Thursday, November 23, 2017

Discovering Pu-erh

Pu-erh Tuo Cha (Bird's Nest Nugget)

China's Yunnan province is considered to be the birthplace of tea and the origin of Pu-erh. Wild tea trees, some of them hundreds of years old, can be found in the tropical forests of Xishuangbanna. This region offers ideal conditions for the cultivation of tea: a temperate, moist climate and a rich soil with an abundance of organic materials.

Yunnan Tea Forest
The prized tea of Yunnan Province is Pu-erh, made from tea plants native to its forests and jungles. The tea was named after the town of Pu-erh, an important trading center and the beginning of the ancient Tea Road which connected China's southwest to Tibet and onward to Nepal and India. Pu-erh tea is one of the oldest types of tea and traces its history to the Tang dynasty (618 - 907). During that time, tea was compressed into cakes of various sizes, then boiled in salt water with added flavorings such as ginger, onion and orange zest to create a tea "soup". Tea was also shaped into bricks to make it easier to transport on horseback for the long and arduous journey to Tibet.

Pu-erh is a fermented tea. The fermentation occurs through a process of microbial activity, similar broadly to the production of wine, vinegar, yogurt and soy sauce. Pu-erh tea can be divided in two types: raw (“sheng”) and ripe (“shu”). Both types of Pu-erh are processed similarly in the beginning – leaves are picked, withered outdoors for several hours, fired at low temperature and then sun dried. The result is "maocha" or unfinished tea. After the maocha stage, the processing methods diverge.

Sheng Pu-erh leaves are left alone to age naturally over time. In the humidity of China, naturally occurring microbes in the leaf break down to new substances, resulting in changes to the flavor of the tea.

Shu Pu-erh tea is made by accelerating the fermentation the "maocha" in a controlled process using  added heat and humidity, similar to composting. The unfinished leaves are gathered into piles where the heat generated kills off undesirable microbes and promotes the growth of beneficial microbes. The result of this fermentation process is a tea like no other - known for its earthy, mellow flavors and sweet lingering aftertaste.  

Pu-erh Cake

Both Sheng and Shu Pu-erh teas can be kept in a loose form or compressed into various shapes such as cakes, bricks and nuggets.

Pu-erh tea is recognized for its digestive properties. Due to its microbial aging process, Pu-erh naturally helps to break down fats and grease in the stomach.

How to Prepare Pu-erh Tea

Pu-erh tea is best prepared in the gongfu style using either a small clay teapot or porcelain gaiwan, This method allows for multiple infusions, bringing different flavors with each steeping.

For loose-leaf Pu-erh, add about 1 tablespoon to the pot. If using a tuo cha (nugget), add one piece to the pot. Heat water to boiling. First, rinse the leaves for about 5 seconds and discard the rinse water. Add more hot water and let the tea steep 1 minute for the first infusion. Steep 30 seconds for the second infusion and 45 seconds for the third infusion. Steep subsequent infusions about 2 minutes. Most Pu-erh teas can be re-steeped 5-6 times in this manner.

Shop Pu-erh Teas at The Fragrant Leaf

Monday, November 6, 2017

Matcha: Japan's Ceremonial Tea

Matcha is the finely ground powder of shade-grown and hand-picked Japanese green tea leaves. It has been celebrated in the artistic and Zen-inspired Japanese tea ceremony for hundreds of years and is considered the highest quality of tea available in Japan.
Introduced in the 12th century by Buddhist monks returning from China, Matcha was the first type of tea consumed in Japan. The Uji region of Kyoto Prefecture is considered the birthplace of Matcha, as the first tea plants brought back from China were transplanted to this area. Today, Uji is renowned for producing the best-quality Matcha in Japan.
Matcha's distinctive rich flavor and bright green color is a result of its unique processing method.  The young spring tea leaves are shaded with special reed and straw screens for more than 20 days prior to harvest to reduce exposure to the sun. Shading stimulates the tea leaves to produce more chlorophyll, giving Matcha its vibrant green color. Shading also changes the taste and aroma of Matcha. It enhances the production of L-theanine and other amino acids which contribute to Matcha's umami sweetness with little to no bitterness and its invigorating energy. Studies have shown that L-theanine helps improve cognitive function, increase focus, and relieve stress. Due to the high levels of L-theanine, the caffeine in Matcha is moderated to provide a state of relaxed alertness.

After picking, the leaves are steamed and dried and then the stalks and veins are removed so that the tea can be easily ground to a fine powder. This produces Tencha, which is then stone-ground into Matcha.

Preparing Matcha (single serving)

What you'll need:
High-quality matcha (organic)
Hot water
Chawan (small bowl), about 3" high and 4.5" in diameter
Chashaku (bamboo scoop), or 1 tsp. measuring spoon
Chasen (bamboo whisk)
Furui (matcha sifter), or fine mesh strainer

Place two bamboo scoops, or about 1 tsp. (1 1/2 to 2 grams), of the matcha powder in the sifter over the bowl.

Sift the matcha into the bowl. The sifting of the matcha makes the froth smoother and prevents the formation of lumps.

Add 2 - 3 oz. of water, just under boiling (167 - 175° F or 75° C).

Hold the bamboo whisk vertically just above the bottom of the bowl. Whisk vigorously in a zig‐zag motion for about 30 seconds until the tea is frothy. 

Gently break up any large bubbles on the surface with the whisk. If the tea is too strong, you can add more hot water to taste.

Shop Matcha at The Fragrant Leaf