Monday, October 31, 2016

5 Practical and Inexpensive Ways to Up Your Tea Game

When I first got into tea I was overwhelmed by all of the gadgets and gizmos that can go along with it. Looking back, I think I purchased everything related to tea that I could find. Luckily I had some really wonderful folks who set me straight before too much damage was done. You don't actually have to spend a fortune on stuff in order to make a perfect cuppa. Here are a few practical and inexpensive ways to up your tea game:

1. Thermometer

For a lot of folks, one of the major realizations when it comes to tea is that they shouldn't all be made with boiling water. You can buy a thermometer that is specifically made for tea but really any food-safe one will do. I've even borrowed meat thermometers in a pinch. Knowing the temperature of your water makes a world of difference when it comes to preparing green and white tea. Just combine a thermometer with the timer on your cell phone and you're good to go.

2. Electric Tea Kettle

I cannot recommend getting an electric kettle enough. They are reliable and much more efficient than traditional stovetop kettles. When I still lived at home I used my mom's kettle until one day I realized that it never got the water quite to boiling and sometimes I would wind up with a wide range of whistling temperatures. You can even get a variable temperature model, allowing you to forego the first item on this list. A kettle doesn't have to be fancy or expensive to get the job done. Trust me on this one. You won't regret making the switch.

3. Gram Scale

Tea is commonly measured in teaspoons. The trouble with this is that it isn't a very accurate unit of measure at all. The size of it has changed over time but the current standard for a culinary teaspoon is 1/4 of a tablespoon or about 1.5g of tea. Tea leaves can be large and vary quite a lot in shape. A teaspoon of CTC black tea will not be the same as a teaspoon of long, wiry dan cong oolong. All you need to achieve a more standardized cup of tea is a simple digital pocket scale.  It will come in even more handy if/when you advance to gongfu style brewing.

4. Smaller Teacups

We love our venti lattes from Starbucks and 7-Eleven Big Gulps. The only thing is that gulping your tea can make it hard to really taste it. Switching to smaller teacups (8oz or less) can dramatically change the way you experience what you drink. The thimble-sized cups used in gongfu service might look silly but they actually force us to truly focus on every sip. That effect is amplified even more if you slurp. Seriously! Try drinking the same tea out of a few different kinds of cups. You'll definitely notice a difference.

5. Notebook

Make a habit of taking notes about the teas that you drink. Record any information that seems important at the time, even if it's just a thought or feeling. Make sure to include all of the details of how you brewed the tea. I like to use old-fashioned notebooks but you can use Excel spreadsheets or whatever system works best for you. Having a record to look back through can prove invaluable as you progress on your tea journey.

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

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Friday, October 28, 2016

Friday Round Up: October 23rd - October 29th

Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience
Ariel Drinks Tea wrote about a place in Tokyo that has definitely been added to my tea travel wishlist. There is nothing quite like truly experiencing tea in beautiful surroundings, especially when you get to share it with friends.

Dong Ding Farmer and Tea: Deciding on a Tea
Shiuwen Tai of +Floating Leaves Tea has been sharing some wonderful stories from her years of sourcing tea in Taiwan. I love how she really brings the farmer's personality to life. Learning about tea on the ground isn't always easy but it sure seems to be well worth the effort.

The 3 Essential Tools for a Wonderful Tea Experience
+Lu Ann Pannunzio's blog post this week really drove home an important point, at the end of the day tea is nothing but leaves and water. Tea fanatics sometimes focus so much on the ceremony of it all that we forget about the tea itself.

Give me Guangdong or Give me death. Factory Tea Report
+Tea DB's periodic tea reports are an underappreciated treasure for the tea world. The world of factory tea can be hard to navigate, especially when you're first starting out. This post makes an awesome guide and I'll definitely be referring to it in the future.

Charleston Tea Plantation
Gabie from Tea End Blog visited the Charleston Tea Plantation in South Carolina. This place has been on my bucket list for some time and the pictures she took are absolutely breathtaking. I just wish Bigelow would stop advertising it as the only tea garden in the United States. They may have been at one point but we all know that there are lots more now!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Bitterleaf Teas Year of the Monkey 2016 Spring Yiwu Raw Puer

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: varied greens and browns, somewhat tightly compressed
Ingredients: puerh tea
Steep time: 5 seconds (increasing by 5 seconds with each infusion)
Water Temperature: 200 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: gold

When Bitterleaf Teas first burst onto the scene, I definitely remember them turning heads with the unusual artwork on the wrapper for this tea. A monkey smoking a cigarette is a unique way of celebrating the Year of the Monkey but then, I think anything featuring the art of Kelly Puissegur would be.

As per usual, they had me at Yiwu. My generously sized sample had been broken off  from the cake but was still fairly well held together. I wouldn't call it an iron cake the compression was solid. Although my chunks didn't contain it, can I just say how much I love that they use an actual leaf as a nei fei? It's the little things that make a tea nerd happy.

My usual puerh brewing method is a bit of a "go hard or go home" style but I took their advice for the first go around. After a five-second rinse . The initial sips were gentle but no means lacking in strength. Yiwu is known for it's sweeter teas and this one is a great example of that. A honey-like aftertaste lingered long after each sip. There was also a nice minerality that reminded me a bit of white wine. After the first four infusions or so the sweetness started the fade, giving way to a bolder and more vegetal profile.

Overall I'd say that this is a very user-friendly tea. Those who want a puerh powered punch in the face can achieve that with tea but it can also be wonderfully delicate and light. Just dial up or down your leaf volume and brewing time appropriately. At less than $40 for a 357g cake, this tea ranks as pretty darned affordable in my book, especially for the quality. I finished up the last of this sample while suffering through the beginnings of a cold. It did wonders for my sore throat!

Year of the Monkey 2016 Spring Yiwu Raw Puer sample provided for review by Bitterleaf Teas.

Monday, October 24, 2016

How to Learn More about Tea

One of the things I get written to about the most is the question of how to learn more about tea. When you're first starting out the world of tea can be wonderfully overwhelming. There is so much information out there, some of it conflicting, that it's hard to separate fact from fiction. Here are some tips that I've learned along the way.

Read Everything You Can

Read anything and everything about tea that you can get your hands on. Particularly for those in the western hemisphere, books are one of the few easily accessible resources. These are some of the ones that I recommend the most often:

The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura
The Classic of Tea by Lu Yu
Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties by Kevin Gascoyne, Francois Marchand, and Jasmin Desharnais
Puer Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic by Jinghong Zhang
Modern Tea by Lisa Boalt Richardson
Free Kindle Books for Tea Lovers
The Tea Book by Linda Gaylard
The Art and Craft of Tea by Joseph Wesley Uhl

Drink Everything You Can

Nothing teaches you about tea more than drinking it! The first piece of advice I give anybody looking to get into tea is to drink everything that they can. Whether it's a super high-quality 1st flush Darjeeling or terrible puerh from your local Asian market, every tea has a lesson to teach. Knowing what bad tea tastes like helps you understand what it is that makes the good ones so good. It can also be helpful to do comparison tastings focusing on specific types or regions. As a lifelong picky eater, this was something I struggled with at first. Don't let preconceptions keep you from trying something new! Tea isn't nearly as scary as you might think. :)

Connect and Share with Others

One of the best ways to learn about any subject is to connect with others who are just passionate as you are. For tea drinkers, this can be a bit difficult as we're sometimes a bit geographically isolated. Lucky for us there is the interwebs! Social media can be a great place to find people who are talking about tea. Comparing notes and sharing information is one of the most effective ways of progressing on your journey. Instagram is one of my favorite places for this because it is so visual. You don't even have to speak the same language to connect with other tea lovers!

Know that You Can't Know Everything, and That's OK

I've been pursuing tea as a passion for nearly a decade. That might seem like a long time but there is not a day that goes by without learning something new. Anyone who tells you that they've learned everything they need to know about tea is someone that you should immediately stop listening to. Getting into tea is a bit like the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. It just keeps getting deeper and deeper. In many ways, I think that's why I haven't lost interest over the years. Drinking tea is not a competitive sport. Explore what interests you and never stop learning!

Use Multiple Sources

No matter how much you trust where you got your information, I always recommend verifying everything with multiple sources. There is a ton of misinformation out there. Much of it has been repeated so many times over the years (centuries in some cases) that it gets accepted as fact, even when there is little evidence to support it. I'm reminded of playing a game called telephone as a Girl Scout. One person would make up a sentence which would then be passed around the circle in giggly whispers. By the time the message got to the last person, it bore no resemblance to its original form. Tea is a global game of telephone so it's best to get as close to the sentence starter as possible.

I asked the tea community on Twitter what their answer was to this question. These are some of my favorite responses.

Readers, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you agree with my points? Is there something that I missed? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Friday Round Up: October 16th - October 22nd

2017 Tea Festival and Trade Show Schedule
Looking for a fun tea event to attend? +Tony Gebely put together a list of some of the upcoming festivals and trade shows for next year. Those dates will be here before you know it!

Uji Press Tea Tour 2016
+Ricardo Caicedo had what sounds like a once in a lifetime trip to the Uji region of Japan. How lucky is he! I'm definitely living vicariously through this blog post.

Dong Ding Near-Death Experiences
+Geoffrey Norman is one of my favorite tea storytellers (in case you couldn't tell from his many appearances in this round up). This week he wrote about a near-death experience that Shiuwen Tai of +Floating Leaves Tea had on her first visit to Dong Ding.

Jump start your own tea journey with these books on tea
+katherine bellman put together an awesome list of some must check out tea reads. Many of these are permanent residents on my bookshelf but I'm also adding a few to my "to read" pile.

Pacific Northwest Taiwanese Black Tea Comparison
+Charissa Gascho relocated and I've been loving all of the posts focused on the Pacific Northwest. In this post, she compares Ruby 18 offerings from three different vendors.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Mandala Tea Temple Stairs 2014 Ripe Pu'er

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

There's a chill in the air and I find that my tastes are changing with the shift in seasons. Cravings for roasted oolongs and dark, inky shou puerh has been dominating my tea drinking. There's just something comforting about these darker teas. This tea immediately came to mind on a particularly nippy fall evening.

This 100g cake from +Mandala Tea was beautiful to look at. I almost didn't want to break into it. The leaves were a million shades of brown and gold, especially when I put it inside of my light tent to pictures. They weren't super tightly compressed so I was able to easily break off a portion with just a small needle.

After a quick initial rinse, this tea brewed up an inky dark color. The taste was earthy and sweet with woody notes and hints of vanilla. This is a great introductory tea for those that are new to cooked puerh. It wasn't overly earthy and there was absolutely no fishiness. I did at least five consecutive infusions and then continued to brew a bit the next morning. Later infusions brought out cacao and brown sugar.

Since this shou is on the milder side I definitely recommend being a bit heavier handed with leaf volume. I wound up using about 8g in a 150ml gaiwan. Increasing your steeping times as you go will help to maintain strength as well. Mandala Tea's website is down at the moment but once it's back up you should definitely check out what they have to offer. Their customer pressed teas, like this one, are among some of my favorites.

Temple Stairs 2014 sample provided by Mandala Tea.

Monday, October 17, 2016

How Many Types of Tea are There?

How many types of tea are there? The answer to that question really depends on who you ask. There are many gray areas in tea and there is much left open to interpretation. The western world is also just now discovery categories of tea that have existed in the tea lands for centuries. In this post, I will be listing the categories of tea as I see them.

Before we move on to the different types, did you know that all tea is made from the same plant? The differences just come from how the leaves are processed. Check out this post for more:

Does All Tea Really Come from the Same Plant?

White Tea

White tea is the least processed type of tea. Contrary to popular belief and many tea vendor's websites, it is not rare! After picking, the leaves are laid out to dry in the sun. Hot air can also be used to achieve this. There is no "kill green" step and the leaves are not typically shaped in any way. Some withering occurs but it is not necessarily something producers try to achieve (like they might with black tea or oolong). Silver Needle is probably the most well-known white tea but there are other varieties that are made with more than just buds.

For more on white tea, you might want to read:

Meet the Tea: Silver Needle

Green Tea

Green tea is often referred to as unoxidized but that's not exactly the case. Tea leaves begin to wilt as soon as they are removed from the plant. Heat is applied to the leaves by the tea producer as quickly as possible. This brings oxidation to a halt so as to preserve them in their green state. Chinese teas are typically pan fired whereas Japanese green teas are usually steamed. Some manufacturing methods also use blanching the leaves in hot water.

Yellow Tea

The processing of yellow tea is very similar to green tea. What differs is that the leaves are repeatedly wrapped in paper or fabric in between several firing steps. This process can take several days and results in a smoother, less grassy taste. Yellow teas are rather rare on the western market (as evidenced by the fact that I've only ever written about two of them). There are some admittedly valid arguments that there is no true yellow tea anymore but for now, I do consider it different enough to need its own category.


Oolong tea is partially oxidized. It is the largest category of tea so the tastes can range from very green and floral and dark and roasted. Oolong is often described as being between green and black tea. While that is sort of true, it generalizes things a bit. Leaves destined to become oolong are withered, rolled and carefully oxidized. The producer needs to apply heat at precisely the right moment in order to prevent the leaves from oxidizing completely.

Black Tea

Black tea undergoes the same processing steps as oolong but the leaves are completely (or very nearly) oxidized. Both the finished leaves and the brewed tea will have a reddish brown coloration. This is caused by catechins being converted into thearubigins. The taste of black can vary quite a bit depending on the region and how the tea is made. Although it's usually thought of as being served with milk and sugar, black tea is not always the punchy and astringent kind.

Here's a bit about some of my favorite black teas:

Meet the Tea: Dian Hong
➢ Meet the Tea: Darjeeling

Dark Tea

The category of dark tea, also known as hei cha, refers to any tea that is fermented. It's important to note that fermentation in tea is a different biological process than the one used to produce beer and wine. Puerh falls under this category as do similarly processed teas from regions of China other than Yunnan. Some argue that raw puerh should be categorized as a green tea but there are some key differences. Sheng is heated in a similar fashion but the leaves are dried in the sun rather than by hot air. They retain some of their natural enzymes and bacteria which will allow the tea to gradually oxidize as well as ferment over time.

Check out these past posts for more on puerh:

Raw Puerh vs Cooked Puerh
➢ Tasting Puerh Storage Methods with White2Tea
➢ A Tales of Two Nannou

Please let me know in the comments if you prefer a different method of categorizing tea. I'd love to get some healthy discussion going on this!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Friday Round Up: October 9th - October 15th

Five Mistakes I've Made While Brewing Tea
Rebekah from +Teacups and Blossoms wrote a handy post about some of the things can seriously mess up your cup of tea. We've all been there! Not adding milk before it's done brewing is something that I definitely learned the hard way.

Us Puerh Collectors, Why We are Different
+Cwyn N's posts are always insightful in unexpected ways. I loved the comparison of collecting puerh to raising horses (former equine studies major here!). Puerh is definitely what I'm drinking the most these days but I haven't quite hit the collector stage yet.

Genmaicha Rice Krispy Treats
+Bonnie Eng's creatively tea infused recipes always get an immediate bookmark on Pinterest when I read them. This one, in particular, captured my attention because it features one of my favorite teas to drink during the fall season. She had me at genmaicha!

Honey Scent Red from Terroir Tea Merchants
+Nichole Miller wrote a review on SororiTea Sisters that definitely made me want to give this tea a try. Honey scented teas are a bit of an obsession of mine. Terroir's shop in Victoria, BC has been on my wishlist for some time. This is one selection that I will definitely be checking out if I ever make it there to visit.

The Tea Planter's Wife, a Book Review
+Georgia SS reviewed a book that I recently enjoyed. I'd definitely agree with her point that the story holds an appeal for wider audiences. There's a ton of value there for fans of historial fiction while also drawing attention to the social issues of the time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Totem Tea Ruby 18 Taiwanese Black

Country of Origin: Taiwan
Leaf Appearance: black, long and wiry
Ingredients: black tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 200 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: dark amber

This has been a year filled with lots of Taiwanese oolongs for me but I was really excited to give this black tea offering from +Totem Tea a try. They're a fairly new outfit based in Portland, OR and I'ved really been enjoying what they have to offer.

Ruby #18 is a hybrid variety that was created by crossing Assamica plants with wild Qing Xin. I always say that it is the ani-black tea, perfect for those who might be biased against black tea due to negative past experiences.

The taste was wonderfully complex. Notes of cocao and dark cherry morphed into a honey-like sweetness with an almost piney quality. The finish had just a hint of cooling mint. These are not flavors that you'll find in most black teas. Although there was some astringency, it never bordered on bitter or unpleasant. I truly lost track of how many infusions I did but I can tell you that these leaves had some real staying power.

Once they fully unfurled, the leaves were positively gigantic. Many of them were as wide as my gaiwan lid. While this doesn't necessarily indicate anything, big and beautiful leaves always make my inner tea nerd giddy. I still have one more session left and I think I'm going to experiment a bit. I'd love to try bowl brewing or grandpa styling this one.

Ruby 18 Taiwanese Black sample provided for review by Totem Tea.


A photo posted by Nicole - Tea for Me Please (@teaformeplease) on

Monday, October 10, 2016

Podcast Episode 23: 4 Ways to Brew Loose Leaf Tea

September was an extremely busy month, both on the blog and personally. I was on my way to a wedding on October 1st when it dawned on me that I never actually made a podcast episode for the previous month. Oops! I've been trying to be more on track with that but one slips through the cracks every once in a while.

I've gotten a few requests lately for a video on how to brew loose leaf tea. Since most of my YouTube channel viewers are very new to tea, I decided to focus on some of the easiest ways to get started. All of these options can be found for less than $20 so they make tea super accessible for everyone, regardless of your resources or level of expertise.

I just recently got a tripod mount for my phone so I tried shooting the entire episode that way. I'm not really happy with the quality so I'll have to try tweaking some things for next time. Until then, I'd really appreciate it if you could subscribe to my channel directly on YouTube (even if you regularly view the videos here). Thank you!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Friday Round Up: October 2nd - October 8th

A Visit to Té Company New York
James fron T Ching wrote about his visit to one of my favorite NYC tea haunts. Té Company is the perfect place to share tea with a few friends. I have yet to try that infamous pineapple cookie but it sounds like I definitely need to soon!

Oolong Owl Hoots the 2016 Northwest Tea Festival
I've long been envious of the thriving tea culture that exists in the Pacific Northwest. This was the ninth year that they had a festival that total blew anything on the east coast out of the water. I love how to +Charissa Gascho doled out awards in her post based on waste buckets!

A Tiny Bit of Canadian Oolong in a Tiny Gaiwan
Giving up a piece a teaware can be hard. I finally decided to part with a few things and +Geoffrey Norman claimed a barely used, very tiny yellow gaiwan. It makes my heart happy to see that "Skippy" is in a good home and getting lots of tasty tea. I'm also a bit jealous because the little stinker got to try Canadian tea before I did.

Recipe: Matcha Iced Latte (Feat. Genuine Tea Matcha Uji)
Touch of Tea posted an easy to follow recipe for iced matcha lattes. I never thought of adding vanilla before but I think that would add a nice touch of creaminess. I still prefer to use my milk frother but mason jars are definitely handy in a pinch.

Autumn & Spring Harvest - Green Pu'er | Misty Peak Teas
Gabie at Tea End Blog posted a very thorough comparison of puerh that was harvested in two different seasons. She even included a video interview with Nicholas, the owner of Misty Peak Teas.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jefferies

Outside of my interest in tea, I am a voracious bookworm. My public transportation commute enables me to read over 100 books a year. Anytime that my passions can be combined is guaranteed to capture my attention. When I was contacted by Crown Publishing Group to review a new book called The Tea Planter's Wife, I jumped at the chance. Book reviews are tough for me to write because I want to gush and tell you everything. On the other hand, I don't want to spoil it for anyone before they have a chance to read it.

This story is set primarily on a tea plantation in 1920's Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka). That was all I needed to know that this book would be right up my alley. The main character, Gwendolyn, was likable yet flawed. I liked that because characters that are too perfect is one of my literary pet peeves. We all have faults and fictional people should reflect that. The story itself is not exactly about tea but it certainly is mentioned a lot along the way. The labor issues on plantations are also discussed in great detail.

Although the plot was somewhat predictable it was fairly fast paced for a novel spanning several years. I never found it slow or droning. In fact, I missed my subway stop a few times because I was so sucked in. There was an element of mystery that kept me turning pages right up until the very end. The time periods are totally different but I couldn't help but be reminded of the Tea House Mysteries series by Laura Childs. This book is the same sort of guilty pleasure reading for me.

There were a few details that might be considered scientifically unsound and this was highlighted by a few reviewers on Amazon. That being said the whole point of fiction is to create an imaginary world. Even if there are realistic elements, it is up to the reader to suspend disbelief in order to really experience the author's vision.

I would definitely recommend picking up this book if you enjoy romance novels. Funnily enough, I just loaded up my Kindle with similarly themed novels by two other authors so keep an eye out for reviews of those in the future!

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

Monday, October 3, 2016

Who Really Invented the Tea Bag?

New York City tea seller Thomas Sullivan is proclaimed as the inventor of the tea bag in nearly every tea book that I've ever read. I'm sure you've all heard the story too. I've seen the year listed differently depending on the source so let's just say it was around 1908. He had his wife sew tea samples into silk pouches before sending them off to customers. The recipients thought the tea was meant to be brewed in the sacks and the rest is history. Another version says that Thomas stumbled upon the idea when he received a sample from a Chinese vendor in a silk pouch.

Just like most events in tea lore (Shennong, et al.), I had a feeling that this was more fairytale than fact. A global game of telephone that stretches across centuries is bound to get a few details wrong. I know and love many of these legends yet I also take them with a grain of salt. For those who really want to know my advice is always to do research and draw your own conclusions.

According to William Uker's All About Tea, Volume 2 the first individual tea bag patent holder was A.V. Smith of London. I've done quite a bit of searching but I have not been able to back that up. However, I did find that Roberta Lawson and Mary Mclaren of Milwaukee, Wisconsin have old Thomas beat by a few years. They filed their patent for a mesh fabric tea bag in 1901 and it was granted in 1903. The following is an excerpt from the application.

Heretofore it has been common to prepare tea-the infusion so designated-by putting a quantity of tea-leaves in a pot and pouring hot water thereon,thus providing a considerable supply of tea, from which a cup of tea was to be poured or drawn off for individual use. This practice involves the use of a considerable quantity of tea-leaves to prepare the desired supply of tea, and the tea, if not used directly, soon becomes stale or wanting in freshness,and therefore unsatisfactory,and frequently a large portion of the tea thus prepared and not used directly has to be thrown away, thus involving much waste and corresponding expense. To obviate this, our object in the present invention is to provide means whereby a small quantity of tea, so much only as is required for a single cup of tea, can be placed in a cup and have water poured thereon to produce only a cup of tea fresh for immediate use.

Patent illustration for Lawson and Mclaren's tea bag

I've seen Mclaren frequently misspelled as Molaren but as any family tree researcher will tell you, this is mostly likely a result of human error and computerized transcriptions. Thomas Sullivan may not have been the inventor but as far as I can gather he may have been the first to successfully market tea bags. Why else would we all still remember his name? Given the time period, I'm also willing to bet that it was unlikely for two women to receive credit for inventing much of anything.

While we're on the topic of tea bags, I thought I'd also toss in this picture of tea bags from Uker's All About Tea. I, for one, am very glad that we're no longer using cellophane.

As I was writing this post, I couldn't help but smile and envision my friend +Robert Godden shaking his fist in the air, ranting about finally knowing who to blame for the invention of those blasted teab*gs. I'm sure those of you that know him will be doing the same.