Monday, February 29, 2016

Global Tea Hut: December 2015 - Old Grove


I was really excited for the December issue of Tea & Tao from +Global Tea Hut because Liu Bao is a tea that I never had a chance to experience before. Looking at the leaves you might think that it was a cooked puerh. That guess would be close but not quite on the mark. Liu Bao is a dark tea produced in Guangxi rather than Yunnan. The fermented leaves are pressed into baskets and then exported to Malaysia and Hong Kong. I was really fascinated reading about how intimately the story of this tea is woven with the story of Cantonese miners. Old Grove kept me company while I waited out the winter storm that was Jonas. The taste was earthy, sweet and very warming. Being snowed in my boyfriend and some excellent tea was my idea of a perfect weekend.

The gift was a pretty little glass ingot. It's a symbol frequently found in Chinese culture that represents prosperity. We could all use a bit of that! For this month's envelope I experimented with some new lenses that I bought for my phone. They looked a lot better on my phone than they did once I uploaded them! It doesn't hurt to try something new but I definitely think I'll be going back to my regular camera next time around. I'm locking down expenses because of my upcoming trip to World Tea Expo so I had to make the decision to unsubscribe from "the hut". I miss it already and I know that I'll be back but a tea drinker has got to do what she's got to do.





Friday, February 26, 2016

Friday Round Up: February 22nd - February 27th

Ocha no Sato World Tea Museum
If I'm ever able to travel to Japan I know that I will definitely be using Heather's blog as a reference on all of the must see places. Her in depth look at this museum is Shizuoka definitely made me want to visit!

Global Tea Hut’s January Tea Club — TeaDB James InBetweenIsode Episode #70
James of +Tea DB takes a look at +Global Tea Hut, one of my favorite tea subscription services. His comments are pretty on par with my experience with them.

The Art of the Korean Tea Ceremony
+sara shacket went to an amazing event recently in NYC. Her pictures do a great job of highlighting the beauty and grace of darye. The Korean tea ceremony definitely deserves more attention.

Dealing with Traditionally Stored Teas
MarshalN gives us some great pointers on how to handle traditionally stored teas. I don't drink these often since I don't really enjoy the taste as much as dry stored teas. It's still good to know what to do if I ever have this situation come up.

A Treasure Trove of Japanese Teas
+Brett Boynton wrote about an awesome event put together by Heather Porter and +Cinnabar Wright. The Wakocha that they served at the event definitely sounds like it's up my alley.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Four Seasons Tea Co. Mu Ben Da Hong Pao

Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: large, dark and somewhat curled
Ingredients: oolong tea
Steep time: ranging from 6-60 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: dark amber

This tea came to me in a round about way as they often do. +Geoffrey Norman wrote about it first and I was green with oolong envy. That was when +Tony Gebely let me know that he had actually already sent an email introduction between Jeff from Four Seasons Tea and myself. Somehow it went to old address but we were able to get that all sorted out. At first glance it looks like this tea is exorbitantly pricey but it's probably about as close as any of us outside of China could ever get to the "original" mother trees. I've said it before and I'll say it again, truly good tea is worth paying for! The aroma of the dry leaves was intoxicating. We're talking nose fully in the gaiwan kind of good. Following their brewing directions, I was surprised at how dark the liquor was after just six seconds. The taste was everything that I love about yancha but with something extra that I had a hard time describing. A mineral and slightly toasty background gave way to sweet floral notes.It lingered my palate for a deliciously long time. I had to run a few errands after this tea session and found myself still enjoying the aromas long after I had finished my last sip.  I've been quoted (by Sir +Geoffrey Norman) as describing Wuyi oolongs as "cliffy". This one took that aspect to a whole other level. I couldn't help but think of wet river rocks. It was nothing like the yucky, slimy ones we have here in NJ. Childhood summers spent splashing in a rather clean section of the Shenandoah River were what came to mind. Cliff teas are not always known for giving up lots of infusions but I got the full recommend eleven steeps out of this one. I highly recommend giving this one a try, even if that means just picking up a single 8g pack.

Mu Ben Da Hong Pao sample provided by Four Seasons Tea.

A photo posted by Nicole Martin (@teaformeplease) on

Monday, February 22, 2016

Why Microwaving Tea is a Bad Idea


I get asked a lot about whether you should microwave water for tea. It took a while for me to post about because I was worried about unintentionally offending someone. For that reason, I'll put in a disclaimer right now: tea is best consumed how you prefer it! That being said my goal is always to make the best cup of tea possible. Of course, there are times when we aren't in a position to make tea in an ideal way. I've used hotel room coffee makers, my mother's soup pots and any number of improvised methods when I had to. When you're at home though I would never recommend microwaving your tea. Here are my reasons why:

They Aren't the Cleanest of Places

I can't help but think of microwaves as a gross place in general. Despite our best intentions they are often covered in sauce splatter and who knows what else. My ex-boyfriend frequently used his to warm up canned cat food. When they do get dirty, we often use caustic chemicals to clean them. Do you really want all of that going into your tea?

Lack of Control

Different types of tea can require various water temperatures. Every microwave model is different but the one thing they all have in common is that we are not able to control the exact temperature of the water that is being heated. Although you could certainly use a thermometer to check the water afterwards I would would much rather use a variable temperature electric kettle.

Superheated Water

Microwaves pose a potential danger of superheating water.  I've seen some websites claim that this is not true however I've seen it happen myself. Snopes also agrees with me. Placing something non-metallic like a wooden chopstick into the cup can help avoid this happening but I'd rather be safe than sorry.

It Just Doesn't Taste the Same

It could very well all be in my head but I just don't enjoy tea that was made with microwaved water as much as stove-top or kettle heated water. There's lots of sites out there where this question was asked but I haven't been able to find a definitive reason why. Some theories suggest that the amount of dissolved oxygen is reduced, creating a flatter tasting cup.


It Makes That Weird Froth On Top

Since microwaved water lacks a nucleation point for air bubbles, it tends to make a weird froth on the surface of your cup once a tea bag or sugar is added to the cup. You all know what I'm talking about. I just can't bring myself to enjoy a frothy cuppa unless the tea in question is matcha.

What do you think about microwaving water for tea? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Friday Round Up: February 14th - February 20th

Golden Tea Leaf - Honey Red Jade Tea
Lately I seem to have a bit of an obsession with honey aroma teas. Marzipan over at TeaLover.Net wrote about a new favorite of mine. This tea was so good!

Badass Tea Instagrammers of Russia, Latvia, and Belarus
Most tea drinkers on Instagram have probably noticed a large number of their followers are from Eastern Europe. +Tony Gebely put together a great list of those that you should be following.

“The Book of Tea,” by Kakuzo Okakura
The Book of Tea is a classic that I frequently return to. Mel Had Tea said in her review this week that it reminder her of scrolling through the Tumblr of a well-read 1900s philosophy student obsessed with tea.

Toronto Tea Festival 2016 Recap and Thoughts
+Lu Ann Pannunzio gave us a great recap of the Toronto Tea Festival. I've got to say that this NYC girl is a bit jealous of the thriving tea culture that is developing to the north. It sounds like such a good time!

Roasted Oolong Tea & Pear Baked Oatmeal
If I had to a pick just one blogger's recipes to live off of that blogger would definitely be +Alexis Siemons. If you haven't already, I highly suggest picking up her quarterly journal, with tea. This Da Hong Pao infused oatmeal would definitely hit the spot on a chilly morning.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Mandala Tea Heart of the Old Tree 2012

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

+Mandala Tea is one of my go to's for puerh because they consistently source high quality private label teas. Their smaller cakes provide a chance to explore without breaking the piggy bank, especially for someone who is just getting started. Heart of the Old Tree is one that I had heard a lot about so I was excited to give it a try. The leaves were large and mostly whole with a nice shine to them. It had been far too long since I've been able to have any puerh and this one really hit the spot. Right off the bat my senses were flooded with notes of clove and honey with an apricot-like juiciness. Later infusions brought a very interesting floral aroma. Needless to say, I was smitten. This is a tea that keeps on giving. I did at least fifteen consecutive infusions before tapping out. I covered the gaiwan afterwards and squeezed out a few more in the morning.

This tea represents many of things that I love about Mandala Tea and why I'm a total fangirl. Their website provides a ton of in depth information about every tea that they carry. A good portion of their puerh is custom pressed by them rather than being made by large factories. It's not that there is anything wrong with factory tea but I rest a bit easier knowing that they have that level of control over the final end product. The village where the tea is grown is clearly listed and  there's even pictures of Garret hiking with the grower. I also love that they used a local artist to design the gorgeous wrapper. Hear of the Old Tree will definitely be on my wishlist for my next order.

Heart of the Old Tree 2012 samples provided by Mandala Tea.




Monday, February 15, 2016

5 Buzz Words Tea Companies Should Stop Using


After drinking tea for so many years there are some buzz words used by tea companies that really get my goat. Time and time again they are used in a way that deceives or misleads the consumer. The simple truth of the matter is that all of these terms are devoid of any real meaning. In some cases the root cause is ignorance. I often see vendors who take their wholesaler's word for it. There are others who are fully aware that their teas are not what they say they are yet they continue to market them as they see fit.

Rare

Definition: seldom occurring or found
If a tea is being sold by an retailer it is therefore impossible for it to be rare. I most often see this word used in reference to white tea and puerh. There are more companies selling these two types of tea than I could possibly name. I don't care if it's the fanciest silver needle or "monkey picked" whatever, your tea is not rare so stop telling people that it is! Now I'm not saying that rare teas don't exist in the world. They definitely do but they are not likely to be seen outside of the geographic areas where they are produced.

Ancient

Definition: having the qualities of age or long existence
Puerh companies are most often guilty of using this buzz word. Verifying the actual age of the trees that a tea is produced from is next to impossible. Chances are that any given cake is made up of a blend of leaves from multiple locations. That doesn't stop companies from claiming that their mass produced, plantation farmed tea was grown on trees that are thousands of years old. Yunnan locals have even been caught putting up fake signs declaring how old their trees supposedly are. Don't fall for the hype guys!

Diet

Definition: a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one's weight
As a woman I find it really offensive when companies market to me about dieting, especially when those claims are unfounded. If tea really caused the amount of weight loss that is attributed to it, I would practically disappear because I drink so much of it. Tea is a healthy lifestyle choice and it can compliment an already balanced meal plan. It is not a magic cure that will suddenly cause the pounds to drop off.

Detox

Definition: to remove a poisonous or harmful substance
The legend of Shen Nong aside, tea will not in any way remove poison or other harmful substances. Tea does not and cannot cleanse your digestive system, organs or any other body parts. Tea does contain antioxidants which MAY help fight the oxidation that naturally occurs in our bodies. This does not make it a miracle health tonic. Tea will not make up for your hangover or any other poor life choices.

Natural

Definition: existing in nature and not made or caused by people, not having any extra substances or chemicals added
Natural is a seemingly innocuous word but its definition is often stretched to mean many things, especially when it comes to tea. If anything is added to the tea it is no longer natural as far as I am concerned. That is not necessarily a bad thing but it is difficult for the consumer to know exactly what it is that they are drinking. The required labeling of natural vs artificial flavoring is vague at best.

Are there any buzz words that you think should be on this list? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Friday Round Up: February 7th - February 13th

Podcast 028: The Tea Crane
+Ricardo Caicedo's podcast is always thoughtfully curated. I love that the world of Japanese tea is so complex! This is his second interview with Tyas from +The Tea Crane.

Bir and Tea
Until I'm able to venture out into the world I live vicariously through the tea travels of other people. Sharad over at om•qi•zen shared a bit about his visit to Kangra.

Tea Drunk Vs. Actual Drunk
+Geoffrey Norman did an awesome collaboration with his cousin Jason Norman. They put together a little comic strip comparing tea drunks like us to regular ol' run of the mill drunks. Hilarity ensued.

DAVIDsTEA Honey Black
New to me blogger Michelle of One More Steep reviewed a tea that I've been addicted to lately. This stuff has been discontinued so make sure that you scoop some up while you still can. It's so good!

Kilns for Firing a Yixing Teapot
Jason of Cult of Quality shared some very in depth information about the different methods for firing yixing clay teapots. The diagram of a snake kiln was fascinating.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Dachi Tea Co. Oriental Beauty Oolong

Country of Origin: Taiwan
Leaf Appearance: varied green and brown with silver tips
Ingredients: oolong tea
Steep time: 40 seconds
Water Temperature: 185 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: amber

Oriental Beauty, aka Bai Hao oolong, is one of my favorite types of Taiwanese teas. It's one of the few teas that is organic by necessity (at least in the summer) because it requires that the leaves be bitten by leaf hopper insects. I know that might sound a bit gross but bugs chewing on your tea is a very good thing! It starts a slow oxidation process before the leaves are even picked, creating unique flavors and aromas. The leaves of this particular bug bitten offering from +Dachi Tea Co. were big and beautiful. I couldn't resist a quickie photo shoot in between infusions. Immediately after taking my first sip I couldn't help but exclaim out loud, "Holy crap, that's good!. The body was delicate yet very complex. Notes of raw sugar and cinnamon danced around a juicy grape-like quality. It wasn't quite a Darjeeling level of muscatel but it was very close to it. The mouthfeel was relatively thick and viscous, especially on the first two rounds. The finish had a pleasant sweetness balanced by just the slightest hint of astringency. One of the things that I like most about Dachi Tea Co. is the depth of information that they provide about their teas. Everything from basics like elevation and level of oxidation to profiles of the tea producers. I think that is something every tea company should strive for.

Oriental Beauty Oolong sample provided by Dachi Tea Co.

A photo posted by Nicole Martin (@teaformeplease) on




Monday, February 8, 2016

Global Tea Hut: November 2015 - Mountain Rain

I'm so behind on sharing my +Global Tea Hut experiences with you guys! Better late than never I suppose. I was excited about this one as soon as I saw envelopes popping up on my Instagram feed. Dian Hong is one of my absolutely favorite types of tea and every one that I have tried from Global Tea Hut has been awesome. 2014's Golden Vajra and Daughter of the Forest are still the penultimate in my book but Mountain Rain was still a very nice tea. The dry leaves were beautifully curled with lots of golden tips. There was plenty of leaf for experimentation so I brewed this tea in a gaiwan, kyusu and in a bowl. Although I usually prefer bowl brewing I found that I most enjoyed the kyusu brewed version. Go figure. The taste was earthy and malty. Slight astringency was balanced by a sweet lingering aftertaste. A lighter than usual degree of oxidation made it bit lighter bodied than what I am used to. It was a very warming tea, perfect for enjoying after a long and chilly commute.

The gift that was included in this month's envelope was a very handy little bamboo coaster. It worked perfectly for my side handled teapot. These little doodads that they send are great for setting up cha xi, basically a stage for your tea. The environment that we drink our tea in can add a lot to the enjoyment of it. Tea & Tao magazine's theme this time around focused on tea and the feminine. It's an interesting topic in part because I find a lot of people here in the U.S. consider tea to be a feminine past time. Reading about Tien Wu's experiences of serving tea to women's circles really hit home for me. Although there's plenty of fellas that I nerd out and enjoy tea with, I definitely have many more ladies with whom I have deeply connected with because of tea. Being a fan of Petr Novak's work, I was really intrigued by his article. Rather than being about his own work, he tells the story of his partner Mirka.








Friday, February 5, 2016

Friday Round Up: February 7th - February 13th

Interview with TJ Williamson of The World Tea podcast
Connor of T Ching did a great interview with +TJ W of World Tea Podcast. Who knew that skiing could lead to a passion for tea?

Bug-bitten teas: why are leafhoppers only sometimes a good thing?
+Eric Scott (who contributed an awesome article to the latest issue of Tea for Me Please Quarterly) wrote a thorough and informative post about bug bitten teas on +Tea Geek.

3 Leaf Tea: Wild Pu'erh Buds (Ya Bao): A Tea Review
I always enjoy +Amanda Wilson's tea reviews. This one reminded me that I haven't had any Ya Bao in far too long.

It's a New Day!
After blogging about tea for so many years, it can be easy to lose sight of why we became passionate about tea in the first place. +Darlene Meyers-Perry's declaration about changing the way she blogs was inspiring. She took the words right out of my mouth!

New York City Moments
+Jen Piccotti shared a bit about her visit to NYC. I was supposed to have joined in the adventure but was under the weather that day so I had to stay home. I'm so glad that she had a good time.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

How to Make Tea by Brian Keating and Kim Long

I'm always excited when I hear about new tea books so I couldn't resist snapping this one up when I had an Amazon credit to use up. These days I mostly read on my Kindle but I sprung for the hardcover since it was only a bit more. The size is adorably portable and I love the sturdy and well made construction. I commute a lot by train and it's nice to be able to stick a book in my bag without having to worry about it falling apart. Even the paper was nicer than what I've seen lately!

At just 160 pages it was a fairly quick and easy read. What it lacked in photographs it made up for with darling line art drawings. The ones on the botany of the tea plant were particularly eye catching. They reminded me that I still need to get that botanical print tea tattoo that I've been procrastinating about. The biochemical breakdown of tea and the decaffeination process also got my tea nerd juices flowing. I also loved that they discussed the inaccuracy of teaspoon as a unit of measurement. The inclusion of gongfu brewing methods was also an exciting thing to see. I'm a firm believer that everyone should learn about gaiwans right from the start! The world of tea is infinitely massive. While it's impossible for one book to cover every possible topic, this one does a pretty good job of covering its bases.

Of course, no book is perfect. There's a few things that needled at me as I leafed through what would be otherwise be a very enjoyable read. The tea processing step chart completely leaves out both yellow tea and puerh. Puerh is then relegated to a single page and it repeats the myth that it is rare and "aged in darkness for decades". There is a chart on the shelf life of tea that stops at around five years which even contradicts that. There is a very similarly designed book called How to Make Coffee from the same publisher but by a different author. I don't know the authors but I couldn't help but feel that this was a tea book put together by coffee people. I could be wrong about that but it's the impression that I got.

You can find out more about this book here.

Monday, February 1, 2016

What Makes Tea Bitter?

All tea (Camellia Sinensis that is) naturally contains substances that can produce bitterness in the brewed cup. When people say that a tea is bitter, they are most likely referring to astringency. This is usually described as a dry, mouth puckering feeling. Astringency has different levels and for many types of tea, particularly black teas for the western market, it is a desired trait.

Caffeine in its pure state is extremely bitter. There is probably more research on this when it comes to coffee but that's not really my forte. The amount that ends up in your cup can vary widely between teas. Contrary to popular belief the type of tea really doesn't determine how much caffeine there is in the final product. There are a lot of factors including how much rainfall the tea plants received, when the leaves were harvested and the quality of the soil in which it was grown. Catechins and other polyphenols (including trace amounts of tannins) are also major contributors to bitterness in tea. That's right, antioxidants! Flavanols, also known tannins, are converted to thearubigins during enzymatic oxidation in black tea. They are present in other tea types but in lower numbers. Higher amounts of tannins can cause a tea to be perceived as bitter. Tannins have no relation to tannic acid so don't worry, tea will not turn your insides into leather. However, there is some evidence that they can interfere with the absorption of nutrients so drinking tea with food isn't always recommended.

Now you might ask yourself, how do I prevent my tea from tasting bitter? There's a few factors that are most likely the culprit.

1. Reduce the amount of leaf that you are using.
The general rule when it comes to loose leaf tea is 1 teaspoon for every 8oz of water. That being said, teaspoons are a rather inexact unit of measure. Every tea is a bit different because they come in a variety of shapes. When it comes to gongfu brewing methods, I will use about 5-8g of leaf in an average sized gaiwan,

2. Lower your water temperature.
It often surprises people when I tell them that certain types of tea require different water temperatures. This is especially important when it comes to green tea. The lower your water temperature, the less bitterness there will be. Hot water extracts other important components so don't go too far but experiment with bringing it down a notch. Cold brewing will reduce the astringency even further.

3. Reduce your steep time.
Brewing your tea for too long will also cause bitterness. I can't tell you how many people I talk to at work who have no idea that they need to actually remove the leaves from the water. The longer your tea brews, the more bitter it will be. Start with the time recommended by the company where you purchased your tea and then adjust to personal taste from there.

4. Keep your tea whole.
Tea bags work because the small particles have an increased surface area that comes into contact with the water. This extracts color and flavor very quickly. The same can be said of whole tea leaves that get crushed or broken. If finishing up the remnants at the bottom of a tin, I recommend reducing your steep time accordingly.

5. Buy better tea!
Last but not least, it's very possible that the tea you are trying to salvage just isn't very good. There is nothing that will fix old, cheap or low quality tea leaves. I promised that I'm not saying that to be a tea snob. Drink what you like. But if you don't like what you are drinking, it's a great motivation to upgrade your selections