Ethical Tea

Following my Facebook post earlier this week, I felt that it would be better to expand on working conditions within the tea industry.  I would strongly urge everyone to read this article.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/14/world/asia/on-indian-tea-plantations-low-wages-and-crumbling-homes.html?_r=0

The majority of tea that we consume in America, is a product of imperialism.  Tea was never grown in “estates” before British India.  Small tea gardens, yes, hectares of tea? no.  Tea production can be highly labor intensive, making this a luxury commodity, that is only readily available to the masses because of this mass production/imperialism.  You and me, the consumers of tea, can only afford to drink tea (at a reasonable price) because of this mass production.

TL;DR There is both good and bad from mass production.

The bad from this mass production though, is what the above mentioned article is about.  I feel, that as a citizen of a developed country, that there is a moral obligation to ensure fair working conditions.  A business organization that I greatly enjoy is Rotary.  Rotary has a great principle called The Four Way Test:
1.) Is it the truth?
2.) Is it fair to all those concerned?
3.) Will it build good will and better friendships?
4.) Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Speaking from my experience on a tea estate (Amba Tea Estate), I know that growing and processing tea is not easy.  It is very labor intensive and stressful.  That being said, I know that Amba Tea Estate pays its workers very high wages (for Sri Lanka), and I know what commitments are made to ensure the workers are happy and healthy.  Each worker becomes a part of the Amba family, and joins a wider community.

Amba Tea Estate is the gold standard in my book.  I know with first hand experience what a wonderful estate Amba is, and how it operates.  I apply these standards to all of the estates I work with, though it is hard to beat an estate like Amba that is run by an aid worker.

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How we can solve this.  Tetley Tea, and Tata Tea are not going to change their positions, unless they see it as an important economic decision.  We vote everyday with our dollars.  It is a simple solution but an important one and probably the only one that will create a change. Try and buy from companies that offer the most transparency of where they get their products.

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Spring Teas

Ta-dah! Err.  Not quite.  I still need to take the pictures, and unfortunately the weather hasn’t been nice enough, so instead I’ll just tell you about the teas, and let you see how excited I am.  And hopefully they will be on sale later this week.

So without further adieu, the three teas of spring are: a Dong Ding Oolong, a 4 Seasons Oolong, and a Pai Mu Tan from Thyolo Malawi.

Single Origin Teas has previously been lacking in the oolong department.  Which has frustrated me.  I’m quite picky when it comes to tea, and it has taken me a while to find some Taiwanese teas that I am happy with. Both of the oolongs are coming from the Nantou region of Taiwan.  Both teas have been selected by Tea Master Gao Que.  As I do not live in Taiwan, sourcing the teas has been quite difficult.  Luckily I have been privileged enough to taste some amazing teas (including a delicious Sun Moon Lake…that I would love to stock.  Its just I would have to sell an arm and a leg too).

So how can I buy tea, let alone taste samples when I live in the United States?  I relay on a Tea Master: enter Master Gao Que.  Master Gao Que only buys and produces teas picked in the afternoon when there is good weather; teas in the morning are excessively moisture laden due to the morning dews, and teas picked in the evening are often wet from a rain. Teas picked in the afternoon are picked between 10am – 2pm when the sun is high, and it helps to ensure that the teas are already as dry as possible when they are processed and dried further to eliminate bitterness.  This is a level of quality that I appreciate.

Both the 4 Seasons and the Dong Ding are from the Nantou region of Taiwan.  This region is ‘steeped’ deep in tea history.  I sincerely hope you will enjoy these teas as much as I have.

The Malawi Pai Mu Tan was an interesting find too.  Pai Mu Tan is not our best seller (in case you were curious, Amba OP1 is), but after tasting the Malawi grown version…I had to buy it.  Delicious citrus undertones, it really shows how the terroir of a soil can make such an impact on the tea.  I actually tasted the tea when I was visiting friends in Scotland.  Scotland and Malawi have deep connections, and a good percentage of teas grown in Malawi are imported into the UK.  Malawi is quite unique in its orthodox style of production.  While the vast majority of African teas are CTC, Malawi has diversified into some unique takes on classic teas.   In future tastings I am going to bring both the Chinese and the Malawian versions of Pai Mu Tan, and let people taste the difference of two different worlds.

What is a flush

Hidy Ho!

Spring time is slowly approaching.  Already our daffodils are blooming.  Spring is my favorite time of the year, new gardening, warmer weather, and new teas!

So a common question we get is, what is a flush.  A flush is just a term to describe the new growth on the tea plant.  All plants operate on a circadian clock (sorry! My dissertation was on circadian clocks so my apologizes if it gets too wordy) which pretty much tells the plant what time of day it is and what season it is.  Tea plants are no different and will go into a dormancy stage based on length of day light and temperature.  Depending where a tea plant is growing (latitude wise) will create different dates that the tea plants will ‘awaken’ and ‘fall asleep’.  For example teas that grow near the equator (Kenya) never fully fall asleep, or if they do, it is more likely a drought response.

At Amba tea estate, it was much more dependent upon rain than changing light conditions.  However just a bit further north in India do we really see a change.  Both Darjeeling and Assam will have a dormancy stage and then in early March will wake back up. So shouldn’t that mean that there is just one flush?

Not according to the tea industry.  There are 3 recognized flushes for Darjeeling (2 really for Assam). China doesn’t much prescribe to flushes, though they do place much emphasis on “pre qing ming” teas.  (Teas before a specific date, usually in early April ).

First Flush.  The first flush is often called the connoisseurs flush as you get some really interesting tastes in the leaf.  First flush teas have the highest polyphenol levels (plant made compounds) in tea as the plant sends out that first burst of life.  The terroir of the tea is much more pronounced in the first flush for this reason. The first dozen or so harvests from the tea plant will create a “first flush”.  The season ends at the end of April.

Second Flush.  This is the flush where the tea managers will create a standard tea.  These are the teas that you really associate with the region.  In Darjeelings that delicious muscatel aroma, and in Assams with the malty full body taste.  This season lasts from early May to probably end of August.

Autumn Flush.  This is the tail end of the plucking season.  The plants start to slow down, and tea managers strive for slightly different production styles to create a unique tea.  This flush is more of a creation of the estate managers as botanically speaking there should not be variance in chemical make up between a leaf grown in the autumn vs. the summer.  Assam doesn’t really do this marketing ploy like Darjeeling does, but then again Darjeeling teas will often fetch twice the price at auction than what an Assam will.

Again this is where I say “watch this space” as hopefully we should be getting our new first flush Darjeelings at the start of May!

-James Orrock

How we select a tea

So, how do we go about selecting a tea?  By drinking thousands of samples of course!

Some teas were easy for us to select.  Like our Amba OP1.  If you hadn’t read the earlier blog post, Amba is the tea estate I worked on.  Clearly there is a bias, but c’est le vie.  I know the level of care and professionalism of the Amba Tea Estate, and I know the quality control of their tea.

Other teas we select for definition.  Darjeeling has around 85 different tea estates.  Each of these estates grows on a different mountain/different altitude, and is processed slightly differently.  Margaret’s Hope Tea Estate has long been held as a standard representative of the Darjeeling region.  It consistently produces a good level of muscatel taste, with an acceptable level of astringency.  It is also widely recognized as a standard which helps too.  I enjoy Margaret’s Hope Darjeeling, it is a lovely cup of tea.  Is it the best Darjeeling I have tasted?  No.  But it is a good representative of the region, and above average quality.  (Next year we are looking at expanding our Darjeelings from 3 different estates to 5)

Still other teas get selected for different reasons.  Our Mokalbari Assam was chosen not only for its taste, but also for its blending properties in our English Breakfast tea (and other blends we make for local stores).  Likewise for the Kaporet Tea Estate in Kenya.

And lastly, we find the tea incredibly tasty! Grapefruit tea is one of my favorite teas to have (especially in the morning).  🙂

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So why does a tea from one tea shop taste different at another?  A lot of it will come down to how the tea is stored.   Our teas are stored in a climate controlled room, and when opened for a customer immediately placed in a metal air-tight container.  This ensures a maximum freshness and is widely practiced in other tea shops.

Still, different tea shops will buy different lots of tea/receive different batches to taste.  Some estates blend their own teas and only release a controlled tea.  Like at the Amba Tea Estate where I can see the batch I bought last May was blended on the the fourth of May, from fields 1,2,3,4,5 (more specific lots of 241 UME, 242 UME, 243 UME, 244, 245, 246 UME) for a total amount of 24.058 kg.  This is why an Amba Tea purchased from us will taste (or should taste) the same as at Fortnum and Masons or Tealet.

Other estates, like the Gopaldhara First Flush, gave us larger lots from pluckings.  So we received samples from each of the lots and then we chose; if we wanted a pure lot, or if we wanted to mix two different (or three different) lots together. This is the main reason why different tea shops teas will taste different.  It may come from the same estate, but different qualities and different lots will affect the taste.  A good tea shop will buy and blend what they think correctly represents that tea estate.

Hope this has shed some light on how we operate, and please do not hesistate to contact us!

-James Orrock

The only thing that matters in tea

Howdy! Hello! Ahoy!

Welcome to Single Origin Teas.  As this is our first official blog post, I feel an introduction is needed.  My name is James Orrock, chances are I am the one you will deal with if you ever e-mail/phone/write a letter.  (our e-mail address is singleoriginteas@gmail.com).  I come from a classical British background in tea.  My first experience with tea, like so many Americans, was through a tea bag.  However when I turned 16 I received a gift of Jasmine Pearls as a birthday present.  This opened a new world to me.  No longer was tea a choice between Twining and Bigelow, but of beautifully twirled tea leaves that were sweet and complex.  The first taste that would feed my addiction! (thanks sis!)

While attending the University of Edinburgh, this addiction grew and grew.  I fell in love with a tea shop and soon went from being their best customer to being their first employee.  Tasting tea after tea the complexities of a first flush Darjeeling to the sweetness of a Japanese green, I was in heaven.  I soon founded a tea appreciation society at the university where I met many wonderful people.  I believe that my time in Scotland was more rewarding because of tea, than the education I received.  (Note, please study more than I did.  I probably could have earned a higher mark if I wasn’t as obsessed with tea).

After graduation I did an internship at the Amba Tea Estate in Sri Lanka.  I had met Beverly Wainwright, a modern day saint and manager, earlier when she was developing her teas.  While my time was relatively short in Sri Lanka, there was always something to do.  My time went quickly learning about the production of tea: how it grows, how to process it, and most importantly…how to do it well.  I guess this is where I say “watch this space” for future updates on Phase II of Single Origin Teas.

Enough about me, now on to the title of this post.  ‘The only thing that matters in tea’ is to simply enjoy it.  Tea can be as complex or as simple as you make it.  Rather if you drink your tea over ice, or use a thermometer to make sure the water temperature is just right, all that matters is just enjoy it.  In the tea world you’ll meet tea jennies, tea snobs, people that worship tea, and people that enjoy it for the health reasons.  Tea is a beverage, that is to be enjoyed.

So how does this tie in to Single Origin Teas?  I’ve tried to create a company that I am proud of.  A company where you can taste good representatives of teas from around the world.  A company that doesn’t charge you an arm and a leg just because the tea is rare and exotic.  All of our teas (and thousands more) I have personally tasted and evaluated.  The prices that are set do not fluctuate on market demand, they represent the ranking of the tea.  There are plenty of teas that I can not wholesale because the retail price I am selling at is already below an industry  wholesale rate.  Single Origin Teas is not about money, but about the tea.  I try and ethically source our teas and ensure a living wage, while also being an ‘eco-friendly’ company.  If you would like to know more about our teas, please do not hesitate to contact me! I love talking about tea, and can even pass on suggestions of teas that I have enjoyed from other companies.

Think that is enough for now, Pip pip cheerio!

-James Orrock

Here is a picture of a puppy (my puppy) for reading to the end.

Millie doesn't quite understand why I drink so much tea

Millie doesn’t quite understand why I drink so much tea