Monday, November 30, 2015

How To Brew Loose Leaf Tea

Making tea without the help of tea bags can seem daunting at first but it's actually super easy. There's a lot of different accouterments out there but the truth is that you don't really need much equipment at all. At its most basic level, the requirements for making tea are:

- Brewing vessel
- Hot water
- Something to hold the leaves

That's it! The main reason that you'll need a way to remove the leaves is to prevent bitterness. Some people like their tea on the strong so feel to use your tastes as your guide. Brewing vessels can be anything from a utilitarian mug to a fancy teapot and everything in between. As your own interest in tea progresses, so will your preferred brewing methods. When I first got into tea, infuser baskets and paper filters were my mainstays but more often than not I now brew with a gaiwan. The advice that I always give is to start simple and build from there.

Tea bags are often made with lower quality leaves so one of the major differences is that loose leaf can often be used to make more than one infusion. The upfront cost is more but that means your per serving cost could actually be lower.

Paper Filters
Paper filters basically allow you to make your own tea bags. I still use these quite a bit when I'm traveling. Although perfectly functional, there are a few drawbacks. Larger leaved and rolled teas will not have room to expand which could negatively affect the flavor. They can also create waste because not all filters are biodegradable. 

Tea Balls
Tea balls offer a similar function to paper filters but in a reusable form. They are available in a wide range of sizes but giving your leaves enough room can also be an issue here. Loosely woven mesh is less likely to stop very small leaf particles like rooibos.

Novelty Infusers
Novelty infusers can make tea time a lot of fun but again, they do tend to constrict the leaves. These are a great conversation piece for the office! Co-workers at my old job always asked what I drinking when I used that cute little duck.

Infuser Baskets
Basket style infusers are definitely my go to when it comes to simple brewing. The wide open design leaves plenty of room for your leaves to stretch their legs. They often come with lids which can serve as drip catchers in between infusions. 
Teapots
A lot of teapots come with infuser baskets. Some people prefer to let the leaves float free in the teapot. Small strainers are placed over teacups when pouring to stop leaves from getting through. The flavor will continue to get stronger so you'll want to drink it up fairly quickly.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday Round Up: November 22nd - November 28th

Podcast 026: Teforia
+Ricardo Caicedo interviewed Allen Han, founder of +Teforia. I was luck enough to see the machine in person and it is awesome.

Jugetsudo Kabukiza
I haven't yet been able to travel to places like Japan so I love living vicariously through others. Heather of Hanamichi shared this week about her experience at a gorgeous tea house in Tokyo.

What-Cha's Malawi Satemwa Antlers White Tea
+Adam M. of Drunk on Tea reviewed one of my absolute favorite white teas. Those little twigs are full of surprises!

The 2015 Tea Moment Holiday Gift Guide
When +Jen Piccotti recommends something, you can bet that any tea lover is guaranteed to love it. This year's gift guide is full of things that I love along with several items that are on my wish list.

Chai Tea Pancakes
Fellow breakfast addict Jennifer, of Inspired by Tea, posted a recipe this week that is right up my alley. I never would have thought of putting cottage cheese in my pancakes before.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Wild Tea Qi Black Needle Pagoda Tea

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: dark with gold tips
Ingredients: black tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: deep reddish brown

I have to admit to being a bit obsessed with this tea long before actually having the opportunity to drink it. That pagoda shape is just too cool! Being a Yunnan black tea, I knew that it would be right up my alley. Each individual pagoda was about 1.5g so I used two in my gaiwan. The taste was complex yet surprisingly light at the same time. Up front there were notes of chocolate that transitioned into a fruity sweetness that brought to mind fresh coconut. The back end had the malty, earthy yam-like quality that I've come to love in Yunnan black teas. After a few infusions the leaves began opening up and they began resembling a more typical flowering tea. The individual leaves were tied together at the base with plain white thread. +Amanda Wilson said that she thought they resembled sea creatures and I think that I have to agree. A funny comment thread occurred when I shared a picture on my Facebook page because +Geoffrey Norman+Chris Giddings and +Rachana Rachel Carter thought that the pagoda shape resembled a mysterious creature from Star Trek. That conversation was a bit over my head but entertaining to read nonetheless.

Black Needle Pagoda Tea sample provided by Wild Tea Qi.

A photo posted by Nicole Martin (@teaformeplease) on

Monday, November 23, 2015

Podcast Episode 17: Interview with Rosa Li of Rosali Tea

After doing a few how to videos, I thought that it was time to return to doing interviews on my podcast. On this month's episode Rosa Li, founder of +Rosali Tea, a new tea subscription service. She shared how she first became interested in tea and her experience launching her company through Kickstarter. I'll be writing about some her teas in the near future.

As always, let me know if there is anything related to tea that you'd like to see on a podcast episode! I'll try my best to make it happen. :)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Round Up: November 15th - November 21st

Day 2 Morning - Taiwan 2015
+Jo J's post this week detailed more of her experience visiting Taiwan. The pictures alone are incredible. Talk about being a tea rock star!

A guide to choosing a puerh tea that you'll love
I don't often include blog posts from tea companies in the round up but this was a great one from +Crimson Lotus Tea. I love the approach of finding a puerh based on what you already like!

The Making of Misty "Peat" Puerh, Part 1
The Making of Misty "Peat" Puerh, Part 2
+Geoffrey Norman experimented with making a bourbon scented puerh and I was lucky enough to get to try some. The usual hilarity ensued. Make sure that you read both posts so that you get the whole process.

David's Tea 24 Days of Tea Un-Boxing
It's the time of year that many tea people have been waiting for, the release of David's Tea's infamous advent calendar. These sell out pretty quickly but luckily +Rachana Rachel Carter got her hands on one and did an unboxing video for us all to enjoy.

A Moment Among the Elephants
+Jen Piccotti has wonderful way of relating the tea that she writes about to personal moments, bringing them both alive for readers. This post reminded me of an elephant ride from my own childhood.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

White2Tea 2002 CNNP (Zhong Cha) 7572 Green Label Tiepai

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: dark, tightly compressed
Ingredients: puerh tea
Steep time: 15 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: very dark reddish brown

There are two words that strike fear into my heart when I'm drinking puerh. Wet. Storage. I just can't bring myself to enjoy the affect that it has on tea. That being said, I owed it both to myself and to the gent behind White2Tea to power through this one. Many moons ago he was kind enough to send a package full of tea education after I asked a total newb question on a forum. This tea was the very last of those samples. The dry leaf was fairly tightly compressed. I did two quick rinses, just to be on the safe side, and was surprised to see how dark the tea was already. The humidity was definitely apparent for the first four or so infusions. I did not find that aspect pleasant at all. That being said, I trudged through the muck and came out with a really pleasant tea. Chocolaty and creamy notes came out of nowhere. I drank this tea for two days straight so the leaves had real staying power too. Maybe wet storage isn't so bad after all? We'll have to see. At the price, I'd venture to say that this tea is a real steal because I've definitely seen similar teas go for a lot more.

2002 CNNP (Zhong Cha) 7572 Green Label Tiepai sample provided by White2Tea.

Monday, November 16, 2015

What's the Deal with Re-steeping Your Tea?

The question I see asked most often by newbies on the forums that I frequent has to do with re-steeping tea. Somehow I made it six years without actually answering it here so I thought that it was about time. First things first, what is meant by the word re-steeping? It simply means getting more than one cup out of the same batch of leaves. For a lot of us in the western hemisphere that is an entirely new concept.

How does it work?
At its most basic re-steeping simply requires setting the strained leaves aside until you are ready to brew a second cup. All of the water should be removed from them in order to avoid bitterness. Every tea is a bit different but in a lot of cases you might increase the brewing time on the next round in order to extract enough flavor. If you're brewing in a western fashion (infuser basket or larger teapot), most unflavored teas can yield at least two to three infusions. Eastern style brewing (a la gongfu with gaiwans or yixing teapots) is a whole other story. I've had puerh and oolong that gave well over 10 infusions. The key difference is that a higher volume of leaves are used with a smaller volume of water, extending the life of the leaves.

How long can I let the leaves sit? Can they be brewed the next day?
It's really a matter of personal opinion but I try to use the leaves within a few hours. When I do leave them sitting, I'll usually put the cover on the gaiwan to make sure that they don't dry out. Once the leaves have dried out there really isn't a way to revive them.

There have been a few times where I had just started a session with a tea that I knew had a lot of infusions in it. Isn't it the worst when life interupts good tea? In that case I placed the closed gaiwan in the refrigerator, making sure that there was no sticky food inside that would ruin my tea. When I was able to return to the tea I made sure to do a few quick rinses to get the flavor back where it should be.

I would not be inclined to use leaves that have been sitting for longer 24 hours. Since they are moist used tea leaves make an excellent breeding ground for mold and bacteria. As heartbreaking as it is to throw out seemingly good tea leaves, I just don't think it is worth the risk. If I don't think that I'll be able to get back to drinking within that time frame, I'll use the leaves to make a batch of cold brewed iced tea instead. Just throw them into a mason jar full of cold water and place it in the fridge. I've found that oolongs work really well for this.

Will it work for flavored teas or tea bags? 
Unfortunately flavored teas and tea bags are usually a one shot deal. Almost all of the flavor goes into the first cup so there will be very little left for a second one. The one exception to that might be full leaf pyramid style tea bags. As a general rule the smaller the leaf particles are, the less likely it is that you'll be able to re-steep it.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday Round Up: November 8th - November 14th

Bespoke Tea Tasting at Té Company
+Jee Choe shared what sounds like an amazing tasting that she had at a brand new NYC spot called Té Company. I was only able to stop in for a cup to go this week but I plan to go back for the full experience soon.

Byoh Matcha Bar in Copenhagen
Håkon, one of the contributors to the blog Cha, shared their experience at an awesome sounding new matcha bar that opened up in Copenhagen. It reminds me a lot of the places that have popped up in NYC lately!

Old Bear Puerh
I'm feeling a bit jealous after reading +Geoffrey Norman's review of an infamously smoky puerh that has been on my wishlist for some time. His explanation that a band of homeless bears took a smoke break in the warehouse on several occasions seems totally legit to me.

2012 Verdant Tea’s Golden Fleece [Episode 131]
The guys from +Tea DB did an interesting re-tasting of perennial favorite Verdant Tea's Golden Fleece. I remember really enjoying this tea the last time that I had it. Their comparison of teas to angsty teenagers was definitely food for thought.

Interview: Nicholas Lozito of Misty Peak Teas
+sara shacket did a great interview with tea friend Nicholas from +Misty Peak Teas. I remember his story well from when I interviewed him on my podcast but it was nice to get a different perspective thanks to Sara's insightful questions.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Satemwa Estate Bvumbwe Hand Made

Country of Origin: Malawi
Leaf Appearance: dark, twisted with some stems
Ingredients: black tea
Steep time: 3 minutes
Water Temperature: 200 degrees
Preparation Method: stainless steel infuser basket and ceramic teacup
Liquor: deep amber

Satemwa Estate in Malawi never ceases to surprise me. Their teas are so unique that they really stand out compared to most of the African grown tea that I have tried before. The leaves of this tea were gorgeously long and spindly. You'd almost think that they were a Chinese dan cong! The taste was malty with notes of chocolate and just a hint of citrus brightness. The description on their website compares it to "orangette", a Belgian orange sweet dipped in dark chocolate. Now I must find these delightful sounding things if they taste anything like this tea. It was full bodied with just the right amount of astringency. Milk or sugar were not needed and I think they'd definitely detract from the complexity here. I'm not very sensitive to caffeine but this one definitely got my blood pumping. It would make a great morning tea! Satemwa impressed me when I first met them at World Tea Expo because of their passion and the way that they care for their workers. I've been impressed time and time again by their teas. Until now, What-Cha has been the only supplier but they've just recently signed on as a Tealet grower so I think we can expect to see a lot more of their tea in the states.

Bvumbwe Hand Made sample provided by Satemwa Estate.

A photo posted by Nicole Martin (@teaformeplease) on

Monday, November 9, 2015

An Introduction to Matcha Tools


Matcha is traditionally used in a formal ceremony in Japan but the same equipment will also serve you just as well for casual drinking at home. These pieces can range from very simple and basic to one-of-a-kind pieces handcrafted by artisans. When you are first starting out, I recommend starting with inexpensive options and then upgrading as your skill level and interest progresses.

Chawan 

First things first, you’ll need something to make your matcha in and to drink it from. Matcha bowls can come in all sorts of shapes, colors and sizes. From traditional and plain to colorful and contemporary, there’s a bowl to suit every taste. The two things that they will all have in common are a wide, flat base and high sides. You may see this style referred to by the Japanese term chawan, which literally means tea bowl. It is common to match the style of the bowl with the season. If you don’t have a chawan any wide bowl, like the type that is used to serve rice, can often work just fine.


Chashaku

The chasaku is used to measure out portions of matcha powder. One and a half to two scoops of tea are generally used when preparing thin tea, also called usucha. They are most commonly made out of bamboo but other types of wood or even ivory can be found. I personally like the authentic look and feel of a bamboo scoop but a teaspoon could do the job just as easily. Tea masters have traditionally carved their own scoops, giving them a poetic name that suits their seasonal identity.

Chasen

The most important tool for making matcha is the whisk. While motorized gadgets and gizmos are available, I find that the taste is very different than when it is traditionally prepared. Each whisk is made from a single piece of bamboo. Isn’t that incredible? Being made of a natural material, they can wear out over time. I’ll be writing a post soon about how to maintain chasens.


Making matcha can seem intimidating but all you really need are these three things and water. That being said, there are a few other accessories that you may find useful as your interest progresses.

Hishaku 

The hishaku is a long ladle that is used to scoop water into the chawan while preparing matcha. I like using them because it takes the guesswork out of the volume of water to use. It took me a while to find one that wasn’t expensive but I’ve been very happy with the one that I found on Amazon.


Kusenaoshi 

The Kusenaoshi is a simple stand that is used to hold the chasen. It helps to shape the tines, improving the longevity of the chasen over time. My whisks definitely maintain their shape better since I’ve started using one.


Furui

Sifting your matcha before whisking can keep it from becoming clumped and in many ways I feel it improves the taste. You can purchase specially made tins with built in sifters but I use an old fashioned stainless steel mesh tea strainer and it works just fine.



Are there any other tools that you use for matcha? Let me know about them in the comments!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Friday Round Up: November 1st - November 7th

Japanese Tea with a French Twist
+Ricardo Caicedo hosted an interesting guest post about an entrepreneur who is working to introduce the people of France to Japanese teas.

The Tea Book Update: Book signings in New York City
Those of us near NYC are in for a treat. +Linda Gaylard will be holding book signing events at +T Shop as well as Monkey Cup. I can't wait to get my copy signed!

TOP 5 “WHAT TEA F&%KS!?”
+TJ W, host of World Tea Podcast, recent had fellow blogger +Geoffrey Norman on his show to discuss the weird teas that they've both had. Tea nerdity filled hilariousness ensued.

Sanne Tea, 2014-2015 Oriental Beauty
The Everyday Tea Blog wrote an interesting comparison of two different harvests of oriental beauty from the same vendor. I've never heard of Sanne Tea before but I really like the handwritten look of their packaging.

Tea Tasting at Capital Teas Teabar & Boutique in the Mosaic District
+Georgia SS attended a very cool tasting at Capital Teas. I remember really enjoying visiting one of their shops a few years ago when I visited the area. They've grown quite a lot since then.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Happy Earth Tea Hung Shui Oolong Spring 2012

Country of Origin: Taiwan
Leaf Appearance: deep green, tightly rolled
Ingredients: oolong tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: deep gold

Fans of +Happy Earth Tea's wonderful Darjeeling teas might be surprised to hear that they also carry some truly excellent oolongs. This particular Taiwanese offering was made on Yiguang Shan using the Qingxin cultivar. On a side note, have you guys checked out the super handy tea cultivar database that +Tony Gebely put together on World of Tea? I find myself referring to it often while writing reviews. For the initial review I brewed it in a gaiwan but I couldn't resist bowl brewing those beautiful leaves a few days later. A mellow fruitiness evolved into a deep and lingering floral note. I had a hard to pinning it down to a specific aroma but it was definitely there. The roast came across as a pleasant grain-like nuttiness rather than smoke. I was able to get at least six infusions (lost count after that) with my gaiwan and probably could have squeezed out several more. This tea was slow roasted using an electric heater in a bamboo basket. I have a mini version of one of these roasters so this definitely gives me the itch to experiment with it more.

Hung Shui Oolong Spring 2012 sample provided by Happy Earth Tea.

A photo posted by Nicole Martin (@teaformeplease) on

Monday, November 2, 2015

Teforia - Using Technology to Revolutionize Tea Brewing


I have a confession to make. I've been keeping a really awesome secret ever since World Tea Expo. The good news is that I can finally share it with all of you. +Teforia is an exciting new tea infusion device that I have been really blown away by. For years the Breville One-Touch Tea Maker has reigned supreme. While I still love my trusty kettle, there is so much technology available today that it is surprising that nothing has topped it until now.

Teforia utilizes a proprietary Selective Infusion Process (“SIP”) along with eco-conscious packaging to completely change the way that we approach home tea brewing. Each individual tea package is embedded with RFID technology so the machine actually knows exactly what tea you are going to drink and how to make it. How cool is that? Teforia is sourcing their own high quality teas as well as partnering with Mighty Leaf and Smith TeaMaker and Samovar Tea. The machine can be used to brew any type of tea but the premeasured packets will contain a perfect 5g. I thought it was cool that there are different size packages for each type of leaf. This is great news for tea with long and spindly leaves because they won't get crushed.


Teforia is operated using a companion app that gives users complete control over the tea that ends up in their cup. Teforia can alter the brewing method to emphasize certain aspects of taste such as floral or earthy. They also take things a step further in a way that I have not seen before. Tea drinkers can now adjust the levels of the chemical components in their tea such as caffeine and antioxidants. Science!

I had the opportunity to meet with Allen, the founder of Teforia, both at World Tea Expo and in NYC a few weeks ago. We did a comparison tasting using Teforia and a Teavana Perfect Tea Maker. I couldn't help but giggle at the irony because I work at Teavana and demonstrate how they work for customers all day long. He brewed a vibrantly green matcha dusted sencha using room temperature water in both devices and the difference between the two was extraordinary. The color of the liquor was a dramatically deeper shade of green in the cup made by the Teforia. What really blew my mind was the taste. Teforia's cup had a rounder, fuller mouth feel with a much more pronounced umami factor. Allen was kind of enough to give me the rest of the tea in a to go cup and I can tell you that I was definitely in heaven sipping it on the subway.


While we drank the tea I chatted with Allen about what led him to create Teforia. He told me about how being served an aromatic cup of Bao Zhong on an airplane brought him back to visiting his grandparents in Taiwan.

“On a trip to Asia three years ago, I had a cup of tea that changed my life and transported me back to my childhood,” said Allen Han, CEO and founder of Teforia. “That discovery led me to realize how the $90 billion dollar global tea market largely consists of commercialized brewing methods and treatments. Most tea drinkers don’t know what they’re missing, so I wanted to create a way to perfect the process of brewing tea while honoring its tradition.”

Check out this screen shot of what the app looks like:




Teforia will be available for pre-order starting October 29th. The first 500 buyers will receive discounted price of $649 as well as some really cool perks. They'll get to choose a customer serial number for their Teforia. They will also receive a special gift box of thirty teas, invites to VIP tastings and a chance to win a tea sourcing trip. The retail price will be $1,299 after those first 500 units are sold.

What do you think about this fascinating device? Let me know in the comments!