Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Year In Tea: 2015

This year has been an exciting one for me. That is probably part of what has made it seem like 2015 flew by. It started off with a bang in January when I launched my quarterly journal. What started as a tiny little email list has ballooned to 700 tea lovers. It has been a lot of work but each issue is truly a labor of love. I've been incredibly blessed to have some of the best in the biz contribute articles. I had the opportunity to help Lucy from Silver Needle Tea Co. at NY Now. I was invited to a matcha meditation at the Shinnyo Center and served tea at the NY Travel Fest. I spoke at World Tea Expo and was incredibly honored to win the award for Best Social Media Reach. Amazing experiences like having a cha xi in Bryant Park and afternoon tea at The Lowell made me even more grateful for everything that I get to see and do because of this blog.

Over the course of the year I also:

  • Reviewed 100 teas, bringing the lifetime total of this blog to 912! The actual number of teas that I've drunk is likely a bit higher since I don't write about everything that I come across.
  • Read 16 books on or related to tea. A good portion of those still need to be written about here.
  • Published my first article on World Tea News

Over the summer I continued to keep my dream of working in tea alive by becoming a Teavana partner. It's been an interesting journey for many reasons. I've felt more challenged yet also fulfilled than any other job I've had. My passion for tea is celebrated and encouraged. The same could not be said for other tea places where I have worked. To my surprise, there's been more than a few people who expressed their disbelief and in many cases disgust at the very idea of working for "them". It bothered me at first but at the end of the day what other people think will never pay the bills or put food on the table.

2016 promises to be even more of a whirlwind. I've been notified that my proposal was accepted for World Tea Expo in June. I'll be speaking solo this time around which is both exciting and terrifying. +Tea for Me Please turns 8 years old in October. I decided it was about time for a bit of an update. Let me know in the comments what you guys think of the new look. I've been lucky enough to receive wonderful notes, messages and packages of tea from many of you this year. Thank you all for coming along on my journey with the leaf!!

Monday, December 28, 2015

How to Store Tea

I think that every tea drinker has the same problem. What is the best way to store all of the tea that we accumulate? The main enemies of tea leaves are heat, light and moisture. There's a handful of exceptions to that rule but this applies to most categories of tea. I find that a lot of people tend to keep tea in their kitchen but that's not always the greatest location. Heat and strong aromas from cooking can accidentally ruin your tea-vestments. I'm pretty sure that puerh cake that I have on display in my home will taste like bacon some day.

Tea frequently comes packaged in paper bags with fold over clips. While these do block out light, your tea is still very susceptible to changes in the environment. If several teas are stored together in one area their aromas will tend to commingle and get all muddled. This is especially true with strongly scented teas like jasmine and lapsang souchong.

For years tea shops have displayed and sold their teas in glass jars but the truth is that this does the tea a great disservice. UV degradation has not been studied much but both sunlight and artificial light can have a negative affect on tea. If you do opt to store your tea in mason jars or other glass vessels, I highly recommend getting crafty and using food safe paint to block out the light.

They come in a million shapes, sizes and designs but tins are generally the best option available to most tea drinkers. I find that they work even better if the tea is kept within an inner bag. Ideally you'll want to have as little empty space inside of the tin as possible. This limits the amount of oxygen that your tea is exposed to. Some tea drinkers like to keep the tea in a larger tin and then use that to refill a smaller container, preventing the bulk of the leaves from being exposed to air during frequent use.

Although I drink almost exclusively loose leaf tea, these same concepts can all be applied to tea bags.

Should I freeze or refrigerate my tea?

I wouldn't recommend freezing or refrigerating your tea unless can have a dedicated unit just for tea. Tea is very susceptible to absorbing the smells around it (hence why it can be scented with jasmine and other florals). No one wants their green tea to taste like Chinese food leftovers! The one exception to that might be matcha. The shelf life is relatively short so refrigeration can help extend that if it is kept in an airtight container. There is some concern about condensation forming on the tea so you'll need be watchful to avoid spoilage.
What about puerh?

Puerh and other dark teas are some of the few exceptions to these rules. Air is essential to the aging process. Letting a musty or fishy cooked puerh breath can make an unpleasant tea much more drinkable. That being said, light and strong aromas should still be avoided. Sheng and Shu should be stored separately since their tastes and smells are very different. There are many schools of thought on how to best store puerh at home. In many ways we are still learning because the climate here in North America can be so different from that of Asia.

Some pu-heads opt to store their tea in earthenware crocks. These can be hard to come by where I live so I haven't experimented with that yet. Still others build pumidors in order carefully control the humidity level. There is some risk of mold so cakes need be rotated and frequently monitored.

For most people, plain brown paper bags (odor-free of course) will usually get the job done. Cloth bags are also available from a number of retailers. I don't usually purchase large quantities of puerh myself (in part due to the number of samples I receive for review). Otherwise I might have to come up with a more long term solution.

Should I break up puerh cakes or leave them whole?

The answer really depends on your goal. For long term aging, I believe it is best to leave the cake whole. For tea that I'm drinking now, I'll usually leave in the cake and just break off pieces as I go. The one exception would be a tea that needs airing out. Musty shu can very much benefit from being broken up.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Let me know how you store your tea in the comments!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tea from Vietnam Ta Oolong

Country of Origin: Vietnam
Leaf Appearance: deep green, tightly rolled
Ingredients: oolong tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 195 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: pale gold

I recently received a batch of several samples from Tea from Vietnam but this one really grabbed my attention right away. The package explained that Ta is rare variety of tea that is native to the country of Vietnam. Say what? Their website explains that it became less popular with farmers because it is has lower yields and pest resistance than other varieties. I think it is really important to preserve the genetic diversity of Camellia Sinensis so thankfully it has not died out yet. The unfurled leaves were large and strikingly beautiful. I was immediately struck by the heady floral aromas. Orchid and lily danced around a honey-like sweetness. There was a bit of a nutty element that reminded me of a nicely roasted Taiwanese oolong. Later rounds brought out a crisp vegetal note that reminded me of fresh baby spinach. I did at least six consecutive infusions but the leaves definitely could have given a few more. Although it was fairly light bodied I wouldn't say that the tea was thin or weak by any means.

Ta Oolong sample provided by Tea from Vietnam.







Monday, December 21, 2015

TeaPrints Shirts for Tea Lovers - Giveaway!


Over the years I've been asked to review everything from tea (the obvious choice) to books, music cd's and even pillows. In seven years of tea blogging this is the very first time that I was offered a t-shirt. TeaPrints has quite a lot of nifty designs to choose from but I selected "Keep Calm and Gaiwan On". I already own a shirt emblazoned with "I <3 Tea" but I mostly chose this design because it isn't as obvious. Inevitably some poor soul will ask me what a gaiwan is. They will most likely regret doing so because that will trigger the inevitable nerding out.

I really like that the shirt was pre-shrunk and that the tags are tear away. Seriously, tags on shirts can be incredibly irritating! It's super comfortable and the fabric is fairly soft to the touch. I chose the heather grey color which has 10% polyester but otherwise the shirts are made out of cotton. I usually wear a medium and it was just a bit roomy but that's to be expected since these shirts are unisex. I love that they are printed on demand in the U.S. too. Even better, they donate their "oops" shirts to the American Red Cross.

TeaPrints has generously offered two shirts for me to giveaway to my readers. Just use the widget below to enter! The contest will run until January 4th and winners will be selected at random.

TeaPrints T-Shirt Giveaway

Friday, December 18, 2015

Friday Round Up: December 13th - December 19th

Verdant Tea strikes again
There was a bit of puerh controversy in the online tea world this week. MarshalN of A Tea Addict's Journal does a great job of summarizing it all, separating fact from fiction.

Tea Party in a Box
+Bonnie Eng put together a great collection of DIY gift boxes that any tea lover would be happy to receive. I think the Matcha All Day is my favorite.

Favorite Tea Ware: Heidi Chen of Tea Ave
+Georgia SS continues her favorite tea ware series with an installment from Heidi of +Tea Ave. The long handled gongfu teapot is gorgeous!

An Original Da Hong Pao Oolong Awakening
I've been lucky enough to taste some pretty amazing teas. +Geoffrey Norman almost always one ups me (not that tea drinking is a competitive sport, if it were we'd both be olympians). This rare Da Hong Pao takes the cake and will definitely be on my wishlist.

Muzha Traditional Tieguanyin
Nissan of Knjitea share a fascinating story from his travels in Taiwan. The business side of tea is always fascinating. It seems I've been living vicariously through other people's travels lately. That needs to change!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Global Tea Hut: October 2015 - Cloud-Hidden

Life has been a bit on the hectic and crazy side so I'm a bit behind in sharing my Global Tea Hut experiences with you all (among other things). This used to stress me out quite a bit in the past but I've decided to stop beating myself up over it. Scaling back my publication schedule has helped. Ultimately what matters is that I take the time to enjoy the tea when I can.

The lifeblood of +Global Tea Hut is its members and October's shipment paid special tribute to that. The theme of Tea & Tao Magazine was "voices from the hut". The gift that was included in this months envelope was photographs from their recent tea photo contest. I don't know how they narrowed it down to just a few because all of the entries that I've seen were truly beautiful. The articles have made for very interesting reading. I really enjoy learning about the different people who have connected through Global Tea Hut. It makes me wish that there were similar gatherings in my little corner of the world.

Shou puerh isn't always my thing but Global Tea Hut has never let me down. I was particularly intrigued by cloud-hidden because it is from Laos. "Border tea" is a hot button issue but at the end of the day, man made boundaries don't matter much to the tea trees that grow there. This tea is a "living tea" that was donated by the farmer himself. I brewed it in my handy little side handled teapot. At the moment it is probably my most used piece of teaware.  I picked it up from Yunnan Sourcing on an impulse but the $16 price tag can't be beat for how useful it is.

A photo posted by Nicole Martin (@teaformeplease) on

Cloud-hidden was exactly what the doctor ordered on a cold night after a very long day at work. The dry leaves were quite beautiful to look at. They were dark and twisty with a healthy smattering of golden tips. Although the fermentation taste of a shu puerh was there, it never crossed the line into fishy or unpleasant. The dominant flavor note that kept jumping out at me was a deep, dark cocoa. It was also accompanied by hints of dark fruit and a lingering sweetness. There was a very expansive warming feeling as I drank infusion after infusion.






Monday, December 14, 2015

Do You Gongfu?

Gongfu (sometimes also called kung fu) simply means preparing tea with great skill. It's often referred to as the Chinese tea ceremony but that's not quite correct. Although the process can feel very ceremonial the truth is that there is no such thing as a Chinese tea ceremony. Gongfu is not codified in the rigid way that you might find in Japanese Chanoyu. China is a large and ethnically diverse country with many different ways of drinking tea (and most people are far less formal about it). This way of preparing tea is also extensively used in Taiwan and is becoming increasingly better known in the U.S.

In comparison to western brewing methods large leaf volumes, shorter brewing times and smaller brewing vessels are used to achieve multiple infusions. This method concentrates the aromas of the tea, elevating the sensory experience. Oolong, black tea and puerh tend to do very well when prepared in the gongfu style. Some people are quite adamant about white and green tea not being brewed this way. I say to each their own. All that matters is that you enjoy the end result!


What You'll Need

So, what do you need to give gongfu a try? The basics mostly consist of a small brewing vessel such as a gaiwan or a teapot that is no bigger than 4 or 5oz. Teapots that are used for gongfu are commonly made out of yixing clay but they can also be made of celadon and other materials. Tea tables are made specifically for gongfu so they have a way to catch drips and spills. If you don't have one, I'd recommend using some kind of tray until you get the hang of it.

The cups that are used in gongfu tea service are typically very small, holding just a few sips of tea. It's a stark contrast to venti lattes and big coffee mugs but I find that they force you to really focus on the tea. While they aren't totally necessary, it is nice to have a few around.


How To Do It

At their most basic, the steps are as follows:

1. Preheat the brewing vessel and cups with hot water.
2. Empty the water and add your tea leaves. This where tea tables come in handy!
3. Quickly do a hot water rinse (less than 15 seconds) of the leaves. This rinse is generally poured onto a tea pet. Some people opt to drink the rinse. That is totally up to you.
4. Pour hot water in again, this time brewing for 15 to 30 seconds.
5. Empty the brewed tea into a pitcher and distribute evenly between the teacups.
6. Enjoy your tea!
7. Repeat until the leaves loose their strength.

In the case of oolongs a lot of people like to use aroma cups. Originally used for serving sake, tall skinny cups are used along with smaller tasting cups. The brewed tea is first poured into the tall cup and then transferred to the smaller cup. Its narrow shape traps the aromas of the tea, enhancing that aspect of the tea while drinking.

Leaf volume is a bit tricky to pin down since every tea and vessel is different. Teaspoons won't apply here since you aren't brewing in a western fashion. A good rule of thumb is to just barely cover the base of your teapot or gaiwan. For accuracy sake, especially when doing reviews, I prefer to weigh my tea leaves on a small pocket scale. In a gaiwan I will generally use between 4 and 8g of tea. My yixing pots will generally use about 6 to 8g. My very tiny Petr Novak teapot can only fit 3g of leaf. Rolled oolongs will expand quite a lot so keep that in mind when choosing the volume of tea that you are using.

How do you gongfu? Let me know about it in the comments!

To find out more about the tools used in the gongfu method, check out these past articles:

5 Reasons Your Gaiwan Should Be Your Best Friend
Podcast Episode 11: How to Pour with a Gaiwan
Seasoning Your Yixing
Podcast Episode 14: How to Use Aroma Cups

Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday Round Up: December 6th - December 12th

Since I recently put out my own holiday gift guide, I thought it was only appropriate to dedicate this week's round up to everyone else's gift guides.

Holiday gift idea for the tea enthusiast in your life
Cindy at Down 2 The Tea explained everything she loves about her Breville One-Touch Tea Maker. I couldn't agree more!

The Tea Happiness 2015 Holiday Gift Guide
+sara shacket's gift guide is full of some of my favorites. The gorgeous glass teaware from Kikkerland will definitely make their way to my Pinterest boards.

2015 GIFTS FOR TEA LOVERS & A GIVEAWAY!
+Bonnie Eng's gift guide includes some great finds like tea for your feet and latte art stencils. Make sure that you enter her giveaway too!

THE ULTIMATE HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE FOR TEA LOVERS
+Lu Ann Pannunzio's gift guide features of a few of my favorite things like the beautiful black and white chawan from +Joseph Wesley Black Tea. Those harem pants are adorable too!

Gifts for the Discerning Tea Lover 2015
+Linda Gaylard's gift guide had some really unique finds. The travel kettle and tiny kyusu are perfect for making tea on the go. Make sure that you scroll all the way down for the fun tea cocktail recipe.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Yunomi Dobashien No. 08: Hojicha (Roasted Green Tea), Wa

Country of Origin: Japan
Leaf Appearance: light brown, twiggy
Ingredients: green tea
Steep time: 3 minutes
Water Temperature: 180 degrees
Preparation Method: stainless steel infuser basket and ceramic teacup
Liquor: very dark amber

Hojicha doesn't taste or look much like a green tea, especially when compared to other Japanese teas like sencha or gyokuro. It is generally low in caffeine thanks to older leaves, an abundance of stems and roasting. This type of tea can usually take higher temperature water but I went with a slightly conservative 180 degrees. This one was particularly dark, making it perfect for a chilly fall night. The taste was roasty and sweet with hints of dark cocoa and maple syrup. Needless to say, this was a delicious and comforting cup. Although it was full bodied there was no bitterness or astringency. The wonderful thing about houjicha is that it is very well priced. This one is only about $14 for 100g. I love my gyokuro but it's much too pricey to be a daily drinker. +Yunomi.us recently moved their site to a new address (Yunomi.life vs the old Yunomi.us). Along with that change came an awesome new rewards program. I'm saving up my "leaves" to purchase some goodies soon.

Click here to receive 350 "leaves" to spend at Yunomi!

Dobashien No. 08: Hojicha (Roasted Green Tea), Wa sample provided by Yunomi.

Monday, December 7, 2015

2015 Holiday Gift Guide

It's that time of year again. I've put together a holiday gift guide that any tea lover would adore. It's chock full of my favorite things and it's being offered exclusively to subscribers of my email list. Just use the form below to sign up. Once you confirm your email address you'll receive a final welcome email with the links for your free download.

Already a subscriber? No worries, your copy should be waiting in your inbox right now. Happy holidays everyone!



Friday, December 4, 2015

Friday Round Up: November 29th - December 5th

New York City: Some Book Signing, Some Tea Drinking
+Linda Gaylard shared a bit about the book signing events that she held in NYC recently. I was so happy to catch her at T Shop to get my copy signed..

2015 Tea Book Roundup
Speaking of books, +Tony Gebely put together a great list of some of the tea books that came out this year. There's a few new ones that will be added to my wishlist.

Tea of the United States
Kevin Gascoyne of (+Camellia Sinensis fame) shared his experience judging the recent TOTUS Awards in +Fresh Cup Magazine. It's so exciting seeing the U.S. grown tea movement gaining some traction.

Tea Time Advent Calendar
+Bonnie Eng is one of the craftiest tea bloggers that I know. This week she shared instructions for a beyond adorable DIY advent calendar. This is a perfect idea for all of those poor folks who missed out on the infamous one from David's Tea.

Traditional Tieguanyin
Nissan of KnjiTEA pondered a traditional Tie Guan Yin this week. I couldn't agree more with his assessment of of "nuclear green" teas. They are harder to find but thankfully more traditional versions of this tea do exist.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Little Red Cup Tea Company Wuyuan Black

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: small, dark
Ingredients: black tea
Steep time: 2.5 minutes
Water Temperature: 210 degrees
Preparation Method: stainless steel infuser basket and mesh teacup
Liquor: dark amber

I first discovered +Little Red Cup Tea Co. many years ago when I impulsively bought a sampler on a flash sale site. Since then I've become a fan of their teas as well as the people behind the company. I was happy to see their recent switch to tins rather than kraft paper bags. It really does make a difference in terms of tea longevity. The firsy thing that I noticed about this tea was the aroma. Even in a travel mug it wafted up and made me take noticed. I had a hard time to describing it but all I could think was "Ah, now that's what tea smells like". The taste was less intense but still very nice. There were malty, sweet woody notes and just a hint of astringency. It held up to a second cup but I don't think a third would have done as well. Milk and sugar would probably not be a good fit since it was on the mellow side. This tea would make a great breakfast tea for those who don't want something too punchy. There was hardly any astringency, making it a very smooth cup. At $32 for a pound, this tea is a great everyday drinker.

Wuyuan Black sample provided by Little Red Cup Tea Company.