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Local Tea Preparation

12 May 2019

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Every spring, our four tea tasters travel across Asia in search of the best available teas. With time, they have noticed very different customs from one country to another, whether it concerns the consumption or preparation of tea. Discover the habits of the Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese and Indians, and what are their preferences for making tea.

China

Tea is an essential element of daily life in China, and, in a territory that includes almost 2.5 million acres of cultivated land, it is not surprising to find that the methods to prepare tea vary from region to region. China is the only country to produce all six families of tea. As the consumption of tea is based on local culture, Chinese tastes vary according to region and custom. In general, the Chinese prefer to drink green tea, and they drink it unceremoniously from a tea glass or bottle. They usually pour boiling water on the leaves then dilute the infusion when they have drunk about a quarter of the glass. Actually, the main utensil for the infusion of tea leaves in China is the tea bottle. It can be found everywhere! Throughout the day, Chinese can drink their tea at will, whether they are in a train, a workshop, an office of a bus.

Japan

Although making tea the classic method of brewing from loose leaves is still the Japanese national drink, it does not fit well with the lifestyle of young Japanese. However, several customs remain fashionable. Restaurants serve Bancha, Hojicha and Genmaicha teas in teapots. For a more upscale tasting experience, Sencha and Gyokuro teas are brewed according to the traditional senchado method. This method was created by learned Japanese who wanted to break free from the constraints imposed by the rules of chanoyu.

Taiwan

In almost all Taiwanese households, it is customary to welcome visitors by offering the best tea in the house. The Taiwanese are proud of their wulong teas, and many of them travel long distances from their favourite mountain garden. Taiwan is full of tea enthusiasts and well-informed connoisseurs who use the specific method of infusion known as gong fu cha to bring out the extraordinary rich flavour of wulong teas.

India

When the English established tea in India, the product was destined mainly for the export market. Before the 1850s, the people of India drank almost no tea, whereas now they consume almost 79% of what they grow. Now considered the national drink, tea is the most affordable and available beverage in India. Indian usually choose an inexpensive lower grade black tea, because they add milk, sugar and spices to it and make chai.

What’s your favourite way of making tea?

Producer of the Month: Mr Gao

6 March 2019

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Each month, the Camellia Sinensis team presents one of its favorite producers, shares the story of their first encounter, and the producer’s story.

This month, we have Mr. Gao Shi He, wulong tea producer Taiwan. Hugo met Mr Gao in his Pinglin gardens over 10 years ago. They have kept contact since then and you can find Mr Gao’s excellent Gaba Cha in our selection each year.
When and how did you first step into the world of tea?

Tea has been my family’s main source of revenues for a long time now. When I was young, my father was in charge of the whole production. But when he fell sick and my family risked losing its main income, I took over. It’s been more than 30 years now since my career started. Since then, I have developed a specific taste for the natural floral aromas of tea.

Tell us a bit more about your gardens.

The gardens my family owns cover just over one Jia in area. This is about two and a half acres with an annual production of roughly 1000 kilos. Recently, we have developed another plantation with an area of two Jia, so a little less than 5 acres.

How much Gaba Cha do you produce annually?

More or less 200 bags of 600g each.

Gaba tea is seasonal. The best period to produce it is one week before and one week after Duan Wu (dragon boats festival). This is when the insects called Jacobiasca Formosana come to the gardens and start biting the tea leaves. If you harvest when their bites are still on the leaves, the tea quality will be optimal.

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How many workers do you hire?

Three permanent employees take care of managing the gardens. To this we add eight to ten seasonal employees for harvesting the leaves.

Which aspects of your work do you prefer?

What I prefer is managing and tending the gardens. I like to witness the growing of the trees, observe the different changes at every stage and see the leaves flush. This is my favorite place to be. I always feel relaxed and happy in a natural landscape on the mountain.

Who’s buying your teas? Local or international clients?

Right now, most clients are Taiwanese buyers, with a few travelers coming freely from China, Japan, Europe, America, etc. Other than that, you are certainly our most important international clients!

Have you seen any changes since your beginnings in the industry?

Today, the tea industry is greatly affected by abnormal meteorological environments. The growing cycles of the trees and leaves are often disturbed and unpredictable, making the intervention of technology increasingly important in the fabrication process.

Luckily, as scientific and technological progress marches on, so do the machines we use. Better in performance than before, they are very precious allies to maintain the tea quality we need. I don’t think this industry would still be viable here without them.

Regarding clients, the majority of consumers are middle-aged people, with only a small portion of young people drinking our tea.

What is your favourite tea?

I like many styles of tea: Baozhong, Laocha, heavily fermented teas, black teas, Mixiang teas… but my favorite is still Gaba tea.

Learn more about the virtues of Gaba Cha in this article.

Vietnam: Tea in Women’s Hands

5 March 2019

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Though many women participate in tea harvesting activities, they are not as present in the tasks involved in tea manufacture, most of which are traditionally and still carried out by men. There are exceptions, however. In Vietnam’s Thai Nguyen region, it is mostly women taking care of tea production, from the first cultivation to the final sales.

According to Ms. Hiep, the inspiring 67-year-old manager of the Tan Huong Cooperative, the dominant role women play in her company reflects the reality throughout Vietnam, where women occupy eighty percent of all jobs in the tea domain. Amongst this small cooperative’s thirty-seven employees, only five are men. Sharing all of the tasks and equipment, men and women jointly produce a green tea comprised of large twisted leaves intended for the domestic market.

Despite the quality of the teas produced in Thai Nguyen, Vietnam’s most renowned tea region, the market is quite saturated. Some growers limit their production to avoid a surplus. In seeking to develop Vietnam’s primarily domestically-oriented tea market, some artisans have attempted to produce small-leaf teas of a higher quality; sadly, due to a lack of regular buyers, they are usually forced to return to their regular production.

This market reality, common to many tea regions, has forced some growers to develop new lines of traditional and everyday teas. Over the last few years, the Tan Huong Cooperative has been making Wulong tea in an attempt to diversify their production. On international markets, Wulong can sell for up to four times the price of their regular green tea and demand is on the rise. Should the cooperative succeed in introducing this new tea to the international market, it will certainly have a great positive impact.

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With this in mind, in 1997, the women from Tan Huong began to plant the cultivars used to produce Wulongs. Without the expertise or equipment required to transform these leaves, however, they have not yet managed to develop a satisfactory product. To address this problem, the cooperative has recently joined ranks with Mr. Xu, a Taiwanese specialist, to learn more about Wulong transformation processes and the complexity of parameters that must be respected to create a quality tea.

According to Ms. Hiep, their recent progress has been very encouraging, but, before entering the foreign market, the cooperative will have to resolve many other organizational challenges regarding transportation, financial transactions, and quality control. With Mr. Xu’s help, the members’ perseverance, and the good fortune of having the support of the next generation ready to join them, the future looks bright for the Tan Huong Cooperative.

China: definitely not the Evil Empire of Tea

4 February 2019

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For the last twenty years we have been talking to clients about China the Motherland of Tea, their questions and concerns. China’s development has been impressive over the last 15 years. We’d like to take a few moments to share our views on some of the issues.

As you know, our expert tasters visit The Middle Kingdom each and every spring to meet producers and to ensure the quality of the gardens and their product. It puts us in the fortunate position of having a clear yearly picture of the Chinese tea industry and their evolution over the last couple of decades.

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China tea did have a little trouble with its priorities back in the 1990s. There are still tea drinkers out there with strong opinions about Chinese teas based on those now distant years. But it is safe to say that since then, the mentality has shifted and evolved in China. This has become even increasingly evident into the 2000′s. So perhaps we all need to revise our perception of the Chinese tea industry as it is constantly and rapidly changing.

Back then, their tea industry heavily focussed on”image” rather than “taste” or “flavour quality”, image of the product itself or of the garden behind it. Priorities and mindset began to shift from “what looked good” or grew in a prestigious field to “what tasted good”. That change has visibly impacted many aspects of the industry, including their production methods. The art of tea in China is rising once again and catering to a new discerning domestic market. Everything is evolving so fast in China including their general mindset and social conscience.

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So though some of their practices in the not too distant past have been questionable, China is far from being the Evil Empire. Many producers and tea institutions have taken a keen interest in improving transformation and production methods and have creating complex export regulations to ensure quality of their product. Chinese tea looking better than ever.

As far as Camellia Sinensis is concerned, we control our imports by doing a few key things. We visit our producers each year to validate the quality of leaves, gardens and production methods. We also send the teas to a lab for a complex inspection process in order to fully ensure the quality of the leaves that we offer to you, our customers.

We hope this helps you to understand our perspective on the issue as well as why we so often say about Camellia Sinensis, “we would never sell something we wouldn’t drink ourselves” and trust me, we are pretty fussy!

Camellia Sinensis Turns 20: Looking Back

11 November 2018

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November 16, 2018 will mark the 20th anniversary of Camellia Sinensis. Some of you may have been following our “retrospective” photo album on Facebook that follows the great evolution from our humble beginnings – both in decor and haircuts!

An Asian approach to tea…in Montreal!

Hugo Américi opened the first Camellia Sinensis tea room in 1998 on Emery street in Montreal. Having thought to open a coffee-bar, he dropped the idea in favour of a teahouse. The concept would be focused on an Asian approach to tea. He had been impressed by a similar concept the previous year in Prague at the Dobra Cajovna teahouses and was fascinated by the ambiance. At first, Camellia Sinensis offered customers a variety of fifty teas along with a few cakes, all served in a relaxed atmosphere.

Curious to know more about our history? Read more.

A passionate and complimentary team

That same year, two students from the local university arrived on the scene, Jasmin Desharnais and François Marchand both started waiting tables and quickly ended up becoming co-owners of the company. As Camellia flourished and grew, a fourth player entered the fold, Kevin Gascoyne, who had his own tea company, Kyela Teas, focussed on the teas of Darjeeling in India. The four began to take on specific roles within the company. At home Jasmin took charge of HR and Operations he also focussed on the teas of Western and Eastern China. Francois becomes responsible for marketing, content and IT while focusing as a taster on Central China. Kevin handles international conferences, deals with HR in Montreal and uses his experience of India to oversee the Tea Studio. He buys all the Indian, Nepalese, Sri Lankan and African teas. Finally, Hugo oversees the global vision of the company, handles the administration, distribution and acts as taster buyer in both Japan and Taiwan. They find it advantageous to have their own networks abroad for buying while running the company at home.

The enthusiastic energy of the group fuelled them to open stores and tea houses in Montreal and Quebec city, publish various books, open a Tea School, open the first Chai bar in the province as well as launch an experimental factory in India (Tea Studio).

Did you know that:

  • Camellia Sinensis was almost called “The smoking teapot”;
  • For the first 5 years, most clients came to the store for the hookahs (water pipes used to smoke Egyptian flavoured tobacco) now long gone.
  • At first, Camellia Sinensis was a Teahouse. It was following a month long vacation that Hugo came back with the idea of opening a store
  • Camellia Sinensis has two Tea Schools, both in Montreal and Quebec
  • The company now employs over 50 loyal employees in the stores, salons, warehouse and in the offices
  • Camellia Sinensis offers an ever changing selection of well over 200 teas.
  • There are close to 500 restaurants worldwide that offers our teas. Some with Michelin stars!
  • Our tea workshops have been attended by over 10 000 tea lovers
  • Over the last 20 years, our four tasters have tasted tens of thousands of tea samples
  • The Montreal teahouse has served over 700 000 clients since its opening
  • We receive close to 32 tons of directly imported teas each year

Are you a new tea enthousiast? Discover our tea taster kits, a great way to discovering your preferences.

AN INNOVATIVE TEA FACTORY: TAKE A TRIP WITH US TO THE TEA STUDIO!

4 October 2018

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Innovation in the tea industry

The Tea Studio is a prime example of a new wave of artisanal approach to manufacturing tea of high quality. It relies on many innovative elements, in its design, technology and its environmental and social responsibility.

Furthermore, this project has brought together tea experts from 3 continents. The team has an avant-garde approach to tea making through experimentation in order to meet the growing market of boutique-style tea with a wide variety of “custom” teas.

The Tea Studio is located in India, more specifically in the region of Nilgiri, which offers an excellent source of clonal and classic tea, grown and cultivated with Camellia Sinensis seeds var.sinensis and Camellia Sinensis var.assamica.

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Have you been following the Tea Studio evolution?

Back in March 2018, we had officially announced the launch of this new project, labelled as an experimental tea factory located in the Nilgiris. Today, the factory has been operating for a full year and our four expert tasters have already are over there for some hands-on research and development. Have you had a chance to taste our first batches?

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A busy travel itinerary!

From October 1st to 20th, Hugo, François, Jasmin and Kevin will be at the Tea Studio with their Indian partners, fine tuning the way that the factory operates as well joining them for meetings and providing support to the production team. It will also give the collective a chance to plan and organize the next phases of this project. So plenty of work ahead… but constantly surrounded by that incredible view of the tea gardens!

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China arrives…in India

Two of our favorite Chinese tea producers (Mr. He and Mr. Tang) will be joining the team on this journey to share their expertise and fine tune their production methods. Mr. He, is the producer of several classic Chinese green teas (Huiming, Jingning Yin Zhen, Bai Ye Long Jing, Long Jing Zhejiang, Long Jing Jingning Bai). At home he is a well known agronomist, processing specialist, scientist, director of a tea research center and taster, will be helping to improve the tea factory’s overall quality. This will be his first trip outside of China! We are so lucky to have this opportunity to benefit from his experience on this type of project.

Though the quality of our first batches greatly exceeded our expectations, this is very much a learning process so this is a unique opportunity for us to improve.

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From tea tasters to tea producers?

After 20 years in the tea industry, Jasmin recently admitted he’s looking forward “to getting his hands dirty”! This will be an opportunity to do so, as our four tasters will not only be tasting teas at the Tea Studio they will be actively help producing it. Look out for the new batches produced by either Hugo, François, Jasmin or Kevin.

Participate in the local community’s development

Our team’s quality of life is an essential part of our mandate. The Tea Studio is gradually raising funds to provide access to education for girls from the rural villages in the valley.

Drink up!

12 September 2018

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Following the recent article in La Presse about the democratization of wine tasting, the Camellia Sinensis team sat down to discuss tea’s evolution over the past 20 years. (translated from the French)

 
Tea… an elitist passion?

As with wine and other fine tasting products (coffee, cheese, chocolate, spirits …), there is always a risk of rigidity when talking about tea. The specialization and knowledge that come with any form of fine tasting, and the apparent expertise that ensues, can easily lead to lack of compromise in one’s discourse, especially early on as we begin a new passion.

Are Camellia Sinensis purists?

We are of course no exception, and we’ve had all been through our own personal purist periods. When we opened back in 1998, the atmosphere was more Bohemian, to say the least. Then we gradually developed an expertise that led us to into what we call our “purist era” (about 2001-2003). Early trips to Europe, especially France, had given us the false impression that to be credible, one had to project a certain elitism. This, we later realized, is not only completely wrong, but plainly against our company ethos!

It is tempting for the enthusiastic tea folk in our team to spread their knowledge in this way, especially when they first join the company. For some, it almost seems to be a mandatory stage before they can feel at ease in their dialogue. As in many other industries, it takes time to understand how much or what type of information a customer needs. The team receives constant and intense training in may aspects of tea, but we always emphasize the importance of keeping everything accessible to the client.

Focus on sharing

For us, tea remains both a passion and a pleasure, and our approach is first and foremost focused on taste, pleasure and sharing. Possessing a thorough knowledge of tea is an intellectual endeavour but is not necessary to appreciate its fascinating diversity of flavour profiles or to enjoy its benefits immediate and longterm. This is a message we advocate in all the classes in the Tea Schools, many of which are focused on tasting, sharing and exchanging impressions without censorship.

As Jasmin often likes to say, “ Everybody should drink tea!” – whether it be in our shops, our teahouses, our tea classes or anywhere else, our role is the inclusive democratization of tea for all.

Three things to know about Tai Ping Hou Kui

10 May 2018

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Our team has ecstatic at the discovery of Tai Ping Hou Kui tea, not only because it is an exceptional tea of great delicacy and complexity, but also due to the heavenly location of its garden. If that weren’t enough having know the producer, Mr. Ye, for many years, we know we have a friendly and authentic partner and that’s why this tea has been one of our favourites since 2007. Here are three things to know about this tea.

No roads lead to its garden

Located in the beautiful province of Anhui, you’d have to travel on country roads before arriving to the edge of a river. You then need to take a boat to get to the garden. The tea is made near the river in the Sanhe region. On the other bank, hidden further back in the rugged mountain terrain is where you’ll find Hou Keng, which is the village in which the original terroir of this tea originates from. It’s been roughly 4 years since Hou Keng is connected to the road. That’s how we can visit Mr. Zhang who produces Taiping Hou Kui Hou Keng, a more expensive, but exquisite tea. The steep and very rocky soil gives the tea a very complex mineral and floral taste.

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Pure craft: a special tea transformation

Mr. Ye, our producer in Taiping Hou Kui, uses an astonishing artisanal processing method to obtain flattened leaves, each on average six centimeters in length. In 2018, he was awarded the certificate of excellence from our team.

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A rare tea

To start off, we only select the terminal bud and its following two leaves. After the harvest, the leaves are then sorted and sent off to get manually desiccated. The leaves are then individually placed on a wire mesh in a way that no leaves touch each other, at which point, a second wire is placed over them. We then apply a cotton cloth on the frame, then, with a quick gesture, we pass a roller over them. We let the leaves dry, gradually and for about an hour, inside the frame over a wood fire. Impressive!

Sencha: 3 Distinct Styles

14 April 2018

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Steam and fire (for roasting) are two essential elements of the transformation of Sencha. These two processes are largely responsible for the tea’s flavour and aromatics.

In Japan, steaming is used by almost all producers but they don’t all approach it in the same way. By exposing the leaves to different levels of steaming, they are able to create three distinct styles of sencha, each with specific nuances.

Asamushi Style

Obtained by a short steaming (20 to 40 seconds), asamushi style Sencha can often be identified simply by the leaves remaining whole. Light and slightly tannic, their ample taste is reminiscent of green vegetables and fresh grass.

Fukamushi Style

With a longer steaming (80 to 200 seconds), we get a Fukamushi style. The leaves become softer and easily breakable, due to the longer steam time. The result: an intense taste and a lively, darker infusion.

Chumushi Style

The Chumushi style is a mid ground of the two previous styles of sencha, the leaves that are steamed for 40 to 80 seconds. These teas have a more classic Sencha taste are big in the Japanese market.

The Nomenclature of Japanese Teas

11 June 2017

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In Japan, the concept of terroir is much less prominent than in China. The names given to teas relate more to the production and transformation methods of leaves. Discover the eight main types of Japanese tea: Sencha, Bancha, Hojicha, Genmaicha, Tamaryokucha, Gyokuro, Kabusecha and Matcha.

SENCHA

By definition, Sencha means “infused tea”. It is the most common of Japanese teas as it accounts for about 80% of the country’s total production. The quality of the Sencha teas varies as some are intended for everyday consumption, while others are much more high- end, rare, complex and subtle.

Consult our Sencha teas

BANCHA

Bancha is usually made from leaves and stems from late summer or autumn harvests. However, the best quality of Bancha is produced from June harvests.

Consult our Bancha teas

HOJICHA

The Hojicha is a Bancha whose leaves have been roasted for a few minutes at a temperature of about 200 ºC. While this method may remove many of their properties, it does gives them a honey taste with hazelnut notes.

Consult our Hojicha tea

GENMAICHA

Made with a green tea base mixed with grilled brown rice grains and puffed rice, Genmaicha are ideal for an everyday tea. There is however, a higher quality of Genmaicha, depending on the tea base used. You can also find a third variety to which Matcha has been added.

Consult our Genmaicha teas

TAMARYOKUCHA

There are two types of Tamaryokucha. The first, the Mushi Sei Tamaryokucha (or Guricha) undergoes a steam desiccation. Produced in the country as a whole, but mainly in Shizuoka, this tea tries to duplicate the appearance and taste of various Chinese green leaf teas. The other type of Tamaryokucha is called Kamairi Sei Tamaryokucha (or Kamairicha). Its desiccation is made in vats and its production is concentrated on the Kyushu Island. Although most of the production is now automated, there are still a few factories that produce hand-made batches.

Consult our Tamaryokucha

GYOKURO

By definition, Gyokuro means “precious dew” and is known to be the highest grade of tea in Japan. Its production is limited to a single harvest per year, towards the end of May or the beginning of June. The aim of the Gyokuro culture is to develop the rich flavour of this tea, which is one of the tastiest in the world.

Read our article on Gyokuro
Consult our Gyokuro teas

KABUSECHA

In order to obtain a Kabusecha, a covered crop is also required albeit of a shorter duration. While some growers hang synthetic blankets over the tea plants, others place it directly on the plants for about 12 days.

Consult our Kabusecha

MATCHA

Introduced by Buddhist monks at the end of the first millennium, Matcha is the first type of tea to have been drunk in Japan. Originally, the dried leaves were cut into small pieces and crushed using a stone mill. Today, the plants are often covered to produce the best Matcha.

Read our tips on matcha preservation
Consult our matcha and its accessories

 
 

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