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Tea’s Carbon Footprint

How Earth Friendly is Your Tea?
How Earth Friendly is Your Tea?

©2009 Jennifer Leigh Sauer

Ever wonder what kind of impact tea has on the environment? That depends largely on the behavior of the tea drinker, according to tea technologist and longtime tea industry consultant Nigel Melican of of Teacraft Ltd who recently did an in-depth study on the carbon footprint of tea.

Researching tea’s carbon impact from Asian tea farm to American teapot (and landfill), Melican sought to find out whether tea is an environmental “saint or a sinner” when we measure its carbon footprint by a number of criteria. He found that several variables in the domain of the tea drinker herself have a great impact on the final result, and it seems worth sharing since we are on this planet together.

“If tea is well made, if we look at the supply chain properly, if we make some adjustments, we can actually get tea to be carbon neutral,” said Melican. “Some tea in some countries we could get to be carbon negative. Now that is quite something for a product which goes from where its grown, ten thousand miles [away], to the consumer…”

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Water for Tea (Part III)

Great tea requires artful preparation, the highest quality tea leaves, and pure water.
Great tea requires artful preparation, the highest quality tea leaves, and pure water.

Water temperature also influences the final cup, and tea masters are vigilant about heating their water optimally to match the tea they are brewing. However, they determine the “readiness” of the water in different ways-visually, auditorially, and electronically.

Some look for visual signs of the water temperature to determine when the water is heated properly for the particular tea they intend to brew.

You may have heard tea masters talk about looking for “fish eyes” in the water.  This is when medium bubbles form just before the water moves towards a roiling boil.  This is when the water is ready for oolongs, generally.  The way the steam leaves the spout of the kettle—in wisps or in gusts–also signals the water’s readiness for some tea masters.

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Water for Tea (Part II)

Water is important in every step of making sencha green teas: from the growing, to steaming, to brewing of the leaves.
Water is important in every step of making sencha green teas: from the growing, to steaming, to brewing of the leaves.

David Lee Hoffman’s appreciation for quality tea water reminds me of those of Lu Yu, the eighth century Tang Dynasty tea sage who instructed his readers in The Classic of Tea about how and where to collect water for tea:

“On the question of water to use, I would suggest that tea made from mountain streams is best, river water is all right, but well-water is quite inferior.”1

Other tea masters rave about the water used for brewing tea in the rural mountain villages of China where they go to find teas. They believe that where good tea grows, good water is often close at hand.  As well, the experience of drinking a tea in its natural habitat with local stream water meant for that tea is an inimitable lifetime experience to be treasured.

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How to Buy Tea

Learn how to buy TeaChoosing teas from the seemingly never-ending selection can sometimes be daunting. Let Samovar Tea Lounge guide you through the maze of different teas and help you learn about what makes a good tea.

Before buying tea, it’s always optimal to taste it, just like wine. In general, you should buy small quantities – unless it’s a particular favorite – because this will allow you to consume the tea while it’s still fresh.

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How Tea is Made

Picking. Sorting. Steaming. Firing. Twisting. Oxidizing.
All of these techniques and more are used to produce the best tasting tea. Learn more about how the perfect leaf becomes the perfect sip.

All tea is made from the same plant.
Yes, you read right, all tea, whether it’s black, oolong, green, white, or pu-erh, comes from the Camellia sinensis plant in the same way that all wine comes from the grape, albeit different varietals.

Like wine, different tea leaf varietals have developed in different geographic locations. Each tea varietal’s unique characteristics are the result of the human selection, soil composition, and local weather patterns.

Processing makes all the difference.

Processing the tea in different ways creates different kinds of teas. (Just for the record, we need to differentiate between tea and herbal infusions. The former is what we’re describing here, the latter is a beverage made from herbs and plants such as lavender, chamomile, rooibos, lemongrass, and osmanthus.)

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Learn About Oolong Tea

Learn Oolong TeaOolong Tea is the category of semi-oxidized teas. The process for making an Oolong Teas is different for each kind, but includes nuances from green and black tea production. Oolong teas are very much like wine in that geographical origin can signal a specific tea bush varietal, micro-climate, and tradition of processing.

To encourage and control leaf oxidation, the Tea Masters who make Oolongs employ various stages of withering, bruising (to encourage oxidation), roasting (to stop oxidation), rolling, and baking techniques. The amount that a particular tealeaf is allowed to oxidize before baking results in the range of oolong infusion color: from bright green or golden to amber or reddish infusions.

Oolong Teas that are more oxidized, as with black tea, have a darker, coppery, reddish-amber infusion. Less oxidized Oolongs have a greener or golden-green infusion.

Oolong Teas was first made in Fujian, China during the 18th century. Today Oolongs are produced in Guangdong and Fujian, China, Taiwan, Northern Thailand, Myanmar, and Vietnam. Oolongs can be made with spring, autumn, and winter leaves- with each harvest possessing unique characteristics.

Oolong teas have complex flavor profiles and there is a wide range of them. Some oolongs are processed into tightly packed pellets or pearls (pack rolled), while others are long and twisted (long rolled). These differences in appearance are created by distinct rolling techniques that vary from region to region.

Please see the Samovar Oolong Teas

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Learn About Black Tea

Learn black teaBlack Tea is the class of tea that is considered to be fully-oxidized. The processing of Black Tea originated in China, where it is known as Hong Cha, or “Red Tea.” When this fully-oxidized tea came to the west, people saw the black color of the dry leaves and Black Tea got its name.

Black tea is processed to become dark. This means that enzymatic oxidation is encouraged.

With black tea, the leaf is not fired until the leaf has oxidized to a point that the Tea Master making the tea determines is enough. If the tea is not oxidized enough, it will be to green in flavor. Too much oxidation and the tea will taste flat and dusty.

The resulting infusion of a Black Tea is a coppery “red.” This change in color occurs as a result of the way oxidation alters the polyphenols in the tealeaf. Fresh tealeaves are rich in polyphenols (the antioxidants), which have a clear and greenish pigment. When these clear-green polyphenols oxidize, they become Theaflavin, which has a golden-yellow pigment (as with the infusions of oolongs and white teas). In black tea, the Theaflavin has further oxidized and become Thearubigin, which has a reddish pigment.

Due to the hearty tea leaf varietals traditionally selected to make Black Tea, the infusions tend to be higher in caffeine than most other kinds of tea.

Please see the Samovar Black Teas

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Learn About Pu-erh Tea

Learn pu_erh TeaPu-erh Tea is the class of tea that is fermented to a certain extent. Pu-erh Tea gets its name from the market of the city of Pu-erh, in Yunnan Province, China, where this tea was historically brought for sale from the more remote regions of the countryside where the tea is actually grown and processed.
Authentic Pu-erh are made with Yunnan’s famous broad-leaf tea tree varietals.

There are two types of Pu-erh: Raw Pu-erh and Cooked (or “Ripe”) Pu-erh.

Often Pu-erh teas are referred to as aged teas. This is because, unlike white, green, yellow, black, and most oolong teas, which are highly perishable and have a short shelf life, well-made pu-erh teas may be stored and aged for years of enjoyment. Also, unlike other teas, Pu-erh teas are usually exposed to a fermentation process.
Both types of Pu-erh Tea (Raw and Cooked) are made with Sai qing “sun-cured green tea,” which is processed by withering, roasting, rolling, kneading and drying the leaves in the sun.

This is how Raw Pu-erh is made: After it is processed as Sai Qing, the tea leaves can either be left loose or compressed into shapes. At this point the tea may either be consumed in this “raw” green/semi-green form, or properly stored for aging, (which means the tea will be subject to further oxidation and to fermentation).

This is how Cooked (or “ripened”) Pu-erh Tea is made:  It is subjected to a transformation through natural fermentation. After the tealeaves have been processed as Sai qing, they are intentionally fermented in piles by adding purified water and mixing the tealeaves in a well-ventilated, climate and temperature controlled room. This process is similar to composting.

Once the desired fermentation is complete, the tea is sorted, graded, and then processed as either loose pu-erh or it can be compressed into shapes (like tea bricks or tea cakes).

The flavor profile of many pu-erh teas are complex layers of pungent earth, moss, damp wood, with and prevailing sweetness.

Please see the Samovar Pu-erh Teas

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Pu-erh 101

A Golden Mini Pu-erh Toucha (Cake Tea)
A Golden Mini Pu-erh Toucha (Cake Tea)

A lot of customers have been asking about Pu-erh tea, so, I thought I would provide a bit of insight into this really magical brew…

Pu-erh is a category of tea, just like Black tea is a category of
tea. And, just like there are different types of black tea (Darjeeling,
Assam, Earl Grey, etc.), there are countless types of Pu-erh teas.

The one special thing about Pu-erh tea unlike all other teas (White tea, Oolong tea, Green Tea, and Black Tea) is that it is the only tea that is intentionally aged, just like a fine wine or cheese.

With that unique processing method, Pu-erh has an incredibly different flavor and effect than all other teas. Pu-er is dark, rich, smooth, and robust with an incredibly deep flavor that often is characterized by notes of chocolate, espresso, and even coffee–but it is tea!

In the US we are only just beginning to discover the variety and deliciousness of Pu-erh tea and Samovar Tea Lounge is currently the largest supplier of certified organic fair trade pu-erh.

Pu-erh Tea Cake Wraped and Unwrapped
Pu-erh Tea Cake Wraped and Unwrapped

In China Pu-erh is known as a”slimming” tea because of its digestive
benefits when sipped with meals,especially with rich, hearty, or oily meals.

Now, how to decide WHICH Pu-erh is right for you? The best way is just to taste away! The flavor of the different types of Pu-erhs ranges from more chocolaty and espresso like (Palace and the Maiden’s Ecstacy), to more oceanic (Menghai Select), to more green (Sun dried Green Beencha and Green Toucha).