Zehua Shang of Shang Tea in Kansas City specializes in white tea sourced from Fujian’s Taimu Mountain, also known as White Tea Mountain, along China’s southeastern coast. Shang visits the farms two times each year, spending two months overseas working with tea cultivation and processing.
Established 2,600 feet above sea level just below the summit, the farms are situated at the highest elevation of nearby tea farms. Pure mountain air, water and soil at this elevation contribute to the tea’s high quality. Shang Tea sells fine, loose-leaf tea, porcelain and teaware and hosts tea parties at the shop as well as at off-site locations, offering lessons on the tea production process and how to properly brew tea.
When do you typically visit the farm on White Tea Mountain? I travel there in April and September for one month each time. I watch harvest and production and oversee quality.
What are your best-selling teas? Pure white tea and red tea. In China, black tea is called red tea. My shop specializes in white tea.
What is white tea? All tea comes from camellia sinensis, the species that produces different varieties of tea. White tea is the least processed tea. It is sun-dried or air-dried. Green tea is steamed or roasted and processed with high heat.
What makes your teas such high quality? Quality depends on where the tea is grown and how it is processed. Higher elevation, good soil, climate and spring water on the farm make for a higher-quality tea leaf. Then the tea leaf should be dried traditionally in small batches to ensure quality.
Do larger tea companies dry white tea traditionally like yours? No. To dry large quantities of tea leaves traditionally is very hard. We process our tea for 32 to 40 hours. Most big companies use modern equipment for large-quantity production within 15 to 25 hours of harvest. It’s faster, but the quality isn’t the same. Small farmers will air- or sun-dry tea to yield better quality and more complex flavor.
How can people distinguish the quality of white tea in the U.S.? Good-quality tea smells good naturally and has a clean taste. It doesn’t make the throat dry. Good tea quenches your thirst, no matter if it is white, green, oolong or black. Aged white tea is more flavorful and sweeter than new crops. White tea made with modern drying methods is not as soothing and tastes thin with less flavor.
Can you steep white tea more than once? High-quality white tea aged one to three years can be steeped up to five times. If aged longer, tea can be steeped five to 10 times. It also depends on the water quality.
How do you flavor your tea? We use time-honored Chinese techniques that preserve the integrity and goodness of the tea leaf. We use real flowers such as jasmine or tangerine blossoms near the White Tea Mountain area. Good tea leaves don’t need artificial flavor.
Shang Tea, 2450 Grand Blvd. #106, Crown Center, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.421.2588, shangtea.com
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