Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Yunnan Sourcing Traditional Smoked Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong Spring 2015

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

Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong has always been an interesting tea to me. When most westerners think of Lapsang Souchong we imagine tar pits, Liquid Smoke, burnt rubber tires and Winston Churchill (it was purportedly his favorite tea). The truth is that not all Lapsang is created equal. The traditionally smoked varieties are much, much more subtle. There's even varieties that aren't smoked at all, like the one from Joseph Wesley Black Tea. This offering was smoked lightly with pine wood. The affect wasn't overwhelming at all, even when I stuck my nose right into the freshly opened bag. Smoke was definitely the first impression but it was of a much more subtle kind. There was a peaty quality that reminded me very much of scotch or whiskey. By that I mean it was delicious. What can I say, this Irish American lass loves the products of her ancestor's homeland. Beneath the top level of smoke was a pleasantly fruity and floral Fujian black tea. Wuyi Mountain teas are some of my favorites so I was very glad to still be able to taste the tea itself. Since I prepared this tea in a gaiwan the smoke subsided quite a bit after the first few infusions. A western style brew might yield a stronger punch. At $6.50 for 50g this tea is very well priced for the quality, a common theme of teas from +Yunnan Sourcing. I was glad that I picked up some of this because it's one of the few teas that my boyfriend will willing drink with me.

Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong was purchased from Yunnan Sourcing.

A photo posted by Nicole Martin (@teaformeplease) on

Monday, March 28, 2016

Is It Possible to Make Money with a Tea Blog?

When I first started my blog way back in 2008, it was a very casual thing that I didn't really have any plans or intention for. As tea became a bigger part of my life, so has the blog along with it. I still don't really know what I'm doing or where I'm going but the blog has truly taken on a life of its own.

Lately I've had a lot of friends, especially those outside of the tea world, asking about whether or not it is possible to make a viable income with a tea blog. I'm sure they have visions of celebrity fashion, food and lifestyle bloggers in their heads. I'm not going to say that it's impossible but it is extremely unlikely to be able to live full time from the revenue of a tea blog.

Google gets weird about sharing Adsense revenue. I will tell you that I began with ads on YouTube in June of 2013 and eventually added ads on the blog in July of 2014. It took nearly two years to earn enough in order to receive an actual payment. To date Amazon affiliate ads have been the most profitable. The only trouble is that I tend to use any of the payments I receive to just buy more tea stuff.

Occasional freelancing gigs pop up from time to time but they are sporadic and very spread out over the years. That has definitely been my biggest source of income, albeit indirectly derived from the blog. Since I now work at Teavana I've had to turn down several opportunities due to potential conflicts of interest.

All together it adds up to a bit of pocket change but certainly not anywhere near a supplementary income. In fact as most would argue (including my extremely understanding boyfriend), I am by and large losing money on the deal. There are upfront costs as well as ones I forget about such as impulsively buying new things to write about. I also have a tendency to purchase every book on tea that I can find for the same reason. Registering my domain name has cost me $10.00 per year since purchasing it in 2013. I also pay $36 annually to Podbean for podcast hosting.

I usually dedicate several hours of each day to research, writing and interacting on social media. This is in addition to working a full time day job and commuting two hours each way every day. I recently had to scale back the publishing schedule but for several years I was publishing once, sometimes twice a day. The blog is now published three times a week along with a monthly podcast and quarterly journal. It's a labor of love but all of that is still a lot of work.

The next question that usually follows during this type of discussion is, but is it worth it? Absolutely! I have the privilege of tasting some of the most incredible teas. This blog has also connected me with amazing people from across the globe as well. I wouldn't trade any of that for the world. Money has never been part of the equation for me. My advice to anyone who blogs (or is thinking about starting to) is to put your heart where your passion is. If you wouldn't do it for free, you shouldn't do it in the first place!

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments, especially from my fellow bloggers (tea and otherwise)!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Friday Round Up: March 20th - March 26th

A Moment at the Global Tea Hut
+Jen Piccotti has a wonderful way of connecting tea to moments in life. I loved reading about her adventures in Spain and our mutual appreciation for +Global Tea Hut.

Seven Steps to Making Tea
There some things that I find myself repeating often when helping friends learn about tea. +Bruce Richardson hit the nail on the head with this list. The first thing on the list, tea kettles and teapots are not the same, definitely made me giggle.

Confessions of a Northern Teaist
Diary of a Northern Teaist wrote a post this week that I think we can all relate to. Parting with teas in our hoard can be hard, even if they aren't particularly good ones.

The Tea Enthusiasts Handbook (Book Review)
+Ricardo Caicedo wrote a thorough review of one of my favorite tea books. I love that he is always seeking out more knowledge about tea.

A Kickstarter Kumaon White Tea Story
+Geoffrey Norman is one of my favorite tea story tellers. This post definitely made me wish I had backed the Kickstarter when it was still fundraising. The tale behind this tea definitely makes me want to give it a try.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

American Tea Room Yame Gyokuro Green Tea

Country of Origin: Japan
Leaf Appearance: deep green, needle-like
Ingredients: green tea
Steep time: 3 minutes
Water Temperature: 165 degrees
Preparation Method: kyusu
Liquor: jade green, somewhat opaque

Gyokuro is always a rare treat for me, especially when it is from one of my favorite regions. The sample that I tried was from the 2015 harvest but I imagine that they'll be listed the 2016 crop soon. The leaves were a deep, dark green with a subtle sheen to them. My first impression before actually picking up any tasting notes was the mouth-feel. It was thick and very smooth, coating my entire mouth from the first sip to the last. The taste was delicate and sweet with a light crispness that I found very pleasant. Sometimes I hate using the word vegetal to describe green teas like this one. I feel that it has a negative connotation in people's minds (a childhood spent avoiding eating vegetables) which doesn't really do the tea justice. American Tea Room compares it as watercress but I can't say that I've ever had that before. Perhaps oceanic would be a better term? That never seems quite right either. There was a lingering sweetness that stayed with me long after finishing the last sip. One of my favorite things about a high end gyokuro like this is that the leaves are super tender after steeping. I can't resist munching them. My boyfriend teases me that this habit is similar to dogs eating grass at the park. This tea carries a pretty hefty price point so I'd really only drink it on special occasions. I still have a tiny bit left and I'm planning to save it for the first really warm day so that I can ice brew it. That my friends, will be the nectar of the gods!

You can find out more about this tea here.

Monday, March 21, 2016

All About the Tea Importation Act of 1897

Did you know that for 99 years there was a government agency in the United States dedicated specifically to tea? The Board of Tea Appeals fell under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration from 1897 until 1996. Their primary function was to ensure the quality and safety of all of the tea being imported into the country. The act also authorized the FDA to appoint a board of tea experts whose job was to taste all of the tea being imported to determine whether or not it was fit for consumption. I can't decide if that is a dream job or some bizarre form of torture. I'm sure those tasters had to try some pretty terrible teas over the years.

In the 19th century tea was an important part of society but drinking it also seems like it was dubious at best. Adulteration was very commonplace both here in the U.S. and in England.  Coloring agents, leaves of other local plants and sheep dung were all potential inclusions. While the Board of Tea Tasters was ostensibly set up to protect consumers, it also meant that just a handful of people had total control over what types of tea Americans had access to. They famously barred the importation of puerh tea for many years because of its mustiness. I definitely think that is part of why most of us are still discovering this kind of tea.

There were several attempts to repeal the Tea Importation Act, most notably during the Nixon and Carter administrations. Congress was not successful until 1996 during Bill Clinton's first term in office. Senator Harry M. Reid was quoted as saying "These tea-tasting people are just like lizards. You grab them and jerk something off and they are right back.". While he did not succeed initially in getting the act repealed, congress did succeed in forcing the tea industry to pay for operations rather than the federal government.

I found several interesting quotes from Robert H. Dick, the last tea taster before the act was repealed. A link to the full interview with him is listed with some addition reading links below.

"I was also able to down to Yunnan, practically down to the Laos border where the the Pu Ehr teas are produced. Now, the Pu Ehr teas are rather infamous in this country because the Chinese treat them so that they produce a mustiness. They have a musty favor. Now, to the tea expert in this country mustiness is something on which they all agree. They would throw it out. The Chinese, from that area, like it and that is where I have a lot of my troubles from their attempts to bring it in."
"Most of the larger packers follow the Act faithfully and they follow the procedures that were set up. However, there are some who do not and some of them, especially the Chinese grocers and some of the Japanese and the Indian grocers do not seem to understand or at least they pretend they don't understand and we have difficulty at times getting these samples. Also, we have difficulty in really checking as to whether the samples are what they are supposed to be. Most of the Chinese invoices will come in and they will just list "tea", and it can be just about anything. You really don't know what they do have. I am sure that a lot of the teas are coming in and are not being recorded or else they are coming in under another name because there are these types which we would reject because of the fact that they are very musty in taste. But they are very highly prized and highly priced in the Chinese community. I don't have very many rejections and yet I go down in Chinatown and I'll see all of these teas displayed in the grocery windows. I am unable to follow through on that."
"Then later on I was able to go to China and I managed to cover quite a bit of territory in that country right after it was reopened to general travel. Imanaged to visit Hangchow, then the West Lake. The West Lake is a famous vacation spot for the Chinese. On the shores of the W~est Lake is a tea garden, Lung Ching Tea Garden, which is supposed to be one of the finest green teas in the world, and which the Chinese in particular prize very highly. They are willing to pay several dollars a pound. Even years ago, they were paying $10.00-$20.00 per pound, when $5.00 was considered a high price for tea."
If only Dragonwell was still $20 per pound! I hope that you all enjoyed this bit of tea history. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Additional Reading:

A Brief History of Tea: The Rise and Fall of the Tea Importation Act
Tea Importation Act; Tea Standards - A Proposed Rule by the Food and Drug Administration on 02/07/1996
99 Years of Federal Tea Tasting
Tea, but No Sympathy, for the Tasters
History of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration - Interview with Robert H. Dick

Friday, March 18, 2016

Friday Round Up: March 13th - March 19th

Milky Milky, Righhtttttt
Cody, aka The Oolong Drunk, is back with a review of What-Cha's milk oolong. His comparison to doing creamer shots while waiting for your pancakes made me giggle.

DIY All-Natural Tea-Dyed Eggs
Tippy at The Lovely Teacup put together a great post for using tea to dye Easter eggs. I definitely think that I'll be giving it a try this year.

The Gaiwan: Tea Vessel with Soul
+Linda Gaylard is a tea drinker after my own heart. I adored this ode to the gaiwan, my favorite brewing vessel as well.

What to Read: Tea Journey
+sara shacket echoed my thoughts about Tea Journey Magazine, a new digital magazine that I am very excited about. I'll have a post of own about it closer to the launch of their Kickstarer campaign.

Grey's Tea Kokeicha
+Ricardo Caicedo reviewed a very unusual Japanese green tea that I have never heard of. Rather than being made from whole leaves, it is made out of extruded pieces of powdered tea.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Myths & Legends of Tea, Volume 1 by Gary D. Robson

I love learning about the different legends, myths and folklore that surrounds Camellia Sinensis. Chinese culture is particularly full of these embellishments but tea stories can be found all over the world. I've had the pleasure of sitting on several Tea Bloggers Round Tables with Gary D. Robson, owner and proprietor of Red Lodge Books & Tea. He is easily spotted at events because he is usually the only very tall man wearing a kilt and a cowboy hat. When I heard that he was putting together a collection of tea legends my interest was definitely piqued.

Some of the stories are ones that I've heard before, like Tie Guan Yin, but others were totally new to me. They each also represented different countries as well as varying time periods. I particularly enjoyed the tale of Post-apocalyptic Earl Grey. This is a tea Gary sells that I know is a particular favorite of mutual tea friend +Geoffrey Norman. It definitely made me smile to see that Geoff contributed the forward foreward.

Gary is a detailed and engaging story teller. I loved how he added his own twist to some of the same old stories that have been repeated for years. Tea books have a tendency to be a bit stuffy so it was nice to read something with more of a fun lean. At just 71 pages it was a fairly quick and enjoyable read. I felt a bit sad that it was over so soon but the fact that Volume 1 is included in the title gives me hope for future volumes. I read the Kindle version but the paperback is also quite inexpensive. I would definitely suggest this book for anyone interested in tea.

You can find out more about this book here.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Is Tea Really Picked By Monkeys?

One of the oldest myths in the tea world is the one about tea being picked by monkeys. The usual story goes that since the best leaves grow at the top of the tree, monks trained monkeys to climb to the top and pick the tea for them. Another version says that they would anger the monkeys, causing them to rip off branches and toss them at the monks below. I hate to break it to you all but this fable is simply not true. Chinese tea culture is full of myths and legends that may contain grains of truth but unfortunately this is not one of them. Although monkeys are very intelligent and have opposable thumbs, they do not have the ability to selectively harvest leaves in the same way that a human can.

So where did this story even come from? Most of the sources that I've been able to find put the blame squarely on the shoulders of one Aeneaus Anderson. He accompanied Earl George Macartney on a visit to China in 1793. According to John C. Evans’ Tea in China: The History of China’s National Drink:
Questions not meant to be answered were met with blank, uncomprehending stares. Tea plantations spread out to the horizon on each side of the Imperial Canal but tea harvesting, processing, and even transportation were purposely kept from view. When information was volunteered, it had to be treated circumspectly. Once a Chinese man spontaneously offered to explain how tea was picked. He told Anderson ‘Tea growers anger the monkeys living in the branches of the tea trees. Out of revenge, the monkeys tear off branches and throw them on the ground. In this way, tea harvesters only have to pick them up.‘” Anderson truthfully admitted he had not witnessed the monkey-harvest himself although he nevertheless accepted the story as fact. All of Europe read Anderson’s book and the monkey tea-picking legend found its way to the West. This story had a particular appeal and fascination for the Victorians, no doubt due to the furor raised by Darwin’s theory of evolution. For over a century, children’s schoolbooks contained the story, and several generations of adults were convinced that tea was actually picked by monkeys.
He carried the story home with him to England, accepting it as fact since he wasn't able to visit the tea producing areas himself. It has been parroted by a good portion of the world's tea companies ever since. If you're into reading historical texts I recommend checking out his account of the trip: A Narrative of the British Embassy to China. Tea production and drinking methods are mentioned a few times but I didn't find any references to monkeys.

Monkeys Gathering Tea in China. Fanciful picture illustrating an early legend. After Marquis, 1820.

I think the biggest proof of this myth being bogus is the lack of drawings or photographs. In researching this article I only found two. The one pictured above is public domain, the other is owned by Getty Images and they wanted quite a big chunk of change for usage rights. Both appear to be of English origin. Tea culture and history in China is very well documented. If there had actually been monkeys picking tea, I definitely think there would have been some record of it. The only thing I did find was a YouTube video of a gun toting preacher who brought his monkey puppet to visit the local Teavana at the mall. Don't ask.

One somewhat logical explanation that I found is that the term was originally used to refer to poorly picked tea, as in "this tea is so bad it looks like it was picked by a monkey". These days if a tea is labeled as monkey picked it is more than likely Tie Guan Yin, an oolong tea that is produced in the Anxi County of Fujian Province. You may also know it as Iron Goddess of Mercy. Some retailers use monkey picked oolong as a moniker to designate their highest quality teas. In this sense it is really just a name that is used for marketing purposes.

Have you ever tried monkey picked tea? Let me know about your experiences with it in the comments!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Friday Round Up: March 6th - March 12th

Mauna Kea Tea on the Big Island
+Bonnie Eng posted about every tea lover's dream trip. She got to visit Mauna Kea Tea! They make one of my all time favorite green teas. Now if only my budget would allow for indulging more than once a year...

Tea Review - Four Tieguanyin Oolongs
+Georgia SS wrote a very in depth review of a variety of Tie Guan Yin Oolongs. I really liked that she chose not to compare and contrast the teas. The oolong tuo cha is definitely something that caught my eye.

Spring Tea Among Tea Trees
Stephane of Tea Masters blog always posts pictures of incredibly beautiful tea sessions. This week's just might take the cake though. I definitely left his page inspired to fit in more outdoor tea drinking.

Afternoon Tea at the Baccarat Hotel NYC
+sara shacket enjoyed a very pricey but delicious sounding afternoon tea with friends. I don't often treat myself to that kind of experience but the 'Prince of Wales' at the Baccarat is definitely added to my wishlist.

On The Mark Off Brand Use for Tea
+Rachana Rachel Carter gave us some great ideas on how to use tea other than drinking it. I think a spa night with that black tea salt scrub is in order.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Xin Mu Cha Nonpareil Taiwan LaLaShan Oolong Tea

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: pale gold

This is the first tea that I've had from LaLa Shan in Taiwan. Doesn't it sound like the name for a magical tea wonderland? The owner of the company showed me photographs of the farm where this tea is produced and the mountain views were absolutely breathtaking. Needless to say, LaLa Shan has now been added to the tea travel bucket list. Xin Mu Cha's website explains that the region is similar to Ali Shan and Li Shan but the weather is generally a bit cooler. An elevation of 1,500 meters makes this tea a true high mountain oolong. It was made from Qing Xing, also known as green heart, one of the oldest and most widely spread Taiwanese tea cultivars. My senses were flooded with the wonderful aroma of the leaves as soon as I opened the sample packet. All I could think was, "now that's what tea should smell like!". The mouth-feel was buttery and thick with a smooth and pleasant finish. Heady floral aromas reminiscent of orchid and honeysuckle flooded all of my senses. There some vegetal notes in later infusions but don't let that scare you. They were more like sweet sugar snap peas than broccoli or other less popular veggies. This tea lingered in my palate for what seemed like forever. I adore watching the leaves unfurl with an oolong like this one. Those tiny little balls slowly transformed into large, beautiful and intact leaves.

Nonpareil Taiwan LaLa Shan Oolong Tea sample provided for review by Xin Mu Cha.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Podcast Episode 18: Interview with Jeff Kovac of Four Seasons Tea Co.

I've been rather neglectful of my podcast lately, so much so that Twitter followers asked if there was a chance of bringing it back. Since I've scaled back my posting schedule a bit I'm going to make a concerted effort to film episodes more regularly.

One of my favorite things about doing the podcast is getting to share the stories of the people behind the companies that I love. This episode is a perfect example of that. I recently made the acquaintance of Jeff Kovac from Four Seasons Tea Co. thanks to mutual tea friend +Tony Gebely. He shared some of his incredible tea with me and I can honestly say that his Da Hong Pao is the best example of that tea that I have ever had.

You can find out more about Four Seasons Tea Co. at: 

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions for Jeff or if there's anything that you'd like to see on the podcast in the future!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Friday Round Up: February 28th - March 5th

Gaiwan Tea Brewing
Shiuwen of +Floating Leaves Tea has a reputation for being one of the most knowledgeable tea vendors in the biz. Her blog post this week was a great reminder of the importance of using intuition to brew your tea.

Huang Shan Maofeng Tea: tba
+Rona McIntyre was gifted what sounds like an amazing green tea by one of her students. Her pictures and vivid descriptions definitely had me digging through my tea stash for some maofeng.

Ruyao Ru Kiln Teapot Repairs
+Cwyn N shows us how she repairs teapots with JB Weld. Heed the advice about properly packing fragile items too. I think every tea lover has had this happen to them at some point.

Hooty Tea Travels - Vancouver Tea February 2016
+Charissa Gascho took a trip to her hometown of Vancouver and managed to squeeze in some tea adventures amidst wedding craziness. I've never heard of Treasure Green before but they'll definitely be added to my Canadian to do list.

Met My Matcha
+Robert Godden's post definitely made me stop and take a second look. Could it be the The Devotea actually drank a Japanese green tea? Indeed he did but it didn't turn out quite the way that I thought. Albatross holds a whole new meaning after reading this post.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Teabook Subscription Service

Over the years I've reviewed more than my fair share of tea subscription services. There are a lot of choice out there and after a while they all start to look a bit the same. My attention was caught my +Teabook when I saw Marzipan's review on TeaLover.Net. Luckily they contacted me shortly after to do a review. Right off the bat I was drawn in by the beautiful, tea-centric packaging. Everywhere I looked there little touches and hidden quotes. And velum. Have I mentioned my secret weakness for velum? It might be from my past life as a scrapbooker and crafty Girl Scout leader.

Rather than sending out seemingly random assortments of bulk teas, Teabook sets itself apart by sending pre-portioned packets of carefully curated selections. Each shipment contains 15-17 packets of tea. New subscribers also receive a glass tumbler in their first box which allows them to brew the tea "grandpa style". I thought this was a really fresh approach that breaks down a lot of the barriers that prevent people from giving better teas a try. It's a no fussy way of getting started that takes out a lot of the guess work, especially for those that are on the go a lot. Now on to the tea.

Dian Hong

The leaves were mostly whole buds with a few larger leaves. Golden tips were scattered heavily throughout. This tea was earthy and sweet with the maltiness that I love so much about Yunnan black teas. Each packet contained just enough to keep it from getting bitter but it was by no means a weak tea. I was able to get two full tumblers full of flavor followed by a lighter third round. Given my druthers I much prefer other ways of brewing this type of tea but I tried to judge it as they intend it to be consumed.

Dragon Well

Dragonwell is one of my favorite green teas and one that works very well for drinking in this kind of tumbler. The leaves were a bit more broken then I'd like but the classic chestnut aroma was still there. I was able to get two good brews from each packet of leaves. It was vegetal but still neutral enough to appeal to green tea newbies. If left to brew for a longer period of time it will become slightly astringent (as would be the case for most green teas). I suggest drinking this one more quickly than the Dian Hong.

Xiang Ming

The tea that I was probably the most excited about trying was the elusive single blue packet. The wrapper explained that it was a special selection from the owner's private collection. Although it is a Hunan green tea, I think I have to agree with +Amanda Wilson when she said it could pass for a Dan Cong oolong. The taste was delicate and sweet with lots of honeysuckle-like floral aromas. I had to jump on the bus to work shortly after filling up my tumbler and it was the kind of tea that brought out a sigh of relaxation even among the chaos.

I did have a bit of trouble with the glass tumbler but admit that it was mostly my fault. Some tea (liquid, not leaves) got stuck between the glass and the lid, creating a vacuum. I was unable to get it open but was afraid to do anything too drastic for fear of breaking the glass. You know what wound up working in the end? I used an old yoga mat to get a bit of a non-slip grip. That made me very happy because my beloved tumbler is operational again. Of course, any tea can be used in the tumbler but you may need a bit of trial and error to figure out how much leaf to use. Whatever amount you think you'll need, cut it in half. It may not look like it but less than 1/2 of a teaspoon will usually get the job done.

In conclusion I would definitely recommend giving Teabook a try, either for yourself or as a gift. The payment options for subscriptions are flexible but there is also a variety of one-time products available. If I had a desk job and didn't have tea coming out my ears, I might subscribe just to keep the box in my cubicle for an easy way to get a tasty caffeine fix.

Product provided for review by Teabook.