August 1 2015
In the area of Miyazaki on the island of Kyushu in Southern Japan, there is a small family of organic tea farmers making something absolutely outstanding…
Kamairi Cha Tea
High on the steep mountain sides near the coast, the Miyazaki family’s tea garden benefits from excellent soil and lower temperatures than lower-lying tea gardens. These other gardens begin their first harvest of the year around the middle of April, whereas the higher altitude garden begins six weeks later towards the end of May.
The Miyazaki family specialise in a particular kind of tea – they produce Kamairi-Cha (dry heated tea) – a tradition that is almost lost in modern tea making. In the early 20th century, Kamairi-cha as fairly popular, and steamed tea – the most popular method today – was made only in small quantities. By the mid-20th century, the split for Japanese tea was around 50/50, but today Kamairi-cha makes up just 1% of Japanese tea production.
The Miyazaki family have preserved this tradition with what could very well be the best Kamairi-Cha in the country, drying the leaves either by hand or using their old tea machine made in the 1950s (now the last of its kind). Usually, dry heated leaves ‘Kama’ loose much of their intense green colour after heating and develop a most roasted flavour compared with steamed tea. However, thanks to this family’s years of expertise and experience, they have produced a Kamairi-Cha that keeps the beautiful vibrant colour with bright green notes and soft, rounded character.
Inside the garden itself, the family grow a diverse range of eighteen different types of tea plants. For their stand-out Kamairi-Cha they use a varietal called the Sae Midori, a relatively rare member of the tea family known for its deep green colouring, sweetness and overall softness of flavour. (You’ll sometimes find it used for Gyokuro production).
I’m thrilled to say that we have procured a small amount of 500g from the family. On the first tasting it absolutely blew me away. I can only summarise its flavour as being a very well rounded, sweet grassy ‘hit’, tasting very much like a shade-grown Japanese green, followed by a sweet, bakey finish synonymous with Oolongs or pan-fried Chinese green teas. Its complexity reveals the astounding skill behind its production, and it gives me great pleasure to welcome it to our tea shop.
July 21 2015
Tea, water, and temperature – a holy trinity when it comes to getting the very best from your tea leaves. In this post, we’ll look at how the temperature of the water effects flavour.
Temperature can have a remarkable effect on the taste of infused tea leaves. Ever had a green tea that tasted bitter and just plain unpleasant? Well, I suspect that water temperature had something to do with it. Here’s why.
The tea plant, camellia sinensis, produces all manner of different substances mainly called phenols. You’ll also find them in wine, chocolate and berries. Phenols play a key role in the overall flavour and appearance of the tea that you drink, and how you brew it can effect how these phenols behave (if you’d like a long sciencey post about how this all works, let me know in the comments and I’ll happily put on my lab coat). For instance – a sencha green tea infused with water from a rolling boil will most likely be very bitter. But if you use water at 60 – 70 degrees, and the tea takes on a life of its own. This isn’t because the tea is ‘burned’ by higher tempertures, although a burning toast analogy can be useful, but because certain tannins and catechins are released at higher temperatures which can impart a ‘bitter/astringent’ quality. This also happens if the tea is left to steep for too long.
Certain more robust, darker teas will sit very happily at higher temperatures. Those concentrated flavours can stand up to bitterness brought about through temperature for a stronger and more malty cup.
Here in the UK, I think most of us can relate to our grandmothers telling us to bring the pot to the kettle and pour boiling hot water straight onto the tea. Our grans weren’t entirely wrong on this – because the chances are, they were brewing black tea teabags for no more than around a minute or two. Then adding milk (and sugar if you were feeling fancy). Without milk, the end result probably didn’t taste that great. But it is absolutely fine for a ‘tea you can stand your spoon in’ situation. Outside of this, you can start having fun with temperature.
A question we’re asked a lot in our tea shop is – how can you tell what temperature your water is?
There are a two ways you can do this:
1.Use a thermometer. Any kitchen thermometer or temperature probe will be great. It could also be a great excuse to use one of those infared temperature guns…
Here are a couple of temperature ‘hacks’ you can use too: the average electric kettle will get your water – filtered, ideally – to around 97 degrees C, a decent boil. Turn the kettle off and open the lid. Let the water calm down and sit for around 1-2 mins. This will help take the edge off for most black teas.
For lighter teas, grab yourself a heat proof jug. Pour your freshly heated (just simmering) water into it, and give it a swirl. You’ll soon have taken 10 degrees off pretty much right away.
2. My favorite. Get yourself (or if you have a birthday coming up, drop hints for) a temperature variable kettle. These things are fantastic. I have one from Bosch that I use at home after upgrading from a perfectly good one made by Philips which came to a sticky end while moving house. They start at around £30, and will soon become your best friend.
I’ll leave you with a rule of thumb for what temperature different teas need. Think of it like this:
the lighter colour the tea leaf, the lower the temperature the water.
Easy. While you may find some impostors (like Silver Needle sneaking in at 80 degrees) it will generally serve you well.
With each tea you brew, I promise it will get easier and easier. You’ll soon be using your own judgement as to how you enjoy your tea, at what temperature, and how long it is infused. Everyone has their own likes and dislikes. You’ll know what to do simply through your tea instinct!
July 5 2015
This spring we were lucky enough to be invited to a special tea day in Wazuka, Japan. Wazuka is a beautiful mountain valley between Kyoto and Nara, and is home to hundreds of tea fields. Taking the bus through the valley, as you look up at the mountains and down beside the streams, you see tea fields dotted all over the place – hugging the sides of mountains, and sitting in back gardens.
Wazuka is home to a cooperative of tea growers working together to harvest and process their tea. Rather than send their tea away to be processed, or each family having to buy expensive processing equipment, they put together to make their own tea factory where all their teas are steamed, rolled, and dried.
The process of making tea hasn’t changed all that much over the centuries. The only difference today is that the work once done by many hands has been passed to incredibly specialised machines.
The cooperative had a big community day, where locals can come and pick tea by hand in the fields in the morning, then process them in the afternoons using traditional hand methods, helping to keep the old crafts and skills alive. No tea-steaming machines here – just dry heat (Kamairi-cha), bamboo baskets, a giant wok, and lots of elbow grease!
June 29 2015
To get the very best out of your infusions, here is a handy 5-point guide you can use to keep your leaves tasting fresh. For instance, black tea stored in the right way will keep well for over two years, so it is definitely worth doing right. All of these points are essentially to stop tea degrading or oxidising – and fortunately it is nice and simple. Scroll on down for our guide:
Promise me one thing. Promise that you won’t put your tea leaves into a glass jar and put them on the windowsill. Please, step away from the jam jar. They’ll look lovely, I know, but sunlight is a big offender when it comes to degrading the flavour of tea. Your tea will thank you for it. And so will I. (This is why we will never use packets that have little windows in them. Can’t abide the things).
When moisture and light combine, the enzymes that kick start the decomposition of tea wake up. So store your tea somewhere dry, away from the oven, sink or dishwasher to keep them at bay.
Find a nice cool spot for your tea leaves in the kitchen or store, and their flavour will be maintained for longer. But please don’t put your tea in the fridge! Moisture and strong smells will wreak havoc on the leaves unless you are very, very, very careful.
Some Japanese green teas can benefit from being stored in the fridge for short amounts of time – keep them well sealed in small packets – but these are the exception.
4. Strong Smells
Tea leaves are very good at soaking up the aromas around them. While this is great for blending, the last thing you want is your Darjeeling tasting like blue cheese or onions. Disaster. So keep your leaves sealed and away from strong smells. (This includes scented teas – keep your single estate and lighter teas separate to your Lapsang Souchong etc).
Some aged teas like Pu Erh will benefit from a good air flow, but normally (and to help avoid point 4) it is best to keep your tea in either their re-sealable packets or a closed caddy. Every time you open your tea, the exposure to oxygen will continue the oxidisation process so try to avoid shallow, wide storage tins. Keep as much of the tea’s surface area away from the air as you can.
In summary, keep your tea leaves sealed up somewhere cool, dry, and away from sunlight. A cool cupboard is ideal.
Extra tip: Wood, plastic and clear glass are best avoided as storage materials, but your typical tea caddy, canister or thick lined packet is absolutely fine.
So there you have it – look after your teas with these simple tips, and you can enjoy them for longer.
(and if a friend or family member has tea in a glass jar in broad daylight, bear this cat in mind. I’ll be really proud of you)