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“Put 1 teaspoon of xxx tea in a suitable vessel or teapot and pour over with boiling hot water and leave for ca. 3 minutes before drinking”. Who doesn’t know them, the omnipresent 1- or 2-sentence instructions commonly given by suppliers on tea packages, usually centered around, or even being more or less reduced to a statement on how many minutes to infused the particular tea in that package.

Glass Teapot — a suitable vessel? (ETS image)

Glass Teapot — a suitable vessel? (ETS image)

While most undiscerning consumers will readily (and happily) follow such instructions, being convinced that such procedure will adequately serve the purpose of making “no mistakes” when preparing their tea, those passionate tea drinkers having advanced to some degree of higher order in regard to tea preparation already, will at some point start to use such instructions with due care, if not omit even reading them at all. This, however, is by no means due to some kind of arguable arrogance, such as the idea of “already knowing”, but much rather the result of the insight that such (short) instructions, from a certain perspective, are actually pure nonsense.

Let’s first have a look at where they might make sense at all: you’ve heard that drinking tea is actually healthy, you’ve witnessed people making statements regarding the great and unprecedented taste of tea and/or a particular tea or category of teas, and you might even have had the occasion to realize that quite some people see much more that just a beverage, even more than just a healthy beverage in tea, weaving a huge sphere and/or a whole world of its own around tea, and centering a considerable part of their lifes around it. This has triggered your curiosity, so you have just been to a supermarket, or even to a dedicated tea shop and bought yourself some tea, or even several teas. Now, let’s assume that you bought tea at all, and not some kind of tisane instead, which would by no means be a crime, but still to a significant degree disqualify your shopping from being covered by this article.

“Put 1 teaspoon of xxx tea in a suitable vessel and pour over with boiling hot water and leave for about 3 minutes before drinking”, and there you go… actually, very helpful to know that you should leave to infuse the tea for some time at all, and definitely similarly helpful to learn that you should not leave the tea to infuse for too long, because otherwise you would achieve either no tea taste at all and/or a terrible, basically inedible liquid respectively. This, however, is where the limitations of this concept have been reached.

How much exactly is “1 teaspoon”? Could be somewhere between 2 and 5 grams of tea! What on earth will be a “suitable vessel or teapot”? In each single case of tea, the answer to this question will significantly differ… A tea egg? A clay teapot? A glass vessel? An iron kettle? Or maybe the ceramic flower pot, from which you took the already withered roses earlier today?

How hot is “boiling hot water”? The 80°C your water will have after having been boiling and then being carried over from your cooking stove to the kitchen table, before being “poured over”? Or the 70°C it will have adding a break of another half minute, which you will need to fill the tea into the vessel, because you are realizing only now that you haven’t been doing this before? Or the 90°C your water will have when reaching the boiling point? Or the 100°C it will have when having been boiling for a short while on a proper stove? Or whatever more or less than any of those for what reason ever? Then: how long is “about three minutes”? Anything beyond two minutes? Or two and a half minutes? Or exactly 3 minutes? Or 3 and a half minutes? Or anything less than 4 minutes? And should you include the minute it will take to bring the teapot (or whatever vessel you choose) from the kitchen to the sofa suite in the living space area where your test persons are waiting to participate in your experiment?

These are ridiculous questions? Gradual differences of lesser or no importance? Okay, maybe, if you wish so, but then welcome to my world and that of hundreds of thousands of tea lovers, who do know better! With tea, in fact any even minor deviation in dosage, in material of the used vessel, in water temperature, in infusion period, and even in water quality, hardness and other features, will make a major difference for those appreciating it, which are those who love tea, and even for those less passionate, it can make the difference between something you will love to drink and something completely inedible.

As for your social living room experiment, serving some nicely chilled Coca Cola will be a much safer success after all, and if you really want to know about how to prepare that particular tea, or any other particular tea, for that matter, there are 2 basic options available: one is to search online for your tea and work yourself through the A4-pages long websites, and the other one is to use the “Put 1 teaspoon of xxx tea in a suitable vessel or teapot and pour over with boiling hot water and leave for ca. 3 minutes before drinking” statement as a mere starting point of your long and extensive, basically infinite journey through the multi-layered and complex world of that one particular tea!

No, no, no, I didn’t mean to say you are stupid, unless I would have meant to say that we all are! In fact, all I meant was to make a joke, admittedly at your expense, but the fact that you have reached the end of this article not only shows that you are sharing my sort of humor, but also that you are indeed all set to start reading and acting upon those instructions now!

See also:
The Value of Tea Company Steeping Instructions

See more of Thomas Kasper’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Ti Kuan Yin Slimming Oolong Tea - great steeped using your tea boat (ETS image)

Ti Kuan Yin Slimming Oolong Tea – great steeped using your tea boat (ETS image)

A tea boat is a small size “tea table” that is usually no more than around 10cm  high and has about the dimensions of a regular serving tray in width and length. It is thereby not really a table in the narrower sense, but in fact is rather put on a (real) table for use. The top of a tea boat will in most cases have a pattern of holes and/or slits, through which excess fluid, may this be tea or just water, can run off into a liquid tray inserted right below. At this, the actual surface materials can vary: tea boats will often be made of precious woods (e.g., the Chinese Jichimu wood) possessing the required characteristics to resist hot liquids. More cost-efficient versions of similar aesthetical and functional features are available made of bamboo, while even cheaper designs will be made of less precious woods or even plastic, the latter mostly more or less compromising on either looks or functionality.

For obvious reasons, the actual liquid tray hidden below the top will usually be made of either hard plastic or metal, the second coming with the benefit of greater endurance, while we often see plastic trays being the first thing being damaged or broken from intense use, thus considerably diminishing the functionality of the tea boat in its wholeness, while liquid trays in matching size and shape will usually not be available as spare parts, so while the optical features of a liquid tray are indeed negligible due to its hidden character, its robustness and potential for endurance are factors that should indeed be considered with the purchase of a tea boat.

Tea boats will vary in size, design and functionality mainly depending on their intended sphere of utilization, which may be the use as simple home or tea room decoration objects, in rather private contexts of tea preparation, or in any professional settings of tea degustation and/or tea-related events. So, for example, tea boats preferably used in professional settings will tend to be of larger size in order sufficient space to accommodate (aroma) cup sets for multiple persons as well as larger sized tea and hot water pots and extended tool sets. Often, they will also have an additional drainage hose connecting the tea boat’s liquid tray with another, larger liquid container (such as a simple plastic or metal bucket) positioned invisibly below the actual table on which the tea boat is placed, thus allowing for uninterrupted extensive use during a tea show case or degustation event.

As for the question of rather simplicistic or alternatively rather ornamental design, this is an exclusively aesthetic feature and thereby completely left to the individual taste of each user.

Tea boats are often specifically related to the tea ceremony (Gong Fu Cha) by western users, but this attribution is not really correct, or at least not representative, because tea ceremonies will often be conducted without a tea boat in the narrower sense, but using some sort of table mat or wooden board instead, while many tea lovers will embrace the idea of using a tea boat even for their most private tea preparation settings or small-scale tea events that will not necessarily aim at being tea ceremonies in the narrower sense. However, the custom of pouring over of vessels such as tea pots and tea cups with the hot water and the disposal of a first “washing infusion” before the actual first drunk infusion of a tea makes tea boats being particularly prone for use with the tea ceremony.

Apart from the above-mentioned functional features, a tea boat provides a clear spot of order, compactness and focus to any tea preparation application, while offering a broad spectrum of decorative and ornamental options at the same time, thus enabling and supporting a highly individual layout of any tea preparation or tea ceremony. While designs can be influenced by and based on regional, ritual and/or cultural particularities, the tea boat, being a focal point in any tea preparation setting, will in all cases represent an aesthetical and/or philosophical attitude, namely that of its user.

When shopping for a tea boat, practical and/or functional considerations should by all means play a role apart from individual aesthetical aspects. What the Chinese philosophy says about chains just as well applies to tea boats to a significant extent: the whole will be just as strong, or weak, as its weakest part and/or link! So, watch out for the robustness of materials used for each component (in particular the liquid tray, which seems to be an element neglected all too often) and the actual functionality of features, e.g. the question, whether the said hole and/or slit pattern in the top will allow spilled liquid to drain off in an optimal manner.

See more of  Thomas Kasper’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Currently, Oolong teas, covering the wide spectrum of part-fermented teas on a scale ranging from ca. 10-85% degree of fermentation, are increasingly gaining popularity in the west. As for the origins of the part- or semi-fermented processing method, as well as the term “Oolong” itself (Chinese, also “Wu-Long”, or “Wu-Liong”), there are plenty of stories, some being mere legends or tales, others referring to historical events. For the scope of this article, let’s save the tales for once and focus on evident history, as well as on the way Oolong tea production has spread from its origins in China’s Fujian province to Taiwan and other south east Asian and other countries worldwide.

English Tea Store brand Oolong Teas (store image)

English Tea Store brand Oolong Teas (store image)

Tribute Tea

In ancient China, reaching back more than 1000 years in history, tea was considered a precious good. One of the most famous places for tea in the China of that time, and until today, was Fujian province, and there the Wuji (Phoenix) mountains, where Beiyuan (Dragon and Phoenix) tea gained a name as a tribute tea during the Song dynasty (960-1276).

Black Dragon Tea

It is said that Oolong (Black Dragon) tea eventually, at the times of the Ming dynasty in the 17th century, emerged from this Dragon and Phoenix tea. However, there are other historical roots of tea processing methods involving part-fermentation, such as the origin of the Iron Goddess (Ti Guan Yin) Oolong tea in another part of Fujian province, Anxi County. (More info)

From Wuji to Alishan

Whether by monks, cultural scholars/travelers, or merchants, tea  plants were brought first to Taiwan in the beginning of the 19th century, where they proofed to be growing just nicely in mountain regions such as the Alishan. While those teas were initially brought back to mainland China for processing, Taiwan soon found ways to do the processing right on the spot, apparently with the involvement of some Western key figures such as the British John Dodd as an initiator, as well as some Chinese experts brought in from Fujian as professional mentors.

Oolong Tea Development in Taiwan

While tea cultivation and Oolong tea processing spread across Taiwan very soon, e.g. to places such as Nantou province (Dong Ding mountain), the country should soon coin its own distinguished style of Oolong teas, which should become known as “Formosa” Oolong Teas. Taiwanese Pouchong (low-fermented) Oolong teas, Oriental Beauty Oolong tea, Dong Ding Oolong tea and also Ti Guan Yin Oolong teas developed their own character and name in the world of tea starting from the second half of the 19th century.

Another step in Taiwan’s claim to fame regarding Oolong tea development has its roots in Taiwan’s Oolong Tea Development Project, which started its work in the second half of the 20th century and  focused on the breading of special Oolong tea cultivars with optimized features such as high yield, better pest-resistance and greater altitude tolerance.

From Taiwan to the World

The results of this development work soon became an export good of Taiwan. Today, we find Taiwanese Oolong tea cultivars having been exported to and being cultivated in a range of south East Asian countries, e.g., most successfully in north Thailand, and I strongly believe that Taiwanese Oolong tea cultivars (and know-how) are most prone to be exported to other non-Asian countries, too, where this should not yet be the case already.

The Future

While in black and green tea, available options might be more or less exhaustively known by now, Oolong tea still offers a huge potential, whose exploration and exploitation are still just in the beginning. I personally believe that Oolong teas as a segment in the world of tea will establish besides green and black teas with at least similar weight in the long run, if not due to the wider spectrum of possibilities in cultivation and processing methods outrace those traditional two segments with time.

See also:
This Tea Is Bugging Me or The Secret of Oriental Beauty Oolong
What is High Mountain Oolong?
Tea Review: English Tea Store’s Formosa Oolong
Oolong Blasphemy
Some Popular Taiwanese Oolong Cultivars
The Mystery of Milk Oolong
Reading Tea Leaves — Oolong Teas

See more of  Thomas Kasper’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

You’ve all seen them before, those sets of pairs of tiny cups, one of them high and slim, the other one flat and wide, each of them holding no more than 0.05 l of tea when filled to spill-over level, which they usually are. They can be put into each other in various ways, look pretty decorative with every tea preparation or Gong Fu Cha setup, and most Westerners will react with a laugh when seeing such for the first time, wondering what it would be good for to drink tea in such tiny amounts. Actually, it is a common perception of outsiders to the world of tea that these indeed are rather decoration objects than anything purposeful, or representatives of a Chinese tea culture that is all beautiful and exotic, but by no means practical.

Pearl River Green Tea - enjoy the aroma with a sniffer cup! (ETS image)

Pearl River Green Tea – enjoy the aroma with a sniffer cup! (ETS image)

Of course, being no newbies to tea, many of you will know a lot better, but let’s see if I might be able to add something to your knowledge base, too.

First of all, these cup pairs, commonly called aroma cup, scent cup or snifter cup sets, are mainly used not for just “drinking” tea in the common sense, but rather for “tea degustation”. Tea degustation, the Chinese (Gong Fu Cha) way, involves the degustation of a series of consecutive infusions of the same fill of a typical Chinese Gong Fu Cha teapot, holding an average of 200 – 300 ml of tea. Most commonly, tea degustation in China is also a social event, where more than one person is participating. And often, there will be more than just one tea to degust on the event agenda.

Now, aroma cup sets are the perfectly matching the requirements of such tea degustation: a 300 ml teapot will fill exactly 6 of such cups, for six participants to try the tea, and even after having degusted 10 infusions in a row, these will add up to no more than half a liter of liquid. Thus, participants won’t have to spend most of the event trying to get rid of excess fluid from their bladders, and in fact there will be room left (proverbially) to include more than one tea in the degustation event. This enables for theme degustations, e.g. “spring harvest” or “Wuji Oolongs”, etc., encompassing a range of teas each of which is thoroughly degusted all the way through to the last worthy infusion.

But there’s much more to it than just matching size and tolerable capacity: The long and slim cups, which are the actual aroma, scent or snifter cups, are only meant for smelling a tea before actually drinking it. After infusing, the tea is first put into these and left for a few seconds, so the inner walls of the ceramics or clay cups (often poured over with the hot water first in order to open the pores of the vessel’s walls) will take on the tea’s smell. Then, the flat and wide cup, being the actual degustation or drinking cup, is pulled upside down over the aroma cup. Subsequently, the resulting combination of the 2 cups is being held between 2 (or 3) fingers, with the thumb under the aroma cup’s bottom and the index and/or middle finger on top of the drinking cup (also bottom in this case) and the whole thing being turned upside down again, resulting in the tea liquor still being contained in the upside down aroma cup resting inside the drinking cup’s cavity. This is all done by the tea master, and this is how he or she will serve the tea to the participants of the tea degustation or tea ceremony. Each participant will then slowly pull the aroma cup upwards, thereby releasing the tea liquid into the drinking cup. Only now, the actual degustation process will start, namely with the participant guiding the now empty aroma cup to his/her nose and taking in a deep breath through the same, thereby sampling the full aroma or scent of the degusted tea. In a last step, the actual liquid is then savored from the drinking cup, according to Chinese tea tradition in no more and no less than 3 gulps.

This, as playful and ritualized as it may appear, is indeed much more than just a cultural ritual. If you will compare the smell of a tea from your “normal” teacup with what you can sense smelling at that aroma cup, you will easily realize the much more complex and intense features of the smell coming from the latter. Also, the ritualization of the smelling process imparts a significantly greater focus on the same, and the same applies to the second component of the tea degustation, the actual drinking, in regard to the ensuing use of the drinking sup.

Altogether, the use of aroma cup sets will considerably increase your level of consciousness with trying tea and deepen the actual aroma and taste experience, while at the same time adding elements of playfulness, social interaction and aesthetical beauty to the process. And, just like the Chinese, once you will have made yourself familiar with and got to love and embrace the aroma cup set procedure, it will not be so much a question of how many times you might have tried, or degusted, a tea already, but you might start to establish this way as your common way of drinking tea, reserving your Western style and size teacups for tisanes and/or occasions, where size matters, either to you personally, or to those being with you, or simply based on a given situation that would ask for larger amounts of a particular tea in greater vessels.

See more of  Thomas Kasper’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Spring Pouchong will delight you and your visitors. (ETS image)

Spring Pouchong will delight you and your visitors. (ETS image)

As a tea person with quite a number of aspects of my personal, social and professional life being centered around tea, I have among other things developed a tea-based system of controlling visitors to my house that has become not only increasingly efficient in the course of the years, but has also reached a probably unprecedented level of sophistication by now and might therefore be well worth being shared.

As a basic pre-condition, I need to mention that most visitors to my house are NOT tea people, this meaning that they wouldn’t know much about tea, have near-zero experience with the more elaborate ways of enjoying tea, and would never be able to tell about any subtle differences in both style and taste either. None of this would work with experienced tea drinkers, whereas I am not even sure that anything like this would work with experienced tea drinkers.

To describe that system it will be necessary to define three basic categories of visitors-to-your-house first and add the way I suggest to influence their future visiting habits to each group respectively:

Beloved people

Beloved people are people whose presence you really enjoy, so their visit to your house will always be a highly desired event. I will carefully select the tea I am offering to those, based on the criteria popularity and easy accessibility, so a mild and rich Darjeeling, a particularly fine Ti Guan Yin, or even a particularly pleasant but unobtrusive scented green tea (such as a high-grade Osmanthus green tea). Also, I will teach them about that tea, explain everything in detail, starting from the tea’s origin and particularities of its processing to the way I am preparing it, Chinese Gong Fu Cha style, with my best and most beautiful accessories and being set in my most comfortable and pleasant ambient.

I will usually manage to create a wonderful visiting experience for them, where they feel that they have been given something very precious, so they will always want to repeat that experience and visit again. In the best cases, they will actually even learn more about tea and to enjoy it, so with time I might be able to introduce them to the more subtle and more difficult to access higher orders of Pouchong Oolong or Pu Er teas.

Important people

Important people are people who you might not particularly like or enjoy to be with, but still they are important (for you) and the last thing on earth you would wish would be to embarrass them with their visit to your house and thereby trigger possible negative consequences for you. These could be relatives, of course, such as the proverbial mother-in-law, or neighbors, or community or opinion leaders who might mean nothing or less than that to you, but they still have parts of your fate in their hands, so you just couldn’t afford to piss them off at all. I think you know what people I mean.

These people, I will serve the more sophisticated higher order tea right away, leaving no doubts about the rareness and exquisiteness of that particular Oolong tea, but instead of teaching them about it, I will leave them with the painstaking idea that the highest of arts is happening right in front of them, while they just don’t understand a thing. I will torture them with my tea ceremony, watch them as they will play with the aroma cup sets, not knowing what to do with them, throwing all of the precious liquid right on my carpet when trying to figure out how to actually drink this, or finally either drink from the long cup or leaving it on the table in the first place, until I will tell them that their tea is cold now and no longer good, and that they have just spoilt an enormous value. And if even if they might eventually get to try a sip of that tea, clueless as they are you don’t really need to be afraid that they will actually like it.´

I could easily go into further detail, but the essence of the idea is that you have been the perfect host that nothing bad will be said or even thought about, while you have managed to create a situation that your visitor will be more than happy to escape in the end and definitely think twice before ever taking chances for a recurrence again.

Undesirable, unimportant people

These are people, whose presence you do not enjoy and who also are of no importance for you at all. Actually, those are most easy, since you’ll simply never offer such person any tea! Some might consider it a good idea to offer such people some kind of bad tea instead, but that would actually be rule No. 1: never offer any bad tea to anybody! Not only could you never be sure, if not somebody would still interpret your approach as a polite and welcoming gesture, or, misguided as some people are, even like that particular tea,  and second it would be you who’d have to join your visitor drinking it.

See more of  Thomas Kasper’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Glass Teapot - Zen Style - see what you're drinking! (ETS image)

Glass Teapot – Zen Style – see what you’re drinking! (ETS image)

People starting to dive into the higher orders of tea preparation or studying the Chinese tea ceremony (Gong Fu Cha) will often respond with some curiosity to the obviously omnipresent, while seemingly redundant procedure of letting the tea liquor pass through a glass vessel on its way from the actual teapot to the final drinking vessel.

While the aesthetic component of such step, revealing the color of a tea’s liquor much clearer than any teacup will allow for, is something most people can catch at once, there’s much more to this:

  1. Just like the smell of a tea and the taste of a tea, the color of a tea is one integral element of degusting a tea.
  2. The way via the glass pot will, where done properly, allow for the tea liquor’s temperature to drop to just exactly that level that will enable normal human beings to swallow their degustation cup in the course of the 3 gulps “prescribed” by Chinese tea degustation culture (without the embarrassing experience of sitting there and waiting until you could actually do that).
  3. You won’t have to apply a sieve to the actual drinking vessel (which wouldn’t work with aroma cup set vessels anyway), but will use the sieve when pouring the tea from the clay teapot to the glass vessel.
  4. You will be able to distribute the clean (free of leave residues) tea liquor directly to the drinking vessels of all participants in the event, without having to add another ceramic teapot to the process chain, which would only serve the mere purpose of sieving the tea liquor without adding any real other additional value.
  5. The Chinese tea ceremony is more than just a perfected way of trying tea in practical terms, it is in fact the ritualized Chinese art  of savoring tea, and as such lives of playful and aesthetic elements as well, these often being of equal importance to the whole than the practical aspects.
  6. The glass teapot will add another element to the material components structure of the ritual, rounding the same up to being a more universal representation of the underlying (Chinese) holistic philosophy.

Uhhh, you thought it’s “just drinking tea” and you are asking why you would care for all these things in the first place? That’s okay, of course, you don’t have to, and a lot of people won’t, while still enjoying their tea, but just like with quite some other fields (such as their traditional healing and medicinal practices) , the Chinese tea culture has been nurtured by millenniums of more or less uninterrupted development, and has an enormous wealth of insights and wisdom to offer, especially for those of us, who still believe that our western ways are the ultimate blessing of human evolution.

See more of  Thomas Kasper’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A good question, isn’t it? It came to me often, when I started diving into tea a few years ago. I was drinking myself through all the green, Oolong and black teas from my country of choice, north Thailand, and initially was surprised to find that they would produce at least all their finer teas in a tightly rolled form. Not surprised, because that would be unique… of course, they do that in China, and they do it in Taiwan, and they are probably doing it in some other countries, too. Getting involved in shipping tea freights to both overseas and domestic locations, I quickly understood how much sense the tightly rolled form makes if it comes to volume and resulting shipping costs. The Chinese must have developed this method at times, when tea was still transported by horses and donkeys within China as well as for export.

Tightly rolled gunpowder tea pellets (ETS image)

Tightly rolled gunpowder tea pellets (ETS image)

However, using the Chinese method of preparing tea (my “hobby version” of the Chinese tea ceremony (Gong Fu Cha) with the pertaining short infusion periods, I very soon discovered that the leaves of some of those teas, namely the most tightly rolled ones, won’t open before the 2nd, sometimes even the 3rd infusion, and I logically concluded that the rolled form might delay the release of aroma and taste from these tea leaves, thereby affecting infusion periods and taste results.

I remember discussing the issue in tea-related forums on the internet, and as it turned out, I wasn’t alone with my suspicion: I found quite a number of people, who thought likewise, stating that they would increase the steeping time for the first infusion with such tea, and similar.

A few years later into the topic (tea), though, I need to say that it is probably just not true, this insight based on my experience with testing my theory in practice, which I was lucky enough to get the chance to:

We used to have these wonderful ‘black pearls’, a heavily fermented Oolong tea, or actually called a red tea by the Chinese, so we’d be on the safe side calling it a black tea, too. One of the most striking features of that tea was its mildness despite an otherwise rich spectrum of taste and aroma notes. The Chinese producers used to roll it in really tight and very small granules, so they leaves would never fully open before even 3 – 4 minutes in very hot water, and I had always had the idea that this tea might actually be even more intense, and thereby arguably even better, if they would process it in the form of open leaves. So, one day I asked the producers to produce a batch for me omitting the processing step of rolling, and, though smiling about me, since they well knew what I had in mind, they readily did me the favor.

When I had the chance to collect my open leaves batch and subject it to a direct taste comparison with the rolled form of the same tea, the results were more than clear: the open leaves did not taste any better, not even really any different from the granule, and no delay of the release of aroma and taste was evident at all. In fact, to be honest, if I would have to establish a difference at all, the rolled one was even a little bit better.

Since that, I had a couple of occasions to verify that result by making a similar comparisons for a green tea and for an Oolong tea, and it was indeed the same.

The rolled form of tea leaves, even where very tight, does not seem to influence the process of releasing taste and aroma when infusing at all, while the rolled form might even serve to preserve some freshness and taste/aroma properties for a longer period than the open leaves form. Be careful, though, with the latter statement, since this is only another one of my theories, which at times can turn out to be just wrong, as the example shows only all too clearly.

See more of  Thomas Kasper’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Oolong Tea and others - should kids drink them or not? (stock image)

Oolong Tea and others – should kids drink them or not? (stock image)

In the Age of Communication, publishing and distributing their thoughts and ideas is always at people’s fingertips. Actually, this is really great, and the world of tea has benefited hugely from this: there are myriads of tea bloggers, creators of websites or books or e-books related to tea, content writers and “niche journalists” out there now, boosting the general knowledge about tea and very probably the popularity of tea with their publications. However, as all things in the universe, the ease of creating huge volumes of information at no or low costs and the overall accessibility of this information has its downside: things are being discussed over and over again that actually wouldn’t need any discussion at all, but only some common sense instead.

So, in tea forums and blogs, I keep coming across the much discussed question, whether tea is good for children or not, and whether it is reasonable to let them drink some or not. And I keep thinking, ‘What a question’!

It all starts with most of these discussions never even defining what they mean when saying “tea” in the first place. This inevitably becoming apparent in the course of the discussion, the same usually ends with reaching a consent that herbal tisanes might be harmless for children, while “real” tea (Camellia sinensis: green tea, Oolong tea, black tea, white tea, yellow tea, Pu Er tea) is known to contain caffeine, or theine (same thing) and is therefore not good for children, at least not to a certain age.

While a little more differentiation would definitely do good here in the first place, if the topic needs to be discussed at all, as a father of two boys (one 16, the other 8 years old now) I just cannot remember that this question has ever been seriously arising.

Tisanes are harmless? Oh, my god! Won’t this depend on what tisane we are talking about? I don’t want to be too specific about this, since I don’t know much about tisanes, but common sense tells me there are probably harmless ones, such as chamomile or peppermint “tea”, and there are others that have partially powerful medicinal properties and effects, so I would think twice before considering them as ‘harmless’ for children.

Then tea, real tea… if you are drinking tea the way it should be done, i.e. without the highly questionable habit of adding sugar or milk to it, you will never ever have to think about this, because your kids are hardly ever going to drink more than a sip of it, and this more out of curiosity but for actually liking the taste. But even if they would drink a whole cup, how much caffeine will they really take in? And in terms of being unhealthy, how will a cup of tea compare to the sweets, fast food chain meals, sugary lemonades and chemically ‘enhanced’ trend beverages they take in on a daily basis as the average kid of today (without the question how healthy or unhealthy these are being much discussed)?

I am using aroma cups to try first steeps myself, and whenever one of the kids came on and asked to try some of my tea out of curiosity, I would fill one aroma cup for them and pass it on to them with my mind being at complete peace: even bragging about how much they like it, I can’t remember any of them ever asked for a second cup. So, following common sense instead of trying to become all scientific about this seems to make a lot of sense to me, or did you ever hear of a kid dying, or even becoming sick, from an overdose of tea?

See more of  Thomas Kasper’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

See Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

Reading through the first two parts of this article, which had been planned as a 2-part article only, it came to me that two quite significant aspects regarding organic tea cultivation and organic certification of teas are missing there: once, the question of at which point in the supply chain the testing for an organic tea certification is to be performed, and second, how much of the pesticide residues in a tea will actually be taken in by humans drinking that tea.

The first aspect mentioned is a good part of what makes organic certification for teas as difficult and complex as it really is. Basically, we have 3 stages in the supply chain of tea: tea producer, tea trader (wholesaler), and tea retailer. Now, at which stage are we going to test and certify the organic properties of a tea?

If we are going to test a tea on the producer level, pesticide residues could at a later stage be added to the tea by blending it with contaminated tea. Moreover, where exactly are we going to take the tea sample to test here? From one bag of tea? From one batch? From one harvest? Or, in the best case, from a mixed sample that composes of samples of all batches and/or harvests through a year? And even then, are we going to repeat the same complex and expensive effort in the next year and in every next year again? And: who will draw the sample? Often, tea samples for testing are simply provided by the producer, or least with considerable involvement of the producer. Who will guarantee that such samples are not carefully selected to prove what wouldn’t be true at all for a real representative random sample, something that would compromise the whole assessment and certification process?

Drawing and testing samples at the trader level comes with all of the traps mentioned above for testing on producer level: which batch, which season, which year to test, and how to ensure the representativeness and uncompromised nature of the drawn sample?

Now, let’s go right into the tea shop: how many kilograms of a tea the average tea shop will sell through the year? One? Two? Five? Or even ten or twenty? Who is going to finance testing for one, two, five, ten, or twenty kg of tea? The shop owner? A funny idea, isn’t it?

I am not saying lab tests of teas aren’t contributing to safety. Where performed with due care and consideration of the above mentioned traps, the definitely will. But even then, as we have seen, there will still be holes for contamination with pesticides to take place and leak through to the final package of tea in the tea store shelve.

Now, the second point I wanted to mention, an argument we hear quite often recently, probably coming from the side of tea industry that doesn’t want to go the stony, expensive, and finally still unsafe path of certification (however, there’s something about it): only a small portion of the pesticide residues contained in tea leaves will make it into the actual tea beverage. Most will be stuck with the tea leaves, which are hardly ever being chewed and swallowed by the tea drinkers. Mostly, such as for example in the European Union, pesticide residues in tea leaves are measured exactly as this: pesticide residues in tea leaves, but not as pesticide residues in the actual tea (infusion), this taking its toll on the meaningfulness of their permissible limit values in the first place.

I do not want to be misunderstood here! I surely don’t want to advocate the use of pesticides in tea cultivation. And I would definitely welcome anything that would serve to reduce or even completely eliminate pesticide levels in teas. It is just that I believe that the current approach of organic certification serves this purpose only in a very suboptimal way. I might have said this at an earlier point in this article, but I still wish to repeat it once again: prevalence of organic principals in global tea cultivation can only be achieved by a thorough control  or complete outlawing of the production and use of pesticides in the producer countries, and by the implementation of continuous efficient measures to raise awareness in this regard in these countries. This, however, will not be achieved in the chaos of national legislations dealing with an international market, but only if the relevant legislations are effective on the same international level as the market.

See more of  Thomas Kasper’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Formosa Oolong

Formosa Oolong

“Broken tea”… amazingly, while I never encountered this term before I became an active tea geek, I used to think of tea itself as “broken tea” then, small flakes of something that faintly seems to be of natural origin, but no idea whatsoever, whether this was actually leaves once, or pieces of some wood or grain or…

Once I understood that tea is actually originally coming in the form of leaves, I started wondering, why they would “break” these beautiful leaves I had come to love so much in their natural form, and fill them into what is called tea bags instead of leaving them wholly and fill them right into the teapot? There’s an easy first answer to this: the first because of the second: there’s no way to fit beautiful  “non-broken” tea leaves into those unholy, highly constricted “tea bags, while the tea bag seemed to be such an imperative for the majority of consumers that the question why tea leaves are broken was actually ridiculing itself.

Now, I think/I believe/I hope/I sense there is a change to this overall perception of the tea bag being an imperative going on. Using tea without the bag seems to be a lot trendier today as it used to be. Still, I can see “broken tea” being sold from the shelves of discounter market chains and tea shops alike in large plastic packs, cans, boxes, etc. There must be more about breaking my beloved tea leaves than just the alleged necessity of putting them into the odd space-restricted tea bag.

There is… topic “tea blending”: just like whole tea leaves won’t nicely fit into tea bags, the also won’t nicely blend with other teas, due to different looks, haptic, and behavioral characteristics. Traded broken teas being blends is not the exceptional case, it is the regular one.

And then, what all broken teas seem to have in common: they are comparably cheap, this possibly pointing to a generally low quality of broken tea? While in general I won’t advocate the idea that cheap teas are bad teas and expensive tea is good tea, there is logically a certain tendency to lower quality when it comes to broken (or tea-bagged) teas. Why? Hmm… think of a tea producer producing good quality tea… why would somebody, anybody, nurture selected tea plants for years, assess their grade of maturity, the right point in time for harvest on a weekly, sometimes daily basis, then handpick them, always the 2 top leaves only, and even these only, if they have a young sprout with them, then carefully dry and flip the picked leaves over and over for different periods,  in different places, and with different light and temperature conditions, process them to the right level of oxidation and into the desired form, only to then break them all into tiny little pieces, blend them with some other broken tea (leftovers/rejects/excesses/cheap mass qualities?) of different origins, only in order to finally have it sold for pocket money from food discounter market chain shelves? No, I don’t think anybody would do that.

So let’s summarize: tea leaves are broken, so they

  1. fit in tea bags;
  2. are easy to blend with others;
  3. will not disclose their low quality by their obviously poor leaf grade.

 

Reviewing this article, I thought I should write a bit more balanced, as I usually try to, and contrast the con’s with the pro’s, but c’mon, which are the pro’s of breaking beautiful tea leaves into little pieces, only to achieve the above-mentioned 3 dubious goals? I can’t think of any. Any input? Anybody?

See more of  Thomas Kasper’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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