Ozone-Friendly Teas? Sri Lanka’s Ceylon Teas Stand Alone

Ceylon Nuwara Eliya icedAt a time when our time on this planet seems limited—Stephen Hawking warns that we “should prepare for a cosmic exodus”* within the next couple hundred years—it is really really nice to know that somebody is working on the problems here at home!

An Island of Responsible Sensibilities

As recently reported in World Tea News,† Sri Lanka—of Ceylon tea fame—was honored for

showing by example its pedigree of social, economic, and environmental responsibility.

This mountainous island, formerly known as Ceylon, exports more black orthodox tea than anyone else, with the tea industry employing 1.5 million people.

But it apparently doesn’t do this by cutting corners.

Ceylon Nuwara Eliya leavesRather, most of the country’s tea gardens are organic, and “all greatly limit the use of pesticides.”† Quite awhile ago they phased out the use of methyl bromide, a fumigant and pesticide that was one of the chemicals targeted by the 1987 Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer,‡‡ and they implemented environmentally friendly practices.

Consequently Sri Lankan tea has been designated an “ozone friendly tea” and was given the Montreal Protocol implementer’s award. According to the World Tea News, they are the only teas to receive this status!

And an Actual Island, Well Suited for Tea

Tea can be harvested in Sri Lanka year-round; the tea districts in the central highlands include Uva, Dimbula, and Nuwara Eliya, which is situated between Uva and Dimbula, in a small planting area that is 6° north of the equator but over 6,000 feet in altitude.

Ceylon Nuwara Eliya brewThe island’s topography has allowed tea producers to manipulate the plants to produce a range of teas with distinct qualities:

  • low-grown tea (< 2,000 ft in altitude), strong and usually drunk with milk
  • mid-grown tea (2,000–4,000 ft), with a rich flavor
  • high-grown tea (> 4,000 ft), the premium teas

High-quality, exceptional teas, such as Ceylon Nuwara Eliya (pictured in this post, available from TeaHaus), yield incredible flavor! They are outstanding both hot and iced.

The full-bodied Ceylon black teas also serve as the base for many popular blends, including breakfast and Earl Grey teas.

So I will take a stand for our earth and drink an ozone-friendly Ceylon tea today!


*Guarino, B. “Stephen Hawking calls for a return to the moon as Earth’s clock runs out,” The Washington Post, Speaking of Science. June 21, 2017.
Bolton, D. “Sri Lanka shined at World Tea Expo,” World Tea News, June 19, 2017.
‡‡Gunawardene, N. “Ozone Friendly Pure Ceylon Tea,” Business Today, July 2011.

Did Europeans Make Their First Tea in Wine Ewers?

Often, things are lost in translation, with unintended consequences. Yep, a movie trope—but misunderstanding and misapplication just might have determined teapot design as we know it.

That First Encounter, or Clueless

Think about wandering down the aisles of a mom-and-pop grocery, shelves laden with staples from a country unfamiliar to you. You pick up a package of, well, you really have absolutely no idea.

You can pretend you know what you’re doing, or you could ask. But maybe there is no one to ask because the owner is busy talking with someone else . . .  in a language you don’t speak.

So you furtively glance at nearby products—something that might help you figure out what this is—and then to not look as stupid as you feel, you buy these things, figuring you will google them when you are safely in your own home.

Unfortunately, neither Alexa nor Siri told the 17th-century European tea drinkers exactly how to use the porcelain pots they found packed with tea.

The first Dutch importers in 1610 knew of course that tea was to be brewed, but as researcher Shirley Mueller suggests, they didn’t bring over enough tea to “warrant the ordering of special teapots.”*

The problem was that Europe didn’t have anything to brew tea in. The whole “having-tea” was something completely new to them.

But when they unpacked the shipments of tea, they sometimes also found very small porcelain pots, like this (later) example, which is only 3½ inches high:

teapot or wine ewer, ca. 1690, China

Leading to, Possibly, Transformers

Because these tiny pots were packed with the tea, Europeans—understandably—either assumed they were for brewing tea, or just decided to use them for tea for lack of anything else suitable.

However, these tiny pots may not have actually been teapots because the Chinese commonly used Yixing red stoneware pots to brew their tea.

These porcelain pots may have instead been wine ewers—packed with the tea to provide additional ballast for the ship, and protected by the tea against breakage.

How Do We Know? Clue

Europeans didn’t request teapots until 1639,* and even then, porcelain wine ewers and “teapots” were pretty much identical.† After all, if the Europeans were willing to pay money for more of these porcelain ewers, however they were planning to use (or misuse?) them, why wouldn’t the Chinese comply?

Finally, in 1694, the British East India Company, realizing that these ewers didn’t make ideal teapots for Western brewing methods, said that

teapots made for them in China must have “a grate . . . before the spout”. In other words, they wanted a sort of pierced barrier where the tea enters the spout so as to hold back the tea-leaves.†

Thus, The Proposal

So it is possible that what began as Chinese wine ewers were repurposed to be Western teapots, followed by useful innovations to improve their function as teapots. A grate or web was added to the spout; the lid was perforated to allow steam to escape; and, as the cost of tea came down, the size of the pot was increased.

panels of flowers alternate with Chinese ladies on this porcelain pot
And Happily Ever After

Whether wine ewer or teapot, this little vessel from the 1600s has a timeless charm and a design we continue to emulate.


*Mueller, S. M. “17th century Chinese export teapots: imagination and diversity,” Orientations 36(7). 2005.
Hampshire Cultural Trust. “A brief history of the teapot,” website, accessed June 2017.
Photos from The Luxury of Tea and Coffee: Chinese Export Porcelain, Highlights from the Shirley M. Mueller Collection, exhibit by Shirley M. Mueller and R. Craig Miller, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana, 2016.

What Is Honeybush Tea? A Treat!

Honeybush. The name itself sounds sweet and pleasant.

honeybush-web

Honeybush (Cyclopia sp.)—also known as mountain or cape tea—probably takes its name from its yellow, honey-scented flowers. Native to South Africa, there are 23 documented species of honeybush, each thriving in a specific environment, from coastal to mountainous.

Today, 70% of the honeybush produced comes from these wild shrubs, according to the South African Honeybush Tea Association (SAHTA), although the annual harvest is small (only about 200 tons).

However, farmers—encouraged by the honeybush industry that hopes to “relieve the pressure on wild honey bush populations . . . [and] control and protect wild honeybush, thereby ensuring sustainable harvesting” (SAHTA)— have started to cultivate several species.

Indeed, as more people learn about this delicious tisane and its multiple health benefits, demand is likely to grow.

From shrub to cup

Thoneybush-brew-webo harvest honeybush, twigs bearing needle-like leaves are cut from the shrubs. The processing stages are similar to those of rooibos, with the twigs and leaves first chopped; then moistened and layered (sweated), and sometimes heated, to develop the flavor; and then finally dried.

Because there are so many honeybush species—each with its very own flavor—several varieties may be combined during production.

And you do want to drink this elixir!

This tea is low in tannins, high in antioxidants, and considered to be caffeine free. According to the SAHTA, there is preliminary evidence that it has an effect on cancer,  works similarly to human estrogen, and may protect “postmenopausal women against cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.”

But even if all that isn’t enough, consider that brewed honeybush yields an earthy flavor that is subtly sweet. Yummm.


Source : South African Honeybush Tea Association.
Honeybush shown here is available from TeaHaus. For brewing, I used boiling water, with a 10-minute steep.

How To Have an Informal Do-It-Yourself Tea Tasting

Surprise packages are the best!

And those containing a tin of tea—a blend created by friends—even better!!

tea leavesMy dear friend Susan and her son David recently visited TeaPort, “Home of the Original Nanaimo Bar Tea Blend,” and sent me the results of their personal experiment in tea blending.

Gather the troops and break out the teapot—

My family promptly agreed to taste test this intriguing—and very pretty—blend of black tea from Sri Lanka, calendula, jasmine and sunflower petals, coconut flakes, real maple syrup, butterscotch pieces, and natural flavors.

and first consider the leaves and make some speculations

We wondered how on earth Susan and David came up with this combination! When we read the ingredient list, we didn’t think any of us would really care for this tea. I thought the blend smelled too much of butterscotch (not a favorite flavor of mine) while others picked up fruity and caramel. The choice of both butterscotch and maple syrup was a bit baffling.

And all of us believed that the tea would be very sweet!

On to brewing—

susan-wet-leaves-webWe measured out 5 teaspoons of the tea into a one-quart teapot, added boiling water, and brewed for 2 minutes (no specific directions were provided by TeaPort so we used standard brewing for black aroma teas).

and then tasting—and describing—the brew

First off, we nailed the amount of tea and brew time!

However, predictions of flavor don’t make something true. We all agreed that we could taste a sweetness but the tea was not sweet! Rather, it was smooth.

And with five of us, we came up with different descriptions of the same tea:

  1. No one flavor dominates; more astringent, like a second flush, than full bodied. A bit of floral with creaminess behind the floral.
  2. Smooth, creamy, balanced.
  3. Fruity, toasty, and creamy.
  4. Caramel and smoky.
  5. Caramel with very smooth aftertaste.

susan-brew-web
Well, we learned several things:

  • our predictions were very unreliable
  • each of us picked up different flavor nuances
  • this is FUN!!!
  • and we love the tea!

THANK YOU, SUSAN AND DAVID!

What Is Rooibos Tea?

ROOIBOS: Truly a Red Tea!
rooibos-web

If you haven’t had rooibos yet, now is the time—especially if you are looking for a delicious tea that doesn’t have caffeine.

Well, actually it’s a tisane

Although rooibos is commonly called “tea,” it is really an herbal tisane. While true tea is produced with Camellia senensis, rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) is a legume, the same family of plants to which peas and clover belong.

roobios-brew-alt-webFrom a red bush

Rooibos is native only to the Western Cape of South Africa, where is it a popular drink; translated from Afrikaans, rooibos means “red bush.”

Still produced only in South Africa, young branches are cut from the shrub once a year, from December to April. These cuttings are finely chopped and bruised to promote oxidation, are then moistened and layered (a “sweating” step), and finally are dried. During this processing, the green leaves turn red, yielding a flavor that is somewhat woody, sweet, and creamy.

And then there’s GREEN ROOIBOS

gr-rooibos-web  gr-roo-brew-web

This variety is less known.

Still from a red bush

—but by skipping the oxidation step, the rooibos retains its green color and results in a fresh, slightly tangy flavor, somewhat akin to green tea.

And with loads of health benefits

Both rooibos varieties are low in tannins, high in antioxidants, and naturally caffeine free (in Japan, rooibos is called “Long Life Tea” due to its health benefits).

However, according to the South Africa Rooibos Council,

green Rooibos has higher levels of antioxidants than traditional fermented Rooibos and demonstrates even higher antioxidant and—in some cases—antimutagenic (cancer-fighting) activities.

ROOIBOS and ROOIBOS

Around 12,000 metric tons of rooibos are produced each year. About 7,000 tons of that are exported to over 30 countries, particularly to Germany, The Netherlands, Japan, the UK, and the US.

Rooibos’ natural sweetness and creaminess complement all sorts of things—tea, spices, herbals, fruits, caramel and chocolate, nuts—so rooibos blends abound!

To brew rooibos, use boiling water and a brew time of 5–10 minutes (you can’t overbrew it). Enjoy it hot or iced!


Source: South Africa Rooibos Council.
Rooibos and Green Rooibos shown here are available from TeaHaus.

Fruity Teas

str-mint-lav-3-web
Strawberry Mint Lavender, an incredible Haus blend by TeaHaus, Ann Arbor

I drive my family crazy by wanting to buy fruit only when it’s actually in season.

Mouthwatering tomatoes (yes, a fruit) can be had only when just off the vine—coupled with just plucked basil, mmmmm. I hated papaya until I had it fresh picked, sunshine warmed, with a complexity of flavor.

coconut-gr-2-web
Green tea loaded with shredded coconut

And your fruit teas should be the same: giving you the just-picked richness of pure fruit, with absolutely no artificial, odd, or cloying aftertaste. And this holds whether we are talking about aroma teas (fruit on a Camellia senensis base) or tisanes (no Camellia senensis).

sweet-pear-2-web
Sweet Pear—green tea interspersed with orange blossoms and pieces of pear

As we head into warmer weather, fruity teas transition well, yielding incredible iced teas. This is also the time to pull out that SodaStream you got for Christmas and haven’t used—carbonated iced fruit teas are unbelievably delicious!! Like a fruity soft drink that is loaded with antioxidants but no calories to speak of (and also great for kids).

orange-3-web
Orange tea, generously sprinkled with blossoms and pieces of orange

A tip: when you make fruit teas/tisanes, you can’t overbrew them! Use boiling water and allow them to brew for at least 5 to 10 minutes—or let them sit for hours.

plum-3-web
Plum fruit tea/tisane—an utterly refreshing medley of plum pieces, flower blossoms, and cinnamon

High-quality fruit tisanes will be made of just that: FRUIT! During brewing, the fruit pieces will plump up into fruit morsels (and I add them to yogurt or oatmeal after making my tea).

Blood orange fruit tea is by far my favorite fruit tisane, especially iced. The color of the liquor is lovely and its intense citrus flavor is amazing!

blood-orange-3-web
Blood orange fruit tea/tisane, an explosion of pure sunshine!

This afternoon may just be the time to kick back, iced fruit tea in hand. . . .


Teas pictured above are available at TeaHaus. In fact, the Strawberry Mint Lavender is available only at TeaHaus! And even though the combination may sound unlikely, it truly is fantastic!

For recipes on making carbonated iced tea, click here.

What Is White Tea?

str-starfr-leaves-2-web

Many things—when magnified—look amazing, and tea is no exception!

This lovely tea is Strawberry Starfruit white tea, a lovely mixture of white tea, candied papaya cubes, freeze-dried starfruit and strawberry pieces, pink cornflowers—components you can clearly see!

The other interesting thing about this tea is the white tea leaf base. The fuzzy, white-silver tips or buds are interspersed with brown to olive green whole leaves.

White Teas

Of all the types of tea produced, white teas are the least oxidized. Care is taken so that the buds and leaves are not crushed, rolled, or bruised because damage to the leaves causes oxidation. After plucking, the buds and/or leaves are withered so that moisture evaporates, and then they are dried.

Traditional

silver-needle-crop-web

Traditionally, white tea consists of the buds of Camellia senensis. Because these buds retain their minute hairs, as shown here, they are silver in appearance. Not surprisingly, this tea is known as Silver Needle.

New Style

For “new style” white tea, young, open leaves are plucked, as shown below.

white-tea-crop-web

After steeping, the new style white tea leaves look pretty much the same as before they were steeped, as shown in these examples:

bl-buckle_wet_crop-web  str-van-wet_crop-web

Savoring White Teas

Whether traditional or new style, white teas are subtle and delicate; when iced, they are refreshing and light. They often lend themselves to re-infusions.

Like other teas, the caffeine levels vary among white teas. For the best flavor, be sure to follow brewing instructions for water temperature.

If you haven’t tried white tea before, summer is a great time to enjoy their lightness!


All teas shown above are available from TeaHaus