Exploring Pu-erh Teas

If you are relatively new to enjoying tea or haven’t ventured far past one or two varieties of tea that you truly love, then you have more to explore. A whole class of teas called pu-erh (pronounced just as you would sound these letters out) awaits you. Read on and you may just be tempted to give them a try.

What is Pu-erh?

Pu-erh is a variety of tea that is closest to what we know of as a black tea, but in China it is known as a red tea. The tea leaves that make a pu-erh are typically from the Yunnan province of China and are fermented and aged. Though it may look like a black tea, one sip will tell you that it has a much more rich and earthy taste to it. The leaves undergo a system much like composting to arrive at this taste. They are then left as loose leaf teas or pressed into a form such as cakes or (as we have in our stores) tuochas, meaning nest shapes. To arrive at their unique taste, pu-erh teas undergo a process of aging that involves fungal and bacterial fermentation ranging from half to a whole year or more, in an atmosphere of controlled humidity. Some of the highest prized teas in China are aged to 35 years.

Tempted to try a cup?

Although the process may not sound very appealing to your palate, consider other foods that undergo a fermentation process or require a bacterial component. Sour dough breads, yogurts, cheeses, sauerkraut, ketchup, soy sauce, miso and many more undergo some sort of fermentation. These types of foods are also rich in probiotics, vitamins and minerals, but before we get too off the topic of good tasting tea, take a whiff of a pu-erh tea. You may just be tempted to taste it.

Pu-erh’s Ancient History

Dating back nearly 5,000 years tea was such a prized trade item, that it was sometimes used as currency. As a result, it was packed and shaped to endure long journeys to trade with ethnic groups bordering China. Tibetans were especially fond of the rich, bitter and sweet taste of pu-erh and its aid to digestion. They were known to trade horses for cakes of pu-erh. The trade-route road even took on the name of the prized drink. It was dubbed the “Ancient Tea-Horse Road,” and first appeared from 618-907 (during the Tang Dynasty), winding through the Yunnan province of China.

A tea this enduring and prized is at least worth a try. Next time you are in an adventurous mood at tea time, choose from our selection of pu-erh teas. Let us know what you think.

Add comment September 25th, 2014

5 Tea Myths Unfurled

Tea is a drink that has been enjoyed some 4,000 years. It’s no surprise that the consumption of it has picked up a lot of rituals, traditions and even myths along the way. Take a minute to read about a few of them. You may be surprised in what you learn.

1.Herbal tea is tea.black-tea.jpg

There is one plant we get tea from — Camillia sinensis. Other herbs, spices or fruits are often blended with leaves from the Camillia sinensis plant, but herbal drinks are very often void of tea. Rooibos, chamomile, mint, hibiscus are just a few herbal blends that are commonly brewed by themselves without a trace of tea. What we know of as green, white, oolong or black teas all come from the Camillia sinenses plant and only differ in the way they are processed.

2.You can take the caffeine out of tea.

Not by yourself. Tea leaves naturally contain caffeine, but some believe that it can be removed by brewing the leaves once, throwing out the water and brewing again. The actual process of decaffeinating tea is much more of a chemistry project and uses a chemical CO2 wash. You merely succeed in washing away many of the healthful catechins and flavonoids when you steep and dump.

3. Adding things to your cup of tea masks the health benefits.

Not necessarily. Adding a slice of lemon or orange to your cuppa will actually help preserve the flavonoids (those compounds responsible for much of tea’s health benefits). And adding a dash of milk to your cup is still under debate. Only one study has shown that the proteins in milk bonded to the flavonoids in tea and it hasn’t been replicated. Meanwhile, another recent study from the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that roughly the same amount of antioxidants were absorbed from a plain cup of tea as from a cup with milk added.

4. Tea doesn’t go bad.

Not true. Althoug it may retain some of its flavor when brewed after 6 months to a year, tea starts to lose some of its antioxidants over time. The best way to preserve it is to store it in a cool, dark cupboard in a sealed container. If it’s not consumed in a year’s time, throw it out.

5. Tea will make you lose weight.

Not in and of itself. If you are replacing your afternoon pick-me-up soda with a cup of tea instead, then you have certainly made the healthier choice. Tea has no calories if you don’t add milk or sugar and can give you the extra energy that you need to finish the day. It can even be used to replace a snack – choose a cup of Refreshing Raspberry instead of a kolache or Almond Biscotti Tea instead of a cookie to cut down on calories. As with most healthy choices though, drinking tea is an important part of a holistic, healthy lifestyle.

Get started brewing your own cup and put these myths to rest. What other tales have you heard about tea?


Add comment September 18th, 2014

Tasting Seasons

Summer is slipping away and the weather is changing. Our cravings tend to change with every season too, and no season is more full of flavor than fall.

Cinnamon and Buttercinnamon-rolls.jpg

Maybe it goes back to our agricultural roots and harvest time when we were overwhelmed with the fruit of our labors – apples, pumpkin, squash, corn, etc. Maybe our bodies start to crave calorie-rich, comfort foods with the cold weather setting in. Whatever the reason, it is not a time to find that you’ve run out of cinnamon in your spice cabinet, or butter in your fridge. Cinnamon makes the best companion to pumpkin or apple dishes and even accentuates a pot of chili well. Butter fills that need for heartier foods and, of course, all of the most delicious baked goodies call for butter. 

Keeping a good variety and supply of tea on hand is important too, even if it is just to warm up your hands on a steamy cup of Cinnamon Sensation Rooibos or Traditional Masala Chai. Chai Tea is the perfect blend of tastes for fall weather. You find many (if not all) of the same spices in this brew as you would in a pumpkin pie. And speaking of baked goods, how does fresh Almond Biscotti sound? You can’t go wrong with a few flavors of fall but without any calories, for those who are keeping track.

Ginger and Orange

Unfortunately, fall also marks the advent of cold and flu season. Puerh Ginger is an excellent choice to break up head congestion, and ginger helps stave off nausea. Because this tea also has such a rich and slightly sweet taste, you may want to enjoy it throughout the season, even if you are not sick.

Orange seems to be another taste we crave when the weather starts to get really cold. The vitamin C-packed fruit is another good choice to help you stay healthy. Try out Orange Spice Special or Ginger and Sweet Orange for a caffeine-free option.

These are just a few flavors to get you started. Any adventurous chefs out there interested in using these teas to bake up some comfort food? Share what you’ve tried. And raise a steaming cup of tea to toast the end of summer and the coming of cooler weather. Cheers!

Add comment September 11th, 2014

Something New, Something Bubble Tea

When was the last time you tried something different — really different? A break from routine, whether taking a new route home from work or tasting a treat you’ve never tried before, perks up your taste buds and ignites creative fires. May we suggest swinging by The Tea Smith tonight to try a bubble tea? 

What is Bubble Tea?Bubble-Tea.jpg 

For starters, it’s well worth the trip! Bubble tea started out in Taiwan in an attempt to persuade school children to buy tea. Vendors began adding tapioca pearls (also called boba), condensed milk or sweet, fruity flavors to hot cups of tea. The trend took off and more variety was introduced — kiwi, passion fruit, watermelon just to name a few.

Eventually the drink grew so much in popularity that it made its way overseas where flavors were tweaked even more. You don’t have to travel too far to find them if you are visiting New York or Los Angeles for example, but in Omaha, The Tea Smith is the place to find the best bubble tea for miles around.

What’s Your Flavor?

 Our selection of bubble drinks is always growing! There are as many different combinations to try as there are days in the season. If you’re craving sweet, try a mango or strawberry bubble tea. For a flavor more rich, make it a bubble milk. Add a shot of mint for an unconventional flavor or try our red bean bubble milk for a savory, sweet taste. The drink can be blended with fruit or ice for a slushy consistency or shaken and poured over ice.

We can also add boba to any tea you like. They have a sweet, caramel taste and a gummy consistency that adds texture and compliments whatever taste they are combined with. Typically stronger tasting teas make the best bubble drinks because the boba doesn’t overpower them. Keemun, Organic China Breakfast or a malty Assam Sessa with a splash of milk and sugar do very well. But don’t let us stand in the way of your desire to experiment with new flavor combinations. Who knows, you might even inspire a new drink to add to our list of favorites.

Go ahead and give one a try. Or bring the family in to share the experience. You will be glad you did!

Add comment September 4th, 2014

Celebrate the Moon Festival

Get steeped in the legends, culture and tea of China by celebrating the Moon Festival. Wound up in centuries of stories and tradition, this day is China’s way of celebrating the harvest. Dating back to the Zhou Dynasty (1046 – 256 BC), the Moon Festival occurs when the moon is at its fullest following the Chinese Lunar Calendar, which means it falls on September 8th this year. Take a moment to enjoy a cup of one of our finest Chinese Teas such as Jade Oolong or Organic China Breakfast, and steep yourself in a few of the legends surrounding this second most celebrated day in China. 

Mooncake and Other Customs

One of the legends that is now a traditional part of the Moon Festival is sharing and enjoying mooncake. During the Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368 AD), mooncakes were shared to pass secret messages organizing a revolt against oppressive rulers. The following harvest moon, the new leader gave moon cakes to his subordinates, and the tradition stuck. 

Today, the Moon Festival is a time of offering sacrifices to the moon. These include round items such as soybeans, watermelons, oranges, grapefruits and wine. The offerings are placed where the moon light touches them. The Chinese word for “round” closely resembles the word for “reunion.” Family members come together in the evening to share a mooncake cut in equal portions. A piece is cut for family members who live far away as well. Prayers are written to the moon and then burned. Interested in tasting mooncake? Check out this recipe.


Traditions differ throughout China and Taiwan. Southern China holds fire dragon dances while children play with festival lanterns. In Shanghai, people burn incense buckets outdoors. And in Taiwan, unmarried girls set off sky lanterns and steal vegetables in hopes of finding a husband. 

Check out our selection of Chinese Teas, and celebrate a few of these ancient traditions with us! More Moon Festival customs can be found here. What is your favorite way to celebrate the harvest season?

Add comment August 28th, 2014

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