We were recently lucky enough to be able to visit China. I was excited, because the trip was primarily a culinary tour, so we would get to taste a variety of Chinese food I had only ever read about in books.
However, when I looked closer at the itinerary, I noticed, along with other cultural icons of China, we would be visiting Longjing Village, the source of Dragonwell Tea, the green tea I had been drinking for more years than I can remember.
As I mentioned, Tea is made from the leaves and buds of a perennial shrub or tree in the Cammelia family, Cammelia sinesis.
In areas of China, tea plantations run up and down the hills in stepped rows.
Above is a closeup of a tea bush. If you look close you can see the buds and final leaves.
Tea is usually made from the first spring buds and a leaf or two of the fresh growth.
Tea is picked, usually by hand, where pickers go from bush to bush and pinch off the bud and first leaf of the spring growth at a certain time of the year, and a certain time of the day.
This is a glass of Dragonwell tea. You can clearly see the buds and leaves of the tea plant in the glass of tea. That is what tea should look like in the glass.
For our purposes, we will say “Tea” is an infusion of the leaves and leaf buds of closely related plants in the Camellia family, Camellia sinensis.
The tea plant, Camellia sinensis, is native to China. It is now grown in other regions of the world, but all tea plants originated in one of several regions in China.
Most tea is Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, but there are thousands of varieties and cultivars.
The Cantonese word for tea is “Ch’a” in Cantonese and written as follows:
As you can see above, the character for tea is made up of three parts, the character for “grass”, the character for “Man standing at his place on earth”, and the character for “Tree”. (And, actually, the word, “Ch’a” refers to “early picked” tea, like green tea. Later picked tea is called “Ming” or “Chuan”.)
“The original English pronunciation of the word tea was tay and it’s usage can be traced back to around 1655 when the Dutch introduced both word and beverage to England. This pronunciation can still be heard today in certain British dialects. The pronunciation tee also originated in the 1600’s but only gained predominance after the late 18th century. Both words may have come from the Malay teh or the Chinese (Amoy dialect) t’e.”
So, languages which call it something like “Tea” are derived from the Malay and Southern Chinese name for tea and those that call it something like “Cha” are derived from the Cantonese name. The Dutch, British, and Americans call it something like “tea”. The Indians and Russians call it something like “Cha”. Basically, the word your language uses for “tea” indicates the trading partner your language originally got its tea from. If you traded with the Dutch or English to get your tea, you call it something like “tea”. If you traded with the Chinese, you call it something like “Ch’a”.
In China there are 6-8 different types of tea, primarily distinguished by either their geographic production areas or their method of production.
The six primary types are:
Black Tea (Actually called Red Tea in China.)
Then there are a couple special sub-categories which are sometimes treated on their own, sometimes not:
But before we get to discussing tea varieties, we’ll talk a bit more about the tea plant and tea farms.
As a devout tea drinker, for a long time my default teas were either Dragonwell or Gunpowder, Chinese Green teas. But, lately, I’ve found that those two aren’t to my taste so much. Gunpowder, I find, has a kind of tobacco/ashtray taste that I never noticed before, and the buzz from Dragonwell is, well, kind of harsh. I had one of my worst ever anxiety/panic attacks after drinking a pot of very strong, oversteeped Dragonwell, and we just haven’t been in the same place since. Anyway, lately, I am finding the funky taste of Pu Erh is appealing. Not to mention, the buzz is pretty awesome, more ecstatic and heady than the harsh body buzz of Dragonwell. #teanerd
Note, this is a collaborative post authored by both Missus and Mister Flannestad.
Aside from Old Bus Tavern, the place you are most likely to find the Missus and myself on a Friday night is The Dark Horse Inn on Geneva near Mission St in the Excelsior District.
Our exceedingly cool next-door neighbors also find themselves there on a regular basis, so we recently plotted to head there together to celebrate our shared discerning local expertise. It was great fun to enjoy the glee of their 5 year old son as he raced to the door in anticipation of the Dark Horse Inn’s secret kid’s menu item “chicken fingers”. It was also hilarious when, in the spirit of buying rounds, we ordered him another glass of milk and he sighed, “I don’t need ANOTHER milk” when it was delivered. It was not a double milk kind of night.
Last Friday night, we had the good fortune of being spotted at the bar by another friend (and a longtime Dark Horse regular) who graciously waved us over to join him and his wife at their table. It turned out to be a wonderful night of trading stories, Midwestern brat haus experiences, and shared musical interests. It was only after we realized that there were others waiting on our table, that we were able to tear ourselves away, and depart the good company. On our way out we traded hellos and hi-fives with another regular at the bar who laughingly accused us of stalking him.
It’s this sort of friendly neighborhood atmosphere that reminds me a lot of the Taverns and Bars that the Missus and I grew up with in Wisconsin.
Dark Horse Inn keeps their beer taps filled with tasty and interesting local beers like Epidemic Ales’ Brain Bash, Local’s Hetch Hetchy IPA and St. Florian’s Bella Rosa Engine Stout (find Dark Horse’s always evolving tap list on BeerMenus.com). They also have a very good beer bottle list.
(For those of you for which only hard liquor will do, note The Dark Horse Inn is Beer and Wine only. Plan ahead, or bring a flask, if you really need a post work Martini or Manhattan.)
Most of all, their hamburger is our current favorite in San Francisco. The Missus, (a beer geek who enjoys the eclectic tap list and evil eyes anyone at the bar who ignorantly orders an Old Style,) argues it’s consistently the hands-down BEST BURGER IN SF! They also offer unique daily salads, custom burgers, and other specials advertised via Instagram teasers. Chicken & waffles! Sunday night dinners! Brisket! We need to step-up beyond our regular Friday night visits to take advantage of these opportunities in deliciousness.
The non-alcoholic drink list isn’t fancy, but provides good options for grown ups, (even if the Mister would rather not have the taste of rose petals in his lemonade). Also, the free re-fills on regular non-sugary iced tea is an (un)sweet deal.
The Mister’s current go to non-alcoholic beverage is Milwaukee’s finest root beer, Sprecher Brewing, available at all times.
There are many options at the Dark Horse Inn beyond beverages, whether sitting alone at the bar or with a table of your ten best friends. Along w/ a few TV sets airing sports games there is always one screening esoteric film classics. What a pleasant array of options!
Whether you are craving a burger, the “Kimchi Reuben” (made with house smoked pastrami), interesting beer, good company, or all of the above, The Dark Horse Inn is a great place to go. Sit at the bar. You’ll probably make some new friends.