Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Falling into Tea

Green tea steeping in glass
Will you witness the fall? Warn your friends and family: tea is contagious! It has been known to obsess a person. I've seen on multiple occasions personal collections of tea that could not be consumed even in the course of three lifetimes. A person with this volume of tea for personal consumption has fallen into tea.

Tea…the plant that fueled the British industrial revolution, the plant that was symbolically and literally dumped into the Boston Harbor, the leaf from which by adding hot water you have the most widely consumed beverage the world over, second only to water. Many people drink tea as an everyday beverage. Tea people do, but how many Americans have an awareness of tea? America might be far from topping the list of per capita pounds of tea consumed per month, but I would wager a guess that the U.S. has the world’s largest latent tea drinking population. Latent tea people, upon waking, often with the help of some high quality tea, seem intent on making up for lost time.

Do you want to know one of tea's greatest health benefits?
It makes us feel good in the same way that drugs can make us feel good, but considerably less intense. Tea isn't just good for our bodies; it is also good for our minds. To someone like me, Caffeine plus L-Theanine equals brain euphoria. Tea is something magical, like laughter. To quote Jimmy Buffett, “If we couldn't laugh, we would all go insane.”

A latent tea drinker is a prime candidate and the only ones that actually fall into tea. The transformation from not having tea as a part of their lives, to not being able to imagine life without tea is profound.
Falling into tea is like if you fell into a well and it is impossible to get out. After visiting J-TEA a time or two, once they find themselves making tea for themselves at least once, if not three times per day. At three times a day, consumption would average about a pound per month. This is closer to the per capita consumption of Ireland, commonly the highest per capita tea consuming nation. You go from not knowing that you like tea to not being able to live without tea.
Stacks of oxidizing oolong tea

What are the signs that someone has fallen into tea?
-Brewing and drinking tea several times a day is a start.
-Collecting large quantities of tea for “personal consumption”
-Getting together with friends, expressly for the purpose of brewing tea
-Viewing the taking of tea to be a favorite activity
-Collecting a variety of tea ware
-Buying tea with the intent of aging it
-Buying certain tea ware for certain kinds of tea

Maybe they start a collection of rocks that will positively influence the water for brewing tea, or they are very focused on finding better quality of water for tea, or they have a tea travel case, maybe they take this travel case with them wherever they go, or they are building a tea aging area in their home, or they start a tea blog, a tea review site. They might take their own tea with them wherever they go. They might be in the habit of buying puer by the tong (seven cakes). And the surest sign that a person has fallen into tea is if they themselves go into the tea business.
The Tai He side of Mt. Ah Li. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Coffee Vs. Tea by Andrew Hess

You can almost feel the tension build thinking about this one simple question: Do you drink coffee or tea? So often I hear this question presented in this manner: coffee or tea? Coffee, or tea? Why does it have to be "or"? I find, more often than not, people will have a specific answer one way or the other. This is when I find myself in the middle ground. I drink coffee AND tea. As a matter of fact, I drink a lot of both.
The similarities of the two drinks is impressive, and frequently I find that the people who only drink tea or coffee have the same reasons for sticking with their beverage of choice. And many of these people don't realize that the other drink may have just what they are looking for.
When you begin to look at the two drinks, you realize just how similar they are. These four things are just a few aspects that come to mind:

1. True with both coffee and tea: if pre-ground and low in price, you will never have as satisfying of a taste as a fresh ground, whole bean or full leaf tea.

2. You are able to find teas and coffees in a wide array of prices. These prices typically dictate quality as well, whether you are buying an ounce of Sun Moon Lake black tea or a pound of high quality Kopi Luwak coffee beans. The price will be high, but the quality is even higher.

3. Deep, roasty, sweet, floral, berry, savory, rich, malty: all words to describe coffee and tea.

4. People drink both to wake up in the morning, and some even drink them in the evening before going to sleep. People relax over cups of tea and coffee everyday.

While there are many similarities, for every one thing that is the same there is probably at least one thing that is different as well. One of the main differences I have noticed amongst the two cultures is using additives to the drink, namely cream and sugar. This is where I differ drastically between the two drinks. Allow me to explain: Right now my two favorite types of tea are high mountain green oolongs and formosa region teas. Both of these have more delicate flavors with many sweet, floral, buttery and smooth flavors. I prefer all of these unadulterated. Tea is, in my opinion, best enjoyed pure; simply water and leaves.
My coffee, on the other hand, is anything but "pure." While I do enjoy a good strong cup of black coffee, I prefer it on the sweeter side. This may be an understatement, actually. There have been times when I've had my "coffee" described as hot chocolate with a shot of coffee. Like with many things, this difference in preference shows that there is a time, place and mood for both drinks.
While I do find myself enjoying both drinks, I too am guilty of being able to distinctly answer the question: coffee or tea? If I had to pick one, it would always be tea for me. There are many reasons for this, but my main reason for this is the process. I am fully enthralled with tea, and I love the motions performed to brew tea in the gong-fu style. From the moment I open my tin of tea and smell its wafting scent, I can feel a wave of comfort and relaxation come over me. While I brew most of my coffee in the pour over style, which I guess is the gong-fu of coffee, I still never quite feel the enjoyment I get from gong-fu cha.
So while I thoroughly enjoy both drinks, the lack of process and care that coffee requires will always make it fall short of tea for me.

So what does all of this rambling boil down to? My name is Andrew Hess, I drink coffee AND tea, but given a choice between the two I will always reach for the cup of tea.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Locally Grown Tea - Oregon Black Tea

People continue to be fascinated with the fact that there is locally grown tea right here in Oregon. Locally grown Camellia sinensis, no less. We are not talking about herbal tea, but the actual tea leaf, growing right here in Oregon.  

When picking tea, as with different tea types, there are different picks. With high mountain green oolong tea, the standard is two leaves and a bud. This means that you will often see the baby leaf, the tip, or the bud, accompanied by the two lower leaves.

I was looking at some "Two leaves and a bud" tea the other day. One thing I noticed,  it was three leaves and a very small bud. It is as if they waited just until the bud started to grow and then picked this batch of tea as if to nip it in the bud... See the two pics of Dong Ding Light Bake below:
Dong Ding Light Bake
Dong Ding Light Bake
And zooming in on the baby tip:

Then with something like the Yunnan Gold Tips, it is all tips, but the tips are much more mature than the tips of the Dong Ding Light Bake. The latest picking of the Minto Island Tea made me realize that if you are only going to pick tips, and only include tips into your batch of tea, then you can wait for the tips to get bigger. You can pick the tips when they are more mature. The tips will still be pliable and able to be influenced by the processing. 

But if pick more than just tips when the tips are already big, the additional leaves might be too mature. Try as you might to influence the leaves' rate of oxidation through massaging or rolling the leaf, you are wasting your time. These leaves have already developed a protective surface that make human manipulation nearly impossible. Maybe this is the over-mature orange pekoe that gets thrown to the leaf shredders for the cut and sift or the tea bag cut leaf processing. It's just too dang stubborn to do anything else with. If the bud is more mature than all we get to work with is buds.

There is nothing bad about that, it's just that you will have to pick a lot more tea because each pinch that is a plucking of the leaf from the plant is just of a bud.  Buds, even big buds, by their nature, are small and light weight. If you pick the two leaves and a bud, each pinch has more leaf as well as some stem which makes the weight of tea per pluck much more substantial, thus less picking.  

Below we have the locally grown Minto Island black tea. The big brownish leaf is what we want to avoid. Generally we want our tea to look consistent, but this leaf is the inconsistency. These leaves look this way because they were already too mature and too tough at the time of processing. We managed to pick most of these over mature leaves out. This most recent batch is our best batch yet. It has a lot of furry tips and this is promising. It has some similarities to a silver tip oolong. Flavor notes for the Minto Black include: pine, mint, cinnamon, and honey.

Minto Island Oregon Grown Black Tea 2014

Minto Island Grown J-TEA processed black tea, August 28th, 2014

Monday, September 08, 2014

Oregon Grown Tea

Minto Island Growers is a farm located in Salem, Oregon that has grown tea for over 20 years. It did take me a while to find out of their actual existence. Upon meeting Elizabeth's mother on our last visit up north, I learned that this was not an accident. It seems that the man behind the tea, Rob Miller, preferred not to publicize any of his tea experiments on the web. So after hearing rumors of the alleged tea farm in Salem, I went searching for them on the almighty Google, and there was nothing... nothing. What?!!! How could this be. I had no choice but to wait. And wait I did, almost a year.

Flash forward to present: working with Minto Island Growers to produce some high quality black tea. Is the stuff awesome? I'd say it is pretty good. But one of the challenges has been narrowing in on harvest times, as well as organizing the picking of the various flushes that come at different times of year. The plot was created as a tea experimentation plot by Rob Miller and several varietals of tea plants were planted on the land some 20 plus years ago. Mostly the tea just grew. They worked with experts and learned what they could, but were unable to produce anything that they felt confident bringing to market.

Now, J-TEA and Balez Oh'Hops Hanger are the only ones currently processing tea for Minto Island. You can also buy the J-TEA version from J-TEA, at the farm in Salem and at the Portland State University farmers market. The Minto Island Farm also has an amazing food cart that they sell delicious creations straight out of the farm.  Minto is the real deal.

It has been a great experience working to help bring this tea to market. Inspiring all the way. I've learned a thing or two about processing tea. Is it feasible that tea is a farming cash crop?  The answer to that question has yet to be proven. Signs say, US grown tea is coming to market.

To try our Minto Island black tea, you can order it online off our website, come into the shop to get a package, or try it by the cup.