We dream of a true American tea culture. We offer unparalleled service, training, and education in order to build strong relationships within our community. This level of partnership also ensures the telling of each tea's story and preserves the end experience of tea ritual. We want to be the catalyst for furthering the craft of tea, including providing the education for appreciation and a tireless thirst for changing the way people prepare and enjoy tea leaves in the twenty-first century—tea’s sixtieth century with humanity.
We are dedicated to the belief that tea should be drank for tea’s sake. Every single one of our offerings is just that—tea leaves. In our Compendium there are no augmentations, flavorings (artificial or "natural"), blended ingredients or bags—just pure, loose leaf from farmers. Our leaves are to be had raw. No sweeteners, “wellness blends” or gimmicks. Introduce yourself, get to know them. Sprinkle them in hot water and acquaint yourself with aromas that were imbued on the other side of the planet. Somebody—many people—put their heart into cutting the soil, planting the seeds, tending the gardens, the plucking, rolling, baking and drying of these leaves. That connection is there, you can touch it. Tea is a process of pure love.
Iced Tea Season is upon us and we're getting a lot of questions on the best ways to brew Iced tea for the season. We've got your scoop on three of the best methods we've found, here!
1. Heat water to usual required temperature for tea.
2. Prewarm vessels.
3. Measure out tea with usual dose (for added concentration, double dose).
4. Place tea in teapot.
5. Fill teapot with half the desired amount of water volume (e.g. for 12 ounces, fill only 6 ounces).
6. Steep for usual amount of time (as though you were steeping it for hot service).
7. Add ice to brewed tea until desired amount of water volume is reached.
8. Let sit. Agitate if desired to speed cool down.
9. Pour, neat or over ice, and serve.
1. Dose Proper Amount of Tea for Steeping (Use 20-32g / liter of water, depending on desired strength)
2. Add cold, filtered water
3. Place vessel into refrigeration
4. Steep 12 hours for White, Green and Herbal Teas, 24 hours for Black and Oolong.
5. Strain tea into another vessel or serving pitcher. Be sure to empty all of the infusion. Heavier oils will tend to settle. Keep refrigerated.
6. Serve neat or over ice.
How to Make Batch Iced Tea on a Fetco or Curtis Brewer
As you may have noticed we now offer 'iced tea case' that comes with either Sunstone, Green Mist, Rosella, or Silver Needles.
We wanted to create the perfect item for you to simply open a package, pour the contents into your brew basket, and brew a concentrate to ice.
Many of you have asked how to dial in tea on your Fetco and Curtis brewer and we are here to help.
What are we trying to achieve?
The goal of this is to make iced tea brewing easy, and economical. If you are going to create a concentrate we can ice it down and stretch out the servings. On Tier 1 your serving cost should be around $.3 per cup of iced tea.
Dialing in Sunstone on a Fet Co
Here you can see I am dialing in with an extract volume and almost no dilution because I am trying to make a concentrate. I would suggest brewing this over 2L of Ice into a Cambro.
Here you can see I am dialing in with an extract volume and almost no dilution because I am trying to make a concentrate. I would suggest brewing this over 2L of Ice into a Cambro.
Here are my specs on Green Mist if your brewer does not get down to 180 don't worry - when we dilute over ice this will cut all the astringency out and make it crisp.
Silver Needle Specs:
Dialing in a Curtis Brewer
Because the ambient temp option on curtis is always set to 210 degrees - there is no ability to make a variable temp brew. So with this being the case we have modified specs to be uniform for all teas using the iced tea case. Please see the attached specs we created - remember this is going over ice
For this one we are using this particular model
Notes on Storage:
First and foremost make sure your iced tea is refrigerated at all times! When it is at room temp it will oxidize. The taste of oxidation is most obvious in green teas - as it tastes a bit like rubber or silicone. I would not store the tea for more than 24 hours after brew.
Happy to help and happy brewing!
None of us wanted to leave Jinghong. Xis-huang-banna!
As always with Ke Ke in the lead, we were in for improvisatory, itinerary-veering delight.
On the roads out of the Jinghong valley we were stopped at a checkpoint by the army. Our driver pulls to the side of the road. Zhuping explains that because we're so close to the Myanmar border, these are quite routine. A young soldier steps into the bus, he looks like he might be nineteen. Zhuping and Guo are speaking Mandarin (which to the untrained ear can sound inflammatory) to the soldier but he doesn't break his gaze from us. He asks to see our passports.
This soldier is about one of five, one of whom is carrying an assault rifle so comically futuristic it looks like a toy. We sit, for a while. We can see the soldier photographing each of our passports. He'll probably file a report later today with our information. Somebody cries out we were stopped because Raj (an Assamese Indian) is sitting shotgun. Everyone laughs, uneasily. The soldier comes back with our passports and we continue.
We arrive at the green, iron gates of a government facility: The Yunnan Tea Institute. A group of men descend the stairs to greet us. There's a golden statue of Lu Yu in the courtyard. One of Ke Ke's close friends takes us on a brief tour of the facility. It was established in 1938, the first in Yunnan with a bent on studying the cultivation and processing of green, pu'er and black teas produced in the region—their terroirs, histories and varieties.
Behind the lab and office building up front there's an expansive set of gardens in the back with each variety planted in a single garden. Our guide talks to us, plant by plant: there's Yunkang 10, Zi Juan and even a Jin Xuan they have growing there. At the back of the facility there's a tribute to the Tea Horse Road including a recreated village from the era. Behind that: a Tae Tea pu'er shop.
We have lunch at an apparently nationally famous BBQ Chicken Shack. It's not even a shack, but a nondescript garage-door on a major highway that opens to reveal a table and chairs. I didn't have the chicken but apparently President Xi has eaten there. While we're chowing, a woman runs her scooter into our bus. This is a big deal because all accidents (even this minor ding) have to reported in China and our driver is responsible to his company for any damagers incurred. Sure enough, the police show up and take a detailed, photographic report of what is essentially a scratch.
Winding through mountain roads, we climb to an elevation of 1,200 meters or so on our way to Jingmai Mountain Range. The highway streetlamps are made to look like tea buds. We get stopped by another army checkpoint. Once again, they ask to see our passports. Once again, they let us go. Now we've hit a part of the inner tea lands that's a familiar feeling from my time in Taiwan. You're in a place so remote, so quiet and misty that it doesn't feel like you're anywhere at all. The meandering mountain roads make even simple travel complex.
When we arrive at Jingmai there's another checkpoint—not military, only simply to see that we're not smuggling any tea leaves (or other plant matter) into the range. As we pull through the gate the paved road turns to cobblestone and we bump the rest of our way to the top. What's immediately noticeable about Jingmai, other than its remoteness and a few Eastern Chinese tourists, is that tea is everywhere. Half-wild plants cover the mountains. Not in neat terraces, but in overgrown groves. Actually, the first thing you notice is the smell. When you walk outside it smells immediately like wildflower honey.
Our small hotel is at 1,400 meters elevation. It's half modern tea processing plant and half resort-like hotel. The cries of half a dozen jungle birds I've never heard fill the wet, sweet air. The rooms are in the back and, if you were to screw your eyes up enough, you might think it was a cabin hotel somewhere in Washington state. There's a couple of Bulang (the minority people native to Jingmai) porter boys stoking a smoky fire. They're preparing to make Bulang Roast Tea, which I have to admit doesn't sound particularly appealing.
But the porters deftly pull hot coals from the pit with chopsticks, dropping them into a gourd full of sorted-out "yellow" mao cha leaves. They toss the gourd so that the coal roasts the leaves evenly and then, with the chopsticks, find and remove what's left of the burning coals. They then take these tea leaves and drop them into a large cast-iron teapot sitting on a fireplace trivet. The teapot is heated at a rolling boil for several minutes. The resulting brew is poured into a serving pot and poured into clay bowls, which we drink from. The result is unbelievably good. Brisk like assam, fruity (and toasty, obviously) but also full-bodied, with a character that suggests malt whiskey (without the alcohol.) Bowl after bowl of this is served and in goes right to your skull. All the languor of the day was gone.
Soon, two larger than life presences join our tea party: Mr. Li, a senior local official, Bulang, to whom all tea farmers are answerable to. We learn very quickly he's no despot. The other is a Lahu prince and tea lover and, we are told, a sensational dancer. Lahu means "tiger hunter," they are the people from nearby Menghai. We drink through another pot of roast tea. Between that and the sweet mountain air, it felt like floating.
The Lahu prince offers us cigarettes. Dinner is laid out on two tables. No meal is without elaboration. That doesn't mean they're all fine dining occasions—just well-thought-out. Given with full intention. For instance, even though we were in the perfect light of the tropical forest, two candles were lit on each table. It's a small thought like that, like serving a cup of tea, that carries so much feeling with it. Also, they were mosquito repelling candles but just pretend like they aren't.
After dinner, we present gifts to Mr. Li and the Prince. They repay the favor by coming to our table and toasting us. First its the Prince and he accepts toasts. Almost everybody at the table proposes one, so he takes about seven shots. And, though he can't speak English, his comically dramatic facial expressions tell enough—he's blotto. Then Mr. Li comes over and takes a few, tablewide toasts.
A cadre of servers from the hotel arrange around our table and sing a traditional Bulang piece, followed by a drinking song. We toast together as two tables, the native Mandarin speakers and English. Out of nowhere, a guitarist and drummer appear and begin playing and get the whole place clapping along. When they're done, they point at our table and invite us to the stage. They want us to share a song. I guess they just assume we play guitar and drum.
Michael and I are nominated as cultural ambassadors. I don't really want to—but I would like to source tea from these folks, so what can you do? Better than cigarettes. "Journey?" I ask, "Star Spangled Banner, Jimi Hendrix," he counter-proposes. We end up just jamming for two with him on guitar and me on the drum. I can barely keep a rhythm together I'm already soused enough. "That was a little number called... Midnight in Jingmai," I say. Silence. Zhuping translates. Roars of approval from the crowd. The band takes back over.
Soon, with the amount of rice liquor, tea and beer we've all consumed—people begin dancing. First the Prince (who lives up to his description) and Raj, then our whole table, then all but a very few are, then we start (writing this it's, like, weird to think that it happened) conga-line-style dancing around the courtyard. There's a video of this somewhere.
Mr. Li gifts us with mini tongs of old tree Pu'er from the mountain. I feel like Michael and I meet a mild slew of minor producers, merchants and local tribesmen. To be honest, I can barely remember. We went to bed full of Jingmai moonshine and the love that finds you again and again on nights like this when you make new friends through tea.
We drive out of Ning'Er early on a cool but humid this morning. Unlike our ride out of Kunming, we leave the city formerly known as Pu'Er and are in the mountains of eastern Yunnan in minutes. At a couple of points I check our elevation and on an otherwise unassuming pass, we're at 1,450 meters. For much of the ride along the Kunmo Expressway, we're driving through clouds.
"Elephant crossing" signs appear sporadically. We're near the Elephant Valley Nature Reserve. Guo explains that elephants migrate regularly between here and Thailand. But nothing could have prepared us for Jinghong. Nestled in a valley on the banks of the Mekong River, the capital of Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture is a glistening collection of white stupa towers and old Dai style rooftops. Buddhist and elephant statues fill the tree-lined streets. Birdsong is one of the loudest noises. It's a city that looks more Thai than Chinese. That's also not quite fair to say. The Dai people are the primary ethnic group here, accounting for 70% of the population.
Porters dressed in bright satins and silk stand ready at the hotel archway. We're all curious about Jinghong, but have to leave abruptly to make our way east to You Le mountain. We arrive and are given a light (just kidding) lunch cooked in a Jinou village restaurant at the base of the mountain courtesy of our host, the farmer and tea master Yang Guangqing. Zhuping explains the legend of Zhu Ge Liang, the great Sichuanese general who taught tea cultivation to the Jinou people in the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280AD). As late as the 1960s, the Jinou people didn't have print currency and used the Tea Horse road as a commercial route.
We drive a ways up the mountain and the van stops on an otherwise unmarked part of the road. We climb out. What is so awesome about Yunnan is that you feel like you're in the land before time. Massive ferns and palms dwarf you, trees are carelessly old. Except for a narrow trail the jungle vegetation is impassably thick and overgrown. It was still overcast when we reached the trees, nestled across a pond on a hill. The hill was covered, not terrace style as with cultivated tea but wild-grove style.
Every plant in this grove is at least 80-years-old, most are older. Ke Ke (the elder Mr. Chen) explains that many tea companies might label trees like this 400 or 500 years old. But based on his educated (doctoral) guess, they're more likely 150-200—definitely planted sometime in the Qing Dynasty. The tea plant, for all its merits, is a stubborn little evergreen. Even sexually propagated plants grow very, very slowly. A fifty-year-old plant is a glorified bush. The oldest tea plant, before this point I have seen was maybe 100 years old and it was a ten-foot tall tree. The sun breaks out while we're at the garden and, like most tea gardens, it gets hot fast. Maybe because of the break in the weather or the awesome, reverential feeling of being in this grove the Staples Singers "Uncloudy Day" gets stuck in my head.
Most years there would have been two flushes already, but because of drought conditions there has only been one partial plucking of new growth—four days ago. It's estimated there won't be enough mature growth until mid-April. Drought conditions have been persisting in some way or another since 2008. Our producer, Mr. Yang explains that last year their was a slight respite from the drought but that this year its worse than ever.
We take a quick drive up the mountain through the Jinou village and up to the cake-pressing, shu aging facility. We're shown a warehouse where the Shu process has been underway for a couple of days. With new developments, partially thanks to the Chens, digital equipment is monitoring the humidity, temperature and moisture content of the leaves, with periodic samples of bacteria taken making sure the fermentation process is going well.
Keke then takes us to the sheng processing room. There's a giant bag of mao cha sitting on the table. Old, giant stones are sitting on a wooden bench. After demonstrating the process in front of us we're allowed to press our own cake. Mao cha is taken, placed in a tin open on one side, set ontop of a steamer, flipped upside down into a burlap sack and then tightened by knot. It's put under a giant stone with an impression in the shape of a cake. A person stands on top of this stone and jostles it around with their feet to compress the cake into shape. The stone is then lifted, the cake removed from its burlap sack and left on a shelf to dry.
Some of us Lao Weis had a hard time getting our big feet on the relatively small, incredibly heavy stone to start gyrating. Start to finish, Mr. Yang and his fellow master can create a bing in about an minute. We were a lot slower. There was also quite a bit of moisture in the leaves when they gave us back our cakes so we continued to let them air at the hotel.
We go a ways down the mountain, to Mr. Yang's house—a newly constructed two-storey on the mountainside in a tiny, rural village. He serves us Mao Cha and new process tea from the garden we saw today. The Mao Cha is four days old. Generous infusions are served all around and this very sweet corn, whose name I forget, is served on the cob. The tea service attracts the locals, who begin to filter in.
The Mao is sweet and smooth and the new process shu is fascinating (albeit still a prototype), familiar old wood aroma with a tart tinge a lot like a lambic beer. By Keke and Guo's admission the shu is not yet ready for commercial sale. The fermentation process is still being refined.
We exchange gifts with Mr. Yang and his wife. And get a photo on his beautiful rooftop, with You Le in the background. With our new personal bings in hand and a gift of mao cha from the garden we visited, we head home.
We got back to Jinghong just as the sun was sinking below the horizon (which, because of the surrounding mountains is admittedly pretty high). It sets the city aglow: all its white and gold towers shimmering. Xishuangbanna means "Twelve Valleys" and the area that Jinghong occupies is one of them. We're all left to fend for ourselves for the night and most of us can't wait to take on the town.
Michael and I don't get ten feet before we stop into a tea room: Mei Huan. The two younger women working there ply us with the sheng they have steeping. They don't speak a word of english. What happens next isn't necessarily worth relaying but Michael picked out what was then quoted to us as over $400 USD worth of Pu'Er and teaware, found out his card isn't accepted, two different English-speaking friends were called on WeChat, we walked to an ATM, both got money out (I had to loan him the amount over the daily limit) and paid. Now imagine all that being done without a common language. I actually left while he was in there, took a walk around the nearby streets to the night market and came back before they'd even managed to get payment.
We ate a midnight dinner at one of the last market stands that was open. Michael got two oysters and I had a superb grilled eggplant. We drank the tallest glasses of beer we could order in broken mandarin. A nearby folk ambassador (every town has one) spoke to us through an app. "These two beauties would like to take a photo with you," he said, straightfaced of his market stall companions, causing said beauties to hit him profusely with their hands and run away shyly. Unsurprisingly he wants to know everything about why we're here and where we come from. He concludes by welcoming us to the Dai territory (he himself is Dai) and tells us anything can happen here. Beautiful things will, if we're open to them. He then has us cheers with him Xi-shuang-banna!