Gyokuro vs. Sencha: What’s the Difference?

In this piece we review two similar looking Japanese green teas, Gyokuro (left) and Sencha (right), to understand the key differences and what they taste like.

In this piece we review two similar looking Japanese green teas, Gyokuro (left) and Sencha (right), to understand the key differences and what they taste like.

Tom, our Head of Tea, with Sencha tea maker Yoshiro Okamura in Sasamodo gardens, Shizuoka, Japan.

Tom, our Head of Tea, with Sencha tea maker Yoshiro Okamura in Sasamodo gardens, Shizuoka, Japan.

 When comparing the taste of these teas, you'll find Sencha (right) has plenty of grassiness & floral sweetness, whereas Gyokuro (left) is richer & more intense.

When comparing the taste of these teas, you'll find Sencha (right) has plenty of grassiness & floral sweetness, whereas Gyokuro (left) is richer & more intense.


Our Sencha is steamed to halt the oxidation of the leaves, locking in their green colour and promoting a grassy, umami flavour.

Our Sencha is steamed to halt the oxidation of the leaves, locking in their green colour and promoting a grassy, umami flavour.


Gyokuro is also steamed, but the tea plants are shaded from sunlight for a month before harvesting, resulting in more complex sweet & umami rich flavour.

Gyokuro is also steamed, but the tea plants are shaded from sunlight for a month before harvesting, resulting in more complex sweet & umami rich flavour.

This is a follow-up to one of our most recent tea comparisons, where we looked at the differences between Chinese and Japanese green tea. If you’re new to green tea and haven’t read that piece, then I would recommend starting with that first to get to grips with what makes Japanese green tea so unique.

We’re going to dive a little deeper into Japanese tea in this comparison. So, if you’ve ever wondered what the names of the teas mean, how each tea is made, or what flavours to expect in your cup, then this will be the perfect guide to help you better understand these Japanese green teas.

Sencha vs. Gyokuro: Get To Know Them

Both teas incorporate innovative techniques during their harvesting and processing, which helps give them their characteristic sweet, grassy and umami-rich flavours.

Let’s start with Sencha, which is quite a traditional green tea as far as Japan is concerned and one that’s also the most popular kind of green tea produced in Japan. Our current batch of Sencha, which translates as ‘steamed’ or ‘simmered’ tea, was produced in spring 2019 by tea maker Yoshiro Okamura in Sasamodo gardens in Shizuoka, Japan. This style of green tea evolved from the method of using steam to halt the oxidation of the leaf, locking in the green colour, and promoting a grassy and umami-rich flavour. Further innovations in cultivating unique varieties of Japanese tea bushes have led to an even more pronounced umami flavour, deep green colour and a characteristic taste for Japanese green tea.

Our Gyokuro batch was also produced in spring 2019 by Mr & Mrs Miyazaki in the Asahina Valley of Shizuoka, Japan. Gyokuro, meaning ‘Jade Dew’, is also a steamed tea like Sencha, but the innovation here comes through a farming technique where the tea plants are shaded from sunlight for a whole month before harvesting using a canopy of thick straw. To explain how this causes a change in flavour, I’ll explain some quick tea science. As the tea plants react to a sudden lack of sunlight, they produce more chlorophyll giving the leaves a deeper green colour. The chemical compounds that usually convert during photosynthesis (the reaction plants use to turn light into food) are also preserved. This means the rich taste of amino acids, such as the chemical compound L-Theanine, become more concentrated in the tea leaves. Gyokuro therefore has an almost opaque infusion with a distinctly pronounced sweetness and incredible umami depth, making it the jewel of Japanese green tea.

Making Gyokuro tea is a family affair high up in Asahina Valley in Shizuoka, Japan, for Mr and Mrs Miyazaki.

Making Gyokuro tea is a family affair high up in Asahina Valley in Shizuoka, Japan, for Mr and Mrs Miyazaki.

Sencha vs. Gyokuro: How We Like To Make Them

For the taste test I infused both teas using our glass One Cup Tea-iere with 4g of leaf to 250ml of water. I also made sure to pre-heat my tea-iere with some hot water, as this helps to release the aroma when you add the dry tea leaves. Aroma is a key part of tasting these teas, so it’s something that’s definitely worth doing.

When infusing the Sencha, I used the recommended 70˚C water, so slightly cooler than boiling, while for Gyokuro I went for an even cooler temperature of 60˚C. Using cooler temperatures for these teas ensures a balanced extraction and full flavour without any bitterness or astringency. Both teas were infused for 3 minutes and when the time was up, I made sure to pour out every bit of the infusion for maximum flavour, or as our Gyokuro producer Mrs Miyazaki says, “Don't forget the golden drops!”.

Taste Test: What's the taste difference?

At first glance these two green teas look very similar with long and thin dark green leaves. To the untrained eye it might be hard to even tell them apart, so you might assume that the taste would be remarkably similar too…well let’s find out.

Aroma – I started with the Sencha, which was instantly grassy with notes of sweet, fresh vegetables like buttered peas and crunchy green beans. The aroma of Gyokuro was even more complex with a strong note of steamed sweetcorn and thick cream, which reminded me of a custard cream fondant! Both had lots of vegetal aroma, but where Sencha is rich and grassy, Gyokuro is sweeter and creamier.

TasteSencha has a grassy sweetness, with notes of fresh green veggies creating that all-important umami and bringing a nice balance to the infusion. The Gyokuro was more intense, with even sweeter floral notes and a more savoury, buttery flavour. Both had plenty of characterful umami, but Gyokuro is much richer.

TextureSencha is remarkably smooth and thick, with the texture helping to elevate the richness of the infusion. But with Gyokuro it’s even more so, and you can see the thickness of the infusion in its translucent, almost milky appearance.

Finish – The finish on both the teas is long-lasting, with the sweetness and umami staying present in the aftertaste. Though the Sencha retains more of the high notes, while the umami from the Gyokuro remains for much longer at the back of the throat.

Feeling – The Sencha left me feeling refreshing and enlivened, while the Gyokuro was much more of a complex experience that made me want to sit and focus on the tea, creating a relaxed but present feeling.

To summarise, I think Sencha is a great tea for anyone looking for a richer infusion from their green tea, with plenty of freshness and a balance of umami character. But if you want a more complex infusion to focus on, with high sweetness and deep umami, then give Gyokuro a try.

If that’s got you intrigued, then you can dive even further into the world of Japanese teas by checking out more entries on our Journal. You can also meet the producers who make the teas to discover even more about their origin and flavour.

Comparison table - Gyokuro vs. Sencha: What’s the Difference?

[product skus="GYOKURO_LOOSE_LEAF"]

Gyokuro

Uniquely spring fresh, this tea undergoes a traditional shading process for 30 days, creating an unmistakable and umami-rich infusion that earns Gyokuro the title of Japan’s finest green tea.

Gyokuro

[product skus="SENCHA_LOOSE_LEAF"]

Sencha

Mellow, sappy and full of spring leaf freshness, this is a classic Japanese green tea. Expertly steamed and rolled, the vibrant, deep green leaves offer a textured infusion with a classically vegetal, umami flavour.

Sencha

Deep Dive Into Ai Lao Mountains Raw Puerh 2020

Our new Ai Lao Mountains Raw Puerh comes in the traditional form of a pressed tea cake.

Our new Ai Lao Mountains Raw Puerh comes in the traditional form of a pressed tea cake.

Shop Ai Lao Mountains Raw Puerh 2020 Now

Raw Puerh tea comes from Yunnan in south west China, a wild and ancient terroir for tea craft.

Raw Puerh tea comes from Yunnan in south west China, a wild and ancient terroir for tea craft.

Made only in the wild mountains of Yunnan, the ancient type of tea known as puerh is my absolute favourite tea category. I love exploring the complex, fruity, bittersweet and unique tastes and textures this category has to offer, as well as its rich culture among tea enthusiasts in China. Even though the tea markets for puerh in China are booming like never before, the taste of puerh is not something that's been widely experienced in the West. This is something I'd like to see change, and so I'm very excited to introduce this tea. We choose tea leaves from Ai Lao Mountain to be pressed into this cake. Selected for their accessible but exemplary taste, we wanted a raw puerh cake that would appeal to puerh fans, as well as allow new puerh drinkers to dive into the category.

In this deep dive I’ll take you through everything you need to know about the origin and craft of puerh and explain why we think this one is the perfect entry into raw puerh tea drinking. I also had a few sessions with this tea at home, so I’ll be sharing my top recipes for making it so you too can experience the best of its flavour.

Origin: Ai Lao Shan, Zhenyuan County, Yunnan, China

Cultivar: Camellia sinensis var. assamica ‘da ye zhong’

Name: Much like French wine, puerh tea is all about provenance, so batches of tea are often named after the specific village or mountain range where the tea was picked and produced. The year and season of its production are also included, as puerh tea is often collected and stored for long periods of time. This information reminds tea drinkers of the age of the tea, as well as giving them an idea of the taste and quality of the tea through reputation of the terroir.

Style: Raw puerh tea compressed into a cake

Terroir: This tea comes from a high mountain tea garden, with tea trees that were planted from seed 50-60 years ago. The garden sits on a slope adjacent to a dense forest with large biodiversity.

Altitude: 2,000m

Picking Season: Spring 2020

Leaf: Long and weaving, mottled green leaves layered with flashes of silvery buds.

Oxidation: 0%

Production: Grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

Infusion: A golden oily colour, with a greenish tint.

The freshly picked tea leaves come from trees that are are over 50 years old, grown in Mrs Feng's garden on Ai Lao Mountain.

The freshly picked tea leaves come from trees that are are over 50 years old, grown in Mrs Feng's garden on Ai Lao Mountain.

This rare Song Pin Hao puerh cake has been aged for 100 years in Yunnan, making it extremely valuable.

This rare Song Pin Hao puerh cake has been aged for 100 years in Yunnan and therefore the leaves have become very dark. You can really see the difference in comparison to our Ai Lao Mountains raw puerh which is still very young and fresh.

What is Raw Puerh tea?

Raw puerh (also known as sheng puerh in China) is a style of tea from Yunnan province in south west China. Only ever made from the large leaves of the indigenous assamica tea trees, the initial stages of processing are similar to green tea – the large leaves are picked, withered and quickly pan fried. To make raw puerh, these unoxidized leaves are then compressed into round shapes, often known as cakes, and these cakes are then aged. Raw Puerh is prized for its complex, fragrant, and bittersweet taste that continues to mature as the tea cakes age over often decades in storage.

Raw puerh is different from its ‘cooked puerh’ counterpart. Usually made from a lower quality of leaf than raw puerh, cooked puerh goes through an extra process of fermentation. This gives it a flavour that’s dark and earthy, while young raw puerh maintains a naturally zesty, lighter taste. Both styles should have a characteristic tanginess and a long, minerally-sweet finish to them.

In the west this earthy tea is sometimes served in Dim Sum restaurants, as the flavour and composition are thought to help digest the steamy dumplings, buns and other sticky delights. However, outside of these restaurants and a few specialist tea emporiums, it’s not often found. We think this is disappointing as the puerh category of tea is so rich with a huge amount to explore – both in terms of flavour and culture. In China, the bitterweet, complex flavours make puerh one of the most popular tea types – way ahead of black tea in terms of consumption.

Puerh is pressed into cakes like this for easier storage and ageing, allowing the tea to develop richer and more complex flavours over decades.

Puerh is pressed into cakes like this for easier storage and ageing, allowing the tea to develop richer and more complex flavours over decades.

Why is Ai Lao Mountains Raw Puerh pressed into a cake?

Though it can be found as a loose leaf tea, you’ll very often see puerh pressed into shapes like cakes, known as ‘bings’ in Chinese, or even bricks and bars. This compressing dates back hundreds of years to when puerh tea was traded for horses between China and Tibet and would have been carried on foot or horseback in large quantities. Pressing the tea into stackable shapes made it easier to transport and store. Nowadays the compressing is a key part of the flavour development, as it enables the tea to age or mature in a way that brings out the specific puerh tastes.

How Does Puerh Tea Age?

During the making of puerh, the leaves are pan fired. When this happens, they are fired to a lower temperature than would be used for green tea and as such, some of the enzymes which react with the air and concentrate the flavours in tea are left in the leaf. This means over time the leaves do slowly oxidise, changing the plant compounds as the leaves rest and turning the tea much darker, while developing richness and complexity over the years. During the ageing, humidity, temperature, and airflow will affect the speed and subsequent results – so all of these factors must be carefully controlled.

These long, pressed tea leaves come apart easily so you can simply prize off a chunk of leaf and begin infusing.

These long, pressed tea leaves come apart easily so you can simply prize off a chunk of leaf and begin infusing.


This tea is best enjoyed ‘gong fu’ style which means using a small teapot with a high proportion of leaf to water over multiple short infusions.

This tea is best enjoyed ‘gong fu’ style which means using a small teapot like our Tea Master with a high proportion of leaf to water over multiple short infusions.

How did we source Ai Lao Mountains Raw Puerh?

Even though it’s all concentrated in one province, there is a lot to consider when looking for puerh; where and when it was picked, the age of the tea trees and the right level of compression when pressing the cakes. These are the intricacies that not only deliver the complex flavour we’re looking for, but also what makes puerh such a fascinating prospect and an intriguing tea to venture into.

For us, it was important to balance a high quality experience in the cup with an expression of a specific mountain terroir. Some puerh cakes are pressed using the tea leaves of a few different regions, blended to create a unique taste. So, we looked to the Ai Lao Mountains as an area of Yunnan that doesn’t come with the hype (and so very high prices) of other mountains and villages but is confidently building a reputation for its flavoursome tea, and also crucially for us – tea in this area is almost always free from the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

The peaks of the Ai Lao range lie between Yunnan’s capital city, Kunming and Lincang, a town some 600km to the South West, close by to the border of Myanmar. Ai Lao is a green, mountainous area home to villages of ethnic minority communities such as the Yi, Dai and Lahu people. At an altitude of 2,000-3,000m, the slopes of the mountains are covered in forests intertwined with tea gardens, where the once small, sapling tea bushes now grow tall after decades of cultivation. Most of these forested peaks remain untouched and are full of biodiverse tree species like wild oak, beech, pine, and rhododendrons, which thrive in the sub-tropical climate and seasonal, summer rains.

How was this tea made?

As is the case in the majority of rural Yunnan, puerh tea is produced at small-scale by the local villagers, such as Mrs Feng who crafted this batch in Spring 2020. The leaves were harvested from a garden of tea trees planted just after cultural revolution, making them 50-60 years old. They were each planted from seed and grown with plenty of space between them, allowing them to grow tall and wide unlike regular plantation tea bushes or hedgerows. The garden is adjacent to a wild forest, and because no chemical pesticides or fertilizers are used, it is a clean environment with plenty of wildlife.

Soon after the freshest spring buds and leaves are harvested, they are withered on bamboo mats for a few hours to let some of their moisture evaporate. Then they are fried in a large wok by hand over a wood fire. Here, Mrs Feng uses her experience and intuition, as well as the feel, smell and sound of the tea leaves frying to understand if the temperature is too hot or too cold and how long to fry the tea for. Too hot and the leaves will start to burn, too cold and the leaves will steam in their own juices. Both would ruin the flavour.

Here you can see the tea is drying out under the sun. It can then be left to rest for a few weeks up to year to allow for an initial maturation, but it’s usually pressed into cakes for longer storage.

Here you can see the tea is drying out under the sun. It can then be left to rest for a few weeks up to year to allow for an initial maturation, but it’s usually pressed into cakes for longer storage.

The key here is to heat them enough to reduce their moisture content while killing off most of the enzymes in the leaves (hence the name for this process is ‘sha qing’ in Chinese, meaning ‘kill green’). Once fried, the leaves are rolled in a small machine to squeeze the last bit of moisture out, before being left to rest and then dried out under the sun.

The tea can be left to rest for a few weeks up to year to allow for an initial maturation, but it's then usually pressed into cakes for longer storage. In this case, our 100g cakes were made by lightly steaming the leaves before being pressed into stone moulds for a few hours to dry and maintain their shape.

Our raw puerh is made from wild tea trees that are 50-60 years old that have grown tall and wide unlike regular planations tea bushes.

Our raw puerh is made from tea trees that are 50-60 years old.

What is this tea like to drink?

On opening the cake, you’ll see plenty of silvery juicy buds, which will add good sweetness to the flavour. The stone pressing means the leaves are not compressed too tightly, and so are easy to pry apart and keep the whole leaves intact.

I made this tea gong fu style in a 120ml gaiwan, which is how puerh is usually prepared and used 5g of leaf which I left as the chunk, knowing the leaves will naturally come apart during infusions. The aroma from the tea immediately reminded me how complex good puerh is. I found everything from grapefruit, incense wood and a subtle spice – reminiscent of fresh turmeric. These fruity, earthy notes gave a great indication of what was to come from the taste. In a gong fu session, the first infusion of pressed puerh tea is always a bit light as you have to allow the leaves to unfurl or decompress, but here there was already a fruity distinctiveness. This developed into a flavour of dried apricot with a bittersweet tang, reminiscent of citrus peel, and I got a mineral-rock earthiness in the finish. The flavours are so full and complex so it’s easy to get lost in them, but being a raw puerh it has a lightness that leaves you feeling refreshed. The taste sticks in your mouth and means you’ll want to keep going for a few more infusions.

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

The first thing you’ll need to do when preparing this tea is to unwrap it on a surface with plenty of space, then carefully prise apart some of the leaves to infuse. You can do this with a specific puerh knife or a pointed letter opener by finding a small opening and lightly twisting the point to naturally loosen the leaves. You must be extremely careful though and never use excessive force. Also NEVER use any kitchen knives! I used a puerh knife – but it’s possible to do this with your hands too if you gently squeeze the cake back and forth until the layers and chunks prise off.

Tea Master (Gong Fu):

This tea is usually enjoyed in the ‘gong fu’ style of drinking which means using our porcelain Tea Master, a small teapot or a Gaiwan, with a high proportion of leaf to water and preparing multiple short infusions. Making tea in this way delivers a more concentrated view of the flavours and aromas which for this tea means a light fruity sweetness and hints bittersweet complexities in the first infusion, allowing a few more seconds for the leaves to loosen from their compression. As the leaves begin to open, you’ll find much more of the oily, thick texture coming through, as well as the long and minerally finish, especially by the third Infusion. However, this tea will give you many infusions and I enjoyed upwards of ten before the leaves stopped giving up any flavour. Just remember to maintain the right temperature throughout the infusions to get the best results .

Method: 5g per 120ml; 100˚C; 40 seconds for the 1st infusion, then 20 seconds for the 2nd, adding 10 seconds incrementally for each subsequent infusion (at least 10 infusions).

Puerh cakes are a great way to begin exploring the world of raw puerh tea.

Puerh cakes are a great way to begin exploring the world of raw puerh tea.

Single Serve One Cup Method (250ml):

This tea does also work when made as a single serve if you just want a delicious cup or mug of tea. All you have to do is use slightly less leaf, cooler water and leave it for a little longer. You should get a thick infusion with a balanced bittersweetness, plenty of zesty fruit and lightly spiced notes. Just remember, after three minutes, pour out the entire infusion into your favourite mug for the complete, perfect cup. You can certainly infuse the leaves again too, just add 30 seconds when re-infusing for a consistent flavour.

This is our go-to method using our One Cup Tea-iere: 4g per 250ml; 90˚C; 4 minutes per infusion (can be re-infused at least twice)

 Who is this tea for?

This tea is a must for those looking to enter into the world of raw puerh. If you’ve tried our earthy and rich cooked puerhs – Cooked Puerh Mini Cakes or Vintage Imperial Puerh – then I would highly recommend giving this tea a try to see how the lighter and more fruity flavours compare. It’s also a great option if you’re someone who craves a tea with intriguing and somewhat complex flavour that’s still really easy to drink and fun to make, with many infusions to be had. Finally, it’s certainly one to try if you’re someone who enjoy teas that have a touch of quenching astringency, such as the phoenix oolongs which balance their fruity flavour with a hint of dryness and minerality.

Shop Ai Lao Mountains Raw Puerh 2020 Now

New to puerh cakes? Watch Will in this short video as he guides you through how to infuse a raw puerh cake using our new Ai Lao Mountains Raw Puerh.

New to puerh cakes? Watch Will in this short video as he guides you through how to infuse a raw puerh cake using our new Ai Lao Mountains Raw Puerh.

How best to store a Puerh Cake

Each 100g cake is wrapped in two layers of fine tissue-like paper which will act as a decent barrier against most of the detrimental factors that you want to avoid exposing your cake to: light, heat, water and odours. However, I would advise storing it inside a container and especially if you have other puerh cakes then they do like to be stored together. Puerh storage doesn’t have to be airtight as this can inhibit its ageing. It needs oxygen and moisture from the air, plus good ventilation to age well without becoming musty or damp. The warmth, moisture and oxygen in the air speeds up ageing and the ventilation prevents dampness building up.

So if you’re looking to purposefully age your tea, my advice is to keep it in its own container with a boveda humidity pack to regulate the level of humidity surrounding your cake and stop it from drying out. Anywhere between 60%-75% relative humidity will be fine, though the more humid you go the quicker the tea can age, but there is always a risk of mould. So make sure you keep the temperature stable and avoid extreme heat and cold, while continually airing out your tea storage once every couple of weeks or each month to maintain circulation.

My biggest piece of advice though – do not store this tea in your kitchen, not even in the kitchen cupboard! Tea loves to soak up moisture and rehydrate, so all the steam and odours from cooking, as well as the other ingredients you have in your kitchen, will contaminate and ruin the taste of puerh and likely many other teas. It’s much safer to create your own tea stash in a clean and odour free place to keep your precious leaves separate.

[product skus="AI_LAO_MOUNTAINS_RAW_PUERH_LOOSE_LEAF"]

Ai Lao Mountains Raw Puerh 2020

This fruity and distinctive compressed tea cake is produced from the leaves of half century old tea trees grown in the wilds of the Ai Lao mountains. You'll find notes of apricot, incense wood and a tangy, refreshing bite reminiscent of fruit peel. A great introduction to the raw puerh category.

Ai Lao Mountains Raw Puerh 2020

What is Puerh Tea?

The intrigue of puerh is what catapulted me into the world of Chinese tea, with its focused tastes and unique culture.

The intrigue of puerh is what catapulted me into the world of Chinese tea, with its focused tastes and unique culture.


The assamica varietal of tea bush, native to Yunnan, creates puerh tea with a complex, fragrant and bitter-sweet taste.

The indigenous assamica varietal of the tea bush, native to Yunnan, has large, hardy deep green leaves, which creates puerh tea with a complex, fragrant and bitter-sweet taste.

A chunk of hard, dark tea made in a small bowl was certainly not what I was expecting when a friend in London offered me a cup of tea a few years ago. It turned out to be a very important cup – its taste so intriguing and moreish that it catapulted me into the world of Chinese tea. This exploration has led me to so many new and far-flung places, tastes, and incredible people. I fell in love with tea through puerh, and although I also love to drink oolongs, greens, blacks and whites, it’s puerh I’ll always come back to. I’m definitely not the first person to fall for its intrigue – or to ask with the first cup “what is puerh?”, but the immense depth and breadth of flavour and ancient culture and history, of both production and drinking, means it’s a tea type many tea lovers go crazy for.

This month we launched our very first raw puerh cake from the Ai Lao Mountains, a protected range in the heart of Yunnan province. So, to get you ready for this this new tea, I’ve dug into the stories behind puerh. Read on to discover what puerh is, where it originates, what makes it’s unique and at the end I’ve shared my tips on where and how you can begin exploring this truly superb type of tea.

What is puerh tea and where does it come from?

Puerh is a style of unoxidised and carefully aged tea from Yunnan province in the south west of China. It’s prized for a complex, fragrant, and bitter-sweet taste. Although similar styles of tea making can be found in a few other provinces, tea can only be called puerh if it is from Yunnan. It’s one of the very few teas to be designated a protected origin in China. Made anywhere else and it’s known as ‘Hei Cha’ which means ‘black tea’ (not to be confused with what we English refer to as black tea, which in Chinese is called ‘Hong Cha’ and translates as ‘red tea’).

Legend suggests that tea cultivation began in South West China during the 4th century, however it wasn’t until a few centuries later during the Tang Dynasty that the creation of a trade network now known as the Ancient Tea Horse Road would pass directly through Pu’er city, enabling tea from Yunnan and Sichuan provinces to be transported to Tibet and beyond. This encouraged the growth of tea as an important export.

The mountains of Yunnan province are the home of Puerh tea and an ancient terroir for tea production.

The mountains of Yunnan province are the home of Puerh tea and an ancient terroir for tea production.

What are the different types of puerh?

There are two main types of puerh tea, the first being ‘sheng’ or raw puerh, which is the original kind and can be enjoyed either fresh or after it’s been left to naturally age and slowly oxidise. This ageing can be anywhere from a few years to a few decades and in the right conditions, the ageing matures the flavour of the tea and creates layers of complexity, depth and sweetness.

Freshly produced tea can also be intentionally fermented – a sort of speeding up of the ageing process. This is the second type known as ‘shou’ or cooked puerh. This fermentation process called ‘wo dui’ (wet piling) was innovated to replicate the rich and earthy taste of a puerh tea that has been naturally aged for many years.

‘Sheng’ or raw puerh is the original kind and can be enjoyed fresh for a fruity, lightly bitter and compelling flavour.

‘Sheng’ or raw puerh is the original kind and can be enjoyed fresh for a fruity, lightly bitter and compelling flavour.

This is the second type known as ‘shou’ or cooked puerh, which is intentionally fermented, giving it a darker and earthier taste.

This is the second type known as ‘shou’ or cooked puerh, which is intentionally fermented, giving it a darker and earthier taste.

What makes Yunnan so special for producing tea?

 There are many things that make Yunnan unique and incredible, from its vibrant multi-ethnic culture to its ancient tea history. The most noteworthy for tea are firstly the kind of tea plants (or rather tea trees) found here. Yunnan is home to the indigenous Camellia sinensis assamica varietal of tea, which is what’s used to make puerh. Although naturally occurring in the wild, this varietal has been cultivated across Yunnan for centuries and so there are now tea gardens made up of full sized - or arboreous - tea trees. Some of the individual trees are hundreds of years old, and with their deep roots, these ancient trees (referred to as ‘gushu’) are the most highly prized for making puerh. By comparison, in most other parts of China, tea bushes are more thoroughly cultivated and heavily pruned, giving good leaves for just a few decades before being re-planted.

The soil in Yunnan is extremely fertile and the rural and mostly untouched nature of the province means the environment is biodiverse.

The soil in Yunnan is extremely fertile and the rural and mostly untouched nature of the province means the environment is biodiverse.

Another benefit of crafting tea in Yunnan is the land itself. The soil is extremely fertile, and the rural and mostly untouched nature of the province means the environment is biodiverse. It has a temperate climate and many mountains more than 1,000m in height, all of which work together to create the perfect conditions for growing and harvesting flavoursome tea. The final key to what makes tea from Yunnan special is the people. The lands are cared for by small families or village communities who often work together to harvest and handcraft their tea and protect their environment. They use skills handed down through generations, so have an expert understanding of how to work in harmony with the tea trees and their land to coax out teas with incredible taste, while keep the environment fertile. The interest and value of puerh tea in the last few decades has transformed some of the rural areas in the province, bringing money to the remote places where some of the highest quality tea is produced. This has helped to create new roads, giving access to villages that were once only reached on foot, build new homes and buy better tea processing facilities to continue the craft of tea. It’s evidence of what happens when tea from a specific area is valued – communities and their environments can thrive. In these areas, local governments are involved in keeping the area pristine for the long term too – they prevent the use of certain pesticides and maintain ecological practices.

There are many tea gardens in Yunnan made up of full sized tea trees, which have been cultivated for centuries from seeds of wild bushes.

There are many tea gardens in Yunnan made up of full sized tea trees, which have been cultivated for centuries from seeds of wild bushes.

Most tea gardens in Yunnan are cared for by small families or villages, so knowing the land, weather and plants in the garden is essential.

Most tea gardens in Yunnan are cared for by small families or villages, so knowing the land, weather and plants in the garden is essential.

Puerh is often enjoyed for its immersive quality, usually made gong fu style in a gaiwan over a long session of many infusions.

Puerh is often enjoyed for its immersive quality, usually made gong fu style in a gaiwan over a long session of many infusions.

How is puerh tea made?

Puerh is made in spring and autumn, the most temperate times of year. As with all teas and indeed most agricultural products, there are fluctuations within the timings of the seasons, and harvest also depends on the age of the tea plants. Older trees will tend to flush new buds and leaves later than younger bushes. Tea producers late could result in the tea plants producing only a few leaves for making tea, using the rest of their energy to produce fruits and flowers instead. There are few written rules for making puerh, only guidelines, so as with most hand-crafted tea, each producer uses their own intuition and experience to get it right; knowing the land, weather and plants in the garden are essential.

Puerh production begins by harvesting the buds and leaves by hand and in small batches. These are then spread out on bamboo mats and left to wither for 5 hours or more depending on the temperature and weather. The wither reduces the water content to get the leaves dry enough to begin the wok firing. The wok firing is known as a sha qing or ‘kill green’ and is usually done by hand in large metal pans over fire. This heating of the leaves deactivates most, but not all, of the enzymes in the leaf responsible for oxidation, thereby locking in the green colour and complex flavour.

After frying, the leaves are rolled in a small machine for about 5 to 10 minutes. This breaks the surface cells of the leaves and the hard leaf stems. Doing so means any remaining water content can be released, as well as the organic tannins in the tea, which contribute to the unique bitter-sweet flavour of puerh. The leaves are then rested overnight before a final slow, sun-drying on bamboo mats to ensure a smooth, mellow texture. At this point you have sheng (raw) puerh tea, which is ready to enjoy, but usually pressed into different shapes, such as a ‘bing’ (tea cake) or brick, for easier storage and continued ageing.

Sometimes the raw puerh tea will then be fermented to create shou or ‘cooked’ puerh. During the wo dui or fermentation process, the tea goes through consecutive stages of piling into large mounds, wetting, turning and covering with sheets to induce the humid conditions for microbial activity and fermentation. As well as enzymes in the tea leaves further oxidising during the process, microorganisms grow in the tea piles catalysing reactions in the leaves and causing a change in the chemical compounds of the tea. This is very similar to the microbial reactions prized in cheese making. These reactions increase the content of vitamin C and antioxidant catechins. This process can last from 20-70 days, after which the tea is fully dried and then rested before being enjoyed.

Compressed tea, such as cakes or bricks, was originally exported from China via a trade network known as the Ancient Tea Horse Road.

Compressed tea, such as cakes or bricks, was originally exported from China via a trade network known as the Ancient Tea Horse Road.

What does puerh tea taste like?

 Raw puerh is often light in colour with a pale golden green hue that produces a fresh flavour filled with complex bitterness and transformative sweetness, floral notes, dried fruits, a light earthiness and hints of aromatic wood like sandalwood. Cooked puerh is much darker and richer with a similar bitterness, balanced by caramel fudge sweetness and even earthier undertones of forest floor, spices and tobacco leaf.

But this famous style of tea is not so easy to pin down to a few tasting notes as it is often enjoyed often more for its immersive quality, made gong fu style over a long session of many infusions – much like my very first experience of the chunk of tea made in a small bowl or “gaiwan”. From its complex initial taste and thick texture, puerh is also enjoyed for its long aftertaste and lasting ‘hui gan’ (returning throat sweetness). Seasoned puerh tea drinkers will even notice the sensation of ‘cha qi’ or tea energy which fills the entire body after an extensive tea session.

Check out this video I made on how to make gong fu tea using our new raw puerh cake over on our Instagram.

Check out this video I made on how to make gong fu tea using our new raw puerh cake over on our Instagram.

Try a gong fu tea session with our Tea Master and fully experience the depth of flavour of puerh tea.

Try a gong fu tea session with our Tea Master and fully experience the depth of flavour of puerh tea.

How to make puerh tea and find the best type for you

To really understand the complex and unique taste of puerh tea, I’d strongly recommend trying it gong fu style. This method uses a larger amount of tea leaves (either loose or broken off from a pressed cake) and small amounts of water for multiple short infusions. Made this way you’ll go on a journey as different flavours emerge with each infusion. Specialised clay teapots are the primary choice for many puerh enthusiasts, but if you don’t have one of those (as most don’t), then using our Tea Master or Tea-iere are a great way to perfect the art of gong fu tea making with ease. Check out the video I made on how to make gong fu tea over on our Instagram.

Gong Fu will work with all types of puerh, so in terms of which tea to pick, if you like fresh, and fruity flavours with a complex bitterness then go for young raw puerh (like our Ai Lao Mountain tea), but if you prefer something more earthy and rich, then try an aged or fermented puerh like our Vintage Imperial Puerh or Cooked Mini Cakes. Here’s a basic gong fu recipe for our cooked puerh mini cakes which are a great intro into puerh tea:

One mini cake or 5g of leaf per 125ml (half a One Cup Tea-iere), infuse for 1 min at 100˚c to allow the cake to open up, then pour out all the tea and enjoy. Re-infuse for 30 seconds on the 2nd infusion, adding 10 seconds more to each subsequent infusion (up to 8 times).

Recommended puerh teas

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Our Tea Buyer’s Winter Report

The luscious green of Baotian Garden in Hunan is an ideal location for producing organic green tea, as the winter chill gives way to spring.

The luscious green of Baotian Garden in Hunan is an ideal location for producing organic green tea, as the winter chill gives way to spring.


The wild forests of the Ai Lao Mountains in Yunnan are home to the 50 year old tea trees used to produce our new puerh cake.

The wild forests of the Ai Lao Mountains in Yunnan are home to the 50 year old tea trees used to produce our new puerh cake.

What’s been happening this winter?

Heavy winter snow in China’s Hunan province often makes the roads to the tea gardens in Baotian, where our Organic Jade Sword is grown, impassable for weeks at a time. The bushes don’t seem to mind being covered in snow. Indeed, the winter chill is one of the factors that make Baotian garden an ideal location for growing flavoursome organic tea. The bushes benefit from a long rest; it gives the roots a chance to gather energy and nutrients for the spring ahead. The cold weather also means fewer insects which won’t return in any great numbers until after the tea is picked in spring, so there’s no need for pesticides.

Tea buyers are similarly accustomed to reduced activity during winter; with fewer new teas coming in, I have more time to pursue other projects. JING committed to converting the majority of our range to organic by the end of 2021, so over the last few months I've been working with gardens in India, China, and Japan on several new organic teas that are now almost ready to be introduced. Look out in the coming weeks for a new Organic Hojicha from Kagoshima in Japan, an Organic Darjeeling 2nd Flush, as well as our very first pressed raw puerh cake from Ai Lao Mountain in Yunnan.

Searching for organic teas in Yunnan

Another new tea we’ll be introducing in the coming weeks is an Organic black breakfast style tea from Yunnan. Breakfast teas are usually blended from multiple places, but this new one is from a single garden. Carrying all the distinctive tastes of its place and maker, including ripe berries, malt and chocolate, it works superbly with milk, and is a tea I’m very excited to share.

With its wild and ancient tea mountains, and long history of production, Yunnan has been a key location for my search for organic teas this winter. It's a region I came to know well when working on Red Dragon in 2015, and it was the first place I considered for this breakfast tea. The biodiversity of much of the land in Yunnan makes it particularly suitable for organic growing, and the small batch, community led approach of the local farmers, means many organic techniques have been long been integrated into their tea growing practices.

The most famous (and commercially successful) tea from this province is puerh, and the highest value puerh teas come from the oldest, wildest trees. Recognising the benefits of working with the land rather than trying to control it, the local government in Yunnan is also invested in protecting the local environment. Along with the incredible flavours that have long come from Yunnan, this emphasis on organic production techniques means that it will continue to be one of the first places I look to for the best-tasting organic teas.

Tom meets the locals while searching for black tea in Yunnan, back in 2015.

Tom meets the locals while searching for black tea in Yunnan, back in 2015.

The beautiful tea fields of Baojing County, where Tom was able to source our Baoing Gold green tea during the first lockdown in spring 2020.

The beautiful tea fields of Baojing County, where Tom was able to source our Baoing Gold green tea during the first lockdown in spring 2020.

Looking ahead to spring

Now, with the arrival of blossoms and longer days, my thoughts turn to spring – the most important season of the tea year.

Looking back, the tea I’m most pleased with from 2020 is Baojing Gold. This spring green tea from China was sourced under difficult circumstances. Last year was the first time I was unable to be on the ground during picking and production, but despite the challenges of working during the COVID-19 crisis, and against the odds, this tea was one of the best spring green teas I’ve ever found. Mr Long, who made last year’s Baojing Gold, reported a cold winter recently, and has sent  me some photos of the very promising early spring buds. Sadly, it looks like I will source the spring teas from a distance again this year, but Baojing Gold inspires me to look ahead with optimism and excitement.

Planning for the season this year means lots of phone calls, both with potential new producers and the tea makers who have been our partners for many years. Like their tea bushes, the growers have mostly spent the winter quietly, resting and saving energy for the spring season. We discuss their expectations for the season ahead  – has the winter and early spring been good for the bushes? As they tell me about the weather, the pruning, and any innovations or changes they’re planning this year, I am reminded of years past. I miss being able to spend time with them, getting close to production and observing the bushes. I remember just how good and completely unique the smell of fresh tea leaves being processed in a small factory is – a grassy smell full of life. Noticing Mr Imayoshi enjoying his daughter’s homemade pickled plums with his Hojicha on a recent video call, I missed the local delicacies too.

Felicity and Will regularly catch up with producers as their teas begin production, such as our new organic Hojicha from Kagoshima, Japan.

Felicity and Will regularly catch up with producers as their teas begin production, such as our new organic Hojicha from Kagoshima, Japan.

What Teas Have I Been Enjoying Recently?

With fewer teas to taste, the winter season has afforded me more time for drinking tea simply for pleasure. In recent months, I have particularly enjoyed our new Chai, which we designed for adding milk. It’s like a breakfast tea, with the natural sweetness of cinnamon and the warmth of spicy ginger. The green tea that I’ve drunk the most this winter is Sencha, as I find its rich texture more suited to the winter palate than the more delicate spring greens. Now, with the distinct feeling that winter is almost over, I can’t help but think about the gardens to which spring will shortly come, and, with much anticipation, those delicate spring teas that 2021 will bring…

We have a very small amount of Tom’s favourite teas from spring 2020 still available, last chance to try them here:
Shop Baojing Gold
Shop Organic Dragon Well Supreme

Try Tom’s Winter favourites:
Shop Chai Now
Shop Sencha Now

Taste some of Yunnan’s teas:

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Deep Dive Into Aged Fuding White Peony

The story of our aged white tea began back in 2015 when we travelled to Fuding in the spring and found an exceptional batch of White Peony.

The story of our aged white tea began back in 2015 when we travelled to Fuding in the spring and found an exceptional batch of White Peony.

Shop Aged Fuding White Peony

Origin: Shanhugang Garden, Fuding, Fujian China: the traditional home of white tea

Cultivar: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis ‘Da Bai

Style: Aged White Tea

Terroir: The gardens of Fuding are situated on misty mountains close to the coast.

Picking Season: Spring 2015; aged for six years by JING.

Leaf: Sets of downy buds with silver tips, together with long, fine leaves and stems.

Oxidation: Slow oxidation, estimated around 15% after six years of ageing.

Infusion: Golden yellow infusion with a slight green hue.

Taimu mountain in Fujian - a province popular with domestic tourists seeking fresh sea air, mountain views and climbing.

Taimu mountain in Fujian - a province popular with domestic tourists seeking fresh sea air, mountain views and climbing.

Where is Fuding and what is it like?

In the northeast of Fujian Province lies Fuding County. It’s an area popular with domestic tourists seeking fresh sea air, mountain views, climbing, and a taste of the local hand pulled noodles. Much of the local industry is farming, and with its hilly to mountainous terrain, dense forest cover and coastline, Fuding is a fertile area, ideal for growing tea, citrus fruits and rice.

In the context of tea, Fuding is in very good company. Fujian province is the birthplace of many incredible teas – in the northwest you’ll find Wuyishan, the dramatic and red soiled mountain home of dark roasted oolongs including Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe), Shui Xian and our Wuyi Oolong; as well as the smoky black tea Lapsang teas; travelling further south you’ll get to Anxi County, home to Tieguanyin oolong, a lightly oxidised often very floral tea known as Iron Buddha. Each county or area mentioned has its own specific style of teas – different cultivars, microclimates, terroirs, masters, histories, cultures and methods all across Fujian contribute to teas with distinctive tastes.

What type of tea does Fuding produce?

This area is well known for being the true home of white tea in China. White teas from here were first recorded by Lu Yu (the sage of tea) in his book The Classic of Tea in the 8th Century and are still today regularly selected by the emperor for the annual top teas of China list.

The gardens producing white tea tend to be at altitude and as such, the bushes are protected from sunlight by mountain mists. Too much sunlight and tea leaves tend to produce bitter tasting infusions, so the protective fog contributes to the soft, sweetness prized in white tea. The bushes have time to grow slowly in the lower temperatures afford by altitude too. This slow growth is important for the type of tea bush cultivated in the area, the “Fuding Da Bai Hao” type of Camellia sinensis. This cultivar originated in Fuding and so suits the unique soil of the area, although it has many qualities, such as resistance to drought, which means it is now widely used throughout China. “Da Bai” in the name translates as “Big White” and refers to the appearance of the leaves. The size here is important, the Silver Needle or White Peony style of white teas use big juicy tea buds to derive flavour and distinction.

The gardens producing white tea tend to be at high altitude and are protected from sunlight by mountain mists. which contributes to their soft sweetness.

The gardens producing white tea tend to be at high altitude and are protected from sunlight by mountain mists. which contributes to their soft sweetness.

These two types of white tea, Silver Needle and White Peony both come from Fuding, but are differentiated by their pickings – Silver Needle, known in China as Yinzhen, is made from just the buds; White Peony, known as Bai Mu Dan, is made from a juicy bud and two leaves.

Whilst a unique local cultivar and the altitude/ situation are important factors in giving Fuding white tea its flavour, so too is the place’s contribution when it comes to processing. White tea has very low intervention in its processing and as such, the farmer must work closely with the air, atmosphere and climate when crafting their tea.

If you’re lucky enough to visit Fuding County in the spring, you’ll see rows of the locally made bamboo trays filled with tea leaves lining every street, each tray bringing the smell of fresh tea to the air, whilst withering or drying the leaves as the sun, humidity and atmosphere gently coax out the flavour from the leaves. This site not only makes it immediately clear how revered tea is to this area, but also how it is the very place which is contributing to the taste.

The flavours of Fuding white tea are typified by being very clean and pure. Melon muskiness and cucumber freshness are prized flavour notes. These are white teas which are complex, layered and distinctive.

The withering process gently coaxes out the flavour from the leaves. The flavours of Fuding white tea are typified by being very clean and pure.

The withering process gently coaxes out the flavour from the leaves. The flavours of Fuding white tea are typified by being very clean and pure.

A popular way to age tea in China is to press it in to cakes in the same way puerh is pressed in Yunnan.

A popular way to age tea in China is to press it in to cakes in the same way puerh is pressed in Yunnan.

How is white tea made?

Let’s go back to the trays in the streets of Fuding for a moment to look at the production of white tea. Looking at the trays, it seems white tea production is very simple: after the tea leaves are picked, they are laid out to wither and dry. The leaves are left for two to five days with the oxygen in the air dehydrating them. With less moisture, the flavours in the leaf intensify and specific notes are brought out, and after a brief final drying, the leaves are ready to be infused and enjoyed. White tea’s light, delicate flavours are reflective of this low intervention process.

There is a great deal of skill in white tea production, however. Firstly, in the careful picking and handling of the buds and leaves so they remain intact and secondly in the intuiting of the weather, and atmosphere. Picked at the wrong time and the leaves will dry too quickly, left in the sun too long the leaves will end up bitter. Tea makers will assess their leaves and the atmosphere constantly, moving them into shade, the sun or inside periodically. It’s the feeling part of the process that can’t be learnt from reading and can’t be written down – and that connects the farmer, the leaves and the place.

Why is white tea suitable for ageing and what happens when it ages?

What the tea producers making white tea are looking for during production is a balance of allowing the enzymes inside the leaf the time and atmosphere to begin to oxidise slowly and so provide the leaf with a sweetness, whilst minimising this oxidation so that the delicate, fresh spring flavours are preserved.

No heat is applied to the leaf during this process. In the production of green tea, heat is used to stop or kill the enzymes responsible for oxidation and locks the leaves in their green state. For white tea, the enzymes are still present and so will continue to react with the oxygen in the air and very slowly oxidise. The slowness is due to the very low moisture content in the leaf.

This slow oxidation means flavours, body and colour in the teas concentrate and intensify over time, and so white tea can age very well.

Aged white tea has increased in popularity in China over the last few years, with producers making tea specifically to age it and press it in to cakes in the same way puerh is pressed in Yunnan.

After the tea leaves are picked, they are laid out to slowly wither and dry, intensifying their flavour and drawing out sweetness.

After the tea leaves are picked, they are laid out to slowly wither and dry, intensifying their flavour and drawing out sweetness.

How did we source this batch of aged white tea?

Tom, our Head of Tea, sourced this batch of Fuding White Peony in the spring of 2015, and whilst we all enjoyed most of it when it was fresh, we left just 20kgs in our warehouse in the UK to see what would happen to the flavour over time.

Ageing white tea can be a considered process, and there are plenty of techniques used to speed up the ageing process – or “cook” the tea; climate is always carefully controlled, and as mentioned above, the leaves are often pressed into cakes before ageing.

We took a risk with these twenty kilos as we are not experts in ageing tea. We decided to keep the tea in small airtight packs, away from light in ambient temperatures.

This batch of aged white tea has a smooth, silky mouthfeel with some deeper and darker date like fruit flavours with some hay notes too.

This batch of aged white tea has a smooth, silky mouthfeel with some deeper and darker date like fruit flavours with some hay notes too.

This tea is very easy to drink and as it has a mellow character, it's perfect for late morning or mid afternoon drinking.

This tea is very easy to drink and as it has a mellow character, it's perfect for late morning or mid afternoon drinking.

What is this batch like to drink?

Opening the tea after almost six years, the leaves were noticeably much darker – and more brittle. The darkness is a good sign they’d continued their slow oxidation and the texture simply indicates the decreased moisture content in the leaf. As we’ve not accelerated the ageing at all, the tea shows a medium aged character – indicating it’ll likely continue to get better.

Tasting and making our first ever batch of aged white tea as a team, comparisons between puerh were heard across the table. The mouthfeel of this Aged Fuding White Peony is smooth and almost silky, reminiscent of puerh, but the taste is much more mellow than a young puerh. Talk of fruitiness was heard across the table too – not the same melon flavours in fresh white peony, but deeper and darker date like fruit flavours with some hay notes too. The sweetness developed has a more honeyed edge and a darkness, bringing malt notes familiar from black teas. It’s a wonderful example of the characteristic rounded texture of aged Fujianese white teas, a texture that defines its taste of place. It’s mellow, silky, warming and fascinating to drink.

When and where is this tea for?

Given the rarity of this tea, for lots of us it’ll be a tea to savour – you might even consider (like I am..) keeping some and continuing its ageing. It’s a tea to savour too for its complexity and layered character to take time to drink and explore. That said it’s very easy to drink, I’m enjoying a cup mid-morning, and its mellow character is giving me just a gentle awakening nudge to keep going until lunch. I’d try it in the late afternoon too, as a way to wind down.

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

Single Serve, One Cup Method, using a 250ml teapot and cup

Its mellow character makes this a very easy tea to make – you won’t ever find bitterness or astringency. I made this tea using exactly the same recipe I used to make fresh White Peony, 4g of leaf (it looks a lot as the leaf is large and very light), 80 degree water and three minutes. The lower temperature of water keeps the tea soft and leaves lots of room in the cup for those medjool date, hay flavours. Given the complexity of this tea, I’ve been reinfusing the leaves at least three times – each time the infusion gets deeper and continues to engage.

This is our go to method: 4g per 250ml, 80 degrees, 3 minutes; re-infuse 3 times.

Who is this tea for?

Anyone who wants to dive into the incredible Fuding origin and the category of aged white teas. The flavour and character are likely to appeal if you enjoy light Chinese black teas like Keemun Mao Feng or Bohea, or even Oriental Beauty from Taiwan. If you enjoy the complexity of the oolong and puerh tea types, you’ll be sure to find something to enjoy in this rare treat.

White Peony, known as Bai Mu Dan, is made from a juicy bud and two leaves. This batch was picked in spring in 2015 & naturally aged for 5 years.

White Peony, known as Bai Mu Dan, is made from a juicy bud and two leaves. This batch was picked in spring in 2015 & naturally aged for 6 years.

Why are we calling this tea rare?

The popularity of white tea from Fuding meant for a time, many farmers used excessive pesticides and chemical fertilisers to deliver the yields to meet the demand. Virgin land around Fuding was regularly cleared in the twentieth century to make more space for tea to be grown.

The local government recognised the negative environmental impact of these practices – and also saw that they ruined the marketability of their tea – teas known for their purity and clean flavours!

In the last few years, much tighter restrictions have been put in place around when tea in Fuding can be produced and which farming practices are used. This has led to many farmers converting to organic, and throughout the area much better control of the types and quantities of pesticides being used. The land clearing has also mostly stopped.

This is great news for the nature and people in Fuding. The decrease in availability coupled with the continued impressive reputation – and so keen local demand – means prices in Fuding are very high now, and so too is quality.

The competition with domestic demand for teas from Fuding is the main reason we (and many other white tea fans) have started to include nearby Yunnan in our annual quest to bring you white teas. Our current batch of Organic Yunnan White Peony has certainly not disappointed. If you read about this “new world” terroir for white tea in our other Deep Dive you’ll see it’s not a direct copy of Fuding White Peony we’re looking for, instead we explore what unique characteristics a new origin can bring to the type. Every spring we continue to look to Fuding for white teas – and we continue to be inspired and delighted by the incredible flavours from this origin. Look out for very small batch, rare teas from this prized terroir on our site around May/ June time.

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Aged Fuding White Peony

A complex and mellow aged white tea that's been six years in the making – picked in Spring 2015 and naturally aged by JING. It's developed incredible depth and character over time, with notes of hay meadow and a dark honey finish. A remarkable treat.A complex and mellow aged white tea that's been six years in the making – picked in Spring 2015 and naturally aged by JING. It's developed incredible depth and character over time, with notes of hay meadow and a dark honey finish. A remarkable treat.

Shop Aged Fuding White Peony

Meet Tea Maker: Shentang Wen

Dragon Well is China’s most famous green tea. It’s been produced in and around the beautiful West Lake area of Zhejiang province f

Dragon Well is China’s most famous green tea. It’s been produced in and around the beautiful West Lake area.

Tom in Wen's organic tea garden (Yong’an) in 2019, which is in the remote northwest of Chun’an county in Zhejiang province.

Tom in Wen's organic tea garden (Yong’an) in 2019, which is in the remote northwest of Chun’an county in Zhejiang province.

Dragon Well is China’s most famous green tea. For hundreds of years, it’s been produced in and around the beautiful West Lake area of Zhejiang province, where it is pan fired in a hot wok to bring out its distinctive flavours. Ten years ago, Unesco made West Lake a World Heritage Site, citing its profound influence on garden design across east Asia and its “idealised fusion” of the human and the natural.

In the same spirit of idealised fusion, Wen set out 15 years ago to create an organic tea garden. Back then, organic was a relatively new way of farming in Zhejiang – when Wen set up an organic cooperative in 2007, its first meeting attracted just one other attendee. Now these monthly meetings draw crowds of around 130.

Recently, Wen took time out of his preparations for the picking season to tell us how – and why – he’s trodden the organic path and what gets him through the long hours of spring.

Where are you right now, Wen?

For now, I’m with my family in a village close to the tea garden. When the season begins at the end of March, I’ll move to the garden and stay with the team next to the factory.

Whereabouts is the garden itself?

It’s in Wenjia village, which is in the remote northwest of Chun’an county in Zhejiang province. The average altitude of the garden is more than 1,100m and it’s surrounded by clouds and mists all year round – it can often seem mysterious. The whole area feels undisturbed because it’s so far away from cities and industries, but my garden is the highest one on the mountain, so it’s right on the edge of the wilderness.

And is the altitude important?

Yes. The large temperature difference between day and night causes the polyphenol and flavour compounds of the tea to precipitate and accumulate. The forest coverage rate is almost 90%, so the grass and tea trees grow between plants. I love butterflies, so recently I’ve been planting more red maples to attract them. The greenery means you can have up to 5,000 times as many negative ions per cubic metre as you would find in a city, so the air is incredibly pure and the atmosphere is quiet and elegant.

The high altitude of the garden means the season arrives slightly later, increasing the nutrients such as polyphenols and amino acids

The high altitude of the garden means the season arrives slightly later, increasing the nutrients such as polyphenols and amino acids in the tea.

The altitude also means the season arrives slightly later. The extra wait increases nutrients such as polyphenols and amino acids in the tea. It allows the substances that give the tea its taste and aroma to synthesise better: the bottom of the leaves are thicker, so the taste is fresher, and the fragrance is quieter and longer lasting.

How is this year’s crop looking?

Great! Last year a drought affected the crops and leaves were much smaller. This autumn, though, the rains were good and plentiful, and the temperature not too cold. I’m expecting an excellent crop come spring.

Tell us a bit about the spring picking season…

The days are very long, which is why it’s easier to stay at the garden. The season usually lasts around four weeks and, once it’s over, there’s a big party. Everyone from our garden and the neighbouring gardens gets together, drinks baijiu and chats late into the night.

Wen sorting through the leaves in the factory.

Wen sorting through the leaves in the factory.

After being hand-picked and lightly withered, the tea is pan fried, traditionally in a wok, to prevent oxidation and develop a distinct sweet chestnut flavour.

After being hand-picked and lightly withered, the tea is pan fried, traditionally in a wok, to prevent oxidation and develop a distinct sweet chestnut flavour.

What does the work involve?

I get up at about 5am and arrange the picking of the specific tea varieties, the area of the garden to be picked and the picking standards with the foreman. Tea picking starts before 6am – more than 100 tea pickers go up the mountain every day during the season. The first batch of green tea enters the factory around 11am. Tea frying times are set according to the tenderness and water content of the fresh leaves. Around 4pm, the second batch of green tea enters the factory. The second batch of frying continues until the evening. During the really busy times, I’m often frying tea into the night. The next day, I do the final panning on the tea that was fried the day before.

Do you get any time to relax before the end-of-season party?

There’s not much downtime during tea season, but I do make space for three tea drinking sessions a day: when I wake up; after lunch; and before bed. In the evenings, I spend time with other local tea farmers who are also sleeping close to their farms.

What does everyone do for the rest of the year?

Some of the 100 pickers travel from next-door Anhui province just for the peak season, but most of them are locals from the surrounding villages. For the rest of year, there’s still lots of work adding fertiliser or cutting grasses. Some other local gardens will make tea oil from the seeds of the camellia plants and there is a small walnut industry in the area to keep everyone busy throughout the year.

Is this the life you always envisaged for yourself?

This is my family’s calling. More than 30 years ago, when I was still a teenager, I learned from my parents to make tea. My ancestors were tea makers and I have always had a deep affection for tea. I’m passing the skills onto my son and daughter-in-law, though I don’t want to stop myself. Every day I’m on this earth, I expect to be making tea. I have been dealing with tea for most of my life, so it’s like a family member to me.

'You can only live a good life by slowly doing good work, one step at a time & working hard', says Wen. I know this because you can't make tea in a hurry.

'You can only live a good life by slowly doing good work, one step at a time & working hard', says Wen. I know this because you can't make tea in a hurry.

Wen remains committed to making organic tea in his pure, natural and protected tea garden.

Wen remains committed to making organic tea in his pure, natural and protected tea garden.

As a family member then, what has tea taught you?

You can only live a good life by slowly doing good work, one step at a time and working hard. I know this because you can't make tea in a hurry. Each step has a specific time and a specific temperature for picking and frying to drying. You have to follow the steps. If you rush, it’s easy to spoil the tea and lose its value. To make tea, you have to be willing to endure hardships, get up early and stay up late, and work hard for the finished cup of tea. It’s not only tea that’s like this – life is too.

Is there anything else you’ve learnt along the way?

Make many friends! Especially if you’re working on something new, like organic was when I started this garden. I set up a local organic cooperative and only one other person turned up to the first meeting. These days, around 130 people travel to those meetings and they all share ideas about everything from processing techniques to dealing with new weather patterns. Membership increases every month, especially this year as demand for organic tea has grown hugely in China.

When I first started working organically, there was a very limited domestic market, so I had to look to places like Germany, the UK and the US to sell my tea. But this means I now have many friends across the world and they bring me new perspectives and interests. I believe people who care about organic and about the earth have a better attitude to life!

Organic is not the norm in tea production. Why did you decide to go organic?

When I came here 15 years ago, I insisted on going organic because I had seen the first signs of a market for organic in the tea markets of Shanghai and understood the benefits. Back then, organic was a relatively new way of farming in this area and I realised my only option was to start something new. I found some land that was close to other tea gardens, but a little bit higher up the mountain and less accessible. There were lots of plants growing happily, which told me a garden could work. And because it’s at the top of the mountain, the garden wouldn’t be affected by chemical runoff from other gardens. Today, I remain committed to making organic tea in this pure, protected, natural tea garden.

Do you think organic might become the norm for tea in the future?

Right now, organic tea is a sunrise sector but, as consumers pursue higher food quality, I think organic tea is the future of the industry. Everyone likes healthy products.

Dragon Well made Grandad style - try dropping a few leaves in a glass, topping up with hot water and sipping it slowly. It's how Wen an the locals do it in Hangzhou.

Dragon Well made Grandad style - try dropping a few leaves in a glass, topping up with hot water and sipping it slowly. It's how Wen an the locals do it in Hangzhou.

Finally, Wen, how do you drink your tea?

I like to drink my own Dragon Well, brewed ‘grandad style’ in a tall glass cup. The flavour is rich and the aftertaste is full of sweetness. That’s typically how all of us drink tea here, unless it’s a special occasion – or a special tea – in which case we’ll get the gaiwan out and settle in for a longer session of gong fu-style brewing.

Every tea producer we work with is an accomplished master craftsman with a wealth of expertise that enables each of them to create their unique tea. Meet some of the makers behind our other teas.

The Story of Rose Tea

The Story of Rose Tea

The Story of Rose Tea

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Roses in History

Since the first roses bloomed thousands of years ago, their presence and symbolism have been found throughout history. Egyptian queen Cleopatra had her rooms filled with rose petals so Roman general Marc Antony would be haunted by the scent. Persian poets would dedicate entire verses to the floral centerpieces of their 'paradaida' (paradise) gardens. Roman emperor Nero would surprise guests with cascades of rose petals, and even the Tudor monarchy established the red and white rose as the national emblem of England. The rose flower and its various colours have also become synonymous with representing sentiments, from the purity of the white rose, to the passion of the orange rose; with mystery, friendship and true love also found in the floral spectrum.

The Story of Rose Tea

It’s easy to see that, even through centuries and civilisations, the rose has maintained its status as the pinnacle of flower blossoms, but this is not just down to its aesthetic appearance. The rose matches its beauty with abundant aroma and a depth of functional benefits that were carried along with the flower as it began to be traded on the silk road - from its alleged origins in China through to the middle east, northern Africa and Europe.

Starting in China, rose flowers or Méiguī (玫瑰), also known as the ‘queen of flowers’, are said to have begun being cultivated as far back as 5,000 years ago, drawing parallels to tea cultivation. However, they were much widely cultivated during the Han dynasty (141-87 BC) as they gained popular use in traditional medicine and as export for trade. An infusion of the unopened flower buds was often used for its benefits of aiding digestion and nourishment of the skin, while rosehip (the fruit of the plant), was used to balance temperature due to its distinctive cooling effect.

Roses in Persia

The rose bushes flourished in the desert conditions of ancient Persia, where the hot sunny days and cold nights were perfectly suited to growing the plants. As far back as 6th century BCE, the parks and gardens of Persia were known to be frequented by the kings of the day and gardening itself was a popular past time. This gave birth to the first 'chahar bagh', the famous quadrilateral garden arrangement, often referred to by the ancient Persians as ‘paradaida’ meaning a walled-garden and the origin of the term ‘paradise’.

It is no wonder that innovations in rose cultivation became a very prosperous activity in Persia by the 8th century, with advances in perfumes, oils and most famously rose water, most of which are still made in the city of Kashan, Iran today. The flower became such an important aspect of this ancient culture that the red rose was made the countries national flower features in many local legends.

The flower gained further popularity during the establishment of the silk road trading routes towards the turn of the common era, where it was further cherished and cultivated mainly in Persia and what is now modern-day Iran.

JING whole rosebuds

JING's Whole Rosebuds

Praising both the origin and its history, we decided to source our high-quality, whole pink rosebuds from Iran, where they are selected and picked with the same rigorous discernment that would be used to select any of our teas and herbal infusions.

To secure the beautiful fragrance, the delicate buds are picked in the morning out of the direct sunlight and during low a breeze. The roses are then simply dried to retain all their natural goodness – essential oils, aroma and wonderfully enchanting flavour. Upon infusion, they release their pristine scent with an added complexity from the rose sepal.

The health benefits of rose tea

JING's Rose Tea Collection

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Deep Dive Into Da Xue Wild Black

Our Da Xue Wild Black is made from trees that are hundreds of years old and grow over 5m tall to meet the canopy of the unspoilt, ancient forest.

Our Da Xue Wild Black is made from trees that are hundreds of years old and grow over 5m tall to meet the canopy of the unspoilt, ancient forest.

Da Xue Wild Black wet leaf - notice the long untwisted leaf tinged with antique copper highlights.

Da Xue Wild Black wet leaf - notice the long untwisted leaf tinged with antique copper highlights.

 

Yunnan, in the south west of China, is full of wild and ancient tea mountains – many of which are undiscovered by tea drinkers in the West. These mountains are home to very old tea trees – some of which have been there for hundreds of years, tended to by generations of tea farming families. Instead of the neat uniform bushes we’re used to seeing in cultivated tea gardens in other tea growing regions, on these mountains the tea trees are tall, often over 10ft and require a ladder for the leaves to be picked. The root structure is deep from decades of growth and so these trees access different concentrations of minerals and nutrients from the earth. The flavours from these leaves are varied and can be unpredictable. Tea farmers will gamble on wild trees, working with the leaves to see what aromas and complexities can be drawn out of them.

In this deep dive we’ll get to know a black tea made by Mrs Fu from wild bushes on Da Xue Shan – or Big Snowy Mountain in Yunnan. Da Xue Shan is an ancient, high mountain terroir that’s known locally for its production of complex puerh tea, as well as these unique sweet and malty black teas.

Read on to find out what tea that comes from this ancient terroir tastes like – and if you like the sound of it, we’ve shared tips on the best ways to make it and find its flavours.

Origin: Da Xue Shan, Lincang, Yunnan, China

Cultivar: Camellia sinensis var. assamica ‘Da Ye Zhong’

Name: ‘Da Xue’ translates as ‘Big Snow’ and refers to the name of mountain where this black tea was produced. ‘Wild’ refers to the uncultivated status of the tea trees that grow in the mountain forests and are used to make this tea.

Style: Wild tree black tea

Terroir: Steep mountain side, very high altitude. The area is remote and densely forested with lush vegetation and many large, wild tea trees.

Altitude: 1800m (though the mountain peaks at 3233m)

Picking Season: Spring 2020

Leaf: Dark black twists of long leaf, tinged with antique copper highlights

Oxidation: 100%

Production: Wild trees, naturally grown without pesticides

Infusion: A bright, coppery infusion, that has a slight green hue towards the edge of the cup.

 In the very dense forests in the remote parts of Yunnan, you'll find large areas dotted with wild, indigenous assamica varietal tea trees.

In the very dense forests in the remote parts of Yunnan, you'll find large areas dotted with wild, indigenous assamica varietal tea trees.

Notice the dark black twists of long leaf, tinged with antique copper highlights.

Notice the dark black twists of long leaf, tinged with antique copper highlights.

What kind of tea does Yunnan produce?

Throughout the province there are high forested mountains, lush from the sub-tropical climate. It’s perfect for tea production – you’ll find white teas, including our Organic Yunnan White Peony, some exceptional green teas and even experimental small batch teas such as our Red Dragon. These are not the famous teas of Yunnan though. The famous teas tend to be concentrated in specific regions, using specific cultivars and production methods.

In the south of the province, the Puerh, Xishuangbanna and Lincang areas are known for being the home of the, ‘Da Ye Zhong’ or big leaf varietal of Camellia sinensis assamica. This big leaf varietal of the tea bush is understood to be one of the very first types ever cultivated more than a thousand years ago. It’s this cultivar and area that invented – and still makes Yunnan’s most famous tea type – Puerh.

Over the centuries the popularity of Puerh (and other teas from Yunnan), has meant that many tea gardens thrive among the region’s protected mountainsides. Most of these are small plots looked after by the same families and communities for generations. Often the style of production in these gardens is a light prune. It’s this low intervention technique which in part gives Puerh its unique character and means the tea can be found growing as large trees and living for hundreds of years.

In the north of Lincang is Fengqing County, the home of one of Yunnan’s other famous teas – Dian Hong, known in English as Yunnan Gold. We’ve already deep dived into our Yunnan Gold – in brief, it’s made using a different cultivar to Puerh – but with a similar dedication and history of using the high altitude and lush sub-tropical climate to make a deeply aromatic, complex and satisfying tea.

Unlike the neatly cultivated gardens making Dian Hong, in the very dense and almost jungle like forests of the very remote parts of Yunnan, you also find large areas dotted with wild, indigenous assamica varietal tea trees. These are completely wild trees that grow beyond the cultivated gardens. They often reach over 15ft in height, anchored by their deep, long roots that encourage tea leaves full of nutrient-rich flavour.

These tall, wild trees are often unharvested, and the flavour is considered “uncultivated” – that means it’s often a gamble for anyone looking to climb these tall trees and pick the leaves to produce puerh – with it’s well understood and specific flavour profiles. However, these naturally sweet wild tea leaves can be suited to producing exceptional and unique black teas. This process involves heavily rolling and then fully oxidising the leaves, concentrating much of their flavour and fragrance to create a rich, smooth and often, very fruity infusion. This is the style of this Da Xue Wild Black.

DaXue mountain is in Lincang and the mountain is home to some cultivated tea, used to make Puerh and these wild trees, used for the more experimental black tea.

There are many high forested mountains in Yunnan - home to white teas, black teas & most famously, puerh teas.

There are many high forested mountains in Yunnan - home to white teas, black teas & most famously, puerh teas.

These wild trees grow beyond the cultivated gardens. They often reach over 15ft in height, anchored by their deep, long roots that encourage tea leaves full of nutrient-rich flavour.

These wild trees grow beyond the cultivated gardens. They often reach over 15ft in height, anchored by their deep, long roots that encourage tea leaves full of nutrient-rich flavour.

How did we source this batch of tea and who made it?

This batch of tea came to us directly from the wild tea forests on the mountain of Da Xue. Picked and produced in spring 2020 by local tea producer Mrs Fu, who picked leaves from the tallest of the wild trees, each around 16ft in height, meaning they reach the top of the forest canopy.

Da Xue Shan (translating to Big Snowy Mountain) is a significant peak, sitting high above the clouds at a whopping 3,233m. Overlooking the Mengku valley, Da Xue is surrounded on all sides by other tea mountains and villages, many of which, such as neighbouring Bing Dao (Ice Land) Village, are highly revered areas for tea. But unlike those close by, the towering forests of Da Xue mountain have a very high concentration of indigenous tea trees, which are left to grow naturally, without pesticides. Their known only locally for their particularly sweet and flavourful leaves.

After carefully harvesting the leaves by hand, Mrs Fu and her team begin the black tea process by gently withering the small batch for a few hours. The leaves are spread out in small piles or on bamboo mats. Mrs Fu needs to stay close by to pick up the signals about how the leaves smell, the humidity and atmosphere they give off, how they feel and look – the signals that let her intuition know when the leaves are sufficiently withered and will be ready for the next phase. The rolling is an all-important step to break open the outer skin of the leaves and activate them well enough that oxygen can get in and darken the leaf and concentrate its fruity flavours. Once rolled, the leaves will rest and fully oxidise in bamboo baskets before the final sun-drying phase. Natural and slow, this last step helps to ensure a mellow, smooth texture with a long resounding finish.

This tea is extremely special. It's light, deeply complex and silkily textured. It has fragrant woodiness, honey & sweet citrus notes.

This tea is extremely special. It's light, deeply complex and silkily textured. It has fragrant woodiness, honey & sweet citrus notes.

What is this batch like to drink?

I enjoyed a long session with Da Xue Wild Black gong-fu style (see instructions for how to do this in the section below), and my experience began with the potent, heady aroma of tropical fruit notes, like fresh pineapple and sweet lychee, emanating from the wet leaves. The taste from the first infusion was also very sweet and fruity in flavour with notes of green tamarind balanced by an earthy woodiness and a long, more-ish finish. The naturally sweet wild leaves work so well for this black tea, adding layers of complexity in the many subsequent infusions with more notes of sweet aloeswood, hops and light malt coming through. The glowing copper colour of the infusions maintained throughout the session too, fully amplifying the life and flavour to be found in these leaves.

Where and when is this tea for?

This is an invigorating tea that can be fully enjoyed over a focused tea session, maybe during a quiet afternoon when you have plenty of time to sit and enjoy the layers of complexity available from multiple infusions of this tea.

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

Tea Master or Gaiwan (Gong Fu):

Method: 5g per 125ml; 100˚C; 1 min infusion, add 10 seconds incrementally for each subsequent infusion (at least 6 infusions.)

The flavour of these wild leaves is best revealed with ‘gong fu’ style drinking – that is, using our porcelain Tea Master, a small teapot or, as is most common in China, a Gaiwan; literally a small ‘bowl with lid’. The technique here is to use a high proportion of leaf to water and enjoy infusions of the same leaves over multiple short infusions. It delivers a more concentrated view of the flavours and aromas, so you’ll find much more of those tropical fruit notes and a pleasant citrus coming through, developing with hints of resinous woods and hops in later infusions. I managed to enjoy at least 8 infusions of this tea in a single session and each maintained a smooth and rounded texture too, all delivered by the nutrient rich and thick leaves of very old wild trees. It’s definitely one that deserves to be fully explored in this way and enjoyed for its complex and dynamic flavours.

We recommend drinking this tea 'gong fu' style over multiple infusions to get the most flavour out of the wild leaves.

We recommend drinking this tea 'gong fu' style over multiple infusions to get the most flavour out of the wild leaves.

Who is this tea for?

This tea is for any fan of black or Puerh tea, looking to discover the variety and depth of flavour available from Yunnan’s wild trees. It’ll also work for you like the complexity of oolong teas. If you have a taste for fruity and complex infusions with plenty of aroma and infusions to explore, then Da Xue Wild Black is a must try.

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What Water Is Best For Tea?

The water you use makes up about 99% of what’s in your cup.

The water you use makes up about 99% of what’s in your cup. It therefore has a huge impact on the taste, aroma and colour of your tea.

The perfect cup of tea captures all the senses – it will appear bright in colour with good clarity, have abundant fragrance, lasting clear and distinct flavours and a fully mouth-coating texture – some teas feel thick and velvet, some have a rounded texture and some are even honeycomb like.

If you’re not getting the full sensory experience from your tea – perhaps it sometimes looks cloudy or the taste falls flat – and you’ve already made sure you’re tea leaves are high quality, single garden, whole leaves which are fresh (there’s more about how to keep you tea fresh here). The next thing to investigate is the water you’re preparing them with.

Why is water important?

It’s simple – the water you’re using makes up about 99% of what’s in your cup. The composition of the water, for example if it’s hard or soft or which minerals are present in it, has a huge impact on the taste, aroma and colour of the cup you make.

No one master has had a greater impact on the understanding of tea making than the ancient Chinese sage Lu Yu, a Tang dynasty scholar who lived from 733–804 CE. His monumental work ‘The Classic of Tea’ was the first known study on how to properly infuse tea. This makes it a great place for us to start with understanding what water to use for tea.

Lu Yu watched the size of the bubbles as his water boiled and realised these bubbles enabled him to find precise temperatures for tea making. He realised that use water that was not too hot for green teas, would produce more astringency and bitterness in the taste. We looked at the temperature of water, how that affects the taste of your tea and made some recommendations for you to try.  An easy experiment to do at home is to taste green tea made with boiling water vs. made with the recommended 70-80°C water and see how it affects your tea.

In the Classic of Tea, Lu Yu also discovered that water from an underground spring, rather than a crowded local river, made his tea taste better than usual – and it looked much clearer. He noted the best and cleanest spring water flows slowly over granite or stone. This spring water was naturally soft and perfectly balanced in minerals like magnesium, calcium, potassium and sodium. Ultimately, it produced smooth and rich teas with impeccable, precise flavour – the perfect cup.

Whilst it's unfortunately not realistic for most of us to use our local spring to make tea, we can still control the composition of our water. Let's take a look at what filters and systems readily available to us today, to see what difference they make.

Spring Water At Source

In his monumental work ‘The Classic of Tea’, the ancient Chinese sage Lu Yu, puts a great emphasis on water quality in tea making, discovering that water from an underground spring, rather than a crowded local river, made his tea taste better than usual.

What makes water bad for tea?

Hard and Soft Water

We’re very lucky to now have ready access to good, clean water from our taps in the UK. Depending on whereabouts you are, tap water has are a variety of naturally occurring minerals, such as the calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium which Lu Yu realised when present in the right quantities, can enhance the taste of your tea. Essentially, water is called “Hard” when there are a lot of minerals in it; and “Soft” when there are few.
If you use hard water to make tea, you’ll likely see cloudiness and you might even get a film forming on top of the tea. This comes from too many of the plant compounds in the tea attaching to the calcium or magnesium minerals in the water and changing.
If the water you use is too soft, you’ll likely get tea that is weak or insipid. This is essentially because there are not enough other minerals for the plant compounds or polyphenols – ie the parts of the leaf which give tea its flavour – to attach to, so they will not release their flavour.

Chlorine & Organic Compounds

 There are also tiny amounts of chlorine, which typically come from the cleaning process; and other volatile organic compounds like algae in tap water. Even though the amounts are tiny, water companies work with strict limits so that the levels of such chemicals are safe – they can still affect your cup of tea.
Chlorine can affect the taste of your tea in two ways. Firstly, you might be able to taste the chlorine or get a chlorine after taste. This will mask some of the lighter or delicate flavours in your tea. Secondly, the chlorine may react with the tea plant compounds releasing their flavours and changing them.
The risk with the organic compounds is that you’ll be able to taste or smell them and once again, the flavours from your tea leaves will be masked or worse, contaminated.

use a filter. The easiest way to get the best water for tea at home is to use a filter.

At home try Activated charcoal sticks

Activated charcoal sticks are another great option. They bind unwanted chemicals in the water to its surface and reduce any unwanted odours & flavours.

The perfect cup of tea captures all the senses – it will appear clear, bright & uniform in colour, have abundant fragrance and lasting flavour.

The perfect cup of tea captures all the senses – it will appear clear, bright & uniform in colour, have abundant fragrance and lasting flavour.

How can I get good water at home?

Short of living next to a clean spring with the correct mix of minerals, the easiest way to get the best water for tea at home is to use a filter.  If you live in a very hard water area like London, filtered water will also protect your kettle from excessive limescale build up.
Water filter jugs – An accessible option that will suit most applications, these refillable jugs pass your tap water through a filter cartridge. These remove sediment, chlorine, odours and metals from the water.
Finding the right filter is the key to getting your balanced water work for tea making at home. We’ve tested many different filters with London water and our preferred choice us BWT and their range of Soft Filtered Water.
In a side by side tasting with other filters, this BWT filter consistently produced the best cup of tea. Using our Assam Breakfast with milk, Ali Shan and Sencha, we measured appearance by looking at the clarity and brightness of the infusion; aroma and taste by assessing whether the infusion delivered these optimally or whether there were any taints or weaknesses; and texture – looking at whether the tea was mouth coating.
Filters to avoid are ones that promise 100% removal of everything – like Epic or Zero. They may be good for drinking water, but when we tested them for making tea, the tea was weak and very light. With no minerals or compounds in the water, the flavour-giving compounds in the tea did not have anything to attach to and share their flavours.

Activated Charcoal stick, also known as Binchotan Charcoal

Activated charcoal sticks have been used in Japan since the 17th century as a simple and sustainable way to filter water. They’ve since gained popularity all over the world. All you have to do is place the sticks in a jug or water container and the porous charcoal will bind unwanted chemicals in the water to its surface and reduce any unwanted odours and flavours; the activated charcoal itself being odourless, tasteless, and completely nontoxic.

We included these in our taste test and were very impressed with the results. Water filtered in this way produced full flavoured and clear tea.

The small downside is that the stick takes 4-8 hours to filter any water, so you do need to be prepared, but the big benefit over the more conventional water filters is their minimum environmental impact. Each stick lasts many months, and when spent can be simply buried in the garden where the soil gain nutrients from the charcoal. Water filters tend to be made from plastic and last just a few weeks. For these reasons, it’s my personal preferred choice for filtering my water for tea.

You can find out more about the charcoal filter we tested here.

We’d love to know how the water in your area affects your tea – and any tips or tricks you use to get the best cup of tea for all of your senses. Leave your comments and thoughts below.

Deep Dive Into Earl Grey

Earl Grey simply means a black tea which has been scented with bergamot. Ours is from Hidellana and Sithaka tea gardens in Ruhuna, Sri Lanka.

Earl Grey simply means a black tea which has been scented with bergamot. Ours is from Hidellana and Sithaka tea gardens in Ruhuna, Sri Lanka.

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I’m sure most of you reading this will be familiar with Earl Grey, or perhaps even its many contrived iterations, such as Lady Grey or even Sencha Earl Grey, but as with all of the teas we source, we challenged ourselves to find or in this case, create, the ultimate expression of this classic tea.

Earl Grey simply means a black tea which has been scented with bergamot. The story goes that the recipe was named after Earl Charles Grey, second Prime Minister of the UK, who was gifted a particularly citrusy black tea blend from a ship that had returned from China. The citrus scent is thought by some to have been intentional but by others to have been a happy mistake – caused by the proximity of the tea with bergamot fruit which was also aboard the ship for the long journey from the far east to the UK. We’ll never know for sure, but what matters is that the combination of black tea and bergamot has stood the test of time and Earl Grey is a classic and much-loved tea – but one without much of a recipe.

Read on to find out why we chose black tea from Sri Lanka and how we get that citrus kick in our Earl Grey.

Origin: Hidellana and Sithaka Gardens, Ruhuna, Sri Lanka.

Cultivar: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis

Name: Named after Earl Charles Grey, the 2nd Prime Minister of the UK, who was said to have been gifted this tea blend.

Style: Bergamot scented black tea

Terroir: Ruhuna is a low growing area in the south of Sri Lanka, known for its year-round production of bold and robust black tea.

Altitude: 150m

Picking Season: All year

Leaf: Dark Ceylon leaf sprinkled with blue cornflower petals

Oxidation: 100%

Production: Conventional

Infusion: A dark, coppery walnut tea infusion.

 Ruhuna was the best place to look for a black tea with body, thick texture and a robust flavour that would also elevate the high notes of the bergamot.

Ruhuna was the best place to look for a black tea with body, thick texture and a robust flavour that would also elevate the high notes of the bergamot.

Why did we choose Ruhuna for our Earl Grey?

Hearing that Earl Grey originated in China – or at least was a gift from the Chinese, we could have turned to high mountain gardens in China for a Keemun or Lapsang black tea as the base for our Earl Grey. Indeed, these places might have even been the original origins used. We didn’t though, because Keemun and Lapsang teas infer too much of their own particular fragrance, which comes from their origins and seasonal conditions, so when you blend them with extra bergamot or citrus flavour something is lost from both sides. The naturally occurring fragrances in the teas are masked and the bergamot has too much competition in the cup.

While this idea of distinctive flavour derived from a place is a quality we look for and love in single garden batches of tea, finding a consistent batch of Chinese black tea that would be suited to and even be enhanced by the addition of bergamot is unlikely. Instead, we needed a black tea with body, thick texture and a robust flavour that would also elevate the high notes of bergamot and for this, there are few places better suited than Ruhuna in southern Sri Lanka.

Firstly, the tea gardens here are at a low elevation, around 150m, in a sunny and tropical environment. This means they’re able to produce tea year-round without the tea plants becoming dormant during cooler seasonal conditions, giving less seasonal flavour variations and more consistency of taste.

Most importantly though is the flavour of the low-grown black tea from Ruhuna. Black teas from Ruhuna are rich, full and lightly fruity in taste, without too many top notes that you’d find in high mountain black tea, getting in the way of the Bergamot scent.

These leaves have plenty of character and when processed as a black tea, they add ‘structure’ to the infusion, meaning it has a smooth texture and depth of flavour beneath the bergamot aroma, elevating the experience of the infusion beyond just a lemony cup of tea.

Bergamot is a very fragrant citrus fruit which tastes like a mix of lemon and bitter orange.

Bergamot is a very fragrant citrus fruit which tastes like a mix of lemon and bitter orange.

Our Earl Grey is invigorating, refreshing and balanced with lasting citrus and rich red fruit notes.

Our Earl Grey is invigorating, refreshing and balanced with lasting citrus and rich red fruit notes.

What is Bergamot?

A huge part of what makes Earl Grey, Earl Grey is the scent, which mostly comes from the bergamot orange, perhaps not a fruit we would come across otherwise here in the UK. It’s a very fragrant citrus fruit the size of an orange, with a yellow or green colour similar to a lime (although the fruit itself is more of a mix of lemon and bitter orange). It’s understood that the fruit is native to South East Asia, but nowadays, the bergamot orange is mostly grown and harvested in Sicily and Calabria, in southern Italy. As I write this, we’re right in the harvest season, which runs throughout winter from November to January/ Feb.

How did we find this batch of tea and scent it?

As we’ve seen the base for our Earl Grey is a blend of black tea from gardens in Ruhuna, Sri Lanka, this current batch being mostly made up of productions from Hidellana and Sithaka tea gardens. We worked hard to perfect the blend of each batch of Earl Grey to make sure the flavour and texture are balanced before allowing the tea to be scented, but to understand what goes into the scent we need to go back a few years to our first batch of Earl Grey which was created with the help of a few friends.

When it comes to scenting Earl Grey tea there are actually a few options. You can go with a full bergamot essential oil which, although authentically fragrant, is particularly unstable and can easily go rancid in storage and affect the flavour of the tea. At the other end, you have the chemically artificial bergamot scent which reproduces the desired aroma and fragrance, although usually ineffective for scenting tea as it lacks depth and character. In the middle you have a natural mix of flavourings derived from bergamot as well as lemon and orange.

These are the options that we presented to the team of chefs from Heston Blumenthal’s experimental kitchen at the Fat Duck restaurant a few years ago. Using their expert tastebuds, we prepared a few different batches of Earl Grey for a blind tasting to help us choose the one that best represented the bergamot scent. The answer was unanimous. The clear winner was the natural flavouring, so not an essential oil but perhaps one that does an even better job of representing the flavour and aroma we crave from Earl Grey. Being mostly made from prime Sicilian bergamot and with the added natural zesty hints of other citrus fruit, the natural flavouring really sings out on top of the smooth black tea base for maximum flavour and lasting aroma.

Our go-to recipe for Earl Grey is 3g (2 teaspoons) per 250ml; 100˚C; 3 minutes infusion.

Our go-to recipe for Earl Grey is 3g (2 teaspoons) per 250ml; 100˚C; 3 minutes infusion.

What is this batch like to drink?

Every time I open a bag of loose leaf Earl Grey, I can’t deny that I will always spend longer than I should enjoying the depth of the bergamot and citrus fragrance. It’s just so intensely refreshing and uplifting and you begin to pick up hints of the malty and fruity black tea as well. This is doubly impactful once the leaves are infused as the fragrance spreads around the room like a refined incense or warming citrus scented candle.

The taste is at first rich and balanced – the scent comes across as a particular sweetness, almost like boiled sweets, that compliments the roundness of the black tea. It’s got strength too, but not like your typical breakfast tea. The strength here is a lasting citrus and rich red fruit that more of a calming and uplifting effect than the ‘get-up and go’ we would look for in something like Assam Breakfast. This flavour really carries through to the finish, so if you’re a lover of Earl Grey and usually enjoy it with milk and an extra slice of lemon, I would recommend trying it without first just to see how impactful the flavours are.

Where and when is this tea for?

Earl Grey is perhaps the ultimate refreshing afternoon tea. It makes a perfect pairing with rich, sweet snacks and compliments fruity flavours and rich sweet foods, with the sharpness of the bergamot scent cutting through the richness. It also has enough depth and body with the black tea base, so you’ll also find plenty of the comforting and warming qualities needed for the cooler temperatures of winter.

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

One cup single serve, 250ml:

This tea is very easy to make and enjoy plenty of fragrance and depth. If using loose leaf then we recommend an infuser with plenty of room to allow the leaves fully infuse in the water. This will make sure you get maximum flavour and body out of your tea. Remember, when you think it’s the perfect strength, usually 3 minutes is enough for our Earl Grey, then pour out the whole infusion into your favourite mug for the complete, perfect cup.

This is our go-to method: 3g (2 teaspoons) per 250ml; 100˚C; 3 minutes infusion.

 Tea Bag:

Our biodegradable pyramid tea bags work like any other, for a quick, no nonsense cup of tea. Simply add one to your favourite mug, fill it up with some boiling water and let it infuse for 3mins. When it’s ready, take your tea bag out and enjoy the fantastic flavour. We recommend letting the tea leaves do all the work, so there’s no need to squeeze the bag – but if you want to add the milk before or after, we won’t argue with you.

Method: 1 tea bag per 250-300ml; 100˚C; 3 minutes per infusion (add an extra minute if you like more strength)

‘The tea gardens in Ruhuna produce tea year-round without the tea plants becoming dormant during cooler seasonal conditions, giving less seasonal flavour variations and more consistency of taste.’

‘The tea gardens in Ruhuna produce tea year-round without the tea plants becoming dormant during cooler seasonal conditions, giving less seasonal flavour variations and more consistency of taste.’

Who is this tea for?

This is a tea for lovers of fragrant and fruity infusions, with an uplifting flavour that should hit the spot for anyone craving a rich and delicious cup. If you’re a fan of our Jasmine Silver Needle and would like a tea with a bit more strength and similar aroma, then go for this one. Equally, If you’re new to JING but a big fan of other Earl Grey teas, then we would certainly love for you to try ours and see if it can top your go-to tea with more bergamot intensity and a bolder taste of single origin black tea.

Thirst For Better Tasting & Sustainable Tea Drives Change In Tea Habits

Here are our favourite things we learnt from the survey.Here are our favourite things we learnt from the survey about UK Tea HabitsHere are our favourite things we learnt from the survey about chaing UK Tea Habits
Here are our favourite things we learnt from the survey.

Whilst we love to hear that the appetite for our national drink is so huge, we know that we need to reduce the waste that this habit is creating. It’s good news though – the latest research indicates this number will decrease this year, with more tea lovers, concerned about the sustainability of their tea habits, making the switch from tea bags to loose tea.

A consumer survey* we commissioned at the end of December 2020 has revealed that since lockdowns hit last March, there has been not only an increase in tea drinking in the UK, but our nation of tea lovers has been making more considered decisions about their teas:

  • Choosing to drink more loose leaf tea; and
  • Taking time to hunt out teas from specific origins.

 

We learnt lots from the survey – and you can read about what excited the press more here.

Here’s what Ed, JING founder thinks about the results:

“It is great to see that with more time in recent months, people have been making more considered choices and exploring the world of loose leaf teas, which are not only better for tea drinkers, but also for the planet.

“Whilst there is a time and a place for tea bags, loose leaf tea gives you access to a world of teas with real ‘wow factor’ and depth of flavour, sourced from single gardens with unique terroirs and created by artisanal craftsmen whose skills have often been passed down over centuries.

“I’ve been lucky enough over the past 20 years to partner with some of the world’s greatest tea masters and to source some exceptional teas not normally seen outside their homelands, allowing people to experience flavours and places previously unknown to them. To see more tea drinkers embracing this world is a joy – and all for a fraction of the price of a takeaway coffee or soft drink.

“We encourage our customers, whether drinking at home or in a hotel or restaurant, to switch from tea bags to loose leaf tea where they can, especially as the survey revealed the large number of teabags Brits get through each year.”

Whilst there is a time and a place for tea bags, loose leaf tea gives you access to a world of teas with real ‘wow factor’ and depth of flavour

'Whilst there is a time and a place for tea bags, loose leaf tea gives you access to a world of teas with real ‘wow factor’ and depth of flavour,' says Ed.

What can you do to make your tea habits more sustainable?

If you are concerned about the sustainability of your tea, the two easiest positive changes you can make are:

  • • Asking where your tea was grown – and choosing single origin
  • • Drinking loose tea instead of tea bags.

 

Why is Single Origin better?

Not only will your tea taste more distinctive; but you’ll be supporting tea communities to receive higher returns, which contributes to rural development, poverty reduction, food security and more. Discover more on the value of single origin here.

Choosing single origin not only means you'll get more distinctive tasting tea, but it also enables tea producers and their environments to thrive.

Choosing single origin not only means you'll get more distinctive tasting tea, but it also enables tea producers and their environments to thrive.

Worried that loose tea will be messy or time consuming or want to know where to start?

We’ve put all of the tools and tips that make loose tea simple discover more here.

Something we learnt from the survey might reassure you too. When probing what held back people from drinking loose leaf at all or more often, the survey found 64% of tea bag-only drinkers say they avoid loose leaf tea as they believe it to be ‘too messy’, though this doesn’t bear true as people start to drink loose given that a mere 9% of those who drink only loose leaf tea find it messy!

We’d love to hear from you – have you drunk more tea in the last year? Have you changed your tea habits and made the switch from tea bags to loose? Do you want to know more about the origin of your tea? Perhaps let us know what’s important to you when choosing your tea? What are your favourite flavours? Leave your thoughts, comments and questions for us below!

*Survey

The survey amongst 2,000 British tea drinkers was conducted via OnePoll in late December 2020. Of the 2,000 British tea drinkers surveyed, each tea bag user requires an average of four tea bags a day for their cuppas – a total of 1,460 each year. Across the UK, this means almost 167 million teabags are binned or composted every day.

What To Look For When Choosing A Teapot

Always choose glass or porcelain when looking for a teapot for the best taste experience.

Always choose glass or porcelain when looking for a teapot for the best taste experience.

How to Choose a Teapot:

Material:

- Choose: Glass or Porcelain/ China
- Avoid: Metal

Both glass and porcelain are great for making any type of tea. They won’t affect the taste in the way that certain clays or metals can. They’ll both also help keep the temperature of the tea consistent, and so help the leaves give out their flavour evenly.

Both glass and porcelain heat up quickly and so don’t conduct much heat away from the water that’s added to make your tea. The tea leaves need high temperatures to release their flavour (you can read more about the importance of water temperature here). Metal is a very efficient heat conductor, and so when hot water is added to a metal pot the heat will be stored in the metal, not in the water. As the water cools quickly, there tends to be not enough heat left for the leaves to release their full flavours, and so often tea made in metal pots will taste weak or insipid.

Tea made in porcelain will cool even slower than when it’s in glass. This can work very well for darker oolongs and black teas like breakfast teas that have deeper, rich flavours and will benefit from having a higher temperature of water to bring out their flavours.

The bonus of glass is seeing the leaves as they infuse. Some tea lovers find that seeing the colours of the infusions as they develop or seeing the shapes of the leaves as they unfurl connects them to the plant or nature that their tea has come from. Seeing your tea means you’ll always know when it’s ready to pour too.

The Japanese Tetsubin – a kind of cast iron teapot which has gained popularity in the west in recent years.

The Japanese Tetsubin – a kind of cast iron teapot which has gained popularity in the west in recent years.

Did you know?

The Japanese Tetsubin – a kind of cast iron teapot which has gained popularity in the west in recent years – is a type of kettle rather than a teapot. Boiling water in cast iron impacts the mineral structures in the water, which can help bring out certain tastes and flavours in tea. In Japan, Tetsubin filled with fresh local water are heated over charcoal and the hot water used to prepare tea. They are often beautiful pieces, and it’s no surprise that they’ve become popular over here. It’s a shame that their original purpose hasn’t come over too – as tea made in cast iron will often be weak and insipid. The cast iron teapots we see here are now often coated on the inside with enamel to make them safe to use as teapots, however this means they can’t be used to safely boil water though, so check before you try and repurpose any you might have!

Certain whole leaf teas have surprisingly large leaves, like Ali Shan from Taiwan, so it needs adequate space to unfurl.

Certain whole leaf teas have surprisingly large leaves, like Ali Shan from Taiwan, so it needs adequate space to unfurl.

Our glass tea-ieres are designed for effortless loose tea making, with a filter built into the lid that's dishwasher safe.

Our glass tea-ieres are designed for effortless loose tea making, with a filter built into the lid that's dishwasher safe.

Shape: Is the pot spacious enough for your leaves?

Avoid: Small infuser baskets or ball infusers

The pot needs to have enough space for the water to circulate easily around the leaves as they’re unfurling. If they cannot circulate freely then the leaves will not release their distinctive, full flavours. Watch out for strainers inside teapots or ball-shaped strainers – they’re often too small to allow this.

Size: Match your teapot and your cups

The size or volume of your teapot needs to match the total volume of the cups. For example, if you’re making 250ml (a standard mug or cup) for two people, the teapot needs to be around 500ml – ideally with a tiny bit of extra space for the leaves to absorb some water and not leave you short in your cup!

Matching the volume means that the infusion will always be fully decanted, so it will be full and balanced. Otherwise, the first cup(s) will be weak and insipid, and any subsequent cups from the water closest to the leaves that have been stewing will be too strong to enjoy.

Pouring out the whole infusion from your teapot, including the very last drops, is also important as it means that none of your tea leaves will be left to stew and lose their flavour, so you can re-infuse them as they should have plenty of life to give.

Cleaning up

Choose: Wide openings, short spouts
Avoid: Fiddly small spouts and too many parts.

Making loose leaf tea should be an effortless process, in fact there’s nothing worse than fighting to get the last few leaves out of a fiddly infuser or tiny spout when you’ve just enjoyed your tea. So, when choosing your teaware make sure you can get the leaves out easily and that it can be easily cleaned, either by hand or in the dishwasher.

Want to know more about how to make loose tea simply at home? Check out our short guide here.