Roy Fong's New Year Resolutions for 2010


Our latest newsletter reveals Roy's top 10 New Year resolutions for 2010. If you're not a subscriber, here's the countdown, which also provides a preview of the Imperial Tea Court to-do list for the coming year:

Resolution 1: To travel even more miles, to provide the finest tea from around the world, and to report on it all here in the Camellia Sinensis blog. In addition to China, this year's travel agenda includes Japan and possibly India and Sri Lanka.

Resolution 2: To introduce more great products for tea lovers, such as 2009’s most popular new product, the Programmable Digital Electric Kettle. In particular, to add a very fine Imperial standard yi xing teapot and other teaware to our collection for 2010.

Resolution 3: To produce teas that equal or exceed the quality of our finest teas of 2009, such as Imperial Tribute Harvest Purple-Tip Puerh, Imperial Lotus Heart Dragon Well, and 2009 Monkey-Picked Tie Guan Yin.

Resolution 4: To introduce an e-book edition of Great Teas of China

Resolution 5: To launch a completely revised and updated web site with exciting new features to make learning about and buying fine, traditional Chinese tea and teaware easier and more engaging than it is today

Resolution 6: To hold more tea classes and better leverage technology to provide opportunities to learn in our teahouses and online, for example, to hold tea classes via webinar and offer instruction via PowerPoint, DVD, and video

Resolution 7: To resume our popular series of exclusive Tea Tours to China

Resolution 8: To publish an Imperial Tea Court Recipe Cookbook that teaches you how to prepare our favorite menu items, such as our famous hand-pulled noodles, and also gives detailed suggestions on how to brew tea to best fulfill its potential when it's paired with specific foods.

Resolution 9: To buy land and start a new tea farm in California, as well as to work with the local government in northwestern China to help revitalize tea farming there

Resolution 10: To upgrade and expand our Tea Clubs with more specialized offers, including clubs focused on particular varieties and grades of tea, so that many more people can benefit from the convenience, quality, and learning opportunities of club membership

Thanks for your enthusiasm and friendship in 2009 and every year, and with your ongoing support we'll do our best to achieve these ambitious goals and more in 2010!
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Discount to Mandarin Oriental Hotel Guests


And now another reason to stay in San Francisco's elegant Mandarin Oriental Hotel: through a special arrangement with the hotel, you will receive a 10% discount in our teahouses if you show us your room key! We already provide some of the tea served in the hotel's lobby lounge. But it's an even more enjoyable experience to take the pleasant 5-10 minute stroll through the Financial District to our location in the landmark Ferry Building. We look forward to welcoming Mandarin Oriental guests - and all visitors to San Francisco - to our teahouses!


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Brief Review of Great Teas of China on About.com

Lindsey Goodwin, About.com's guide for tea, just published a brief review of Roy's new book, Great Teas of China. Quoting Lindsey: "This slender book is brimming with information on tea origins, growing and processing, as well as personal anecdotes from Roy Fong of San Francisco's Imperial Tea Court." She also noted, "A long-awaited book by one of the U.S.’s leading tea importers, Roy Fong. This book focuses in on a handful of Fong’s favorite teas from China and Taiwan, profiling each with notes on histories, growing regions, varietals, harvest and processing. There are informative photographs and short stories of Fong’s tea travels scattered throughout. The book closes with a preparation guide and glossary."

Thanks for the kind words, Lindsey! For everyone who has read the book so far, help us spread the word and post your own review on Amazon.

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A Nod from Diablo Magazine

Diablo Magazine just published the article Teatime in the 21st Century, quoting Roy: "Tea tasting [is] much more interesting than wine tasting, says Imperial’s owner and tea expert, Roy Fong. Adding more tea leaves, adjusting the water temperature, or fiddling with the steeping time changes the flavor of the tea, making it more versatile when pairing with food. 'Strong-flavored tea actually goes well with not-so-strong-flavored food,' he says."

In an article that focuses on new attitudes toward tea and teahouses, the author paid a visit to our Berkeley teahouse and discussed food and tea pairings with Roy. Among our teahouse specialties called out in the article are green onion pancakes (paired with jasmine tea), jasmine tea shrimp dumplings, and hand-pulled noodles with beef topping and special reserve puerh.
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New Newsletter: Last-Minute Holiday Shopping Edition

If you still have open items on your holiday shopping list we have lots of great ideas in our latest newsletter. Fine tea, tea snacks, and teaware are always welcome gifts! For puerh lovers, we're excited about two new tea accessories that have just arrived from Yunnan, the Bamboo Puerh Knife and Handmade Puerh Brush. Check out the suggestions and be sure to subscribe to the newsletter so you don't miss any teahouse news, announcements, and special deals.
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Diana Rosen on Great Teas of China

Diana Rosen, author of numerous tea books including The Book of Green Tea, Taking Time for Tea, Meditations with Tea, and many other books and articles, recently sent Roy her response to his book, Great Teas of China. Diana kindly agreed to let us share her opinions with Camellia Sinensis readers.

Dear Roy, I loved the anecdotal items, especially your travels and friendships made in China, and it was nice to be reminded of your stories of when you were a child in Hong Kong or when you towed cars at night. I also remember stories of how you would drink tea after a long night. The book not only sustains the credibility you have earned (with much effort) but invites us along with your quests to search out good tea, creating an intimate connection between writer and reader.

I appreciate very much learning more about the Chinese names and locations of these fine teas. The description of each tea, how it is grown and processed, gave me deeper insight and makes me appreciate your sourcing efforts all the more. I learned a LOT. It's a pretty book. The type is the right size and the use of the orange background for sidebars is good.

My suggestions for future editions would be to add more! More information on how your tea tastes have evolved, perhaps when you like to drink what and why. I'm a sucker for these types of anecdotal stories, such as realizing that by drinking your favorite oolong in a particular pot its patina glows and, perhaps, the oolongs of all those years have actually seeped into the clay. Certainly most American readers will want more information on brewing. You do not need to go into more detail about temperature, although I'm sure most folks would want that, but I stand by your position of encouraging people to experiment. It is their tea and their tea experience and once you convince them of that, they're on their way to the tea life.
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Roy's Book Is Officially Published! Here's the News Release

We're excited to announce that Roy's new book, Great Teas of China, is now in print! In addition to the online purchase options, you can find it in our Ferry Building and Berkeley teahouses as of December 9. We're planning an autographing event and other special activities later this month to celebrate this long-awaited book. We'll be posting more details shortly. Meanwhile, here's the official press release announcing publication:

MASTER TEA MERCHANT ROY FONG PUBLISHES GREAT TEAS OF CHINA, A CONVENIENT AND AUTHORITATIVE HANDBOOK TO CHINA’S FINEST TEAS

SAN FRANCISCO, December 9, 2009—Roy Fong, a leading tea expert and proprietor of San Francisco’s renowned traditional Chinese teahouse, Imperial Tea Court, has published Great Teas of China, a compact, readable guide to the top teas from the land where tea was first cultivated over 3,000 years ago.

Great Teas of China is a unique blend of detailed factual information about artisanal practices for growing and processing the teas it discusses, as well as personal anecdotes from Fong’s twenty-year career as a tea merchant traveling around fast-changing China. The book covers over a dozen of Fong’s favorite classic teas, ranging from hand-picked West Lake Dragon Well and expertly crafted oolong from Wu Yi Shan, to patiently aged Yunnan puerh. Also included are Fong’s insights on choosing, brewing, and savoring each selection, plus background information on tea farming, local history and culture of tea-growing regions, and artisanal techniques for processing the leaves of Camellia sinensis, the flowering perennial at the heart of Chinese culture.

Fong’s fateful encounter with tea began at age six, when he would interrupt his walk to school to watch Hong Kong day laborers’ impromptu gong fu brewing sessions. Later, a chance visit to Hong Kong’s teahouse district unexpectedly set his life on a new course. He began importing Chinese tea to the U.S. and, in 1993, he and his wife Grace opened the original Imperial Tea Court in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Since then, Fong has enlightened and inspired a generation of tea enthusiasts, who visit from all over the world to enjoy the finest Chinese teas available in America. Great Teas of China is a very personal and accessible introduction to contemporary tea connoisseurship. 88 pages; illustrated with color photographs and maps; includes glossary.

PEOPLE ARE TALKING ABOUT GREAT TEAS OF CHINA

RON RUBIN, Minister of Tea, The Republic of Tea:
Great Teas of China presents a lifetime of discovery, wisdom, and passion from the foremost authority on tea in America, Roy Fong. All tea lovers will cherish this journey with Roy through China’s famed tea gardens. Enjoy sip by sip.”

FRANK HADLEY MURPHY, author of The Spirit of Tea:
“Roy Fong’s extraordinary insights and hands-on approach to tea cultivation and processing have resulted in extraordinary teas enjoyed by thousands of people around the world. I am grateful to be one of them. Great Teas of China offers an intimate glimpse into a tradition of tea artisans dating back to China’s golden age of tea, the Imperial Tang dynasty.”

GRACEANN WALDEN, San Francisco-based food writer and radio personality:
“When I met Roy Fong, at the original Imperial Tea Court, tea was forever changed for me. He taught me its history, botanical properties, and most importantly he shared with me how it had changed his life. Over the years, he has taught many people the serious joys of tea and I am pleased that he will now reach a wider audience by way of this beautiful book.”

ED & MARY ETTA MOOSE, San Francisco restauranteurs:
“When we want the best tea, we know to turn to Roy.”

DIANA ROSEN, author of The Book of Green Tea:
“With the wisdom of a modern-day Lu Yu, and the marketing awareness of today's connoisseur-level tea enthusiasts, Roy Fong has made an indelibly delicious mark on tea in America. That would have been enough, to be sure. Now, he is our guide in print, steering us to the always fascinating must-know information on how teas are grown cultivated, brewed and savored. This book is a valuable extension to my own privileged moments at Roy's tea table, being intoxicated by the lu'an, a complex melange of puerhs, the gentleness of a jasmine, the sweet echo of the mao feng.”

SHIRLEY FONG-TORRES, author of The Woman Who Ate Chinatown:
“With the ever-growing popularity of tea and the public’s fascination with its health benefits, Roy Fong's book is a 'must.' This is a teamaster who truly knows and loves his craft. I always feel relaxed after drinking tea and nibbling on dim sum or lunch at one of his fabulous Imperial Tea Courts.”

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Last Chance to Preorder Roy's Book, Great Teas of China

Today is the last day for preordering copies of Roy's new book, Great Teas of China. We're expecting a shipment from the printer tomorrow so we can start fulfilling orders later this week! Roy has agreed to autograph all preorders, so if you'd like an autographed copy be sure to place your order before midnight Pacific time tonight.

If you do miss the deadline, we'll be holding an autograph event in our San Francisco Ferry Building teahouse later this month. We'll keep you posted here on the blog when it's scheduled.
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Update on Roy's Book: We Expect to Ship Copies Next Week

We just heard from the printer that Roy's book, Great Teas of China, has been printed and shipped! That means it should arrive at our warehouse early next week. We'll start fulfilling pre-orders as soon as we receive copies. We'll also let you know when it's available in our teahouses. The book is a unique blend of Roy's personal insights and detailed factual information about all the teas it discusses. We can't wait to take the wraps off and share it with you!

Last chance for pre-orders is Monday, December 7. Roy will autograph all pre-ordered copies. Orders after Monday will be fulfilled from warehouse inventory and won't be autographed.
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Tea Flicks: Red Cliff

The epic Chinese historial action movie Red Cliff (赤壁) arrived in theatres here in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago (nearly 18 months after premiering in China). Famed Hong Kong director John Woo's first Chinese movie since 1992 and, at $80 million, the most expensive Asian movie ever made, it's packed with martial arts; gory combat; larger-than-life buddy-heroes; top stars from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the mainland; sly winks at some of the most famous scenes from Woo's earlier films; and - less predictably - lots of tea-drinking!

It turns out the Xiao Qiao character, played by Taiwanese model-turned-actress Lin Zhi Ling (pictured here), is quite expert at grinding cake tea into powder and whisking it up in a cha wan. (Close scrutiny of the credits reveals that the actress was trained by a tea expert.) Late in the movie, when she makes tea for arch-villain Cao Cao (veteran actor Zhang Feng Yi), we aren't sure if it's her tea or her lecture on brewing technique, covering such details as water and tea tools, that gives Cao Cao a terrible headache. In any case, he's indisposed long enough to give Xiao Qiao's husband Zhou Yu (mega-star Liang Chao Wei) enough of a military advantage to defeat Cao Cao.

I saw the Western version of Red Cliff, trimmed down to a mere 2.5 hours. The Asian release is in two parts totaling 4 hours or so, and probably contains even more tea scenes.

Many will watch Red Cliff because they're fans of John Woo. Others will enjoy the stunning scenery, epic battle scenes, historical narrative, host of charismatic stars, and sophistication of contemporary Chinese filmmaking. However, for some of us tea is the draw. It's gratifying to see a movie that's as serious about the tea history of 1,800 years ago as it is about the military history, and to watch a grand, complex plot - and the course of history - turn on a timely lecture about how to brew a good cup of tea.

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Some Ceramics Basics for Tealovers

We've had some questions from customers lately about different categories of ceramics as they relate to teaware, and thought it might be useful to post a few guidelines. The history of Chinese ceramics and tea are closely intertwined, as many ceramic forms evolved to facilitate brewing tea. Porcelain was invented in China and Western scientists and artisans labored for centuries to duplicate it. They didn't start to get the knack until the 18th century.

A fair amount of present-day confusion occurs because (as often happens) Western and Chinese categories of ceramics don't match up. Chinese think of tao (陶), often translated "pottery" and generally comprising what in English would be called either stoneware or earthenware; and ci (瓷), usually translated "porcelain." Tao are less vitreous ceramics fired at lower temperatures, while ci signifies high-fired, more vitreous products that make a distinctive ringing tone when struck. Adding to the complexity, Chinese like to modify these generic nouns to add clarity, so they speak, for example, of bai ci (white porcelain), qing ci (celadon porcelain), and tao qi (tao ware). A general term for ceramics in Chinese is tao ci.

As usual, our Western definitions are more precise, with three broad categories. Here "porcelain" is high-fired and vitreous, with a white body. In addition, what's sometimes known as "true porcelain" is thin-bodied and translucent. True porcelain is contrasted with what's called simply "china," which also has a white body but is softer and heavier than true porcelain and, unlike it, can be cut with a file (not that this is a test you'd typically want to try on your favorite porcelain!).

Porcelain's impermeability means it's airtight, so it can be used to store loose tea. It won't absorb the essence of liquids it contains, therefore it's ideal for gaiwans, pitchers, teacups, and other teaware you may wish to use with multiple varieties of tea. Also, the thin body means it loses heat quickly, a desireable trait when you're brewing temperature-sensitive tea. Like other ceramics, porcelain may be glazed to decorate or strengthen the object, or left unglazed (bisque). When porcelain is glazed, the glaze is often clear to highlight its unique translucent character.

The second Western category, stoneware, is also high-fired and very hard, but only semi-vitreous with a heavier, opaque, colored body (often brown or gray). Yi xing teapots are an example of unglazed stoneware, whose slightly porous nature allows those pots to absorb the essence of tea that's brewed within. Stoneware's thicker body also helps to retain heat.

Finally, there's earthenware, which is fired at lower temperatures and is non-vitreous. Earthenware is made from clay with less silica, the substance that vitrifies during firing, so it's relatively soft and absorbent unless glazed. It has an opaque body that's easy to scratch, chip, or break. An inexpensive terracotta flowerpot is an example of unglazed earthenware, which generally isn't used for teaware.

Like tea, ceramics reward a lifetime of study. There are many fabrication techniques (molding, sculpting, throwing on a wheel); glazing, firing, and decoration options; clay additives; and other characteristics that skilled artisans can manipulate. Writing from the tea perspective, we can only say that ceramics and tea complement one another superbly, and knowledge and appreciation of one is sure to motivate interest in the other.
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Latest Newsletter: Most Intriguing Tea & Teaware

We just sent our latest newsletter, focused on our Most Intriguing Tea and Teaware of 2009. By intriguing, we mean the items you clicked on most frequently on our web site and in our newsletters. If you're ready to kick off your holiday shopping you'll find some great suggestions!

Speaking of holiday shopping, shop in our online store before the end of the day Monday, November 30, and enter the coupon code HALFSHIP during checkout to receive half-price UPS Ground or USPS Priority Mail shipping on all domestic orders. It's one way we're saying Happy Holidays to all our favorite tea lovers!

Be sure to subscribe to our email newsletter so you'll be the first to know about important news and special announcements.
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Now You Can Search Inside the Book

The Search Inside the Book feature for Roy's upcoming book, Great Teas of China, just went live on Amazon.com. We're also taking preorders for the book on the Imperial Tea web site. We anticipate receiving the book from the printer and shipping it in a couple of weeks. Roy will be autographing all preordered copies prior to shipment. We'll keep you posted with updates here on the blog.
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Planting for the Future

Roy reports that he's planted winter vegetables in his back yard. Next, the tea plants go in!

In a month or so the homegrown, organic chard will be ready to serve to teahouse diners. The homegrown tea will take a few years longer. He's planning to plant several tea varieties. We'll keep you posted on how the garden grows, and let you know when we start serving Roy's homegrown vegetables in the teahouses.
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In Search of Great Tea

Roy invited me to join him at the teahouse Monday to try some of the latest samples tea farms and factories have shipped from China and Taiwan. He's been frustrated with many of the fall/winter harvest Taiwan oolongs he's tasted recently, because it's rained so much in Taiwan that aromatics and flavor haven't developed properly (oolongs need lots of sun, and too much rain also leaves the tea tasting thin and watery, no matter how much leaf you use). He didn't find anything he liked, so the search continues.

We also tried a tie guan yin from Anxi, but compared to our current outstanding crop of Monkey-Picked Tie Guan Yin it was disappointing as well. With growing interest in tea worldwide and changing environmental conditions in China, it's getting harder and harder to find the great teas we stake our reputation on.

Luckily Roy saved the best for last, an interesting new sheng puerh cake. Richly fruity without the sharp astringency of many sheng cha, this tea is pleasant to drink now and should age well in the dry conditions here in the Bay Area, with the sweet fruitiness continuing to concentrate and develop over time. We look forward to adding it to our online store in the next few weeks.
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Bestselling Teaware of 2009

If you're wondering what teaware our customers are choosing to brew their favorite teas of 2009, here's a roundup of our bestselling teaware this year. In keeping with the current economic climate, 2009's most popular gaiwan and yi xing teapot are practical and affordable, solid performers that deliver great value.

Our sturdy, functional Teahouse Gaiwan is our customers' choice from our gaiwan collection this year. We like it too, that's why it's been our choice for service in our teahouses since 1993! The bright white color makes it easy to judge how your tea is brewing, while the wide mouth gives you lots of latitude for controlling steeping temperature. Plus the durable, commercial-grade construction means this gaiwan will remain your tea-brewing companion for many years to come. Best of all, we're currently offering a 10% discount on this item.

This year customers welcomed the return of a long-time teahouse favorite, our attractive, traditional Contemporary Classic Yi Xing Teapot. This six-ounce pot is ideal for oolong or puerh tea and is made of excellent quality clay, yet it's an amazing value for a teapot of this quality. Available in either red or brown clay, it's a smart choice for anyone who appreciates the benefits of traditional gong fu tea.

Finally, you can't brew tea without a kettle, and our Programmable Digital Electric Kettle, introduced early this year, has been a runaway hit among our tea-loving customers - it's one of our top-selling products for the entire year! Custom-manufactured to our specifications and UL-listed, it allows you to program in an exact temperature (not just a range like some other electric kettles), which makes it ideal for temperature-sensitive teas and meticulous brewing. It's also a great chef's accessory! The kettle is lined in stainless steel, holds approximately one liter, and is available in either dark teal green or black.

Read about more Customer Favorites in our current newsletter.

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Bestselling Teas of 2009

With a chill in the air we're all enjoying a bit more tea than usual this time of year. If you're looking for something different or perhaps a gift for tea-loving loved ones, here are some suggestions courtesy of customers of our online store: our top-selling teas of 2009.

Green tea lovers are looking for healthy choices. Our customers' favorite green tea this year is Organic Everyday Green Tea, which offers an excellent flavor balance and rich texture on the palate. A healthful, forgiving, and easy-to-brew tea that will reward you with great taste almost no matter how you brew it. And it's affordable enough to drink every day!

Year after year, our overall top-selling tea is Roy's hand-fired, traditional-style Monkey-Picked Tie Guan Yin. One pot of this fine, rare tea tells you why: it's a veritable symphony of fruit, florals, and fire, a rich and complex blend of all the elements that make oolong many tea lovers' preferred beverage in every season. Our top-quality tie guan yin is oxidized according to the time-honored formula "three hong (red) to seven lu (green)," in other words, until 30% of the leaf is reddish brown and 70% remains green. Roy performs the final firing here in the US to ensure maximum aromatics and flavor. Fans of this great tea will be delighted with the 2009 version, which features larger leaves packed with flavor; rich viscosity; a great balance of florals and firing; glossy bao guang ("treasured luster" - a sign of high leaf quality); and a rare and highly desireable reddish-orange liquor.

Puerh lovers won't be surprised that Topaz Puerh is our bestselling puerh in 2009. We've had this tea in our warehouse since 2000, and if you know puerh, you know that's a good thing. The small amber tips brew up into a deep golden-red infusion with a rich, full, earthy taste that has the hearty yet mellow smoothness and sweet finish of fine, aged puerh. Here's a tea that never disappoints and just keeps improving with age, truly a customer favorite year after year.

Our bestselling scented tea in 2009 is our renowned Imperial Jasmine Pearls, produced to our fanatically high standards, which include hand-wrapping each pearl in special cotton paper for optimal storage during the wait between the spring harvest of our fine green tea and the summer harvest of the best jasmine blossoms. Bursting with white tips, our pearls are almost snow-white and intensely fragrant with a rich-textured liquor. Jasmine tea is the tea most beloved in Beijing; you'll understand why once you've experienced our Imperial version of this classic.

Rounding out our Customers' Choice teas, Imperial Yunnan Gold brings all the flavor and depth of teas of Yunnan Province to a delicious black tea. Made almost exclusively from the downy golden buds of Yunnan's da ye (large leaf) cultivar, this extraordinary tea yields a bright amber liquor upon infusion. Packed with flavor and hand-crafted by skilled artisans, it's a tea you won't soon forget!

Read about more Customer Favorites in our current newsletter.

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Variations on the Theme of Purple

One afternoon recently an email arrived disparaging our Imperial Tribute Harvest Purple-Tip Puerh. The heckler (who never tasted our tea) found a “purple-tip puerh” online at a rock-bottom price and questioned the merits of our pricier flagship tea. The spirit of tea is all about being curious and open-minded, so I was immediately intrigued. Could Roy have wasted months negotiating and competing with Chinese buyers for the chance to acquire our rare tea, when he might simply have bought some online and far cheaper? I ordered one of the bargain “purple-tip” cakes to check it out.

The cake arrived promptly, and when I mentioned it to Roy he recalled that one of his Chinese suppliers had also sent a sample of a putative purple-tip for his consideration. We decided to have a side-by-side “taste-off” at the warehouse. This afternoon we gathered the three teas and did a professional-style cupping under controlled conditions: five grams of each tea, infused in water at 205F for five minutes.

First a word about the initial visual impression. You’ve seen our purple-tip puerh—we think it’s such a beautiful tea that we use its photo as the header for this blog! There are also several photos on the product page on our web site. It consists almost entirely of purple, gold, and greenish leaf tips that nestle inside one another like tiny bamboo shoots. Because it was picked very early, the petiole (attachment point between the leaf and the stem) is short and stubby. Older puerh leaves quickly grow long, thin petioles. The first thing we noticed about the cake we bought online was that it was green, not purple (perhaps as compensation, it came in a purple wrapper!). It consisted primarily of fully opened leaves with long petioles. Most of the leaves were covered in downy spring fur. As to the purple wrapper, it included a lot of English text, as well as Chinese. This is a bit of a red flag, as Chinese have been known for centuries to export tea they don’t care for to the West. Any Chinese packaging with English is clearly a product bound for export. Finally, we had a look at the sample tea Roy received from China. This is one of strangest teas I’ve ever seen. The bamboo-shoot-like tips were huge—three or four times the size of our tea—and covered in incredibly thick, shaggy fur, like a puerh Sasquatch. Roy said the thick fur confirms that it was picked early in the year, while the large leaf size suggests that it was grown at a lower altitude, with plenty of oxygen and rich soil compared to growing conditions up in the mountains. The fur also made him skeptical that the leaves came from truly ancient trees, because very old trees tend to put out leaves later in the season, without the protective fur. In any case, he agreed, he’d never seen anything like it!

Then we had a taste. Our tea has a powerfully fruity flavor; if you tried it blindfolded you might think you were drinking an exotic juice. It’s clean and refreshing with a potent finish. But what about the two contenders? The cheap online tea looked ok in the cup, with a clear, light-amber liquor, but it had a puzzling lack of aroma or flavor. Even inexpensive green tea from Yunnan usually has lots of flavor, so the blandness was a surprise. Roy’s sensitive palate also detected some chemically off-notes, almost as though the cake had been stored near cleaning products. The furry tea was disappointing, too. There was an off-taste that vaguely recalled the way old books smell after they’ve been stored in the attic. We surmised that the tea had been in storage in hot, humid southern China, where the excessive fur absorbed too much moisture and perhaps started to mildew a bit.

The moral of this story? If it seems too good to be true…well, your mom can finish that one for you. Caveat emptor.


Five grams of each: the hirsute sample from China, our tea, and the online bargain tea


The three teas infusing


Infused leaves close-up: the big, furry tips


Infused leaves close-up: our tea


Infused leaves close-up: the online "bargain" tea
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Irresistible Lucky Teapots

In times like these we can all use a bit more luck, and what better way to invoke it than by brewing tea? Extraordinary times call for extraordinary teapots, and with that in mind we're pleased to present three Lucky Teapots from Taiwan, whose innovative teaware never fails to attract the eye. All of the teapots are meticulously crafted from unglazed clay. They make great gifts, and don't forget to add one to your cart for yourself!

In Chinese culture mice are thrify and industrious, and those embodied in our adorable Mouse Teapots are flaunting large, ancient Chinese gold coins to show the fruits of their labor! Whether you're born in the Year of the Mouse or just love these cute yet functional teapots as much as we do, you can start every tea-brewing session with a smile. Available in dark brown, terracotta, or tan spotted colors.

The Chinese word for fish, yu, sounds like the word for abundance, so Chinese love fish in any form as a token of wealth and prosperity. Now you can summon abundance every time you brew tea with one of our irresistible Blowfish Teapots. Their round bellies suggest extra abundance and also give large oolong or puerh tea leaves plenty of room to expand, so your tea will be as delicious as it is fortunate. A must for any teapot collector! Available in dark brown or terracotta colored clay.

Rounding out our Lucky Teapot collection (literally!) is the rotund Lucky Pig Teapot. Pigs are well known as symbols of luck and plenty in many cultures. Other people just think they're cute! Maybe you're even fortunate enough to be born in the Year of the Pig, one of the luckiest signs in the Chinese Zodiac. Whatever attracts you to this unique, well made teapot, you're sure to have good luck brewing tea, and start the day off right. Available in dark brown with gold Chinese characters, terracotta, or tan spotted.
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Preview of Coming Attractions

It's been a busy month here at the teahouse. First we shipped Roy's book off to the printer, and now we're working on the new and improved web site we hope to launch this month. The image at left is a preview of the new home page.

In addition, in this year of great oolong tea, more good news for oolong lovers: the bounty continues! Last week Roy and I cupped some candidates from the crop of winter green oolong from Taiwan. Earlier this week Roy fired two more varieties of Wu Yi yan cha: the uncommon bai mu dan (white peony - a different tea from the white tea that goes by the same name) and the classic shui jin gui (golden water turtle), one of the si da ming cong (four great varieties) of yan cha. We'll be tasting those in a few days and I'll post a full report here on the blog. We're expecting lots of news in these last few weeks of the year, so check back often for updates!
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New Newsletter: Customer Favorite Tea & Teaware

Our latest newsletter was just delivered to inboxes around the globe. In this issue we review our customers' top picks during 2009 for green tea, oolong tea, puerh tea, scented/blended tea, black tea, and teaware. There's also the latest update on Roy's upcoming book, Great Teas of China, as well as a look at three adorable lucky teapots that make great gifts and might even change your luck! In any case they're sure to bring a smile every time you brew tea.

Learn which teas are our customer favorites this year - maybe your next favorite is just waiting to be discovered! And be sure to subscribe to Tea Readings, our email newsletter, so you don't miss a single issue, filled with news, new products, and information every tea lover will want to know.
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Construction Zone!

If you're a regular Camellia Sinensis reader you've no doubt noticed some changes to the blog and possibly a few intermittent glitches. These are related to a major redesign of the ImperialTea.com web site, due to launch in the next week or so. Among other improvements, we'll be integrating the blog into the main site. Until the official relaunch you may notice occasional strange looks or odd behavior. Thanks in advance for your patience. The new site will help us provide more information and serve you better, and we're eager to unveil it as soon as possible! In the meantime, if you have questions or need assistance, don't hesitate to contact us.
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Meetup in the Berkeley Teahouse

We're pleased that the new San Francisco Tea Meetup Group chose our Berkeley Teahouse for its inaugural meetup today. Bay Area-based Tea Sommelier James Labe selected six of our oolongs to taste and discuss: from Taiwan, Wen Shan Bao Zhong, Imperial Green Oolong, and Gui Fei Cha, and from China, Monkey-Picked Tie Guan Yin, the Phoenix Mountain oolong Bai Ye, and from Wu Yi Shan, Yan Ru. It was a warm, sunny afternoon in Berkeley, perfect for tea on our upstairs deck. Here are a couple more photos:



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Roy's Book Is Off to the Printer!

This morning we did the final signoffs and Roy's upcoming book, Great Teas of China, is heading to the printer! Assuming all goes well from here, we should have copies in our warehouse in about four weeks. You can preorder the book on our web site. We're also trying to arrange e-book editions. More details on that as the situation evolves.
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All Treats, No Tricks in the Teahouses This Weekend

If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area don't be spooked! Mark your calendar for a couple of fun events this Halloween weekend, when it's all treats/no tricks in our teahouses. Tomorrow we're celebrating the holiday with a Halloween Special: an order of delicious, handmade pumpkin shao mai plus our popular Winter Spice tea, all for just $8.

Then on Sunday, November 1, join the San Francisco Tea Meetup Group at 3pm in our Berkeley Teahouse for an Oolong Tasting with Tea Sommelier James Labe. This event costs $15. James will select of up to six of our oolongs for tasting, commentary, and group discussion. Seats are limited, so sign up soon if you're interested.

We look forward to seeing you soon in our teahouses!
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Tea Lovers Holiday Shopping Guide: Five Fine Gifts Under $120

If you're shopping to truly delight and impress your favorite tea lover, and give a gift that will be enjoyed for a long time to come, we have five fine tea items to suggest. High-quality, unique, attractive, and functional, they'll be the envy of any tea table:

For those who love to drink lots of tea, or enjoy sharing with friends and family, our carefree and versatile glazed stoneware Family-Style Teaset is a great answer. The large bamboo-handled pot holds a generous 60 ounces and comes with four matching 8-ounce teacups. This teaset works well with any style of tea. Attractively gift boxed. Price is $98.

For maximum enjoyment of fine oolong or puerh tea, we recommend brewing the traditional way, in yi xing teaware. Our Complete Yi Xing Teaset provides everything you need for gong fu tea service: an 8-ounce teapot, draining tray, covered pitcher, and six traditional Chinese teacups with saucers. Made of high-quality clay, this set will gain an attractive patina with use. Available in either dark brown or terracotta colored clay; comes packaged in an attractive presentation box. Price is $118.

This large, handsome Programmable Digital Electric Kettle has quickly become one of our top sellers. It's made exclusively for us and is UL-listed. You set a temperature target; the kettle will heat water to the desired level and hold it there, making it ideal for teas that benefit from careful water temperature control, such as green tea. Also a great chef's accessory! The kettle itself is cordless, with a corded base and stainless steel interior. Approximate capacity: 1 liter. Available in dark teal green or black. Price is $89.99.

Plan your next tea outing with our double-decker Handmade Basket Gift Set, which comes complete with an attractive, well made teapot and teacup set in your choice of colors. The top level holds the teaware snugly so that you can take your tea party anywhere. It's also insulated, so it doubles as a portable tea cozy! The lower level stores tea, snacks, and accessories. The handmade basket is also a beautiful decorative item when you’re not drinking tea. A gift any traveling tea lover will cherish. Price is $89.

The Three-Legged Treasure Toad is a powerful symbol of wealth in feng shui. This mythical creature is said to appear every full moon near homes where the residents receive good news the very next day. This is usually in the form of wealth or monetary gain. The Three-Legged Treasure Toad holds a coin in its mouth, brings a string of coins on each side, and carries seven stars on its back. It is often placed near cash registers, reception areas, managers' desks, or offices of successful businesses. At home, the beloved toad is placed in the corner of the family room to enhance the household’s wealth. It can also be found on tea tables across China, where it's used as a "tea helper." A splash of tea is poured over the toad during each infusion, and in turn it helps you with your brewing skills! Our finely wrought Treasure Toad is made from yi xing clay and comes in a silk gift box. Price is $88.

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Tea Lovers Holiday Shopping Guide: Great Values, $50 Or Less

Continuing our series of gift suggestions for tea lovers, we're pleased to present nine more customer favorites, all moderately priced at $50 or less. These high-quality gifts are terrific values, sure to delight anyone who appreciates fine Chinese tea, teaware, and tea culture.

Our Famous Tea Gift Tin Set includes three attractive, reusable metal tea canisters marked "Specially Selected Famous Tea" in elegant Chinese calligraphy. Each tin contains a legendary Chinese tea: Imperial Silver Needles, Superior Puerh, and Organic Dragon Well. Preparation instructions are also included, and the collection comes nicely gift boxed. Price is $50.

During the Ming dynasty Chinese stopped drinking powdered tea and took to infusing loose tea leaves in a gaiwan, a small, individual-sized covered bowl. The lid keeps the liquid warm and serves as a filter, preventing the tea leaves from getting into your mouth. Imperial Tea Court is proud to present our specially commissioned Ming Dynasty Yi Xing Gaiwans, modeled after the original Ming era gaiwans. These classic Ming-style gaiwans are available in zi sha (brown) or zhu ni (terracotta) clay, hold 8 ounces, and come in silk-lined gift boxes. Price is $38.

Customers love our adorable Lucky Pig Teapot. In many cultures around the world, pigs are believed to bring good luck and prosperity. Ours has the extra advantage that you can also brew tea in it! Made of yi xing clay, our Lucky Pig Teapot comes in an attractive gift box. Available in dark brown, terracotta, or red and tan spotted. Price is $48.

Our Yellow Mark Puerh Bing Cha is one of our most popular puerh cakes, a delicious shou (finished) puerh with a great balance of warming earthiness, mild, pleasant sweetness, and satisfying viscosity. Ready to drink now, but it will also continue to improve with age. Sold in a long-lasting, classic 375-gram cake. Price is $45.

Our Bestselling Tea Gift Tin Set includes three attractive, reusable metal tea canisters that each contain a generous supply of one of our best-selling teas: Jasmine Pearls, Imperial Red Hibiscus Blend, and Superior Yunnan Black. Preparation instructions are also included. Price is $40.

Whether you're looking for a unique gift, an impressive presentation for holiday guests, or a special treat just for you, our Blossoming Tea Gift Set is a great answer. The set includes one of each of our four spectacular blossoming teas, meticulously hand-tied balls of fine green tea and rare herbs and flowers that unfurl into beautiful, fragrant bouquets-in-a-cup that are as much fun to admire as they are to drink. Also included is our 12-ounce Dancing Blossom Glass Teapot, the perfect vessel for brewing and admiring each lovely blossoming tea. A truly memorable way to enjoy tea. Price is $40.

Our charming 6-ounce Contemporary Classic Yi Xing Teapot, one of our all-time best-sellers, has the elegant simplicity of a classic design. Its smooth, round body with a straight spout yields a profile that's unadorned yet forceful, simple, and pleasing to the eye. It's made with a superior grade of yi xing clay that provides rich color and will develop a beautiful patina with use. An attractive, high quality teapot that will appeal to beginners as well as aficionados, offered at an unbeatable price. Price is $39.

In many parts of China you can easily spot tea shops by the colorful hanging, tasseled Chinese knots tied around miniature bing cha made of real tea. Our version of this classic decoration, the Zodiac Bing Cha, features a bright red tasseled knot tied around a tea cake embossed with one of the 12 animal signs in the Chinese zodiac. "What's your sign?" never had so much meaning for tea lovers! Attractively packaged in a silk-lined gift box. (If you don't know your Chinese sign, look it up here.) Price is $30.

Anyone who loves oolong tea knows and loves the great oolongs of China's famed Wu Yi Mountain, which produces rich, complex, and full-bodied teas that benefit from moderate to high firing. While Wu Yi oolongs exhibit the pronounced florals characteristic of oolong, in this type of tea they're uniquely balanced by the strong mineral character that comes from Wu Yi's rocky terrain and gives Wu Yi tea its nickname, yan cha (cliff tea). Among the 100+ varieties of yan cha, the four most famous, known as Si Da Ming Cong (Four Great Tea Varieties) are Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe), Shui Jin Gui (Gold Water Turtle), Tie Luo Han (Iron Arhat), and Bai Ji Guan (White Cock’s Comb). Our Si Da Ming Cong Wu Yi Yan Cha Sampler provides an 8-gram sample of each of these outstanding teas. Price is $30.



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Tea Lovers Holiday Shopping Guide: Stocking Stuffers Under $20

Cooler weather has arrived and that means the holiday shopping season will soon be here. If you're searching for the ideal gift for your favorite tea lover, we have a list of customer favorites that are sure to delight anyone who appreciates fine Chinese tea, teaware, and tea culture. In the first installment, we present a fun list of stocking stuffers, all under $20. You're sure to find an item or two you can't resist!
Roy’s long-awaited book, Great Teas of China, will arrive from the printer just in time for the 2009 holiday season. In the book Roy picks 10 of his favorite Chinese teas and provides an in-depth picture of the origins, preferred growing regions, processing techniques, and more for each tea, all interspersed with colorful and revealing anecdotes from his lifetime in tea. A must for any tea lover who aims for greater appreciation of some of the world’s most renowned varieties of Chinese tea. Place a preorder and as a special thank-you we'll ship you a signed copy as soon as its available (expected ship date early December). Price is $18.95.

Over 1,000 years ago Yang Gui Fei was the concubine of Emperor Tang Ming Huang. Her beauty has been well documented: to maintain her looks she bathed regularly in a special blend of herbs and tea. Our luxurious Imperial Tea Bath sachets, filled with finest natural herbs and premium green tea, bring Yang Gui Fei’s immortal beauty secret to your own tub! And for the holidays, we’ve made the package even more romantic by adding our spectacular Valentine Rose blossoming tea. The special Imperial Tea Bath Holiday Gift Pack includes two tea bath sachets and two Valentine Rose blossoms, guaranteed to soothe, relax, and refresh the one you love most! Price is $18.

We've been using this durable, functional glazed stoneware gaiwan in our teahouses for over 16 years - that's why we call it our Teahouse Gaiwan. We love its sturdy construction, bright white interior that makes it easy to view the color of the liquor as the tea steeps, and wide mouth that allows for great temperature control with delicate green teas. Now you can enjoy the same benefits when you brew tea at home! The 6 ounce capacity is just right whether you’re brewing tea for one or to share. Now offered at a special value price of $18.

Those who appreciate the finest oolong and puerh teas know that the best way to savor these treasures is with traditional gong fu preparation. For the full gong fu experience you’ll want an attractive, sturdy set of tea tools to make quick and elegant work of the pleasant task of brewing tea. Our value-priced set of Hardwood Tea Implements is the perfect answer, a durable, attractive six-piece set with everything you need to make a great pot of tea! Price is $18.

Customers love the soothing Chinese music we feature in our teahouses. Traditional with a pleasantly contemporary spin, each of our Tea Music CDs has a tea theme. Over a dozen titles to choose from. Makes a great stocking stuffer for your favorite tea lover…or music lover! Price is $15.95.

A great solution for puerh lovers on the go! Our Mini Puerh Box is a handsome 6-ounce container filled with individually wrapped single-serving puerh tea balls, the most convenient way to enjoy one of China's most unique teas at home, at work, while traveling, or any time. Price is $15.

Customers love our new portable Imperial Tea Bottle! In China the preferred way to drink tea informally is to toss a handful of leaves into an insulated glass bottle and top it off with hot water all day long. Our 10-ounce Imperial model Chinese tea bottle features double-walled glass construction to retain heat, a silicone o-ring seal to prevent leaks, and an attractive etched design. Comes in a handsome padded, silk-lined brocade presentation box--the perfect gift for any tea lover. Price is $12.

Our Gourd Tea Strainer is hand-crafted to our specifications in Taiwan. Made from a real dried hu lu gourd with nylon mesh carefully hand-sewn into the bowl, our strainer is sized to nestle into the mouth of a standard-sized pitcher and makes quick work of removing any stray leaves that may escape from the teapot. It's an elegant, traditional, and natural addition to any collection of gong fu tea implements. Price is $6.50.

Long a favorite in our teahouses, our hot and spicy Imperial Chili Sauce is now available for your home kitchen! Made with organic tea seed oil, spices, and plenty of fiery chili peppers, according to a traditional Chinese formula, it will enliven almost any dish, from plain noodles to steamed vegetables to potroast. Sure to delight anyone who enjoys the delicious fire of chilis. Four-ounce jar makes a great stocking stuffer. Price is $6.

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