About the Teas at Urbana
Urbana sells a small faction of the 3,000 Teas in the world. But we think each one of our premium-quality, handpicked teas is worthy of your attention. Our menu of teas includes only loose-leaf teas that are imported from Japan, China, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Africa and other tea-producing countries. We buy directly from tea importers, who buy tea from the top tea gardens several times a year in order to purchase each season’s best.
We offer more than 100 varieties of teas and herbals, including green, white, black, red (rooibos), blends, plus wellness infusions. Each day, we have a selection of teas available for tasting in the teabar, and we invite you to sample the quality. Many of our teas are organic and fair trade, which is an integral part of Urbana’s mission to raise the level of tea quality in the U.S. and to ensure a fair wage and living conditions for the tea estate workers.
Black teas, known as red teas in China, are the most processed of teas. They generally are strong, and the full-bodied flavor combines well with milk and/or sugar. Flavored black teas may have fruit, flowers and/or spices added.
Black teas are energizing, aid digestion, help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and also help prevent cancer. Black teas contain some caffeine.
While black, green, oolong and white teas all come from the same plant, botanical or herbal teas are an herb or a mix of herbs. In fact, hundreds of different herbs have been used to create herbal infusions, with common ones being chamomile, lemon verbena, peppermint and rosehips. Some connoisseurs call these botanical or herbal infusions tisanes. The French pronunciation is tee-zahn, and the word means herbal drink.
Although botanical/herbal infusions don’t contain any tea leaves, they are prepared like teas. They contain pieces of fruit and blossoms and are popular either hot or iced. Because of the beneficial characteristics of the botanicals, they may be used as remedies. Chamomile may help with relaxation, rosehips contain vitamin C, peppermint soothes the stomach, lemongrass and fennel improve immune system function, and cinnamon and cardamom improve circulation function. Botanical/herbal infusions are caffeine-free, so they can be enjoyed throughout the day and into the evening.
Chai is the Indian word for tea. In the U.S., it’s a spiced brew of tea that often is combined with milk and sweetener, which may be honey, sugar, fructose, or a combination. In the U.S., green teas or herbal teas are sometimes used instead of black teas, and sweet spices are generally preferred over savory spices.
Green teas are the most common teas produced and consumed in China’s major tea cultivation zones, and more than 90 percent of green teas come from China. Green teas are less processed than oolong and black teas, but their processing is often time-consuming. Fine grades of green tea may go through multiple drying and rolling processes and may result in a variety of shapes and sizes that are often reflected in their names. You may find them flat, rolled into needles, powdered, crinkled or formed into Pellets.
Green teas are closest in flavor to the natural leaf. Immediately upon plucking, the leaves are pan-fried, baked or steamed. This destroys the natural enzymes that would otherwise cause fermentation. It also makes the leaves pliable for the hand-rolling or twisting processes. Green teas contain roughly half the caffeine of oolong teas. They are subtle and delicate in flavor and should be steeped in water that is well below boiling.
Only local tea masters of specific regions in China or Japan can produce many of the most famous green teas. The gunpowder variety is the most prized and is available at Urbana. Its leaves are tightly rolled to resemble BB shot, and as they uncurl during brewing, they produce a light, smoky, sweet flavor. Green teas are often infused with tropical fruits, spices and flowers such as jasmine, wild rose, orchid and magnolia to complement the leaf varieties.
The process of scenting teas with flowers was developed by tea masters of China many centuries ago and involves careful mixing, curing and drying of tea with fresh flowers. Flower teas are usually scented from three to five times during the process.
Green teas enjoy a reputation as a natural healer. They are high antioxidants and are thought to help prevent cancer, stroke and heart disease. They are also beneficial in weight control and maintenance.
Partial fermentation gives oolong teas, also known as blue-green teas, the freshness of green tea and the body of black tea. They are delicate and tend to be distinctly fragrant and fruity. Good oolongs have a floral aroma and a peachy taste, and the finest have complex tastes and fragrances. Others may be more like green tea in flavor and aroma. Liquor color may range from pale green, to pink, to dark gold.
Authentic oolong teas are produced only in a few regions of Taiwan and China, where climate is optimal. Their processing is labor-intensive, and the first hours after picking are critical. The best time to stop fermentation is when the leaves are 70 percent green and 30 percent red, and experience is needed to identify this point in the process.
Oolong teas contain less caffeine than black teas. They are often served with meals and are known for their body-slimming and digestive properties. Urbana carries an exceptional selection of oolongs.
Organic teas are cultivated using farming practices that help protect and preserve the environment. These earth-friendly methods don’t depend on toxic chemicals that stay in the soil, leach into groundwater, and end up on skin or in commercially grown foods. An added benefit is that organic teas taste better.
Teas are certified as organic only if they are 95 percent organic. When independent third-party certification agencies make their inspections, they consider cultivation, handling and packaging of the teas to ensure organic integrity.
Fair trade is a separate level of certification and means that the tea workers are receiving guaranteed fair wages. The tea estates also receive an additional premium that is used by their communities to provide better housing, healthcare and education. For now, there is a limited number of teas available that are certified as fair traded.
Pu-erh is a fully fermented tea produced only in one small area of southwestern China. It is also one of the most popular teas in China. According to traditional Chinese medicine, pu-erh has numerous health benefits, is known for body slimming, and many swear is the best cure for a hangover. In a French study several years ago, results showed that drinking three to four cups of pu-erh daily for just 30 days was more effective than taking the most advanced cholesterol-lowering medications.
Pu-erh teas can be classified into two distinct categories: green saiqing pu-erh and fermented process pu-erh. Both categories can be found in loose and in compressed tea varieties (called tuo cha) that once aided in trade to distant markets. The development and use of pu-erh tea in China dates back at least 1,700 years. However, it wasn’t until the late 1950s that the black process pu-erh appeared.
Pu-erh tea doesn’t require a dormant season and is picked throughout the year. Its processing is similar to that of black tea except that the leaves are allowed to retain moisture and are basically composted, after which the tea is aged in special underground rooms or caves. Pu-erh teas, unlike other teas, get better with age, and older vintages, some dating back 50 to 100 years, are prized.
Dark pu-erh teas are easy to brew and, in fact, almost impossible to ruin. They have a somewhat earthy aroma that some people find unappealing, but some compare the taste to coffee. For Tibetans, the authentic way to server pu-erh is with a pinch of salt added. Some Chinese people drink pu-erh tea only as a medicine.
Rooibos is African slang for red bush. Not a true tea, this herb is cultivated in the southwestern cape region of South Africa. The rooibos plant is green, but the fermentation process turns the leaves from green to a deep red color.
Rooibos teas are full-bodied with slightly sweet notes and are popular either hot or iced. They are totally caffeine-free and are a great thirst quencher for active people. They have 30 times the antioxidants of green tea and are anti-mutagenic, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral. They have been shown to aid in health problems such as insomnia, irritability, headaches, nervous tension, and hypertension. Rooibos has been used in South Africa to treat allergies and eczema.
Honeybush is an herb that is similar in appearance and flavor to rooibos, but slightly sweeter. It is harvested during its flowering season to produce a sweet flavor and scent. Like rooibos , it contains no caffeine and is enjoyed hot or cold.
White teas are the least processed of teas, generally with only air drying and slight oxidation. High-quality white teas are harvested for only a brief period each spring before they leaf buds have opened and while they are still covered with silky white hairs, similar to fuzz on a ripe peach. They consist primarily of buds, not leaves. The resulting taste is subtle and complex, with delicate flavor, and is naturally sweet.
White teas are grown in China, India and Sri Lanka, but true white teas are only produced in the northernmost part of the Fujian district of China.
White tea leaves are bigger and lighter than other types of tea leaves, so more are required for brewing. They can be brewed several times, and each steeping will reveal a different flavor. White teas should be steeped in water that is well below boiling temperature for at least four or five minutes. They contain practically no caffeine, even in the first infusion.
Although many studies have hailed the healing power of green teas, research has indicated that drinking white teas is more effective in the fight against infection and illness. Researchers say they’re about 10 percent better at inactivating viruses, bacteria and fungi causing strep infections and pneumonia.
Urbana carries an array of rare and exotic white teas.