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As I listen to birds chirping outside my window and watch the dogwoods, lilacs and daffodils bloom and the world grow greener each day, I think of the fresh tea sprouting in the hills of Darjeeling, the mountains of China and the plains of southern Japan this month. Spring, or first flush, teas are some of the best of the season, characterized by high aromatics, delicate leaves and buds and ephemeral flavor. They are typically best enjoyed fresh. In Darjeeling, India this year, drought brought yields down a projected 30% and delayed harvest. Devastating as this is to local tea growers, there are still some fine Darjeeling teas to be enjoyed. Just be prepared to pay a bit more for them this year. In China, the Qingming festival, 15 days after the spring equinox each year, marks the end of the year’s first harvest. IN Japan, Shincha is the years first tea crop and if you are lucky enough to drink that which has been plucked 88 days after the Japanese Spring equinox, then legend says you will enjoy a year of good luck and health! Fresh crop is already available at a few US online tea vendors like Tea Trekker, Mariage Freres and Yuuki-Cha. Also, check these sites for teas shipped direct from origin: Thunderbolt Tea and Darjeeling Tea Boutique.
Seven tea companies are responsible for 90% of the world tea market. While bringing health to many tea lovers around the world, the tea industry is often accused of being socially and environmentally harmful. For the first time ever, the world’s largest tea companies (the likes of Unilever, Tata Global Beverages, James Finlay and Twinings) have come together to work together to change this reality. With the support of Ethical Tea Partnership, Fairtrade International, IDH – the Sustainable Trade Initiative and Rainforest Alliance, among others, they launched a new partnership on February 13th to make tea a hero crop by the year 2030.They are calling for a cross-sector collaboration to improve livelihoods, respond to climate change, and engage consumers in the roadmap to develop a sustainable tea industry for 2030.
This initiative is the result of a year’s research and collaboration between organisations from all parts of the sector, facilitated and managed by Forum for the Future. You can read the report, The Future of Tea, A Hero Crop for 2030, here: Final Report – Tea 2030
Can you guess where these teas are from?They are surprisingly impressive teas grown right here in the US! Sakuma Brothers in Washington State’s Skagit Valley have managed to produce some fine teas well higher in altitude than is typically comfortable for the tea plant. I was surprised and excited to find their Oolong tea buttery, floral and long-lingering; their white tea crisp, melony and smooth and their green tea satisfying and vegetal. For around $50 for a bag of all three, these teas com at a good value as well.As with all teas, the terroir comes through the leaves. In this case, you can taste a distinct freshness which is especially apparent in the softness of the steeped leaf, and a whisper of the Sakuma Brothers berries people rave about.As I continue my research on locally grown tea, I’ll be posting more US tea finds here.
Oriental Beauty Oolong, also known as “Formosa Oolong” or “Champagne Oolong”, is called “Bai Hao” (“White tip”), Oolong in its local Taiwan. History gives Queen Elizabeth II credit for the naming of this gorgeous style of tea.It’s sweet taste, reminiscent of ripe peaches, nectarines and tropical flowers, relies on a small green insect for its characteristic flavor. This little green insect bites the leaf and the oxidation process begins even before the leaf is plucked, reducing astringency and bringing out notes of honey and pit fruit. So, you can be sure that the sweetest Oriental Beauty Oolongs were grown without pesticides!This tea is among the pricier ones available, but it makes multiple infusions and will improve with age, if stored correctly (in a dark, air-tight container at room temperature).Drink Oriental Beauty Oolong at any time of day. It pairs well with fowl and soft French cheeses and it is festive chilled with a splash of Champagne!
I am of the mindset that you can make an excellent cup of tea with what is already in your kitchen, ie no special equipment is required. I put my leaves in whichever vessel beckons to me from the cabinet at the time– a glass canning jar, a matcha bowl, a teapot, a mug, etc… Then, I pour boiling (around 212 degrees), almost boiling (around 190 degrees) or “comfortable to the touch” (around 170 degrees) water over the leaves, depending on the tea type. After steeping, I pour the infused water through a strainer into my tea cup.This method allows the leaves to swim freely in the water and that is key to a good infusion.