem to come in two different styles: a single larger notch and a sawtooth notch arrangement. The larger notch can let smaller leaf pieces come through while the sawtooth style will catch them better. Which you use is up to your personal preference. If you infuse teas with larger pieces, the single notch will be fine.

3 – Bowl shapes vary

The bowls will vary from more straight sided (left) to more curved (right). The big issue is how well the infuser cup will sit inside this bowl.

4 – The ability to sit in the bowl

If you are shopping in person, take a moment, if possible, to see how the infusing cup sits in the bowl. It should be steady. It helps with balance if the handle points straight up, as shown in the photo. Keep the leaves in the cup until you are done with the infusions (many fine teas can be infused 5 or more times). When the last infusion is done, spoon out the leaves onto the lid (upside down) and set it on the cup just for show (great for when you have guests in for a tea tasting event).

5 – Infuser cup capacity

There is not much variation in size here 4 to 6 ounces seems to be the range. For multiple infusions, this amount should be just about right and close to what most gaiwans (lidded steeping bowls) hold.

One last tip

You will note that I didn’t mention price. The sets seem to range from $11 to around $26. More expensive is not necessarily better. And if you get a deal on buying more than on set and can afford it, go ahead. It’s a great way to compare teas, something that is fun and enlightening.