Friday, December 30, 2016

Friday Round Up: December 25th - December 31st

Tea Will Change the World
Leave it to +Geoffrey Norman to end the year with a nugget of hope for us all. I couldn't agree with him more. Tea most definitely will change the world!

Saturday Morning Tea
Karen at Art and Tea has a way with words as well as pictures. In this week's post she explores a first flush Darjeeling dubbed "Snow White".

My Tea Favourites for 2016
Hannah Ruth Tea has been making some really great YouTube videos. In this installment, she gives us some of her favorite tea things.

O5 Tea Bar
Daisy from A Tea Girl's Journal visited a Vancouver tea spot that has been on my wishlist for a long time. Those cobalt blue gaiwans are swoon worthy!

A Very Merry Holiday Tea Party at Disneyland Hotel
+Bonnie Eng's description of the holiday tea served by the Disneyland Hotel makes me feel like I was sitting at the table with her. Afternoon tea isn't always my style but this festive service sounds irresistible.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Bitterleaf Teas Pearl Buds 2015 Spring Jasmine Ball Green Tea

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: tightly rolled, visible buds
Ingredients: jasmine scented green tea
Steep time: 20 seconds
Water Temperature: 185 degrees
Preparation Method: glass gaiwan
Liquor: pale gold

I don't really review flavored teas much anymore, mostly because of how my personal tastes have changed over time. I do sometimes make an exception for a traditionally scented tea if it really catches my attention. My experiences with other offerings from +Bitterleaf Teas told me that this one would be worth trying (and not just because of the adorable parakeet label!).

Some teas really beg to be photographed and this is definitely one of them. Each pearl was a clearly defined, tightly wound spiral. They were so fuzzy! I couldn't resist getting a close up shot of those trichomes. The jasmine aroma was present in the dry leaves but subtle. They were beautiful as the pearls unfurled in my glass gaiwan. I definitely recommend brewing this in a glass vessel whenever possible. Otherwise, you'll be missing out on the show.

The jasmine scenting was intense yet delicate at the same time. It always fascinates me how floral aromas sometimes translate as a type of sweetness. I really enjoyed that the vegetal character of the green tea was still able to shine through. There was just enough astringency to add a refreshing, clean finish but it never bordered on bitter or unpleasant. Following their detailed directions, I was able to brew three equally enjoyable infusions.

Note: It looks like this tea is currently sold out. I would still highly recommend it in the event that it returns!

Pearl Buds 2015 Spring Jasmine Ball Green Tea sample provided for review by Bitterleaf Teas.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Guide to Tea Blogging: The Importance of Accurate Analytics

I get a lot of questions about the ins and outs of tea blogging, especially from those who are very new to this crazy thing we do. This post is the first of what will likely be a bit of a new mini-series. I thought I would start with the issue of analytics because it can be one of the most complicated aspects of tea blogging. Those of you who are retailers might also benefit from this kind of information.

Regardless of the platform that you use to blog, it's important to know that the native analytics are unlikely to be accurate. I use Blogger and it took me a while to figure out that this was the case. Installing Google Analytics is an important step to take if you haven't done so already.

Why Analytics Matter

You might be asking yourself why analytics matter in the first place. As a writer, they help you understand things like:

  • Who your reader base is
  • Where your site visitors are coming from
  • What pages they visited
  • Which kind of content does best

You don't have to get super in depth in order to gain useful insights. Occasionally I've had tea brands ask for traffic information before sending samples for review. In cases like that it is very important that the stats you report are accurate.

What You Should Be Looking At

Looking at Google Analytics can be a bit of information overload. These are the things you'll want to focus on:

Audience > Overview

This page will show you the number of users that visited each day, how pageviews you received, the number of pages per session, the number of new vs returning visitors and more. The demographics area can be particularly interesting to poke around in.

Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium

This section will show you where your traffic is coming from. This is where you'll find out if you got a link in my Friday Round Up or if someone posted your blog post on Reddit.

Acquisition > All Traffic > Social > Network Referrals

This area will show you what social media platforms brought traffic to your site. Although I sometimes get frustrated with Facebook, I feel better when I see that they are consistently my top social referral source.

It's Not About the Numbers 

It might seem illogical but keeping track of your analytics is not actually about the numbers. What I mean by that is your blog's analytics should never be something to stress over nor should they be used to compare yourself to others. Every blog is completely different from the next, even if we are in the same niche. Over the years I've seen several blogger friends burn out and completely leave the world of tea for this very reason. Knowing where you stand can be a good source of motivation but don't let your inner critic use analytics as ammunition!

Important Filters to Put in Place

There are a few filters that you'll want to set up in order to ensure that your stats aren't thrown way off base. They can be tricky to set up at first but once you get the hang of it, you can usually successfully use a Google to figured out how to achieve the desired result.

Remove Your Own Visits

No one visits your blog more than you do. While that's not a bad thing those visits should definitely be removed when measuring your site traffic. Here's how to do that:

Admin > All Filters > Add Filter

You can set the filter name to anything you'd like. Set the filter type as predefined and select "exclude" from the drop down menu below that. On the next drop downs select "traffic from the IP addresses" and then "that are equal to". In the IP address field you'll need to fill in the IP address of the device you are viewing from. To find out what your public IP address is, simply do a Google search for "what is my IP address". Yes, it's really that easy! Select your blog from the list, click add and then save.

To test it out, visit your blog while having Google Analytics open. Select Real Time and then Overview from the menu on the left hand side. If you don't see your location listed on the map, you should be all ready to go.

Removing SPAM Bots

Another big issue is removing SPAM bots. I'm not an expert on the topic so I can't really explain how this part happens in depth. I can tell you that there's a jerk face named Vitaly Popov who makes things like "Secret.ɢ You are invited! Enter only with this ticket URL. Copy it. Vote for Trump!" pop up in your Google Analytics. Not only is this annoying but it can make your data very inaccurate. To help cut down on this, follow these steps:

Admin > All Filters > Add Filter

Set the filter type as predefined. From the drop downs select "include only" then "traffic to the hostname" and "that are equal to". In the Hostname field just type in your blog's address. Then select your blog from the list, click add and then save. Theoretically this should stop SPAM bots that ping Google Analytics rather than directly visiting your website.

Fixing Past Traffic 

Unfortunately filters are not retroactive so they will only fix future statistics. What you can do is set up segments on your dashboard that will remove SPAM traffic. I'm not super versed in doing this but I found a segment in the Google Analytics Solutions Gallery that did all of the work for me. You can import it directly to your own analytics at this link:

Segment to Eliminate Spam Referrals (2016-12-22)

Once it is installed, click "Add Segment" on any of the statistics you'd like to view. Select your new segment from the list and click apply. One big advantage is that you can see multiple segments at the same time.

This turned into a bit of a lengthier post than I thought it would so I'll stop things here. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments! Let me know if there's something you'd like to see covered as part of this series.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Friday Round Up: December 18th - December 24th

I Heart Hario
I don't own one of those neato Hario fishbowl type set ups but ThinkTeaNYC's post reminded me of how much I wish I did. There's just something special about really being able to watch the leaves unfurl.

The Wall Tea Infuser from Boreal Wildcraft
Speaking of teaware I wish I had, +Charissa Gascho wrote about one of my World Tea Expo regrets. Apparently, I am the only blogger in attendance who did not pick up one of these neato grandpa style mugs.

The Best of 2016, A Year in Review
+Amanda Freeman just might drink more tea than anyone I know, and that's saying a lot! Somehow she managed to narrow down the multitude of leaves to a list of the best that 2016 brought to her teacup.

Recipe: Chai Infused Sugar Cookies
One of the things I enjoy other than tea but don't get to do very often is baking. I'm actually quite good at it, or so people tell me in between mouthfuls of Christmas cookies. This recipe from Amy Lee Cup of Tea is one that I'll definitely be filing away to make at some point in the future.

Weighing the Tea
+Cwyn N brought up some excellent points concerning weighing tea. Leaf ratio can have a big effect on the outcome. This is something really important for bloggers to consider as the way we brew a tea can change how we feel about it. I tend to be a little too heavy-handed with leaf volume but have been trying to trust my intuition a bit more.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Golden Tea Leaf Golden Red Tea

Country of Origin: Taiwan
Leaf Appearance: long, spindly with some golden buds
Ingredients: black tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: dark reddish amber

I'm a complete and total sucker for Taiwanese black teas. This one caught my attention because Golden Leaf Tea referred to it as "small leaf". Nearly all of the Taiwanese hong cha that I've tried has been made with var. Assamica but this one appears to have been made using var. Sinensis.

The name of this tea can be a bit confusing for westerners that are new to the world of tea. In most of Asia black tea is actually called red tea. This is because when you brew it, the liquor often has a reddish hue to it. This can get even more complicated because rooibos, an herb from South Africa, is often sold as red tea. Puerh tea (particularly the ripe kind) is called black tea because it brews up a very dark, inky black color.

The dry leaves were long and spindly with a few golden buds scattered here and there. While there was quite a lot of stems it's important to keep in mind that this is not always a bad thing. Stems have flavor too and sometimes it is important to the tea making process that they are left attached to the leaves.

Taiwanese black teas are interesting because although the taste could be described as mellow, they also offer a lot of complexity. This particular one was malty and sweet with notes of dark chocolate. Mild spices, something along with lines of nutmeg and cinnamon, popped up in later infusions. There was some astringency but only enough to add a pleasant briskness to the finish. I didn't push this tea too hard but I think it would be a great candidate for "grandpa style" brewing.

Golden Red Tea provided for review by Golden Tea Leaf.

Monday, December 19, 2016

5 Things to Do When Contacting a Tea Blogger

Last week I wrote a post called 5 Things to Avoid Doing When Contacting a Tea Blogger. The response was surprisingly awesome (big thank you to everyone who shared it on social media!). It was only fair that I put a positive spin on it now. It can be hard to know what proper etiquette is, especially if you're new to the industry. The steps below should set anyone off on the right foot.

Do Your Research

It's really important to do your homework before hitting send on that email, tweet or Instagram message. Reading through several weeks of posts will give you a good picture of what that blogger specializes in. What are their likes and dislikes? Many of us have review policies posted. It is particularly important to read these because it will save both you a lot of time. I field a ton of emails that I inevitably have to turn down because what they offer isn't relevant for myself or my readers.

Retailers often ask me about where to find bloggers that they might want to work with. One place to start is the Tea Bloggers Roundtable or the list of blogs I follow on Blog Lovin'. For those specifically seeking product reviews, the 2016 Tea Blogger Directory is a very handy resource.

Make It Personal

The best way to make your brand stand out for bloggers is to make a personal connection. We want to know who you are, why you do what you do, and how that translates to your product. Almost all of the emails that I receive are something along the lines of:

"Hi! My name is John Smith and I sell X tea. Would you like to receive some so that you can write about it on your blog?"

While not intrinsically bad, there is nothing about this approach that captures my attention. Tell me a story about why you're so passionate about tea. That will stick with me for far longer. One memorable vendor sent a two-page handwritten letter. I immediately felt like I knew him and it made me that much more interested in what his company had to offer. You don't have to go those extremes but a little bit of a personal touch can go a long way.

Think Outside of the Box

Ask not what the blog can do for you, ask what you can do for the blog. Tea writers receive a ton of inquiries and almost all of them have to do with a simple exchange of free product for reviews. Rather than just offer samples, Emilio from The Jade Leaf reached out to ask if I would be interested in interviewing him for my podcast. I immediate sat up and took notice because he provided value for my readers first. Even if the blogger doesn't have a podcast, they'd probably be very interested in an interview or even an informative guest post.

Keep It Simple

It can be tempting to send one of every item you carry when shipping off samples for review. The truth is that this easily overwhelms the blogger and makes it less likely that your teas will get the spotlight. My advice is to pick your personal favorites or the ones you consider to be your "flagship" teas. You can always send more teas at a later date when the blogger is ready to do so.

It's also a great idea to do everything you can to make the blogger's job as easy as possible. Make it clear how the tea should be brewed and provide tasting notes if they are available. One company provided a Dropbox folder full of images and other info. I could kiss the person who put that together! It wouldn't have taken them long to do but I was able to get the reviews done faster because of their effort.

Be realistic

One of the biggest struggles that I've had as a tea blogger are the unrealistic expectations that many companies seem to have. First and foremost, it is important to know that tea reviews do not automatically equate to sales. The ROI on blog reviews serves a similar function to social media. They increase brand awareness but must still be utilized properly in order to be effective.

Here are some rules of thumb that will help avoid issues when working with bloggers:
  • Be upfront about any and all expectations from the get go.
  • Be prepared for an honest review. It may not be the result you were looking for. 
  • Do not expect the blogger to pay you for the product used in a review or for a giveaway, even if it is at a discount.
  • Do not badger or pester a writer that you've sent products to. 
  • Keep communications respectful, just as you would in any other business relationship.

There have been times where I had to remove blog posts after they were published or return the product because a vendor suddenly made demands that were not discussed ahead of time. This has included requiring spammy SEO links and other things that would compromise the integrity of my blog.

Keep in mind that most bloggers juggle writing along with jobs, family and everything else that life throws at us. We do what we do because we love tea. Be respectful of our time and efforts.

Retailers and fellow bloggers, I'd love to hear your thoughts on these points in the comments below!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Friday Round Up: December 11th - December 17th

The Tea Squirrel interviews Geoffrey Norman
+Anna Mariani interviewed fellow tea blogger +Geoffrey Norman. Tea filled nerdery and hilarity.

Cup of Tea Ornaments
I'm thoroughly convinced that +Bonnie Eng is the Martha Stewart of the tea world. These cute and creative ornaments are definitely something I plan to make eventually.

It's Tea Leafster Launch Day!
Please welcome brand new tea blogger Jelmer to the fold! His introductory post is a far better read and much less awkward than my own was many moons ago.

The Parts of Portland's Tea Culture that The Oregonian Missed
+Geoffrey Norman did a great job of pointing out some of the parts of Portland's tea culture that The Oregonian missed in their recent article.

I've been avidly following the adventures of Lisa from +Tiny Pinecone Teahouse and Bakeshop. In this week's post, she shares a bit about her experience shadowing tea master Fu Chen. One of my favorite lines is, "At this point, I know the steps, but I am a long long way from knowing the magic.".

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Jalam Teas He Kai Sheng

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: varied greens, loosely compressed
Ingredients: puerh tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: deep gold

One of the things I love most about +JalamTeas is that their service gives the opportunity to really get to know the terroir of Yunnan. Two years ago I reviewed another He Kai from them and found very similar tasting notes to this one. Each cake they send is accompanied by a beautiful photograph. There are times that I miss my old lightbox because it was wider which allowed me to include them in my pictures. This month's card featured a shot of one of the last remaining yak skin boats in operation in Tibet. The fact sheet on the reverse side explained that this is a mid-altitude puerh made by the Lahu people in the Bulang Mountains.

After a quick rinse, I brewed this tea using my standard 30-second infusions. That method can get a bit dicey with young sheng but this one has had some time to settle down a bit. The initial taste was a powerful vegetal, bitter edge with a wonderfully floral finish. Later infusions brought a hint of tart citrus fruits. There was a lot of natural sweetness to this tea but it definitely has a good, strong backbone as well. It stood up well to at least six consecutive infusions and probably could have given a few more.

I don't keep a lot of tea on hand for practicality purposes. There's always more tea arriving to replace everything that I finish. That being said, I do have a small cloth bag where I stash smaller sheng cakes that were really enjoyable. This tea is definitely getting added to that select club. I have a hard time waiting for tea to age but this is one that I'm looking forward to trying again in a few years.

I would recommend lowering your water temperature to about 195 or possibly even lower if you prefer to have less astringency. If the tea still has too much bite for you, dial back your leaf volume a bit. I use about 8g of leaves since that is what Jalam Teas usually recommends.

He Kai Sheng provided by Jalam Teas.

Monday, December 12, 2016

5 Things to Avoid When Contacting a Tea Blogger

+Tea for Me Please turned the ripe old age of 8 this year. As far as tea blogs go, you could say that I've been around the block a time or two. In that time I've experienced the best (and the worst) of tea company PR. A good portion of the faux pas have been committed by marketing firms but occasionally it was industry folks who should know better. This is a topic that has come up at every Tea Bloggers Round Table that I've been a part of so I thought it was about time that I talk about it here on the blog. Here are some things to avoid when contacting a tea blogger:

Getting our names wrong

This seems pretty self-explanatory but it happens more often than you would think. A PR firm has their intern send out mass emails and somewhere along the copy and paste they forget to change the name. While it's not really a huge deal it does have a smack of cold, impersonality to it. Sometimes it's more of a language barrier issue. They call me by my last name and assume I am an American male named Martin (despite the fact that I consistently use a picture of my face across all social media channels).

Neglecting to read our blog and or/review policies first

I spend A LOT of time responding to emails from companies that very obviously never even looked at my blog or my posted review policy. Other bloggers consistently tell me that they deal with the same thing. I can't help but wonder why they would waste their time (or their client's money) in this way. After writing hundreds of tea reviews, the blog has grown and changed to reflect my own tastes. It has now changed to a singular focus on directly sourced, unflavored loose leaf teas. Although this is the case I still field lots of emails from folks wanting me to promote their flavored rooibos K-Cups and skinny tea blends.

Adding us to your email list without permission

My inbox is a neverending pile of junk that needs to be sorted through in order to find the good stuff. Part of this is because a ton of tea companies and PR firms have added me to their email list without my permission. In a lot of cases, there is no opt out and I don't receive a response when I ask to be removed. Not only is that illegal but it's really annoying (and makes me much less likely to be interested in their brand).

Having unrealistic expectations

For some reason, tea companies get the idea that a good review on a blog will magically equate to a ton of sales. The truth is that this is not really the way that things work. What I do is a niche within a very small niche. I am no Michelle Phan and my influence is not that large. While some readers tell me they do use the search function on my site if they're curious about a particular company, most of them are not clicking "Buy Now" as soon as I publish something. I felt guilty about letting companies down for a long time but eventually realized that their expectations just weren't achievable.

I also get a lot of messages, especially on Facebook, from people saying that they want me to promote their brand. This immediately makes me recoil because that isn't really what I do. I simply love tea more than the average person and sometimes that involves sharing my experience with a particular tea. These kinds of communications usually contain very little information about the person or what their brand even does. It also bother's me a bit because brand promotion is something bloggers in other niches are compensated for but that is never part of the conversation.

Information (and/or tea) overload

I love it when companies are excited to share what they do with me. However, sometimes they tend to overdo it. Sometimes this can take the form of four copies of every press release. Other times it's sending more tea than logically makes sense. If they send me thirty samples at once, my mindset quickly goes from "Yay, tea!" to "OMG, how am I going to get through all of this?". Complaining about too much tea probably seems a bit odd but it can really get out of hand at times.

Sorry to be a negative Nelly guys. At some point, I think I'll write a post that is the opposite of this one. I've withheld the names of the guilty for their own protection. Fellow bloggers, have you had experiences like this? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Friday Round Up: December 4th - December 10th

Tea Gift Guide: What to Get the Tea Lovers on Your List This Christmas
+Lu Ann Pannunzio's gift guide definitely added a few things to my wishlist. I definitely recommend picking up her new book while you're taking a look!

The Tea Happiness 2016 Gift Guide
+sara shacket is a tea friend who has great taste, If my stocking was filled with everything on her list, especially the teaware, and I'd be a very happy.

Holiday Gift Guide 2016
Tea Kitchen's list is full of stuff that's great for a tea lover on your list. The Old Havana Teapot from Anthropologie definitely caught my eye.

2016 Gifts for Tea Lovers
+Bonnie Eng's gift list reflects the beautiful aesthetic that her blog is known for. The Maccha Bar Chocolates and Mason Jar Tea Time are definitely things I'll keep in mind for tea friends.

Effie's Tea Offerings
Ok, so all of the other posts in this round up are gift guides. I couldn't not tell you guys about this post from +Geoffrey Norman. It's sort of about Christmas because it features a mutual friend of ours, Effie, who loves the holiday more than anyone else I know.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The World Atlas of Tea: From the Leaf to the Cup, the World's Teas Explored and Enjoyed by Krisi Smith

This book arrived in my mailbox just in time for a long road trip to a wedding in upstate NY. That worked out for the best because although it isn't exactly a coffee table book, it's a little too large to carry with me on my commute.

The first thing that caught my eye was the large, beautiful photographs. Many of them spanned more than one page. The chapters follow what seems to have become the typical tea book formula: how tea is made, how to brew it, and a description of various teas from around the world. The small guide to growing your own tea was an unexpected but welcome addition. Important topics such as sustainability and organics were addressed in an easy to understand way without being too doom and gloom about them. I also really enjoyed the nicely illustrated chart of tea processing. Smith's writing style is conversational and easy to read without dumbing down the content.

As an obsessively read tea nerd, I do have to mention a few things in the book that rubbed me the wrong way. Let me preface this by saying that I have great respect for anyone who successfully takes on the challenge of writing a book.

In the list of tea varieties, it says that the best oolong teas are from Taiwan. I love my Dong Ding just as much as the next person but I hardly think that it's fair to dismiss the oolongs that are produced in other countries as inferior. Teas are not better than each other, they're just different.

In the short section on tea history, there are several myths which have largely been proven false. Thomas Sullivan did not invent the tea bag and Anna Russel did not create the ritual of afternoon tea. To be fair, these are repeated in nearly every book that I've read on tea. The section on Japanese teas also states that matcha became popular with the Samurai and Buddhist monks drank it because of its high antioxidant levels.

Please, don't take my nitpicking as overly negative. I can't help doing that sometimes (as anyone who was my partner on peer reviews for papers in school will tell you). I actually did enjoy the book and would recommend it for those who enjoy building a library of tea reads. Complete newbies might want to start off with something a bit more in depth though.

I was really glad to see that there were no food recipes included. Publishers seem to insist on this being added to the end of every tea book. Maybe they are finally beginning to understand that there are a lot of people who enjoy tea for its own sake.

Have you read this book? I'd love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments!

A review copy of this book was provided by Firefly Books.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday Round Up: November 27th - December 3rd

Google Is a Lazy Co-Author
+Robert Godden isn't one to sugarcoat his feelings, especially when it comes to something related to tea. In this week's blog post he highlights the myths that are perpetually repeated in tea books. This is one of my biggest pet peeves so we're definitely in agreement here.

5 of the Best Chai Brands You Should Try 
Tis' the season for chai. +Lu Ann Pannunzio put together a great list of some of her favorites. I never got around to trying the chai from Blue Hour Tea at World Tea Expo earlier this year and now I am definitely regretting it.

Helping an Aged Oolong Touch Up his Stinky Navel
I recently started following Funky Leaves, a new-ish blog written by an apprentice at Floating Leaves Tea. I have an electric tea roaster but for those who don't the method he shows for refreshing old tea could definitely come in handy.

The Tea Squirrel's Holiday Gift Guide for Tea Lovers - The San Francisco Edition
+Anna Mariani highlighted some really fantastic local companies, making a gift basket that would be a tea lover's dream. I would definitely be snatching all of these items up if I lived on the west coast.

Things You Should Know About Matcha
+Eleonora made some important points about the poor quality matcha that is available to most tea drinkers. She also puts the spotlight on Nohohon Tea Room, my go to place for matcha bubble tea when I'm near St. Mark's Place in Manhattan.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Denong Tea 2015 Early Spring Harvest Enchanting Beauty Raw Pu-erh

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: varied greens and browns
Ingredients: puerh tea
Steep time: 10 seconds
Water Temperature: 185 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: deep gold

I first discovered Denong Tea at their World Tea Expo booth earlier this year. It had been quite a stressful day with surprisingly little tea consumed. I was instantly revived as soon as I took a sip of their Enchanting Beauty. It was love at first taste. I loved it so much that I told everyone all about it...and they wound up selling out before I could grab a cake for myself. Thankfully they contacted me soon afterward about sending samples for review, including this gem.

When it comes to reviews I always try to use the vendor's recommendations before playing around with my own preferred methods. I was glad I did that with this tea because although Denong's brewing directions take a lighter approach, I actually enjoyed the tea more that way. The taste was sweet and smooth with a wonderfully soft floral quality. Fruity notes of apricot danced around crisp baby spinach.

People often talk about the way that puerh effects us physically. I rarely experience that but this tea produced a very noticeable warming sensation at the center of my chest. Later brews grew progressively more intense. While there was some astringency it never bordered on unpleasant. Enchanting Beauty really did live up to her name. This is a tea I'll be remembering for some time to come.

I do wish there was a bit more information about where the tea was sourced from but that isn't a deal breaker. At $30 for a 100g cake, this tea runs along the same price range as my usual sheng fare. I would definitely say that it is worth it given the quality, especially since you don't have to commit to a large and expensive cake. There are several other teas from this company waiting in my to-do pile and I'm looking forward to sharing them with you all.

2015 Early Spring Harvest Enchanting Beauty Raw Pu-erh sample provided for review by Denong Tea.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Great Tea Debate: Oxidation vs Fermentation

When I first started drinking tea everyone referred to the changes that occur in tea during processing as fermentation. It has become a bit of a raging debate as to whether oxidation is accurate. Now, what exactly do these terms mean? 

Fermentation is a metabolic process where sugar is converted into acids, gasses, and alcohol. It usually carried out by an agent such as bacteria and yeast. Fermentation can occur naturally but humans learned long ago how to manipulate this process in order to make alcoholic beverages like beer and wine. Unless we are referring to kombucha, fermentation is not what is occurring during the manufacture of most tea. 

Oxidation is an enzymatic process that as the name implies, requires oxygen. This is similar to what happens to the way an apple slice turns brown when it is exposed to air. Polyphenols in the leaves absorb oxygen, converting them to polyphenol oxidase (PPO). PPO is responsible for the creation of thearubigins. This substance gives black tea leaves their reddish color as well adds depth of flavor. Applying heat to the leaves halts the process of oxidation.

The browning of apples is similar to what happens to tea leaves.
I was working for a French tea company and tried to explain to them that fermentation is not exactly accurate. My superiors replied that in France, oxidation is considered a chemical process while fermentation is considered a biological process. I suppose this makes sense when we consider that iron rusting is also a type of oxidation. They believed that this cultural bias would affect whether or not consumers believed their product to be natural. Perhaps this is part of the reason why there is still so much confusion in the tea world. I believe there are also issues with translating Chinese terms to English that may have played a part.

Puerh is one of the few exceptions to this rule. Shou, or cooked puerh, is inoculated with bacteria to initiate fermentation. The process is similar to the way that mulch is created. There is some debate about whether sheng,  also known as raw puerh, is truly fermented. Some categorize it as a green tea for this reason. However, there is some bacteria action involved when a tea is aged, particularly in humid storage.

This is a very simplified explanation of a complex topic. An entire book could be written on it but hopefully, this will help to clear some things up. It is my hope that the industry will eventually come to a consensus about using oxidation rather than fermentation. It’s important for educational purposes both for those in the biz and for consumers, particularly in the United States where we are already so behind the rest of the tea drinking world.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Friday Round Up: November 20th - November 26th

In Search of Japanese Teaware
My dear friend +Jo J casually mentioned in chat one day that she was in Japan. My reaction was somewhere along the lines of, "Say what!". I've been eagerly awaiting to here about her adventures there and this week's post is exactly what I wanted to hear.

World O-Cha festival 2016
Speaking of Japan, Florent at Japanese Tea Sommelier gave us a report of his experiences at what sounds like an amazing event. It's held in Shizuoka every three years and I think I'm making it my goal to attend the next one.

White2Tea Daily Drinker
I love the review style of Diary of a Northern Teaist. This week their post reminded me of a tea I've been meaning to try as well as an old tea leaf sniffing technique that I had abandoned sometime ago.

Tea Tales and Mocktails
I've said it before and I'll say it again, +Geoffrey Norman gets to go to all of the cool tea stuff! This week he regales us with his experience at the holiday launch event for Smith Teamaker. The Morning Light and Wuyi Whiskey definitely sound like they are right up my alley.

Sneak Peak: UNYtea Chou Shi
A fellow tea blogger, Jeffery at UNY Tea Guy, recently launched his own tea company. I haven't had a chance to try his wares yet so I was really excited to see a sneak peak review pop up from +Georgia SS. I love me so Dan Cong and this is one that I have not heard of before. Apparently it is a new style of processing that results in a greener tea than usual.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Zhen Tea Lu'An Gua Pian

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: deep green, twisted
Ingredients: green tea
Steep time: 1 minute
Water Temperature: 195 degrees
Preparation Method: glass gong dao bei
Liquor: greenish gold

Gua Pian is an unusual kind of green tea because it is made solely using mature leaves. Buds are usually the more prized type of leaf but the tea producers in Anhui purposely make the tea this way. I've realized that green tea (with the possible exception of yellow tea) is probably the one category that I drink and write about the least. I hope you guys don't get the idea that I don't enjoy green tea because nothing could be farther than the truth.

The wonderful folks from +ZhenTea gave me a bit of this tea when we met up at World Tea Expo last year. Funnily enough, we also just recently met up for tea in NYC. Tea people are some of the nicest people I know. Zhen and Phil are a pretty great example of that. For my Canadian readers, you'll want to keep tabs on them if you're located near Ottowa.

The taste of this tea was savory and herbaceous without being bitter. There was a very subtle hint of roast that added a nutty quality to the first few steeps. Full bodied flavor combined with a thick mouth feel gave an almost broth-like affect. Following their brewing directions (3g in 150ml of water) yielded six very tasty infusions. I like brewing my green tea loose in a glass sharing pitcher but a more western style brewing method would be fine as long you use a fairly small vessel.

Gua Pian is a fantastic choice for people who think they don't like green tea (yes, such creatures do exist). I definitely suggest giving this one a try if you haven't already. It's certainly better than some of the pricier Gua Pian's that I have tried in the past.

Lu'An Guan Pian sample provided by Zhen Tea.

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Beginner's Guide to Actually Enjoying Puerh

While many of my readers are as addicted to puerh as I am, I thought that I should include a bit of an introductory article in this inaugural journal. Fermented teas can be really scary when you’re first starting out. These recommendations are based on my own tastes and experiences.

Although I’ve been a serious tea drinker for a long time, puerh was my last frontier until the last two years or so. I was pretty convinced that I hated the stuff. In hindsight, I realize that many of the first samples I tried were rather bad quality and not really representative of the category. Fishy shu or musty, poorly stored sheng has incited the same reaction in many a tea drinker. I’m here to tell you that there is hope.

At the beginning of my tea journey, I brewed almost everything using an infuser basket and a teapot or teacup. While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this I find that puerh will sometimes not perform well, especially if you aren’t accustomed to its unique taste. I never really enjoyed puerh until I started using gaiwans and smaller gongfu sized teapots. Here are some tips that really helped me out.

Break It Gently

Believe it or not, I have never owned a puerh knife until fairly recently. After years of bear handing it, I’ve realized that I was being a bit too rough on my leaves. Breaking them into smaller pieces makes them much less pretty but can also release more bitterness. I highly recommend using a blunt puerh knife (or a letter opener in a pinch) to break the cake apart horizontally rather than digging through it. It can take a bit of a practice to get the hang of this but it will make a difference in the taste of your tea.

Weigh It

I never really enjoyed puerh until I started using gaiwans and smaller sized teapots. Part of this was because it’s really hard to measure out teaspoons of a compressed tea. Gongfu preparation usually calls for weighing the tea. This is more accurate and a much easier way of measuring your tea. I use about 5g or leaves when using a gaiwan and around 8g when I’m brewing in my yixing teapot. At first, that won’t look like much at all but as you brew the leaves will break apart and expand quite a bit.

Brew It Quickly

Another problem with brewing puerh tea in a western fashion is that the brew times are way too long. In switching to the gongfu method, you’ll be amazed at how much flavor can be achieved in a30-secondd infusion. The longer the infusion, the more tannins will be released from the leaves. Tannins are polyphenols that cause an astringent, bitter feeling. It's the same substance that causes the mouth-puckering effect of red wine.

Buy Quality

As I mentioned earlier, some of the first puerhs that I tried were very bad quality. The bing that you pick up in Chinatown for $5 just isn’t going to cut it. There are a lot of great companies out there who can help you to discover the world of fermented tea. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and shop around before making the leap. Order sample sizes to start off rather than buying expensive cakes.

As I always say, there’s no such as thing as the right way to make tea. All that matters is that you enjoy the end result. Do you have any tips or tricks for puerh beginners? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

This post originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of Tea for Me Please Quarterly. Sign up using the form below to receive informative tea articles four times a year. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday Round Up: November 13th - November 19th

Saturday Morning Tea
Karen at Art and Tea's posts are always so beautifully photographed. This week she enjoyed some Gyokuro, one of my favorite Japanese green teas. It was really interesting to read about the different shading methods that are used to produce it.

Matcha Dipped Madeleines
I instantly pinned Beginning with Bergamot's post on Pinterest when I saw these gorgeous (and most likely tasty) matcha dipped madeleines. I love how Sara ends posts with a bit about what she's reading and a few of her favorite things.

Modern Tea Processing Methods in Taiwan
Andy from +Eco-Cha Artisan Teas is one of the most knowledgeable people I know when it comes to Taiwanese teas. This week he shared a bit with World of Tea about modern processing methods that are being used there.

Getting Started with Brewing Loose Leaf Tea
Hoálatha at Cat Lat Tea shared some really great pointers on getting started with making tea. I couldn't agree more with the point about being unapologetic about your preferred tastes.

A Guide to Traditional and Non-Traditional Matcha Tools
+Lu Ann Pannunzio post this week about some of the different tools that can be used to make matcha. It reminded me that I really need to pick up a plain chakin. The one I have is printed with cats making matcha and I just can't bring myself to use it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Comparing Matcha Cultivars with Yunomi

As most regular readers and social media followers will know, I love matcha...a lot. When I had some credits to use towards a purchase at Yunomi, I knew exactly what I would be picking up. A tasting set of matcha made from three different cultivars, all from the same producer in Uji? I'm in! I usually don't write about a product if it is sold out but this experience was just cool to not to share. In case you didn't know, their site has a neat feature where you can request to be notified if something you're interested comes back in stock. I definitely suggest signing up for that as well as their newsletter.

Each of the teas in this set was produced by Azuma Tea Garden, a family run operation in Uji. They were established during the Meiji era and is now being run by the fourth generation. It always amazes me to think that a family has been doing the same craft for that long. Four generations ago my family was emigrating from Ireland and they have almost nothing in common with our family of today other than our name.

Compared to other tea types, I have a bit of a hard time picking out and articulating distinct tasting notes from matcha. For that reason, I'm also including Yunomi's descriptions of each of these teas. I'll still do my best to explain my experiences, though. The lighting in my apartment is rather terrible but I did my best photograph each of the teas in an unedited and realistic way.


First Impressions: This tea was smooth and grassy with plenty of umami. I'd say it was a good middle of the road matcha. 

Yunomi's description: Okumidori Matcha is a vivid green Uji matcha made from the tea plant cultivar okumidori. Cultivars are “cultivated varieties” identified for specific characteristics and propagated by cuttings to create a field of the same plant DNA. The okumidori cultivar is known for having a strong taste and aroma.


First Impressions: This tea was definitely more bitter and vegetal than the others. I was careful about using the same parameters so I don't think it was due to user error.

Yunomi's description: Identified in 1908 by Sugiyama Hikosaburo in Shizuoka, and officially registered in 1953, the yabukita cultivar is the most common tea plant cultivar in Japan with an approximately 80% share. The rich flavor of the leaves makes it popular for sencha, but it provides a weaker umami taste and is not usually used for matcha as a result.


First Impressions: This tea was the most complex. It's character was brighter and there was a very nice lingering aftertaste.

Yunomi's description: The samidori cultivar is a tencha specific cultivar, with a bright color and rich umami flavor perfect for matcha.

I think that the Samidori might have been my favorite out of the three. It wasn't unenjoyable but the Yabukita was definitely last in the race. I usually have way too much matcha on hand so I shared these with some very excited coworkers. For future reference, drinking three consecutive bowls of usucha is probably not the best idea. I did have a ton of energy afterward, though. My fiance doesn't understand why I needed to have multiple chawans but I think this post serves as proof that sometimes it is necessary. :)

Matcha Overload - The Aftermath

Click here to get 10% off your first purchase from Yunomi!

Cultivar Comparison: Azuma Tea Garden Matcha - Yabukita, Okumidori, and Samidori received through credits provided by Yunomi.

Monday, November 14, 2016

SFTGFOP? What the Letters On Your Tea Packaging Mean

One of the things that mystified me when I first started drinking tea was the letter grade system used in Darjeeling (and other British colonial tea regions). Understanding a few simple terms helps to clear things up quite a bit. These abbreviations denote the grade of leaves used to make the tea. Orange Pekoe is usually used to describe a black tea consisting of whole leaves of a particular size. 

Contrary to popular belief, Orange Pekoe is not a flavor or type of tea. Pekoe is a corruption of the Chinese term Bai Hao (meaning white tip). I've read that the name Orange comes from the Dutch House of Orange. This makes sense since they were trading tea even before the British had started drinking it. It was meant to imply that the tea was good enough to meet with royal approval. Incidentally, the world tea comes from tê in the Amoy dialect of Southern Fujian because that is where the Dutch got their tea from. We might be calling it cha if they had traded in Canton like the Portuguese instead!

Fannings and dust are the lowest grades and they are used to produce tea bags. While not an ideal cup of tea, they provide a larger surface area which allows the water to pull color and flavor out of the leaf more quickly.

Now, here is where it gets complicated. This grade has nothing to do with the actual quality of the tea. In general, more letters equates to a better tea but this isn't always the case. You can have a badly made SFTGOP and a very well done OP.

FTGFOP1 from Rohini Estate

Numbers are sometimes added to the end of abbreviations. This is simply included for emphasis when a garden feels it was a particularly good lot. Teas that are marked with EX are harvested prior to the official 1st flush. The leaves used to tend to be a bit more yellowish in color but they are not necessarily of lower quality. You may also see information about what cultivated variety was used to produce the tea. The most common of these is AV2. Also referred to as clonal, these teas are often developed for specific traits that could help increase production. Planters choose them because they might be more drought hardy or because the are resistant to particular pests.

For a bit of nerdy tea humor, FTGFOP really stands for Far Too Good for Other People. ;)

Here some examples of common grades that you might run into:

SFTGFOP - Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
FTGFOP - Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
TGFOP - Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
FTGBOP - Fine Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe
TGBOP - Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe
FBOP - Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe
BOP - Broken Orange Pekoe
GFOF - Golden Flowery Orange Fannings
GOF - Golden Orange Fannings
D - Dust

This post originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Tea for Me Please Quarterly. Sign up using the form below to receive informative tea articles four times a year.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Friday Round Up: November 6th - November 12th

A Calm Fragrance in Autumn
+Payton Swick's post this week reminded me of how much I've been missing my +Global Tea Hut subscription. Concubine Oolong is one of my favorites so I'm doubly bummed to have missed out on this one.

Tillerman Tea: Muzha TieGuanYin Spring 2016, A Tea Review
I'm a big fan of +Amanda Wilson's extremely thorough reviews. How lucky was she to discover Muzha TGY so early in life? This one definitely sounds like it is worth a giving a try.

Vancouver Tea Festival (2016)
AJ of Tea Stacks wrote about their experience at the latest Vancouver Tea Festival. As an American, I definitely have some major tea festival envy. Our neighbors to the north have a number of really awesome, dedicated tea festivals.

Get God on the Phone
+Cwyn N's story of tea being a refuge definitely hit home, especially this week. I think 9 grams of anything from +White2Tea would be a fine distraction from life.

Hsinchu Oriental Beauty from Adagio Teas – Tea Review
+Charissa Gascho reviewed a tea from +Adagio Teas' Masters Collection. I love how she gives an infusion by infusion breakdown of her experience. Isn't that leaf beautiful?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Wild Tea Qi Jin Jun Mei

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: small, dark and twisted with lots of golden tips
Ingredients: black tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: dark amber

Jin Jun Mei has become quite a trendy (and expensive) black tea in recent years. It is made from the same tea varieties in the Wuyi region of China as the traditional Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong. You might also know it as Lapsang Souchong. The major difference is that the tea is not smoked and there is an emphasis on golden tips being present in the dry leaf. Except for the fact that this one from +Wild Tea Qi is smoked...tea is complicated.

The first thing I noticed after opening the packet was the aroma of the leaves. Holy cow did they smell awesome! I had to laugh when looking back at my notes. I wrote that they smelled like the inside of an apothecary's chest. I don't believe I've ever actually been to an apothecary but I think you get the idea.

When I say that this tea was smoked I don't mean in a burnt rubber tire kind of way. The smoke was a barely detectable layer that kind of tied together the rest of the flavor profile. Under that subtle layer was a wonderfully malty and sweet taste that lingered in my palate after each sip. As my infusions progressed it changed gears to hints of dark red fruit.

At $8.99 per ounce, this time isn't exactly a daily drinker but it's certainly less expensive than other versions I've seen of this tea. I have a feeling that some of this tea will find its way into my shopping cart whenever I place orders in the future. Have you ever tried this tea? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Jin Jun Mei sample provided for review by Wild Tea Qi.