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New teas for Spring ’21

Update May 7: Everything has arrived and we’re working to add them to the catalog!

Here at Zerama Tea HQ, we’re excited that warmer weather has begun to appear. Spring means rain and flowers and spinach and cabbage and lettuce and… TEA! Early pluckings have already begun in Yunnan, and the Qing Ming Festival will be happening soon which means that the Spring tea harvest will begin in earnest.

Photo of early tea harvest in Yunnan, China, 2021.
Early tea harvest in Yunnan

We’re thrilled to bring in some new-to-us Chinese tea varieties this year:

Photo of part of the baking process for Liu An Gua Pian tea.

Liu An Gua Pian comes from Jinzhai Town, Lu’An City, Anhui Province. This tea is a single-leaf pluck (unlike most of our Chinese teas which consist of the entire flush, which is the unopened flower bud and its two accompanying leaves) of the Qishangzhong cultivar of Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis. It goes through a complex process of pan-frying (shaqing – the “kill green” process of stopping enzymatic activity in green teas) and charcoal baking in giant bamboo baskets to produce a uniquely visually appealing, sweet and mellow tea.

Our Tai Ping Hou Kui comes from Houkeng (猴坑) village in the Huangshan District (formerly Taiping County) of Anhui Province. This tea is made from full grown leaves of the Shidacha tea cultivar rather than the tender early flush. After pan-frying to stop enzymatic activity in the tea, the leaves are laid out on plates and pressed and flattened under sheets of cotton cloth. The tea is then baked over charcoal and packed in baskets with bamboo-leaf lining. This rare tea has a luscious aroma of orchids and a long-lingering flavor.

We will be featuring Premium grades of Da Hong Pao and Tie Guan Yin for the new year, as well as returning our popular Meng Ding Gan Lu to stock (finally! we’ve missed it). Also arriving: Old Bush Yunnan Black Tea (Lao Cong Dian Hong), Jasmine Snowflake Tea from Guangxi, 200-gram cakes of Aged Yunnan Wild White Tea, Organic Yunnan Green Tea (which you can see being picked in the first photo in this article), and for the smoky-tea lovers out there: high-grade Lapsang Souchong from the place of its origin – Tong Mu village, Wuyi County, Zhejiang.

We expect to have stock in hand by late April and we will be putting up placeholder pages with preliminary pricing over the next few days. We’ll also be getting restocks of teas from Japan, Taiwan, India and Colombia over the next couple of months.

Paula and I sincerely appreciate your patronage of our little establishment. We’re starting to be able to poke our heads out of our hidey-hole and with luck we’ll be having demos and tea gatherings here in KC again soon. We hope that your year is warm and wonderful! Take care of each other out there!

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Easy Matcha Ice Cream

matcha ice cream

We love homemade ice cream and this Matcha Green Tea Ice Cream couldn’t be easier to make. It doesn’t require an ice cream maker and only uses 4 ingredients! The most important ingredient is matcha and your ice cream will only be as good as the matcha that you use. We use Organic Matcha Koiai for our recipe. It is Certified USDA Organic and comes from Harunocho Isagawa, in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan.

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The Basics of Tea

There is nothing as enjoyable to me as sharing a great tea with my family and friends. I find that the ritual of sharing tea with others encompasses more than just a beverage but also an opportunity to slow down and reflect. So when I hear from someone that they don’t like tea, I feel confident that it is because they have never had really good tea. I am not talking about Lipton or anything in a bag — although that was my first introduction as well. Through this blog, I want to share what I have found through the years and many pots of experience.

Start with Good Tea

What is most critical is the tea itself. This is much more important than what pot you use or temperature and steeping time. There are many categories of tea. They all come from one plant — Camellia Sinensis. Whether they are white, green, oolong, black or pu-erh is dependent on the processing — more on that in a later blog.

Chemistry of Tea.

Almost all of the tea produced in the world is machine harvested and machine processed as CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl). Quick chemistry lesson — the greater the surface area, the quicker a product oxidizes or gets stale. Think about spices in your cupboard, when you use ground powder instead of leaves or freshly ground pepper or seeds, they quickly lose their flavor. The same goes for tea leaves. The CTC machine produces tiny chopped up leaves called fannings and what is left in the machine after processing is called dust. These two grades of tea are what make up most commercial tea bags. As a result, these teas will steep quickly but will soon lose nuances and flavors. However, tannins that produce bitterness are also more easily extracted during steeping due to the smaller size and greater surface area.

What we do.

At Zerama Tea, we sell orthodox tea (that is the full leaf — frequently, the unopened flower bud and two leaves). When you brew our teas, you will usually be able to unroll the steeped tea to reveal an actual leaf. Although many are handpicked, orthodox teas do not need to be handpicked. Japanese-grown teas are almost always harvested with the use of machines. Because of this, these teas — even though they are high quality — will frequently leave a dusty residue in your cup. Because of this, you will usually use lower temperatures and shorter steeping times with these teas to avoid bitterness.

So let’s talk about flavors.

For centuries, tea masters have scented teas with fruits and flowers. I admit that I love a cup of Jasmine Pearls. Unfortunately, all too often the flavorings added to teas are used to disguise an inferior quality of tea.

Many teas are described as having honey or buttery flavors. These characteristics can be produced naturally as a result of the variety of the cultivar and the area and method in which it is grown. In certain regions, the plants are developed to mimic certain fruit and floral flavors and aromas. The Phoenix or Dan Cong oolongs are a great example of this. The harvesting time also plays a factor in the flavor. The natural sugars within the plants that are harvested in early spring produce a rich buttery or creamy quality. And honey-like flavors are actually produced by enzymes that the plants produce as a defense mechanism to pests such as aphids or jassids.

So as you can see, there are so many factors that contribute to the flavor profiles of teas. There are teas that are naturally fruity, floral, and herbaceous. The styles are so diverse that to make a blanket statement against all teas demonstrates the limited exposure one has had to good quality products. Through this series of blogs, I hope to demystify teas and encourage you to try something new. Whether it is a tea variety or a brewing style that you may not have been aware of, there is always something new to learn and to taste!