Monday, June 09, 2014

Tea House Takeover - Josh Answers Questions About Tea

We recently had a group of special visitors from So Delicious Dairy Free take over the tea house for a private tea class. This was fun for several reasons, but one of the fun things was hosting a class for seventeen enthusiastic food people. They were very interested in learning about tea.
I asked the group to give us a list of questions at the beginning of the class so that I could address the questions as we went. Below, I've included a list of the questions and some answers.

What are the temperatures and times for brewing different teas?
Let it be known that my favorite way to make tea is in the small unglazed Yi Xing tea pots. This brew method is commonly known as “gong fu cha”. I use these pots for oolong and puer. This brew method is outside the scope addressed in this class. We used what I refer to as a benchmark brew method. The teas brewed are: Green Spring, Charcoal Dawn, Eugene Breakfast, Scholar's Mountain, Cooked Kilo Brick, Iron Goddess of Mercy, Eastern Beauty Twisted Leaf, and Starry Night.

We used the same brew method for each tea. Four grams of tea, water right off the boil (210 degrees Fahrenheit), steeped for two minutes in ten ounces of water. We used the Forlife infuser and a twelve ounce glass teapot to steep these teas. At the time of this blog post, almost all of the teas we sell at J-TEA can be brewed this way. We wouldn't want to brew Japanese green tea this way, but we do not currently have Japanese green tea on hand. Using the same method for each tea simplifies the process. One of our goals is to make tea brewing easy for people new to tea. After tasting the tea, you have a benchmark, or a general idea of the teas characteristics. Depending on how you like this infusion, you can adjust make some adjustments the next time you brew. If you like the taste of this infusion, great! If it is too bitter, you can either reduce the water temperature, or reduce the steep time. If the tea is too strong you can either reduce the amount of tea used, reduce the brew temperature, or reduce the brew time. If the tea is too weak, you can either increase the brew time by one or two minutes, or increase the amount of tea used. After brewing for two minutes, we steeped the tea again for four minutes. Remember, with high quality tea it is possible to steep the tea several times for multiple infusions.

Do / can you grow tea plants here?
The answer is yes. Many of you have tried our Minto Island Farm tea. This is all grown in Salem, Oregon, just one hour north of J-TEA. We also have several tea plants living at the J-TEA tea house that survived the great freeze of 2014. These plants are hearty and are growing in popularity.

What is the process of processing tea, from plant to package?
This will vary greatly from region to region. It will also vary greatly depending on what tea the farm is trying to produce. This subject is a bit dry and there are a variety of books and articles devoted to it. I'd say that the main flaw with everything written about this that I have seen is that they often do not cover the extensive amount of variation in that can occur within any particular process. Imagine a wine master making a pinot noir. There are infinite variations in the process that can occur depending on the variations that exist within any agricultural product. If you want to learn more about this you might check out Wikipedia's tea processing page.

What are functional teas?
Functional teas are teas that are meant to cure. These teas are generally herbal and have specific medicinal benefits. A good example of a company that produces functional teas is Traditional Medicinals.

What causes tea euphoria?
L-Theanine combined with caffeine. This is what Geoffrey Norman has referred to as “happy juice.” Tea makes you happy, there is no doubt about it, and the better the tea, the happier it can make you. Another common tea term is “tea drunk.” Tea drunk or “Cha Zui” is the result of drinking too much tea. It really has a euphoric overtone and has a similar feeling to being a bit high. But generally this over consumption of tea is not viewed as healthy and from my experience, it's fun to experience when you first start getting into to tea, but over time, as one gets further and further down the road of their tea existence, this feeling becomes less and less appealing. Tea is a good thing, but like all things, moderation is key. The amount of tea one can drink in a day will vary from day to day. I find that if I have enough rest and eat three good meals, then I can drink more tea. If I am not taking care of myself, then I often feel like drinking less tea. You can pay attention to the way you feel regarding tea. If you feel like drinking more, it is ok to drink more. If you feel like drinking less, just drink less. 

What is tea culture in other countries vs. US tea culture?
US tea culture is in its infancy, but it is growing fast. One of the main differences is that in countries where tea culture is strong, such as Taiwan, China, India, and Japan to name a few, tea culture is very old. Having been around for an extended period of time creates depth. There is a popular saying in Taiwan, “If I am not in the tea house, I am on the road to the teahouse.” The people that say this are basically saying that they live within tea culture. They don't have to be drinking tea at any given moment, but they have tea in their heart and they are living in a way that is profoundly impacted by tea. Tea is on the mind all of the time.

Much of US tea culture is very commercial. Much of the tea sold in the US has perfume added. Pick up a package of tea in your local super market. Read the ingredients. If you see “natural flavors” listed, don't buy it. These flavors are not good for us. Natural flavors are chemically synthesized in a laboratory. They are artificial; not real food. The only reason to add anything to a tea is that the tea quality is lacking. Much of the US tea culture is focused on selling tea regardless of quality.

We'd like to thank So Delicious Dairy Free for creating this private tea class. We would also would like to thank them for their great questions. It is was a good time drinking several types of tea. I will now start boiling water to brew up a pot of oolong tea to help me think of the topic of our next blog post. Until then, keep sipping great tea!


  1. I understand the point of the section tea culture section but this part is a bit misleading:
    "Natural flavors are chemically synthesized in a laboratory. They are artificial; not real food."
    It would be interesting to see that label for natural tea versus tea with added flavors. Here's a nice article that scratches the surface for natural foods ingredient labeling.

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  4. Hi Brad, I appreciate your perspective, and I get the point of the article. Everything is made of chemical compounds. While scientists can break down a banana to its chemical elements, I would disagree that they can reconstruct a banana by assembling those chemical elements. Food has developed in nature over however long of a time period. It is my opinion that people are seriously mistaken in thinking that they can reproduce things created in nature by re-synthesizing them in a lab. While it may look, smell, taste, and function the same, maybe there is something that scientists are not taking into consideration. Have you ever looked into the soul of a banana?