Monday, May 30, 2016

7 Clues You Have a Tea Buying Problem

There comes a time in every tea drinker's life where we must admit that we have a problem. Our friends and family will notice what is going on long before we do. Luckily for us, tea is a healthy indulgence (except for where our wallets are concerned). I thought it might be fun to put together a list of some of the "symptoms" of being a dedicated tea buyer.

1. You could really use a new pair of shoes but your favorite tea vendor is having an awesome sale. 

I've often have friends tell me I'm not a typical girl because I don't buy new shoes or purses very often. What they don't realize is that I'm not super frugal. I just think my money is much better spent on some really good tea!

2. You know you have too much tea but just can't bring yourself to cancel your multiple tea subscriptions.

Global Tea Hut, White2Tea Club, Jalam Teas...all of that tea can really add up but how can we miss out on all of that awesome leaf? I often justify puerh subscriptions by telling myself that the tea is only getting better if I don't get around to drinking it right away.

3. Every year you resolve to organize your tea collection but it just seems to keep multiplying.

We might try our best but tea hoarders are beyond the help of The Container Store, Real Simple Magazine or anyone else who thinks they have this organizing thing down pat. Tea is like tribbles. It multiplies before our eyes!

4. You started out with a single shelf or cabinet but your tea has now taken over other areas of your home.

I find that most of start out with a single shelf or cabinet. We're proud of ourselves for being so organized and neat. That moment of joy is short lived though because a love for tea cannot be contained. The tea collection will inevitably spread to more cabinets, drawers and even other rooms of the house.

5. Your kitchen counter space is taken up mostly by tea gadgets and gizmos.

Between my Breville One-Touch, milk frother and the Sharp Tea-Ceré that I have on loan, my counters is full the max. My Kitchen-aid mixer even got downgraded to the top of the refrigerator!

6. The dictionary on your smart phone has more tea words added to it than you can count.

You've posted on enough message boards and done enough Google searches that the predictive text practically speaks Chinese...and Japanese...and Korean.

7. You have a vast network of tea enablers who share your problem.

Twitter, Instagram, Steepster and Facebook groups are full of tea enablers. We all suffer from the same affliction yet are constantly encouraging each other to accumulate more tea and teaware. I'm looking at you hauls!

As I'm sure you know, this post is all in good fun. I'm a big proponent of not taking ourselves too seriously, even if we are mega-tea nerds. Is there a clue that I missed? Let me know about it in the comments!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday Round Up: May 22nd - May 28th

Matcha Tea Ceremony Utensils
+Georgia SS wrote a great post this week about some of the essential tools for preparing matcha. I really love the look of her chawan.

Podcast 030: Sharp Tea-Ceré
+Ricardo Caicedo interviewed the brand rep for Sharp about their super cool matcha machine. I've got one of these babies on loan for about a month and I'll be sharing it with you all soon.

How to Eat a Scone Properly
+Jee Choe settles the great scone debate once and for all. It's funny, I know scones should be eaten with your hands but it always felt a bit improper given the formalities of afternoon tea. I'm a cream first kind of girl too.

Japanese Dark Tea Tasting
+Heather Porter was lucky enough to do a tasting of fermented Japanese teas with Noli of Sugimoto. This is a little explored category but I've definitely seen an increased interest in it among my tea friends.

White 2 Tea Bulang Maocha 2005 Shou
Fine Tea Leaves is a blog I recently found out about through a Reddit post. I've really enjoyed reading their posts and am looking forward to more in the future.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

3 Leaf Tea Wild Pu'erh Buds

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: small, pine cone-like buds
Ingredients: puerh tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: glass gaiwan
Liquor: very pale yellow

Ya Bao is a bit controversial in the tea world these days. There's a raging debate as to whether it is puerh or white tea. Some say it's not even tea at all. My vote is for white tea (due to the way the leaves are processed) but I've heard good evidence for each argument. In this case I'm listing it the way the vendor does, if only for the sake of consistancy. The leaves looked pretty similarly to other teas of this type that I've tried. They always seem to remind me of fuzzy little pine cones. At first sip it seemed like there was nothing there but then a sweet vanilla aftertaste took me by surprise. A few infusions in there was even a hint of spice in the background. The directions for this tea were more western style but I definitely think gongfu'ing it is the way to go. There's really no chance of overdoing it. Towards the end of the session my infusions were over a minute long. That might not seem like very long but it is when you're using a 100ml gaiwan. Ya Bao is one of those teas I don't find myself drinking often but when I do it always seems to hit the spot. This one is comparably priced with Verdant Tea and most of the other ones that I've found on the market. I'd recommend giving it a try if you're curious about Ya Bao.

Wild Pu'erh Buds sample provided for review by 3 Leaf Tea.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Snapchat for Tea Lovers

Social media has always been a huge part of my tea experience and my latest obsession is Snapchat. That's right, it's not just for teenagers! The main purpose of Snapchat is to share live, in the moment pictures and videos. It's a bit more off the cuff and less polished than Instagram. The other major difference is that your posts can only be viewed for 24 hours. A warning: viewers can take screenshots so you should still be careful about posting anything you wouldn't want to have out in the world. Content posted to your story (the Snapchat equivalent of a timeline) is viewable by everyone who follows you but you can also send them to directly to someone rather than posting publicly.

There's some neato features like geofilters and all of those funny faces you see your friends posting on Facebook. To access these all you have to do is press on the screen over your face until you see a white grid briefly appear. After you take a picture get creative by adding text, emoticons or drawing some artwork. One of the coolest things about Snapchat is that your profile picture is actually a QR code that people can use to add you.
Don't forget to add me!
It can be hard to find people to follow at first since Snapchat doesn't have a discovery feature like other social platforms. I recommend downloading an app called Ghostcodes. Add yourself to the directory and search for people who share your interests.

Basic Snapchat Etiquette

-Skip the TMI (Too Much Information). We don't need to see EVERYTHING you do every day.

-Don't send a picture or video directly to someone that you are also sharing publicly to your story.

-Turn off the sound in videos if you are taking them in a very loud place.

-Don't snap and drive. Seriously! I'm always amazed by how many people do this. It's just not safe and probably illegal in most states since you shouldn't be using your phone while driving.

Tea People to Follow

I created an account (teaformeplease) for the blog a while ago but only recently started diving in. I've been mostly using it to share "behind the scenes" stuff that I'm not sharing elsewhere. It'll definitely be a fun way to share my experience at World Tea Expo!

+White2Tea is one of my favorite puerh vendors. They have an eccentric and fascinating Snapchat account. Expect lots of late night sheng sessions, music and insights into sourcing puerh in Yunnan. You might even catch glimpses of the mysterious Two Dog.

Quantitea is a fairly new tea company that specializes in tea flights. I've been living vicariously through the snaps taken on their most recent sourcing trip.

Fellow tea blogger +Georgia SS posts about her tea and foodie adventures. She's spending some time in the D.C. area so it's nice to do some vicarious sightseeing too.

+Jee Choe seems to always be on the go (and finding the yummiest treats along the way). I'm really enjoying getting a peek into the tea sommelier certification classes that she is taking.

+sara shacket is just getting started on Snapchat but I'm really looking forward to seeing what she comes up with.

I think I may have actually found someone who drinks even more tea than I do. Check out besstic's snaps for lots of tea with a touch of humor.

Are there any tea people that I should be following? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Friday Round Up: May 15th - May 21st

Camellia Flower Pu'erh Cake - Aliexpress
+Kayleigh Jade of Kitty Loves Tea wrote about the infamous "God of Night Sweats" cake. I think I may be one of the last of my tea friends to try this rather dubiously translated cake.

Cody at The Oolong Drunk wrote a great review of a Bing Dao puerh from Bitter Leaf Teas. I love the thoroughness of his posts. I never can get myself to track that much detail but I love reading it on the blogs of others.

A Guy and His Gaiwan
+Geoffrey Norman told the story of his first gaiwan, simultaneously on the new gaiwan service offered by +Smith Teamaker. That gaiwan staking basket is definitely something I think all tea nerds could use!

2016 Fade Sheng Puer from April 2016 White2Tea Club
+Charissa Gascho reviwed a puerh tea that I have definitely had my eye on. It's a brick made out of Huangpian, what is generally considered a less desirable leaf. The material used is high quality though.

Interview w/Emilio of The Jade Leaf [Taiwan Tapes] — TeaDB James InBetweenIsode Episode #82
James at +Tea DB traveled to Taiwan and interviewed Emilio from The Jade Leaf. I am in love with those wooden side handle teapots!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Wymm Tea Jingmai Sheng 2013 First Spring

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

I was a bit sad to discover that this was the last sheng puerh sample in my "to review" pile from Wymm Tea. Thankfully there is still one last shou left to savor until I'm able to place an order. I know I've mentioned this before (like every time I've written about one of their teas), but I absolutely adore the mulberry paper that their tea is wrapped in. It's just so soft and it smells amazing! This tea hails from Jingmai in Southwestern Yunnan province. It was harvested in 2011 and pressed in 2013. I always like to see both dates listed for puerh tea because they are equally important. The taste was surprisingly floral. There were notes of orchid that I would definitely have only expected from an oolong. A welcome level of astringency tempered the natural sweetness that might have been too cloying otherwise. I did at least 10 consecutive infusions before running out to run some errands. Later that evening I squeezed out a few more so these leaves definitely had a lot to give. This tea is a bit pricey but if I had $300 to blow on a cake of tea, this would definitely be one that I'd buy. I've visited Wymm Tea's website many times before and only just now noticed that there is a music section. How cool is that? To my delight there are four albums with selections ranging from Yunnan folk songs to Chinese classical music.

Jingmai Sheng 2013 First Spring sample provided by Wymm Tea.

Monday, May 16, 2016

5 Things You Should Know About Matcha

1. Matcha can only be produced in Japan.

Matcha can only be made in Japan just as Champagne can only be made in Champagne, France. More specifically, matcha should be made from a shade grown tea known as tencha. In order to meet market demand a ton of "matcha-like" powdered teas are being produced in China and other nearby countries. This is definitely one subject that I get on my soap box about. Would you want to pay Champagne prices for California sparkling wine? Of course not! Inexpensive powdered green tea has its place but it should never be called matcha when it isn't the real thing.

2. Powdered tea originated in China during the Song Dynasty.

Matcha is very much associated with Japan but a lot of tea drinkers don't realize that powdered tea has roots in Chinese history.  At that time tea leaves were pressed into cakes, much in the same way that puerh is. Pieces were broken off, ground into a powder and whipped into a froth. This style of making tea was popularized by the Buddhist monk Eisai when he publushed the book Tea drinking cure 喫茶養生記 in 1214. It eventually involved into the matcha that we all know and love today.

3. It can take up to an hour to grind just 40g of finished tea.

As you can imagine, it takes quite a lot of leaf in order to make just a small amount of matcha powder. Matcha is ground into a very fine powder using stone mills. Other materials will cause too much friction which would negatively affect the taste of the tea. This is part of why you wouldn't get the same results by throwing your leaves into a food processor or spice grinder. Check out the video below from +Aiya America Organic Matcha green tea to see the entire process:

4. Ceremonial grade doesn't mean anything.

Despite what your tea vendor's advertisements might say ceremonial grade is a meaningless term. While it's usually used to imply higher quality, there are no regulations as to the use of the phrase. Ask your supplier if their matcha is endorsed by a tea ceremony school such as Urasenke or Omotesenke. It's also important to learn the differences between high quality and low quality matcha. Color is always a huge indicator. Look for a vibrant, deep green color with a silky smooth feel.

5. Since it's a powder, matcha can easily be added to almost anything!

I love cooking and baking with matcha. It's super easy to add to cookies, cupcakes, pudding and more. Just remember that a little bit goes a long way. Using too much tea in your batter can make for a bitter taste. Matcha is also a great addition to smoothies and shakes. I even mix into my orange juice! In Japan they have everything from matcha noodles to green tea Kit Kat's.

Is there something that should be on this list? Let me know in the comments!

Header image - "Matcha" by yakubovich is licensed under Creative Commons BY 2.0

Friday, May 13, 2016

Friday Round Up: May 8th - May 14th

2016 Midwest Tea Festival Coverage
+Alexsia Wilson gave us some awesome commentary on the Midwest Tea Festival this week. This event is definitely on my wishlist for next year.

Tea Cultivars - 12 Chinese Tea Cultivars
+Georgia SS is taking a tea education course and completed this blog post as part of an optional homework assignment. Funnily enough, most of the teas that she chose were from Fujian Province. That's one of my favorite tea places.

Misty Peaks 2016 Mao Cha
+Payton Swick wrote about his experience with one of my favorite puerh teas. It's great to see that his tasting notes echo my own. Misty Peaks' teas are everything that I love about Yiwu.

A Look Into Becoming A Certified TAC Tea Sommelier
+Lu Ann Pannunzio interviewed +Shabnam Weber about what it takes to become a tea sommelier with the Tea Association of Canada. There's a lot of programs out there so it's great to hear about an actual student's experience.

Podcast 029: Chaos Theory Ceramics
+Ricardo Caicedo's podcast is always interesting and informative. This week he interviewed Vince, part of the duo behind Chaos Theory Ceramics. They make some truly breathtaking Jian teaware that is sure to endanger my wallet very soon.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Four Seasons Tea Tan Yang Gong Fu Jin Cha Xiang

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

Four Seasons Tea Co. is a fairly new to me company but I'm been very impressed so far. Their Da Hong Pao was the best I ever had so I couldn't wait to dig into the other samples that they were kind enough to share with me. Tan Yang Gong Fu is a very small leafed cultivar that hails from the Baiyun Mountain in Fujian. I'll be sharing several other grades of Tan Yang Gong Fu in the future so keep an out out for those! The mouth-feel of this one was fairly thick. I immediately took notice of the unusual notes of rose. I don't think I've ever had a black tea that was this floral (other than this one smuggled Jin Jun Mei that I'll never see again). The listing for this tea mentions milky cereal and although it might sound odd, it's a very fitting description. +Geoffrey Norman likened it to Crunchberries in his review but I got more of a Honey Grahams aroma. After the fourth steep that sweetness deepened to an almost Keemun-like fruitiness with hints of raisin. Gongfu is definitely the way to go with this one. Your patience will be rewarded with many delicious infusions. I got to the recommended eight rounds but then kept pushing until it was time for bed. Even after it lost most of its oomph there was a really nice lingering sweetness. At $2.24 a serving this tea is not an everyday drinker but some things are simply worth paying for. Really, really good tea is one of them in my book.

Tan Yang Gong Fu Jin Cha Xiang samples provided by Four Seasons Tea.

Monday, May 9, 2016

What I Look for When Buying Tea

Buying tea is a bit of a crap shoot, especially over the internet. It's hard to know what you are getting until you drink it for the first time and by then it's too late. Of course seeing and smelling a tea in person is always preferable but for a lot of people there just aren't any local options. After drinking tea for so many years I've got a mental list of things I look for before ordering tea. Hopefully it will help some of you to weed out the not so great options.

A picture says 1,000 words.

I absolutely will not purchase a tea online if there is no picture of the leaf shown. Preferably, I want to see clear, high quality shots of both the dry leaves and what the tea looks like after brewing. If these aren't included on the product page I have a hard time trusting that I will receive exactly what is advertised. If I can manage halfway decent pictures in my poorly lit basement apartment, online retailers can certainly get it done too!

Timing is everything.

One of the first things I look for when buying tea is harvest date. The year should be listed at the very least but ideally I want to see the month or even the exact date. This is especially important for green tea in relation to price. I'm OK with paying more of a tea is pre-Qing Ming from the current year. Not listing the year can mask deceptive practices like selling very old tea as though it were new. Puerh brings a whole other level to this. I prefer to purchase tea where I know both the year of harvest and the year of pressing. The two are not always the same and that can affect the tea than ends up in the cup.

Location, location, location.

If a company does not list the location where the tea was produced they more than likely don't know. Country is not enough! Telling me that a tea is from China reveals absolutely nothing. Transparency is the new way of doing business in the tea world. I want to see the province and village information for every tea. This is especially important for teas that should be from very specific regions such as Darjeeling. If you can't tell me what estate the tea is from, how do I know that it's not just a tea from a neighboring area that is labeled as Darjeeling for the higher price tag?

Specialists seem more trustworthy.

I find that a lot of the companies I buy from are specialists in a particular type of tea. While this doesn't directly imply better quality, it can mean that the vendor is more knowledgeable about that particular category. They are also more likely to directly source the tea themselves rather than buying through a large wholesaler. I find this is particularly true for trendy teas like puerh and matcha.

I get by with a little help from my friends (and fellow bloggers).

The opinions of tea friends definitely has a big influence on the tea that I purchase.  I read A LOT of reviews on tea related blogs (362 according to my Blog Lovin profile). My Instagram feed is also full of lots of enablers. Tea friends like +Jo J+Rachana Rachel Carter and +Geoffrey Norman are always finding cool stuff that I want to try as well. Simply put, if someone I know enjoyed a tea I am much more likely to purchase it.

What do you look for when buying tea? I'd love to hear about it the comments!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Friday Round Up: May 1st - May 7th

A Moment of Descendants
+Jen Piccotti wrote a lovely post about having one of my new favorite oolongs with her parents. Smooth Floral Touch is definitely a tea that begs to be shared. Sometimes I wish that my family would by willing to give gongfu a try. It's just not for them though.

Seasoning A Boob-Shaped Yixing Teapot
+Geoffrey Norman and I have probably had more conversations about boob shaped teapots that anyone else we know. His latest post, especially the accompanying video, resulted in fits of giggles.

The Problem with Tea Sommeliers
+Tony Gebely hosted a post from Jordan Hardin this week that made me immediately respond with, "THIS!". As someone who has been involved in tea for a number of years the serious lack of a proper educational system is one of my biggest frustrations. There has been a lot of conversation about this topic lately so hopefully that means that we'll be taking steps towards change.

Tea with Darth Vader
+Rachana Rachel Carter celebrated Star Wars week with an adorable series of themed posts. This one was my favorite because it features a drawing that my fiance did when her son was born. What could be better than Darth Vader drinking tea?

Ruby Red Tea - Taiwan 18
Warren at Simple Subtle Tea reminded me of how much I've been missing my Global Tea Hut subscription. Their annual shipment of Ruby 18 is one that I always looked forward to. At keast I got to live vicariously through his tasting notes.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Jade Leaf Caramel Oolong Spring 2015

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: gold

This intriguingly named oolong hails fro Yu Shan, the highest mountain in Taiwan. I tend to favor more heavily oxidized teas but the expert roasting made it very well balanced in the cup. The taste was sweet with notes of brown sugar and a lingering floral aftertaste. A pleasant toasty quality stayed in the background throughout my many infusions. There was no bitterness or astringency to speak of. The leaves were quite beautiful to look at once they unfurled. They were mostly whole and I spotted some with pretty purple oxidation signs on the edges. It's hard to explain but after a few rounds of brewing the leaves had a sort of sticky texture to them. From what I've read this a sign of a good quality tea, especially for oolongs. As far as high mountain oolongs go I think this one is very well priced. The Jade Leaf is the only one to offer this tea outside of Taiwan so it's worth giving a try for that reason alone. I love how much information that the product page provides. Not ever vendor can tell you the cultivar, elevation level or who made the tea. The fact that they are on the ground in Taiwan really makes a difference. In case you missed it, make sure that you check out my podcast interview with Emilio of The Jade Leaf!

Caramel Oolong sample provided for review by The Jade Leaf.

A photo posted by Nicole Martin (@teaformeplease) on

Monday, May 2, 2016

Making Tea, Making Japan: Cultural Nationalism in Practice by Kristin Surak

I have an extremely long reading to-do list. The books are mostly tea related though not always. This particular book has been on my Amazon wishlist for some time. It had come up in my recommendations but I thought it was a bit odd that I had never seen it mentioned on blogs or in my other tea circles. How could that be?

Although it is a sociological study, I have to say that this is one of the most fascinating books on Japanese tea culture that I have had the pleasure to read. There were some parts that got a bit dry but otherwise I thought it was a very engaging read. Kristin's approach and tone is respectful and yet also full of the same curiosity that I feel towards Chanoyu. The in depth analysis of tea culture throughout the history of Japan held several surprises. I've read several books on the subject so that part was a bit of a shocker. Kristin's technique of contrasting Chanoyu with other "nation making" activities was an unusual spin. The insight to the modern iemoto system and the various schools of the Japanese tea ceremony was also very much appreciated.

Urasenke is the largest most widespread school and I often feel that books on this subject are written from that very specific perspective. Smaller schools deserve some of the spotlight as well as I was glad to see them addressed here. The author has taken more than a decade of tea ceremony training. It shows in both the depth of exploration and the respect with which the material was handled.

There were some illustrations but I didn't feel like the Kindle version was lacking visually. Another happy surprise was the very thorough bibliography, most of which I highlighted for reference later. I highly recommend giving this book a read to anyone with an interest in Japanese tea culture. I don't want to spoil it all for you so I'll just leave you with this quote.
"That tea has been able to bridge successive epochs and forms of nation-work with such éclat has in part been due to the remarkable metamorphoses in its primary social carriers—moving from an aesthetic pastime of aristocrats, to a political tool of warriors, to a salon for business elites, to become, in the twentieth century, largely a hobby of middle-class housewives."
You can find out more about this book here.