Kashmiri Pink Chai

Kashmiri Pink Chai

Chai–sweet, caffeinated, and exotically spicy–is a massively popular drink, and only getting more so as time goes on. So, what actually is it? You order a chai at Starbucks and walk off with what tastes like sixteen ounces of sugar syrup, just like everything else there, and all you can be sure of is that it involves sugar, milk, and possibly tea? Some brown liquid, anyway. But that’s why you have me, because you don’t have time to spend all afternoon figuring out what you’re drinking, and that’s what I’m being paid to do. So here’s what I found out for you today:

Chai is short for masala chai, which means “spiced tea” in Hindi. The earliest masala chai wasn’t a real tea drink at all, it was a drink made of a number of spices chosen for their Ayurvedic medical benefits, as a medicine for a king. As the mythical invention of chai is said to be before the mythical discovery of tea (both supposedly at least 5000 years ago), and substantially before tea was widely drunk in India (cultivation began in the 1830s, and it was almost all exported until the beginning of the twentieth century), tea was not one of those spices. The connection between the original masala chai and the current drink is largely in the name.

Modern chai got its start in the early twentieth century, when the huge British tea producers in India finally saturated their markets in Europe and had to start looking for new ones. Tea had not been grown in India until the British started their plantations, so it wasn’t something the Indians were in the habit of drinking. The producers started encouraging the locals to drink the stuff they spent all their time making, giving the factory workers tea breaks and encouraging people to set up tea vending stands. The producers were hoping the tea vendors would sell tea in the British style, with tea lightly flavored with milk and sugar, but the tea vendors soon began cutting their tea with spices, since tea was more expensive than cardamom and the like. It may also have been to improve the flavor; as the story goes, the high quality tea was being exported, and the Indian factory workers couldn’t have afforded it anyway, so the tea being sold by the vendors was of poor quality. The spices made their tea tastier.

In the nineteen sixties, chai got another boost in popularity in India with the invention of CTC processing. This dropped the price substantially, making it affordable to more people in India. It also worked well with chai, because CTC creates particularly powerful black tea. You may have seen it, it looks almost like coffee grounds, and produces a drink that’s nearly as strong! The strong flavors of CTC tea cuts through the milk and spices, so the tea can still be tasted. The flavor balance issue causes an odd realigning of priorities in chai. High quality teas are made to have gentle, smooth flavors, nothing harsh to shock the palate. But if you tried this with chai, the tea would be impossible to taste, overwhelmed by the milk and spices. So even in affluent situations chai is often made with relatively low-quality tea. What works alone and what works in blends are remarkably different!

The basic chai recipe is strong black tea, milk, sweetener, and spices. Usually the tea is a strong Assam, the kind of thing used in English Breakfast blends, often the CTC I mentioned above. The spice blend shifts depending on where the chai is being made and what the tea maker likes, but cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon are usually present. In general Indian blends emphasize cardamom, and American ones emphasize cinnamon. Almost anything can be put in, though, including ginger, anise, fennel, pepper, saffron, salt, and even almonds! The almonds are a favorite in a northern variant, the Kashmiri chai that we sell. It’s based on green tea instead of black, something strong and Chinese like gunpowder or hyson. It’s turned pink either by saffron or by messing with the pH balance during the brewing process. It has a gentler and richer flavor than the more common black tea chai. And a more exciting color, obviously.

Whew, I had no idea chai had such an involved history. We can all order our chai with a whole new level of smugness, wait sorry confidence, I meant confidence. Go forth and get all confident at your chai, now!

Elizabeth, Teahouse Kuan Yin Staff

Matcha is, to many, Japan’s signature tea. It’s tea ceremony tea and green tea ice cream tea, cooked into food in huge amounts or the center or placed at the

Matcha Kaze

Matcha Kaze

center of elaborate ceremony. The tea house sells five different kinds of matcha! We’re enthusiastic about breadth of selection, but this is a subtype of a subtype of green tea, and we don’t even have that many different Ah Li Shan oolongs. Matcha’s special stuff.

A Brief History of Matcha

At first all teas were powdered. It wasn’t until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) that steeping whole tea leaves became popular. Tea first showed up in Japan as early as the sixth century, and its popularity surged when it was promoted by the monk Eisai, who brought Zen Buddhism, some tea seeds, and a serious respect for tea to Japan in 1191. The Zen Buddhism isn’t a side note; steeped tea totally replaced powdered in China, and might have done so in Japan as well, except that Zen Buddhism had by that time solidly taken root, and powdered tea had become something of a ritual for the monks. So matcha stayed, a throwback to an ancient evolutionary stage of tea, like a coelacanth or something. Except tastier. I  bet coelacanths are pretty fishy tasting.

The Tea Ceremony

Matcha Miyabi

Matcha Miyabi

The tea ceremony was developed during the Warring States period (somewhere in the 14th or 15th century – 1600), when Japan had dissolved into many little states that were constantly at war. The peaceful, elegant tea ceremony is a poignant contrast to the political situation, especially since political negotiations were often done during tea ceremonies. The tea ceremony is a complicated procedure, centered around tea and pastries, and formalized with many rituals of cleansing and polite respect. The idea is to develop an artistic, meditative atmosphere, like the parts of Kurosawa films without people bleeding all over the scenery. This requires very good tea.

The Tea Itself

Matcha starts with the tea plants, which are shaded for a few weeks before harvest, like gyokuro. Unlike gyokuro, the leaves are dried in a way that allows them to crumble a little. The veins and stems are then picked out, and the remaining leaf is ground up even more finely, resulting in the vivid green powder which is matcha. This powder is placed in a bowl called a chawan, and water is mixed in with a whisk called a chasen, so that it’s sort of frothy. Then you drink up your matcha before too much powder settles out. It’s delicious, and very good for you! Try not to slurp, though, that’s not meditative.

Elizabeth, Teahouse Kuan Yin Staff

Jasmine PearlJasmine tea is extremely popular, not only in our own teahouse but also around the world. While most mixtures of tea and other plants are modern and not quite perfected, jasmine tea has a history that will impress the most stiff-necked tea snob. It was invented in China during the Song dynasty, which ruled from 960 to 1279AD, and was the first scented tea.

In the modern age of industrial production and widespread wealth some corners do get cut. A lot of jasmine tea is now made simply by taking some mid-grade tea leaves, spritzing them with jasmine oils, tossing the result in teabags and calling it a day. But for good jasmine tea, like we sell, the traditional method is still used, and it is quite the process. First the tea is picked and processed as usual. For high-grade jasmine tea, obviously some good tea is made. It can be any kind you like, but is most often green. We also carry a really spiffy silver needle jasmine, though, which I sometimes get out and stare at because it is just so pretty. That doesn’t actually have anything to do with the jasmine, though. They just started with some really nice tea.

The next step is the jasmine flowers, and here we get fancy. Jasmine flowers bloom at night, opening around sunset and closing again by the morning. To make tea, the flowers are picked during the day and tossed in with the tea leaves from the last paragraph, and sometimes stirred around a great deal. Then they are allowed to sit together overnight. The flowers, even though they’ve been picked, still open up as the air cools, and the tea soaks all the fragrance up. Tea is very hygroscopic, which is your awesome word for the day so go use it in a sentence, it means that it is very good at soaking up moisture, including the fragrance. This is why it’s so important to store your tea in airtight containers, because usually you don’t want it picking up every scent in the room! But in making jasmine tea it’s a good trait. The tea soaks up the scent so well that the flowers are totally spent afterwards. The light flowers are blown out of the mixture with huge fans, and then often fed to pigs because there’s nothing left; all the scent is now in the tea.Silver Needle Jasmine

This process is repeated at least twice, and often many more times. Usually a 4:1 ratio of flowers:tea leaves by weight ends up being used! Once the tea producers feel their tea is scented enough the tea has to be dried again, because it’s absorbed so much water from the flowers. For our most popular jasmine, Jasmine Pearl, they roll them up into the little pearls by hand before the last drying. In high-grade versions, all the flowers are removed, but sometimes a few flowers will be left in for decoration.

Fujian province, the source of our jasmine tea, is considered the best at making it. Jasmine plants grow well there, producing large and fragrant blossoms. The tea plants do well, too, which is critical. The jasmine has a gentling effect on the tea, making the result smoother, sweeter, and a bit gentler on the stomach, but to get a really top quality jasmine tea all the ingredients have to be the best.

While a lot of teas that are mixed with some other plant are flavored teas, jasmine tea is actually scented. When you lean over your cup and take a deep breath it smells like a jasmine plant, perhaps with the bright flower scent gentled and rounded a little by the tea. Plug your nose and take a sip, and it is a slightly sweet cup of tea. But unless you’re drinking your tea with a nasty cold, the scent and flavor of the tea mix while you drink it, combining elegantly into a fun but still refined cup of tea.

Elizabeth Deacon, Teahouse Kuan Yin Staff

I cupped several of Teahouse Kuan Yin’s new teas at tonight’s tasting and we all fell in love all over again with green, darjeeling and black tea.  Goodwin, Elizabeth, Julia and the Teahouse’s new resident tea expert Becky, were knowledgeable, inspiring and wonderful company.  We satisfied our palates with the complex tastes of fine teas, snacked on delicious lavender shortbread and shared knowledge about everything related to tea!

We began with Wuyi Green, a green tea from Wuyi Mountain in Fujian Province, China.  Wuyi Mountain teas are grown at a high elevation amidst rocky limestone soil.  The region is best known for Rock Oolongs, though the Wuyi Green tea was surprisingly not reminiscent of oolong tea.  This green is light, slightly astringent, but smooth and delicate like many of the finest Chinese green teas.

Nepal Himalaya View, also a green tea, was smokey and similar to Green Pu’er, which is not surprising since this region grows the Assam variety of Camellia Sinensis (tea bush).  This tea looks like a 1st Flush Darjeeling, though vastly different in taste, it withstood several steepings and is ideal for those who prefer smokey, strong flavor, yet, prefer green tea.

Darjeeling, India

Soom Estate 1st Flush Darjeeling is perhaps the finest new tea at the teahouse and stood out for its sweet taste and smooth finish.  The Soom Estate Darjeeling withstood 4 steepings of continual bold, delicious flavor.

Sikkim Terri Estate, a black tea from Northeast India, would be classified as a Darjeeling if it were actually grown in that region.  Since it is from Sikkim, this tea cannot carry the Darjeeling name, and is instead relegated to a black tea.  The Terri Estate 1st Flush tea appears like a Darjeeling with light green and brown leaves, it tastes slightly sweet also with an incredibly smooth finish and provides multiple steepings.

Yunnan Golden Snail is a malty black tea from Yunnan Province.  The dry leaves are soft, curly and have golden tips, hence the name which describes the appearance.  The tea withstood several steepings and provided a sweet warmth on one of Seattle’s first cold nights of Fall.

Nilgiri Blue Mountain is an attempt by tea growers in that region to produce a high quality black tea, as opposed to their usual production of Cut Tear Curl (CTC) tea used in tea bags.  While this was a decent attempt it did not fulfill our expectations after tasting so many delicious teas prior.

Come by the teahouse to taste some of the teas described here or order samples on-line! www.TeaHouseKuanYin.com

To sign up for a tasting or tea class please email TeaHouseKuanYin@Gmail.com

Upcoming Tea Tastings!

Cool and refreshing Tea.  Tea is from the hottest parts of the world where it is enjoyed warm or iced.  Join Teahouse Kuan Yin this summer for our hot and cool tea tastings.  We will learn about tea production, history, culture, and service.  While comfortably relaxing in the air-conditioned teahouse we will sample six different cooling teas.  Join us for one or all of the tastings, bring a friend or family member, and give the gifts of tea. 

For those passionate about tea who cannot attend these tastings, please contact Rachel Newman to arrange a private tea event at your home or office. 

 

Hot China, Cool Tea June 14th 5pm

Six Chinese teas grown in China’s hot, southern climate, where summer temperatures reach 99º with 100% humidity.  Silver Needle, White Peony, Dong Ding Green, Three Roses Charcoal Baked, Pu’er Green, Pu’er Camel’s Breath are the flavors due to cross your palette.

 

Yin Teas for Keeping Cool June 28th 11am

Six Green teas that are Yin in nature, which help keep the body cool during hot summer months.  We will discuss the nature of Yin foods and how and why these work to cool our bodies.  We will taste Snow Bud, Green Snow Bud, Dragonwell (Longjing), Little Melon Seed, Formosa Green, Moroccan Mint.

 

Himalayan Tea July 12th 5pm

Grown in the foothills of the world’s highest mountain range, this Indian valley is hot and sunny all summer.  Still, the locals sip hot black tea.  Why?  We will explore this question first-hand with six different teas from the region.  Darjeeling 1st and 2nd flushes, Assams and Chai!

 

Healthy Tea including Herbals July 26th 11am

Come explore our selection of healthy teas including many of our house-blended herbals.  All tea is healthy, though some have more anti-oxidants while others may help lower cholesterol, fight fatigue, and aid in digestion.  We will sample pure herbals, blends – including our house blend World Peace – White, Green and Pu’er.  Bring your curiosity and questions about health and tea.

 

Ice-Teas August 2nd 5pm

Wonder what your favorite tea tastes like ”on ice”?  We will serve six different teas drizzled over ice so that you may choose how cool your tea needs to be. Teahouse employees love to make their own concoctions of ice-teas all summer long. Some house favorites include Yunnan Gold, Lychee Black, Jasmine, Dragonwell, Silver Needle and Bai Hao, all of which will be sampled.  Requests will be accepted for this tasting only.

 

Southeast Asian Teas August 16th 11am

How do you make Thai Iced Tea?  What is bubble tea?  We will not drink these, but we will learn more about what teas are used to make them and why.  We will sample six teas used as a base for milky, sweet drinks and try them on their own.  The tasting will include, Assams, Ceylon, Oolong and Green teas.

 

All teas listed are subject to change as we await Marcus’ return with some new wonderful teas from Taiwan and China. 

Please email or come into the teahouse to sign-up for tastings.  Tastings are $10 per person, which includes 20% off any tea purchases made that day.

Please feel free to distribute this flyer. 

Website: www.TeaHouseKuanYin.com

Our new blog: www.TeaHouseKuanYin.wordpress.com

hojicha

Hojicha

Working at the Teahouse Kuan Yin is a labor of love, and a rewarding one. We love being able to talk with customers about the teas we carry, learning from our experienced patrons as well as passing on our own knowledge. But since coming to work at the Teahouse Kuan Yin, by far one of our most rewarding experiences has been photographing teas for the store’s website. It has been a continuing challenge because many of our teas are so different from one another, each with distinct colors, textures, shapes and sizes. The challenge itself makes it a rewarding experience, which we feel has given us a deeper appreciation for the teas we serve here.

Serving tea has always been considered a special act, or a gesture if you will, because one is providing the tea drinker with a specific experience which engages the senses. That said, as servers at Teahouse Kuan Yin we often are so caught up in our work that we don’t get to take the time and really appreciate the teas for ourselves. Sure, we’ve tasted them all, but when do we really get to look at our teas? This is where the wonderful experience of photographing the teas comes in.

Take for example our Hojicha. How best to convey that toasty warmth of flavor as well as color? What about the beautiful geometry of how the pieces lie together?

Bi Lo Chun

Bi Lo Chun

Or the Bi Lo Chun. This tea is known as Green Snail Spring, and we hoped to make the photograph of this tea as expressive as its name. Its fluffiness sets it apart from other green teas, as do the elegant, chaotic curlicues, the contrast between light and dark green.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gold Yunnan

Gold Yunnan

What about the Gold Yunnan? It is easy to steep one’s teas without looking closely at the leaves, but this tea’s golden sheen begs to be admired. The leaves are as velvet-y as the brew itself, and should not be ignored.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jasmine Pearl

Jasmine Pearl

We especially loved the look of the Jasmine Pearls. It is a given among tea lovers that part of the pleasure of drinking Jasmine Pearl comes with watching the pearls unfurling in the water, and obviously the beautiful aroma. But after spending time trying to figure out how best to photograph this tea, we both agree that part of what makes this tea beautiful is how tightly each pearl is wound, and the stunning craftsmanship involved in such a small thing. Each pearl is unique, and bands of light green travel across them differently every time.

Organic Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum

And my god, look at the Chrysanthemum!

Texture. Warmth. Sunshine. Need we say more?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Li Shan Mao Feng 5.8 zoom

Li Shan Mao Feng

We love the Li Shan Mao Feng:

The twists and folds of each leaf are stunning, and the contrast between dark black and amber orange is really unique.

ti-kuan-yin-green

Ti Kuan Yin Green

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ti Kuan Yin Green:

Its color is a vibrant and complex green, you can see the way in which each leaf has been rolled. There is an acutely physical aspect to these types of oolongs, because of the rolling process.

We’ve come to find that the teas here are absolutely beautiful in addition to being delicious. All we ask is that you guys remember: look at your tea before you drink it! All of these beautiful teas can be purchased on our website, http://www.TeaHouseKuanYin.com

Tea and Love,

Lela and Tania
Lela and Tania

The first tea seeds planted in Japan were originally acquired by Japanese monks visiting China during the 9th century, who brought them back as a gift for their Emperor. At that time in Japan, tea was solely enjoyed by monks, aristocrats and royalty, for the belief that it allowed one to experience a more pure and sage-like life; it soothed and reduced the distractions of the day.

Eventually, tea was consumed by everyone in society and grew in popularity so much that it was enjoyed with every meal and even used in cooking. Though tea originated in China, the Japanese developed their own methods for processing and drinking tea, including an elaborate ceremony for drinking the powdered tea called Matcha. matcha In tea growing regions, the plants are grown and harvested in the most efficient, space saving way possible. The Japanese process all of their teas by steaming the fresh leaves, which brings out the brilliant green color and perhaps imparts a more grassy flavor and aroma. During our most recent Japanese tea tasting, on an unusually sunny and warm Seattle day, we all relished in the teas an aroma of fresh cut grass on a hot summer day. senchafields We tasted most of the 10 types of Japanese tea: ceremonial grade Matcha, Gyokuro Suimei, two types of Sencha, Kukicha, Genmaicha and Hojicha. Japan is the only country that grinds green tea into fine Matcha powder for use in a traditional tea ceremony. Matcha is made from Tencha, a shade grown tea (discussed later under Gyokuro). It is possible that they learned this style from the Chinese, but no records or current usage in China can verify this. The Japanese tea ceremony is not elaborate in appearance, though it can take several hours to perform. At our tasting we enjoyed whisked Matcha, served somewhat traditionally, from a bowl with cool water to preserve the fresh and delicate tea.

Gyokuro, one of the finest Japanese teas, is shade grown for the last 20-30 days before plucked. The shades, called Tana, block the sunlight from reaching the fresh sprouts which are hand plucked in early Spring. The result is a dark, almost pine green, needle-shaped leaf that is unusually sweet and milky. The brew is cloudy and chartreuse in hue, and there is no astringency at all. Gyokuro, though higher in caffeine than other Japanese teas, has a greater amount of theanine, the relaxing chemical found in tea leaves.

Sencha is the most widely consumed tea in Japan and comprises about 80% of the tea grown there. The Japanese have developed fine machinery that can mimic a hand pluck and gather 200-300 pounds of tea leaves per day (the average worker plucks 20-30 pounds per day). Due to the large quantities of Sencha produced, most is machine plucked and processed and quality varies widely from highly prized to low-grade everyday tea. The Senchas we tasted were grassy, slightly astringent and/or bitter, had hints of sweetness, and appeared cloudy and bright green.

Kukicha, produced in Spring, is also known as ‘twig tea’. It is made from Sencha leaves and twigs. Historically, ‘twig tea’ was consumed by tea farmers and made from the low grade remnants of the crop. Today many people like Kukicha because of its low caffeine content and slightly sweet taste.

Genmaicha may be the best known of Japanese teas because it is popular in sushi restaurants. Also called ‘toasted rice green tea’, it is comprised of fine needle-like tea leaves, popped and toasted brown rice, and occasionally Matcha powder. We steeped this tea several times and noticed the depths of flavor that arose with each brewing, including the strong brown rice flavor, subtle astringency from the Matcha, and an overall sweetness caused by the melding of these two flavors.

Hojicha is the most unusual of Japanese teas, with a brown and stick-like appearance. This roasted green tea has the aroma and flavor of chocolate, wheat, bamboo and earth. Because it is very low in caffeine, it is often served to children in Japan.
Drinking Japanese teas on a sunny spring day felt right, like we were cleansing our bodies and minds of winter dullness. The beauty of many teas can be seen through the country of origin and the culture created for their enjoyment; while drinking Japanese teas we told stories and discussed the history and culture of this nation of 3,000 islands. The refinement of Japanese culture steeped into our group as we tasted and enjoyed the simple, almost minimalist beverage that is tea.

These fine teas can be found at http://www.TeaHouseKuanYin.com/japan-green-teas.html
gyokuro-misao_big