What is quality? For many people, it’s an amorphous concept, shaped only by our lived experiences. Quality is time spent with friends trading stories. It’s the feel of weightless sheets enveloping you as you climb into bed after a long day. Quality is sipping hot tea in the cool air of a summer evening, trading glances with the night sky. In many ways, quality is immeasurable. When it comes to tea, however, quality is quantifiable. All of our teas are sourced with careful attention to cultivation, harvesting, and manufacturing processes, and the very best of these creates the premium selection that is our high-range tea.
Indeed, Camellia sinensis is the tea plant matriarch from which all tea families arise. But within the C. sinensis species is a taxonomy comprising a handful of subspecies and hundreds of varieties. The two main subspecies, Camellia sinensis sinensis and Camellia sinensis assamica, originated in different geographic regions and exhibit different traits. Within the two subspecies, constituent tea plant varieties are further categorized based on traits they’ve developed in response to the surrounding environment. Just as grapes from different regions make for different types of wine, the variations between the tea plant varieties impact the final flavor of the tea. Consider Anji Baicha, an ultra-rare tea variety famously favored by Chinese Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty. One day, Huizong’s beloved tea mysteriously vanished. The reason? The exact plant variety was nowhere to be found. Centuries later, this captivating tea plant with its delicate white leaves reemerged in the famous Zhejiang region of China. Anji Baicha soon became a cultivar, – a portmanteau of “cultivated variety” – so the entire world could enjoy it again. This story of love lost and found was the inspiration for our, Happy Huizong, a celebration of Anji Baicha’s return. Happy Huizong is soon to return to our site as well! Look out for updates on when it's back on the site.
Tea variety isn’t the only determinant of quality; the time of harvest plays a major role as well. Time of harvest is an identifier for many premium teas given that some tea regions produce tea year-round while others enjoy but a small harvest window. Tea-producing regions farther from the equator and those at higher altitude experience seasonal temperature fluctuations, which has direct implications for the tea’s quality. During the frigid winter months, tea plants adapt by entering a dormancy phase, a phenomenon akin to hibernation. As the tea plant slumbers, it stores up valuable nutrients within its leaves. Months later, spring’s arrival beckons the highly anticipated first harvest post-dormancy, the first flush. First flush teas are particularly sought after for their especially nutrient-laden leaves and vibrant flavors. This new tea, or shincha as it’s referred to in Japan, is famed for its fresh aroma and light sweetness. Our Hanami Flush, a testament to the cherry blossom appreciation season in Japan for which it’s named, is a rare shincha which carries the subtle fragrance of the region's beloved cherry blossoms. The very first tea harvest of the year, it’s ripe with succulent green flavor, hinted with umami and rainforest freshness.
Tangential to environmental factors, manufacturing has a sizable impact on tea’s quality as well. Manufacturing often falls under either artisanal or industrial, the former referring to more specialty, smaller scale production. In the case of green tea, manufacturing reflects an unspoken cultural canon as well. In the creation of green tea, the tea leaves undergo fixation, a step in which heat is applied to prevent oxidation and preserve the vibrant green color of the leaves. For this step the Chinese use dry heat, the Japanese use humid heat, and the Koreans use some combination of both. Our Maia’s Pick is a Korean green tea which has been both steamed and pan-fried, resulting in an intriguing mix of baked aromas and vegetal notes rounded off by the robust roastiness typical of Korean teas.
Artisanal or industrial, the quality of tea manufacturing relies heavily on the terroir in which a given tea plantation is located as well. Terroir is more than just the land and location, it’s the encapsulation of everything in the area surrounding a tea plantation. Variations in soil composition and type explain which minerals and compounds the soil will absorb. Furthermore, certain soil types may be more or less dense, creating important ramifications for rainfall-heavy areas or more arid climates. Even contemporaneous flora and fauna have an effect on the tea plant. When Camellia sinensis exists in a monoculture where it's the only plant being cultivated, the absence of interspecies interaction results in a less complex chemical makeup. Conversely, tea plants which exist untouched within a wild forest ecosystem, develop rich composite flavors. Such was the inspiration for the naming of our Wild & Raw, a traditional, raw (Sheng) Pu-Erh from the forests of Lincang in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan. A member of the oldest tea family, it’s only fitting that this tea hails from what’s commonly considered the birthplace of tea.
One of the best things about Wild & Raw, however, is the number of infusions you can enjoy with each cup. As is the case with all our premium teas, its value is commensurate with its taste and overall experience. 4g of Wild & Raw yields not one or two, but 4 brewings of 250 ml, each cup like the next stanza of a poem, concluding in a delicious denouement. A comparison of our premium experience with that of a generic tea brand reveals a comparable cost per cup between the two, a fact which simply reaffirms our unmatched value. Given our deliciously complex brews, renowned plant varieties, and meticulous manufacturing processes, the only thing left to do is figure out which one of our high range teas you’ll get next.