Monday, December 17, 2007

I Know Why You Don't Like Green Tea

One of our major missions at the TeaSpot is education. We want our staff to be well-educated about tea and the process of making it, the different teas we offer, how to describe flavors, and of course the numerous health benefits of consuming premium, loose leaf teas. We also want to be able to share this knowledge with as many people that come through our door as possible. I have noticed that the majority of people ordering tea really aren’t sure what they want or what they like. I can totally relate to this conundrum, because before I was employed by the TeaSpot, my knowledge of tea was limited to the random selection of teabags that was offered at whatever restaurant where I was waiting tables at the time. Green, black, herbal…it was all the same to me.

In my 9-month tenure as the GM of the TeaSpot’s downtown retail location in Boulder, I have come across quite a few customers who, befuddled by the size and content of our tea list whilst trying to make a selection, look at me plaintively and say “I don’t like green tea, but what else can you recommend?”

One of the most important things to know about tea is that the water temperature that you use to steep your tea with is extremely important. Most customers that claim to have a mild or severe distaste for green tea had no idea that if boiling water is used to steep it, chances are it will turn out to be bitter and taste horrible. Considering most folks simply boil water then pour it over tea if they make it at home (which is what I do, albeit much more carefully now), it is not surprising that most people are making it incorrectly, and therefore not enjoying it. Using water that is cooler allows the tea to reach is perfect, peak flavor, as well as release the maximum amount of essential oils, vitamisn, and antioxidants. Using boiling water will scorch your tea; the taste will be bitter, and you will literally burn out those health benefits, which is probably why you’re attempting to drink the stuff in the first place, right?

So, for everyone’s education, here are the temperature guidelines that we use behind the counter to serve the perfect cup of tea:

Black and herbal teas: Boiling water (212˚F)
Green and white teas: 175˚
Mates and oolongs: 195˚

Since we don’t all have thermometers ready at hand to measure the temperature of our water (and if you do, well then use it), there are a few strategies one can use to bring water to an ideal temperature for brewing green tea. If you use an electric kettle like I do, the best thing to do is to plop a few ice cubes into the kettle after it has switched off. I have found that for one 16 ounce mug, one regular sized ice cube will do the trick perfectly; for mate or oolong just let the water sit for a few minutes before you pour it. For boiling water on the stove, simply cut the heat before the water shows signs of “dragon eyes,” when bubbles start to form and rise to the surface of the water. For mate or oolong tea, remove the water from the heat right after the water looks like a string of pearls; water bubbles following one another in a string to the surface of the water.

Making the perfect cup of a tea is a culinary challenge and delight. It’s a bit like yoga, sex, or running on the treadmill…it might not be perfect the first time, but the more you practice, the better it gets. Well, maybe not the treadmill, but you see what I’m saying: get in the kitchen and practice making that tea!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Decaf your Tea, Naturally...

Many people are very sensitive to caffeine which is way I want to inform people how to naturally decaffeinate tea. I highly recommend decaffeinating your tea through this process instead of buying decaffeinated tea because the process by which many tea companies decaffeinate tea is NOT natural. That being said, I recommend that you naturally decaffeinate your tea by the following process.
  1. Place the loose leaves or teabag in your cup or pot
  2. Pour the hot water over your tea
  3. Let the tea steep for 25-30 seconds (Note: 95% - 98% of the caffeine releases within the first 25-30 seconds of steeping)
  4. Take the loose leaves or teabag out of your cup or pot
  5. Throw that steeping away
  6. Re-steep the same tea
Caffeine is the first to release in tea and it releases within the first 25-30 seconds. The flavor & the Health benefits release after the first 40-45 seconds.

Another option for those of you that want the caffeine in the morning but don't later in the day...Steep your tea in the morning, save the same tea leaves and re-steep them later that day without the caffeine.

For those of you that are extremely sensitive to caffeine and can't have any, you should stick with herbal teas since those are naturally caffeine free.

Kickin' that coffee habit to the curb...

When I’m out in front of customers at a tasting, teaching a class, or just geeking out about tea in our downtown Boulder location, I inevitably get that familiar question, "what's the best tea for me to drink if I am trying to eliminate coffee from my morning routine?"

Well, as many folks might know, kickin' coffee ain't the easiest thing in the world. I myself love a rich and robust cup of Joe every now and then. And then as I’m five minutes into my afternoon stress reaction with nothing in my stomach I quickly remember why I no longer drink coffee. Nonetheless, I readily admit that I was a coffee drinker long before I re-invented myself as a “tea snob”. Not to worry though… you won’t find me tipping my pinky finger or wearing a funny red hat as I enjoy my tea.

I digress...

So what I really try to emphasize with folks looking to wean their coffee habits are two things...

First and foremost, if you are going to start drinking tea as a replacement to coffee than I would highly suggest starting with whole leaf teas in loose form. The vast majority of tea bags simply will not yield the same flavor or taste as whole leaf teas. With that being said, a good majority of wanna-be converts express to me that "tea just doesn't have enough flavor" or "enough body" to replace their morning cup of coffee.

"Well, young grasshopper," I exclaim, "that's because you need to experience tea in its true form! Try keepin’ loose and see what happens!" Okay… maybe a similar message but in not so many words.

But the important thing to consider is that whole leaf teas in loose form inherently yield a tastier experience than the broken leaves, dust, and fannings found in the majority of tea bags. Why? Because whole leaf teas retain their essential oils and those oils are the precursors to great flavor and taste in ANY
cup of tea... and Lord knows that we all could use a little additional “flava” in our daily routines! Tea bags consist primarily of the smallest parts of the tea plant (dust & fannings) that are typically left over after tea has been processed. In addition, tea bags can contain other parts of the tea plant (twigs, stems, etc.) that are often ground up and milled with the leaves during processing. I mean, truly... do you honestly think that you can get flavor that even comes close to that of coffee out of a tea bag containing broken leaves, dust, fannings, twigs, etc?

I didn’t think so.

So, first recommendation is always, always start with tea in it’s loose and whole leaf form. Ultimatley, the additional flavor and taste that you gain from whole leaf teas will give you a bit of a head start in that struggle with your coffee habit.

And the second recommendation that I always make to those coffee drinkers trying to kick their daily cup(s) with the aide of tea is to start with a rich, robust, and full-bodied blend of black tea. Typically a blend like English or Irish Breakfast that uses Assam as the base tea will produce good solid results. Assam teas are grown in the Northeastern region of India and are primarily known for their full body, brisk flavor, malty aromas, and strong, bright colors.

For my own experience, that Assam based tea became our own Bolder Breakfast Blend. This particular tea is a blend of six different black teas including Assam and Pu erh. Some earthy, some chocolatey (I think that I just invented a word), and some malty in their aroma and taste. But what I found is that a cup of Bolder Breakfast Blend (or BBB as we sometimes affectionately refer to it) provided me with enough body, plenty of flavor and taste, and sufficient caffeine (50 – 60 mg per 8 oz. cup) to eventually kick my own coffee habit. Oh… and did I mention that this tea is also the first thing that I reach for after a long night of ummmmm let’s just call them “shenanigans” on the town? Yep… BBB is quite the hangover cure too. I hope that all of you CU students are reading this and taking notes.

Finally, I think that it’s worth noting that I also credit this tea with one other thing. Now, I know what you’re thinking but the truth of the matter is that BBB had nothing to do whatsoever with introducing me to my current girlfriend. Oh wait… I’m daydreaming… again.

But in all honesty Bolder Breakfast was my first true introduction to a number of different black teas including Assams, Ceylons, and my all-time favorite “comfort tea”, Pu erh. And for that, as well as its integral role in curing my coffee cravings, I am forever grateful.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Why Choose Loose Leaf Tea?

Tea ranks higher than most fruits and vegetables in antioxidant potential and Vitamin C and K content. Antioxidants work to “mop up” free radicals from our body’s cells. They prevent and repair damage done by these free radicals. Free radicals can accelerate aging and damage your DNA. They are produced in large quantities when the body is exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun, all other forms of radiation, car exhaust, industrial fumes and cigarette smoke. Health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, Cancer and the aging process are all contributed to by oxidative damage.
Recent studies have shown that tea prepared using tea bags had significantly lower antioxidant capacity than leaf tea (ref. May 2000 issue of International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition) and instant powdered, bottled, decaffeinated, herbal teas, extracts or tea pills have even fewer or none of the powerful antioxidant properties of loose teas. These use hand-picked whole leaves while tea bags usually use machine gathered and cut leaves or just the "dust" from the tea leaf. This makes regular tea bags produce fewer antioxidants and more caffeine than loose teas. Another factor to consider is bleach residue, which usually remains on tea bags. And finally, the research and studies done on tea are based on loose leaf tea (green, white, black, pu-erh and oolong tea).

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Keepin' It Loose!

Welcome to the TeaSpot's “Keepin' it Loose!” blog. A woman-owned & operated company, we strive to enlighten our customers about the health benefits of loose leaf teas. Our company's products are a passionate fusion of tea, technology and design. In developing exceptional products for everyday use, our goal is to make tea a simple luxury that’s easy to integrate for a healthier lifestyle. "Keepin' it Loose!" is not only what we advocate you do with your tealeaves, but a mantra for how to live every day.

The time is right to make tea time easy, relaxing and fun. The new millennium finds us yearning for a calming beverage to soothe our senses, and help us take better care of our health. We want tea not just in bags, but tea that comes loose and requires some cool equipment and even a dash of personal ceremony to brew.

What we hope to achieve with these converstations is a broader understanding of what "Keepin' It Loose!" means to you -- how has tea time shaped your day today, your afternoons, your life? With your valuable input, we hope to gleam some insight on what our greater tea community would like to see in the future, what we can do to better serve you. More importantly, however, we hope that this sharing of information will enlighten and enliven those who come across it.