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Each time we get a question by email that may be of general interest, we post it here.

Is there a standard for the term "organic" in the tea industry? 
There are no agreed upon standards for organic farming in Asia. It means different things to different people. The term organic can be used solely for marketing purposes. In Darjeeling, India, almost half of the ninety or so tea estates now claim to be organic, following the success of a few estates labeled this way over the past few years. Some gardens have been farming organically for many years, working with nature, without chemical fertilizers and pesticides; others have not. Separating legitimate organic growers from imitators is difficult on a large scale without a standard definition.

Is your tea organic?

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What is herbal tea?
Herbal tea is not actually tea, but rather an herb or a mix of herbs. Only in the United States are these herbal mixtures called tea. They are usually referred to as an infusion or tisane in other parts of the world.

What is medicinal tea?
Medicinal teas are tisanes made from specific herbs, flowers and extracts that may be beneficial. A wide variety are available -- some have significant scientific backing to their claims, others do not. True teas have been widely studied for their health benefits. Green tea contains polyphenols, researched for their antioxidant and other health properties.

What is the difference between green and black tea?
Both green and black tea come from the Camellia sinensis plant. The difference is in the amount of time that the picked leaves are allowed to oxidize. Green teas are minimally oxidized, whereas black teas are fully oxidized.

What is the difference between loose-leaf teas and the tea in a tea bag?
The industry term for what goes into tea bags is fannings or dust. Only the smallest particles of tea, the remnants of mass production, make it into tea bags. Usually the tea is processed entirely by machine. From picking through packaging, the human hand never enters the process; the result is correspondingly soulless. Technically, it is possible to put good-quality tea into a bag. We still have major reservations about tea bags. Whole-leaf tea needs room to unfurl and release its flavor. This isn't possible in a small tea bag. Breaking up the tea leaf so it can steep within a bag alters the character of the tea. Small particles quickly release all of their tannins into hot water, promoting over-steeped, bitter tea that dries the tongue. Tea bags are not able to withstand several infusions. All their flavor is quickly dispersed. Decaffeinating tea bags is less effective because the tannins release almost as quickly as the caffeine. Finally, part of enjoying tea is watching the leaf unfurl as it steeps -- it can tell you a lot about the tea.

How do I know when the tea is steeped correctly?
The only way to tell is to taste it. Donít rely on the color unless you are familiar with a specific tea. There are some general guidelines for steeping tea, but in the end personal preference should be your guide.

How should I store my tea?
The best way to store tea is in an airtight container, in a cool, dry place. Do not keep tea in the refrigerator, as condensation will build up on the tea leaves. Like herbs and spices, tea does not go bad - it just loses flavor over time. Tea can generally last for several months, but many factors are involved in retaining its freshness. Air, heat, moisture, light and odors are the five elements that eventually causes the taste to deteriorate. The only exception is Pu-erh, which actually ages nicely over the years if it is exposed to some air.

How much caffeine does tea have?
Tea has a wide range of caffeine depending upon the type of tea, plant varietal, and brewing style. Generally per 8-ounce cup, green teas contain 5-20 milligrams of caffeine, oolongs 35-45 milligrams, and blacks 45-60 milligrams. By comparison, a typical cup of coffee has roughly 125-185 milligrams of caffeine.

Is green tea really as healthy as people say it is?
There is an increasing body of scientific evidence that points to the many health benefits of green tea -- especially in its high level of polyphenols, which is a powerful antioxidants.

How is flavored tea made?
Traditionally, jasmine tea is made by exposing green tea (or a light oolong) to fresh jasmine at night when the flowers are most fragrant. They are then separated during the day. This process is repeated several times. This is the one flavored tea in which high qualities of both tea and jasmine are occasionally used to create a wonderful beverage. Other flavored teas are made by adding essential oils (bergamot for Earl Grey), herbs, spices, perfumes, or even synthetic flavorings.

What does "flush" mean when referring to Darjeeling tea?
Flush refers to the four separate plucking seasons throughout the year, each known for its distinctive flavor. First Flush (March-April), Second Flush (May-June), Monsoon Flush (July-September), and Autumnal Flush (October-November) are the traditional names and picking periods.

How do the flushes differ?

  • First Flush (Easter Flush) is the first plucking after the dormant winter months. The leaves are tender and very light green in appearance. The liquor is light, clear, and bright with a pleasant brisk flavor.
  • Second Flush (Spring Flush) is known for its quality. The leaf has a purplish bloom. The liquor is round and mellow with more amber color and a slightly fruity flavor. During this period, the "Muscatel" flavor for which Darjeeling is known becomes pronounced.
  • Monsoon Flush (Summer Flush) is the longest plucking period. This is when the monsoon starts and the heavy rains come. The liquor gets stronger but the overall quality generally suffers during this time.
  • Autumnal Flush is a favorite of many; the tea has a light coppery tinge and the liquor has a delicate character.

What is Gong Fu style?
Literally "skill and practice," it refers to how oolong tea is prepared in Taiwan and China. A large amount of leaf is used in a small clay pot. The infusions are very short, and all the liquor is poured off immediately into thimble cups. This method allows up to 10 infusions using the same leaves. Click here for more info:

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