Dive Into Taiwan & Its Teas

Stinky tofu being served at a street food market in Taipei.

Stinky tofu being served at a street food market in Taipei.


 Tea gardens in spring in Hsinchu.

Tea gardens in spring in Hsinchu.


Our Ali Shan is creamy, fruity and quenching and encapsulates the green, lush refreshment of this national park it's grown in.

Our Ali Shan is creamy, fruity and quenching and encapsulates the green, lush refreshment of this national park it's grown in.

Ali Shan National Park is rich with nature, including mountain peaks, waterfalls and tea gardens.

Ali Shan National Park is rich with nature, including mountain peaks, waterfalls and tea gardens.

A Food Lover’s Paradise

Tea trips to Taiwan have always involved a lot of food.  Not only is it plentiful, but it’s talked about and shared with enormous pride, generosity and gusto. Evenings at the local night market being introduced to the national dish “stinky tofu” (a dish which is much kinder on the palate than it is on the nose) are organised with just as much enthusiasm as a reservation at the original Din Tai Fung for an indulgent few hours of hot, steaming dumplings. Tea is tasted alongside freshly picked slices of local fruits, seeds or sweets, and tea garden visits end happily with a bag full of pineapple cakes and a long list of recommendations for wherever we’re going on to next.

As well as a powerful food culture, Taiwan has one of the largest densities of mountains of any island in the world. With more than 286 peaks hitting more than 3,000m, ticking off the “Baiyue” – the 100 peaks of Taiwan is a lifetime’s work for many mountain climbers. These peaks run through the centre of the island making at least 50% of the island uninhabited. Instead of settlements, these mountains are dense with lush green forests – forests which make the most of the sub-tropical and tropical climates of the island depending on which side of the Tropic of Cancer, which traverses Taiwan, they fall.

Over the next few months as the tea season progresses in Taiwan, we’ll be diving into individual regions and their teas. First up, as we await the arrival of the spring crops, let’s start with two quite different teas to illustrate the diversity of this green island’s tea offering…

Oriental Beauty

Originating in Hsinchu, a coastal county in the north of the Island, Oriental Beauty is rich and decadent. It’s a complex, fruity and woody tea, often likened to drinking a dessert wine.

Some tea farmers in Hsinchu believe that the warmth and humid atmosphere of the summer allows a very small insect to thrive among their tea bushes. Only found in this area and known as “tea jassid”, these tiny insects feed on the tea leaves, which are then thought to react by producing a polyphenol or plant compound to deter them. Tea producers encourage this, understanding that this unique polyphenol contributes to the distinctive taste and character of Oriental Beauty, enhancing a sweet, honeyed taste in the tea.

Insects or no insects, Oriental Beauty certainly occupies a unique place in the tea lexicon of Taiwan. It’s oxidised much more than your typical Taiwanese oolong – typically to around 60%, which brings out the body and deeper, complex notes from the leaves. The Qing Xin cultivar tea bushes help here too. A widely grown variety in Taiwan, they’re famed for producing fruity and floral teas, even when heavily oxidised. In this case, the tea doesn’t become too dark or malty like a black tea and retains its smooth, round texture with lasting sweetness.

We’d recommend trying Oriental Beauty if you like light, fruity black teas like Darjeeling Second Flush, or if you like the deep complexity of China’s baked oolongs from Wuyi, or Phoenix Honey Orchid. If you want something that’s highly aromatic and combines a dark character with a deep refreshment, this tea is for you.

Producers of our Ali Shan, The Chens, looking down on their tea garden on the west side of Ali Mountain National Park in Meishan township.

Producers of our Ali Shan, The Chens, looking down on their tea garden on the west side of Ali Mountain National Park in Meishan township.

Ali Shan

Taiwan’s the only tea origin to have a classification for high grown tea – recognising that tea grown in the right mountainous conditions will develop unique and special combinations of creamy, fruit and floral flavours. Of these high mountain teas, known as “gao shan” teas, Ali Shan is one of the best.

Located towards the south of the island, Ali Shan National Park is full of peaks, waterfalls and tea gardens. These gardens typically produce lightly oxidised, baked, rolled oolong teas.

They’re prized for their unique milky flavour which comes from the specific cultivar of tea bush, Jin Xuan, that was cultivated and is still grown in Ali Shan. It’s a tea that’s spawned a whole category of oolongs, known as ‘milk’ or ‘milky oolongs’. Because of the popularity of this flavour, it’s now not uncommon to find a ‘milk oolong’ which has nothing to do with Ali Shan which has had a milky flavour added to it.

A good, pure oolong from Ali Shan is highly floral and big on fruity aromas of mango, strawberry and pear. It’s refreshing yet thick, and it fulfils that hard-to-find criteria of being both accessible and complex. It works as a source of comfort on a busy day, knowing it’ll always be enjoyable however you make it, but it also works for a quiet afternoon when you’ve got more time to contemplate the flavours and prepare it slowly.

Try Ali Shan if you want a relatively light tea – and like the sound of milky, floral flavours. If you like the refreshment of green tea but want something with a thicker mouthfeel, a deep fruitiness and a quenching character, this tea is for you.

[product skus="ORIENTAL_BEAUTY_LOOSE_LEAF"]

Oriental Beauty

This highly fragrant oolong tea is carefully oxidised to elicit iconic notes of floral fruit sweetness. The beautifully shaped leaves and buds display a variety of hues that impart decadent and complex flavours.

Shop Oriental Beauty

How To Make Cold-Infused Tea

How To Make A Cold Infusion From Tea

Cold brew tea

Cold brew tea

Your cold infusion will be lighter – you might even call it understated – but if you choose the right tea, it’ll be very aromatic. This is because cold water brings out less of the structure – including tannin – from your leaves. Less structure means more space in your drink for the lighter flavours and high notes or aromas to show themselves. If you want to explore some of the more subtle flavours in teas, such as easily finding the floral “orchid” flavour in a Phoenix Honey Orchid oolong tea, or getting citrus refreshment from the bergamot in Earl Grey, a cold infused version will help with that. Read on for our simple guide on how to make a cold infusion from tea.

We also made a short video tutorial which you can find here.

https://jingtea.com/journal/refreshing-cold-infusions

What is Cold Infused Tea?

It’s the method of making tea that uses time instead of heat to extract flavour from tea leaves. It’s as simple as adding cold water to your tea leaves and leaving them in the fridge for two to eight hours.

When To Drink Cold Infused Tea

It’s perfect on a hot day – when you want a cool, light and refreshing drink. With it’s naturally sweet and aromatic character cold infused tea makes a great alternative to soft drinks. With a cold infused tea you’ll get only water and tea leaves – no sugar needed. If you want maximum natural sweetness and refreshment, try cold infusing our Pineapple and Chamomile Herbal Infusion or Jasmine Silver Needle White Tea.

The complexity of flavours that certain teas offer make cold infusions a satisfying aperitif. If you want surprise, intrigue and complexity try our Wuyi Oolong or Yunnan Gold.

Is Cold Infused Tea Good For You?

Like all cups of tea, your cold infusion will be hydrating – it’s made up of mostly water afterall.

When you’re using high quality whole tea leaves to make your drink it’ll be completely natural too – nothing artificial added and there’s no need to add sugar.

Cold Infusion Recipes

We would recommend trying cold infusions with the following teas:

Sencha
Sencha

ML

1litre

G

18g

°C

 10°C

Time

2.5 Hours
red dragon cold infsued
Red Dragon

ML

1litre

G

18g

°C

 10°C

Time

4 Hours*
Jasmine-Silver-Needle-Loose-Leaf-White-Tea
Jasmine Silver Needle

ML

1litre

G

18g

°C

 10°C

Time

4 Hours
Cold Infused Earl Grey
Earl Grey

ML

1litre

G

22g

°C

 10°C

Time

4 Hours*
Phoenix-Honey-Orchid-Loose-Leaf-Oolong-Tea
Phoenix Honey Orchid

ML

1litre

G

16g

°C

 10°C

Time

4 Hours

Best Teaware for Cold Infusions

[product skus="G0031001,TEA-IERE_1LITRE,G0029001,G0027001"]

JING meets Sabita Banerji of THIRST

Sabita Banerji, CEO of The International Roundtable For Sustainable Tea

Sabita Banerji, CEO of The International Roundtable For Sustainable Tea

Many of the tea workers on India's largest plantations are provided with housing to live and work in the gardens.

Many of the tea workers on India's largest plantations are provided with housing to live and work in the gardens.

Sabita Banerji is a lifelong campaigner for human rights, ethical trading and now she’s CEO of THIRST - The first International Roundtable For Sustainable Tea. As today is United Nations International Tea Day, we thought it's be a great day to hear and share Sabita's ideas for what we can do as tea lovers can do to support a more sustainable future for the tea industry.

International Tea Day is a day set up to promote and foster collective action for the sustainable production and consumption of tea, while raising awareness of its value in fighting hunger and poverty. Last year we wrote about why this day matters. In short, with mass-market black teas predominantly blended from lots of different places and sold at prices as low as around 2p a teabag, there’s not enough money in the supply chain to support the gardens and people that produce the tea. We believe that together with organisations like the UN and awareness days, it is possible to rebuild consumers’ sense of the value of tea – and so raise the price they are willing to pay. This belief in the urgent need to rebuild value in our industry is something we share with Sabita Banerji.

Will and Sabita chatted about the situations and challenges people face on the large plantations or estates that make up much of the tea landscape in India – and what we as tea drinkers can do about them.

_

Will: Can you tell me a bit about THIRST and what the aims are for the organisation?

Sabita: THIRST was set up to bring about positive change in the tea industry by being a platform for all voices to come together. That means hearing from workers, listening to farmers, to companies and governments, and try to understand what all of us can do together, with civil society, to make tea into a fair and sustainable industry.

W: So a true roundtable?

S: Yes, exactly!

W: You grew up on tea estates in India, what was that like?

S: I was born on a tea plantation in Kerala, South India and lived there until I was nine. Then we moved to a tea plantation in Assam and when I was 12, we came to England. So, my early formative years were spent in these beautiful tea growing areas. Of course, as a child, I was completely blind to the beauty though! I do think children have an innate sense of fairness and I can remember it feeling wrong that we had a very comfortable life in a big house around us when there were people, some of whom worked in our house or worked in the tea gardens, who just had these little, tiny huts to live in. When you see general statistics about Kerala, it reports very high literacy, good health rates, good income levels and low maternal mortality rates, but if you look at what’s happening on the plantations, and what I saw growing up, those statistics are definitely not the whole story.

W: What happened next, did you continue working in tea?

S: I’ll admit that I’d forgotten about tea for a while and began my career working with Oxfam. It wasn’t until years later, I heard by chance that the tea plantations where we'd been brought up, were now owned by the workers and that they had shares in the company. I found this idea fascinating, and I was curious to find out more. So I returned to my birthplace in Munnar, Kerala, for the first time in years, and found out they'd done happiness surveys on the plantations and there was a correlation between happiness and workers now feeling their sense of ownership. I was really inspired by this positive impact, so I started finding out more about fair trade and ethical trade.

“I was in the midst of this huge turmoil, this uprising of women workers, whilst I myself was working in ethical trade. It was an extraordinary moment and it just felt like a calling.”

Most of the tea picking on the plantations in India is done by women.

Most of the tea picking on the plantations in India is done by women.

The Pempillai Orumai, or Unity of Women, lead a worker's strike in Munnar, Kerala.

The Pempillai Orumai, or Unity of Women, lead a worker's strike in Munnar, Kerala.

Later, I began working for the Ethical Trading Initiative, which is an initiative of companies, trade unions and NGOs looking at working conditions in global supply chains. I was sent to visit garment factories in Tamil Nadu, not very far from where I was born. So I thought, oh, I'll go back to the plantation and find out a bit more about these contented workers. But when I got to the office, it was locked up and from every direction were women waving black flags, shouting protest slogans. I tried to ask them what it was all about and they told me they were tea workers, and it was about their wages. I was so confused. How could these women who own the company go on strike? I kept asking them about the ownership shares and they just looked at me blank. They said the trade unions were not representing them effectively and that they had sold them out to the companies who now refused to pay their annual bonus. The wages they were getting didn't really cover all of their basic needs, so many of them were borrowing money from loan sharks, knowing that they'll get their usual 20 percent bonus at the end of the year. But, when the company said it's only going to be 10 percent because of profit margin issues, it left the workers in an incredibly difficult position, with a debt that they can't pay it back. There I was in the midst of this huge turmoil, this uprising of women workers, in the place where I’d grown up, whilst I myself was working in ethical trade. It was an extraordinary moment and it just felt like a calling.

Ever since that day, in the midst of those women – who called themselves Pempillai Orumai, which means ‘Unity of Women’ in Tamil –  I've been thinking about how best to try and support them and workers like them in the tea industry.. So I spoke with Oxfam, who had been doing some work in the tea industry in Malawi and also to the Ethical Tea Partnership. They both said, what's really needed is a platform where civil society can come together, pool all our knowledge and coordinate our work, then it's likely to have a stronger voice and more impact for change in the tea industry. So that was the idea for THIRST. I set up properly in 2018 and almost exactly a year ago, we were awarded our charitable status.

“A lot of companies are now trying to address these two issues, the environment and improving the conditions for the workers. Some are doing better than others, but there’s still a lot to be done”

W: What’s life like now for these tea communities?

S: Traditionally the plantation model means whole families living on the estate, with the housing, schooling and everything provided. Each estate is made up of a management team– managers, associate managers and supervisors and then the workers. Generally the women do the tea plucking, and men work in the processing factories. The tea that they produce will then be sold by auction or private sales. There are two huge issues they face, firstly with the prices of tea so low and so not enough money, the housing can be very low quality, run down and severely overcrowded. The second is that estates tend to be really large, you know, huge monocultures. You see this beautiful photograph of rolling hills with nothing but tea, you’ll hear some environmentalists describing them as ‘green deserts’ because there's no biodiversity.

Although a lot of companies are now trying to address these two issues – environments and those of the living conditions of the workers, some are doing better than others but there’s still a lot to be done.

W: It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by these big issues affecting the tea industry, climate change, soil degradation and poverty. What are the steps you've seen people taking that are having an impact?

S: I think there are lots of pockets of good practice and things that are working but working out the steps that each part of the industry can take to have an impact is something I want to look at in much more detail as part of a human rights impact assessment we’re undertaking over the next three years.

It’s in response to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, urging companies to take responsibility for human rights in their supply chain. It became clear that this is what is needed for the industry as a whole, to actually find out what the issues are, where the risks are and what needs to be addressed.  It's no good picking one company and saying, okay, we'll do it with our supply chain, because it is such a global industry and it's so interconnected. There's a limit to how much one company can do on their own.

W: Last year we saw the initial impact of the Covid pandemic in Darjeeling and Assam, which caused many to go into lockdown and miss out on the important first flush picking season. With the recent surge in cases how is it affecting them now?

S: For a while we were thinking how lucky it was that covid hasn't got it into the tea estates, but now it has. Two hundred. Five hundred….The numbers are just shooting up and the thing is the tea companies say, well we shouldn't be restricted in working because we can ensure that there's the correct social distancing, that people are working outside and we can put in place measures to prevent transmission. But the big issue in tea estates is that the houses are all side by side in a terrace and they'll generally be two room houses with an entire family, or even extended family living in each one, so they can't socially distance at home. The Indian strain is now so infectious that it could rip through that accommodation and the plantations don't have the infrastructure to deal with it.

Sabita gets hands on with some tea, tasting her way through batches of freshly produced black tea

Sabita gets hands on with some tea, tasting her way through batches of freshly produced black tea

“I think consumers often think that they don't have very much power. But actually, I think companies hugely value and respect what their consumers do.”

Sabita meets with tea workers at a Fairtrade Premium Committee meeting in India.

Sabita meets with tea workers at a Fairtrade Premium Committee meeting in India.

W: It sounds like the pandemic is further highlighting some of the systemic issues..

S: Yes, I think Covid keeps bringing into the spotlight problems that have been there forever and I think this housing issue is a huge one. This is something, I think, that tea brands, retailers and consumers really need to be both lobbying for and supporting. I don't believe that the tea plantations are deliberately forcing their workers to live in substandard housing. I think if they could, they would give them decent housing. But they are operating in a way that means the value isn’t evenly distributed along the supply chain. Only a tiny, minuscule proportion of what you pay for commodity tea in a shop or a café goes back to the producer and that needs to be more fairly distributed to enable them to provide better quality housing. Or, to change the system so that workers can own the houses themselves, do the repairs themselves and get paid a decent wage.

W: For everyday tea drinkers reading about these issues, what can they do to make a difference?

S: I think consumers often think that they don't have very much power. But actually, I believe companies do listen. Consumers need to be vocal to their favourite tea company, to their supermarket or the places they shop urging them to support initiatives that improve housing and wages in tea. Mostly, if consumers are demonstrating with the choices they make that they're willing to pay a little bit more for their tea so conditions with the industry will improve, then it shows the direction they want things to go.

W: What’s next for THIRST?

S: Our next big event is happening on the 27th May - we're hosting a talk on technology, transparency and tea, discussing how technology is being used to improve conditions for the workers and farmers.

You can find out more at THIRST.International, where you can also sign up for monthly updates, to stay informed on all our upcoming events, as well as a roundup of news from around the world on the environment and human rights issues in the tea industry.

What can you do?

As Sabita mentions there are things that we can do, as tea drinkers, to elicit change in the industry. Here are a few ideas…

• Pay a fair price for your tea – just a few pence more will not only give you a better tasting tea but it’ll mean more money in the supply chain – and a much better chance of this filtering down to the people who need it most.
• Choosing tea from a single origin – or even a single garden – is the easiest way to make sure you know where your tea’s come from and to actively support a specific origin.
• Choose organic – either certified or teas produced with organic methods. Increasing demand for organic ensure more sustainable farming and production methods, protecting the gardens, the environment, soil health and the people growing your tea.

To find more information and learn how you can help beat the COVID-19 crisis in India visit Doctors Without Borders, British Red Cross and UNICEF.

Meet Talat Ahmed

Talat is a third generation Assamese tea planter and has managed Orangajuli Garden for the past four decades.

Talat is a third generation Assamese tea planter and has managed Orangajuli Garden for the past four decades.


Being surrounded by nature and wildlife is one of the main reasons Talat works in tea.

Being surrounded by nature and wildlife is one of the main reasons Talat works in tea.


In place of pesticides, Talat is using indigenous technical knowledge to inform a system of low-cost, ecofriendly & sustainable farming techniques.

In place of pesticides, Talat is using indigenous technical knowledge to inform a system of low-cost, ecofriendly & sustainable farming techniques.


Talat usually drinks 4-5 cups of Assam tea a day with a slice of fresh lemon or lime.

Talat usually drinks 4-5 cups of Assam tea a day with a slice of fresh lemon or lime.


 Talat wants to do more to celebrate the women of Assam - both those that work in the garden and behind the scenes.

Talat wants to do more to celebrate the women of Assam - both those that work in the garden and behind the scenes.


Young people have returned to the gardens during the pandemic, attracted by the clean air and a change from city life.

Young people have returned to the gardens during the pandemic, attracted by the clean air and a change from city life.


Talat's second flush tea from Orangajuli garden makes up our bold and invigorating Assam Breakfast tea.

Talat's second flush tea from Orangajuli garden makes up our bold and invigorating Assam Breakfast tea.

Talat Ahmed is a third-generation Assamese tea planter. As a young man he left Assam to study for an MBA in Kolkata, but soon realised how much he missed nature and an outdoor life. When he got a job offer to return and join a tea garden, he didn’t think he could ever get a better one. He accepted the offer and, four decades on, Talat is garden manager of Orangajuli, heading up a management team of seven that also comprises four assistant managers, two welfare officers and a medical officer.

Orangajuli is in Assam’s Udalguri district, close to the border with Bhutan. In local dialect its name means ‘people living by a small stream’. It’s been around for more than a century, overcoming adversity to produce unique teas thanks to a special microclimate and high-quality clonal bushes. I caught up with Talat via Zoom on a late afternoon in April, just as a siren sounded to signal the end of the working day at Orangajuli. He usually stays later in case staff want to speak to him. Recently they’ve been stopping by to pick up Neem trees for planting…

“I’ve loved nature and wildlife since childhood. This is the number one reason why I work in tea: you are quite literally a part of nature.”

In the 90s, Talat went to Cranfield University for a conference on innovation in the tea industry. The issues they discussed “seemed far in the future and almost too big to be imaginable”. He wasn’t sure he’d be around to deal with them, but they’ve arrived more quickly than expected – and the biggest issue of all is climate change.

Over the last few years, he’s reduced the pesticide loads at Orangajuli by more than 70%. More widely, he’s committed to planting trees and educating younger generations about the environment and the value of living in harmony with nature. He’s feeling positive again about the future of the industry but knows there’s hard work ahead.

My favourite animal must be the elephant. We see them regularly in the gardens now and they are a good sign – we worship elephants in India, after all.”

Talat's favourite animal is elephants, which he often sees in his tea garden.

Talat's favourite animal is elephants, which he often sees in his tea garden.

Rainfall in Orangajuli’s region has decreased over the years and it is now scant in colder months. This dry period affects the health of the tea bushes and since the late 90s Orangajuli has had to be irrigated from November to March. Coupled to higher summer temperatures, the erratic rainfall has led to many more pest infestations.

But Talat is not fighting the pests in the way he used to. “The circle of life means maintaining the population of tea bush predators is an effective way of maintaining the health of the bushes. As we’ve decreased the pesticide load, the quality of each harvest has improved too. We’ve been sharing the steps we’ve taken with other tea gardens in the area to help them too.”

In place of the pesticides, he’s relying in part on indigenous technical knowledge, or ITK. This knowledge, which has been built up by generations of local farmers working directly on the land, informs a system of low-cost, ecofriendly and sustainable farming techniques. These techniques include mixing ingredients such as cow’s urine, neem seeds, water hyacinth, young banana leaves, rice starch and even chillies to create natural substances that protect tea bushes.

At Orangajuli, using neem-based bio products has increased the populations of ladybugs, butterflies and birds. Talat has been buying cow dung too from nearby villages to create a compost that makes the soil more fertile. He’s also harvesting rainwater from a lot of the garden’s buildings and storing it for dry periods.

Finally, Talat’s put a big emphasis on planting trees around the garden to help shade and fuel the tea bushes. In total, the garden is planting up to 10,000 trees a year. As well as bokam, cassia and rain trees, there are the neem trees being given to workers to plant at home. “Tea plantations here are trying to help the environment by planting trees all over the place, along the road sides and any space we can find. As well as wanting to support the elephants, we are also happy to plant the trees because they can help reduce summer temperatures from around 40ºC to 32ºC which is good for the bushes.” The new trees have had another effect too…

“After years of deforestation, there’s nothing left for the elephants, so they are coming into the gardens to eat.”

Talat has planted loads of trees in his garden to help protect and shade the tea bushes.

Talat has planted loads of trees in his garden to help protect and shade the tea bushes.

Talat has had to create elephant corridors, while training workers not to be scared of them. Some of the tea garden has been given over to the corridors but because the creatures use the same routes every time, the dedicated corridors mean people can live “more comfortably” alongside them.

Another group getting more comfortable in tea gardens again is young people. “Covid brought a lot of people back to the region last year. Not all of them will stay, but some will,” predicts Talat. “Young people are interested in the clean air we have here, which is becoming a scarce commodity around the world. We’ve started giving classes in schools on the health benefits of working in a tea garden – everything we eat is locally produced and healthy. It’ll take time but I am confident the tide will turn, and more people will realise tea can be a good job. My daughters have taken jobs in Delhi, but maybe my grandchildren will work here.”

“I’ve worked in the gardens for 40 years and I’ve only ever made my own tea!”

Talat likes a light Assam cup with no milk or honey, just a slice of fresh lemon or lime. “Four or five cups a day keeps me healthy,” he says. “I use a pot and I won’t ask anyone else to make tea for me. It’s my habit to stay close to my tea – drinking it keeps me inspired to produce the best tea in the world for everyone in Assam.” Each cup is also accompanied by one of his wife’s homemade butter cookies.

“Women are the pillars of strength behind every tea planter”

 Far from India’s big cities, job opportunities in Assam are limited. “Women have traditionally sacrificed their ambitions because we work in secluded places,” says Talat. “That’s changing now, but even so, the work that my wife – and others of her generation have done is more than a full-time job. Looking after homes, children and large kitchen gardens. They can be a lifeline for the wider tea garden too.” At Orangajuli, women are in charge of welfare, visiting labour lines and hospitals to listen to workers’ problems. They are also on the garden’s anti-sexual harassment committee and look after the accommodation that’s used by buyers and other visitors. “Maintaining our lives in remote places like Assam is a huge part of the industry. Without the people who work on this, the industry would not survive.”

 “Even when I retire, I will still work in tea.”

 The future of Assam’s tea industry is looking better, according to Talat, but he wants to use his experience to help it in any way he can. “We’ve taken bold decisions on new varieties to resist climate change and on new technologies to help the workforce. This means yields are good and the workforce can be productive and earn more money. The next few years will be hard, but I’m grateful I have such a dedicated workforce.”

Talat’s black tea from Orangajuli makes up part of Assam Breakfast tea. try it here.

Update:

We spoke to Talat and wrote this interview in April, before the second wave of Coronavirus infections in India. Checking in with him last week (5th May) he was naturally concerned and saddened by the situation, the virus was contained in cities and had not reached Assam. Talat also told us the spring’s not been good – unexpected combinations of droughts and hailstorms have reduced the number of leaves on the bushes.

Ever positive though, Talat spoke about the increase in tea drinking in India in the last year, attributing it to the health associations of tea and Covid-19 heightening awareness about how to look after ourselves and stay healthy. Talat was positive the rains would arrive ahead of the all-important second flush season. Speaking passionately about UN International Tea Day too, Talat told us he sees it as an opportunity for tea drinkers to get to know and to connect with the people, communities and places which make their tea – to pay more attention to where their tea comes from and rebuild a sense of value of tea, especially for tea from Assam. Afterall there’s nowhere else in the world that produces the intense malty, fruit, rich taste of a cup of Assam black tea. We couldn’t agree more – find out more about Why UN International Tea Day matters.

[product skus="ASSAM_BREAKFAST_LOOSE_LEAF"]

Assam Breakfast

The ultimate single origin 'english' breakfast tea, satisfying and full-bodied with honeyed malty flavour. Expertly blended from selected gardens in Assam, India, for a fortifying and malty black tea that is perfect with or without milk.

Shop Assam Breakfast

Taste: Why Origin Matters Most

The place your favourite tea was grown can define so much about its look, taste, aroma and texture.

The place your favourite tea was grown can define so much about its look, taste, aroma and texture.


Every tea garden is unique and you can even find distinct microclimates or micro-terroirs within a single garden.

Every tea garden is unique and you can even find distinct microclimates or micro-terroirs within a single garden.

Growing at 1,600-2,000m in altitude, the high mountains of Ali Shan in Taiwan, produce a taste that cannot be found anywhere else.

Growing at 1,600-2,000m in altitude, the high mountains of Ali Shan in Taiwan, produce a taste that cannot be found anywhere else.


 In the foothills of the Himalayas, the altitude and climate found in Darjeeling helps produce its famed and unique first flush tea.

In the foothills of the Himalayas, the altitude and climate found in Darjeeling helps produce its famed and unique first flush tea.

The place your tea comes from can define its look, taste, aroma and even its texture. In the same way that we get to know good wines, coffee and now chocolate through their origin, understanding where the leaves in your cup once called home can help you navigate the rich world of tea and find your favourites.

Every tea origin is unique, and within each origin, every tea garden is unique. Each one can receive different amounts of sun, or have its own soil minerality, or enjoy something else that’s all its own – you can even find distinct microclimates or micro-terroirs within a single garden. After years of visiting gardens and working with producers across the world, we think there are five key factors that determine the taste of an origin and its high quality:

 1. ALTITUDE

Tea bushes can live happily anywhere from just 60m above sea level to vertiginous altitudes of around 2,500m. Above 1,500m, the conditions become more difficult for the tea bush to grow. The reasons for this include: an increase in range of temperatures between day and night; longer, cooler winters; more mist, so less sunlight; and steep slopes, which mean rainwater runs off the surface quicker, so the roots must dig deeper for hydration. For all these reasons, tea bushes grow slower at higher elevations, so they have more time to develop a wider range of concentrations of the plant compounds and amino acids that eventually define the taste and texture of the tea we drink.

Why Origin matters

At high mountain elevation, tea bushes grow slowly with more time to develop a wider range of tastes and textures.

For example…

One of our favourite examples of high mountain tea is Taiwan’s Ali Shan, which is grown between 1,600m and 2,000m. Looking at the leaves you can see they are large and there are long gaps between them indicating their slow growth. Local tea makers who know the environment and use the right varietals can nurture the tea bushes of Ali Shan to produce

thick, fruity, creamy, refreshing and quenching teas – with taste combinations that cannot be found anywhere else.

In the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, the tea bushes of Darjeeling live through long and cool winters. Each year, they get an extended rest during which the roots work hard underground, going deep in their search for nutrients. When spring comes and the first shoots and leaves are picked for production, the teas contain all the nutrients and energy the bushes have built up over the winter. Even better, the altitude means the days are still cool, so when the leaves are bruised during processing (i.e. gently rolled to break their skins and let oxygen in to concentrate their flavours), they oxidise very slowly. These are the conditions in which skilled producers can create the (unique) partially oxidised first flush the region is known for.

2. SOIL

The nutrients that nourish any plant are taken by the roots from the soil. In general, high quality tea gardens will have a mineral-rich, slightly acidic soil made up of clay, silt and sand particles. Individual variations in the make-up of the soil, its nutrients, and surrounding plant life will define the flavour of a single origin tea.

For example…

Teas from Wuyishan in south-eastern China are sometimes given the name Yancha or ‘rock tea’, which derives from the rocky terrain and mineral-rich soil in which they grow and that gives them their unique and celebrated minerality. This minerality is as good as tasting the rocky, wild mountains of Wuyishan in its tea.

Teas from Wuyishan are also known as 'rock tea' because of the unique minerality imparted by the mineral-rich soil they're grown in

Teas from Wuyishan are also known as 'rock tea' because of the unique minerality imparted by the mineral-rich soil they're grown in

How much water the tea bushes get and when affects the flavour of your tea.

How much water the tea bushes get and when affects the flavour of your tea.

Assam’s tea gardens are predominantly low lying and clustered around the Brahmaputra river, often flooded by monsoon rains.

Assam’s tea gardens are predominantly low lying and clustered around the Brahmaputra river, often flooded by monsoon rains.

To produce Gyokuro green tea, Japanese farmers go to great lengths to shade their tea bushes, enchancing their depth of flavour.

To produce Gyokuro green tea, Japanese farmers go to great lengths to shade their tea bushes, enchancing their depth of flavour.

'I want drinkers to taste Shuang Ji Niang mountain with its wet days, lush forest and volcanic history,' says Yong Luo.

'I want drinkers to taste Shuang Ji Niang mountain with its wet days, lush forest and volcanic history,' says Yong Luo.

3. WATER

Many traditional tea-growing regions are affected by monsoon rain. At altitude, tropical and sub-tropical climates are high in humidity, a damp mist forms over the tea bushes, protecting them from sunlight and hydrating them. How much water the bushes get – and when – affects the flavour of your tea. Too much water and they will grow fast, meaning their roots stay shallow and don’t bring up the best nutrients. As a result, flavours will be less refined and more diluted.

For example…

In north-eastern India, the second flush season is when Assam’s most distinctive and sought-after tea is produced. This brief period is usually the first couple of weeks in June, when there’s a sweet spot between the spring flush and the monsoon rains. Because Assam’s tea gardens are predominantly low lying and clustered around the Brahmaputra river, the climate is humid, and they are often flooded by heavy monsoon rains. Excess water dilutes or washes out intensity from the tea leaves when they are growing. That’s why the skilled producers keep ahead of the rains. After processing, the best tea buds and leaves will have golden tips that indicate the rich, malty and dried fruit flavours Assam is known for.

 4. SUNLIGHT

When they were first discovered in the wild, tea trees were growing around the borders of dense forests, using larger neighbouring trees as shade to get an even dispersion of indirect sunlight. Too much direct sun causes tea leaves to produce more of the bitter and astringent chemical compounds the bushes need to protect themselves from this harsh light and damaging UV rays. At high altitudes, where the tea plants could be more exposed to the sun, they’re often protected by mist.

For example…

In Japan, farmers producing Gyokuro green tea go to great lengths to shade their tea bushes for up to three weeks before the leaves are picked. Starving the leaves of sunlight encourages them to produce chlorophyll and an amino acid called L-theanine. The chlorophyll gives the leaves their characteristic rich green colour, while the shading also concentrates amino acids in the leaves. L-theanine is one of the plant compounds that

contributes to umami – the taste that producers of Gyokuro are looking to celebrate.

Mrs Miyazaki is one of only 3 people in Asahina valley still weaving traditional rice straw canopys for shading her gyokuro tea.

Mrs Miyazaki is one of only 3 people in Asahina valley still weaving traditional rice straw canopys for shading her gyokuro tea.

 5. PEOPLE

The individuals and communities who grow tea have a huge impact on its taste. High quality teas are produced with understanding and appreciation for the local environment. We’ve found that respect for origin exists most strongly in small-scale producers who have often farmed in a particular area for generations. The techniques they use have been handed down through families and can be intuited rather than taught. The choices these producers continue to make mean they are a crucial part of any origin. Today, with increased chemical intervention in agriculture, the choices farmers make around which fertilisers to use and how they manage pests also have a long-term impact on their plants’ natural ecosystem.

For example…

Yong Luo, who learnt to love tea from his grandfather, is a master producer of Phoenix Honey Orchid tea. His garden is on Shuang Ji Niang, a remote mountain in China’s Phoenix range where there’s a subtropical oceanic monsoon climate, which basically means it rains a lot! The soil is rich and volcanic, and a primeval forest surrounds his garden. As he explains, “To protect our place, I’ve chosen organic and ecological planting methods. It means I can’t produce as much tea and that my costs are higher, but my tea feels full of life. This is the only way to capture the appeal of Shuang Ji Niang mountain and its original flavours for drinkers. I want them to taste Shuang Ji Niang mountain with its wet days, lush forest and volcanic history.”

Knowing the countries and regions your favourite teas come from can help you to start exploring the world of single garden tea.

Knowing the countries and regions your favourite teas come from can help you to start exploring the world of single garden tea.


Choosing tea made using organic farming principles safeguards the natural terroir of an origin.

Choosing tea made using organic farming principles safeguards the natural terroir of an origin.

How to identify high quality tea

Now you know what origin encompasses and why it’s so important, but how do you go about finding the teas that make the most of their origin? Easy: just look for teas that answer four simple questions…

WHERE has it come from?

Think of high quality teas like wines: get to know the countries and regions they come from, then you can start to explore single gardens. Only single origin or single garden teas can give you the true, distinctive taste of their home. Is the tea you’re considering proud of its origin? Is that origin known for its high quality tea? Or does it at least offer the altitude, soil and climate for growing high quality tea?

Visiting origin gives us an opportunity to connect with the people who play such a crucial roll determining the taste of our tea.

Visiting origin gives us an opportunity to connect with the people who play such a crucial roll determining the taste of our tea.

WHO produced it?

Has it been mass produced? Or grown and processed by a tea maker who understands and works in harmony with their origin’s natural terroir? You can probably guess which one we’d recommend.

HOW has it been produced?

Is the producer using conventional or organic practices? Organic production safeguards the natural terroir of an origin. It’s a good indicator of whether your tea was made by a responsible producer – though there are also responsible producers who are not certified organic.

WHEN was it produced?

Season is key. A high quality tea should tell you which season it was produced in and why this matters.

Want to find out how the tea bush varietals affect the taste of your tea? It’s all on our Journal.

Or want to know what happens when a conventional tea garden goes organic? The Chens can tell you. (Spoiler: it’s good news!)

We recommended you try these teas

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Single Garden Tea is Exceptional


Ed started JING because he wanted to share his experience of being in the tea gardens, among wildlife and nature, learning from the masters that made these great teas.

The first time Ed went to China, he truly understood the value tea can hold within a culture, and knew that it could be so much more than a commodity in a kitchen cupboard.


The first time Ed went to China, he truly understood the value tea can hold within a culture, and knew that it could be so much more than a commodity in a kitchen cupboard.

Ed tasting batches of Darjeeling first flush from Badamtam Garden in 2018. 

Single garden teas have purity and clarity of taste – just leaf and water.

Single garden teas have purity and clarity of taste – just leaf and water.

“When it comes to producing and consuming food and drink, we need to change our relationships with ourselves, each other and the environment.”

JING founder Ed has been saying this for a long time. Seventeen years ago, he went to Asia and was introduced to something that showed him the way forward. “The tea culture there fulfilled everything I wanted to change about my own relationships with food and drink,” he says now.

Asian tea culture is built around single garden tea. “Single garden tea grabbed me instantly. It tasted delicious and everything around it was rich and connected. It was about enjoying what nature can offer. It was also healthy and good for me. And the more I drank, the more I got to know the amazing craftspeople and places that create it.”

Single garden teas inspired Ed to start JING. If you haven’t already discovered them for yourself, now is the best time of year to get to know them…

What is single garden tea?

 A single garden tea is a singular tea. You won’t find another one like it.

 Single garden simply takes the concept of ‘single origin’ one step further. For a while now, single origin has been an excellent marker of quality for coffee, chocolate and, to some extent, tea. Single origin products are traceable to a particular place and showcase the taste of that place. Single garden dives a little deeper and seeks out the very best individual people and places within a single origin.

Think of single garden tea as the equivalent of choosing wine from an individual estate in France or a single malt whisky from your favourite Scottish distillery.


Think of single garden tea as the equivalent of choosing wine from an individual estate in France, for example choosing green tea from Asahina Valley in Shizuoka, Japan.

Why should you care?

We’ve got three big reasons.

1. Single garden teas wow the senses

The taste of tea is determined by who grows it and where. Each grower and garden is unique, so every tea is unique. If you blend lots of different teas together, you dilute the character of each and cover up that uniqueness. That’s why unblended, single garden teas have the most original and distinctive flavour profiles. (Side note: blending isn’t always bad. For example, our Assam Breakfast is a blend.)

Single garden teas celebrate individuality – of the people, cultures and natural resources that produce them.

Single garden teas celebrate the skill of their maker and the culture and places where they are grown.

Single garden teas celebrate the skill of their maker and the culture and places where they are grown.


You can really taste the rocky and wild Wuyi Mountains through the tea grown here, with flavours and depths drawn in from the mineral rich soil and craggy mountainsides it’s grown in.

Mrs Miyazaki is one of only three people in Asahina valley still weaving her own shades for Gyokuro in this traditional way.

Mrs Miyazaki is one of only three people in Asahina valley still weaving her own shades for Gyokuro in this traditional way.

They also celebrate clarity and purity of taste. The flavours are simply the flavours of the garden – carefully cultivated by its tea master. They’re as close as you can get to tasting the garden itself.

2. It’s a whole new world to explore

Single garden teas capture the true flavours of some of the planet’s most spectacular places. From misty mountains in China to vast rivers that begin high in the Himalayas and feed the growing regions of India, tea gardens are supported by some epic natural resources.

In China’s Fujian province, Wuyishan is a high mountainous area that was once volcanic. As well as the steep terrain, its ancient volcanoes gave it a rocky, sandy soil that’s high in minerals. Tea bushes grown here draw deeply on the soil’s minerals and nutrients. They have to: because water drains quickly on these slopes, their roots must go further. Tea masters use their local knowledge to produce teas that celebrate this unique minerality.

A single garden tea is a taste of nature – and a connection to it. A single garden tea is also a taste of the producer’s craftsmanship.

To the north-east of Wuyishan, Hangzhou is home to one of China’s most famous and revered green teas. The best Dragon Well teas have a distinct sweet taste of roasted chestnuts, alongside a grassy spring-fresh character and a thick, smooth, almost velvet-like feel in the mouth. Those chestnut flavours come from the unique style of pan-firing of the leaves after they’ve been picked. Shentang Wen is one of the most skilled Dragon Well tea masters we’ve met. He learnt to pan-fire from his father and grandfather using a tea bush cultivar that’s very traditional for the area, but he’s also a ground-breaker. His Wenjia garden is one of the first in the region to go 100% organic. The result is the cleanest and best expression of Dragon Well we’ve tasted.

It’s hard to find Dragon Well that's made organically, but we've been working with Shentang Wen for a few years now as he perfectly captures the balance of spring green and floral freshness with warm and distinct chestnut aromas in his tea.

In a remote village in misty east China, more than a kilometre above sea level, Shentang Wen produces Organic Dragon Well in Yong'an Garden. He's one of the most skilled tea makers we've ever met. 

The examples we’ve used are just from China. Single garden teas are also the best way we know to explore the craftsmanship and natural flavours of Japan, Taiwan, India…

3. Single garden teas help producers and their communities to survive and thrive

We meet and speak to a lot of producers. The message they always want us to spread is about their origin and their garden. In Taiwan, the Chens want more people to know about Taiwanese tea and what it is about their garden in Ali Shan that’s special. In Japan, the Miyazakis love to show tea drinkers how they still use rice straw to shade their tea and give it a flavour you won’t find anywhere else. This is environmentally sustainable tea craft they are helping to keep alive.

Around the world, tea farmers believe an appreciation of origin is the most sustainable way to add value to their industry. Imagine if tea drinkers knew to ask for their tea by the name of its origin or even its individual garden. Not only would those consumers know they’re getting a tea they love, but they’d also be much more likely to pay a better price for that tea. In this way, tea drinkers who appreciate individual origins, gardens and teas can help the families and communities who produce these wonderful, unique teas to survive and thrive.

Spring picking is in full swing in the gardens in China & Japan, and we’re eagerly awaiting the new season’s crop.

First flush picking is in full swing in Badamtam Garden in Darjeeling, India, and we’re eagerly awaiting the new season’s crop.

Where do you start?

Right now is one of the most exciting times of the year for single garden teas because fresh new spring teas are first becoming ready for drinking.

In Hangzhou, for example, picking season is in full flow and we’re waiting eagerly on the 2021 samples Wen is sending from his beautiful, wild garden.

We hope you might be too now.

Find out more about our 2021 selection of single garden teas.

Try Some of our Bestselling Single Garden Teas

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Deep Dive Into Organic Hojicha

 

Our new Organic Hojicha is made from roasted green tea stems for a warming, sweet caramel flavour with savoury depth.

Our new Organic Hojicha is made from roasted green tea stems for a warming, sweet caramel flavour with savoury depth.

Organic Hojicha

In the heart of Kagoshima in the subtropical south of Japan's Kyushu island, surrounded by cedarwood forests, lies the Yamaguchi family's tea garden.

In the heart of Kagoshima in the subtropical south of Japan's Kyushu island, surrounded by cedarwood forests, lies the Yamaguchi family's tea garden.

Although it's a green tea, Hojicha is a russet brown colour because it's been roasted.

Although it's a green tea, Hojicha is a russet brown colour because it's been roasted.


As the gardens are organic, they rely on natural methods of pest control.

As the gardens are organic, they rely on natural methods of pest control.

Hojicha is a style of roasted green tea we haven’t sourced for quite a few years, but it’s one that we regularly get requests for and it’s no surprise why. When it’s good, Hojicha is – I think – the closest tea ever gets to liquid caramel.  In fact, I fell for its caramel sweetness, smooth texture and warming, roasted depth a few years ago. It’s an easy kind of tea to drink and this batch, with its huge aromas and deeply comforting depth is, one we’re very happy to have found – and even more so given the challenges of not being able to travel during lockdown.

The world events have, disappointingly, kept us grounded, but with technology on our side, we’ve been able to virtually visit gardens and catch up with farmers as they prepare for spring 2021. To write this deep dive, I sat down with the skilled craftspeople of Kagoshima as they took me on a behind-the-scenes of how our Organic Hojicha was created, from garden to cup.

As well as sharing those conversations, I’ll also be sharing my top tasting notes and the recipe I like to use for infusing this tea, plus a quick tip on how you can tweak it to accentuate different flavours and find your own perfect cup of this mellow and supremely comforting Organic Hojicha.

Origin: Yamaguchi en, Ijichi Seicha and Kumada Seicha Gardens, Kagoshima, Japan

Cultivar: A blend of Camellia sinensis var. sinensis ‘Yabukita’ and ‘Saemedori’

Name: ‘Hoji’ is a term that comes from the Japanese Houjiru, meaning ‘to roast’, while ‘Cha’ means tea.

Style: Hojicha is a style of roasted green tea that is typically made from the stems and broken leaf left over from the processing of bancha green tea. These stems can also be enjoyed as an unroasted tea which is known as kukicha (lit. twig tea).

Terroir: The gardens for this tea are fairly high elevation for Japan, making them slightly more remote and easier to control the organic farming practices without contamination. As Kagoshima is at the southern tip of Japan, the climate is mostly sub-tropical with dry winters and humid summer months.

Altitude: Picked between 200-350m

Picking Season: Spring/Summer 2020

Leaf: Russet brown roasted stems and stalks of organic tea bushes.

Oxidation: 0%

Production: Organic

Infusion: A darker reddish-brown and translucent infusion.

What is Hojicha?

Hojicha is a type of roasted green tea that was innovated in Kyoto in Japan during the 1920’s. It was first discovered by a Japanese tea merchant who wanted to make use of the stems and rough-cut leaves that are often removed from the production of other green teas like Sencha and bancha. He trialled roasting the green stems and found they became highly aromatic, with a dark, very sweet caramel flavour. With a warming richness, roasting tea stems became an instant big hit with tea drinkers in Kyoto. Hojicha’s popularity was also down to it being inexpensive to create, so for many it was a common, everyday alternative to the more refined Gyokuro or Sencha green teas that are prized in Japan. The fact that it’s made from the leftover stems also means that nothing from the production of green tea is wasted, it can all be blended together and roasted to make a delicious tea.

With a warming richness, roasting tea stems became an instant big hit with tea drinkers in Kyoto in the 1900's.

With a warming richness, roasting tea stems became an instant big hit with tea drinkers in Kyoto in the 1900's.

Why did we source this batch from Kagoshima?

Kagoshima was an obvious choice to look for this Organic Hojicha. We’ve sourced excellent green teas from there before, like our smooth and grassy Organic Ceremonial Matcha, and the area also has a growing reputation for gardens being organic. Unfortunately, due to demands in yield and production and local taste preferences, many Japanese tea farmers have tended towards using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, so it is a challenge to source high quality and organic. But using his connections in the Kagoshima area from previous trips there, Tom (our Head of Tea) was able to find this rich and roasted Organic Hojicha from a distance.

Who produced this Hojicha?

Hojicha is most often a blend of tea from different gardens, created using the stems from the production of other green teas. Our batch of Organic Hojicha has been crafted from the stems leftover after the production of bancha green tea in three specific organic gardens. The process for making Hojicha happens in a few distinct phases. To get a better understanding of how it all works, I sat down for a (virtual) cup of tea with one of the garden owners, Mr Yamaguchi, who brought his son along too and tea roaster, Mr Sakamoto, to learn how this tea was created.

We sat down for a virtual cup of tea with producer Mr Yamaguchi and his son to talk about the process of growing organic tea bushes.

We sat down for a virtual cup of tea with producer Mr Yamaguchi and his son to talk about the process of growing organic tea bushes.

During the later spring and summer months, the Yamaguchi family will harvest the tea leaves with a small trimmer machine like this one.

During the later spring and summer months, the Yamaguchi family will harvest the tea leaves with a small trimmer machine like this one.

During the roasting the tea stems go through a pre-heating phase at 110 degrees, before being fully roasted at 300 degrees for only a few seconds.

During the roasting the tea stems go through a pre-heating phase at 110 degrees, before being fully roasted at 300 degrees for only a few seconds. 

The stems used for Hojicha are naturally low in caffeine and the level is further reduced by roasting too.

The stems used for Hojicha are naturally low in caffeine and the level is further reduced by roasting too.

Roasting the stems produces the true flavour of Hojicha, while removing any bitterness and astringency.

Roasting the stems produces the true flavour of Hojicha, while removing any bitterness and astringency.

The Yamaguchi family have 11 hectares of tea gardens spread over two separate fields where they grow both the Yabukita and Saemedori cultivars, known for their rich flavour and deep green leaves. Growing around 200 to 350m in altitude, the gardens are set amongst the remote cedarwood forests in the mountains of Kagoshima. You could say that Yamaguchi-san is somewhat of a pioneer, having made the switch to organic farming 25 years ago after suffering an illness – and seeing his father and uncles fall ill – and so questioning the true effect of the pesticides on the health of farmers, and then of everyone who drinks his tea.

“I want the tea I make to be healthy for the people that drink it” – says Yamaguchi.

Yamaguchi’s son shares this passion for organic growing and as he has become more involved in the garden in the past two years, he told us he’s focused on working out how to most effectively harness the power of nature – and look after their bushes. This means testing out new machinery, logging wildlife and taking time to notice what else is growing and living among the bushes.

During the later spring and summer months, the Yamaguchi family will harvest the tea leaves with a small trimmer machine, which is typical for most Japanese tea. The trimmer will cut the top portion of leaves and stems from the rows of tea bushes and gather it all up. Each harvest will then be semi-processed to become ‘aracha’ or crude tea. This means using hot steam to stop the tea leaves from oxidising and then rolling and cooling them to reduce the moisture content, eventually ending up with a half-finished tea. During peak season Yamaguchi-san will wake up at 5am, the morning after an 18-hour long day of tea harvesting, to load trucks with shipments of his aracha – making sure it’s passed on as fresh as possible. His aracha will go on to be refined and sorted at a separate facility into bancha – a green tea made of coarser, more mature tea leaves. It’s during this refining process when the tea leaves are separated from their stems, which can then be roasted to create the transformation of flavour in our final Hojicha.

The stems are roasted in a large oven, which is fed by a conveyor belt of fresh green stems from the gardens. It's a highly skilled process.

The stems are roasted in a large oven, which is fed by a conveyor belt of fresh green stems from the gardens. It's a highly skilled process.

How Is the tea roasted?

Mr Sakamoto oversees the Hojicha roasting at the tea refinery. It’s the most skilled position on site and even though it’s physically done by machine, the process is precisely controlled and takes a lot of practise and attention to make sure it’s done correctly. After a quick air-shower, vacuum and donning his hair net and face mask, Sakamoto-san entered the factory floor, with me on the other end of his phone, and gave me a tour of the refinery processes. Here, they don’t just make hojicha, but also sencha, tencha (which is ground into matcha) and wakoucha (black tea). Even via our virtual chatroom the first thing that struck me was how loud it was in the refinery, as big machines connected by conveyers and precision control panels are used for refining, rolling, steaming and roasting tea. The modernisation behind the production of tea in Japan has seen a lot of innovation in machinery for tea making, but absolutely without the loss of an expert artisan touch.

Sakamoto-san showed me the roasting process starting with a large oven, which is fed by a conveyor belt of fresh green stems from the organic tea gardens. Firstly, the stems go through a preheating phase through a hot oven at around 110˚C where the temperature will be closely controlled. The stems are then slowly transported into the roasting phase as they travel through a large rotating drum with a gas-flame heater beneath. At a temperature of 300˚C, it only takes 30 seconds for the stems to pass through the roaster and turn a golden brown. This phase is key as the roasting will produce the true flavour of Hojicha, while removing any bitterness, astringency and reducing the caffeine content of the final tea.

Keen to achieve the perfect flavour, Sakamoto-san will be extremely attentive to this phase, he’s constantly checking the stems for the correct smell and colour as they come out of the roaster – adjusting the temperature and speed of the drum rotation depending on many factors, like the humidity in the factory, bulk of the tea and depth of roast. There’s a low tolerance for error and when the machine is in full flow, Sakamoto-san can roast up to 60kg of Hojicha per hour. Being in charge of the roasting is a skill that he’s proud of and has dedicated serious time to honing. He joined the factory with a love for machinery and although he didn’t grow up with a passion for tea, the two have now combined and he has grown a deep appreciation for the taste of the tea he creates – telling me he couldn’t choose between his passions now!

What is this Hojicha like to drink?

When you take your first sip of Hojicha, you’ll notice the aroma from the cup first – this is a highly aromatic tea. The aroma has notes of some iconic Japanese flavours, hints of sesame oil, dark soy sauce and the supremely satisfying umami of miso broth. The taste however is much sweeter than you might expect. There are no distinct grassy notes of green tea, even though this is technically a green tea. But the roasted stems take on this caramel and toffee richness with a supple, smooth texture. It has some warmer, roasted notes towards the finish with hints of umami throughout – ultimately creating a comforting infusion that is so easy to drink.

There are no distinct grassy notes in this tea. Instead, the roasted stems take on this caramel and toffee richness with a smooth texture.

There are no distinct grassy notes in this tea. Instead, the roasted stems take on this caramel and toffee richness with a smooth texture.

Mr Yamaguchi switched his gardens to organic 25 years ago after seeing the effects of harmful pesticides on the health of his father.

Mr Yamaguchi switched his gardens to organic 25 years ago after seeing the effects of harmful pesticides on the health of his father.

Hojicha is a highly aromatic tea with plenty of warming, roasted notes and savoury depth.

Hojicha is a highly aromatic tea with plenty of warming, roasted notes and savoury depth.

Where and when is this tea for?

Mr Sakamoto the tea roaster puts it best, “Hojicha is best drunk in cooler weather, because it uses hotter temperature than green teas”. I totally agree and a big mug of Hojicha on a cold day is so satisfying, with the perfect balance of roasted depth and caramel sweetness. It can also be a great tea to try as a cold infusion on a warmer day for a light, sweet taste with a refreshing finish.

What is it like to make and how easy is it to get a good taste?

Single Serve 250ml:

I tried a few variations on the recipe for this tea, trying to achieve a balance of sweetness and roasted flavours. In doing so I realised just how versatile Hojicha is, making it an easy tea to get a great flavour, but one that you can also tweak if you’re interested in exploring its depths. Most of this comes down to the temperature, so to start I tried 80˚C, which is typical for most green teas. This brought out tons of light toffee notes and almost a sweet, sticky rice flavour, which would go so well with my favourite Japanese dish, a spicy katsu curry. Upping the temperature to 100˚C will bring out more of the roasted notes, with a darker, almost burnt caramel sweetness and rich sesame oil flavours. I found the happy medium between the two at 90˚C, so you might want to start there and go hotter or cooler depending on what you’re feeling, so try them out and see what works best for you.

Here’s my go to: 3g per 250ml; 90˚C; 3min infusion – pour out all the liquid once infused.

Who is this tea for?

If you’re a fan of Japanese tea or Japanese cuisine but have never tasted Hojicha before, then this is one you have to try. Fans of Genmaicha – a green tea blended with toasted rice – will find some similarities in this tea, but Hojicha has much more of the roasty warming umami, like the toasted rice, just with none of the grassiness of fresh green tea. Also, anyone looking for a low-caffeine tea or coffee alternative that has its own unique flavour and doesn’t compromise on richness and texture will find Organic Hojicha is the perfect fit!

What does organic tea mean in Japan?

The term organic is something that’s very important to us as we work with tea farmers and tea drinkers to create a more sustainable environment for places, people and tastes to thrive. In Japan (and in all the origins we work in), this means finding organic producers and sharing their teas, as well as their stories and beliefs about why they choose to work in the way they do.

According to farmers in Japan, the traditional perception of organic tea is that it does not taste as good as ‘normal’, meaning chemically treated tea. So, although organic tea is perceived as having a natural flavour, teas that are treated with pesticides and fertilizers are considered to be enhanced and therefore more flavourful; this is an attitude that organic farmers – and we - don’t always agree with.

Things are changing within Japan, with younger generations more acutely aware of the health benefits of organic tea. With awarding bodies like the JAS certification (Japanese Agricultural Standards) established by the government in 2000, more and more farmers are seeing the benefits of being recognised for their organic methods, and with people like Yamaguchi-san junior getting involved in tea production, we’re confident we’ll be finding more and more amazing organic Japanese teas in the coming seasons.

[product skus="ORGANIC_HOJICHA_LOOSE_LEAF"]

Organic Hojicha

A highly aromatic green tea with syrupy caramel sweetness, savoury notes and plenty of warming, roasted depth. A real comfort drink for any time of day.

Shop Organic Hojicha

Deep Dive Into Organic Darjeeling Second Flush

 

The green, rolling hills of Darjeeling are set against a backdrop of mighty snowcapped Himalayan peaks like Kanchenjunga.

The green, rolling hills of Darjeeling are set against a backdrop of mighty snowcapped Himalayan peaks like Kanchenjunga.

Organic Darjeeling Second Flush

In the foothills of the Himalayas at high altitude, the tea bushes are often surrounded by protective mist and so grow slowly and have time to develop t

Each tea bush thrives in the cool, mountain climate, making the most of everything this terroir has to offer – steep slopes, abundant water, mists and distinct seasons – to deliver the unique flavours of the area.

It’s no coincidence that Darjeeling is one of the most well-known tea regions in the world. High up in the hills, the specially selected small-leafed varietals of the tea bush are overlooked by snow-capped Himalayan peaks. Each bush thriving in the cool, mountain climate and making the most of everything this terroir has to offer – steep slopes, abundant water, mists and distinct seasons – to deliver the unique flavours of the area. In the case of this batch, the leaves share the unique taste of summer in Darjeeling. A taste infused with a balmy warmth, fruitiness, grassy notes and even wildflowers.

This new batch of Organic Darjeeling Second Flush celebrates the summer season from three organic gardens – gardens within the region which thanks to their ambitious owners and guardians are the richest in biodiversity, wildlife and crucially naturally healthy soil. From this healthy soil, the cleanest flavour of Darjeeling can be found.

Having been enjoying drinking this new batch for the last week, I’ve put together my top tips for making this tea, as well as suggesting who I think will enjoy it and a little detail about what and who makes Darjeeling such a rightly revered tea region.

Origin: Barnesbeg, Okayti and Pussimbing Gardens in Darjeeling, West Bengal, India

Cultivar: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis

Name: Second Flush refers to this being made from leaves picked during the summer (end May – June) season.

Style: Black tea, orthodox production

Terroir: These organic gardens are in the foothills of the Himalayas; high up the mountains where the bushes are often surrounded by protective mist and leaves grow slowly and so have time to develop significant fragrance and flavour.

Altitude: >1,500m

Picking Season: Spring/Summer 2020

Leaf: Deep brown and dusky gold leaves with silvery tips

Oxidation: 100%

Production: Organic

Infusion: Clear russet-orange

Tom in the gardens in 2018. He's always looking for clarity of flavour & tea that encapsulates the specific character of the place it’s been grown.

Tom in the Badamtam Garden in 2018. You can see here how the gardens are often surrounded by a protective mist which enables the tea bushes to grow slowly, giving them time to develop their unique flavours.  

The name Pussimbing translates as “full of natural streams”, and this garden converted to organic in 1994. It's abundant with nature.

The name Pussimbing translates as “full of natural streams”, and this garden converted to organic in 1994.

Tom is looking for a second flush that delivers supreme refreshment, lots of black tea warmth and the abundant fragrances of Darjeeling, which range from fruity to grassy to floral.

Tom is looking for a second flush that delivers supreme refreshment, lots of black tea warmth and the abundant fragrances of Darjeeling, which range from fruity to grassy to floral.

Darjeeling Second Flush is crisp, refreshing & highly aromatic, but it's also got a warmth to it which is reminiscent of summer season it's produced in.

Darjeeling Second Flush is crisp, refreshing & highly aromatic, but it's also got a warmth to it which is reminiscent of summer season it's produced in.

You’ll find tasting notes of toasted hay and hops in this tea, which make it very easy to be almost transported to a freshly cut field in the late summer with every sip.

You’ll find tasting notes of toasted hay and hops in this tea, which make it very easy to be almost transported to a freshly cut field in the late summer with every sip.


The terrain is incredibly steep in Okayti Tea Estate, so the bushes lie among waterfalls.

The terrain is incredibly steep in Okayti Tea Estate, so the bushes lie among waterfalls.

This tea is perfect for afternoon drinking when you want something that will uplift you, but not overwhelm with strength.

This tea is perfect for afternoon drinking when you want something that will uplift you, but not overwhelm with strength.

How did we source this batch Organic Darjeeling Second Flush and who made it?

The rolling green hills of Darjeeling and their lively, dumpling-loving residents have been producing their distinctive, highly fragrant tea in the shadows of some of the mightiest Himalayan peaks like Kanchenjunga for almost two centuries. The second or summer flush is one of the very best expressions of this mountainous terroir, so every year it’s one of the most important teas on our sourcing calendar.

Tom, our Head of Tea, usually bases himself in Darjeeling for a week or so in March, visiting individual gardens in search of the very best of the year’s first flush. Hospitality in Darjeeling is exemplary, no visit to a garden or catch up with a producer is without at least a few homemade biscuits, a plate of dumplings, fresh sandwiches and samosas, a sundowner – and usually a whole lot more. It's always well received too, as travel between individual gardens involves long but beautiful car journeys, navigating the steep hills and narrow roads that link the 87 gardens. Upon arrival, it’s often a warm climb into the hills to appreciate the best of that specific garden, and to see the individual garden’s position within the area. Over the course of these spring trips, with their tastings, hikes, conversations, and hospitality, we’ve come to know the gardens, their managers and their individual styles very well.

JING Founder, Ed, and Head of Tea, Tom, in the gardens in Darjeeling in 2018 tasting batches of first flush.

JING Founder, Ed, and Head of Tea, Tom, in the gardens in Darjeeling in 2018 tasting batches of first flush.

These relationships were invaluable in 2020, when for the first time ever no one from JING was able to travel to any tea gardens. Instead, grounded by the pandemic, Tom sourced all the teas from his home in London, speaking to producers early in the mornings and tasting samples from his kitchen table. Adding to Tom’s challenge, at the same time last year, we made a commitment to making at least 80% of our range of teas organic by the end of 2021. Undaunted for this tea, Tom was able to rely on the relationships he’d built up – each relationship meaning the tea garden managers and producers had a good idea of what we look for in a Darjeeling 2nd Flush, and so were able to share their most relevant samples.

We’re always looking for clarity, brightness of flavour, and tea that encapsulates the specific character of the place it’s been grown in. To create this ultimate expression of the balmy summers in Darjeeling, we’re balancing finding teas which deliver supreme refreshment, lots of black tea warmth and the abundant fragrances of Darjeeling, which range from fruity to grassy to floral.

Tasting teas from the organic gardens dotted across the 600 or so square kms of the region, Tom eventually selected batches from three different gardens – Pussimbing, Okayti and Barnesbeg – to blend together to create this tea.

Much like the process for creating our Assam Breakfast, each garden brings something different and while all three teas are excellent on their own, they are also enhanced by coming together. They share the signature Darjeeling fragrant black tea depth, but when tasting them side by side it’s possible to see that the tea from Pussimbing brings a lot of the sweet grape fruitiness. The name Pussimbing translates as “full of natural streams”, and this garden converted to organic in 1994. As such, this is a place that’s truly abundant in nature. The streams, high altitude, greenery and situation mean Pussimbing is shrouded in mist for much of the year – even more so than the other gardens – and so the leaves grow slowly. As they’re protected from the sun, they have the best opportunity to develop their sweet fruit distinction.

The component from Barnesbeg is light and sweet and the large leaves have an almost green-fresh tinge to them – reminiscent of the sweet, thick body they bring to the blend. Barnesbeg, in the far North West of the region has been organic for the past ten years, and so is again a place brimming with nature – butterflies, hornbills and even panthers are spotted in the garden regularly. Although it’s a relatively small garden, the team who run it are ambitious in terms of their commitment to the environment and organic practices, but also in their production. They use their years of experience to try new techniques and constantly test and tweak production. They are one of the original experimenters in the area of green tea production and use everything they learn to coax the best flavours out of their tea leaves.

Okayti Tea Estate is one of the highest in the region, with some of the bushes growing more than 1,900m up. The terrain is steep and so the bushes lie among waterfalls. The leaves in this family-run garden also, therefore, grow very slowly, taking time to develop their rich flavours. The Okayti in our Darjeeling Second Flush has an incredible concentration of strength, as well as grape sweetness and a clean and pure fragrance.

Okayti Tea Estate is one of the highest in the region, with some of the bushes growing more than 1,900m up.

Okayti Tea Estate is one of the highest in the region, with some of the bushes growing more than 1,900m up.

What is this batch of Organic Darjeeling Second Flush like to drink?

Darjeeling tea is lighter and more fragrant than other Indian black teas like Assam Breakfast. As soon as you make a cup of this Organic Second Flush, you’ll notice the aromas straight away as it’s a highly aromatic tea.

There’s a clear citrus note which gives a hint of what’s to come – a light, crisp and refreshing black drink. There’s also a warmth to the tea which is reminiscent of summer. You’ll find tasting notes of toasted hay and hops, which make it very easy to be almost transported to a freshly cut field in the late summer with every sip.

It’s the subtle grape sweetness that make this drink unmistakably a tea from Darjeeling. It really does encapsulate the freshness of Darjeeling’s green hills when they’re thick with lush vegetation, in the warm, balmy summer season.

Where and when is this tea for?

I think this tea makes for perfect afternoon drinking when your palate is alive enough to notice and appreciate the fragrant and aromatic nature, and when you want something that will uplift you, but not overwhelm with strength. Black tea with its comforting, warming character is good throughout the year, and for me, this tea, even with its summer feeling and thick, smooth body, can certainly be enjoyed throughout the year. I think I’ll notice the aroma and fragrance more in the spring/ summer and enjoy its gentle warmth and smoothness in the cooler months.

What is it like to make and how easy is it to get a good taste?

Single Serve 250ml:

I tried a few variations on the recipe for this tea, trying to find the right balance of high aromas, black tea depth, thickness and a touch of astringency which gives the tea its refreshing bite. Using slightly less leaf than I might for making stronger black teas, here’s the recipe I found worked well:

3.5g per 250ml; 100˚C; 3min infusion – pour out all the liquid once infused.

Who is this tea for?

If you’re a fan of Darjeeling already, here’s an example of everything the summer season has to offer – smoother and thicker than the spring season with abundant fragrance. If you like light black teas without milk, or even dark oolongs, I’d recommend exploring this tea. It’s smoother and more warming than most dark oolongs like Phoenix Honey Orchid and Wuyi Oolong, but offers similarly complex and intriguing aromatic experiences.

Try Organic Darjeeling Second Flush Now

[product skus="ORGANIC_DARJEELING_2ND_FLUSH_LOOSE_LEAF"]

Organic Darjeeling Second Flush

With grape sweetness, notes of toasted hay and hops and hints of muscatel, this tea encapsulates the unmistakable character of Darjeeling. A light, highly fragrant and uplifting black tea, perfect for afternoon drinking.

Shop Organic Darjeeling Second Flush

Sourcing Update: 2021’s Spring Teas

Picking started early in the gardens this year & high up in the mountains in Jiande, Lao Song tells me March temperatures reached mid-20s.

Picking started early in the gardens this year & high up in the mountains in Jiande, Lao Song tells me March temperatures reached mid-20s.

Me and tea maker Lao Song in Song's garden in Jiande, Zhejiang, back in April 2019 when I was last able to visit.

Me and tea maker Lao Song in Song's garden in Jiande, Zhejiang, back in April 2019 when I was last able to visit.

I'm looking for a first flush full of silvery buds & a range of shades of green, which indicates the tea is going to be sweet & quenching.

I'm looking for a first flush full of silvery buds & a range of shades of green, which indicates the tea is going to be sweet & quenching.

Ludong Mountain Garden in March 2020, just before spring picking started.

Ludong Mountain Garden in March 2020, just before spring picking started.

April is sourcing season for some very special spring teas. This year, it’s shaping up a bit differently for me as we’re all still working from home. Like last year, I’m not travelling as I normally would and I also still don’t get to use the kitchen and tasting room that was built in the office early last March – here’s hoping for 2022! The important thing, though, is that the tea gardens are operating as usual.

In fact, spring picking actually started a couple of weeks early after some unusually warm weather in many parts of China. Up in the mountains around Jiande in Zhejiang province, Lao Song tells me that March daytime temperatures reached the mid-20s. Last time I was there a few years ago, it was April, and it was definitely still jumper weather – even if the layers quickly came off after a brisk hike up the mountain to visit the bushes.

Lao Song’s organic teas are high on my list of things to get excited about this season. He grows excellent Dragon Well and other green teas from interesting cultivars selected for their unusual pale white or yellow leaves – I still remember his Imperial Golden Buds from 2016, a needle-shaped yellow leaf and smooth, herby infusion that was incredibly soothing to sip. Like with most Chinese green teas, early spring is the best time to produce Dragon Well, when the tea bushes have begun to flush again after winter, producing the most prized new buds and leaves that are full of bright, fresh flavour – and all of the nutrients and energy the bushes have stored up over winter.

The travel restrictions mean I’m diving into my little black book and revisiting some other old favourites too. I met Mr Long in Western Hunan in 2019. Last year, his Baojing Gold green tea, with its incredibly soft texture, which made it almost milky and supreme spring sweetness, was my favourite find of the whole year. Long’s garden sits high up on Ludong Mountain. The winter here was long and cold, so the tea bushes have had a great rest. Long’s sent through pictures of the first buds sprouting and this week I’ve heard some very positive reports of the spring crop, I’ll keep you updated when I’ve tasted the first samples, but it’s looking very promising…

Mr Long in the midst of spring production last year.

Mr Long in the midst of spring production last year.

While I’m at home, I’ve also asked some contacts to visit gardens on our behalf so we don’t miss out. Seatide Li, who’s heavily involved with the Hangzhou Tea Research Institute, is one of JING’s oldest friends. Recently, he’s been helping introduce us to new organic producers who are often younger and from the new generation of tea farmers. Organic is a big theme of this year’s sourcing – we’re aiming to make 80% of our range organic by the end of the year – and Mr Li is helping me to expand our horizons. I’m hoping to find more hidden gems such as Huiming Spring, as well as new batches of highly sought-after teas such as Silver Needle Supreme from Fuding in Fujian province.

In the past, my spring journey east from London to China would often be broken with a stopover in Kolkata. From there I could spend time tasting the early Darjeeling First Flush teas. We have worked with Subroto Sen of Badamtam for several years and he certainly seems to have the measure of what we like. This year I’ve asked him once again to produce exclusively for us a small batch from the very early picked tea. The leaf I’m expecting is full of silvery buds and a range of shades of green, meaning the tea is going to have that sweet, quenching infusion with delicious floral aromas. It’s very different from tea produced at other times of year in Darjeeling and one worth savouring while it lasts – just like all of the spring teas I look forward to bringing you in the next few weeks and months.

Me in Yong'an Garden in Hangzhou, China in spring 2019.

Me in Yong'an Garden in Hangzhou, China in spring 2019.

Everyone Wins If You Buy Organic

Buying tea from producers who choose to go organic can have a big impact on their families, communities and environment.

Buying tea from producers who choose to go organic can have a big impact on their families, communities and environment.

You’ve probably heard organic tea is healthier for you and better for the environment. But the benefits don’t stop there. Buying organic tea helps producers and their communities – and it usually tastes better too.

We’re approaching peak sourcing season and you’re about to see some new organic teas take their place alongside the 2021 versions of our bestsellers. I think that makes now a good time to show you why we are committed to buying organic teas wherever we can – and to helping you do the same.

All in, we’ve got four big reasons…

ORGANIC IS GOOD FOR THE PLANET

A lot of tea lovers tell us they already know this, so I can keep this one short. Organic farming balances ecosystems by protecting biodiversity and promoting healthy soils – and balanced ecosystems are good for wildlife and plant life. That plant life includes crops, which become more resilient to unusual or extreme weather events. If crops are better protected, then so are the livelihoods of tea farming communities (more on that below). Healthier soils also produce more carbon to fuel the fight against climate change. You can always dive a bit deeper into all of this with the Soil Association

Organic farming works in balance with the ecosystem, protecting biodiversity and promoting healthy soils.

Organic farming works in balance with the ecosystem, protecting biodiversity and promoting healthy soils.

om in Hangzhou, China - During peak season we'd normally be visiting our organic producers to see how their tea gardens are doing.

Tom in Hangzhou, China - During peak season we'd normally be visiting our organic producers to see how their tea gardens are doing.


Using organic tea leaves means that what you get in the cup is simply great flavour and no chemical residues.

Using organic tea leaves means that what you get in the cup is simply great flavour and no chemical residues.


Mr. Sen has seen the positive results of organic methods in Badamtam Garden, Darjeeling.

Mr. Sen has seen the positive results of organic methods in Badamtam Garden, Darjeeling.


Some creepy crawlies are a good sign at the Yamaguchi garden in Kagoshima, Japan. Working with nature to fend off any unwanted pests.

Some creepy crawlies are a good sign at the Yamaguchi garden in Kagoshima, Japan. Working with nature to fend off any unwanted pests.


Even though the shift to organic hasn't been easy, Mr. Chen and his family know that the benefit is immeasurable.

Even though the shift to organic hasn't been easy, Mr. Chen and his family know that the benefit is immeasurable.

ORGANIC IS GOOD FOR YOU

This is probably the other familiar one. Drinking organic means drinking fewer – in fact, no – synthetic pesticide or herbicide residues.

ORGANIC TASTES BETTER

I touched on it above. Organic tea gives you the purest drinking experience. It’s just the leaves and the land they’ve grown in. No chemicals. Working with the environment in this way produces the most distinctive and characterful tea – so long as there’s a skilled tea master to ensure the picked leaves are also treated properly during processing.

But don’t just take it from us. This is Subroto Sen, our Darjeeling producer whose garden in north-east India was certified organic in 2012:

“I can’t put it into words but, after tasting our tea twice a day every day of the season for 16 years, I know it’s there. There’s more flavour and the liquor is clearer. I suppose I can say it tastes cleaner.”

And Yong Luo makes our Phoenix Honey Orchid oolong in China’s coastal Guangdong province:

“My tea feels full of life. Organic is the only way to capture the taste of Shuang Ji Niang mountain with its wet days, lush forest and volcanic history. I don’t want them to taste something generic produced with pesticides and fertilisers; I want them to taste Shuang Ji Niang mountain.”

'My tea feels full of life' - Tea farmer Yong Luo on his Phoniex Honey Orchid oolong.

'My tea feels full of life' - Tea farmer Yong Luo on his Phoniex Honey Orchid oolong.

ORGANIC HELPS PRODUCERS

A lot of the producers we work with say they are going organic for the health of their families and workers. Mr Yamaguchi produces our organic Japanese green tea in Kagoshima:

“I’ve seen too many of my father’s and uncle’s generation succumb to illnesses after years of working with chemicals in the fields.”

Over in Taiwan, the Chens report another benefit. In the famous tea producing region of Ali Shan, they were the first to take their garden organic. Their plants are now more resilient to the effects of climate change. While others are out applying chemical pesticides and fertilisers in winter, the Chens are indoors. “We rest while our bushes rest,” they told me recently.

With all of these benefits, you might wonder why all tea producers aren’t organic. It’s because going organic can be costly – and risky. Subroto has told us:

We lost more than 40% of the yield by switching and our cost of production is much higher now, but it’s hard to measure what we’ve gained.”

Making the switch also means learning new techniques. It takes dedication and ambition, as Yong Luo has explained:

Being a farmer is a tough job. You work regardless of the weather and depend on the weather to earn a living. It’s rewarding, though. Working organically with my plants allows me to experience the unyielding spirit strength of what can happen when humans and plants work together. I feel a great sense of achievement whenever I see them growing vigorously and thriving.”

 Because of all the benefits I’ve mentioned, we are happy to pay more for organic tea to help producers adjust to its lower, ‘natural’ yields. And remember a small increase in the price per kilo of tea translates to just a few pence per cup.

 

After seeing his family affected by illness, Mr. Yamaguchi switched to organic to protect his children and his tea bushes.

After seeing his family affected by illness, Mr. Yamaguchi switched to organic to protect his children and his tea bushes.

Choosing quality driven, organic tea means a great tasting cup that does even more good too.

Choosing quality driven, organic tea means a great tasting cup that does even more good too.

OUR TAKE

Tea that’s produced for quantity not quality is never going to deliver the pure and distinct taste of single garden tea. But it’s also damaging the environment and the communities who make it. Those problems aren’t going away – if anything, they’re getting more urgent.

We believe switching to quality driven, organic tea is the best thing we can do as consumers. This won’t only help the planet and the tea producers dotted all over it. The tea will taste better and it’ll be better for you. I think that makes it a no brainer.

Read more about how we Prioritise Organic – and why we have our own Made Without Pesticides stamp

Recommended organic teas

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Easter Tea & Chocolate Pairings

If you're a milk chocolate fan, we'd recommend pairing a good quality bar with Yunnan Gold or Gyokuro.

If you're a dark chocolate fan, we'd recommend pairing a good quality bar of 70% with Earl Grey or Keemun Gong Fu.

If you're a white chocolate fan, we'd recommend pairing a good quality bar with matcha.

After several rounds of tastings (a gruelling job!), Tom has selected some of the distinctive single garden teas from our range that perfectly complement each type of chocolate, so you can indulge you senses over Easter.

Tea & Chocolate Pairings. Tea Before Chocolate, or Chocolate Before Tea!?

We recommend tasting the chocolate first as it will coat the mouth, before allowing the tea to warm, melt and moisten, which will in turn highlight the aromatic components of the chocolate. Tea will also counteract feelings of sickly over-indulgence.

Milk Chocolate Tea Pairing

JING Yunnan Gold – a pairing of fantastic synergies. This is a really characterful tea with maltiness and sweet spice notes that go so well with the milky sugariness of milk chocolate; it cleanses the palate of any over-sugariness and the malt and sweet spice notes complement the milky-sugariness of the chocolate as does its slightly milky finish.

JING Gyokuro – the unmistakably thick, creamy, and umami rich qualities of this iconic green tea complement the milk chocolate while its clarity and freshness offset the (sometimes) sickly-sweetness of the chocolate for an uplifting taste experience.

Dark Chocolate (70%) Tea Pairing

JING Earl Grey – A JING classic, this refreshing and bright black tea is lifted with citrus, so when paired with dark chocolate, it refreshes the palate and lifts the slightly heavier, darker notes that come from the cocoa.

JING Keemun Gong Fu – A wonderful Chinese tea that is clean and light, Keemun Gong Fu has fresh, toasty notes that complement the bitterness and intensity of dark chocolate, and it has a fruity sweetness which highlights and accentuates any berry notes within the chocolate.

White Chocolate Tea Pairing

JING Organic Matcha Ceremonial Grade – this combination goes unbelievably well together! Our organic Matcha’s rich umami character highlights the milky, creamy qualities of white chocolate and its vibrant freshness offsets any sickly-sweetness. It is a truly harmonious combination which delivers far beyond expectations.

Try The Teas

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Snapshots of Spring

Mrs Miyazaki is one of only three people in the valley still weaving this traditional rice straw canopy for shading their gyokuro tea bushes.

Mrs Miyazaki is one of only three people in the valley still weaving this traditional rice straw canopy for shading their gyokuro tea bushes.

The Miyazakis are into their 70s and want to keep making tea “for at least another 15 years”!

The Miyazakis – Asahina Valley, Japan

 On the day we speak, it’s sunny and ‘almost warm’ in Asahina Valley, where the Miyazakis grow our Gyokuro green tea in a centuries-old garden just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean.

The bushes are freshly pruned, Mr Miyazaki is repairing metal frames and Mrs Miyazaki is weaving rice straw shades. She’s one of only three people in the valley still weaving in this traditional way – most now use commercially made black netting.

Each shade is 7m long and, once it’s been stretched onto its frame by Mr Miyazaki, it will protect about 10m of plants while still giving them a little bit of light to live by. It takes almost a day to weave a roll of shade and she usually makes at least 30 each winter. She’s made seven so far this year. Each shade lasts for around seven years before it’s broken down and laid around the base of bushes to protect them from frost and other potential winter damage.

Mrs Miyazaki finishes for the day as we speak and returns to the couple’s 70-year-old wooden home, with its sliding doors and shoji screens. Mr Miyazaki joins her for some homemade mochi and some of last year’s Gyokuro, served in a small clay pot at a low wooden table. Before the busy picking season, they’re making the most of having free time to enjoy drinking their tea.

The Miyazakis are into their 70s and want to keep making tea “for at least another 15 years”, while teaching their grandchildren the traditional techniques that they say make the best of the land they have. They’ve definitely still got the techniques; now they just need to convince the grandchildren.

Meet the Miyazakis >

Try Gyokuro

After they showed us around the garden, the Miyazakis returned to their wooden home with its sliding doors and shoji screens and we joined them for a virtual cup of last year's Gyokuro and some homemade mochi!

Ishiyama looking at the differences between a young bud and shoot picking and an older leaf picking.

Ishiyama looking at the differences between a young bud and shoot picking and an older leaf picking.

Ishiyama – Shizuoka, Japan

In the same Shizuoka prefecture of Japan as the Miyazakis, Ishiyama is praying. Last autumn was warmer than usual, then December and January were the coldest they had been in almost a decade.

Ishiyama's Sencha tea bushes have held up through the extreme cold of winter, awaiting the warmth of spring.

Ishiyama's Sencha tea bushes have held up through the extreme cold of winter, awaiting the warmth of spring.

Together, that adds up to a good winter for Ishiyama’s tea bushes. Now he wants spring to be similarly kind.

The early signs are good. Temperatures have been climbing smoothly in February and spring feels closer every day – the first cherry blossoms are already blooming, reports Ishiyama. Before picking season begins, he is spending time in his tea factory, maintaining and repairing the machines he will need to produce this year’s Sencha Reiwa.

Outside, the first organic fertiliser has been ploughed into the soil, pruning work is underway and some early weeds have been extracted. For now, the bushes are growing smoothly and there are just two parts to Ishiyama’s prayers for spring: a delicious new tea with excellent fragrance – and a quick, peaceful end to the pandemic.

Meet Ishiyama >

 We’ve run out to Ishiyama’s Sencha Reiwa from last year – but we’ll let you know as soon as this year’s is in stock.

Shenteng Chen in the full swing of producing his Ali Shan oolong during spring season last year.

Shenteng Chen in the full swing of producing his Ali Shan oolong during spring season last year.

Yoyo Chen out in the courtyard of the family house while the tea withers.

The Chens – Ali Shan, Taiwan

More than 1,000 miles south west of Shizuoka, the Chens were preparing to celebrate Lunar New Year when we spoke. It’s the culmination of Taiwan’s February festival season, which also includes Lichun – the Farmer’s Day that marks the start of spring.

On the day we speak, Mr and Mrs Chen, Shenteng and Emily are in their garden, waiting for the sun to set, having spent the day giving the tea bushes a final hard prune to make room for new shoots.

Winter has been typically quiet for them. As Shenteng puts it, “We rest while the tea bushes rest.” This year’s cold weather has been good for the bushes: the deeper they hibernate in winter, the more productive they will be in spring.

Now the Chens want rain for this year’s Ali Shan, which has become less reliable recently – there hasn’t been a typhoon for five years now. Their own bushes are relatively well protected because they are planted among bigger trees that draw up water and nutrients from deeper in the soil and help feed the bushes.

Other local farmers are slowly coming around to the organic methods that have helped the Chens and are trying some of their organic fertiliser for the first time this year. For the Chens themselves, the major novelty of 2021 promises to be a return to much-missed normality.

Shenteng says he is looking forward to returning to the local restaurants that keep Taiwan’s rich food culture alive, and not having to book in advance or sit so far from friends. Then he remembers he’s got picking season coming up and might not have much time for socialising over the next few months!

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When we spoke, Shenteng and Emily Chen were sitting outside looking over the garden as the sun went down, relaxing after their big winter cut back.

When we spoke, Shenteng and Emily Chen were sitting outside looking over the garden as the sun went down, relaxing after their big winter cut back.

After a drought in the early part of the year, Yong Luo is confident spring 2021 will be a good season in the Phoenix Mountains.

Yong Luo – Guangdong, China

On the other side of the Taiwan Strait in China’s Guangdong province, Yong Luo told us six dry months came to an end with heavy rain in March. The plants that produce his Phoenix Honey Orchid tea began to sprout soon afterwards, but the preceding drought means this year’s leaves are small and so there are the gaps between them.

However, because there are fewer young leaves, each one will get more nutrients from the roots, so they should be rich in minerals with good flavour and fragrance. Luo is confident that the quality of 2021’s spring crop will be good.

To give the bushes the best possible chance, his team are keeping the soil loose to stop it from hardening. Meanwhile, in the tea factory, equipment is being serviced and cleaned ready for the incoming spring tea. One new thing Luo’s going to be trying is a traditional process for handling the leaves of the Juduozai variety that he hopes will emphasise its unique almond-like aroma. Then it will just be a question of balancing that fragrance with other varieties to produce the best possible Phoenix Honey Orchid.

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Producer Shentang Wen is looking forward to the return of spring and the chance to craft some fresh Dragon Well green tea.

Shentang Wen – Hangzhou, China

Further up China’s east coast, Shentang Wen says winter 2020 was a cold one that brought plenty of snow to his organic tea garden in Zhejiang province. But that’s no bad thing for the producer of our Dragon Well Supreme because it means fewer diseases and pests.

The snow has turned to rain now, and Wen’s tea bushes are enjoying some optimal growing conditions. With both his fields and factory ready for the picking season, he’s confident 2021 is going to deliver bigger yields of even higher-quality tea, including his Dragon Well, which he calls “an old friend – because we’re always happy to see it again and find out what’s changed”.

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