5 Unusual Teas to Explore Right Now
We LOVE tea at Shoplet. It turns out that we aren’t quite alone there either. It’s the world’s second most popular beverage and because of that, chances are that a good number of readers are probably enjoying a hot or cold cup of their favorite tea right now. Tea is the perfect drink. When you are cold, drink tea. Sick? Drink tea. Too hot? Let’s ice some and add lemon and sugar! Even the US is drinking tea in increasingly larger amounts. There are teas for just about everything from a simple morning pick me up to teas that alleviate aches and pains. This post is going to touch on just a few teas out there that are amazing, unique and unusual. Some are not even technically ‘teas’, but so delicious that we thought we’d mention them anyway. Some of them are pretty easy to come by, and others are quite rare. In either case, if you happen across them, we’d suggest that you consider these 5 unusual teas.
Rooibos is fist on the list and is not actually a tea. Technically ‘tea’ must come from the prepared leaves of the Camellina sinensis plant. Rooibos is technically what is considered a tisane, which is any concoction made from herbs or spices steeped in water that does not contain caffeine. Rooibos is the name of plant Calicotome villosa, which grows on the Western Cape of South Africa in an incredibly ecologically diverse and rich zone called Fynbos.
This ‘tea’ is not caffeinated, and has hardly any tannin (naturally occurring chemicals which make things taste bitter). That means no matter how long you steep it, the tea will never turn bitter. It has a full-bodied taste that is delicious, nutty, earthy and mellow, and a beautiful reddish-bronze hue upon steeping. The plant is very hard to grow outside of its native Fynbos region; it has a special symbiotic relationship to microorganisms that thrive alongside it and attempt to grow it in regions outside of South Africa have all failed. With climate change making the region drier and drier, some scientists are concerned that the Rooibos plant won’t be able to survive the next century. But at least for now, you can purchase Numi’s Organic Rooibos on our site, and to do our part to help the environment, Shoplet will plant a tree on your behalf. Let us know how it tastes!
Tea comes from China. And almost every language in the world gets its word for tea from some variation of a couple Chinese words. In Yunnan province, a region in Southern China that borders Myanmar and Vietnam, tea plants grow on the sides of stunning green mountains in abundance. Pu-Erh is a special tea primarily produced in this region of China.
Pu-Erh tea has the distinction of being fermented which is quite different from other teas that are either dried or oxidized. It is purposely processed in a way to encourage microbial fermentation. Because of this, this tea is able to last months, even years older than tea processed without help from microbes. The combination of fermentation and aging produces a huge variety of flavor that varies according to the region they are grown in, how they were processed, where they were stored and how old they are.
Tastes can range from mushroomy and earthy to slightly bitter, sweet and delicate. Flavors evolve in the cup too, as it is typically steeped more than once. This tea comes in a few different general varieties, and some are aged for decades, much like wine and Scotch. The price can vary between affordable to incredibly expensive. In fact, there is even a whole market of investors who speculate on the tea’s aging potential! If you want to find out more, check out this Serious Eats article. Pur-Erh is getting more popular by the minute and there’s some great resources for trying for the first time to becoming a connoisseur.
Yerba mate (pronounced: ma-tay) is another herbal drink not considered true ‘tea’ since it doesn’t come from the Camellia sinensis. But it does contain caffeine – sometimes almost as much as coffee! Yerba mate is actually from South America, and is grown in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Southern Brazil. It is an indigenous beverage, introduced to the rest of the world by the Guarani people. It is the national beverage of Uruguay and Paraguay, and there just as popular as coffee in the States (or tea in Britain).
Freshly brewed mate is reminiscent of some varieties of green tea, but traditionally much larger amounts are steeped. Mate is drank traditionally out of a gourd, with a strainer/straw called a bombilla (pronounced: bom-bee-ya). Just because it comes from far away, doesn’t mean you have to go all the way to Buenos Aires to try it. The market for mate is booming in the US! Part of the reason is that the beverage is very healthy for you – it has about all of the anti-oxidants that green tea has, but generally a bit more of a buzz. EcoTeas and Guayaki are the largest companies selling mate in the US, and both have an excellent product with some inspiring forest-preserving initiatives as well!
Da Hong Pao
Da Hong Pao means “Big Red Robe” in Chinese. It’s also a tea that is considered one of the most expensive teas in the entire world. (If you even get a chance to drink this, send some our way too!) It is processed in the oolong style with high oxidization; a process that darkens raw green tea leaves. Oolong is a very popular kind of tea, sort of a halfway point between green tea and black tea.
In the case of Da Hong Pao, it’s not so much the process as the plants themselves, which come from the Wuyi Mountains in Fujian in Southeastern China. Legend has it that the mother of a Ming Dynasty emperor had an illness that was cured by the tea, so the emperor sent red robes to clothes the four bushes from which that tea originated. Six of the original bushes still survive today, hundreds of years later. Harvesting and processing are all done by hand. Because of the uniqueness of these plants, the price for an ounce can get pricey. About 35 times more than gold in fact! Since the prices are so high and its hard to get, you have the best chance of trying it by becoming a foreign dignitary to China, where it’s often reserved for the most important and illustrious of guests.
Bug Poop Tea
Yes you’ve read that correctly. This tea is another specialty tea, grown in Taiwan. It is also another rare tea that commands a pretty high price. Freshly picked tea leaves are actually placed into a bag along with a special species of local caterpillars. These caterpillars consume the tea and use that nutrition to begin going from their larval (caterpillar) state to become butterflies. The insect excrement is collected, sorted from the caterpillars themselves, left to dry and then processed for consumption.
Apparently the taste is quite earthy, a little medicinal and sweet. It has its fans, although because this tea is so labor-intensive, it is very expensive and not your everyday cup. If you ever find yourself in the tea district of Maokong, Muzha, Taiwan, and want to share a cup, the Pure Heart Seeking Tea Shop is the place to go to try it.
So that’s it. Honestly the story of unique teas can keep going. We’re tempted to tell you about Hibiscus tea, Yellow Gold Tea, guayusa, and more! Have you tried any of these 5 unusual teas? What’s your favorite unusual tea?