Monday, April 20, 2015

The Oolong Tea Times Has A New Home

After much consideration, we've decided to integrate The Oolong Tea Times into our revamped website. The new blog can be found here: The New Oolong Tea Times Link. We are doing this so that the content on the blog will help with our search engine results. The new format will improve over time and we will be adding content constantly. We also have several guest bloggers that we are excited to be working with. If you are interested in writing a piece for our tea blog, feel free to contact us via the new website's contact form. Thanks for reading and we look forward to future tea interactions and hopefully useful tea rambling.

Thanks for reading!

The J-TEA Team

Because there is no “I” in team, but there is most definitely a “tea” in team...

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Ware's the Tea Ware? - by Anna V. Smith

People often come into J-TEA in search of tea ware to accompany their high quality teas from our teashop. These people are usually in two different categories. There are the tea drinkers who want volume, and there are the tea drinkers that want the experience. Of course there is general crossover, but let me explain further:

The tea drinkers who want volume are usually the ones that like the 16 ounce mugs of tea and big teapots akin to the kinds in restaurants, and are generally English style like our Forlife Teapot. Focusing on the volume of tea seems to be how most American tea drinkers work, it seems. I guess Americans in general like volume, whether its french fries or tea. These are sometimes the customers who come in and giggle at the portly 2 ounce teapots and call them cute or too small. They prefer tea in large amounts that they can take with them on the go, for which we recommend the Forlife Tea Infuser. I love it because it's so versatile; you can steep whole Camilla sinensis leaves or little chamomile flowers and it catches all the particulates. Plus, it fits a lot of different sized cups, which is convenient.
Traditional Yixing Teapot

The other tea drinkers want the experience. By "the experience," I mean the ritual of drinking tea. These folks are the ones who go for the 2 ounce tea pots and the porcelain cups. Sure, it's a small amount, but if you're planning on sitting there with friends for a few hours to drink tea, then it's no problem to keep filling up the tea pot to share it in your little cups. These are the ones who go for guy-wans and the Yixing traditional clay teapots, as well as the petite cups.

Of course, it doesn't matter which category you fall into. Many start with the first, and then as they gradually fall into tea, start to identify with the second category more. Both categories have the pros and cons depending on your preference, and I myself feel like I'm more of the volume person - I have both the Forlife teapot and infuser at home that I brew my tea in. Of course, I get to be in "the experience" category all day at work for other people.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

2014 Vertical Tea Tasting: Falling into Tea

It's been decided that this fall, J-TEA will conduct a series of tea tasting events in which we plan to drink several teas from the J-Tea collection, but in a different way than many of you might have experienced in the past. This is a vertical tasting, meaning that all of the teas to be tasted will be in the same category. We already compared six of the high mountain green oolongs and it was a blast. Next up is roasted oolongs. Additional tastings featuring Formosa, Iron Goddess of Mercy, Aged Oolong, Cooked Puer, and Raw Puer will be scheduled soon. The vertical tea tasting series might just take us right through the winter. In the interest of identifying particular flavors we will do our best to pull it off.

It's our hope that this series with help us understand what creates a flavor that we particularly enjoy and that you will find a tea or two that you are especially fond of and might not have previously known about.

Vertical tea tastings involve tasting teas that, by their categorization, are similar. Currently it's my opinion that this is one of the more important aspects of tea to study. For instance, how are two teas grown in the Dong Ding region similar or different and what factors contribute?

A couple of weeks ago we completed the first of our vertical tea tastings. We drank six high mountain green oolong teas. The teas were largely similar, with minor differences.

Here are the teas we tasted last time:

Spring Lily Spring 14 – A golden lily (jin xuan) varietal. Spring harvest Mei Shan Mountain, on the shoulder of Mt Ah Li. High mountain, approximately 1,200 meters.

Shan Lin Xi Winter 13 –A green heart (qing xin) varietal. Higher elevation, approximately 1,600 meters, Shan Lin Xi, Nantou Central Taiwan winter harvest.

Shan Lin Xi Winter 14 – Same as above, but 2014 vs. 2013.

Tai He First Stop Spring 13 – A green heart (qing xin) varietal. Grown on the back side of Mt. Ah Li, Approximately 1500 meters, spring harvest.

Tai He Sun Spring 13 – Same as the one above, but different farm and different processor.
Tai He Sun tea farm at harvest time.

Picking the fresh buds on the Tai He side of Mt. Ah Li.

Cui Ran Spring 13 – A green heart varietal grown at approximately 1800 meters, in the Li Shan mountain range, far from oceanic influence, Spring harves.

I gave participants some criteria to consider when evaluating the teas. We use the senses eyes, nose, and taster to evaluate...

Difference between winter and spring harvest
Difference between 2013 and 2014
Difference between golden lily (jin xuan) and green heart (qing xing)
Difference of elevation
Degree of oxidation
Degree of roast
Differences caused by processing

It’s fun to taste teas in the vertical format in an organized tasting with others. Last time, with the high mountain greens, people noticed the differences between the teas, although they were subtle. We used a standardized brew method in which we used 3g of each tea, brewed in the Jian Ding Bei (150ml) boiling water, and steeped for 5 minutes. Each person had an individual bowl of tea to ladle tea from with the white porcelain spoon into the small drinking cups. The spoons can then be used for smelling the aroma of the tea. The empty porcelain spoon, once having been dipped into the tea, retains the scent of the tea. It's strange, but it works. It's as if the scent sticks to the spoon.

When asked to pick a favorite, the participants grumbled for a bit and almost all of them had a different opinion. Exciting! No clear favorite. Some participants liked the Spring Lily best, some like the Shan Lin Xi Winter '13 best, some liked the Cui Ran best, and some liked the Tai He (both of them) best.

A few days after high mountain green oolong tasting, two guests returned to request that we have the next vertical tasting on a Friday. Apparently some people have trouble going to sleep after drinking copious amounts of tea. And for that reason, we are doing the vertical roasted oolong tasting on Friday, 10/10 from 6 to 8 pm. In order to help us prepare for the class, we are asking people to sign up in advance. If you would like to sign up, call or stop in the tea house on Friendly Street (541) 357-5492.

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.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Not Your Typical Taipei Field Trip

Like drunkards returning home from an all-nighter, we staggered away from the bus as the sun broke through the horizon to the left of us. We were tea people returning home after one of the most epic tea adventures ever. As we started out the day before, the plan was to take the high speed rail to Taipei, tour an artist's home, attend a spring roll festival, visit Taipei tea spots, meet elder tea teachers, and either sleep over or head back. The plan was left open, with room for flexibility. We got most of the way through it and here's what actually happened.

As soon as we got to Taipei, I broke off with Teacher Wang for a tour of Yang Po Lin's home / studio and a visit with the artist himself.
Teacher Wang had arranged the tour and invited me along the night before. I had no idea who he was so she quickly filled in with some background information. She made YPL out to be a national treasure. In short, he was an extraordinary artist who came from nothing and had a tough childhood.

We woke up early, at 7 am, to get on the 8 am high speed rail to Taipei. A big group of us were headed up. As our party convened at the rail station, I was temporarily alarmed to find that the party consisted of seven or eight upper middle-aged Taiwanese women. The scenario seems overwhelming this early in the morning. This dynamic presents a high level of cultural difference. But, after getting more sleep as we floated over the magnetized tracks at a speed that I am generally uncomfortable with, interacting with the group started to seem like it would be interesting. A friend of Teacher Wang picked us up at the Taipei Station. The driver, originally from Tainan, was using GPS to guide us to YPL's home. Although it guided incorrectly at first, we eventually made it to the windy mountain road that led to the house.

We parked the cars at the end of the drive ,which was more like a jungle road lined with a maze of shipping containers. The containers showed signs of use. My guess was that they were being used for work, storage, or something else completely. They defused some sort of creative energy and were in the process of being consumed by the jungle. I wanted to stay and explore, but the party was being whisked forward. Within the Taiwan jungle, there lay a public art piece. I wanted to slow down again and take it all in, but I would then be holding up the line, which wouldn't be polite, so I struggled to keep up. Upon entering, we were informed that we could take pictures, but were not to specifically take a picture of a particular piece, not to try to capture a piece in a photo. I wasn't really sure what this meant, so I observed. What I saw was mind expanding. I later learned that he rarely allowed people into this space, but Teacher Wang had insisted that we meet him here as it was vital to her research. He had agreed and he was a tolerant and gracious host. His assistant brought us personally specialized coffee, and he signed our names in one of his books if we chose to buy one. Of course I did and the copy of his rendition of my name is here:
My name in Chinese: 陳博倫
As he states in the English Preface – Craziness and Self-Discipline: “I was born in the most destitute fishing village of Yuanlin County.” His fate, to go from destitution to extreme wealth in the span of a lifetime, was a result of his creative endeavors. It was impressive, but I couldn't help but think that he was not yet satisfied. As I was clear that accomplishment and apparent success do not rid us of feelings such as emptiness or loneliness. I wanted to ask him, “Are you there yet? Have you reached your goal?” He probably would have said that each and every moment his goal is to be in the flow. Creating his vision and bringing it to life is the goal.

I signed his guest book with something to the effect of, “Your creative spirit leaves a path of inspiration in its wake,” or my best version of that in Chinese. He read it over and smiled because I used some strange Chinese words, but said that it was understood and acceptable. I am always glad to be understood...

As we piled back into the cars for the ride back down the hill, all of us were changed. Changed in the soul and serene. If you want to know what happened next, wait for me to brew up this next cup of tea...

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Don't Dump that Tea!

The other day a customer asked how long the first rinse infusion should be. He mentioned that he had read that it was supposed to be about one minute. I let him know that one minute is a hearty infusion. However, that is because I am always brewing tea at a high tea-to-water ratio in little unglazed teapots that retain heat like a son-of-a-gun. This particular customer was brewing out of a bigger pot and using less tea. So I recommended that he add just enough water to fully cover the leaf, maybe a tiny bit more, and then pour this off immediately. This is long enough for a rinse infusion. I mentioned that some people even drink this first infusion. For those of you who see pouring out the first rinse akin to dumping tea into the Boston Harbor, there is also hope for you. Some tea masters even encourage consuming this first rinse. Maybe this will make sense as I explain that the first infusion is not as much of a rinse as it is a waking of the leaves.
As a warm infusion comes to an end - Photo by Andrew Hess
My goal for the timing of the rinse infusion when brewing the old fashioned gong fu way is to pour the liquid from the brew pot as quickly as humanly possible while refraining from appearing rushed. There are several steps that need to be taken when doing a rinse infusion. After bringing a freshly drawn pot of water to a boil, pour water from the kettle into the small yi xing pot, replace the lid to the small pot, return the kettle back to its home and pour the out the liquid from the small tea pot. It's ok to use both hands. The right hand can be doing one thing while the left is doing another. And, like a yoga routine, knowing what you are going to do next with your left hand, with your right hand, makes the process more fluid and thus quicker, speeding the whole process up a bit, while maintaining a sense of even pace and calmness. Practice makes perfect. Or in this case, because tea people are so much more humble by nature, practice makes better.

In Chinese, the technical term for this first rinse infusion is referred to as 溫潤泡 (wen1 run4 pao4) “warm infusion.” This is something I've only seen done with gong fu tea. People think that the point of the warm infusion is to rinse the tea leaves. You might have heard me say, “Tea is an agricultural product. Just like fruits and vegetables, before eating them, it is a good idea to wash them.” Now I just say, “hogwash.” The previous statement is hogwash. Whether or not tea needs to be rinsed, I am not sure. When people steep their PG Tips in a brown betty, is there a rinse involved?

The point of the warm infusion is to “wake up” the tea leaves. If you wake them up, they will be better suited to wake you up. Is that true? No... Waking the tea leaves means that you get them to open just a bit. Why do we need to do this? My current favorite reason is that it gets everything positioned in the pot just so, so that the next infusion, the first drinking infusion, will come off without a hitch. The water will pour smoothly from the pot without getting clogged. Does this always work perfectly? No, but when it does, the feeling is sublime. It takes a bit of practice, and this part of what makes the reward of well steeped tea so sweet. 

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Tea People

As butterflies dance around each other, so too do people get to know tea. Sometimes they are dancing around tea, but they haven't yet been made the connection. The greatness of tea is still outside of their awareness. There is a special kind of tea person: the tea person who is a tea person before they even know they are a tea person. We can call them a latent tea person. A person who loves tea, but does not yet know they love the tea. This is mostly because they have either not had the right kind of tea, a good tea, or they have not had tea presented in a way that makes them fall in love with the tea. But once they experience the right tea in the right setting, that is just what happens, they fall... and fall hard, deep into the world of tea. They are different than the average person who gets into tea, because when they do, it's as if they have just met a long lost friend. There is no doubt for them that tea fits into their life. They know they will be enjoying high quality tea from that moment when they first experience it until they are no longer with us, here on this earth.

It's funny, after being in the tea business for a while, I can practically smell a tea person, even a tea person who does not yet know they are a tea person. I can almost tell by looking at them, and observing the way that they hold themselves. But then after talking with them for a bit, I can be 90 percent sure if they are a tea person or not. What are some common characteristics of a tea person? They like to travel to distant lands and learn about cultures that are very different from their own. They might be a food person, or a wine person. They are generally into expansive thinking and view the world through a positive framework. They are very often intellectual and exploratory in their thinking, meaning that they want to learn how to view the world and their place in the world in a positive light. Sometimes people are into tea for their own reasons. I once had a customer tell me that he drinks tea because he doesn't eat vegetables. Thus, a tea drinker is a tea drinker, but they might not be a tea person.