While I have been thinking about writing the next blog post (for quite sometime), I couldn’t decide on exactly what to write. Then a package came in the mail, and after opening the package, I realized what the next post was going to be about. Little did I know, that what was in that package, was going to be a learning experience and also fill a void in my Camellia tea taste buds library.
The package came from Virginia’s First Tea Farm, you can find their website here. I recently did a product swap with Soap Division’s manager. I was given in addition to three of their soap products, a 25 gram package of their Red tea. Their Red tea is not a product they have for sale on their online store, yet. So it was a real treat to try it out. When I brew the tea, it was a pandora’s box of sorts. I wrote to the manager and asked her some questions about it. Her response was deeply intriguing and only made me have more questions. Instead of asking more questions, I decide to try the rest of their products and give my honest opinion about them. I promised her that I would take an unbiased review and post my findings in a blog. She said she was fine with that and appreciated honesty good or bad.
First, I want to give you some background history as it was communicated to me from the manager. The manager’s mother is from South Korea and was taught cultivation and processing by a family there, who has been growing for several generations. All of their camellia tea plant seed on their farm in Spotsylvania, Virginia, came from Jirisan Mountain in Hadong, South Korea.
The ancient history of Camellia tea in Korea is interesting as well. Apparently it grew wild in the mountains and was used by local people for quite some time as medicine and other uses, but wasn’t until the Mongolian/Chinese princess wife of Korean King Gongmin (공민왕 恭愍王1330 – 1374) was it identified as Camellia tea. During his reign only he and his inner circle drank it. After his reign it became popular and the expansion of cultivation began.
Now for those of you who are deep into tea, you might be going,”Korean tea, that is new to me. How come I haven’t heard of this before or tasted it?” I believe there are several reasons why Korean tea is not well know.
First, the tea market worldwide has been long dominated by Chinese and Japanese teas, with Darjeeling and Assam Camellia tea becoming major global share holders starting in the 19th century. China and Japan roughly had a 200 year head start with European trade over India, so “brand awareness” is very important today as it was hundreds of years ago. Korean tea has had low brand awareness through the centuries. Factors that could have lead to low brand awareness is that supplies are consumed mostly in South Korea giving little to export, very similar to “Dragoon’s Pool” tea of the past in China. Another reason why Korean tea is not well known may also be a direct result of the isolation from European traders during the Joseon Dynasty, repression by Japanese colonial Imperialism, and the utter carnage and destruction of the Korean War. Regardless of then and despite the stagnant political situation between both states of North and South, Korean tea will be a showcase of future world markets just as much as the Olympics have been, it is just a matter of getting people to taste it. Which in any tea business is the ultimate brand awareness.
Before I get into the review of their Red tea, I figure I would go over their soaps. I have been using them since I received them. Good thing, because it has been dirty sweaty week at work. So everyday I have came home, I have had a least a good layer of dirt covering me. Their soaps are castile soaps. Many of you may be familiar with the popular brand of liquid castile soap by Dr Bronner. When I was swordfishing, the liquid castile soap was the only soap that I found that actually got the “fish funk” out of my skin after a day on the deck. There was even a few trips were I washed my bloody fish scent clothes with it, then air dried. While it never got the blood stains out, it did get the scent out.
Virginia’s First Tea Farm has several scent/flavor of their round bar of castile soap. This picture is after a few days of usage. It proves an excellent light lather when rubbed against your skin. On the first day, I only used this bar for my skin and only used their hair product for my head. After drying off, I did smell like a cup of green tea. It worked very well removing dirt from my body. As for the bar itself, it is rather dense, which I feel is a positive compared to other handcrafted castile bars I have used in the past. The bonus is that when left in soap holder on the wall, the fragrance from the bar fills the bathroom as if it is acting like potpourri. They mention on the package to keep the soap in a draining tray when not in use. I assume they mean not to leave it on the tub or up on a rack, where it can dry out quickly. I am sold on the bar the soap, it is an excellent product.
The next two products I used where their liquid products of shampoo and body wash. The body wash again similar to the bar, created a nice lather on my skin and very much like the bar, cleanse the grime as well. As far as fragrance, it was perfect, not too over powering and not to light. The shampoo was a thicker consistency of a product compared to the body wash. I have thick hair so I needed to be more generous in the amount applied. It appear when I would normally squeeze out in shampoo, would only cover three quarters of my head, so an extra dab made sure everything was covered. Unlike Dr Bronners, my hair did feel really clean with no residue, it did feel like it took extra rinsing, but it felt like everything came out. Yes, my hair felt really good.
After a few days of just using the bar and body wash together, I used both of them in addition to the shampoo. Not only did I feel very clean, the combination of fragrances was nice. The real testimonial of these three products was after the first night of me using all three when my wife said to me,”you smell really clean and great.” This was after several hours after being in the shower.
Will I buy the soap in the future, yes! Unfortunately, I didn’t notice if they had a shaving cream, butter, or gel, because that would round out consistent hygiene products used (well outside of toothpaste, of course).
Now onto the main event, the grande finale, everything you have been waiting for patiently, my review of their Red Camellia Tea. Ok, but first let me remind most people that Black and Red Camellia tea is the same thing. Why? Because both of them are oxidized before they are dried. When brewed the fully oxidized tea can have a reddish tint to it, hence the Red tea name tag.
The first thing I want to share about the Camellia tea tasting is how I brewed the beverage. This is important for comparative reasons, if I brew it one way and you brew it another way, well there is a chance we will not get the same results.
So, I weighted out the traditional 2.2 grams of Camellia tea and then I heated 6 floz (180 mL) of water to 200 degrees F (93.33 C) and I steeped in a glass French coffee press for 5 minutes.
This artisan (handpicked and handrolled) Camellia tea was something new and unique to me. It took me a few moments, to sip, spritz it against my tongue pallet and to absorb the taste, aroma and texture. It was so well balanced, low in tannins, with a moderate strength of flavor. It very much tasted like honey with every sip with a hint of floral. I have had some qualities teas in my life, yet the only thing I could of thought of when I first tasted it until my last sip, was,”So this is a Korean tea.” Granted, the tea was grown and processed in Virginia. The taste has a signature of it’s own. I looked and smelled the leaf after brewing, (in the picture above) it appears that the majority of the leaf was a finer pluck consisting more of flowery pekoe (a leaf and a bud) versus pekoe (two leaves and a bud). I could easily see someone who wants a nice cup of tea, be it morning, mid-morning, lunch, after lunch, or afternoon, easily enjoying this tea.
I had plans to make some iced tea with it, but I ended up drinking several cups of it hot, gave some to some friends to try, and insist that my wife try it, so I could get her opinion. She isn’t an expert or novice on camellia tea drinking, she just likes to drink tea. She does know when a tea is horrible, because I have made her taste that to make sure she knows. Trust when I say this, half of the horrible teas she has ever had, I made personally. She thought it was really good, and had a great smell. She also agreed there was a honey floral flavor.
Virginia’ First Tea Farm has a winner in their Camellia Red tea. They can take to expos around the world and win with their high quality. While they are not certified USDA organic, they are definitely sustainable and more than likely are more organic due to their cultivation methods that can be considered ancient in practice.
Their marketing of products easily can rival any operation in the world small, medium, or large. The only thing that I can say that they need to improve upon is the used of the tea packaging that allows light to come into contact with their product. If light can touch it, so can ultraviolet radiation, which can degrade a quality of their camellia tea. Still, if you are purchasing directly and consume in a short period of time, this isn’t a big problem. It can be a problem for those people who have a whole tea cabinet and order large amounts to keep over a longer period of time.
The strong take away point I have for their products, is the domestic production. Made in America is clearly stated on all of the packaging. It genuinely appears that they take a lot of pride in producing these products. When will they export the tea, I really don’t know, but I do know, because of the rarity of American produced teas and the fact it is in “Korean style,” they should be able to fetch a premium price on international markets for it.
Outside of a few other operations in the United States, Virginia’s First Tea Farm is very much ahead of the game in the tea industry domestically. They should see some substantial growth over the next 5 years as they are leading the way how tea should be cultivated, value added, and sold.
In the future, when someone asks me,”What or who should I try as far as a domestic USA grown camellia tea?” Virginia’s First Tea Farm will be my first recommendation, after my camellia and yaupon tea, of course. I truly look forward to watching them, a small family predominately female operated business, setting the bar for American artisan camellia tea and soaps.
In the meantime, take a look at their website and check out their products, they are worth every penny spent. Until next blog, like we always say,”Grow Forward!”