Sep 25 2016

Grow Your Own Tea In A Small Grow Tent

Have you ever wanted to grow your own tea? Well, now you can.

First, let me ask you what you’re picturing when I mentioned growing your own tea. Is it one of those huge plantations you see in photos from China or India? Or are you picturing a smaller version of that in your backyard?

It really doesn’t need to be either of them. In fact, you can grow tea even if you don’t have a backyard. How is that possible? Indoor growing.

That’s right, just like some people grow herbs indoors or their own vegetables, you can also grow tea in a little indoor grow tent. Not many people know this.

freshly grown tea leaves

Fresh tea leaves after harvesting

And it’s not all that hard to grow, really. You just need to keep the temperature and the humidity fairly consistent, but there isn’t one specific “tea growing environment”.

Famous teas around the world come from all different climates. There are teas from hot and humid low lands in India and China and there also teas that come from the Highlands. They grow in the mountains in China or India or Nepal.

One thing they do have in common is a lot of humidity and a lot of rainfall. So you’d want to keep your grow space humid, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be hot. It can be pretty cool, in fact. You want to make sure that it stays about the same all the time, so you would have to control it somehow.

Apart from that you just need some pots to put the tea plants in and then a nice growing space. An ideal growing space would be isolated from the environment. A greenhouse would work, but even better is a grow tent especially if you’re growing in your home.

For growing the tea in a closet or your basement, you can use a small grow tent to keep your plants protected from the environment. These types of growing tense are often used by marijuana growers, but they work for any plants. For your purposes you really just need a small grow tent. If you need help selecting the best one for your needs, here’s a post that can help you.

top small grow tents

This post details the top small grow tents available today.

Once you’ve got your tent, you’ll need to put some grow lights in it. They don’t need to be especially strong for tea. I would go with some LED grow lights, but you can use fluorescent lights as well. And you need some kind of climate control like an AC unit and some kind of ventilation. You can even grow tea hydroponically, but I would just use soil. It’s easier and that’s the way it grows naturally.

When it comes time to harvest, I’d do it like in the wild. Harvest the first flush, by taking the small leaves from the very tips. These will produce the highest quality teas. You can take them as is for white tea or you can let them ferment slightly to make oolong tea or ferment them for longer periods of time and make black tea. You could even try to make some pu-erh tea, but that’s a bit more difficult. Basically you can make any tea you want from your tea leaves

Probably the biggest decision overall you need to make is which type of tea plant you’ll use. Teas in the wild come from specific types of plants and each of those plants have an ideal growing environment. So you’ll either need to match your growing environment to the plant you’ve chosen, or the plant needs to be selected based on the environment you will create. Either way, you want the right plant for the right environment.

So there you have it,. You can grow your own tea now. To recap, you need a grow tent, some ventilation system, some pots, you’ll need nutrients and water and that’s about it. Of course, you’ll also need the plant. Once you’ve got all those things, give it a shot. See if you can grow your own tea. Who knows, if it ends up tasting great, you might even be of the sell it for a lot of money.

You can also find little grow tents here:


Jul 13 2015

How To Distinguish High-Quality Tea Leaves From Cheaper Ones

We all want to buy high quality tea leaves, but we don’t want to pay too much for them. This is especially important for oolong tea. Unfortunately, when we try to save money on the leaves, there is a good chance we will end up buying a tea of a lower quality. Most people don’t know enough to be able to distinguish the differences, but if you know what to look for it becomes much easier.

quality dahongpao loose leaf tea

High quality dahongpao oolong tea from Fujian province in China.

That said, knowing what to look for can differ greatly from tea to tea. Let’s look at the main varieties and find out what we need to look out for when buying loose leaf tea.

With green tea, there are so many different varieties, that one rule will not fit all of them. Generally, one of the first things to look out for is the uniformity of the leaves. This is especially important for the Chinese Dragon well tea. High quality longjing leaves are flat, bright green and all the same size. Any expensive variety of green tea should consist mainly of leaves. They should be no, or very few, stems mixed in.

When it comes to the green tea powder matcha, look for a finely ground powder that is bright green. This indicates that only the highest quality leaves were used and is also indicative of a powder from Japan, specifically from one of Japan’s famous tea growing areas, like the Uji region near Japan’s ancient capital, Kyoto.

White tea is much easier, since there are only two main types. White hair silver needle tea is made from the youngest tea buds, so there should be no large leaves at all. Look for needle-like leaves covered in fine white hairs. I suppose the tea’s name could tell you this.

White Peony tea on the other hand, is made from one bud and two shoots. This tea will actually look quite cheap, but that doesn’t mean it is. Basically, you’ll see stems with two larger leaves attached and one smaller shoot.

The highest quality black teas are also made from very young leaves. Top-quality Yunnan gold and China’s famous golden monkey tea are both examples of this. Here again, you look for very small, pointy tea leaves and, as the names might suggest, they will have golden colored shoots mixed in.

I won’t go into the other types of tea here, mainly because oolong tea and pu-erh are very complicated, but basically the main thing you want to look for is uniformity. You want the leaves to all look similar and their to be no visibly different types mixed in. This will generally ensure at least a decent quality oolong tea. The resulting brew should also taste clean, with no hint of of any impurities. Cheap teas will always discolor your cups and pots. Any good tea shop will always let you taste their teas before purchasing. In fact, they will encourage it.

Now you might be wondering how the tea makers ensure this uniformity in their leaves. Well, they have tea inspectors. Are you picturing some old guy with a magnifying glass hunched over a conveyor belt carefully inspecting each oolong leaf as it passes? I kind of like that image and think it’s funny, but it is not quite what happens.

The inspectors are generally just peasants who command a very low salary. One, or several, of them pick out all the anomalies to ensure that the high quality tea stays uniform. Those anomalies are then generally sold as lower quality tea. If what they pick out his complete crap, it is ground down to a fine powder and sold in teabags. Do you see now why I recommend never buying teabags? You are literally getting the bottom of the barrel.

Naturally, there is much more to the art of choosing high quality tea leaves, but this should be enough to get you started. If you’re thinking that it seems like a bit of a guessing game, then you’re right. Oftentimes, the best thing to do is just buy a small quantity of the tea you’re interested in and give it a try. If you like it, buy more next time. If you don’t, get a different tea. If the tea you bought was supposed to be high-quality according to the store and it wasn’t, find a new store. Good luck and enjoy your delicious cup of oolong tea.

You can read about tea leaf grading on wikipedia.

Jan 4 2015

Why is Iron Goddess of Mercy China’s Favorite Oolong Tea?

When it comes to green tea, we think of Japan and China. When it comes to black tea most people probably think of India and Sri Lanka, but China also has a lot of black tea. In fact they have my favorite variety, called Golden Monkey tea. When it comes to white tea there’s only China. When it comes to oolong tea, the same is true. While white tea is becoming more well known, it is still difficult to find. For that reason, I feel that wulong tea is the most Chinese of all the teas. It is the quintessential Chinese tea.

Loose leaf tie guan yin tea

Iron Goddess of Mercy tea leaves

So obviously, when I went to China, high on my list of things to do was trying oolong tea. Now, I am fully aware of white tea and absolutely love it, so that was high on my list, too. Which one of these two do you think was easier? It was the oolong tea. By far.

In three years in China I have not yet seen white tea sold in a regular store. You have to go to specialty shops and really search for it. It is not generally sold, but I suppose that is because white tea is so distinguished and is always very high quality. The teas you find in the supermarket aren’t generally that great, although compared to what you would buy in the West, the quality is actually exceptionally high. And since the prices are low, they make great bargains. In fact, I buy most of my tees from supermarkets. This includes big chains like Walmart. It sounds strange, but they actually have great bargains on teas because they are so cheap.

Knowing that, it should come as no surprise that I made my first purchase of Wulong Tea at Walmart. I also made my second and my third purchase of oolong tea at Walmart. When I buy tea at Walmart, I always start with the cheapest I can find, just to give it a try. It’s usually not very good and I never buy it again. But once or twice I have found a great bargain this way. That did not work out with oolong tea.

Iron Goddess of Mercy tea leaves

Ti Kuan tea leaves close up

Surprisingly, to me at least, the one variety I found in every store in China is Iron Goddess of Mercy tea. I don’t know why but this seems to be the most popular variety in China. Since I was seeing it everywhere, this was my first purchase. I bought the cheapest one they had. It was absolutely horrible. I figured this was because I bought the cheapest, so I bought a more expensive one. It was slightly better, but still not something I would ever buy again.

A month or two after that first purchase, a coworker of mine, friendly old Chinese man, let me try some of his Tie Guan Yin. He had a very expensive variety and he assured me once I’ve had it, I would change my mind about Ti Kuan. It’s true, his tea was much better and it was actually enjoyable, but it was certainly not worth the money. I have had very cheap green teas that tasted so much better than this very expensive iron goddess tea.

For those who don’t know, this variety of oolong tea is barely oxidized at all. It is very, very close to a green tea. The problem is, green tea simply tastes better. I don’t understand the popularity of this variety of tea in China. Since that time, I have bought many oolong teas, but never again an iron goddess. My favorite so far was Big Red Robe tea, but that is probably not a surprise, given its high price and its status as one of the most distinguished teas of all.

If you ever make it to China I highly recommend you try some Tie Guan Yin for yourself. Chances are you won’t like it, but so many Chinese people seem to enjoy it, maybe you will, too. I would be very curious to know, actually. I want to know if it’s just me, if I simply don’t enjoy that taste, or if it’s just something that’s uniquely Chinese and all Westerners don’t like the taste of this tea.

For more on Tie Guan Yin:

Apr 20 2014

Brewing Oolong Tea in an Yixing Using the Gongfu Method

Oolong tea can be brewed in a variety of ways: you can use a regular teapot, a traditional porcelain cup known as a gaiwan or a traditional purple clay teapot known as a yixing. Most purists will tell you the last one is the correct implement to use when brewing this type of tea and they’re probably right. The yixing is used in the traditional Chinese tea ceremony and also by most tea shops and tea connoisseurs in Asia.

The method of brewing generally employed when using this type of clay teapot is called gongfu. This word literally means ‘effort’ and is actually the same word used for Chinese martial arts, i.e. kung fu. We simply pronounce it a bit differently, but it is the same. So basically, this method of brewing tea requires a bit of effort.

It came about over the centuries as tea masters looked to perfect the art of brewing. They looked at every aspect of the process and tweaked each one to get the maximum possible flavor out of the tea leaves. In order to brewed tea using this method you’ll need a number of things.

The first is, obviously, the leaves. Generally, you want to use distinguished leaves and not some kind of generic ones. This is more true for wulong tea than for any other type.

The next important thing you need is water. Seems simple to get, but you do not want tap water in most instances. It is usually too hard and it doesn’t taste pure enough. On the other hand, the water should not be distilled or purified either. This type of water lacks minerals and minerals impart an important characteristic on the flavor of the brew. Tea masters like to use fresh spring water, but you can employ bottled spring water, if that is all you have.

You also want water that is the perfect temperature. For oolong teas, it needs to be around 90 degrees Celsius, so not quite boiling. The easiest way to get the right temperature is a water warmer and boiler or an electric water kettle with a temperature setting. Even if you’re just using a small electric travel kettle, you can pretty easily estimate the correct temperature. Simply heat the water to boiling, then turn off the tea kettle and let the water cool for 10 to 20 seconds. That will get you there no matter what kind of electric kettle you are using.

Next, of course, is the actual teapot. As mentioned you’ll be using an yixing. These clay teapots take on the flavor of the tea leaves more and more with each use. This is their unique characteristic and what makes them perfect for brewing oolong teas.

gonf fu brewing tea set

Tea set used for a gonfu brewing ceremony

To begin with you want to preheat the teapot and the teacups. You do this by pouring hot water over them. Then you place some leaves in the teapot and pour hot water over them. The water temperature is very important and you want to make sure you use the right one for your tea. Once you’ve poured the hot water over the leaves, close the lid and pour some more hot water over the pot. After 10 to 15 seconds, begin pouring the infusion into the little cups.

Most masters will pour out this first infusion and quickly repeat the process. This first one simply serves as a way to wash the tea leaves and get the teacups ready for the actual tea you want to drink. The second infusion is made the same way as the first, except this one is not poured out. This one is sipped from the tiny cups and enjoyed.

After this, you’ll make another infusion from the same leaves. This time, you’ll probably want to increase the steeping time by five or 10 seconds. Most good oolong tea leaves, especially the most distinguished leaves, allow for up to eight infusions. You want to experiment with the tea that you have, both in terms of steeping times and in the number of infusions.

Once you’ve gone through and made as many cups of tea as your leaves can handle, you need to begin the cleanup process. Your clay teapot should never be washed with soap or detergent. Instead it should be rinsed with hot tea and then left to air dry. This way the clay takes on the flavor of tea and not the flavor of soap or chemicals. The cups should be washed in a similar manner and also allowed to air dry. There you have it, the gongfu method of brewing oolong tea.

Apr 2 2014

Did you Know Darjeeling Black Tea is Actually an Oolong?

If you ask most people to name the world’s best black tea, they will tell you it is Darjeeling tea from India. These people are wrong. For one thing, there are several black teas from China that are better than anything you can find in India. The only reason Indian tea enjoys the reputation it does, is because of its ties to England and the fact that it has been supplying them with tea for so long. It is also a big marketing ploy.

None of that is what I’m getting at here, however. My point is that Darjeeling tea is not actually a black tea. Yes, the Darjeeling region produces all types of teas, including white tea, green tea and black tea, but the majority of the tea that comes from the area and the tea that we know as Darjeeling black tea is actually an oolong tea. The leaves are not fully oxidized and should thus not be considered a black tea. In fact, they are less oxidized than many of the actual oolong teas.

I have no idea how teas from this area became known as black tea. Perhaps this is simply what the English wanted and the Indians told them that’s what they were selling. They probably told them it was a different variety and the English realized it tasted better than black tea, because oolong tea generally does taste better than black, so they didn’t complain.

I have no idea if this theory is true, but if you’ve ever traveled to India you’ll know that it’s very possible. They will tell you anything you want to hear to try to get you to buy something and what they’re trying to sell you is, in almost every instance, a substandard product and the price for that product is at, a minimum, double what it should be. Usually it is much more.

I can definitely see them lying about the type of their tea simply to make the sale. Even today, much of the tea from this area is pretty terrible. There is some great tea coming from India, but most of it is horrible. I seen so many tea shops in the country selling teas to tourists but the tea leaves they sell are an abysmal quality. And you can bet they are not even really from the area they claim to be from. Fake tea is a huge problem in India.

Nevertheless, you’ll see the shops full of tourists paying 10 times the going rate for Darjeeling tea, while not even getting the actual real thing. This means that, in effect, they are actually paying close to 100 times the going rate for a sack full of twigs and a few disgusting leaves.

a cup of darjeeling teaI myself went to a lot of tea shops while in India, trying to find some decent tea leaves. I like drinking tea every day, but I could not stand the disgustingly sweet chai they sell in that country. I like to taste the tea, not the sugar. In fact, I don’t even consider India a tea drinking country, because they drown the tea flavor in sugar and spices. I suppose this makes sense, given the low quality of the tea leaves used, but it does not make them tea drinkers. It makes him sugar addicts and if you’ve tasted their desserts, you know I speak the truth. They are so sweet, I can’t even choke down one bite.

Eventually I did find a shop that had some decent white hair silver needle Darjeeling tea. Needless to say, it was nowhere near the quality you would get in China and it cost just as much. Nevertheless, I happily bought some, because, by this point, I was really missing my daily tea and it was clear this would definitely be my best option.

For some more info on Darjeeling tea, head to

Mar 31 2014

Why to Buy Oolong Tea From Online Tea Stores

I came to love oolong tea during my stay in China. I lived there for six years, but for a long time my only exposure to wulong tea was the bottled variety. And I only bought this, because in China the bottled green tea generally has sugar in it. It is very hard to find any tea without sugar, apart from oolong. When I did finally buy some actual tea leaves, it was purely by accident.

I meant to buy green tea, but since I couldn’t read much Chinese at the time, I ended up with something else. I did know the characters for green tea and also the characters for all the other types of tea, but I did not know the characters for the individual varieties. Since these varieties are so well known in China, the packages generally just state the name and don’t bother mentioning what type of tea it is. For that reason, I ended up buying a pouch of Tie Guan Yin tea leaves.

buy tea in Asia

Can you tell the difference between these oolong teas at an Asian supermarket?

This tea, also known as Iron Goddess, is actually one of the mildest forms of oolong tea, so the difference between it and green tea really isn’t that large. Nevertheless, I did notice that it was different and upon doing a bit of research, I realized my mistake. It didn’t matter though, because the tea was delicious and I since learned that other types of wulong tea, ones that are much more oxidized and thus a bit stronger, taste even better.

The real point of the story is this, though. I bought this tie guan yin tea in a regular supermarket. In Chinese supermarkets they sell cheap tea leaves as well as ones that are pretty high quality. The highest quality leaves are usually sold in tea shops, but there is almost always one attached to a supermarket anyway.

Now that I live in the US, this is one of the things I miss the most from China: the ability to buy really good tea at a regular supermarket. Here in the US, it is much more difficult to find a high quality tea, especially high quality oolong tea. Actually, finding any quality of wulong tea is pretty hard, at least if you’re looking for a decent price. Most big cities and, these days, many shopping malls have specialty tea stores. The stores do sell all manner of teas, but they unfortunately do so at a fairly inflated price. You will not generally find good deals at these types of stores. In fact, I would not be surprised if they bought their tea leaves online and then simply turned around and sold them at a much higher price at their shops.

Even if they are not doing this, you should be. I’m not talking about the selling part, obviously, but the part where you purchase tea online. There are so many good online tea shops that sell high-quality loose leaf tea at great prices. It makes no sense to buy lesser tea and to pay more for it. On top of all that, buying tea online is simply much more convenient.

That said, there is one drawback: many of the online shops are not all that good and some are downright scams. They give you a substandard tea and if you are not that familiar with how these teas should taste, you may not ever even realize this. Your best bet is to find a site that reviews and compares online tea vendors to help you choose the right one.

You can find a number of websites like this, but you have to be careful to find one that actually knows what they’re talking about. The one above is a good site that has detailed reviews of some of the better online tea vendors. In fact, none of the vendors reviewed on that site are bad, so you could buy from any one of them safely. The review and comparison page simply helps you find the best one for you. I highly recommend using it if you plan to buy tea online.

Mar 30 2014

The Highly Distinguished Da Hong Pao Tea

On a site about Wu Long tea, it only makes sense for the first post to cover the most distinguished and famous of all the Chinese teas: Big Red Robe Tea. Also known by its Chinese name, Da Hong Pao, this tea comes from bushes in the Wuyi rock region of China’s Fujian province. Only a handful of these bushes still remain, making this tea the rarest on earth.

Big Red Robe oolong tea leaves

Luckily for us, those bushes have been cloned and they grow in various other areas. Tea leaves from these cloned bushes taste just as good as the originals. That said, these leaves are not nearly as distinguished. Of course, that also means they are not nearly as expensive. Big Red Robe tea from the original bushes has fetched the highest price ever for tea on the world market.

Is this tea worth such a high price? The Answer is simple and the same as it is for every other high-priced food product: no. This tea is definitely not worth that incredibly high price, especially since the cloned bushes are not all that expensive and taste just as good. You are paying for the status as you always do when you buy such a high-priced product and that is more true in China than anywhere else, where paying a lot for things that are not worth it marks you as a high status person.

The tea is quite nice though. If you like oolong tea, as I’m guessing you do, considering you’re on this site, then this is perhaps the best you can find. It is oxidated for a fairly long time, so it is a much stronger tea than the lightly oxidated Iron Goddess. In my opinion, this makes it a classic and traditional oolong tea and one that everyone should try at least once in their lives.

If you trying to get into these varieties of tea, Da Hong Pao is perhaps the best introduction. It brews to a dark reddish color, almost like a slightly watered-down black tea. The taste is hard to describe. It is stronger than any green tea, but has no bitterness at all and instead is slightly sweet with a light fruitiness.

I couldn’t find much information about the legend of this tea, but I’m sure it’s out there, since every Chinese tea seems to have some ancient mythological tale attached to it. So let’s just make one up.

A long time ago a beautiful girl was imprisoned in a house on top of a cliff. Unlike similar tales in the west, she had no hope of ever leaving, no matter how dashing or charming the prince who showed up. Since this was China, the princes were not really dashing, but short and sporting the status-indicating potbelly. Obviously, a prince such as this had no chance of climbing up the rock either and thus would never be able to rescue the maiden.

Instead, when her prince showed up, she simply asked for the best tea he could find. He brought bush after bush and tried tossing them up to her, but he was too weak and none of them reached her. Instead, they bounce back down at him and the few got caught in cracks in the rocks and stayed hanging on the cliff wall. The strongest of these took root and killed off the others. This unique growing environment ended up giving them a unique flavor, one that can only be found in leaves grown on this rock wall.

These are the current Big Red Robe bushes, which still cling to this very same rock wall, even though the girl is long gone and the prince is long dead. The bushes still produce wonderful tea and they are the only creatures in the story that ended up living happily ever after.

This blog post on the eBeijing site details a foreigner’s experience with this Da Hong Pao tea.