Imperial Tea
Log in | Register Shopping Cart 0.
as as
Home > Our Teahouses > FAQ
About Us | Hours & Directions | Menu & Tea Tastings | F.A.Q. | Recent Press
Frequently Asked Questions

What is "gong fu" tea?
The formal presentation of tea in China is known as "gong fu". The term denotes skill from practice - the idea being that expertise is derived not so much from learning as from experience, that is: practice (which we could say in this case does not "make perfect", but which is instead an end in itself). While literally gong fu could signify the serious practice of any art form, today "gong fu tea" is generally used to refer to the more or less elaborate preparation of tea using unglazed wares made of the special "purple sand" clay of Yixing (pronounced "yee-shing") in Jiangsu province. Indeed, success in gong fu tea requires patience, attention to detail, and, of course, extended practice, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

Where does the name "Monkey-Picked" come from?
Many people wonder why our most famous oolong is called "Monkey-Picked". The name refers to the time when the most highly prized oolong teas were harvested from wild tea bushes found in the steep rocky mountain areas of China's Fujian province. Stories describe dedicated tea aficionados with trained monkeys that could climb up to the highest-growing, most inaccessible plants and retrieve their precious leaves. Since the modern cultivation of more hospitable gardens in Fujian's famous Anxi county, monkeys have long since been unemployed in the business of tea, but their services (legendary or not) remain commemorated in the name of our "Monkey-Picked" Tieguanyin.

Why is some tea so expensive?
The price of any particular tea is determined by many factors, the most important of which boil down to the care and skill with which the leaves are cultivated and processed and the rarity of and demand for the finished product. The highest grades of tea are invariably limited to very small quantities (sometimes no more than a few pounds per year) and can sell for many hundreds, even thousands of dollars per pound. Most high quality teas sell for between $100 & $600 dollars a pound; however it is possible to find quite drinkable teas for less (and, conversely, mediocre products for more). When broken down, however, it usually turns out that the money spent on the small quantity of inferior tea found in a commercial teabag is equal to the cost of good quality loose tea. Even teas costing $200-$300 a pound don't add up to very much per cup [and actually cost about the same as (or less than) comparable servings of beer, wine, fruit juice, and other specialty beverages... including coffee.] In addition, high quality tea leaves may, in most cases, be infused several times - adding to their superior value-for-money.

How can I tell if a tea is high quality?
High-grade green, white, oolong and black teas usually display the following characteristics:

  • intact leaves of uniform size & shape, accompanied by "tips" (i.e. tea leaf buds) -
  • full, clean aroma without any stale or rancid smell -
  • clear, bright infusion which is vibrant and aromatic - fresh, full-bodied flavor which lingers on the palate

Tea that is bitter, watery and/or has no aftertaste or "finish" is inferior or incorrectly prepared. Aside from this negative generalization, however, there are very few hard and fast rules for judging tea. Some has a wonderful aroma with little body, some looks beautiful but tastes bitter, while others look inferior but produce a subtle connoisseur's infusion. The only way truly to develop expertise in tasting tea is to build up experience (and thus a broad frame of reference) by drinking as much and as many teas as possible. Following this path, your faculty of discernment will grow slowly, but surely.

What is the significance of the elevation at which tea is grown?
A lot of fuss is often made about whether a tea is "high-grown" or not (particularly in the case of oolongs)... and the fuss is not for nothing. The advantage of mountain-grown tea is that the coolness of higher elevations slows down the growth of the tea plant (which can be quite rapid in hotter, lower-lying areas), causing the leaves to develop more slowly, and, thus, to be more flavorful (one reason why the first crop -or "flush"- of the season is so highly prized).

How much caffeine does tea have?
Caffeine is a natural component of the tea leaf, and, unless it is artificially removed, it is present to some extent in all tea. By comparison, it should be noted that tea in general contains significantly less caffeine than coffee. Most research suggests that the more oxidized (i.e. darker) a tea is, the more caffeine it contains, but many other factors, such as leaf size, water temperature and steeping time, are just as important (making useful generalizations about the content and effect of caffeine in tea nearly impossible). It can be said, however, that unlike coffee, tea is known not only for its stimulating effect, but also for its calming and soothing properties... making the only real test of any particular tea's caffeine potency to brew it using your preferred method and try it yourself.

Can regular tea be decaffeinated at home?
Due to the water-solubility of caffeine, much of it is extracted from the leaf in the first 20-30 seconds of infusion, allowing you to "decaffeinate" it yourself by steeping the leaves for approximately a minute and discarding this first infusion. Then proceed as usual, allowing slightly more time to achieve the desired strength. (Employing this method, of course, will naturally sacrifice some flavor.)

What are the medicinal benefits of tea?
Scientific research suggests that tea is beneficial to health in many significant ways:

  • Cardiovascular - Epidemiological studies have shown a correlation between drinking black tea and lower incidence of heart disease, probably because the polyphenols in tea prevent the peroxidation of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), which is the precipitating factor in the development of arterial plaque.
  • Anticancer - Although epidemiological studies remain inconclusive, laboratory studies strongly suggest that tea inhibits tumor growth. It has definite antioxidant properties, although there may be other reasons for its effect. Most research has focused on the prevention of lung, throat, and gastrointestinal cancers, but evidence also suggests a positive effect on skin and liver cancer.
  • Nutritional - Puerh and oolong teas have been shown to lower cholesterol levels, although green tea has not been shown to have the same effect. Tea may also protect teeth, as it can contain fluoride as well as inhibit glucosyltransferase, the enzyme that helps bacteria adhere to teeth, thus leading to tooth decay.

Does tea contain tannin?
No. The association of "tannin" with tea is actually a misnomer. The chemical components of tea sometimes referred to as "tannins" are actually polyphenols, not tannic acid.

What are the best teas to drink with milk & sugar?
Yunnan black teas are known for their robust flavor and stand up well to milk, as do special black tea blends (often designated as "Breakfast" teas) designed to be taken with milk and sugar. Flavored teas such as Earl Grey, lychee and mango are fairly sweet on their own, but a small amount of sugar or honey can enhance their flavor if you are so inclined. Green, oolong, and Puerh teas, if they are of at least moderate quality, should not require the addition of milk or sweeteners. The final arbiter of taste, however, is, of course, the individual tea drinker.

Where does tea come from?
All tea is produced from the leaves of the tea plant, a flowering evergreen shrub native to China and now grown in dozens of countries on several continents around the world. In the oldest and most famous book of tea -the "Tea Scripture"- written over 1,200 years ago, author Lu Yu describes tea as a "treasured plant from the south", and it is China's southwestern provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan which are generally regarded as the "birthplace of tea". (In fact, Yunnan today is home to many "King" tea trees, some nearly 2,000 years old!) By comparison with its ancient tradition in China, tea is a relative new-comer to other countries now famous for its production, including Japan (where tea arrived along with Buddhism about 1,000 years ago) and India (whose cultivation of tea dates to the mid 1800s).

Why do we call tea "tea"?
In China, tea is most commonly known as "cha". The reason we call it by another name reflects an interesting mix of history and geography. When tea first reached European markets in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, it came from the trading port of Amoy (present day Xiamen) in Fujian province. In the local Fukienese dialect tea is called "tey" rather than the more common "cha", so in western Europe, and later the United States, it was the word "tea" that stuck, while other countries, such as India, Russia, and Turkey, were introduced to tea as "cha" by traders travelling over-land along the Silk Road.

How is tea produced?
All tea comes from the same plant, but that is where the similarity ends. The many different classifications and varieties of tea are produced through differences in cultivation, harvesting and processing. Teas from different regions have different flavors, as do teas picked at different times of the year. Which leaves are selected also makes a difference as some teas are constituted mainly by unopened buds (such as Dragon Well and Silver Needles) while others consist of more mature leaves which are subjected to vigorous processing (as in the case of most oolongs and Puerh teas). One of the most important factors in creating these distinctions is the degree of oxidation (popularly, but incorrectly known as "fermentation"). Tea leaves are prepared for oxidation by agitation (i.e. some form of shaking, tumbling or rolling) which bruises the cells in the leaf, breaking them down so that polyphenols and the enzyme polyphenol oxidase are mixed and exposed to the oxygen in the air (hence "oxidation"). Polyphenol oxidase acts as a catalyst, greatly accelerating the oxidation of the polyphenols, causing the leaf to darken (like a bruised apple or banana) and develop new aromatic and flavor characteristics. Subsequent heating (i.e. "firing") of the leaf destroys the enzymes and effectively halts the process of oxidation when the desired aroma and flavor have been achieved.

How long will tea remain fresh?
Except for Puerh tea (a specialty of Yunnan province which is purposely aged), all teas have a definite shelf life. As a general rule, more oxidized (i.e. darker) teas keep longer than greener varieties. Green teas are best consumed daily (or at least somewhat regularly) until they are gone since trying to ration them out simply allows the leaves to lose their fresh aroma and flavor. Oolong tea lasts slightly longer - 2-4 months if stored well (see below), while black tea can remain good for a year or more. Even green tea can retain its freshness for up to a year if it is purchased in bulk in its original packaging and stored unopened in a cool, dry place until ready for drinking.

How should I store tea?
As mentioned above, it does no good to try to make good tea last longer than one should reasonably expect. This simply allows good tea to become not-so-good tea, but proper storage will definitely help preserve it as fresh as possible as long as possible. Tea has many enemies, the most significant of which are: light, air, moisture, odors, and, of course, time. Tea should always be kept sealed in a clean, odor-free, airtight container, and should be opened as little as possible to minimize its exposure to the air. The container itself should be as small as possible to keep the amount of air in contact with the leaves to a minimum and should be kept away from light, heat and strong odors. (The flavor of tea is very easily influenced by the smell of anything in its vicinity... which is a good thing when it's jasmine flowers, but bad in the case of fish or curry powder.) If possible, the original packaging in which a tea is purchased should be retained and used to hold it inside its storage container.

How should I clean my Yixing teaware?
Vessels made of the special earthenware clay of Yixing in Jiangsu province should never be washed with soap. The dyes, fragrances and harsh detergents found in most household cleaning products are readily absorbed by the unprotected porous surfaces of Yixing teaware, and thus can negatively influence your tea drinking with the undesirable taste and smell of soap. For this reason, a simple, but thorough rinse should be all that is required to clean your teaware after use. (Allow it to sit uncovered until completely dry since it can develop a musty smell if put away damp.)

What is a "tea ceremony"?
The term "tea ceremony" is used most often today to refer to the tea ritual of Japan, known as "Cha-no-yu" or "Chado" (from the Chinese "Cha Tao" meaning "way of tea"). The Japanese tea ceremony, as it is performed today with powdered tea whisked in a bowl, was consolidated in the 16th century by the famous tea master Sen Rikyu. Its form and équipage are based on Tang dynasty Chinese models and are heavily indebted to Lu Yu's classic "Tea Scripture". ©2OO1-2002 Imperial Tea Court. All rights reserved.

Superior Muscatel Darjeeling

The newest addition to our Darjeeling collection hails from the esteemed Glenburn Estate, si... more

Imperial Golden Needle Jasmine

This elegant new jasmine tea is truly beautiful in every regard. It begins its life as a sil... more

Imperial Jasmine Pearls

After suffering from shipping delays, our acclaimed customer-favorite is now in back in stock!... more

Customer Service Shopping Services Our Stores Imperial Tea Network
Order Tracking
Reorder Last Shipment
Reorder from My History
Contact Us
My Account Login
My Gift List
Send a Gift
Our Teahouses
Shop Store Favorites
About Us
Hours & Directions
Recent Press
Where To Find
Camellia Sinensis Blog
Press Inquiries
Tel: 1 (800) 567-5898 | 1 (510)-777-0335 | Privacy Policy | Copyright 2012 - Imperial Tea Court - All rights reserved.
Imperial Tea Powered by Maketick Website Design, web solutions, Software Development,  SEO company