We were pleased to welcome Dianna Harbin's San Francisco Tea Meetup Group to the Ferry Building teahouse this afternoon. The group held a Bay Area Tea Tour for tea professionals today and came to the teahouse for lunch and a talk by Roy on getting started in the tea business. We host many groups at both our Ferry Building and Berkeley locations, and can arrange custom programs including special menus, tea talks, and more. Contact us at customerservice@imperialtea.com to plan a delicious and memorable special event for your group!
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Feel the Cha Qi with Our New He Kai Shan Sheng Bing Cha

The latest addition to our lineup of puerh cakes is the interesting He Kai Shan Sheng Bing Cha, a green puerh harvested from a respected but lesser known puerh mountain in Yunnan Province.

Roy is excited about this tea because of its intense fruitiness, which will continue to refine and concentrate as the cake gradually matures. It's so fruity that the tea is good to drink now. However, if you choose to drink it as a green tea, brew with cooler water, less tea (perhaps 4 grams), and don't steep too long - otherwise, the young tea's astringency will surface.

The cake exhibits plenty of silvery tips and not too many stems, while the infused leaves are generally moderate in size - all of which point to harvest earlier in the spring. In the cup you'll appreciate this tea's rich amber color, a sign that it's packed with nutrients that mean it's both healthful and full of flavor. It also provides a sweet, clean finish that lingers pleasantly on the palate for some time.

In the big picture the astringency is a good thing, as it's the result of tannins that give the tea enough structure to age well. Roy believes this tea will age superbly, continuing to improve for 20 years or more. It's best aged in rather dry but not arid conditions where there are significant temperature fluctuations that encourage the cake to "breathe." You may want to buy two of these cakes: one to nibble on every few months to see how it's coming along, and the other for the vault, to enjoy many years from now, when it's at its peak.

Another interesting aspect of this tea is its potent cha qi, a much discussed but elusive phenomenon. You can't see or taste cha qi, but when you drink a tea that has it, you suddenly realize that everyone in the room has become more animated and gregarious, and you may even find yourself loosening your collar as you warm up a bit. When Roy and I first tasted a He Kai Shan cake in the (unheated) warehouse, we immediately felt the cha qi kick in, and I experienced it again when I brewed the tea today in the teahouse. If you've wondered about cha qi, this is a good tea to learn from.

Affordably priced at only $65 for a standard 360-gram (12.7-ounce) cake, this fine He Kai Shan sheng bing cha will handsomely reward your investment.

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Don't Forget: Roy's Book Signing Is Sunday Afternoon

A reminder in case you haven't yet marked your calendar: Roy Fong will be signing copies of his new book, Great Teas of China, in the San Francisco Ferry Building teahouse this Sunday, January 24, at 4:00 pm. Stop by, chat with Roy, and take the opportunity to have your copy of this soon-to-be-classic tea book signed by the Teamaster himself!    
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New Newsletter: Winter Puerh Edition

The latest issue of our Tea Readings newsletter is now available: the Winter Puerh Edition. Featured are three great loose-leaf puerh, a new sheng puerh cake, puerh teapots and accessories, and much more. The newsletter also introduces our 2009 Autumn Harvest Jade Tie Guan Yin and covers Roy's upcoming California tea farm purchase and book signing event.

Don't miss the chance to have the latest teahouse news, products, and opportunities delivered straight to your inbox. Subscribe today!
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Mark Your Calendar: Book Signing at the Ferry Building Jan. 24

On Sunday, January 24, from 4-5 pm Roy will be in our San Francisco Ferry Building teahouse autographing copies of his new book, Great Teas of China. We hope you'll stop by to say hello, have Roy sign your copy of the book, and perhaps drink some great tea while you're visiting! We look forward to seeing you in the teahouse on the 24th.

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New Year Toast

The Skoal Project just published Roy's photo in its series of food and beverage luminaries making a toast with aquavit. Calling Roy "a purveyor of some of the best rarer-than-rare Chinese teas," the project blog notes that he's "an ordained daoist priest" who "helped restore one of the oldest Tang Dynasty tea sites in Zhejiang, China" and "specializes in aged puerh tea."

The project describes its aim as "discovering something of people’s nature by how they handle the ritual of the skoal." We say a toast is a great way to kick off an exciting new year in 2010!

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Aged Puerh by the Ounce

Chilly winter weather finds us drinking more puerh at the teahouse, and among our favorites are three intensely flavorful loose-leaf selections Roy has been aging in the unique, mild climate of our Oakland warehouse. Now each has a distinctive taste and aroma, but they all make delicious, warming brews that hit the spot during the cold, gloomy winter season.

The advantage of loose-leaf puerh is that you can buy it by the ounce. There's no need to purchase an entire cake, so you can sample several varieties to find a favorite - or diversify your puerh experience. Quoted prices are for one ounce; there's a discount on larger quantities.

Recently, we did a side-by-side comparison with our three finest aged loose-leaf puerh: Topaz Puerh (top left), Special Reserve Puerh (top right), and Imperial Puerh (bottom). Here are our notes and observations:

Topaz Puerh: the bargain of the group at $13.16 for one ounce, Topaz Puerh is made from attractive golden brown leaf tips. It has a bold, very forward flavor that means it's okay to be stingy with the leaves. Moistened, the leaves have a strikingly fruity, almost raisiny, aroma. They infuse to a sweet-smelling, dark reddish-amber liquor. The flavor is an intriguing combination of sweet and tart, with a hint of earthiness.

Special Reserve Puerh: This tea makes a sharp visual contrast with Topaz Puerh's elegant gold tips. Special Reserve is made from the type of large, stemmy leaves often found in older puerh cakes. The dry leaves have a pleasantly sweet, earthy smell; when they're moistened, the earthiness moves forward, with undertones of concentrated fruit and sugarcane. The amber infusion is strikingly clear with rich viscosity and a clean, sweet, earthiness that's a hallmark of fine, patiently aged puerh. Special Reserve Puerh yields a warming, smooth, and satisfying brew with a lingering sweet aftertaste. Priced at $19.60 for one ounce.

Imperial Puerh: We reserve the Imperial designation for our finest teas. Imperial Puerh is crafted exclusively from beautifully uniform golden leaf tips. A splash of hot water reveals an unexpected rich, chocolately aroma with mild, earthy undertones. The deep amber infusion is exceptionally clear and luminous, with a sweet and slightly tart, fruity aroma. On the palate, Imperial Puerh fills the mouth with a luscious texture and uncommon notes of chocolate and dried fruit. To round out the experience there's a long finish with hints of fruit. Puerh lovers will find no better way to take a chill off. Priced at $26.60 for one ounce.

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Beginnings of a Tea Farm in California

Exciting news: Roy has entered escrow to buy a beautiful patch of land in the greater Bay Area where he will start his California tea farm. The farm comes with its own water supply and already supports a small almond orchard - Roy will even grow his own tea snacks!

The first tea plants will go in this spring, variety to be determined. It will be a few years before the farm produces a commercial harvest. Ultimately, Roy hopes to build a teahouse and Chinese culture center on the property, a little over an hour outside San Francisco.

Also this year, Roy is moving forward with growing tea on the farm offered to him by government officials in Shaanxi, China. At a time when too many US sellers of Chinese tea are offering mediocre products from touts posing as Hong Kong teamasters, Roy will be growing his own tea on two continents. He'll also continue to buy exceptional tea from top-quality farms with which he has long-established relationships.

Stay tuned for more details on the California tea farm. We'll keep you posted with details on the tea we'll be growing, photos, and more!

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New in the Teahouse: Puerh Tools!

Winter is here and on the tea calendar that means it's puerh season. Are you ready? We have two new inexpensive but handy puerh tools, imported from Yunnan, China (the home of puerh) to help make your puerh experience even easier and more enjoyable.

Our puerh knife is made of bamboo, tied with colorful thread, and decorated with colored stones in the style of Yunnan Province's ethnic minorities. The knife is used to pry off teapot-sized slabs from puerh cakes. Using the knife politely avoids breaking the cake with your hands, and also results in fewer broken leaves than manually crumbling off pieces of cake. Unlike the many metal puerh knives on the market, our bamboo model complies with the traditional practice of avoiding metal at the tea table.

To use the knife, insert it horizontally into the edge of the cake and gently twist until a large flake of cake is released. With practice, you should be able to remove a piece just the right size for your teapot from a well aged cake.

Our puerh brush is actually a multifunctional tea tool that's also useful with yi xing teapots. For puerh, it's a great way to remove surface dust and mold that have accumulated during the aging process. Simply brush over the surface of the cake. Our brush's soft bristles will gently clean without damaging the cake. When you're brewing tea gong fu style, you can use the same brush to leisurely "paint" your teapot with hot water from the tea boat while the tea steeps. This helps keep the pot warm, equalizes temperature, and minimizes spots on the outside of your fine yi xing pot.

No well equipped tea table should be without these handy yet inexpensive tools, priced at only $6.50 each.
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Roy in the New York Times

Starting the year off right, Roy was featured in a New York Times article on Bay Area tea culture today. The article ran in the "Dining and Wine" section. Calling Roy "something of a father figure to the fine-tea scene," author Gregory Dicum particularly noted the "distinctive Bay Area flavor profile" of the puerh Roy ages in his Oakland warehouse. Dicum also mentioned the organic hand-pulled noodles that are featured in our Berkeley restaurant, as well as Roy's plans to buy land in California where he can start growing tea.

Judging from Day 1, 2010 is off to a good start! Best New Year wishes to our tea-loving friends. We're looking forward to many opportunities to surprise and delight you, and serve you great tea, in the months ahead.
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