Yerba mate

Yerba mate gourd Yerba mate liquor Beautiful bombilla

Yerba mate  (leaves) is made from a South America native plant called Ilex paraguariensis. The leaves of the plant are steeped in hot water to make a beverage known as mate. Mate is common in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and southern Brazil as well as in Syria and parts of Lebanon. Brazil, Argentina, and Chile have yerba mate plantations, and even after the arrival of coffee and other kinds of tea in South America, Yerba mate remained one of the most popular drinks in these countries.

Harvest time is typically from January to April. Through a sifting process done by specialized machinery, the aged yerba is separated from twigs, leaves and stems. The yerba is then blended in the proper proportions for each brand. Some yerba are toasted and blended with spices or citrus peels to create unique flavors.

Another thing that makes the yerba mate drink a very unique experience is the usage of yerba mate gourds and bombillas. Each yerba mate gourd is a piece of artwork, and the bombillas are very cute. Sharing the yerba mate from the same gourd with friends using one’s own bombilla is an old custom.

The fresh yerba mate leaves have the lovely smell of beans. And the yerba mate liquor has a beautiful green color.  Most interestingly, the taste of the liquor has a hint of the sweetness, and is pretty smooth. Yerba mate contains caffeine. To the first time yerba mate drinkers, try following the instructions below and adjust the amount of yerba mate leaves and steeping time after your first test brew.  

Yerba mate leaves: 3 g
Water: 150 ml
Water temperature: 85o C                                                                            
Steeping time: 15 seconds
Throw away the first brew if you don’t like strong tea. The yerba mate leaves can be brewed up to 4 times.

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Qimen Aged An Tea

Tea leaf

Dry tea leaves

Qimen Aged An Tea is an aged tea from the same town where the world-renowned Qimen(Keemun) black tea is made. It is a tea that has existed for hundreds of years. But its production was halted for almost half a century until 1983, when a Hong Kong businessman shared his An Tea collection with the Anhui province government tea agency in China. Then this famous An Tea was reborn. There is another version of the aged An Tea from the town which is famous for the Liuan Melon Slice green tea in the same province. The latter version is called Liuan Basket Tea.

An Tea

An Tea from a Hong Kong tea shop

Qimen Aged An Tea not only tastes good, but also has unique health benefits for people living in hot and humid climate conditions. That explains why this tea is very popular in Hong Kong and in some of the Southeast Asia countries. Another thing to point out is that the An Tea is packaged in natural bamboo material for the continues aging process. According to one tea expert, 10-year-aged An Tea is not worth drinking, 20-year-aged An Tea begins to have some flavor, and 30-year-aged An Tea is the best. 😊 

For tea tasting, I used 8g of 21-year-aged An Tea with 100ml hot water. The first three brews tea-liquor are in the left container and the fourth brew is in the right container. Dry tea leaves do not have any aroma of aged Puer teas, but wet tea leaves do have the lovely aroma of aged Puer teas. The tea liquor tastes like a good Puer tea but is missing the body of a good Puer tea. The aftertaste sweetness lingers in the mouth for a long time.

Tea liquor

Tea liquor in a small cup

Wet tea leaves

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Tea 101: What contributes to the quality of your drinking tea?

Making good tea requires technique and proper tools. There are many things can affect the quality of your tea. Here are the most influential factors:

The quality of the tea leaves: If possible, try using tea leaves for your tea because you can see the quality of the tea leaves. Good teas are a bit expensive, but since we can brew the tea leaves several times it is worth paying a little more.

The quality of the water: Water quality also affects the taste of your tea. Avoid hard water or salt water. I always bring my own water if I need to make tea somewhere other than home.

The water temperature and brew time: I normally recommend not to brew tea
longer than one minute when using a small teapot. Depending on what type of tea you are brewing, adjust the water temperature and brew time according to your preference.

Tea TableHere are my recommended water temperatures:
Green tea: use water temperature of 80° Fahrenheit
White tea: use water temperature of 85° Fahrenheit
Yellow tea: use water temperature of 85° Fahrenheit
Oolong tea: use water temperature of 90° Fahrenheit
Black tea: use water temperature of 95° Fahrenheit
Puer tea: use water temperature of 95° Fahrenheit

The quality of the teapot: A good clay teapot can enhance the tea flavor. But is it not easy to find a good quality and food-safe clay tea pot at a decent price. Since beginners may not be able to tell the differences, using a glass or porcelain teapot will work just fine.

Amount of tea leaves to water ratio: 1g of tea leaves to ~20ml of water.
Depending on the tea and personal preference, the ratio can be adjusted.

Brew: Light color teas can be brewed up to three times while darker color teas can be brewed up to five times. Good Puer teas can be brewed at least 10 times, and still have a strong, aged tea aroma.




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Phoenix Golden Oolong Tea

Phoenix Golden Oolong tea is a new addition to the Phoenix Oolong tea family. This tea has a beautiful golden-red black tea color and the lovely fragrance of Phoenix oolong tea.

Phoenix Golden Oolong tea

Phoenix Golden Oolong tea

Phoenix Oolong tea leaves

Phoenix Oolong tea leaves

Phoenix Golden Oolong is made from the same tea leaves that are used for Phoenix Oolong tea, but using a different fermentation process.

As I mentioned in the Canton Oolong article, Phoenix Oolong teas are very unique and grow only in the Phoenix town area in GuangDong province. So, not many teas are produced each year, and even in China, not many people get to drink Phoenix Oolong Teas.

Using the black-tea making technique to process the Oolong tea leaves is a creative idea, but more costly compared to traditionally-made black teas. “Only tea lovers are willing to pay for this special tea,” said Mr. Li, the owner of the Phoenix Tea Shop in the tea wholesale district of Guangzhou. If you like Phoenix Oolong tea, I am sure you will enjoy this very special addition.

How to enjoy this tea:

Water temperature: I normally recommend using a water temperature of 90 Celsius (194 Fahrenheit) for making Oolong teas. Since this a “heavily” fermented Oolong tea, the water temperature can go up to 95 Celsius (203 Fahrenheit).

Brew time: The first brew needs only 30 seconds. For subsequent brews, add an additional 10 seconds to the timing for each brew. This tea can be brewed up to 4 times, with a good consistent quality.

Water and tea ratio: 10g of leaves is good for making about 150ml tea each time.

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Dragon-Well Tea

Dragon-Well Tea Leaves

One thing I always look forward to in springtime every year is enjoying the Dragon-Well tea from HangZhou. Dragon-Well is a relatively new member in the Chinese most famous ten teas group, and it fully lives up to its expectation. Dragon-Well was already famous in Tang dynasty (618-907) but under a different name. Monks, among others, planted this tea in monasteries in the Ling-Yin and Tian-Zhu areas. During Song dynasty (960-1279), three tribute teas were from HangZhou area, and  in HangZhou as the capital city, tea was widely appreciated by all classes.  Around this time, some monks started to plant “Bai-Yun” tea, one of the tribute teas, in the old Dragon-Well temple at the foothill of the “Shi-Feng” mountain. From that time on Dragon-well Tea became an official name for teas from that area.  Dragon-Well tea reached its pinnacle in Qing dynasty (1616-1911) as the Emperor Qian-Long (ruling period: 1735 – 1796) came to HangZhou four times to visit the tea plantations. Emperor Qian-Long had reserved the eighteen oldest tea plants, which had been planted in front of the “Hu-Gong” temple, to provide tribute tea for him. He also had written many poems to show his appreciation of the Dragon-Well tea, the best spring water, and the beautiful scenery in HangZhou area.   

Dragon-Well Tea Liquor

The best Dragon-Well is harvested before Qing-Ming festival on April 5 each year.  Forty thousand hand-plucked young buds can only produce 500 grams of top quality Dragon-Well tea.  Dragon-Well, a tea often served at the national banquet in China, has four best-in-class qualities: the beautiful shape of the leaf, the jade color of the tea liquor, a subtle vegetative aroma, and its unique light sweet fragrant flavor.

Dragon-Well is a very delicate green tea. If you don’t protect it by sealing it carefully and storing it in a proper place after opening the tea bag, the aroma weakens quickly. The ideal conditions for storing Dragon-Well are in a dark place with less than 50 percent humidity, and where the temperature is between 5 – 7 degrees Celsius. Also the oxygen in the tea container should be less than one tenth of one percent and the water in the tea itself less than seven percent.

Beautiful West Lake

I like to use guy-wan to brew my favorite Dragon-Well tea. But I have also noticed that the locals in HangZhou like to toss the loose tea leaves into a glass or a big mug then pour in hot water. That is certainly a good way to enjoy Dragon-Well’s best-in-class qualities.  If you get a chance to drink Dragon-Well in a tea house by the beautiful West Lake in HangZhou, you will understand why Emperor Qian-Long visited HangZhou four times.

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What do you call it?

Most of us know that tea and cha are referring to the same drink. But I wonder how many of us have actually thought about why people who live in different parts of the world call it by different names. I recently read a book called Tea Ceremony History by Akio Tanihata from Tankousha, Japan and finally learned the answer to this mystery.

According to this book, there are only two major groups of people in the world who call this drink by different names. The first group is called the Cha or Chai group. This pronunciation was based on the Cantonese pronunciation “Cha.” This group includes countries such as Portugal, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, India, Arabia, Russian, Poland, Iran, Turkey, Greek, and Albania. The other group is called the Tea or Tay group. This pronunciation was from the Fujian province dialect “Te”. English speaking countries, France and Italy all belong to this group.

Canton was the first port city in China history that was allowed to have international trading with countries that knew how to find their way to Canton by sea in the old days. But later, China opened a few more port cities to offload the trading traffic in Canton city. Fujian was one of them. Now, based on what people call tea, you can guess where their first contact or root was for tea trading in the old days: Canton or Fujian. Interesting isn’t it?

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Dong Pian

Dong Pian tea, first brew

Dong Pian means winter flake in Chinese. It is a high mountain Oolong tea from the second harvest of a winter season from Taiwan. Usually Oolong tea is harvested only once during winter time. However, if the weather has been favorable and there are enough new healthy growths on the tea trees, tea farmers will not miss this opportunity to surprise tea lovers with this gift from nature. According to one tea farmer, about ten thousand square meters of tea land can produce only 3.6 kg of this very special Dong Pian Oolong tea. That said, a successful second harvest is really a winter treasure because there is no guarantee that the second harvest can always produce good quality Oolong tea.  It is the farmer’s luck!

Dong Pian from winter 2010

Winter high mountain Oolong tea is famous for the richness of its honey aroma. Dong Pian’s aroma is stronger than the normal winter Oolong tea. Since Dong Pian is harvested shortly after the first harvest, it has a lot more young leaves in comparison to the first harvest. However, too many young leaves are not necessarily good for the semi-oxidized Oolong tea because they may cause the tea aroma not to last as long. Farmers must take care to blend the right mixture of young leaves and branches to produce the richest winter treasure.

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Canton Oolong

Phoenix Oolong is also called Dan Cong Oolong. This tea originally grew in the high mountain areas in the Phoenix town in GuangDong province, but is now also cultivated in five near-by towns. Dan Cong means single bush. I was told that in old days, the tea leaves from each tree were picked and processed individually to ensure the quality and a unique fragrance.  However, nowadays, only those very distinctive tea trees that have been living for over 100 years on the top of Wu Dong mountain in Phoenix town still go through this traditional process. Most of these ancient trees can only produce several pounds in the spring of each year. So only a few people have the opportunity to taste them. Young Dan Cong tea trees follow a massive production process. Dan Cong tea can be harvested in four seasons each year.  In general, spring and winter Dan Cong teas are better than summer and autumn teas. Now you understand why the price for Dan Cong Oolong teas ranges from $50 to over $1000 per pound.

This exceptional Oolong tea was discovered in the Song dynasty around 1279 according to the Chinese authority. It was at one point given as an Imperial Tribute Tea. This tea is famous for its rich variety of fragrances. According to Mr. Li, the owner of the Phoenix tea shop in the tea wholesale district in Guangzhou, there are more than thirty kinds of different fragrances in Dan Cong Oolong teas. All fragrances are natural products of the combination of tree type, growing environment and the fermenting process. Each tea farmer uses his secret technique which has been passed down through generations along with the tea trees to make his special brands.  

The most common Dan Cong tea fragrances include Honey fragrance, Almond fragrance, Orchid fragrance, Magnolia fragrance, Gardenia fragrance, Osmanthus fragrance and some fruity fragrances. I like to call this tea Canton Oolong. This is one of my favorite teas for sharing with close friends.

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Golden Tea

Golden Tea Packages

This tea grows in the mountain in Hubei province. The newly-opened leaves are picked right after the snow season is over. This tea is specifically made only for special occasions, thus it is not available in the market place.

This premium tea is a green tea and has a delightful green tea fragrance. It contains lots of white hairy tips, and all leaves are in uniform size and shape. Since the tea leaves are so delicate, I don’t put on the lid when making the tea. This way, I can also smell the tea and watch the leaves expand in the water. The aftertaste sweetness lasts pretty long and is very unique for a green tea. This tea doesn’t have a bitter taste even if you over brew it a bit.

Golden Tea Leaves

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Aged Tea from Taiwan

Aged Tea

This tea is in nugget shapes. According to the friend who gave me the tea, the tea farmer made this tea only for himself. Since my friend is a regular customer, the farmer shared 100g of this aged tea with her. This tea has an aroma that is normally found in good quality pu-erh teas. It also tastes a bit like pu-erh tea, but its earthy taste is not as strong as pu-erh. However, the tea’s color looks close to the heavily-fermented oolong tea. The aftertaste of sweetness in the mouth feels very nice.

Ready to Drink

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