Introduction to Japanese Tea: Part 1

In Japan, tea is produced just about everywhere. Shizuoka, Kagoshima and Uji are three of the major tea- growing regions throughout Japan. Tea came to Japan from China in the 800s to Kyoto, just north of Uji by Buddhist Monks. Japan didn’t think tea was important and it wasn’t planted in the country until 1100s after another Buddhist monk popularized the health benefits of tea drinking. Today, the tea gardens that were planted in the 1100s are still producing today. They provide a variety of green teas most famously including gyokuro, sencha, and matcha (tencha leaves). Green tea has since then been a very important part of Japanese society and culture.

Shizuoka Tea Region

The Shizuoka growing region is also known as ‘The Kingdom of Green Tea’. Producing the largest amount of tea in Japan, this region lives up to its nickname. Shizuoka is responsible for producing almost half of Japan’s tea production between 40-45%. This region is located on the central coast of Japan, 150 km away from Tokyo, with a view of Mt. Fuji from the tea fields. Tea from the Shizuoka region is often referred to as the best tea in Japan. This region is mostly made up of small, family run operations growing a wide variety of tea. However, sencha tea is the region’s most famous variety, as they are the leaders of its production.

Kagoshima Tea Region

The Kagoshima region comes in second to Shizuoka for production rate. Kagoshima is responsible for 20% of Japan’s Tea. While other regions are leaders in a specific type of green tea, Kagoshima is the region that has the most variety of green teas grown. This region is in a volcanic region. There are many active volcanos nearby often leaving ash on the tea leaves to be washed off! Originally this region was insignificant to Japan’s tea production and only after WWII did they grow. Due to this, Kagoshima was seen more for its cheap price in tea rather than its quality. However, after WWII this all changed and Kagoshima is now comparable to the quality of teas of that from Uji and Shizuoka.

Uji Tea Region

The Uji region is famous not for their size of production but rather their high quality. Only 4% of this region makes up Japan’s tea production. Known around the world for their high quality of green tea, gyokuro and matcha are two of the most famous teas from this region. Located in this region is the oldest tea house in Japan, Tsuen Tea. This tea house has been in the same location since its opening in 1160. Today, the Tseun Tea house is still open and in operation for visitors to enjoy a cup of tea overlooking the Uji river.

Sencha, matcha, gyokuro, and other Japanese teas are available at the Short and Stout Tea Lounge or our online store. Check back next time when we’ll discuss what the differences in these green teas are and what makes them so different!

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Albany Tea Festival

We are proud to announce the 2nd Annual Albany Tea Festival at Overit Media located at 435 New Scotland Av on Friday, June 3rd from 5:30pm to 9:00pm.

Capital Region’s Tea Professionals will be all in one place for this unique event. Six speakers are scheduled to discuss a range of tea related topics including tea/herb basic, culture, world tea traveling and future trends of tea. Tea and tea related vendors will be offering their products.

If you are a tea lover, this is the place to be. Join us for this free event and stay up-to-date with the most consumed beverage after water!  Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/581272638713014/

 

Albany Tea Festival

Albany Tea Festival

Albany Tea Fest Speakers

Albany Tea Fest Speakers

 

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Tea Journey to Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand: Part 3 of 6

Chiang RaiTea Farm

Throughout traveling Chiang Rai and visiting several tea estates, one stands out as being a spectacle. On approach the facade of the plantation is a steep hill with almost perfect rows of tea plants. Mounted on one of the tea field summit are large Hollywood style letters spelling out the plantation’s name. After parking near large buses we were quickly corralled to the tasting room to watch a 3 minute movie about tea making, short tasting and shuffled on through to the gift shop. We were intrigued by the news of a large tea infused menu in their cafe, so we ventured on. On the roof there were newly built overlook platforms which made wonderful snapshot locations that the crowds of tourists took advantage of.

Tea Infused Pastries Tea Farm SideA short walk and several pictures later we were diving into deep fried tea leaves with a chili and vinegar sauce, sweet and spicy chicken wings topped with crispy fried tea leaves, pork dumplings and fresh tea salad and a green tea sweet bun. The deep fried tea leaves were fantastic. The coating was not greasy but just as light as the tea tip contents. The fresh tea salad was a welcoming sight and the flavor was like any other tossed salad. The flavor of pork and chicken meat in Thailand is fantastic. The freshness of old world style raising allows true flavors to remain present that American livestock has lost.  These dishes were as good than those found outside the estate. The deserts were just as diverse and flavorful. They included green tea cheese cake, green tea lava cake, green tea crape layer cake, Thai tea cake and green tea honey toast. The green tea cheese cake was by far the group winner.

Chiang Rai is steeped in history since it was founded over 750 years ago. Many traditions remain unique to this northern most city, but a newer attraction called Wat Rong Khun or the White temple is the most popular. The temple is on grounds that are the play land of Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipt. For 20 years, he has been constructing an intricate White Temple along with other beautiful buildings. The basis of the artistic architecture is an exaggerated traditional Buddhist temple with a healthy dose of morality and afterlife themes. The lavish grounds continue with a large koi fish filled reflecting pond, flowering lattice shaded walkways and the most expansive bathroom I’ve ever been in.White Temple Chiang Rai2White Temple Chiang Rai

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What’s Brewing at Short and Stout Tea

Return From our Tea Journey:

Tea Estate Visit

Tea Estate Visit

We have returned from Thailand after visiting several tea estates. It was fantastic trip. We learned so much in such a little time and we have a few ways for you to learn about our Tea Journey.

  1. Short and Stout Tea Web Blog: Although I still have more to publish you can share in our experience while flying through Japan to Thailand. Before we made it to any Tea Estate we found that green tea is such a popular flavor to ice cream, candy, snack food and drinks. For ice cream it seems like green tea has replaced vanilla.
  2. Tea Journey Presentation at Short and Stout: Starting at 5pm on Thursday Feb 4th we will have our presentation. The format will be a casual “drop in” talk including a slide show and Q&A. The event is free. Stop in when you can for a few minutes or stay the whole time.

We are Re-Opened for Sundays:

While we were away Samantha did a fantastic job overseeing the day to day duties of the lounge, but we couldn’t ask her to do it for7 days a week. We had a great response for being open on Sundays in 2015, so we are re-opened on Sundays from 11:30am to 4pm, now through May.

Tea Talk at Guilderland Public Library:

In addition to the Tea Journey Presentation at S&S on 2/4 we are continuing our Tea Talk Series at Guilderland Public Library. Our next talk is January 28th at 7pm the topic is Health Benefits of Tea and Tisanes including brewing methods. Registration is free, please sign up on their calendar.

 

New Products:

Although many of our new loose teas from Thailand won’t be ready for another week, our new teaware is available.IMG_2519 (1)

  1. Yixing Teapots: For those looking for a Gongfu Cha teaware, we now have traditional Yixing Teapots with matching cups. Gongfu Cha is a brewing method preferred by the Chinese where several 30 second steepings occur within a small unglazed clay teapot.
  2. Teapot and Travel Mug Cozies: We have partnered with Fibres of Life which is a fair trade handmade fabric design company from Nepal. We offer beautiful teapot cozies made of felt wool with hand printed designs. They are perfect to keep your teapots warm on these cold mornings (pre-warming your teapots help as well). Also, we have travel mug cozies offered in a knit design.
  3. Glass Tumblers: We are excited to finally offer a glass travel tumbler with infuser. This is perfect for the tea drinker on the go. One side has a screw cap with a quality removable infuser and the other side has a screw cap for pouring or sipping. The glass is tempered to handle boiling water and the silicone gripper insulates the heat with ease.

Tea Quote:

When it comes to tea business, it’s more like family than customers- Tea Estate Owner.

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Tea Journey to Northern Thailand: Part 2 of 6

Chiang Rai: First Day in Thailand’s Tea Growing Region

When things are meant to happen, they happen. I had my doubts that my tea journey and garden experience was not going to meet my expectations. When I heard that the owner of our first tea garden was going to pick us up at the airport, I figured that it was a good sign. I was even more excited to hear that they would be picking tea at the farm on that day.

When we met the owners at the airport, we were greeted with the largest smiles, you know the ones that is so joyful

Hand picking of tea leaves

Hand picking of tea leaves

that their eyes closed. They spoke good English and we discussed our respective role in the tea industry. The two sisters described how their four gardens of 100 acres each, 2 shops and 260 employees started with humble beginnings. Their father started with just a small plot of land and the factory was not much more than him in a barn. Each processes was completed by his personal experience and formal training in Taiwan for hand tea processing.  After decades of farming, their father grew the business to a much larger enterprise that utilizes temperature and moisture controlled rooms as well as large pieces of equipment. The business also celebrates accolades including: USDA Certified Organic, certified Thailand Biodynamic, and One Town One Product Champion.

The factory tour was intriguing. Yes, we’ve read all about the processing steps, but it was another to be in the factory

Solar withering of tea leaves

Solar withering of tea leaves

amongst the workers practicing their craft. We had an opportunity to closely observe the process of making Oolong, the most popular type of tea produced in Thailand. The pickers pulled two leaves and a bud between the tip and knuckle of their pointer finger and their thumb. They would slide the picking to their palm to repeat the process twenty times in 10 seconds before dumping their stock into their basket. After their picking they have an hour to lay their tea out for quality inspection and solar wilting. Then the leaves went through seven steps of wilting and tumbling. The tumbling in bamboo chambers causes the leaves to “wake up” and wilting occurs again after letting it stand in humidity controlled rooms. The tea is let to sit longer to continue its withering. This is the process to ensure that the water component in tea leaves get out as much as possible.  Next is another two step process of firing and massaging. Each task is repeated 36 times. The roaster is set at 570 degrees. Final step is the Drying and sorting of leaves of similar size

Tea Roasting and Massaging

Tea Roasting and Massaging

to ensure uniform infusion.

The tea factory includes a packing room for loose and bagged tea. They chop their finished product to make fannings for biodegradable pyramid tea bags. Lesser quality tea producers will use the tea dust left behind the sorting process or finely chop the machine cut fresh leaves before further processing. These shortcuts produce poorer tasting teas.

In all, the owners picked us up at the airport, fed us lunch, gave a wonderful tour and a broad sampling. When we offered to pay, they sternly refused and said that their customers in the tea business are like family.
And the journey continues…

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Tea Journey to Northern Thailand: Part 1 of 6

Our tea journey experience started immediately after takeoff from Chicago bound for Tokyo. As the plane leveled out

Matcha Served In-flight

Matcha Served In-flight

stewardesses walked up and down the aisles offering green tea. This isn’t just any green tea as evident of its bright green jade color. This was indeed matcha. Many passengers took advantage of this Japanese Ceremonial Tea as we start our 14 hour flight over Earth’s largest ocean. The flavor was just as light as the color, no bitterness, but just a nice mild green tea flavor.

Stopping in the duty free shop in Tokyo upon arrival proved to be a trip down tea product lane. Thirty varieties of truffles, chocolate covered wafers, thin pancake like crisps and chocolate cake were all headlined by match and green tea ingredients. In the past 15 years, we have been through Narita Airport 10 times and never have we seen so many tea infused products.

We stopped in between gates to get some sushi. The style was very similar to what we find in Albany, but it was served with three large thick porcelain cups of, you guessed it… matcha. The specialty rolls and two regular rolls came to $10, so we went back for seconds. By time all our food was consumed our table was littered with those black and white matcha mugs as if they were beer cans after a frat party.Hot Taro Latte and Bubble Tea

After settling into Thailand our first business meeting took place at Sila Tea Café. Here the team buckled down for 4 hours on the second floor balcony to do some brainstorming. We first ordered a variety of spring rolls, bubble teas and a hot taro latte (which I have never heard or seen before). The spring rolls were delicious especially spinach and cheese and the hot taro latte was sweet, creamy and so smooth.

And the journey continues…

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