Tuesday, December 30, 2008
To make infused vodka – pour 6 oz vodka into a mason jar and add 1 tsp tea leaves, herbs or spices. Let sit in a cool, dark place for 2-3 weeks. Strain and pour into serving bottles. Chill well before serving. Finished product will keep in the freezer for at least 6 months. Generally, the black tea-infused vodkas and the Rooibos were the best.
Oolong-infused vodka – OK, but the whole is less than the sum of the parts. Seems like a silly compromise of two great products.
Red Rocks Vodka – Rooibos infused. Smooth, sleek and awesomely RED.
Darjeeling Vodka – same result as with the Oolong – not really worth the mix!
White Tea Vodka – Um… no. You’ll taste too much of it trying to find the flavor.
Green Tea Vodka – Pretty good, but use twice the amount of tea leaves as recommended, to try to make the overall drink smoother.
Very Black Vodka – my personal favorite! Infused with Pu-erh or Bolder Breakfast You’d never know you weren’t sipping a tiny tea cup of very very black tea!
Lemon Balm Vodka – OK, but haven’t figured out how to make it smooth – a bit rough going down.
Rose Bud Vodka – I’m the only one who drank this - but I thought it made a great chocolate martini. (Everyone else thought it smelled too much like bath lotion).
Peppercorn Vodka – Strong. Not many fans.
Honey Peppercorn Vodka – doesn’t make it much better.
Basil Vodka – very nice. And the leaves look so nice in the bottle.
Mint Vodka – I made 3 different kinds, and again, not many takers!
Oregano Vodka – Also rough, albeit the leaves look very pretty in there…
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Which brings me to my all-time favorite herbal tea – RED tea, aka South African Rooibos, Bush tea (no relation to our 40th or 42nd President), and Redbush tea. Rooibos (pronounced roy-boss), is grown only in the Cedarburg mountain area outside Capetown in South Africa. Its needle-like leaves are well suited to its arid home. It is harvested manually during the summer, at which point it is still green. Oxidation is essential in order to enhance the flavor of the tea and this turns the tea leaves bright red.
Rooibos is one of today’s hottest trends in the tea industry. This faintly sweet red tea is unique because it contains health benefits while being naturally caffeine free and low in tannin, thus allowing iron absorption. Rooibos contains almost no tannins, but has many replenishing minerals including iron, potassium, copper, alpha-hydroxy and zinc. It is rich in antioxidants, the substances that combat free radicals in the body. It works as an anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergen. Rooibos tea has also been shown to soothe the body's reaction to allergies and rashes. At an herbal store, you'll probably find Rooibos under the name "Herbal Allergy tea" due to this natural allergy-fighting quality. Its anti-spasmodic agents can relieve stomach pains and cramps.
Rooibos tea not only acts as your personal helping hand in fighting allergies and ailments, it is also perfectly suited for growing babies, young children, active teenagers, parents and grandparents alike... My recommendation for children is to brew it hot, ice it, and blend with a bit of cranberry juice. You don't need much cran. Being a good source of vitamins and minerals, it can be used as a natural supplement. It also makes a great thirst quencher iced.
And lastly, Rooibos is a most versatile and remarkable tea for pairing with meals. In particular for strong cuisines, such as Italian and Mexican, that don’t come from a traditional tea region, Rooibos pairs smoothly and deliciously, hot or iced. Personally, I enjoy this healthful infusion with a splash of foamed milk or cream – and it’s the first drink I go for anytime I need a calming brew. Images of The Ladies’ No. 1 Detective Agency (by Zimbabwean-born author Alexander McCall Smith) protagonist Precious Ramotswe, the only female P.I. in Botswana, sharing a cup of bush tea with a friend or client while working a case, shine through and linger with me long after I’ve finished my cup of RED ROCKS tea…
Monday, September 22, 2008
Many of us love to start our day with tea. Just tea! The variety of choices here is as wide as the world of tea… many people like to start their day with a green or an Oolong tea, but there are others of us who prefer to hit the morning hours with a nice strong pot of Pu’erh, Assam, or Breakfast Blend. Some of this choice has to do with flavor preferences, but it also has to do with just how much astringency we can deal with first thing. As many times as I’ve tried to kick off my early morning yoga with a green tea ritual, it’s just not something my stomach is prepared to do before having something to eat.Pu’erh, on the other hand, feels like a warm velvet blanket to me.
The traditional breakfast teas and blends are made of black teas. With pronounced tannins and a strong finish, they’re excellent with full-flavored traditional breakfast foods. And of course, getting one’s mind kick-started with a nice black tea is often helpful…
With lighter breakfast foods, such as a continental breakfast of rolls, fruit, cereal and toast, the standards are Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling, Kenyan and Nilgiri black teas. For a more robust breakfast that might include eggs, meats and cheese, you can pair easily with the above-mentioned favorites. Or, you can choose to go with even stronger or scented teas as well – Scottish or Irish Breakfast Blends, Earl Grey, and Pu-erh can all stand their own to even the strongest tasting cheeses. My personal favorite with bacon and eggs is a Green Pu-erh…. In fact, I’ll drink this tea just to remind me of eggs and bacon when I can’t have those.
And lastly, we would be remiss if we failed to mention one of Pu‘erh’s better-known features, as an excellent hangover cure, making it the beverage of choice for an otherwise painfully slow morning! Pu’erh is very smooth in taste, and even darker than black tea. It has been shown to cut through grease (and cholesterol), help digestion, warm you, help produce saliva and shake thirst, dispel the effects of alcohol, and refresh your mind. For those reasons, when we developed our own “Bolder Breakfast” blend, Pu’erh tea was chosen as the central ingredient.
Monday, September 1, 2008
Tea drinking practices are analogous to wine drinking practices, in that we change drinks at a non-alcohol meal (such as breakfast) in the same way we switch between an aperitif and white or red wine at a meal later on in the day. Many people start their mornings with a glass of juice or lemon water, and then switch to coffee or tea. Today’s tea drinkers are getting so sophisticated that many drink more than one type of tea during the day. This is, of course, in part because there are so many different varieties of tea available. The most discerning tea drinkers sometimes ask for two or three different teas at one meal.
People have discovered that a stronger, smokier tea is better with cheese or eggs, whereas a lighter or green or white tea is usually superior with pastries. It’s exactly like learning that red or white wine goes better with some foods than others. For instance, last weekend, we served iced oolong (re-steeped after infusing the rice) with a hand-rolled sushi dinner. It was exquisite… after years of serving only Japanese green teas with sushi, it was a delightful accidental discovery –the oolong was able to accent up and complement the wide diversity of flavors far better than a straight green tea does. Also, serving an iced beverage at this summer evening party was definitely the way to go!
Even though we don’t often give it much consideration, we pair tea with food every day. Some people may start the day timidly, with a weak cup of black tea and dry toast, and others might start the day boldly with a strong mug of black tea and a well-buttered roll. Tea has evolved for thousands of years along with regional cuisine to be the drink that goes along with meals. It is no surprise, therefore that it pairs well with foods! Like a small mid-course or palate cleanser, tea also works as a flavor bridge from one course to the next. As more people adopt tea into their daily ritual, they discover that by pairing certain teas with specific foods, not only is the flavor of the food enhanced, but the quality of the tea is highlighted. Experiment and enjoy – you’ll find that when paired with the appropriate dish, tea helps to complete the flavor journey of that dish!
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Calling all people in the Chicago area....
Flavor Fest 2008 is coming up soon, Aug. 23rd & 24th (11am-9pm Sat & 11am-8pm Sun). For those who don't know, it's Chicago's Natural Food & Lifestyle Festival, located at the intersection of Webster & Racine this year. The event is *free* to the public! And should be full of lots of great give-aways! You can catch live music by The Smithereens on Saturday & English Beat on Sunday.
Stop by our booth and meet Karen, our Co-Founder / Tea Chef / Head of Sales extraordinaire!
Monday, August 11, 2008
Tea, red wine, chocolate, blueberries, asparagus, and other fruits and vegetables are rich in flavonoids, a type of polyphenolic antioxidant. Lucky for us (since those are all so tasty!) diets rich in flavonoids have displayed positive effects on an array of chronic diseases including heart disease, certain cancers, and Type 2 diabetes. Tea is a potent source of flavonoids, and tea drinkers have been observed to have 20 times higher levels of flavonoids than non-tea drinkers. Overall, tea has particularly high concentrations of polyphenols which have antioxidant, anticancer, antibacterial, and antiviral characteristics.
Despite the diversity in appearance & flavors, all tea comes from the same evergreen plant, Camellia sinensis. Different categories of tea (white, yellow, green, oolong, black, and pu'erh) are created by the way the leaves are processed. The major delineator in tea categories is the level of oxidation that the leaves are subject to, following this general pattern:
- White – unwilted, unoxidized (0% oxidized)
- Yellow – unwilted, unoxidized, but “yellowed” by low steam (0% ox.)
- Green – wilted, unoxidized (0% ox.)
- Oolong – wilted, bruised, partially oxidized (20-80% ox.)
- Black – wilted, crushed, fully oxidized (100% ox.)
- Pu’erh – traditionally, green tea that is fermented/composted (0% ox.)
– modern methods speed up “aging” by fermenting black tea (100% ox.)
Oxidation of the tea leaves changes the appearance and aroma of the leaves, the flavor profile of the tea you drink, and also changes the form of polyphenols in the leaves. As tea oxidizes the simple polyphenols are converted into more complex forms; specifically, with increased oxidation catechins levels decrease while theaflavins and thearubigins increase. So, white tea has the highest level of catechins, followed by green tea, oolong, and black. Conversely, black teas contain high levels of theaflavins and thearubigins, followed by oolong, green & white.
Health Benefits, CliffNotes Version:
Different polyphenols appear to offer different health benefits. There is a growing volume of research on teas' effects on humans, so here is the cliff notes version for the bulk that I've read... Catechins, found in white and green teas, are gaining special attention for their anti-inflammatory and cancer fighting abilities. One catechin, EGCG, is being studied extensively for its potential effects on cancer and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and HIV-associated dementia. Oolongs and pu'erhs are being studied for their weightloss mechanisms. Black tea consumption is corrolated to decreased risk of heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. While multiple studies suggest that daily green tea drinking significantly decreases our risk of many cancers including skin, ovarian, breast, prostate, colon, stomach, and oral among others. However, there are still some studies with conflicting results, which calls for more clinical research on humans.
Health Benefits, Extended Remix:
Different polyphenols offer us different health benefits, thus you'll receive a variety of benefits from drinking a range of teas. Catechins, found in white and green teas, are gaining special attention for their anti-inflammatory and cancer fighting abilities. One particular catechin EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate) is being studied extensively for its potential effects on cancer and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and HIV-associated dementia. These studies are looking into the effectiveness of EGCG in the prevention as well as treatment of these diseases. One Japanese study also found that EGCG was an effective inhibitor of allergic response. It was suggested that the EGCG compound blocked the production of histamine and immunoglobulin, two compounds that trigger and sustain allergic reactions in the body. So when you get the sniffles during spring, you might try this home remedy for clearing up your sinuses. (Here’s links to our whites & greens: Snowflakes, Meditative Mind, Boulder Blues, Green Roasted Mint)
Oxidative stress also plays a role in many types of cancer and heart diseases. It’s suggested that antioxidants in tea reduce oxidative stress by scavenging free radicals before cell damage occurs to proteins and DNA. Dietary supplementation of tea antioxidants has been observed to inhibit certain cancers, showing promise in both prevention and treatment. These cancers include skin, ovarian, breast, liver, stomach, colon, prostate, esophageal, and oral cancer, among others.
Many preliminary studies performed on lab animals show promising results for the effects of tea on cancers, but results of human studies are varied though some show dramatic effects. One Swedish study examined over 61,000 women between the ages of 40-76, for a 15 year period, and found that women who drank two or more cups of tea per day reduced their risk of ovarian cancer by 46% compared to non-tea drinkers; the effect was additive, such that with each additional cup of tea per day there was an additional 18% lower risk of ovarian cancer. Another study in
Tea is also being studied for its effects on diabetes. It’s suggested that its antioxidant properties help in regulating insulin signaling and glucose metabolism. Preliminary results from a USDA study links tea consumption with decreased risk of Type 2 diabetes, a major disease in the
Teas other benefit includes weight management. Oolong teas, also called wu-long or wulong teas, have gained some recent recognition as weight-loss teas. One study of 102 Chinese women found that oolong consumption over 6 weeks led to body weight reduction. Another study compared a group of Japanese women after drinking a cup of tea after meals; they each spent a period of time in an oolong tea drinking group, a green tea group, and a control group where they drank only water. The results showed that oolong drinkers had higher resting metabolisms than green tea drinkers at both 60 and 90 minutes after consumption, and both had higher resting metabolisms than those who drank just water. In this study, the oolong contained roughly half the caffeine and EGCG than the green tea, while the polymerized polyphenols were doubled. The results suggest that oolong tea increases metabolism through its polyphenols rather than just through caffeine. Increased metabolism results in reduced body fat. Most notably is reduction in visceral body fat - the type of fat found between internal organs that creates the “beer belly”. While this can not be seen as a weight-loss panacea, it is a perfect complement to healthy eating and exercise. (Check out our premium Vintage Oolong)
Black teas are known to assist in cardiovascular health. They have been shown to decrease LDL cholesterol levels, decrease total cholesterol, and dilate blood vessels which decreases blood pressure. There is a strong correlation between black tea drinkers and decreased cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension. One study found that adding milk to tea bound the antioxidants to the milk proteins making them inactive, but a subsequent study found that this was only true in the cup, and that antioxidants became bio-available again in the body’s serum. So go ahead and add milk to your tea if you’d like, and still reap the health benefits. Black tea is also noted for its anti-bacterial characteristics, and is said to kill bacteria in the mouth that cause bad breath and gum disease. In addition, the fluoride found in all teas helps strengthen teeth and prevent tooth decay. (Here’s a link to our blacks: Earl of Grey, Mango Tango, Crème Caramel, Bolder Breakfast)
I have not run across scientific studies on the health benefits of pu'erh. However, Pu'erh has long been considered a healthy tea by the Chinese, and medicinally, is believed to invigorate the spleen, relieve dampness, counteract alcohol toxins (ie. hangover cure), release stomach heat, and descend stomach qi (or chi). Pu'erh has also been considered a weight loss supplement due to its ability to aid in fat metabolism. (Check out our Bolder Breakfast - a black tea, pu'erh, & chocolate blend.)
The bottom line is that variety is the spice of life - it's true with tasty foods, music, cultures, and it's also true with antioxidants. So feel free to indulge yourself with all varieties of tea as part of your healthy lifestyle. There is a world of teas to choose from - literally. So cheers to our health!
Thursday, July 24, 2008
For thousands of years, plants and flowers have been used for their natural healing properties. Many modern pharmaceuticals have been derived from plant sources, and surely many more will crop up in the future. Digitalis, a heart medication, comes from the purple foxglove. Vinchristine, an anti-cancer drug, is an alkaloid taken from vinca plant. Cascara sagrada is the bark of a tree that is used as a natural laxative. Quinine, which has been used to treat malaria among other things, originally came from the bark of the Cinchona tree.
Just as many herbs and plants are beneficial, the opposite is also true. Oleander leaves contain a compound that is toxic to the heart. Philodendron plants contain oxalic acid, which will burn your mouth. Now why you would be munching on a philodendron to begin with is beyond me, but according to my medical source, it does happen.
That being said, there are many herbal infusions that you can blend on your own or purchase that will have numerous and varied benefits. Here are a few of the major players:
Rooibos – This plant is a bush that is native to South Africa, and contains a high amount of minerals and antioxidants. Often called “bush” tea or “red bush” tea, it has a naturally sweet aroma reminiscent of tobacco. Naturally caffeine free, it also contains zinc, potassium, fluoride, and manganese. It is fermented in a way that is very similar to tea, and the result is a fine, red leaf that brews into a deep reddish brown color. The longer you steep rooibos, the better it gets. You can see for yourself by trying our Red Rocks, a blend of rooibos with vanilla and almonds.
Chamomile – Chamomile flowers have a natural fragrance reminiscent of apples, which is the etymology of the word itself (“ground apple”). This herb is most commonly known for its ability to calm stress and soothe nausea and provide relief from aches and cramps. As it relaxes smooth muscle tissues, it is good for digestion and abdominal pain.
Peppermint – This age old classic herb contains menthol, which is great for congestion and colds. We have a tin of this at the store, and whenever I need a pick-me-up I just stick my nose in the tin and take a deep whiff and BAM! I am awake again! Peppermint is also recommended for upset stomachs, as it relaxes the smooth muscles in your stomach and digestive tract. It is also an antiseptic and anesthetic, making it useful for tooth or headaches. It freshens your breath and is a great, cooling drink when iced. It is also a component in our delicious Green Roasted Mint!, my personal favorite.
Well everyone, I am sad to say it, but this will conclude (temporarily, most likely) my blogging for the TeaSpot.
For anyone who missed this month's TeaSpot newsletter (sign up here), I will be moving to Boston, MA to pursue a master's degree in Writing and Publishing at Emerson College. So it shouldn't be too long before I have nasty tea withdrawals and start writing more blogs in return for the junk to support my tea addiction and get me through my intense graduate classes.
I will miss the TeaSpot greatly, and first and foremost would like to point out that I love my job, mostly because of all the people I work with. We have a great team here, in our warehouse as well as the shop, and in a perfect world I would just deftly put it all on a truck and take it with me to Boston! I can only imagine what sort of unpaid internships and admin assistant positions await me in the big city! So I must take an acceptance speech moment and thank the corporate team as well as my amazing store staff for making my time here so memorable. I would also like to introduce and welcome the new store manager, Erin Dula, to the TeaSpot family.
I would also like to thank all the loyal customers who have come into our store regularly and supported what we do. We know these people by name and more often than not exactly what they are drinking so that it's halfway ready when they get to the register. I think the best part is that you could read me the order and I could tell you who the customer is: 12 ounce Bolder Breakfast latte with whole milk and a shot of vanilla (Aulden), 12 ounce cappucino (Jen), cup of Creme Caramel, decaffeinated (Donna), Fancy Formosa with milk and sugar (Michelle), large Pu-erh (Olga), cup of Lung Ching and a bran muffin (ack! I forgot his name!).
What's more I would even like to thank the (very few) customers that made my life hell, and taught me even more about patience and customer service. Especially the lady who came in one day, sat in a booth, and began trimming her fingernails with a clipper before nonchalantly brushing her nasty nail scraps onto the floor. Who are you, and why did you do that?! Or the girl who added her credit card receipt total incorrectly then demanded her tip money back. Ahh yes, I will never forget you! And don't forget the guy who used our couch as a bed, claiming he had purchased some drip coffee (which we don't sell!) and dropping some F-bombs on another customer about her backpack when we asked him to leave. Ah, the stories are the best part!
This is what angry customers begin to resemble.
Image courtesy of http://www.angrybanana.freeservers.com/
In any case I am extremely content with the time I spent with the TeaSpot, and after the insanity of moving across the country and being back in school dies down, I certainly hope to continue the blogathon of anything tea-related. Much thanks to all of you who read our little blog, and please continue to check back for weekly additions!
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Today finds me too hot to really think clearly. All I can think about is how rad it would be if we bought one of those big plastic kiddie pools and filled it with iced peppermint tea and went for a swim. Seriously, that might be the best idea I have had all summer. Or maybe a Slip 'n Slide in the back of the warehouse? Anyone? Or maybe just an A/C box installation would do.
As I consider these options, a bank of darkish looking clouds seems to be heading this way. Thank you, universe.
Since this brief respite is allowing me to think semi-clearly, I would like to lay some praise to my latest favorite summertime tea beverage: Boba, aka Bubble, Tea.
For the rookies out there, Boba tea consists of these components: Boba Pearls, an iced tea of some sort, a splash of cream, a squeeze of agave, and a Boba straw. Allow me to digress.
Boba pearls are really nothing more than simple tapioca balls. You remember tapioca, right? It's that white stuff you always had at grandma's house that never really tasted like much of anything. Same goes for Boba. Only these ones are bigger, black, and squish gloriously when you chew on them.
So what is tapioca, exactly? This is certainly not a question that comes up for most people, a) because most people don't eat tapioca, and b) the ones that do probably don't care what it's made from anyways. Well the answer is that it comes from the root of a cassava plant. The root gets processed and the reconstituted product are those tiny (or large, in this case) tapioca balls. It is a starch, so essentially it's like adding bread to your beverage. Mmmmmm, bread.
So, these boba pearls rest on the bottom of your glass. The remaining ingredients are mixed together (I prefer to make mine with Red Rocks iced tea), and the straw allows you to suck up the boba pearls whilst drinking your tea, making for a deliciously iced, textural experience. The cream adds a dash of well, creaminess, while the agave nectar lightly sweetens it without making it overtly so. Unlike those bottled tea drinks that look so delicious in the refrigerated case until you open it up and take a big swig and feel like you just drank a packet of mint-and-tea-flavored Splenda. (Thanks a lot, Tazo).
I can see the Eldorado Spring Water Delivery Truck outside the office. "Judged the Best-Tasting Water in North America," it says. They have an entire swimming pool full of pure, delicious spring water about 20 minutes from here, in Eldorado. That sounds pretty nice right about now.
In any case, Bubble Tea is seeing a new emergence as an extremely popular drink these days, and since many people are still unsure what it's all about, I encourage you to stop by your nearest Bubble Tea vendor (ie, the TeaSpot's downtown retail location) and check it out!
Friday, July 11, 2008
We've been having a blast over here tasting new teas from this spring. It's a process full of precision and personal preference, and the perfect break to the work day!
If you're curious about the tea tasting process, it's comparable to wine tasting. And just as fun to do with friends! It goes something like this... We steep up the teas according to their type, sip, discuss, sip, and discuss, using all sorts of creative descriptors. We first compare similar teas, finding the best picks within each category. Then we compare the range of our favorites to narrow it down to an exceptional and well-balanced array of teas, and occasionally find a "best in show" that we all fall in love with, despite our individual pallets.
Typically, tasters use a teaspoon to slurp up a sample of tea from each cup, then spit each slurp into a spittoon, never actually swallowing the tea. And when I say slurp, I mean *ssslllurp!*, because the action allows you to coat your mouth with the tea getting the full viscous feel or "mouth coat" and also adds oxygen to the mix which highlights different flavors of the tea. Some teas even are graced with a double slurp, where the second slurp aids in cooling the tea, further embelishing certain flavors.
Here, however, we usually don't spit it out (especially when the tea is a serious crowd pleaser) and we also do a non-conventional variety of sipping, slurping, and gulping of the teas when they're hot and as they cool. The reason for this is that some teas are exceptional while they're hot then fade into boring dishwater as they cool, and we take note of these guys. Let's face it - we all want to enjoy the entire cup of tea, not just the first part. So at the end, after discussing the flavor profiles and taking tasting notes, we divvy up the remaining teas, trying to give people the remaining cup of their personal favorites.
I also want to note the precision with which we steep the teas during tastings, with special care given to the amount of tea leaves used, the temperature of the water, and the steeping time - these variable can dramatically change the flavor profiles of each tea. This is when I seriously get my thermometer out. And bonus points are given to teas that are less sensitive to "precise" steeping conditions - as some are more forgiving than others - making them more foolproof to steeping accidents. For example, our Green Roasted Mint tea is nearly impossible to mess up while steeping, with regards to both water temperature and steeping time. This tea is more than forgiving to the absentminded and multitaskers, myself included. (fyi, it's discounted 20% this week!) However, other, more sensitive, teas are also given due respect around here and sipped with pleasure after careful steeping, or sometimes tossed with remorse after poor steeping ;)
In any case, let us know your own tea tasting rituals and latest favorites!
Thursday, July 10, 2008
My favorite tins: Kotobuki origami tins, available for purchase at
This might not be the most groundbreaking of blogs, but I think it is important nonetheless, because as my favorite cliché goes, knowledge is power.
Storing your tea correctly is imperative to ensure that it maintains maximum flavor and freshness. We opened a random tin of peach rooibos last week that had a skimming of cobwebs along the interior ceiling of the tin. Barf!
There are several factors that will affect the long-term quality of your teas: light, heat, strong smells, and humidity.
Tea that has constant or even intermittent exposure to light will eventually dry out and lose its flavor. Always store your teas in airtight containers made of stainless steel or non-opaque ceramic. Glass should never be used because, dear genius, it lets in light. And don't forget, the best container is a re-usable one, just like our TeaSpot Loose Leaf tins are.
Heat will have the same effect on your tea, rendering it extra dry and flavorless. That being said, you should always store your tea and tins in a cool, dry place. So, over the stove, microwave, or refrigerator is probably not a good idea seeing as these appliances tend to give off heat. Windowsills are also not a good place. Cool, dark cupboards are usually your best bet.
Strong smells are a pretty obvious thing to avoid. Teas are blotters, which means they pick up the scents of things around them. So your teas should never be stored in the same place as your spices! Nor should they be anywhere near your Cheetos, pickles, mustard, jalapenos, leftover pizza, curries, or dirty socks.
Humidity will also mess up the delightful delicacy of your teas. Teas are dried to begin with, so adding excess moisture unintentionally will cause a mustiness that will probably taste like the underside of an old ice tray. That being said, you should never ever freeze or refrigerate your teas either. Cool and dark does not mean the cold, moist darkness of your frigidaire my friends.
So, there you go. Simple and straightforward. Now go to!
Thursday, July 3, 2008
BANG! Image courtesy of www.digi-hound.com.
Happy 4th of July, tea drinkers!
I can't see a better opportunity to point out the connection between the Boston Tea Party in 1773 and the eventual independence of our country from Britain.
I truly stink at remembering anything historical, but the basic facts are as such: in the early 1760's, British Parliament began passing various acts that required taxation on items like stamps and tea. Americans began to reject the notion that Britain should be controlling the taxation of goods and services because they had no representation in Parliament, which basically meant that they had no say in the votes to implement or increase taxes on any given good or service. So, to put it in perspective, it's kind of like when your parents made you give them some of your allowance for no good reason (putting saran wrap over the toilet seat definitely does not qualify as a good reason), and then telling you that there is nothing you can do about it. The only difference is that you usually just put up a big stink and did what you were told. But not the American Patriots!
Since their basic rights to representation were being violated, the colonists took action. Our boy John Hancock, a wealthy shipbuilder and merchant, had discovered that while most merchants paid duties on imports, he could simply bribe officials and evade the whole taxation business altogether. Hancock smuggled sugar, molasses, and God knows what else into the country for little to no taxes whatsoever. Eventually, he fell under suspicion for various smuggling and tax evasion reasons, and his ship, the Liberty, was seized. Not surprisingly, Hancock became a proponent and financier of the growing rebellion against Britain.
As part of the rebellion and unfair taxation, Hancock organized a boycott of tea from the British East India Company, who supplied a large amount of tea to the colonies. Hancock then smuggled tax-free tea in from the Netherlands at the same time. Rather than revise the taxation system, British Parliament instead allowed a tax break for the East India Company. Which basically translated into what could only be construed as the favoring of a corporate empire and the squashing of the Americans and their rights.
After some rabble-rousing, protest meetings, and violent visits to East India warehouses and homes, our founding father and brewmaster Sam Adams addressed an assembly of gathered protesters, and the fit hit the shan. The Sons of Liberty, a secret group of patriots, disguised themselves as Indians and bum-rushed the Boston harbor. 45 tons of East India Company tea were unloaded from the Dartmouth. The tea was dumped quickly and efficiently into the harbor and all of it was toast by dawn. Glorious! Take that, Britain!
The result was the turning of many heads in Britain, the charging of Hancock, Adams, and others with high treason, and essentially the beginning of Us vs. Them. Any positive or friendly political relations that existed between Britain and the colonies pretty much evaporated after the Boston Tea Party.
But it was all for the best, as we did eventually gain our independence in 1776. 232 years later we play with explosives (only where legal, of course...), drink beer, play outside, watch fireworks, and drink tea whenever we like. Hooray!
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Ok, onto the tea. Today I think is a good day to write about one's own discovery of tea. I have already gotten my blog on about the importance of slowing down every now and then to enjoy a cup of tea. But what brings people to become tea lovers and connoisseurs? The answer, of course, is different for everyone.
I think my first real tea drinking experience was when I took a semester abroad in Barcelona, Spain. I was about 19; and of course I had had tea before, from various Celestial Seasonings and Twinings tea bags out of my mom's cupboard when I was young, but nothing truly memorable. In any case, I discovered té con leche (tea with milk) at various cafés throughout the city. Now mind you these 2-euro cups were still nothing more than black tea bags, but there is just something amazing about the milk in Europe, and this magical leche with a bit of sugar and I was hooked. I have the best memories of stopping at little places here and there in the city and enjoying this tasty beverage with friends whilst skipping class, studying for finals, or simply taking a load off. I was back (I lived in Barcy when I was younger) in this big, awe-inspiring city, speaking Spanglish with friends, and enjoying my new most favorite daytime drink. I say daytime because the nighttime drinks were plentiful, and alcoholic, which is an entirely different blog for a different website.
I have had fond experiences with tea ever since I discovered it. People stumble across tea for all different reasons, but it seems to be a discovery that people stick with and continue to enjoy and learn about. Unlike food trends such as Olestra or clear Pepsi, tea has been around for thousands of years, and for good reason. It upholds ancient traditions, makes room for new ones, and brings people together. I just read an article about a man who had his father's ashes mixed with clay to make a teapot, because he missed his daily chats over tea with his dad. Hell, the reason our company even exists is due to our founder's devotion and love for tea and its health benefits.
Perhaps one of the greatest things about tea are the stories that it creates in people's lives; how they start drinking it, and what happens as a result. Everyone has a different tale to tell, so feel free to tell us yours.
Now this has all the makings of a truly great story!
Image courtesy of http://www.funnyjunk.com/.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Last but not least, always remember that water temperature is crucial to making the best cup of tea possible...never use boiling water on green or white teas! Take a look at one of my older blogs, I Know Why You Don't Like Green Tea, for more details on temperature.
The hardest water of all: bellyflops.
Image courtesy of http://keeneddie.spymac.com/goofy_stuff/bellyflop.jpg
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Thanks to an increasing knowledge and awareness of the health issues going on in America (heart disease, obesity, diabetes, etc.), it is becoming common knowledge that fast food and sugary, carbonated drinks are some of the worst things you can possibly put into your body. While moderation is always the key, avoiding these foods high in calories and low in nutritional value is definitely the best strategy for a longer, healthier life.
But what about the huge selection of bottled tea and fruit juice drinks that aren't soda? Many of these beverages are touted as healthy alternatives to the evil empire of high fructose corn syrup-laden carbonated beverages. But are they really better for you?
While many people are counting carbs or simply swearing them off for good, another major culprit that causes weight gain and a host of other health problems is refined sugar. Since I am not a scientist or doctor, I have borrowed this description of the impact sugar has on your health from the UK site, Macrobiotic Guide:
"...Refined sugar contains no fiber, no minerals, no proteins, no fats, no enzymes, only empty calories. What happens when you eat a refined carbohydrate like sugar? Your body must borrow vital nutrients from healthy cells to metabolize the incomplete food. Calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium are taken from various parts of the body to make use of the sugar. Many times, so much calcium is used to neutralize the effects of sugar that the bones become osteoporotic due to the withdrawn calcium. Refined sugar is void of all nutrients, consequently it causes the body to deplete its own stores of various vitamins, minerals and enzymes. If sugar consumption is continued, an over-acid condition results, and more minerals are needed from deep in the body to correct the imbalance. If the body is lacking the nutrients used to metabolize sugar, it will not be able to properly handle and rid itself of the poisonous residues. "
Yo fatty! Lay off the sugar! Image courtesy of http://www.northwestah.com/.
So, too much sugar creates an acidic environment inside your body. Too much acid in your tissues allows harmful toxins to build up, as well as harmful bacteria and fungi (such as the yeast, Candida). With that being said, I think it is important that everyone understand how to read labels on not only the beverages you drink, but the foods you eat! After a little bit of research, I was pretty shocked at how much sugar is contained in all the allegedly "healthy" bottled tea drinks you see on the shelves.
For example, the following drinks contain:
Arizona Green Tea: 8 ounces contains 17 grams of sugar, or 3 and 1/2 teaspoons.
Sobe Green Tea: a 20 ounce bottle contains 62.5 grams of sugar, or 12.5 teaspoons! That is 12.5 sugar cubes, people!
Snapple Green Tea: 1 17.5 ounce bottle contains 33 grams of sugar, or 6.6 teaspoons of sugar.
What's more, bottled tea drinks claim to be packed with disease-fighting antioxidants. While it's certainly true that tea contains them, a little known facts is that after about 24-48 hours, antioxidants disappear from tea. The heat in water is what releases a flood of these healthy chemicals, but time and temperature will cause them to dissipate. So a chilled, bottled tea drink that has been sitting on a shelf for who knows how long really is not going to be chock full of antioxidants at all.
The bottom line is that chances are when you make your own tea at home (preferably using one of our awesome Steepin' Mugs!), you either drink it as it is: fresh, full of antioxidants, and without added sweeteners. But if you must, add one or two teaspoons of sugar (Agave is best!); which is less than most bottled tea drinks you will find.
If you must reach for some pre-bottled beverage action, wrap your mitts around one of these brands that have lower levels of sugar: Honestea (about 10 grams of sugar per 16 oz bottle), or ItoEn unsweetened Teas' Tea.
Optimus Prime says stay away from too much sugar. Or else.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Maria Uspenski - Co-founder, Director of Product Development
In wandering the show floor of the World Tea Expo, I was struck with how unique our product line and concept are to the modern tea industry. To all of us at the TeaSpot, it seems the most natural thing to provide our customers with what Rob has dubbed the “total tea solution”: the freshest, tastiest and healthiest loose leaf teas paired with Steeping tools that extract the maximum flavor and health benefits from those leaves “with elegance and ease”. Yet, even with all the thousands of teas and tea accessories in the marketplace, ours differentiate themselves in their presentation, freshness and functionality.
Rob Cooke - Director of Customer Relations
This year’s World Tea Expo in Las Vegas showcased more science being implemented into the tea industry than ever before. Many of the studies presented at WTE 2008 are challenging and in some cases debunking myths that have been widely accepted in the tea industry for years. These scientific studies are starting to challenge topics such as the varying levels of caffeine in tea, antioxidant/ polyphenol content, and even the “30 second” decaffeinating technique. So what does all of this mean? Well, in my view it means that the tea industry is thriving and that there continues to be a growing interest in the functional health and wellness benefits associated with tea. I can only hope that this proliferation of science will bring concrete and factual information to the table while also bolstering the industry as a whole.
Jared Kochik- Director of Shipping & Operations
Attending the 2008 World Tea Expo proved what we all know to be true: the awareness of specialty, loose leaf tea is growing at an astonishing rate and the proliferation of fun, easy to use Steepware and accessories are helping to break down the barriers to reaching new demographics. It was also easy to notice the amount of amazing and dedicated people who work diligently to educate the masses to the wonderful benefits of whole leaf tea. The 2008 World Tea Expo was a great event not only for importers and vendors, but also for new and soon-to-be tea retailers around the globe.
Jessica Burtenshaw - Director of Tea Sourcing & E-Commerce
As my first time attending the World Tea Expo, I have no gauges to compare it to previous ones - but this one was phenomenal! It was great to be surrounded by other tea geeks and get to revel in tea & tea leaves all day. I met people from all ranges of the industry, from growers & importers, to other tea & steepware vendors, to people looking to open teahouses & retail stores in the coming year. I was lucky enough to try fresh roasted hojicha that was re-roasted on the spot, first flush Darjeelings from this spring, and an array of Japanese teas at a personal tasting with one of the most revered Japanese importers. Basically... I was in heaven. I also finally got to meet all of our tea importers in person, after having wonderful email & phone relationships with them throughout this past year. It's great to now have faces to go along with the people I already adored. I even discovered that our Taiwanese Oolong supplier also studied Marine Ecology in his previous career, like me. And at the end of the day, our whole TeaSpot team became like family sharing a single huge suite at the Luxor - kinda like summer camp for adults.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
This steamy, 80-degree Thursday has me feeling it quite necessary to write an instructional on making delicious iced tea.
The best way to make iced tea at home requires several tools. You will need an infuser basket or Steepin' Cup to brew your tea in, and I suggest using a standard martini shaker for the icing of the tea; no fancy-pants "Iced Tea Makers" needed; you are the iced tea maker!
Step 2: Use double the amount of tea leaves. For example, an 8 ounce cup usually requires 1-2 tsp of tea. In this case, you will double that amount; so use 2-4 tsp of tea, depending on how strong you like you iced tea.
Step 3: Steep your tea for its recommended amount of time and water temperature in an 8 ounce Steepin' Cup.
Step 4: While tea is steeping, fill your martini shaker with ice.
Step 5: When tea has steeped, remove the infuser basket and pour your tea into the martini shaker.
Step 6: Shake it like a one-legged man in a butt kicking contest and ta-da! After you pour your martini shaker contents into a glass, you now have a delicious 16 ounce glass of iced tea!
Who knew it could be so simple? Well, I did, which is why I am sharing it with you all.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Image courtesy of www.cocktail.uk.com
Tea has long been consumed at all times of the day and with all types of food, and also as an after-dinner digestif. Tea's wide range of subtle and poignant flavors make it perfect for added flavors in food. So it only makes sense that at some point during the human experience, our big-'ole brains would combine the two in the kitchen for some new culinary experiences.
So, without further ado, I give you the following recipes, courtesy of TeaSpot founders Maria Uspenski and Karen Harbour:
Green Tea Chicken Noodle Soup
8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken, cut into1/2 inch pieces
2 teaspoons GREEN ROASTED MINT leaves steeped in one half-cup (4 oz) water
5 ounces dry bean thread noodles
4 cups chicken stock
2 (1/2 inch thick) slices ginger root, lightly mashed
1/2 cup oyster mushrooms, cubed
3 cups packed spinach leaves, large stems removed
Salt and white pepper, as desired
PREPARATION: Place the chicken in a large bowl and add the green tea. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour to marinate. Cover the bean thread noodles with warm water. Soak until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain. In a big pot bring the stock, ginger and mushrooms to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes. Add the chicken, including the GREEN ROASTED MINT marinade, and noodles. Return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 3 minutes. Add the spinach and boil for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Red Rocks Roasted Potatoes
2 lbs Red Potatoes, cubed
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
3 teaspoons agave or honey
3 tablespoons TeaSpot’s Red Rocks tea, finely ground
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt; 1 teaspoon white pepper
PREPARATION: Preheat oven to 425°. In a large roasting pan or baking sheet, spread cubes potatoes evenly. In a bowl, mix oil, vinegar, Red Rocks tea, agave, salt & pepper. Drizzle mixture over potatoes and toss together. Cover with foil and place in oven. Bake for 45 - 50 minutes. Uncover and stir. Broil for an additional 5 - 10 minutes to brown top. Serves 6 – 8.
Orange-Mango Tango Duck
2 Boneless duck breast halves
¾ cup chopped shallots
2 ¼ cups chicken broth
1 ½ cups fresh or non-concentrated orange juice
4 teaspoons MANGO TANGO leaves
1 Tablespoon honey
3 Tablespoons diced butter
salt and pepper to taste
PREPARATION: Preheat oven to 450F. Pierce skin of duck all over with fork and sprinkle duck with salt and pepper. Place duck, skin side down, in a heated skillet to brown (about 4 minutes). Turn duck breasts over and continue to cook for another 2 minutes. Remove and place in a roasting pan, then continue to cook in 450F oven to desired doneness, about 20 minutes for medium-rare. Meanwhile, heat the drippings left in the skillet over medium. Add shallots and sauté until golden. Remove discarded drippings. Add broth, orange juice and MANGO TANGO leaves. Bring to boil. Reduce to about 1 cup and strain. Return liquid to same skillet and add honey; simmer 2 minutes. Whisk in butter and add salt and pepper to taste. Slice thin and serve with sauce.
VINTAGE OOLONG will give your ordinary rice a sweet and subtle aroma. Perfect with any mustard sauce or cream-based entree.
4 cups water
2 teaspoons VINTAGE OOLONG
2 cups rice
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
salt, 1/2 teaspoon, or to taste
PREPARATION: Boil water. Add rice, salt and olive oil and reduce heat to simmer. After 5 minutes add vintage oolong leaves. Cover and simmer for an additional 20 minutes or until water is absorbed and rice is ready. Remove vintage oolong leaves – they will all be at the surface of the rice. Serves: 4 - 6
Earl of Grey Cookies
2 tsp Earl of Grey (dry leaves, ground)
2 c flour
4 oz. (1/2 c) butter, melted
1/2 c cane sugar
1 TBS decorative sugar crystals
a few loose Earl of Grey tea leaves
PREPARATION: Beat the melted butter with the sugar. Add 1 egg, then flour and powdered tea, until you get a homogeneous dough. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate 1 hour. Grease a cookie sheet. Preheat oven to 400F. Beat 2nd egg with 1 TBS water in a small bowl. Roll out the dough to about 1/4 in thickness, on a lightly floured surface. Cut out cookies into desired shapes, and place on cookie sheet. Brush with beaten egg mixture. Decorate with loose sugar crystals and tea leaves. Bake about 10 mins or until just golden. Cool on rack and let come to room temperature before serving.
Boulder Blues Fruit Salad
6 teaspoons TeaSpot’s Boulder Blues steeped in 4 oz hot water
1/4 cup agave or 1/3 cup honey or sugar
Assorted Fruit (Strawberry, blueberry, mango, pineapple, apple, raspberry, melon, grapes)
PREPARATION: Steep Boulder Blues tea in 4 ounces water at 175° for 2 minutes (Note to bring water to 175° - boil and let cool for 3 minutes). Add hot tea to agave and whisk. Mix fruit in a big bowl. Drizzle Boulder Blues syrup over fruit. Mix gently and let sit for 20 - 30 minutes before serving.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
This week finds me appreciating tasty tea concoctions made with various distilled spirits.
The art of concocting deliciously balanced booze drinks really needs no justification or introduction. That being said, allow me to provide some interesting drink recipes for you to try in the comfort and privacy of your own home, and afterwards, you can score bragging rights for sharing these amazing concoctions with your buddies.
Easy, killer! Image courtesy of www.waytoomany.com
Thursday, May 1, 2008
Pu-erh trees. Image courtesy of rishi.com .
You may or may not have already heard about "Puerh" tea, an ancient form of Chinese tea that is carefully aged and fermented over time. "Puerh" is the name for the tea in Mandarin, and "Bolay" or "Polay" is it's name in Cantonese. The tea itself is named after the Pu'er province in Yunnan, China. The best and true Puerh teas come from extremely old, wild tea trees. These teas are highly sought after and valuable, due to the increasing scarcity of these trees as well as an increase of faux puerh production utilizing other types of tea leaves. The tea plant itself, if left to its own devices, will indeed grow into a large tree. However, since plucking tea leaves off of anything that is higher than your own body is extremely difficult, the tea plants are kept pruned to a more managable height.
There are two types of processed Puerhs: Raw (aka green), and ripened or (aka cooked). Raw puerh is converted into "maocha," which means "rough tea." This is done by spreading the leaves in the sun to remove some of the water content and to wilt the leaves a bit. After that, the leaves are pan-fried in a wok to arrest all enzymatic activity and stop further fermentation. The leaves can then be rolled and shaped, and are given another sun bath. Once it is dry then voilá, you've got your green puerh.
Ripened puerhs undergo an additional process that imitates bacterial and fungal fermentation by controlling humidity, temperature, and the aging process. The process itself is very similar to composting. (Think hot, humid foodstuffs churning in the sun. Yum!) This takes 6 months to a year (and up, sort of like wine), and if it isn't carefully overseen, then you could end up with a not-so-pleasant tasting tea. The older the puerh, generally the more revered it is.
Hey Beavis, this looks like a cow-pie, but really it's a Puerh brick.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Puerh is certainly an adventure for your taste buds if you have never tried it before. The first time I tasted Puerh, I thought it tasted like garden dirt in hot water, and I vowed never to drink it again. However, after continuing to hear about its many health benefits (mostly when I would explain them to customers) I figured I would give it another go. While traditional puerh certainly has an extremely earthy flavor, it is a flavor that grows on you, much like beer and mustard do after the age of 12. ish.
Image courtesy of onlysometimesclever.wordpress.com.
Green puerh, according to TeaSpot founder Maria Uspenski, tastes like "bacon and eggs."
"Most green puerhs are smoky," she says, in comparison to black puerhs. And I will have to take her word for it because I am certainly green myself when it comes to tasting these teas.
Green Puerh. So, so good. And good for you!Whether you are new to puerh or not, the best way to learn what you like most is to get out there and try them. Our downtown store carries two varieties: a black, 7-8 year Aged Puerh that is very lovely and smooth, as well as a Green Puerh Chrysanthemum Toucha, which is, now that I think about it, rather smoky. Another great thing about puerh is you can re-steep it many times and still have a great cuppa. Our Bolder Breakfast Blend also incorporates pu'erh in the mix - inspiring its "Bolder" name!
Thursday, April 24, 2008
He should really try some tea on that.