Monday, June 29, 2009

"OMG" Tea Class Update: Roy Adds Another Tea

Teamaster Roy Fong has decided to add a fifth amazing tea to the remarkable lineup for his "OMG" Tea Class on September 23. As he considered which puerh to include from his personal locker, Roy couldn't decide between two selections. So he decided to present both of them!

In Roy's words, the new addition is "a great aged green that I'd like to show off." If you were uncertain about the class before, this should cinch it. It's going to be an amazing experience and we hope you can join us.

Check Out Our Latest Newsletter

Our latest newsletter is out, with lots of information on new black tea, upcoming tea classes, Teamaster Roy Fong's next trip to China, and much more. Have a look and be sure to subscribe so you won't miss a single edition of this fun and informative publication, distributed regularly to your email inbox!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Oolong Class with Teamaster Roy Fong August 23

Mark your calendar for one of our most popular tea classes! Some terrific new 2009 Chinese oolongs will soon be arriving in the teahouse and Imperial Tea Court Teamaster Roy Fong will teach you to brew the best of them in his next tea class on Sunday, August 23, from 6 to 7:30 PM in our San Francisco Ferry Building Teahouse.

The class will cover such favorites as Roy's signature Monkey-Picked Tie Guan Yin as well as several outstanding yan cha varieties from the famed Wu Yi Shan region of China's Fujian Province. We're getting in two yan cha we've never sold before, including the region's most famous tea, Da Hong Pao, so if you appreciate the great teas of Wu Yi, you don't want to miss this opportunity to learn more!

Roy will coach attendees on brewing technique for both gong fu preparation in an yi xing teapot, as well as classic gaiwan presentation. You'll brew each tea hands-on as you learn about its history, cultivation, and special characteristics of flavor, aroma, and appearance in the cup.

Fine oolong teas are some of the highest expressions of the art of tea. Join us for a fun, delicious, and informative evening and a rare chance to learn from one of the world's most esteemed Teamasters. For more details and to enroll, sign up here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

In the Cup: Favorite Summer Teas

Customers' preferred teas of the Summer of 2009 include some reliable standards as well as new arrivals. Not surprisingly for the summer season, the picks are dominated by cooling green teas. If you haven't tried all of these Top 8 selections you may be missing your newest favorite:
  1. The top selling tea in our online store in June is flavorful, healthy, and affordably priced: Organic Everyday Green
  2. Second is our signature oolong, Monkey-Picked Tie Guan Yin
  3. In the third slot: a sweet new arrival this year, 2009 Organic Purple Bamboo
  4. Fourth, the latest edition of one of our classics, 2009 Imperial Green
  5. Number five: a delicious selection from Zhejiang, 2009 Snow Water Dragon Tips
  6. In sixth place, a popular scented black tea that makes great iced tea, Lychee Black
  7. Seventh is a terrific tea from Taiwan, 2009 Spring Harvest Imperial Green Oolong
  8. Rounding out the list, lucky number eight is an outstanding white tea, 2009 Imperial Silver Needles
Leave a comment and let us know your favorite tea this summer!

Coming in September: the "OMG" Tea Class

Exciting news for tea lovers! September means "back to school," so we've scheduled the much anticipated "OMG" tea class with Imperial Tea Court Teamaster Roy Fong for 6-8 pm Sunday, September 13, at our San Francisco Ferry Building teahouse. This will be truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for tea lovers where you learn to brew four extraordinarily rare teas from Roy's personal collection.
  • Imperial Tribute Harvest Purple Tip Puerh, a young puerh comprised of purple leaf buds from centuries-old wild tea trees in China's Yunnan Province
  • A rich, aged puerh that Roy has been nurturing for decades in his own collection
  • Imperial Lotus Heart Dragon Well, one of the finest early-harvested dragon wells of the 2009 season, so rare that only a few kilos were produced
  • "Frozen Tea," an extraordinary Taiwanese green oolong fresh frozen at the tea farm and air-shipped to San Francisco. We guarantee you'll never taste a fresher tea!
The $125 tuition includes all tea, classroom materials, and a generous selection of our celebrated organic hand-made dim sum. Both Gong Fu and Gaiwan brewing styles will be covered. For more details and to reserve your seat, visit our web site. We look forward to seeing you in the teahouse in September!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

For Black Tea Lovers, Some Favorites Return

Roy stopped by the teahouse earlier this week with five popular black teas that are now back in stock. We'll have more details in the next newsletter, but here's a rundown for black tea lovers. The new releases are now available in our online store and teahouses.
  • The most striking tea was the Keemun Hao Ya Gift Tea, which has a delicious fruitiness and a well-balanced hint of smoke. This tea is complex and subtle, with keemun's classic bright red liquor. Roy said it's a good tea to drink with chocolate mousse!
  • Imperial Keemun Mao Feng has an outrageously fruity aroma that yields to rich smokiness when moistened. But once it's infused, the flavors fall into balance, with the fruit coming forward and the smoke providing structure. There's a rich red liquor that tastes substantial and beefy, full of robust flavor. Roy noted that the smokiness would make this tea an outstanding choice with food; he was picturing grilled lamb.
  • We also sampled Hong Mei Mao Feng, an exceptional black tea from Zhejiang, the province best known as the home of dragonwell. This tea has a delicious "plummy" fruit character (hong mei means "red plum") that will remind you of a fine port wine, and a chewy, almost meaty texture. It's one of Roy's favorites in the group.

  • Moving west geographically, we next tasted Superior Yunnan Black. I immediately detected an apricot aroma that's present in some other Yunnan teas. According to Roy, this characteristic is the result of modern processing techniques that emphasize the tea's natural fruitiness. There's also a slight, pleasant spiciness. Unlike the dark red brew of the eastern black teas, the Yunnan Black's infusion is a rich golden amber.

  • Finally, Roy threw an Indian tea into the mix, the Imperial Darjeeling Blend. A blend of high-quality second-flush darjeelings, it yields a harmonious combination of fruit and flowers.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Two New DIY Teabag Options

If you're one of the countless tea drinkers who opt for convenience over tradition and like to use a teabag, you'll be pleased with our two new "fill your own" teabag products that provide the ease of packaged tea even with loose-leaf varieties. Simply insert the tea of your choice and fold over the top to seal it in. For the ultimate ease of use, our Hand-Fill Teabag with Tag includes the familiar paper tag to facilitate removing the bag from your cup or teapot. Made in Taiwan, these 10x7 cm teabags come in a package of 50 for $3.50. Or, keep it simple with our basic Hand-Fill Teabag. No tag, just the bag. Resealable package of 60, $2.50.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Seasons of Tea: Summer

This coming Sunday marks the summer solstice here in the Northern hemisphere. After that, the sun slowly retreats toward the horizon and days grow shorter. It's a dramatic change of season, the end of spring's urgent spurt of growth and the beginning of a new phase of maturation. In the tea world it's time to change focus from the delightful young green shoots of spring to the flowers of summer: more robust and floral oolongs, which develop flavor and character from ripening in abundant summer sunshine, as well as jasmine teas, which can't be scented until the jasmine blooms.

Here in the teahouse we live by the seasons of tea, so we're also shifting our focus. Though it's always a bit sad to say farewell to frisky spring teas we greeted with such enthusiasm just a couple of months ago, we're excited about welcoming the next generation, some of the most popular and delicious members of the camellia sinensis family. In a preview of coming attractions, the 2009 edition of our signature Monkey-Picked Tie Guan Yin will soon be in transit. Roy needs to hand-fire this tea to finish it, so it probably won't be ready for sale until he returns from China in August.

This year Roy has acquired several varieties of yan cha, the storied oolongs of the Wu Yi Shan region in northwestern Fujian Province. Wu Yi oolongs are renowned for the intriguing collision of oolong's classic floral notes with an austere mineral quality that originates in the dramatic rocky terrain where these teas evolved, and which gives them their name (yan cha can be translated as "cliff tea"). As in an improbable but successful marriage the two disparate elements, floral and mineral, balance one another and highlight the other's best traits, with the whole exceeding the sum of the parts. There are over 100 yan cha varieties; it would be easy to spend a lifetime immersed in this fascinating and diverse strain of tea.

We've always been pleased to offer yan cha in the teahouse, but this year Roy is bringing in two varieties we haven't sold before: Fo Shou (Buddha Palm) and Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe). Originally Da Hong Pao referred only to four small, ancient tea bushes that to this day cling perilously to a sheer cliff in Wu Yi. Their tea was so prized that an official tossed his XXL red robe over them to claim them for the emperor. Today, tea from descendants of the original bushes is sold as Da Hong Pao. Because of the fame of the original bushes this type of Da Hong Pao is often expensive but of mediocre quality, so Roy has been reluctant to buy it. However, with repeated requests from customers he continued the hunt for a Da Hong Pao worthy of the name and has at last found one he's proud to serve.

Joining these new yan cha are two returning favorites: Shui Xian (Water Sprite) and Tie Luohan (Iron Arhat). If you appreciate fine yan cha you'll want to sample the 2009 editions of all of these superb oolongs in the coming weeks.

More exciting news: oolong tea goes with an yi xing teapot like a hand in a glove, so you'll be pleased to know that around the time the new oolongs are here we'll also be receiving some new pots Roy commissioned from highly regarded artists he knows in Yi Xing. A teapot's quality is determined by many factors, especially the clay and the skill of the artist--two increasingly scarce resources. Mediocre pots with high prices trading off the fame of Yi Xing abound. While fine pots in the class of those Roy imports don't come cheap, they're an investment and a lifetime tea companion. While we anxiously wait for the new pots we'll be talking more about yi xing ware here on the blog.

Finally, it wouldn't be summer without the bold bouquet of jasmine tea, and if you're a jasmine lover you'll be happy to know that the 2009 edition of Imperial Jasmine Pearls is arriving soon. Classic jasmine tea takes a more grassy or vegetal green tea variety that provides structure and adds a powerful floral layer in the form of extravagantly fragrant jasmine blossoms. The two are literally piled together to infuse the jasmine aroma into the tea leaves, then the blossoms are removed before the tea goes to market. A challenge is that the young green tea is picked weeks before jasmine blooms; fine jasmine tea reaches across seasons to unite a downy spring tea with lush summer flowers. In the interim, our green tea pearls are carefully hand-wrapped to keep them fresh and dry so they can absorb as much of the jasmine scent as possible when the time comes (the wrapping process is pictured above). You may remember, Roy talked about selecting the base green tea in a post from China back in April. Soon you'll get to taste the results of Roy's matchmaking!

Stay tuned to the blog for more details on all of the new summer products as release dates approach.

Check Out Our Latest Newsletter

If you subscribe to our newsletter the June edition should be in your inbox; if not, click here to read the latest on new green and white teas and tea accessories in the teahouse, upcoming arrivals for July and August, future tea classes with Roy, and more.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Our New Partner in Fremont, CA: Cyclo Cafe

If you're in the vicinity of Fremont, CA and looking for a tea fix, check out the chic new Cyclo Cafe at 6038 Stevenson Blvd. They proudly serve three flavors of our popular whipped Imperial Iced Teas (Lychee Island Paradise, Imperial Red Hibiscus, and Tropical Mango), as well as our four Blossoming Teas: Lychee Blossom, Flower of Prosperity, Dancing Blossom, and Valentine Rose. Sip tea while you relax, watch the big-screen TV, nibble a pastry or sandwich, or just unwind with friends. It's stylish and airy, the perfect spot to stop in for tea when you're in the South Bay.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Perfect Packaging for Treasured Puerh Cakes

Customers have asked about elegant presentation packaging for puerh cakes. We're pleased to offer our new Bing Cha Silk Presentation Box in two designs, sized to cradle a standard 375-gram puerh cake in luxurious silk. Whether you're looking for a storage solution for your own treasured collection or want to make an impressive gift to valued friends and colleagues, one of our brocade presentation boxes is the perfect answer.

The Bing Cha Silk Presentation Box is available in either the regal Imperial Dragon design silk brocade or the more subdued Green Figured motif whose color suggests a fine sheng bing cha is contained within. Boxes are approximately 9 inches square by 2.5 inches deep with a magnetic closure and gold silk lining. For a limited time, save 10% when you shop online and buy two boxes, one of each design.


New Tea Gadget for Traditionalists: Our Gourd Strainer

In the past customers have asked for a strainer to use when pouring tea from the pot into the pitcher, but we've resisted. First, most strainers are metal; according to traditional tea culture, there shouldn't be any metal at the tea table because it conflicts with tea's nature as a wood element. Second, because of the quality of our tea, you won't find many fannings ("tea dust," the contents of a typical commercial teabag) that need to be filtered out. And third, we believe in keeping it simple and don't want a lot of tea tchotchkes cluttering the table.

However, for those who prefer strained tea, we're pleased to introduce our new Gourd Tea Strainer, hand-crafted to our specifications in Taiwan. Made from a dried hulu gourd with nylon mesh carefully hand-sewn into the bowl, our strainer is sized to nestle into the mouth of a standard-sized pitcher and makes quick work of removing the stray leaf that may escape from your teapot. It's a traditional and natural addition to your collection of tea implements, affordably priced at just $6.50.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Recipe We Like: A Yi's Ba Bao Cha

As we've mentioned before, Helen Gao, the head cook in our Ferry Building Teahouse is better known as A Yi ("Auntie"), our unofficial den mother who dispenses concern and good advice with a strong Shanghai accent. Last year when I had a terrible spring cold I couldn't shake, A Yi recommended ba bao cha--"eight-treasure tea"--a nutritious traditional Chinese concoction that aims to bring your system back into balance. Soon I was feeling better and I've been a fan of ba bao cha ever since.

It seems that everyone has a different recipe for ba bao cha. While the name suggests eight ingredients, that's only a guideline (eight being a lucky number for Chinese). Some versions contain real tea, others are simply infusions of various dried fruits and flowers. It's important for the blend to be visually appealing as well as tasty.

A Yi's ba bao cha only has seven ingredients, and no tea. Determining quantities of each ingredient is something of an art. When you look at the mixture you should be able to see each component, but no one item should dominate. A good ba bao cha is all about balance. Flavor is important too, and quantities can be tweaked to improve taste.

I start craving ba bao cha when my system needs a boost or I simply want a warm, soothing, and nutritious noncaffeinated beverage. Now I blend my own, aiming to duplicate A Yi's mix, with fresh ingredients from a Chinese market. You can also order ingredients online. It's possible to buy premixed ba bao cha, but none of the ones I've seen look as fresh or potent as A Yi's. We've talked about carrying A Yi's blend in the teahouse, but decided we couldn't keep it fresh enough.

Once you have your mix, I like to prepare it in a gaiwan. Fill it about one-third full with the dry ingredients, add near-boiling water, and steep a couple of minutes. Continue resteeping as long as there's good flavor (increase steeping times accordingly).

Here are the ingredients (all dried) in A Yi's ba bao cha. If you try your hand feel free to experiment...and come back to the blog to share your experiences!
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Rosebuds
  • Long yan (sometimes called longan in English--dragon eye fruit. Get the peeled, pitted variety)
  • Go ji (sometimes called wolfberries in English)
  • Hong zao (Chinese red dates--get the pitted variety if possible)
  • Chen pi (tangerine peel--break it up into fingernail-sized pieces)
  • Chinese rock sugar (comes in large, tawny rocks that you'll need to break into small chunks)

Check Out the Latest New Tea

As more spring tea continues to arrive from China we're steadily updating the "New Tea" section of our web site. Current selections include green, white, oolong, and black teas, so you're sure to find some of your favorites. Check back often for the latest additions, and stay tuned for the exciting arrival of summer teas (especially jasmine and oolong), coming in July and August.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Roy Stops By with Four Interesting New Teas

Roy stopped by the teahouse yesterday with four more newly arrived spring teas, including some interesting and unusual varieties you'll surely want to try:
  • Tai Ping Monkey King: This unique green tea has a long history of success in San Francisco, having won a prized Gold Medal at the Pan Pacific Exposition here back in 1915. Tea lovers in the 21st century will be equally enchanted by its enormous jade green leaves and mild, sweet taste. Tai Ping Hou Gui, as it's known in Chinese, comes from the spectacularly beautiful Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain, a UNESCO World Heritage Site) in China's Anhui Province, a region that has attracted artists, tourists, and tea lovers for centuries. The mountain's cool, moist climate is believed to be especially benevolent for tea. Tai Ping Monkey King tea is unique because it's a da ye, or big leaf green tea; almost all green tea is of the xiao ye (small leaf) type. Our selection has huge 2-3 inch long leaves that barely fit in a gaiwan and turn a rich cui lu, or jade green, upon infusion. Because of the large leaf size, use more than you think you need (4-5 grams by weight) and infuse in moderate water (around 160 degrees F) for 1-2 minutes. The result is a mild yet assertive brew that's very sweet on the tongue. Tai Ping Monkey King is an uncommon variety every green tea lover should experience.
  • Organic Da Fang: Da Fang is another Anhui green tea that will remind you of dragon well, but it's actually a different variety. This is the first year we've carried it, and our debut 2009 edition is organic. You'll find Da Fang to be a mild, calming tea with a more subdued intensity than dragon well and a different mouth feel because it's fired at a higher temperature. It's extremely sweet, with a pronounced malty nuttiness, full texture, and long, pleasant finish.
  • Keemun Xiang Luo: The final Anhui tea in this batch is a black tea, Keemun (qi men), the first black tea to be produced in Anhui, primarily for export. You'll recognize Keemun as what the British call "China Black," a smoky, fruity, floral tea that's a key ingredient in the English Breakfast and Earl Grey blends, famous for producing a rich, reddish brew. Our 2009 edition Keemun Xiang Luo (fragrant dew) features plentiful furry white tips twisted into compact spirals.
  • Meng Ding Gan Luo: This classic green tea is from Sichuan Province. There's a saying that the best tea on earth is made with water from Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) and tea from Meng Ding. Our 2009 Meng Ding Gan Luo will take you half way to perfection! The appearance of Meng Ding Gan Luo, with its small, twisted, furry leaves, will remind you of a classic Bi Luo Chun, only not such a dark shade of green. The tea has plenty of flavor, so you only need to brew about 3 grams in a 6-ounce gaiwan, using moderately hot water, around 160 degrees F (bonus points for Yangtze River water). Roy's comments: "I think a bigger deal should be made about this tea. It's a very good tea, I'm pretty impressed. I'd already bought a lot of green tea this year, but I picked this one just because I liked it."