letting tea settle

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It is the natural inclination to act on your excitement when receiving tea in the mail by opening the package immediately and sitting down to steep it.  If you happen to feel mildly surprised or disappointed that the tea is not “performing” as you had hoped, try letting it rest for a few weeks or more, then steeping it again.  You will likely be rewarded.

Just as people can often feel a little out of sorts after moving homes or travelling long distances, tea can take some time to re-orient and settle after being jostled over miles of ground travel or pressurized at 30,000 feet during air transport.
I noticed this strongly with my recent shipment of Asian Beauty, which after five weeks of settling in my home safe, now offers a rich, smooth, round body and soft mouth feel that were, shall we say, “struggling” when I first received it.
People whose passion is the study of tea will tell you that tea requires careful handling and rest when being moved from one storage space to another, even within the same town or village. Plants are extremely sensitive to change, and just as a person can suffer jet lag or mild disorientation when traveling or moving homes, tea can experience “shock” when being transported or changing venues, and is best left alone for a while to find its equilibrium.
I have experienced this with several teas, and noticed that some teas can take a few months   of “regrouping” to reach their fullest potential, particularly when the tea has travelled from one country to another.
If you are willing to be patient and let your tea get over its jet lag, you will often be repaid with a bright, smooth tea that provides the resilience it has developed, as well as the rest and comfort as it has been given.

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culinary tea with cynthia

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Culinary Tea by Cynthia Gold is a favorite book of Bon Teavant, who interviewed Gold at the Boston Park Plaza, where she is employed as Tea Sommelier. Culinary Tea is not only very elegantly designed, but filled with more than 100 recipes using tea as a prime feature, and tea information that tea lovers will gobble up or sip page by fascinating page for hours with delight.

With this book in your library you don’t have to be a trained baker with the best stand mixers for baking to create a Vegetable Tart with an Assam tea crust,  for example, nor recreate the wheel to prepare a Fresh Tea Vinaigrette on your dinner salad, not to mention the delectible Flourless Keemun-Cherry Chocolate Torte to top off your meal. Are you salivating yet?  If not, the gorgeous photos (both color and black and white) will help you along.

The book is very well organized, with Part One offering valuable information and insights into many aspects of tea from tea storage to the cultural roots of culinary tea.  Part Two serves up recipes and techniques for cooking with tea, and is sorted into Starters, Entrees, Desserts, and Tea Beverages (including cocktails). The book also covers information on pairing teas for drinking with different foods.

Many readers will appreciate the further categorization of each segment, for example, Entrees are grouped into Vegetarian, Seafood, Poultry, and Meat dishes. If you happen to be vegetarian, this book will not disappoint.  The vast majority of dishes in this book are meatless, and the great information on tea history and culture is worth the cost, even if you don’t cook.

According to Cynthia, “In each culture, there is a wonderful tradition of cooking with tea, but for some reason, these historic dishes are looked at as something very distinct and tend not to be replicated, to not go through modern variations within those cultures; so to me, those dishes are beautiful as-is, but they also should be inspiration for a wide variety of other techniques and uses.”  In Culinary Tea, Gold offers the results of her inspiration, with a wide variety of dishes and even a series of tea cocktails.

If you are simply a tea lover searching for hard-to-find information on how tea is used as food by different cultures throughout history, Culinary Tea is a great reference.  The book also features a number of stunning color and black and white images of the dishes as well as of tea farms, tea ware, and tea growing regions around the world.

Check it out and feed your ravenous appetite for inspiration, beauty, inventiveness and, of course, the ravishing deliciousness that is Tea.

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tea book reading list #1

The response to the growing demand for information from eager English-speaking tea connoisseurs in the U.S. inspires this post. Bon Teavant Market carries some great books, and there are some here that we do not carry because they may be out of print or very freely available elsewhere.  Regardless, here is a first-installment list of tea books that are well worth a read as well as a couple of books that will increase the depth of feeling and awareness of the tea connoisseur:

The Ultimate Guide to Chinese Tea  (Bret Hinsch) We believe this is possibly the best introductory book out on Chinese-style tea appreciation. Bret Hinsch is a Harvard-educated Asian Studies scholar who has lived and taught in Taiwan for more than fifteen years. Disappointed in what is available on Chinese tea in English, Hinsch researched Chinese teas and tea connoisseurship by surveying a vast amount of information written in Chinese. His book is already out of print, but you can find used copies or an e-book version. This book is so good, it is almost worth purchasing an e-book reader in order to absorb all the great, articulately written information on tea production, appreciation, brewing, and the like. We give it highest marks for both the content and the clarity of delivery. Thank you for your contribution, Bret!!
The Time of Tea (Dominique Pasqualini & Bruno Suet) This French author-photographer duo published a timeless two-volume set that is as beautiful to the eye and the touch as the content is fascinating. One volume is filled with rustically reproduced color photographs of tea culture around the world, and the other volume is a treatise on tea appreciation. This double-volume set is out of print, but there is talk of it being republished in the near future. There are only a handful of copies available…you know where. Get it while you can.
The Classic of Tea (Lu Yu) The first treatise on tea culture in China first published in the eighth century, this classic work informs tea lovers the world over how to consider and participate in tea ritual and practice.
Liquid Jade: The Story of Tea From East to West (Beatrice Hohenegger)
Steeped in History: The Art of Tea (Beatrice Hohenegger) These two books by Beatrice Hohenegger really compliment each other and should not be missed by the tea historian interested in how tea came to the West. Full of interesting facts, Liquid Jade reveals some of the darker secrets of tea’s history. Steeped in History is a companion volume to the exhibition curated by Hohenegger at UCLA’s Fowler Museum in late 2009 and includes discussion and images of fascinating artifacts from various Chinese dynasties and from Europe. Here is an interview with Hohenegger by Bon Teavant in 2009.
The Way of Tea (Aaron Fisher)- This is a beautifully written and thoughtful book about tea appreciation from a more spiritual perspective. Written by Aaron Fisher (aka “Wu De”), a tea aficionado living in Miao Li, Taiwan.
The Book of Tea (Okakura Kakuzo) This 20th century classic on tea culture from a Japanese perspective is a gem that should not be missed. The content of this book has recently been re-packaged and published by Bruce Richardson and is available at Bon Teavant Market.
Culinary Tea (Cynthia Gold): What a fine collection of recipes and information on the historical and contemporary uses of tea as food. Cynthia Gold inspires not only the reader to try tea in new ways as an ingredient in dishes, but also invites chefs around the world to reignite the passion for tea as food and to take it in new directions.  As such, Cynthia contributes much to the growing information on tea and tea culture around the world. Here is a more in-dephth review of Culinary Tea by Bon Teavant.
The Tea Dictionary (James Norwood Pratt) This newly minted tea dictionary is a manageable volume of information provided as a quick reference to teas and terms used in the world of tea appreciation and industry. The hefty price suggests that you are receiving a distilled inventory of terms that require curation for the professional or avid tea lover. Signed copies are available from Bon Teavant Market’s tea books section. You can find a video interview of JNP here.
The Art of Tea (Magazine) Published by Wu Shing Press in Taiwan, this magazine, which is published at indiscriminate intervals, is well worth perusing for hours and hours. Back issues are available on a variety of topics, including puerh tea and yixing teaware–information that is not always so easy to find in English elsewhere (but can be found here).
Wabi-Sabi (Leonard Koren) This 1994 classic volume explains the complex concept of wabi or wabi sabi, which I will not try to distill on this page, other than to tell you that this is the concept that infuses Japanese tea culture and frankly, all tea culture to some degree. To understand wabi is to absorb and digest the art of fine tea and the duality inherent in life itself.
 
The Secret Life of Plants (Peter Tomkins & Christopher Bird) This book is not specifically about tea but about the way plants interact with humans, and should not be missed by those who want to increase their enjoyment of Camellia sinensis on a new level. Scientific studies illuminate the powerful ways in which plants respond to human thought, intention, and actions. This book is revelatory for any lover of plants, and tea is certainly our favorite…
There are so many more tea books that deserve attention, and you can consider this a first installment to our growing bibliography of tea books that we love and want to share. We want to shout out to some of the best tea authors (and their books) of our times and of times past. You may also visit the tea books area of Bon Teavant Market to find books that we believe are worth reading (and re-reading).

tea book reading list #1

The response to the growing demand for information from eager English-speaking tea and coffee/ espresso connoisseurs in the U.S. inspires this post. Bon Teavant Market carries some great books, and there are some here that we do not carry because they may be out of print or very freely available elsewhere.  Regardless, here is a first-installment list of books that are well worth a read as well as a couple of books that will increase the depth of feeling and awareness of the tea and coffee connoisseur:

The Ultimate Guide to Chinese Tea  (Bret Hinsch) We believe this is possibly the best introductory book out on Chinese-style tea appreciation. Bret Hinsch is a Harvard-educated Asian Studies scholar who has lived and taught in Taiwan for more than fifteen years. Disappointed in what is available on Chinese tea in English, Hinsch researched Chinese teas and tea connoisseurship by surveying a vast amount of information written in Chinese. His book is already out of print, but you can find used copies or an e-book version. This book is so good, it is almost worth purchasing an e-book reader in order to absorb all the great, articulately written information on tea production, appreciation, brewing, and the like. We give it highest marks for both the content and the clarity of delivery. Thank you for your contribution, Bret!!
The Time of Tea (Dominique Pasqualini & Bruno Suet) This French author-photographer duo published a timeless two-volume set that is as beautiful to the eye and the touch as the content is fascinating. One volume is filled with rustically reproduced color photographs of tea culture around the world, and the other volume is a treatise on tea appreciation. This double-volume set is out of print, but there is talk of it being republished in the near future. There are only a handful of copies available…you know where. Get it while you can.
The Classic of Tea (Lu Yu) The first treatise on tea culture in China first published in the eighth century, this classic work informs tea lovers the world over how to consider and participate in tea ritual and practice.
Liquid Jade: The Story of Tea From East to West (Beatrice Hohenegger)
Steeped in History: The Art of Tea (Beatrice Hohenegger) These two books by Beatrice Hohenegger really compliment each other and should not be missed by the tea historian interested in how tea came to the West. Full of interesting facts, Liquid Jade reveals some of the darker secrets of tea’s history. Steeped in History is a companion volume to the exhibition curated by Hohenegger at UCLA’s Fowler Museum in late 2009 and includes discussion and images of fascinating artifacts from various Chinese dynasties and from Europe. Here is an interview with Hohenegger by Bon Teavant in 2009.
The Way of Tea (Aaron Fisher)- This is a beautifully written and thoughtful book about tea appreciation from a more spiritual perspective. Written by Aaron Fisher (aka “Wu De”), a tea aficionado living in Miao Li, Taiwan.
The Book of Tea (Okakura Kakuzo) This 20th century classic on tea culture from a Japanese perspective is a gem that should not be missed. The content of this book has recently been re-packaged and published by Bruce Richardson and is available at Bon Teavant Market.
Culinary Tea (Cynthia Gold): What a fine collection of recipes and information on the historical and contemporary uses of tea as food. Cynthia Gold inspires not only the reader to try tea in new ways as an ingredient in dishes, but also invites chefs around the world to reignite the passion for tea as food and to take it in new directions.  As such, Cynthia contributes much to the growing information on tea and tea culture around the world. Here is a more in-dephth review of Culinary Tea by Bon Teavant.
The Tea Dictionary (James Norwood Pratt) This newly minted tea dictionary is a manageable volume of information provided as a quick reference to teas and terms used in the world of tea appreciation and industry. The hefty price suggests that you are receiving a distilled inventory of terms that require curation for the professional or avid tea lover. Signed copies are available from Bon Teavant Market’s tea books section. You can find a video interview of JNP here.
The Art of Tea (Magazine) Published by Wu Shing Press in Taiwan, this magazine, which is published at indiscriminate intervals, is well worth perusing for hours and hours. Back issues are available on a variety of topics, including puerh tea and yixing teaware–information that is not always so easy to find in English elsewhere (but can be found here).
Wabi-Sabi (Leonard Koren) This 1994 classic volume explains the complex concept of wabi or wabi sabi, which I will not try to distill on this page, other than to tell you that this is the concept that infuses Japanese tea culture and frankly, all tea culture to some degree. To understand wabi is to absorb and digest the art of fine tea and the duality inherent in life itself.
 
The Secret Life of Plants (Peter Tomkins & Christopher Bird) This book is not specifically about tea but about the way plants interact with humans, and should not be missed by those who want to increase their enjoyment of Camellia sinensis on a new level. Scientific studies illuminate the powerful ways in which plants respond to human thought, intention, and actions. This book is revelatory for any lover of plants, and tea is certainly our favorite…
There are so many more tea books that deserve attention, and you can consider this a first installment to our growing bibliography of tea books that we love and want to share. We want to shout out to some of the best tea authors (and their books) of our times and of times past. You may also visit the tea books area of Bon Teavant Market to find books that we believe are worth reading (and re-reading).

about tea

Tea FAQs and Lore
What a fascinating plant, Camellia sinensis, the plant from which all tea derives. Its history is filled with facts and myths, offering limitless hours of enchantment and research. Here are some basic facts and tea lore to get you started in your search for information about tea and tea culture.

What is tea?
All “real” teas come from one plant species, Camellia sinensis. Any plant or spice–like peppermint, chamomile, cinnamon, or rooiboos– can be infused, but these are considered to be herbal infusions or tisanes, not teas.

What does tea culture mean?
Tea is more than just a beverage.  It is a phenomenon. Tea culture is used to describe this unique marvel.  Over it’s five-thousand-year history, tea has been the impetus of poetry, art, storytelling and war, as well as fueling economies and influencing the social aura and etiquette of whole nations.  Its reputation as an agent of healing and meditation also underscores its value and mystery as it has moved from continent to continent across the world.  In each culture it enters, tea seems to influence the social, religious, creative and economic framework of the region, taking on different expressions and inviting new traditions.  At the same time, in every expression of tea, one will find common threads:  community, vitality, poetry, sanctuary, and ritual. We in the United States are just embarking on the creation of our own new tea culture, and you are a part of that culture.

How is loose leaf tea brewed?
Thanks for losing the tea bags!  By doing so, you have already diminished the carbon footprint of your tea by a whopping 90%.  Steeping loose leaf tea is easy, and there are several methods you can employ.  The tea pot is probably the easiest, but you can also use a gaiwan, a glass infuser, or a mug with an infuser.

First, put the loose leaf tea in your steeping vessel, which, ideally will be heated with hot water before you add the leaves.
Next, add hot water and rinse, draining off the rinse water.
Steep the leaves for the desired amount of time
Pour tea into a serving vessel like a cup or pitcher so the tealeaves don’t oversteep.
Enjoy!

How should tea be stored?
After receiving high quality teas from Bon Teavant, you will want to be sure to store them properly to ensure their continued excellence. Here are some guidelines:
-Store away from odors, especially food.
-Store in a cool, dry, dark place where light and heat will not have an impact on your tea.
-Store tea in the packaging it comes in or in a porcelain air tight vessel.  For puerh teas, store in paper packaging or in porous ceramic that is not airtight.

Tea Types:
There are five main tea types: Black, Green, White, Oolong, and Pu-erh. Tea type is determined by oxidation and processing method. Green and white teas are minimally oxidized and processed. Oolongs are semi-oxidized and more elaborately processed, and black teas are fully oxidized.  Puerhs are considered a tea type because of the varietals grown and the distinctive way in which they are processed. Some are  oxidized and some not. Many are also fermented,  and often molded into cakes, bricks and mushroom-shaped balls or cast in bamboo stalks and other unusual tea “containers”.

Are teas fermented?

With only a couple of exceptions, teas are oxidized not fermented. Oxidation is a chemical process, which takes place when tea leaves are exposed to air or oxygen. When tea leaves are exposed to air, the polyphenol enzymes in the leaves are broken down, influencing the color and nature of the tea. Oxidation is halted when teas are exposed to heat, such as pan firing or steaming. The degree to which a tea has been oxidized determines the tea type.  Black teas are fully oxidized, oolongs partially oxidized, and green and white teas have undergone little or no oxidation.  Pu-erh teas are the only teas that are fermented (which is a bacterial process) and aged after being oxidized.

Do all teas contain caffeine?
Yes, all teas contain caffeine in varying amounts; however, many people tolerate the caffeine in teas better than with coffee or other substances that contain caffeine, like sodas and chocolate. Experiment with different teas to see what you can drink and what gets your heart racing. Don’t drink tea at all if you cannot tolerate caffeine or must avoid it for health reasons.

How long should a tea be steeped?

Different teas require different steeping times.  As well, many high quality loose-leaf teas can be steeped multiple times and each steeping might require a different duration or water temperature.  It’s best to buy quality teas from tea merchants who can share their knowledge of the best ways to steep the teas they sell. When you buy teas from Bon Teavant, you will receive a tea brewing chart with recommendations for tea quantity, water temperature, and steeping times.

Basic steeping guidelines:
All guidelines refer to 3-5 grams of tea steeped in 6 oz. of water. It is recommended that you use the best quality water available and/or filter your water before using it to steep tea.
Green & White Teas
:  140-175ºF water and steeping times that vary from 15 seconds to two minutes.
Oolongs: 175-200ºF, 30-90 seconds first infusion, 30-60 seconds for subsequent infusions.
Black: 195-200ºF, 60-120 seconds.
Green Puerh: 185-200+ºF for 10-30 seconds.
Cooked Puerh: 185-200+ºF) for 60-120 seconds first infusion, and 15-60 seconds for subsequent infusions.

Experimenting with different temperatures, leaf amounts and steeping times will help you earn your scout badge for tea.  You will have fun finding out how much you can change the taste and character of a tea by changing the variables of water temperature, brewing vessel, amount of leaf used, type of water used, and steeping time.

how to use different kinds of tea ware

teawarecomposite.jpg Some people want to explore the world of connoisseur tea, but are not comfortable with the idea of brewing teas that do not come in tea bags.  Let’s demystify the options here and save the planet, friends (for more, see my entry on “Tea’s Carbon Footprint”).

First, the only thing you really need in order to brew loose leaf tea is a device to strain the tea or rather separate the infused tea liquid from its leaves. There are several methods to choose from:

1. Porcelain cup with filter: For many people new to loose leaf tea, this is the most comfortable and familiar method of brewing tea.  You simply put tea leaves in the filter, place the fitted filter in the cup, then pour in hot water.  Steep for the allotted time, then remove filter (with leaves), and your tea cup will be filled with a lovely tea infusion. You can put the filter, with the used tealeaves, aside, and steep it again when you are ready. If your cup does not come with a filter, you can use a small strainer, found in almost any cooking store or even the supermarket. Easy peezey.

Thumbnail image for yixingpot2jpg.jpg 2. Tea pot (with its proprietary strainer or with a filter): The next most familiar method is the trusty tea pot.  You will find many choices, but optimally, you would use a glass, porcelain or ceramic teapot to brew white and green teas and porcelain, ceramic or yixing for oolongs, blacks and puerhs. Many tea pots have a built-in filter or some type of internal system at the interior base of the spout that will prevent tea leaves from escaping the tea pot.  If you have a tea pot that has no such filtering device, simply use a filter or strainer over your cup or serving vessel. You can find some very nice strainers made of bamboo and other non-metal materials (which is preferred).

Red Blossom408.JPG 3. Gaiwan:  Ahhhh, the gaiwan…. For those who are new to tea, the gaiwan can be either  enchanting or perplexing.  Once you learn how to use a gaiwan, you might never want to use a filtered tea cup or tea pot again.  The gaiwan comes from China, and comprises a saucer, a cup, and a lid.  In fact, it means “covered bowl” in Chinese.  Regardless, the lid of the gaiwan is used to cover the tea as it steeps, smell the tea, and also prevent the leaves from escaping the cup when the infusion is sipped or poured into a serving vessel.  To use a gaiwan is simple: put tea in the gaiwan.  Rinse the tea for 1 second with hot water, and pour off.  Pour hot water on the leaves and cover with the gaiwan lid.  You can also use the lid as a kind of paddle to nudge the tea leaves awake while the tea is brewing.

Then either pour the infusion into a serving vessel or drink the leaves directly from the cup of the gaiwan, using the lid to hold back the leaves. I brought a gaiwan with me on a family trip, and my father blanched and asked “WHAT is THAT??.  Alas, the gaiwan is not for everyone.

Thumbnail image for bamboo whisk for matcha copy.jpg 4. Japanese tea bowl & whisk (for matcha): Tea has been prepared from ground green tea for more than a thousand years.  In China, it was whisked in a bowl. In Japan, it became the primary object of contemplation and practice in the famed Japanese tea ceremony, but you can lose the kimono if you wish, and simply whisk up some tea to elevate your mood. The bright green froth of a matcha brings great solace and energy to those who love this kind of tea.  To use this method: put a few small scoops (2-3 teasppons) of matcha powder in a ceramic tea bowl.  Pour hot water into the powder and whisk briskly (while you say “whisk briskly” briskly three times :>D ) with a bamboo whisk.  Stay tuned for more information on different kinds of matcha and different Japanese tea ceremonies (hint; there is a sencha ceremony as well).

In all, tea brewing can be taken very seriously and require a number of traditional tools, but it can also be extremely simple and require nothing more than a cup and a filter.  This is the beauty of tea.

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about american tea culture

Modern Teasmall.jpgEach time tea is introduced to a new land, it evolves and mutates into a new “tea culture” that profoundly influences that society. The Camellia sinensis plant, from which all tea derives, is one of the few, if only, known plants in history to spur dramatic change in the societies to which it is introduced, providing impetus for poetry, meditation, civil disobedience, economic shifts, social and spiritual rituals, and all-out war. Tea has also been greatly valued as a medicine  and in some cultures used as currency or as food. As it did in Asia and Europe hundreds of years ago, tea has enhanced the American economy as well as the social and physical health of our society.

The internationalism and multiculturalism of the United States is mirrored beautifully in our emerging tea culture, and extends to all who participate, a warmth and hospitality that have been long forgotten in the rush to produce more, acquire more, and know more.

A native American healer with whom I once studied taught me that plants needed for our own healing will often show up in our gardens. Perhaps in the same way, tea has re-emerged in a significant way in our country when we most need the benefits for which it is heralded: slowing down, contemplation, serenity, illumination, intimacy, and community.  It is the antidote to the alienation and rush brought on by technology and our national addiction to productivity.

One will find many expressions of tea here — whether Japanese, Chinese, British, or Fusion — but the universal threads of tea culture are woven through each and every expression of tea.  These threads are Community, Sanctuary, Intimacy, Art, and Ritual.  Like our country, which is rich in diversity and therefore in opportunity and understanding, American tea culture culls its richness from its multi-culturalism, and while each manifestation of tea culture might look or feel different, it is made of the same stuff and is a  piece in a greater whole.

Winnie_MG_1409.jpg“Tea culture” is a term that comes from Asia, where tea originates. Because tea was first embraced by Buddhists as an adjunct to meditation, by healers as a miracle plant, and by artists and scholars as a mystery– rites and rituals around tea preparation and service began to develop, and tea was used to both heal and entertain the elite class who had time for poetry, social gathering, and philosophy.  Over time, tea culture became widely enjoyed by all classes of people in China, and later in Japan and other neighboring countries. (For more information on the history of tea culture, find it in The Way to Tea: Your Adventure Guide to San Francisco Tea Culture).

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You could say that American tea culture first emerged at the end of the 17th century, when it was brought to New Amsterdam (now New York) by Dutch settlers who arrived as avid tea drinkers.  Early in our history, one could find “tea gardens” (situated handily by natural springs equipped with pumps) in New York City.

As tea was heavily taxed by England, a black market tea enterprise developed among colonists who snubbed the East India Company’s very expensive imports, sparking the historical Boston Tea Party.  “Take your tea and shove off,” was the message from those who dressed in costume as Indians and with tomahawks broke open and threw overboard three shiploads of tea chests in defiance of the Crown and her duty-laden tea.  So, as it turned out, tea was pivotal in provoking the American Revolution.

The rest was not only history but also became our present and future. Fast forward a couple of hundred years to contemporary America, and you will find a tea culture newly in the making. Had we not told the British they weren’t our cup of tea, we might still be sipping only English Breakfast and Early Grey. Instead, our belated fascination with tea is inspired as much by the later-migrating Asian traditions and influences as it is by those of the Occident. Stimulated by the many cultures in the country which merge, blend, and mingle so artfully, we are building a marvelous alchemical tea culture that is unmatched and unrepeatable anywhere else in the world.

Here you will find Chinese tea rooms like The Tao of Tea in Portland, which resides in the lovely Chinese tea gardens in the center of the city as well as the traditionally European style venues in NYC like Tea And Sympathy which thrives alongside contemporary tea cafes like Teany.  In the San Francisco Bay Area–my hometown and what I consider to be “the epicenter of the new American tea culture”–we are spoiled by the more heavily Asian influenced tea salons like Teance and Red Blossom Tea, which focus on tea connoisseurship and education, as well as hip, multicultural tea lounges like Samovar Tea Lounge.

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Some venues like the Urasenke Foundation, which teaches Japanese tea ceremony, can be found in several cities in the United States. In Boulder, Colorado, if you are lucky you’ll come across the amazing Dushanbe Tea House, which was built as a gift by their sister city in Tajikistan and which is the setting of the annual Rocky Mt. Tea Festival. Seattle’s tea scene flourishes as evidenced by the new Northwest Tea Festival, which takes place in that city each October. In Washington D.C.’s Georgetown district, you might be pleasantly surprised to find an oasis of light and peace at Ching Ching Cha or down the road, to find Teaism.

Not only is tea culture thriving in America’s larger cities, but it is finding appreciation outside of urban capitals. Buffalo, Boise, Scottsdale, Savannah, and Madison all have engaging tea rooms where tea lovers can meet and share a brew; and for each actual tea room or tea shop in the area, there might be another few people selling tea from their homes, putting on afternoon tea salons, or creating tea clubs.

In truth, there are so many fabulous tea lounges, tea rooms, tea houses, tea gardens, and tea nightclubs opening that it is hard to keep up.  No worries, it’s Tea:  it’s not about keeping up, but about slowing down, relaxing, imbibing, sharing, and enjoying the moment.

new explorations in tea

Many tea masters and farmers have very stringent parameters as to how, when and where certain teas should be grown, harvested, processed, brewed, and enjoyed.  But others like to play with these variables and have fun experimenting.

While I like to know and enjoy excellent teas that are processed at the place of origin and by traditional methods, it is also an adventure to try teas that are “disrupters” in some way while sitting on one of my modern bar stools.  Some interesting opportunities in exploring tea include unconventionally processed teas.  For example, Ti Kuan Yin oolong finds its origin in China, but Taiwan produces some very good Ti Kuan Yins as well. While this tea is traditionally rolled, some Taiwnese farmers process it as a twisted leaf oolong, which changes the taste and overall character of the tea.
BiLuoComparison3.jpg I also like the Phoenix Collection Golden Bi Luo, which is essentially a tea that is usually processed as a green tea, but in this case, is processed as an oolong. Our competition grade Bi Luo Chun (Green Snail Spring) is traditionally processed as a very delicate, highly prized grassy green tea with a buttery mouth feel. The Golden Bi Luo is a well oxidized, rolled oolong that tastes much like a light black tea with honey notes.

Also worth exploring are aged oolongs.  While aged oolongs are becoming de riguer in the tea world, most of these teas are simply older teas that were not sold years ago, and which the farmer or wholesaler held onto rather than discarding the tea and its potential profits. Good aged oolongs have a depth of character that is remarkable in flavor as well as in the feelings the tea elicits. In other words, these teas, like some good friends or interesting new friends, are incredibly wonderful to spend an afternoon or morning with. Each offers a very unique expression that I believe is unrepeatable.

Speaking of aged teas, when I first started buying tea for Bon Teavant Market, I wanted to buy only in-season teas (except for puerhs). It was Josh Chamberlain from J-Tea who admonished me not to miss some excellent teas by holding to this standard.  Josh wrote, “In my experience, roasted oolongs are sometimes better after one or two years. Sometimes with a heavy roast, time is needed for some of the fire in the tea to dissipate. Eastern Beauties also improve for about a five-year window after production. This improvement, I believe, is due to the tea settling into its self. There are a lot of  things going on with an Eastern Beauty, and like a freshly cooked stew it is often better with a little time.”

“Next, Iron Goddess,” Josh wrote. “As long as they are well oxidized and baked to match the changes that this group of teas go through, [they] are 100% splendiferous, meaning that three years after production, these teas are just as, if not more, amazing than at the time of harvest/production. Black tea is another tea that does remarkable things over time…..I fear that if you only buy tea made in the current year, you could be missing out on some great tea.”

(Point well taken! As a result, you will find teas from the previous year or two’s harvest in the Bon Teavant Market.)

Over time, I’ll try to share my new discoveries with you all and hope that you will do the same.

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about bon teavant

INTENTION:  To inform, engage, inspire, and serve those who wish to explore the world of connoisseur tea; and to investigate through tea the intricate relationship between humans and plants.

SIP  ENGAGE  ENJOY:  If you want to find out about connoisseur tea–how it is grown, harvested and processed and by whom; how to steep tea in old or new ways; how to cook with it or to pair teas with food; who writes about it and where, OR how the tea ware you choose will inform your tea, Bon Teavant offers a roadmap and a fun way to get started on your tea adventures.

BON TEAVANT is the offering of author, photographer, and tea enthusiast Jennifer Sauer, who shared her first journey into American tea culture with her book, The Way to Tea: Your Adventure Guide to San Francisco Tea Culture, which was published in the summer of 2007.

Bon Teavant blog was launched in 2008 as a fun way for Jennifer to continue sharing her adventures in tea culture with others who are also fascinated by tea, tea culture, and the wonderful “tea people” who are found along the way of any such journey.

In 2010, Bon Teavant took the next step in helping others to learn as much as possible about connoisseur tea, by launching Bon Teavant Market, where you can further your tea adventures by purchasing fine connoisseur teas and teaware, as well as tea books, tea food, and other offerings.

You are welcome and encouraged to interact, comment, and make suggestions. We look forward to sharing our tea adventures with you, and want to hear about yours as well!

Happy sipping….

tea spirit medicine

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Plants have been known to heal people of various maladies for millenia, and in fact, form the basis for almost all medicines on earth. For example, aspirin is a synthetic form of willow bark, and digitalis, taken for heart imbalances, comes from foxglove.  The tea plant, Camellia sinensis, has a history of being considered a medicine, and has reached many continents with this reputation. But does tea heal people? And if so, how and of what?

First, I do not make any claims about the tea plant being a medicine capable of healing any ailment, and those who do are not necessarily to be trusted. While tea is loaded with polyphenols, antioxidants, and other agents that suggest excellent health benefits, one would not want to say that tea cures any particular ailment or disease without documented clinical substantiation of such claims, which you will not find offered here.

But I digress. Many herbalists believe that using real plant-based medicine can be more effective than using synthetic pharmaceuticals for a number of reasons, including the avoidance of grave and sometimes even fatal side effects caused by manufactured medicines. But a lesser-known, perhaps even more compelling, reason that traditional herbalists use plants for healing is how the “spirit” of certain plants can assist in healing the patient. This concept is referred to as “plant energetics” or “plant spirit medicine”, and has been practiced by traditional healers around the world for thousands of years.

In this philosophy, plants are considered to have spirit, intention, and the capacity for relating to others with consciousness. And while certain herbs physically treat certain maladies, the spirit of the plant medicine can also assist the patient in healing the emotional constructs that are a part of the imbalance. Several compelling books have been written on the subject, including The Secret Life of Plants , The Lost Language of Plants, and Plant Spirit Medicine.

Does Tea have spirit? Can that spirit heal people? Tea’s reputation both as a medicine and as an aid to spiritual practice is what gave it such cache as it traveled from continent to continent, many times in the hands of Buddhist or Christian monks, as it was introduced to new lands like Japan and Portugal. When not spoken of with reverence by priests and monks, it was prized by herbalists and scholars. Some believed it cured plague and other serious maladies.  Of course, it does not, at least not scientifically, but what could tea possibly do as an agent of healing?

What I have learned in my own personal study of Tea (and by Tea, I mean only Camellia sinensis) is that some teas can be transformational and healing in terms of one’s understanding of himself and of life. Tea has taught me kindness, deeper compassion, and a peace of mind that I had not experienced before despite years of meditation, yoga, and other relaxation practices.  Tea also brings community and sanctuary, often simultaneously, which in itself is rather a miracle in this age of virtual antipathy for congregation.

I have seen and so believe that people who drink tea are changed by it, in the moment, and if one drinks it regularly, in a very deep and lasting way. I have read numerous accounts of people expressing how their lives have been changed by tea–sometimes emotionally, sometimes spiritually, and sometimes physically.

Tea helped me personally to develop a greater capacity for kindness and compassion, both for myself and for others, and also to enjoy each moment, sometimes profoundly. It has also given me a greater appreciation of nature and of my immediate surroundings, and enhanced my sense of community and interrelatedness with the world. Are these qualities “healing”? For me, they have been, and I am grateful to this plant–just as I would be to a priest or a doctor who bestowed so many blessings on me.