LED Grow Lights Used to Grow Tea Indoors in Japan

I’ve tried thousands of different teas in my life and have gotten to the point where nothing I try is really new. Sure, I might find a variety of tea I’ve never had before and it is new to me, but it’s still just tea grown in the same old way and, while it may taste slightly different than other varieties, it still tastes like tea. This all changed on a recent trip to Japan, though.

On this trip, I spent some time in Ibaraki Prefecture, a mountainous area of central Japan. While there, I got to try a tea that was completely different from anything I tried before. Its taste wasn’t different. In fact, if I had tried it in a blind taste test comparing this tea to any other average tea, I wouldn’t have even known there was a difference.

And that’s just what it was. It was average. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t anything special either. Just your basic average green tea.

So why was this tea completely new to me? It was because of the way it was grown. Of all the thousands of teas I’ve tried in my life, they all had one thing in common: they were grown outdoors. This new variety, however, was grown in an indoor garden. Not a greenhouse, mind you, but an indoor grow house lit up entirely by artificial grow lights.

It was a local farmer, who wanted to grow tea, but couldn’t on his farm because of the climate in the area. It simply isn’t conducive to growing tea. That’s when he decided to move his grow operation indoors. He’d read about people growing all kinds of other plants indoors and he figured: why not tea as well?

He had a spare bedroom in his house and while it had a small window, it wasn’t enough to provide the tea plants with all the PAR and lumen they needed to grow. He ended up just boarding up the window and going completely with artificial lighting anyway.

He got a bunch of boxes and filled them with soil and planted tea shoots in them. Then he had to find the appropriate lighting. Like many growers, he started out with an HID (that stands for high intensity discharge) lighting system.

HID grow lights in an indoor garden

HPS grow lights in the usual kind of grow room. Nice that HID lights can be used for tea, too.

HID lights have been used for decades to grow plants indoors and they are very effective. If you use a combination of metal halide (MH) bulbs and high pressure sodium (HPS) bulbs, you can take plants through the whole grow cycle. The MH bulbs are high in blue-spectrum light and work well for the vegging stage of growth, while the HPS bulbs are high in red-spectrum light and are perfect for flowering.

The main drawback of such a system is a higher electricity cost. It uses a lot of power to run. Additionally, the system creates a lot of heat and you need to use more power to keep your grow room cool.

Tea generally prefers to grow in slightly cooler, but still humid climates. It can grow in very hot climates too, though. As such, the cooling requirements for tea aren’t quite as strict as they would be for other plants, but you still have to spend a lot of money.

They do make reflectors that contain the light inside a ventilated glass tube, which keeps most of the heat from escaping. This air cooled hood reflector kit the Japanese farmer used was one such fixture. It’s a lot cheaper to operated than standard fixtures, but the power costs are still pretty high.

Then there are the bulbs. HID bulbs simply don’t last that long. On average they last about 10,000 hours. This means you have to replace them quite often, which also gets costly. Furthermore, MH bulbs contain mercury, which causes harm to the environment when it comes time to dispose of spent bulbs.

Because of all these drawbacks, this farmer decided to turn to a new technology. He decided to use LED grow lights. He had no experience with them, but he did a lot of reading and liked what he saw. They run much cooler, they cost much less to operate in terms of electricity, and if you buy a good one, it will give you the perfect spectrum for growing plants. It will give your plants so much more nutritious light than an HID system does. The main drawback is price. A good LED grow light is very expensive. And if you buy a bad one it will actually cost you more, because you will lose a lot due to bad harvests.

Our farmer ended up going with a light made by Kind LED. They one of the top LED grow light manufacturers and the lights have been proven to grow plants effectively. After a few grows, he started seeing great results with these lights. He was getting wonderful tea bushes and beautiful leaves and as I can attest, the resulting tea tasted pretty good. Now, he still has a ways to go before this tea becomes world-famous, but what he has done is a start.

Kind XL750 LED grow light

The Kind LED K5 XL750 grow light. This is what he used.

He is shown that you can grow tea anywhere these days, not just in the famous tea growing areas. For now, he is only growing this tea as a hobby but I imagine someday he will be looking to sell his tea commercially. So keep your eyes open and maybe someday you can buy a batch of this amazing new tea. A tea grown indoors. A tea that could eventually revolutionize the industry.

Darjeeling Tea – India’s Most Famous Brew

If you ask 100 people to name a tea from India, two will say Assam tea. The other 98 will say Darjeeling tea. It is by far the most famous tea from India and it is also the best quality tea from the country (Assam tea is generally a pretty low-quality leaf).

darjeeling tea plantation in India

A tea plantation in the Darjeeling region of India, where the leaves for this famous oolong tea are harvested.

Despite it being the best quality tea, the majority of Darjeeling tea sold on the market is actually pretty bad. Like so many other products from India, much of what is sold is actually fake. If you’ve bought this variety of tea, chances are it was not grown in the Darjeeling region. Instead, it came from somewhere else and was a much lower quality.

Even real Darjeeling tea is generally pretty low-quality. Only a small amount of high quality tea is produced every year. Of course much more than is produced is actually labeled high-quality, real Darjeeling tea. You see, the Indian government established a rating system, including an authentication seal, that should ensure buyers they are getting their money’s worth. This was a great idea in theory, but in practice it didn’t quite work out so well. I’m sure you can imagine why: corruption.

India is one of the world’s most corrupt countries and even tea growers with the worst quality teas can easily get their tea certified as authentic Darjeeling, if they simply pay the correct person enough money. That is a shame, because it means that most people who think they’ve tried Darjeeling tea actually haven’t. In fact, I myself was under the impression that Darjeeling tea was overrated, since every time I tried it, it was not very good. It turns out though, that I just never had an actual Darjeeling leaf before. Once I had a real one in India, I saw what a difference it can make to the flavor of the tea.

Within this rating system, there are also numerous different grades. Again, in theory, they should help you select the quality of tea you want. In practice, though, corruption once again ruins a good idea. One thing you can be sure of, is that a tea labeled a low-grade will not be a higher grade. Naturally, tea labeled higher grade will usually be a lower quality than the label would indicate.

One important fact about Darjeeling tea is that it is not actually a black tea. It is labeled as a black tea and is generally considered a black tea, but it’s actually an oolong tea. The main characteristic of oolong tea is that the leaves have not been allowed to fully oxidize. They’ve oxidized longer than a green tea but not long enough to be considered a black tea. That leaves a wide range, and oolongs come in many different flavors. When it comes to Darjeeling tea, different varieties have oxidized for different lengths, so they will all inhabit different places on the oolong scale. None of them are actually black teas though.

This might be disappointing to you, but it shouldn’t be. Oolong tea is much richer and much more complex and flavorful than black tea. Perhaps this is why Darjeeling tea is considered such a high-quality black tea: it is not actually a black tea. While there are black tea varieties in China that have rich, complex flavors, black teas from regions other than the Darjeeling area in India, are not generally that special. Thus, it makes sense why Darjeeling tea is so highly regarded.

If you ever find yourself in the Darjeeling region of India, definitely try some tea, but try to stay away from the tourist shops which will sell you overpriced tea that, in all likelihood, is not as good as they claim. If you can go to an actual plantation, not a touristy one, you may get a chance to have a high-quality cup of tea. It will definitely take more effort than just sitting down in the touristy cafe, but the effort is worth it. A great cup of Darjeeling tea really is a good thing. It might not be the world’s best tea, but it is India’s best.

Trying Some Mint Green Tea in Morocco

I love traveling the world. I love seeing new places, meeting new people and eating delicious new foods. I love experiencing new things. Maybe most of all, I love trying tea from around the world. Of course, the more tea I try from different countries, the more I realize that I don’t actually like the way most countries have their tea. Mainly this is because of the sugar. I’ve learned that most countries put a lot of sugar in their tea and I simply don’t like that.

Moroccan mint tea

Mint tea being poured in Tangier, Morocco

In fact, the only countries I’ve been to where they don’t put sugar in their tea are Japan and China. Everywhere else, no matter how much they claim they like tea, they always mask the flavor of the tea with sugar. I guess what they really like is sugar.

Even countries like Turkey and India, which are famous for tea, don’t actually drink real tea. They drink sugar with a tea flavor. In many cases, like India, they also put a lot of milk in the tea. That all said, I suppose I do understand that, in a case like India. The tea leaves they use for their tea are of such a low-quality that it makes sense to mask the flavor much is possible.

Anyway, let’s get to the point. A few years ago I had the chance to travel to Morocco. I spent a few hours in Tangiers and then several days in Marrakesh. I didn’t have more time to explore the rest of the country. That was a shame. I really like what I saw and would have loved to see more.

The food in Morocco is amazing and I loved every meal I had. Unfortunately, I can’t really say the same for the tea. That’s not to say it was bad. I ordered a number of mint teas and they tasted quite good. I love the flavor of mint and it was mixed with green tea which I love too. The problem, as is so often the case, was that they put a ton of sugar in it. To me, this ruins the flavor. It leaves your mouth with a sticky aftertaste and it doesn’t quench your thirst.

Moroccan man pouring mint tea

A man pouring Moroccan mint tea at a local tea ceremony

This is a shame, because the whole ritual that goes along with their tea is actually quite interesting. You may have seen the way they pour the tea—how they raise the kettle so high above the glass as they are pouring and then lower it again. This really infuses the tea with a lot of air. If only they could leave out the sugar, I think they would really be onto something.

Of course, there would still be one more problem and that is the quality of their tea leaves. Perhaps you can get good leaves in Morocco, I don’t know. The ones we were drinking were pretty cheap, though. Since they were masked with mint and sugar, you couldn’t really notice, so it was okay.

It only became a problem when I decided to buy a bag of loose tea in the market. I could immediately see that the leaves were very low-quality and nowhere near the quality of a good Japanese tea or a good Chinese tea. Actually they weren’t even near the quality of the worst teas you get in those countries. To put it bluntly, the leaves were absolute crap quality.

When I brewed this tea at home it tasted horrible. If I had masked it with sugar like the Moroccans do, I suppose it would have tasted better. Well, not better, since the sugar isn’t really a great flavor with the tea, but it would have hidden how bad the tea was. You know what I mean.

During my time in Morocco I also tried their ginger tea. This was much more enjoyable, since they didn’t put any sugar in it. Of course, ginger tea is not real tea. It is simply hot water with ginger in it. It is quite strong, but it is very enjoyable, especially on a cold evening. I liked this tea a lot, but obviously, it is not really tea.

If you ever make it to Morocco, don’t let anything I wrote here dissuade you from trying their tea. It might not come anywhere near Japanese tea or Chinese tea, but a Moroccan mint tea is still enjoyable on some level. If you actually like sweet drinks, then you will probably love this tea. Because really, the main problem with it is the sugar. Of course, if you remove the sugar then the main problem becomes the low quality tea leaves, so I guess you need to add sugar. Anyway, the point is, give it a try if you get a chance. Let me know what you think about it.

How to do a Japanese Tea Ceremony

In Japanese culture, being invited to a tea ceremony is a mark of respect and a great honour. Although tea ceremonies have been around in the East for hundreds of years, the Japanese take this ritual very seriously. Want to know how it’s done? Read on…

There are strict rules to a Japanese tea ceremony and they include just about all of the main art forms from calligraphy to flower arranging, it’s that special. The main type of ceremony is called Chanoyu and the rituals begin once you arrive at the teahouse (called a Chashitsu).

Firstly, you’ll be asked to spend some tine in the garden, observing the plants. These gardens can be very different to a traditional Japanese garden, often featuring no flowering plants, just greenery, rock gardens and usually some form of water feature. The path leading from the entrance will wind its way through the garden so that by the time you arrive at the teahouse, you already feel a little more relaxed
and mentally present.

It is only then will you be invited inside by the tea master. The entrance to the teahouse is usually lowered, so regardless of your social status, it’s necessary to bow your head as you enter. You’ll be given a drink of water and invited to wash your hands.

Guests sit – or often kneel – at low tables of around four people. The host will prepare the tea using green tea leaves or powdered tea and traditional equipment such as bamboo whisks. It is common for the guest of honour to ask where the tea came from, who made the utensils. This isn’t considered rude, in fact it shows great respect for the tea and your host. The host will wash and prepare all the utensils in front of theguests, artfully arranging them according to the fengshui of the room.

Before you drink your tea, you may be offered sweets. Not in the common, western candy style, but usually from thin layers of rice paper, bean curd and other natural ingredients. The guest of honour will signal when it is acceptable to take a sweet and you should do so only after they have. This time is used by the host to warm both the tea pot and the tea. In some, more formal settings, the tea ceremony may include a seven course meal, sake and resting breaks – this can take up to four hours.

Japanese tea ceremony room

The tea for all guests is ally made in the one bowl. Initially it is given, with a bow, to the guest of honour who takes a sips, rotates the bowl around as he passes it to another guest. Guests should take the tea with their left hand and carefully take notice of the positioning of hands, utensils and the other guests. The bowl is placed next to you and turned so you never drink from the side that was facing you. It’s picked up and drunk with the right hand. Once all the guests have drank from the bowl, they are invited to look and inspect the equipment used to make the tea. An additional bowl of tea is then made in the same way.

Sometimes guests have their own individual bowls, in this case it’s important to drink all of the contents. Again, you should place the bowl to the left of you and turn it 180 degrees. This shows great respect to your host – the side they presented to you was the best, but you are inferior and not worthy and so you drink from the opposite side.

A Lovely Matcha Green Tea From Japan

powdered matcha green tea from Japan

I got the opportunity to try a wonderful new tea today. It was called Kama Matcha and it is a ceremonial grade green tea powder that I bought online. I ordered it on a Monday and it arrived on Wednesday. Quick delivery; a good sign. When I opened the box, I found a nicely decorated little tin. It held 100 g of matcha powder. The color was a bright green, which is what you would expect given the quality.

I actually thought about sprinkling some on my lunch, but that would be a waste with a tea of this quality. Instead I got out my utensils—my bowl, my whisk, my spoon—and I got set to prepare my tea. I poured a little green tea powder in the bowl and poured some 80° water over it. I took my whisk and with quick motions, I beat the tea to a nice froth.

I couldn’t drink it right away because my mouth is very sensitive to heat, so I had to wait a few minutes. The suspense was killing me. When I was finally able to bring the frothy green liquid to my lips, the aroma hit me first. It entered my nostrils and went straight to my brain, signaling the deliciousness that was to come. The first sip of tea that touched my lips and flowed down my throat was amazing. It tasted bitter and grassy; it was everything a good matcha should be. I definitely recommend this tea to anyone.

For those who don’t know, matcha is a green tea powder made from the highest quality leaves. Produced only in Japan, it is one of the best teas money can buy. In fact, it is the tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony. It is one of the most difficult teas to brew, but when done correctly nothing can compare.

This tea comes from several different regions in Japan, but the most famous is the Uji region near Kyoto. I had the good fortune to live in Japan for three years and to travel around Japan for many months. I spent three of those months in Kyoto and while I was there I tried a lot of teas. But the best I ever had was on a trip to Uji, where I had the good fortune to take part in a tea ceremony.

The cup of matcha they prepared for me on that day was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to replicate the taste on my own and I think I’ve done a good job but I’ve never come close their tea. If you’re ever in the area, don’t do what most people do and only see Kyoto and Osaka. Make sure you leave time to go to Uji or at least one of the other famous tea growing regions in Japan. Not only are the rural areas outside the city beautiful, but they are much more authentic, too. There is no better place to try a cup of real Japanese green tea.

Chinese Dragon Well Tea from Longjing

Dragon Well tea is probably the best known tea from China. It comes from the Longjing region in the mountains near Hangzhou in Zhenjiang province. The word ‘Longjing’ means Dragon Well and this is where the tea gets its English name. The region itself has always been famous in China, but it is starting to see more international visitors as well.

longjing tea leaves steeping in glassThe Longjing region is characterized by steep mountainsides and very high humidity. Summers are sweltering and rains fall nearly everyday. This combination makes for tea leaves with a high chlorophyll content in the leaves, which means they also have more nutrients than usual, including a high number of catechins.

Dragon Well tea is pan-fried to stop the oxidation process early on, leaving it virtually unfermented. It is mostly produced by hand. The high quality is the reason it has been bestowed with the ‘China Famous Tea’ title. The leaves steep to a yellow-green color.

In China, Longjing Tea is often brewed in a simple tall glass, but a gaiwan is also often used. The advantage of the glass is that you can watch the long leaves unfurl and slowly sink to the bottom as they release their essence into the water. The water used to prepare Dragon Well should be around 75 degrees Celcius. Traditionally, this tea was brewed in a purple clay teapot known as an yixing. This is still the best way to get the most amount of flavor from your tea leaves.

The highest quality varieties can be quite expensive, but you can find lower quality leaves that are much cheaper, too. Longjing tea is divided into six grades. The highest quality is called superior and the others are graded 1 through 5. The higher qualities are recognizable by tender leaves that are all of a uniform size after they have been infused. Before infusion, they are light green and have a tight, flat shape.

Authentic Dragon Well tea comes only from the West Lake area of Hangzhou. These days, this type of tea is produced in a number of provinces around China, but none of the copies come close to the complex flavor and aroma of the original. Sometimes the copies are labeled as such, but often they are falsely labeled as coming from Xihu (West Lake). You’ll also find teas labeled as high quality that have a few top quality leaves mixed in with a bunch of lower quality ones. It can be difficult to find a credible seller, making it hard to know if you are getting an authentic tea.

If you do get a top quality Longjing tea from the West Lake are of Zhejiang province, you’ll most likely fall in love with the delicate taste and aroma. Good quality Dragon Well is one of my favorite teas and one I love drinking all day long. To ensure you get the real thing, I recommend buying your tea from an online tea shop. If you have one you trust, they will almost certainly carry this variety of tea, as it is very popular.

Why You Should Buy Japanese Sencha Online

My mom came to visit me recently. While she was here we did some sightseeing, did some shopping, and did a lot of eating. Since she knows that I drink tea every day and that I really like sencha, she tried to do me a favor and buy me some.

sencha tea leavesShe was at one of the many outdoor markets here in the area, when she came upon a tea vendor. The woman had a lot of teas on display, mostly loose leaf, in the appropriate containers. The prices were all apparently very low and my mother thought she was getting a good deal and bought me some of the sencha. Let’s just say this tea reminded me why I always buy tea online. This page can help you make sense of all the different online tea stores.

When I first opened the little baggie I immediately saw all the stems. That’s never a good sign. Good quality sencha is mostly leaves. The second thing I noticed was the made in China sticker. This variety of tea comes from Japan and you don’t want to buy it from anywhere else. You definitely don’t want any from China. They have a lot of great teas there and if you want Chinese tea you should buy one of theirs, not one of their copies.

When I tried the tea, it tasted about as good as you could expect. I’m going to use it as my everyday tea, meaning I put the leaves in the bottom of a large plastic walk-around cup and keep brewing new tea on top of the old all day long. It’s a simple way to get my tea fix, but not something I would ever do with a good quality tea. Usually I use the generic brand you can find in most supermarkets, but this tea my mom bought would do just fine. Brewing good sencha is a bit more complicated.

As I mentioned, I always buy tea from online stores, mainly because it’s so difficult to find good quality varieties outside of Asia. Unless you know a tea shop you can trust, one that supplies excellent teas for a good price, I would suggest you do the same. Many of the online tea vendors have great suppliers in China and in Japan and the teas you get from them are excellent.

For the differences between the above-mentioned matcha and sencha, go here.

My first Pu Er Tea

I recently went to the Asian store here in my area and came away with a decently priced Pu Erh tea. I had heard about this variety a lot but had never tried it before, so I was really curious. I was a little worried I was buying the cheap variety and I wouldn’t get a good idea of what this tea should be like. That was a valid concern and I have since learned to buy my pu-erh teas online.

brick of pu erh teaWhen I got home and unpacked the tea, I noticed a rotten smell immediately. Not really rotten but just a little musky I guess; either way it wasn’t the most pleasant thing I’ve ever smelled. When I brewed the tea and tried the first sip, it didn’t taste good at all. It tasted kind of like dirt. It was even a little gritty.

So I did some reading online to see if that’s what it should taste like or if I simply got a bad batch. Turns out that’s pretty much what it should taste like. What I did wrong was I didn’t dump out the first infusion or two. You see, you want to let the tea steep for about 10 seconds then pour that out. I’ve actually started doing that twice in a row. Then I let the third infusion steep for the normal amount of time, about 2 minutes, and that’s the one I drink.

This method really works and I end up with a decent tasting cup every time. I recommend you do the same. And after the third infusion you can actually prepare two, three or even four more and they still taste pretty good. Following this method, I actually enjoy drinking the Pu Er. Although to be honest, I still prefer pretty much any other variety of tea. This one, from Yunnan province in China, just isn’t to my liking. I know many people love it more than any other variety of tea though, so it’s really just a matter of personal taste. You should get yourself some and try it. Preferably get yourself a better quality one than I did. Don’t be cheap like me.