Worldwide, more people drink tea than any other prepared beverage, but here in the U.S., where coffee rules, tea terminology can be a little baffling. Rong Pan and her husband, Qin Liu, have been helping Coloradans find the perfect cup of tea since 2005.
The couple opened Ku Cha House of Tea in Boulder in 2005 and have since added a second shop in Fort Collins. Now they're launching a third Ku Cha at 2445 East Third Avenue on Saturday, May 4. The shop is primarily a retail store where customers can buy tea and tea accessories to take home, but Rong says she's also adding a small cafe at the back of the store so customers can sit down and enjoy tea and tea-infused pastries.
Rong and Qin met in Beijing, China, and moved to Boulder to pursue master's degrees at the University of Colorado. But their love of tea, especially from their home country, led them to open their own shop. Rong explains that the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, and tea brewing originated in China's Yunnan province before spreading to Japan, India and other tea-growing countries. The majority of Ku Cha's teas come from China, but other regions are represented too, and other forms of herbal teas are also sold.
The store owners have made tea shopping easy by dividing all the products into major categories, with shelves appropriately labeled. Teas are categorized according to the level of oxidation and fermentation the leaves undergo before being packaged and shipped. White tea, Rong points out, is the lightest, undergoing a simple withering and drying process. Next is green tea, which is not oxidized, so that the bright green color of the leaves is preserved. Oolong teas are semi-oxidized and carry a wide variety of flavors, depending on the growing region and processing method. Puerh teas are fermented, giving them additional flavors, and black teas are fully oxidized and are often used as the base for flavored teas.
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Rong explains that written documentation of tea drinking goes back 3,000 years in China, and that there are more than 6,000 varieties produced in her home country. "Most people drink local teas from close to where they live," she notes. Ku Cha even carries Biluochun green tea grown near the town where Rong was born in Jiangsu province.
Ku Cha's owners have developed a network of tea growers and suppliers to provide the shop with the best products available. Many of the teas are priced for everyday drinking, but some — like rock oolong tea grown on steep mountainsides — are rare and expensive, better suited for special occasions and gifts. The shop also carries several house blends of chai tea, South African rooibos, yerba matte and herbal teas (also called tisanes). Teas and herbs are labeled with their specific health properties, and the herbal ingredients for the tisanes are also sold separately so you can create your own blend in the store.
The shop carries more than 170 classic teas (not including the herbal varieties), along with traditional handmade pots and cups, strainers, storage containers and other equipment needed to make the specific styles. Samples are available, and advice on how to get the most out of your purchase is freely given.
Ku Cha House of Tea will be open in Cherry Creek from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Visit the Boulder location at 1211 Pearl Street, or the Fort Collins shop at 128 South College Avenue.