This post is in collaboration with Totem Tea.
Some people don’t realize this, but quality tea is just like fine wine. Every tea has a story to tell, and that story doesn’t begin in your teapot. It can be traced all the way back to the tea farm where the care and artistry of the farm’s workers, as well as the terroir of the farm influence the tea’s scent, taste, and texture. As you sip and savor tea through each infusion, it evolves in appearance and on the palate.
I recently met up with the owners of Totem Tea, Phillip Sauerbeck and Dan Pappas, who are both incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about tea. Sourced from small tea farms in Taiwan and China, Totem Tea’s products are extensively researched and carefully selected. Only one in at least twenty teas make the cut. Their next trip is in October, and they’ll be visiting Taiwan before an oolong immersion experience in Fujian and Guangdong provinces of China.
Phil and Dan consider themselves tea connoisseurs, not tea merchants, who enjoy sharing tea and storytelling through tea. During my visit, we shared a flight of three teas with distinct flavor profiles. It’s almost like a 3-course meal with an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert. I realize that sipping hot tea in the middle of summer might not be appealing to everyone, but it was a very calming and zen experience.
For now, the teas are only available through their website, but fingers crossed… maybe a small tea shop with a tasting room will be in store for Totem Tea in the future!
We started our tea session with the anji bai cha 安吉白茶 brewed in a clay kyusu with a no fuss, easy to use handle. Delicate with floral aromas, this White Jade Phoenix Green Tea had a subtle, barely there quality on the first infusion, but began to reveal its cooling green tea flavor on the next two infusions.
It’s fascinating to watch the tea leaves slowly uncurl themselves over each infusion. After the second infusion, there was a scent that seemed very familiar, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until Dan mentioned steamed spinach. Ah hah!
Brewed in a pure silver teapot, the Gui Fei Oolong 貴妃烏龍 falls into a category of tea known as leaf-bitten oolong. No pesticides are used in the tea farms, and cicadas are encouraged to bite the leaves as the nibbling results in the plant releasing more sugar. This trick to cultivating sweeter oolong was discovered by chance in 1999 after cicadas had overrun a tea farm while farmers had evacuated during an earthquake. Now the cicadas are an integral part of the tea production process.
This oolong is bold enough to pair with heavier foods, while its sweetness entices you to enjoy cup after cup. The first infusion was light compared to what comes to mind when I think of oolong, but the next few infusions offered a rosy, roasted mouth feel and sweet honey flavor. The lively smell reminded me of the Portland rose gardens.
Next up was a caffeine-free herbal tea, which is almost like a drinkable dessert. White and yellow chrysanthemum is most common, but this high altitude Snow Honey Chrysanthemum 雪菊花茶 is different. All the familiar chrysanthemum aromas and flavors are there, but this one is richer and bolder. Plus, there are earthy, peppery notes in mixed in too. Imagine pairing this tea with a summer berry tart!
Note: This post is in collaboration with Totem Tea. I was invited to meet with this business and received complimentary samples. This was not in exchange for a positive review and all opinions expressed here are my own.