The prickly pear cactus flourishes in the desert-like climates of Mexico, South America and some of the southern states of the USA.
During early spring to summer, the cactus blossoms and the early stages of its fruit can be seen. It is not until September that this fruit should be picked. Though, sometimes a pain to harvest – the spines can cause irritation for days once embedded in human skin – both the pads and the fruit of the cactus are edible.
It can be eaten raw, but the true flavour of the fruit comes alive when made into candy, jelly, juice, wine or – as in teALCHEMY’s case – dried.
The prickly pear has been shown to have a high supply of amino acids, fibre, B vitamins and iron. In traditional medicine, it has been used to treat diabetes, stomach issues, cuts, bruises, sunburn, windburn, constipation and cold-like symptoms.
According to the president of the Group to Promote Education and Sustainable Development, Margarita Barney de Cruz, the plant was used in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries as a waterproof paint for homes, churches and convents.
At teALCHEMY, we combine this versatile fruit with a sweet South African rooibos to create our Rooibos Pearadisio. This sweet, caffeine free tea will pair (pun intended) well with scones, cakes and desserts. You could even make an ice cream out of it!
Rooibos tea is full of polyphenols, an antioxidant with powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-mutagenic abilities. It has also been shown to improve bone and heart health and even lower blood pressure. Although not a cure, rooibos can also be an aide in the prevention of kidney stones.
The combined powers of the prickly pear and rooibos tea make for a great healthy cocktail full of polyphenols, and other rare minerals that work together to create a more robust immune system.
I find instructions on making a good cup of tea hard to find.
How exactly do you boil your waters for tea?
Here’s a simplified version on how to make the perfect cup of tea.
1) If you’re using tap water, make sure to let the water run a little, then fill up your teapot. Using cold water makes a better cup, plain and simple.
2) If you have distilled water, use it from time to time to keep your kettle clean and to flush out your system as well.
3) If you have filtered water, well then you already know what to do.
However, the green teas are a bit more delicate and generally you should let the boiled water cool down a few notches before you put it over your greens.
Here’s how we ‘brew it,’ in order:
Oolong – if your water has boiled, wait few minutes before you steep it (87 degrees [celsius] vs. 100)
White – if your water has boiled, wait 3-4 minutes (80 degrees)
Green – wait 4-5 minutes after water has boiled to pour over your green teas (75-79 degrees)
Any delicate green teas, ceremonial teas, or other specialty teas should probably be brewed at 70 degrees celsius or so.
Meaning, unless you have a kettle that brews at the temperature of your choice, best wait 5-10 minutes before you pour it into your first flush or other teas.
For a more comprehensive look on how to brew teas, go to our tea brewing guide to learn more about steeping times & more.
If you want to get all Jamie Oliver about it, click here to get British-ed up.
Before you go jumping to conclusions, we’re not talking about your early morning bathroom rituals.
“First Flush” is a term we use in the tea world to talk about the first harvest of tea, which usually happens around this time of the month up until the first week of April.
(Two leaves & a bud. Source: flickr)
There are many names for this special time of year. Here are a few:
First Flush (English)
(Pre) Quinn Ming (China)
Sincha (Japan, not to be mistaken with ‘sencha’)
Ujeon (South Korea)
These teas are the first picked in a plant’s harvest season, are highly sought-after and have fresher flavors than the later flushes. Due to its youthful nature, there are properties in it that are highly coveted by tea connoisseurs and health-conscious people alike. It is said to yield the purest and freshest cup of tea.
The first flush is when harvesters pick the delicate and tender two leaves and a bud in the earliest spring growth, lending the teas a more light, floral, fresh, brisk and mildly astringent flavor (i.e. Darjeeling). These teas are generally less oxidized and may appear more greenish in color than typical black teas.
First Flush teas are the freshest and among the most exquisite, hence it’s usually a bit of an investment. If you can get your hands on some premium First Flush tea, it’s best to use it sooner rather than later. Store it in a cool, dark place in an airtight container (not see-through), away from moisture and other pantry items (like spices or coffee) since the flavors can leach into these delicate teas more easily.
Brewing will depend on the region in which the tea was grown and how it was cultivated, harvested and processed. Best to ask your tea expert, who can give you specific instructions on how to brew the perfect cup based on your purchase.
Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:
Use fresh, cold filtered water (spring water is best)
Brew First Flush teas in slightly cooler temperatures and for less time.
So, use water just off the boil and steep it for 2-3 minutes, covered.
Use about a half a teaspoon per 8oz cup.
You can steep it multiple times so don’t discard the tea after first use.
Aged Pu’er Tea (Pu’erh/Pu-erh/Pu-er)
What is aged tea and why do we pay premium prices for it? While you can age many kinds of tea, pu’er is by far the most sought-after and the one we’re asked about most. It also happens to be one of our favourites, so we’ve decided to shed some light on Yunnan’s prized possession.
To begin, it’s important to note that there is a BIG difference between aged tea and just plain old tea. Similar to wine, some young teas are chosen for their ability to age well and improve tremendously with time, while others simply grow old and stale and are just not worth drinking. Provided the quality of the tea is good to begin with and conditions are properly monitored, most oolongs, pu’ers and black teas can all age quite well.
Aged Pu’er: The Process
Pu’er is created from máochá, a mostly unoxidized green tea processed from a large leaf variety grown in the Yunnan province of China. Pu’er is typically made in 2 steps.
- First, the leaves are roughly processed into maocha to stop oxidation (sheng/raw).
- From there it may be further processed by fermentation (ripe), or directly packaged.
Note: This process can be expedited today. Mass-producers can convert máochá into ripened pu’er by manipulating conditions to approximate the result of the aging process with prolonged bacterial and fungal fermentation in a warm humid environment under controlled conditions, a technique called Wò Dūi, invented in 1973.
The takeaway here is that aged pu’er requires intense microbial fermentation after the leaves have been dried and compressed, hence “post-fermented tea”. Vintage aged pu’er that has been left to age naturally is the most highly regarded of the pu’ers.
People really go nuts for this stuff, and it’s not just because of its uniquely deep and earthy flavor. (Not that we should, or even can, generalize puer’s flavor – its profile is vast and varying, and is in a constant state of change. As you chip away at the cake over time, no two brews will taste the same. But, provided the tea is of high quality, you can usually expect a super-smooth tea with minimal astringency).
So what’s the big deal?
What if we told you proper aged pu’er could also get you proper drunk? This is no joke. Apparently, “pu’er drunk” is a very real thing, and people buy kilos of the stuff and have day-long brewing sessions, blissing out (and probably peeing a lot). Somewhat ironically, it is also known for counteracting the nasty side effects of heavy alcohol consumption, so make sure to keep some around for the holidays. Or just skip the booze and chug pu’er instead!
But wait, the narrative doesn’t end there. Taste and buzz aside, pu’er has a rich history and is deeply rooted in Chinese culture – both old and modern – making it something of a cult product.
Pu’er Boom and Bust
In the early ’90s, at the start of China’s economic upswing, a revival of old, tea-drinking traditions was witnessed. Pu’er, with its artisan aging process and strong link to Chinese history, became of particular interest to tea connoisseurs and eventually, to wealthy Chinese investors. The sudden interest in pu’er tea revived tea production in Yunnan, and the beverage was marketed as “the essence of rural virtue” – in effect, liquid nostalgia. As China’s economy boomed in the 2000s, eager investors latched on to pu’er, this “drinkable antique”, which was sure to add to their portfolio and general image of refinement.
However, the sudden interest in pu’er came with mounting concerns about food safety, as “modern” tea production embraced use of pesticides and generally unsustainable farming practices to meet the rising demand. By 2006-2007, investors triggered a “pu’er boom”, causing prices to skyrocket and the market to be flooded with poor quality tea. Eventually this led to a crash, causing pu’er prices and sales to plummet for several years before normalizing again.
Today, the production of pu’er has mostly returned to the old revered, artisan approach. Farming practices in Yunnan are more regulated and environmentally conscious, prices have increased again – though nowhere near boom prices – and sales are modest. Basically, all is good in the tea world again and everyone should be drinking pu’er with absolute abandon.
Other teALCHEMY products that also contain pu’erh tea:
- Detox Tea
- Double Black Diamond
- Velvet Touch
- Double Black Diamond
- Velvet Touch