You've tried it, you may even love it and drink it regularly...but what is tea?
Simply defined, tea is a brewed beverage made from the leaves of Camellia Sinensis plant, an evergreen shrub native to China and India.
But tea has too much history to be simple.
It’s been cultivated for at least 1500 years, and in that time has spread throughout the world. Hundreds of different cultures have taken their own approaches to picking, preserving, and serving it. For millions of people around the world, tea is a cultural touchstone, a daily devotion to relaxation and community. It has launched a million ships, encouraged global trade, and fueled revolutions both intellectual and political.
Tea can be dried, aged, fermented, powdered, baked, and smoked. It can be flavored with essences that run from fruit to fungus, and with herbs, spices, and the petals of flowers. Tea and its herbal cousins are considered healthful tonics and remedies the world over, in ancient agrarian villages and in modern medical laboratories.
At Two Leaves and a Bud, though, we like to keep it simple. We sample harvests from around the world to find the best tea and build our blends from the tips of these prized plants’ branches — just the tender two leaves and the bud that are richest in flavor — and take advantage of thousands of years of global experience to perfect what you’ll find in your cup.
“Organic Darjeeling isn’t one of our best sellers,” says CEO Richard Rosenfeld. “It's not a tea many Americans are used to, when it comes to black tea.” However, if you haven’t tried our Organic Darjeeling, you’re missing out.
Sourced from the mountainous region of Darjeeling, India (elevation varying from 2,000 – 8,000 feet), Darjeeling black tea is also one of the more interesting teas to learn about. The hilly terrain and cool mountain temperatures have an instant impact on the flavor of the tea itself. The light, arid soil mixed with cool winds generates a subtle astringency to the tea that you won’t find in a robust Organic Assam tea from Assam, India. Furthermore, the varied terrain from hillside to hillside creates differences in the amount of sunlight, wind, and soil quality for each tea “lot”. That means that Darjeeling tea from one hillside can taste incredibly different from the tea on a neighboring slope.
The First Flush
One can’t talk about Darjeeling tea without mentioning the term “first flush”. As one of the most prized crops of tea throughout the world, first flush Darjeelings are known for their astringent, green flavors intermingled with the depth and robustness of black tea. But what is first flush, exactly?
“The region of Darjeeling gets cold during the winter, and no tea grows anywhere,” Richard says. “Temperatures start to change, and the two leaves and bud of the tea plant open up, ‘flushing’ for the first time all season.”
After the first flush is plucked, there are occasional “bungee flushes” that then occur. A smaller growth of two leaves and the bud that appear somewhere in between the first and second flush. Bungee flushes are actually a lesser sought tea, lacking the complexity that Darjeeling is famed for.
Second flush Darjeeling tea, however, is certainly something to be prized as well. Noticeably darker and more “black” than first flush Darjeeling, second flushes still offer classic Darjeeling flavor, but with less of a green flavor, and more of the depth commonly associated with great black tea.
Two Leaves and a Bud’s Organic Darjeeling
So, what indeed makes two leaves and a bud’s Organic Darjeeling Black Tea so special? Says Richard:
“This is a lovely blend of first and second flush Darjeeling tea with light, but rich, body and floral overtones."
You’ll experience what our Organic Darjeeling tea is all about the moment you give it a steep. Your palate will instantly be met by notes of green tea. From there, you’ll experience a sharp (but pleasant) string of astringency, finished by the deep, robust notes of black tea.
Are you a Two Leaves and a Bud Darjeeling fan? If so, what do you like most about it?
After Two Leaves and a Bud CEO and founder Richard Rosenfeld and his wife were smack in the middle of a big field of peppermint, growing knee-high, Richard shared, "Our shoes and clothes had a strong pepperminty smell for the next four days!"
You see, Richard was visiting the farm in Eastern Washington State that grows organic peppermint for our tea company. As Richard tells it, his mission for this company is to produce the world's best tea sachet. And visiting this grower of organic herbs is part of that mission.
"I want peppermint tea to be buttery, not too peppery, smooth as opposed to sharp, still slightly astringent with nice cup color," he says. "Of course I am extra pleased that we have found that in American-grown peppermint."
Close-up of peppermint leaves used to make our organic peppermint tea.
Although many of us are familiar with the rainy aspects of Washington in the western portion of the state like Seattle, the eastern side of the state is hot and dry — one of the driest climate zones in the country, but it's well-irrigated from the Grand Coulee Dam. Herbs and spices grow beautifully there in huge crop circles, and our particular peppermint provider grows about 250 acres of peppermint, or half of a crop circle. In fact, most of the peppermint they grow isn't for tea at all — it's harvested and used as an essential oil, an ingredient in things like shampoo and toothpaste.
The leaves used for our Organic Peppermint Tea are harvested by the growers at the exact peak moment of the oils maturing in the plant (as a summer crop, peppermint only has one harvest per year). They chop the whole plant and leave it lying in the field to dry. Once dried, they collect it and separate the leaves (used in our tea) from the stems (used for someone else's essential oil).
As for being organic, that comes down to lots and lots of weeding by hand, Richard says. "It costs 10 times as much as a non-organic peppermint," he says. "They're removing one weed at a time, as opposed to spraying the field (with pesticide or herbicide) from a plane."
This tea has been one of our top-sellers since its inception. The praise we receive for this tea affirms what we already believe: this truly is the best peppermint tea.
We're still celebrating National Honey Month, tea lovers! In part 1, we gave you an overview of what makes honey so special, and this week we want to blog its praises a bit more by pointing out some health benefits of the sweet stuff.
A natural sweetener
First up, something obvious: Honey is a great natural sweetener! Sure, you could stir your tea with a stick of sugarcane...but why wouldn't you just use honey, a wonderfully versatile sweetener that comes straight from the hive? Given that it's made with pollen and nectar collected by honeybees on their legs, it's almost literally the bee's knees. Honey is slightly sweeter than sugar, so you can use a bit less to sweeten up your tea, and depending which honey you choose, it can add a unique flavor profile to your favorite beverage. Honey is a great thickener for sauces, dressings, marinades and dips, and lends its moisture to a broad variety of recipes, even extending the shelf life of baked goods.
There might be a million ways to boost your energy in today's marketplace, but let's face it — honey is one of the first and the best. With 17 grams of carbohydrate per tablespoon at just 64 calories, honey is the ideal source of fast fuel to feed your muscles. Sports nutritionists recommend consuming some carbohydrates before athletic activity for an energy boost, and honey is the sort of natural sweetener that's released into the system at a steady rate, avoiding an energy crash. During activity, honey can delay fatigue, and your method of usage can be as simple as putting a bit of honey into your water bottle! Finally, research shows that ingesting a combination of carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes after exercise is ideal for refueling and decreasing delayed-onset muscle soreness.
There's a good reason why honey is used by beauty industry leaders in lotions, soaps, and bubble baths! Honey is a humectant, which means it attracts and retains moisture. Honey also has anti-microbial properties.
Banish coughing with honey
Thick, sticky and sweet, honey has been used for centuries to relieve symptoms of the common cold. Sometimes it just takes time for your sore throat to abate, but in the meantime, the fact that honey can coat and soothe your throat is wonderful relief for irritating symptoms. Take a spoonful straight, stir it into tea to up your hydration level, and even try a dab in orange or grapefruit juice for additional vitamin C. Sore throats are caused by numerous viruses and bacteria, and always check with your doctor if you have a fever or symptoms that last more than a few days. And don't forget that honey should never be given to infants under one year of age -- honey can contain spores of bacterium that can germinate in an infant's immature digestive system, causing a rare but fatal illness that does not affect adults and children over 1 year old.
For more fascinating facts about honey and the most delicious-sounding recipes, we recommend visiting the National Honey Board. Next week we'll update you on the latest news regarding Colony Collapse Disorder and the importance of honey bees in our world that goes way beyond sweetening up your cuppa' tea. Cheers, tea lovers!
Sweet teas are made of this ... (apologies to The Eurythmics)
September is National Honey Month, tea lovers, and c'mon, whether or not it's your go-to tea sweetener, we've all at least tried some honey stirred into tea before, haven't we?
Honey is fascinating stuff. We don't mean to talk down to you or anything, but just say this out loud, "honey is made by these yellow and black striped honey bees that fly around collecting flower nectar, and then return it to their hives where these amazing little insects turn it into a natural sweetener that can be consumed right there on the spot." If that doesn't sound like something Willy Wonka could have come up with, we don't know what does. But we all seem to take honey for granted, when really it's kind of magical, don't you think?
Let's stop doing that for National Honey Month, tea lovers! We wanted to write a few blogs about honey in appreciation of this wonderful product, and we're starting right here. First, incredible facts about honey:
What goes into making a pound of honey? Possibly as many as 60,000 honey bees living in a hive that travel as many as 55,000 miles and more than two million flowers!
Is there anything to all those varieties of honey you find at farmer's markets, gourmet shops, and lately even mainstream supermarkets? Yes- in a big way. Just in the United States alone, there are more than 300 unique varieties of honey, and what makes them different in flavor and color is the kind of blossoms from which the honey bees collect nectar. Some of those flowers include clover, eucalyptus, and orange blossoms. In general, the lighter the color, the lighter the flavor, and darker honey makes for more robust honey.
But now some info you can really use: What honey should you be putting in your tea? Part of this is common sense: Pair a strongly flavored honey with a strongly flavored tea. Rich black tea? Gallberry honey is known for having a cinnamon aroma that would be lovely with our Mountain High Chai. Earl Grey's traditional bergamot oil flavor is the perfect tea for the citrus aromas of orange blossom honey. And when you've got a black tea that's really floral, pick out a floral honey like lavender!
Never overpower delicate green or white teas with strong tasting honey - you'll want to use mild honeys like clover, tupelo or alfalfa. And with herbal teas, feel free to experiment - blackberry honey would be lovely in a berry tea like Alpine Berry or Paisley Tart Berry, and we're just learning about "meadowfoam honey", which has a vanilla-marshmallow flavor.
For much, much more on varieties of honey, we recommend you check out the National Honey Board. Now, when you see that honey vendor at the farmer's market, you can have a good long conversation about flavors and tea before buying some! Cheers, tea lovers.