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.

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.

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.

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….