We are a quirky little company that does things very different from other tea stores. We order the highest quality teas direct from growers in China in small batches. We only carry teas we find interesting and meet our level of expectation (the tightness of a Jasmine Pearl ball, the freshness of Long Jing, the extraordinary length and sheen of a Da Hong Pao leaf). This makes our inventory sort of odd, but those of you that have bought from us before know we certainly aren't selling the usual crap.

Similar to the way the thousands of different kinds of wines all come from grapes, the thousands of kinds of teas all come from the same plant, often called Camillia Sinensis (Pu're comes from the broad leaf variety of this plant). The differences in taste, color, shape and smell are a result of different soils, climates, harvesting and cultivation processes. The types of tea are basically broken down into White, Green, Oolong, Red, Scented and Pu'er, the biggest difference between them being the degree of 'oxidation' in the process, (oxidation is often incorrectly known as "fermentation"). Oxidation happens when the membranes in tea cells are broken down (by rolling, tumbling or tossing), mixing the cells' polyphenols and the enzyme polyphenolase, which acts as a catalyst in oxidizing the polyphenols by oxygen. The leaf is bruised and darkens (like a banana), and starts to acquire unique flavors. The trick is to halt the oxidation process the perfect moment when the best flavors have been acquired.

Green tea is not oxidized at all, whereas Oolongs are partially oxidized (look at a brewed leaf and you'll see a green center with red tinged edges from the oxidization) and Red tea is 100% oxidized.

Lastly, the category Red tea is often called Black outside of China, leading to much color confusion. How are the different types of tea made? Generally speaking, tea undergoes the following processes. ( Definitions are given below for each process.)

  • Green: pan firing, rolling, roasting
  • White: withering, steaming, roasting
  • Oolong: withering, short oxidation, pan firing, rolling, roasting
  • Red: withering, rolling, long oxidation, roasting
  • Pu'er: pan firing, steaming, rolling, heaping, roasting
  • Scented: process tea normally, scenting
  • Heaping: an exclusive procedure of fermented Pu'er to:
    a) stack tea leaves inside an interior environment of high humidity and temperature in order to stimulate chemical changes inside the leaves and b) to enable the color of the leaves to turn brown from green and generate the characteristic mellow, earthly odor of Pu'er.
  • Roasting: captivates the oxidation process by drying the leaves thoroughly and impart a twisted shape.
  • Pan firing: activates enzymes and prevents oxidation, evaporated part of moisture content and dissapates leafy odor, makes leaves limp

Withering: evaporates moisture, makes leaves soft, stimulated chemical reactions inside tea leaves.

Rolling: rupture leaf cells and expose juices to leaf surface, activates both polyphenols and polyphenolase and imparts a twisted shape.

Oxidization: enables enzymes to activate the chemical changes inside leaves, makes the leaves turn bright brown to generate flavors and aromas.

Scenting: this process varies. In the case of our jasmine pearls, fresh jasmine flowers are layered with hand-rolled first flush green tea several times. The flowers are then removed.

Steaming: this process varies. For unfermented Pu'er tea, the leaves are steamed so that the tea can be pressed into various shapes.

Like our tea friends in China say: "Any bozo can open an amazing bottle of wine, pour it in a glass and serve it. Chances are it doesn't matter who the bozo is. As for tea, the best tea in the world can be ruined by improper brewing..."

Even stored properly, tea has a tendency to become 'old tea' over time. Green teas especially tend to 'go' after six months. Red and Oolongs last considerably longer (1-2 years) and Pu'er can actually increase in value as it gets older. All teas should be stored away from light, heat and strong odors. All teas except for Pu'er should be placed in a dry, clean, airtight, as-small-as-possible container. It's a good idea to keep tea in our original packaging and place the whole bag in an airtight container. Pu'er needs ventilation in order to age properly so keep Pu'er in its original packaging and away from strong odors.

Because of the pores of the Yixing clay, soap and cleaners will be absorbed and impart a taste to your next pot of tea. To clean a Yixing pot, simply rinse out and air dry and keep away from strong odors. Which teas should I make in a Yixing teapot? We recommend using Yixing teapots only for oolongs, reds, and pu'ers because Yixing teapots tend to absorb the flavors of the tea. This is a good thing when it comes to oolongs, reds and pu'ers and a bad thing when it comes to green teas. Green teas are so sensitive and need to be drunk as fresh as possible so its best to use a porcelain gaiwan to avoid getting any "volunteer" flavors. Also, since green tea is so sensitive to heat, using a gaiwan helps to prevent overheating which causes bitterness.

Because Yixing teapots are so porous and tend to absorb flavor quickly, we recommend dedicating a pot to a particular type of tea, seasoning it and never making another type of tea in it. To season a pot, place a towel in a pot of boiling water and put the teapot (the lid also but not on the teapot) on top of the towel to prevent the teapot from chipping as the water boils. Cover and cook on medium heat for an hour. Put a handful of tea (of the best quality you have, its a bad ideas to skimp when seasoning a teapot, as using the best tea now will improve the taste of your cheaper teas later on) in the pot and in the teapot, cover and cook for another hour or so. Air dry. You can buff it when dry with eyeglass cleaning cloths from your local optometrist.

Despite its negative rap, caffeine in moderation can actually be good for you. It stimulates the nervous system and promotes blood circulation. It also works as a digestive after a heavy or greasy meal. Broken tea leaves (the kind often found in tea bags) have more caffeine than whole loose leaved teas. Depending on how it's brewed, water temperature and steeping time, a cup (5 oz.) of green tea generally has 8-36 mg of caffeine, oolong (12-55 mg.) and red (25-110 mg.). Though coffee has similar amounts of caffeine (Compare to drip coffee (150 mg./5 oz.), and espresso (35 mg./1.5 oz.)), tea has a relaxing effect and can be easily decaffeinated: infuse the tea for about a minute and throw away this infusion. Much of the caffeine in tea is extracted in the first 30 seconds and the subsequent infusions will be basically decaf.

Yup. Currently there is a lot of scientific research on the health benefits of tea.

Tea is found to be good for you in several ways. The polyphenols in Green tea have been found to increase white blood cells, boosting immunity, and are a powerful anti-oxidant in the prevention of cancer. On the other hand, there is evidence that steeping tea for long periods of time (like all day, ie. sun tea) may actually produce cancer. Green teas also help fight tooth decay and osteoporeosis.

The polyphenols in Oolong and Pu'er can help inhibit cholesterol absorption, and sometimes even lower cholesterol levels. Because of their effect on fats in the bloodstream and grease cutting power, Oolong and Pu'er are known to help also in slimming the fats on the body.

Green and Red teas help maintain healthy blood vessels, preventing blood clots and heart attacks.

Tea plants are happiest in a humid environment (>70% humidity), in high-acidity (pH4.5 to 6.5) quick-draining sandy loam or rocky cliffs. High mountain elevations enable the tea leaves and buds to develop slower and thus produce more flavor, amino acids and essential oils, providing the cool capper for the ultimate tea plant environment.

As with many things, the price of tea is determined by the quality of the environment and the care of the tea plants, the processing, the total amount produced each year and the demand. Some teas, due to small acreage on quality soil on high mountains, produce as little as 50 pounds a year, so we are very grateful to be able to get our grubby hands on these.

The most important thing to look for first is that the leaves should be whole. The leaves should not be broken or in pieces. They should be consistent in size and shape. Tea buds should be present (the tips of the branches, ensuring the tea is from the first flush), and the dry tea should smell fresh.

For green teas, the leaves should be small, this is a sign of slow growth (more compact taste) and possibly higher altitude. For teas that are rolled up (like pearls) make sure the ball is very tight and is the size of a pea, rather than loose like a gumball.

For oolongs, the leaves should have a lovely matte sheen (not shiny) and the leaves should be whole and generally the same size. The best quality Da Hong Pao can be large (3-4 inches long - you'd have trouble fitting it into a pot). A good test for oolongs is how many rounds you can brew the same amount of tea. Many tea tastings will always swap out new tea leaves after the third round. After the third round is when the stuff starts tasting like water. Our Wuyishan teas can go for many many rounds. Give us a holler is you find a tea that can go the same distance round for round.

For Pu'er we have a special page to explain this remarkable tea.

It's a good idea after you've had something remarkable to try to remember what the leaves looked like and smelled like (before and after brewing).

The tea should taste full and fragrant, with an aftertaste or finish that is pleasant in the mouth or throat. It should not taste stale or flat.

Things to look for:
a good lid fit (twirl the lid around and see that it fits in all directions), design, composition, balance, craftsmanship (look inside the pot for poor seams from mold-made pots), pouring smoothness (no dribbles of water after you stop pouring), carburetor action on the hole in the lid (putting a finger on the lid while pouring should stop the water completely - no dribbles, no leaks, nothing, with the exception of certain styles of flat pots and pots made from textured clay), clay/firing temperature, ease of seasoning, weight, which tea you plan to brew in it, proportion in your hand, finish of the clay, sound when lid is hit lightly against the side of the pot, etc.