Spirit Tea

Earth Humanity Heaven

An uncommon selection of handmade teas, each reflecting a unique moment in space and time.

Killing Earl Grey

At S P I R I T, we often disparage the perfectly normal tea types that happen to lie outside of our ethos. Flavored teas, teas that are blends with non-tea ingredients and even (for a different reason) scented teas. Most major tea companies make their millions selling just what I've described. But few titles escape the fury of our lips so often as Earl Grey.

Most of its legend is nonsense. And, for what it's worth, orientalist. According to the most popular legend, white savior Charles, 2nd Earl Grey, saved a hapless mandarin's son from drowning during his time in China. The mandarin was so grateful that he sent a shipload of black tea to England, blended with Bergamot for flavor and preservation in the long overseas voyage. In addition to the fact that Charles Grey never went to China, bergamot doesn't grow in China and a mandarin would never have the financial resources to charter a trade ship to England—the whole story reeks of Western exceptionalism.

And if you've ever seen an actual bergamot in your life or even know what one is, I commend you. The worst part of earl grey is, it is always artificial. Unfortunately, someone didn't just juice fresh bergamot over your tea leaves. That was done with chemical oils.  Most tea companies use these chemical additives which come in giant plastic containers with warning labels printed over the sides. When a little oil leaks over the lid it stains the label and the plastic permanently. 

Some of these companies have labeled it "Natural Earl Grey flavor" or "Natural Bergamot flavor" but nothing could be more misleading or untrue. 

So when most people taste black teas like our Qi Lan, which we've affectionately dubbed "true earl grey", which express strong citrus character—without the aid of chemicals or flavorings, only the natural beauty of the leaf and the land and people behind it—people either find it "light" (compared to the lab engineered synthetic flavoring they're accustomed to) or are amazed to learn that the leaf can possess such naturally beautiful characteristics. Tasting and appreciating a leaf for its simple, understated beauties is a process that takes patience. 

As you can see, we get a little irked when it comes to public lies of the tea industry like this. Not just because it hurts our young business, but because we believe passionately in what we do—and that tea is first and foremost a story of the earth. 

But that's why we're here. To drink tea with you.

Iced Tea - How to make - Best Practices

So it is May now of 2016 and its time to start talking iced tea! 

But first a quick rant about the current state of Iced Tea in the USA dining scene: 

Traditionally in the United States Tea is consumed in large batch brew machines with an exceptionally low grade of Assamica typically derived from Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Southern India, Kenya, or Argentina.   

Typically the dry leaf appears like dust as the leaves have been curated by machines in a style known as Crush Tear Curl.  The resulting brew is brisk, strong, and very dark in appearance.  

This type of tea is very typical in restaurants from the low end to the high end and is almost entirely flavorless and lifeless. 

Sadly, Iced Tea is often evaluated in terms of its apperance in the cup, and not so much the taste, aroma, or body.  :( 

Traditional Iced Tea in the USA - colorful yet lifeless in terms of taste, aroma, and body.

Traditional Iced Tea in the USA - colorful yet lifeless in terms of taste, aroma, and body.

But Damnit! We aim to change all of that - from a sourcing perspective we focus on a blend of cultivars typically from Fujian China such as in our Sunstone Iced Tea or alternatively we throw in some tea derived from Yunnan China.  The resulting brew is full bodied, nuanced, and full of aroma.  

We are steering our customers away from batch brew methods to help create more flavor and taste in the cup -  here are three methods we typically use: 

How to make Flash Brew Iced Tea: 

In the Tea industry what we deem a flash brew is essentially a concentrate that is brewed at normal strength with half the amount of water and then poured over ice. In this way you have a proper amount of astringency that balances out the rest of the cup.  

 Recipe for making Flash Brew Iced Tea  (12oz.)

Step 1:  Measure out 5g of Tea

Step 2:  Add tea to brewing vessle

Step 3:  Add 150g of water at proper temp  

Step 4: Pour over a full cup of Ice

How to make Cold Brew Tea: 

 

Step 1: measure out 20g of Tea per Liter

Step 2: add filtered water into the vessel you are steeping

Step 3: wait 12 hours for Green Tea, and Oolong Tea,  24 hours for black tea and white tea

How to make shaken Iced Tea: 

Shaken Iced Tea - How to Make

Shaken Iced Tea - How to Make

 

Step 1:  Follow steps necessary for making concentrate but instead pour into a shaker filled with 1/3 ice.  

Step 2: shake until bottom of shaker is cold  

Step 3: pour into a cup with 1/3 filled with ice

 

 

 

Ali Shan Tea - A Journey into Tribal Tea Growing Territory - part 1

As many of you know Taylor and I recently went on a sourcing trip to Taiwan to source teas less common here in the States.  Mile for mile Taiwan offers some of the most unique tea growers, terroirs, and traditions surrounding tea.  In todays travelogue we will dive into Ali Shan

But first, a super abridged history of Taiwan: 

Less known perhaps here in the west is that Taiwan has changed hands many times and has many remnants left on its tea culture there.  Originally the sea levels were about 150m less than they are today and this formed a land bridge across the Taiwan straight into Fujian, China. Evidence dates back about 30,000 years showing evidence of the first migrations.  In the 1500's the Kingdom of Spain established a port in northwestern Taiwan, and soon after the Dutch setup a fort to establish better trade routes with the Japanese and Chinese mainland.  

The Dutch and aboriginal tribes ousted the Spanish colony in 1630 and the Dutch assumed control with the locals.  

In the mid 1600's the Ming Dynasty in China was overwhelmed by opposing forces and crossed the Taiwan strait into Taiwan with their armies. They swiftly ousted the Dutch from power and soon assumed power over the island. 

In 1895 following the treaty of the Japanese victory in the first Sino - Japanese war the Japanese took possession of the Island.   The period of Japanese rule had three phases - it began as a time of oppression and paternalistic crackdown, the second phase was to assimilate all Taiwanese peoples as free subjects in a period known as Doka, and finally a third phase which attempted to make the Taiwanese official royal subjects of the Japanese emperor.  

After World War 2 under the conditions of surrender Taiwan once again returned to China rule. 

This is all necessary background for understanding the complexities of the Taiwanese Tea industry and its many facets. 

Let's dive into Ali Shan! So Ali Shan is technically a national park - or a self described - 'Scenic Area,'  it takes about 2 hours just to get from the base to the upper reaches of the mountain where our Anaiza Ali Shan comes from. 

Traditional tribal outfit for a male 

Traditional tribal outfit for a male 

When we arrived in the village where the tribe we source from is based we are greeted by these greeters. 

The garden we source from is  the 2nd highest garden on Ali Shan - and this year was particularly strange. This is the first time in her family's history that they did not harvest until May in 2016. 

Here is a few of the garden at the top: 

1600m Elevation Garden we source Ali Shan from

1600m Elevation Garden we source Ali Shan from

After visiting the garden we went down a ways to see one of the Tea Master's at work doing the meticulous rolling process for the Ali Shan.  The honey aroma in the air was so enchanting. 

They roll the tea 7 times before the final drying. 

This garden where we source from is organic and the little white papers are sticky papers where the bugs get stuck to when they normally bite the leaves.  Organic is a hot topic in Taiwan right now. 

There is also some people planting coffee in Ali Shan - the coffee is quite expensive and goes for $17 per lb.  

We are actually releasing a tea that is grown in this garden under the shading of coffee trees.  It's called the Huanna Small Leaf - more details to come. 

We saw many aspects of Taiwanese tea culture from the spiritually motivated, to 5 generations of proud farmers, but this one of the most interesting.  The tribal indigenous history of Taiwan as briefly highlighted earlier is one of the most compelling pieces of history from the very early days of the country.  

More in depth articles will soon be coming out describing more of the growing process, terroir, and cultivars the gardens we work with are engaged in.  

Until next time - Peace from Taiwan!

 

 

Buy Black Tea Online | Black Tea Around the World

When it comes to black tea there are so many different cultures around celebrate tea in different ways.  Over the course of many years we have had the fortune to observe many of these first hand.  

One thing that has become apparent from day one is that many cultures appreciate varying levels of astringency.  Astringency is the drying sensation that occurs on your palate after drinking tea. Often times depending on the origin, or improper steeping methods it becomes really easy to over extract tea and make it way too dry on the palatte. 

As a result of varying levels of astringency and primary countries that tea is sourced from you start to see cultures responding to black tea in different ways.  

Black Tea in England: 

Black tea in England is often enjoyed with milk, lemon, and honey.  This has to do with the astringency levels they experience from their tea. 

Black tea in England is often enjoyed with milk, lemon, and honey.  This has to do with the astringency levels they experience from their tea. 

The British are almost always regarded as one of the highest tea consuming countries per capita as anyone in the world. Yet why is it that they almost always are seen enjoying tea with lemon and milk? Well normally their tea is being imported from countries like Sri Lanka and Southern India where the tea receives open sunlight most of the year.  The more sunlight and the more catetchins which leads to more astringency. 

Black Tea in China:

While Black Tea in China is super region dependent I am going to focus on the primary ways we have seen citizens enjoying tea there.  For the most part the 'designer' teas for the moment are coming from Fujian.  These black teas primarily have low astringency and are pretty easy to drink without milk or sugar.  The mouth feel is heavy and thick.  For the most part we see many people drinking tea out of gaiwan there. Steeping multiple infusions on top of eachother. 

Most people in China enjoy tea using a Gaiwan and with multiple infusions 

Most people in China enjoy tea using a Gaiwan and with multiple infusions 

Black Tea in India

Chai Tea in India.jpg

In India Black Tea is almost always taken with milk in a local form known as Chai.  India is one of the biggest consumers of tea in the world, but the majority of the country's production gets exported to other countries in high demand, particularly Europe.  For this reason the Indian people have added spices and milk to their tea to make it more palatable to drink. 

Black Tea in the United States

Sadly the USA Tea industry is primarily consuming bottled tea beverages.  USA is a culture of speed, large quantities, and convenience.  For this reason most people have become accustomed to drinking tea with plenty of sugar added.  In many cases this also is a result of the price driven culture in the U.S. people have been accustomed to drinking black tea with addititves as a result of getting very inexpensive commodity teas sourced from Argentina, Sri Lanka, and Kenya.  

 

 

 

Making the case for an Oil Free Tea Menu

If you have been following our work at S P I R I T you may notice something peculiar about our offerings. If you scroll through the list of teas on our website you might see a category missing that you will find on most other tea vendors, 'flavored,' or 'blends.' 

You may think we are crazy, after all this is America, the land of the free, and the home of the big gulp.  The general consensus appears to be if you want to make tea 'interesting,' simply add flavored oils to them.  Stroll by most mainstream tea shops and be greeted by a wave of incense, sugar crystals that look like meth, and lexicon that is nothing short of rampant orientalism. 

 

Our approach at S P I R I T is different - to us the only oil appropriate for tea is the natural volatile oils that are part of the genetic heritage of the tree itself.  Depending on the terroir of course you can find floral, malt, fruit, sweet, and vegetal notes harnessed within the leaf itself.  

We will make no attempt to be 'mainstream' as we feel any artificial elements go against the very essence of what tea is all about.  

One of our proudest moments was watching one of our accounts cross out the flavored teas off their menu: