Smoked Exotica – Part 2

Continued from yesterday’s post: Smoked Exotica – Part 1

I found the directions a bit ambiguous, and they could be foreboding for a novice tea drinker. After I chiseled off a chunk of the solid disc, it said to soak in water for 30 minutes, then take that infusion and boil it for five minutes. Yes, a bit unusual to say the least. However, upon further inquiry, I learned that this is an ancient practice, so I did some research. I found this on the Tea Leaf Theory website:

“The Singphos, a tribal community residing in parts of Northeast India, Myanmar, and China, are believed to be among India’s first tea drinkers. To this day, they continue to process tea by first heating the leaves in a metal pan until they brown, and then sun-drying them for a few days. To make the more flavourful, smoked tea, the sun-dried leaves are tightly packed in bamboo tubes and smoked over a fire. After a week of storing these bamboos, the processed tea hardens to take the shape of the tube. It can then be preserved for up to 10 years, with small portions sliced off with a knife to brew a fresh cup of tea. Like wine, the smoked flavour of the tea matures more with time and we choose to pick up the ones which were aged for 4 years. When processed and brewed correctly, a cup of Singpho tea, which is had without milk or sugar, is a lovely golden-orange colour. The leaves can be reused to brew two to three cups, the flavour getting better with each infusion. According to locals, the tea’s organic production and traditional processing retain its medicinal value. The Singphos say a cup after every meal aids digestion and believe it has kept the community relatively free from cancer and diabetes.”

This is the magnificent color of the cup after simmering the cold infusion for five minutes.

You will also find this tea as Bamboo Falap Tea: a traditional and natural tea of the Singpho Community (Hilly Tribe of Assam).

Because the leaves are so tightly packed, there can be numerous infusions from a small piece of the dried leaves. After steeping several times, in cold water, and in boiling water, I found the small chunk of leaves had still not opened fully. For the serious tea enthusiasts, you can “play” with this tea many times and have a new experience each time; and that is why we love tea!

For a new and intriguing tea experience, Bamboo Falap Tea is worth a try. The Smoky Exotica will soon be available in America but you can order sample packages from

As is often said, “What is old is new,” and this certainly applies to this ancient method of tea preparation. Just because it is not “my cup of tea” does not mean others will not enjoy it. I found the infusion of the cold steeped leaves was good as it was: cold.

For those of you that wish to learn a bit more about our sense of smell and our memories triggered by those scents or tastes, this is an informative article that may help you understand your customers better.

Season’s Greetings one and all! Happy Sniffing and Happy Sipping!

Image provided and copyright held by author

Smoked Exotica – Part 1

I am still sipping tea on Tea Ave – oh my mistake, I mean sipping Ave Tea.

Ave Tea has sent me some delightful and appealing samples from India that I’m choosing to share with you all.

Their Smoked Exotica really piqued my curiosity, but my daughter made me promise not to sample it without her. She enjoys smoky teas. I’m sorry to say, they are just not my thing. I was thrilled to have someone with whom to share this experience.

Our sense of smell is linked to our memory — much more so than any of our other senses. I’m quite confident that many of you have encountered numerous people in your tea journey that absolutely detested some of your teas. You can’t take that personally. Those are often memories for many that brought back unpleasant things — while to our favor — other tastes and aromas trigger pleasurable memories.

A smoky or deliberately smoked tea takes me back to my childhood memory of the smell of diesel train engines running day and night. It was cold in the prairies of Saskatchewan, and the Canadian Pacific Railroad went through the section of Saskatoon where I grew up. It was the common practice to allow those engines in the train yard to idle endlessly during the cold weather snaps. The smell of diesel fuel at minus forty degrees leaves a stinging sensation in your nostrils that one never forgets. It’s definitely not a good memory for me.

Such is life. Can one overcome these memories? In many cases, yes; in other cases, those memories can stay with us for the duration of our lifetime. Do I care about overcoming my dislike of smoky smelling and tasting things? No, not really, there are so many other teas I absolutely love. Will a company or teashop fall out of favor with me for carrying, featuring, or specializing in these teas? For Heaven’s sake, no!

A saw blade had evidently sliced the ‘disc’ of tea that was sent to me in the Smoky Exotica package. A band of bamboo still held the tea sample intact. The amount of tea leaves that had been packed (smashed) into the original tube of bamboo must have been enormous. Here is how describes their Smoky Exotica:

“An unforgettable blend of smoky, earthy flavours, this tea is tightly packed into bamboo and smoked for 4 years. The result is a brew that invigorates the senses with just the right touch of smoothness blending with the distinct bass tones that are a throwback to ancient times; finishing off with a light earthy flavour of its native soil. The perfect cup to rejuvenate a zest for life and deep conversations.”

Do have a close look at the photo collage I put together for you:

Image provided and copyright held by author

To be concluded tomorrow

Chai to Remember – T Ching

When winter is just around the corner in my part of the world (southern California) and our meager amount of rain has begun to fall, my tastes turn to chai. But not just any chain coffeehouse chai, a pale imitation of the real thing. I want bold flavors and the notes of a good tea’s personality on par with the blend of spices in the drink. And then there is the question of which dairy to use. Is it full-fat milk or cream? And as for the sweetener, will it be sugar, honey, Lyle’s Golden syrup, or none of the above? I like to combine sweetness with dairy but putting in a dollop of caramel: Decadence on the tongue and easy to achieve. Here’s how.

In a heavy saucepan, begin the process by browning about an inch of sugar over medium heat. Continue cooking until you note the first signs of the sugar melting and starting to brown. Don’t stir the mixture but simply allow it to continue browning, occasionally moving around the unmelted portions into the melted ones with the use of a wooden spoon. Continue to cook again over medium heat until the mixture is completely melted, and you have achieved a uniformly browned but not burnt molten liquid (and I mean molten—be ever vigilant and don’t get burned!). Remove the pot from the burner, turn the burner off and add a nice few glugs of heavy cream (about 1 to 1-1/2 cups in all) which will make the mixture bubble up furiously—again be careful. Let the bubbling subside and then stir gently to smooth out the mixture. Let cool completely and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. This will keep for weeks but I doubt it will hang around your kitchen…you will be tempted to heat a bit up to top a scoop of vanilla ice cream or to pour over a piece of pound cake or as a dip for simple shortbread cookies. This amount will yield approximately 1 pint. But I digress.

Gong back to the chai (which will be enriched by this glorious blend of sweet and creamy), I like to use a strong malty Assam tea as the base. For two servings, bring to boil 12 ounces of water, 2 cinnamon sticks, one 4-inch piece of fresh ginger root peeled and cut into ½ inch coins and mashed with a heavy knife or meat pounder, 4 each whole cloves, whole cardamom pods, whole allspice berries, and a few peppercorns. Boil this for a few minutes. Turn off and allow to infuse for a half hour (plan ahead). Now pour this liquid through a sieve, discarding the spices. (Note: You can make this in advance and keep it refrigerated; it will last a couple of days—then continue with the next step when ready to complete and serve.)  Return the now-infused liquid to a pot. Add 3 grams of tea leaves (volume measure will vary depending on the size of the leaves) and bring to just under a boil. Remove from the heat and decant after 3 or 4 minutes, tasting during the infusion to be sure you get it right; the brewing time depends on the tea and your taste. When satisfied that you have reached the perfect brew, discard the tea leaves. Pour into heated cups or mugs, stir in a dollop of the caramel (from above) to sweeten to taste and sit by the fire with a good book, or a nice cat purring in your lap, or both. Inhale the lovely aroma and enjoy this ambrosial treat while it’s still hot.

Blast From the Past: The smell of tea

Ah, the scent of coffee in the morning.  It makes people want to stand and conquer empires, or at least, get up and go to work.  Much has been made of coffee’s smell, and a link certainly exists between the scent and the drink’s popularity.

But what about the smell of teas or tisanes?

Personally, there’s nothing more delightful than catching the first whiff of a new tea.  Or smelling an old, familiar tea, and remembering all of the times I’ve enjoyed it.  I even enjoy smelling the dregs of the teapot, although I couldn’t say for sure why.  There’s something homey about that scent.

What about you fair reader?  What smell makes you want to drink tea?

Originally posted in December 2008 by Emma Spaulding

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Catappa Leaf – Tisane For Fish!

As I was doing my weekly water change in my fish tank, I noticed that my Paradise Betta, Toad, was acting a bit lethargic. I decided to do a larger water change and then brewed some catappa leaf tisane to add to the tank.

Catappa leaf is from the Terminalia catappa tree, also known as the Indian Almond tree. I’ve never heard of people drinking it, yet it’s commonly used in the aquarium world as a treatment for some species of fish; including Bettas, Killies, Discus, Arowana, Tetras, Appistogramma, Dwarf Cichlids, Rasbora, Corydoras and other Catfish, and Shrimp. It works in two ways: by darkening the water to more closely mimic the natural environment therefore decreasing stress, and by releasing tannins and other beneficial ingredients into the water.

Studies done on catappa leaf have shown that it has many healing benefits for fish, including anti-inflammatory, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial. Many aquarium owners swear by it over any “medical” or “chemical” solution. I have personally used it with great success with previous bettas that I have owned.

There are two ways to use catappa leaf in a fish tank. The first is to simply drop a leaf-whole or shredded- into the fish tank and let it break down naturally. The second is to boil it in water and add the “tea” to the fish tank. I prefer the latter, as it decreases the amount of vegetative matter in my fish tank that I have to clean up later. Thus, I do the following:

  1. Tear a catappa leaf into large pieces and put in a pot with water the same pH as the fish tank.
  2. Bring the water to a full boil, and then simmer for one minute.
  3. Remove from heat and allow to cool to around the same temperature as the fish tank.
  4. Pour the tisane into the tank.

Does anyone else have experience using tisanes for pet use? I would love to hear in the comments!


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teaBOT Is Missing – T Ching

The teaBOT team describes its creation, via website, as:

“…robotic kiosks that allow users to order a custom cup of loose-leaf tea and share their blends at the touch of a button. Customers control features on the touch screen or their smartphone and walk away with a personalized cup of tea in under a minute.”

The company’s “Find a teaBOT” page specifies two California locations. Years have passed since I first learned about teaBOT’s existence via a news report.  Last month I decided to go check it out – the only one in Los Angeles – at a 365 by Whole Foods.  The barista who must also be the store’s tea sommelier indicated that the machine was removed quite a while ago.

The store should have kept its teaBOT.  Flippy in Pasadena cooks burgers. Bartender robot Guillermo del Pouro prepares cocktail in Downtown Los Angeles.  Southern California needs a teaBOT!

This post is short because of the missing teaBOT.  Maybe T Ching readers who have savored teas brewed by teaBOT would like to share thoughts and reviews.

Image from teaBot website

Major Green Tea Manufacturers in Japan – Part 2

Continued from yesterday’s post

Ueshima Coffee Company, or UCC, originated the canned coffee beverage available in vending machines in Japan. Although coffee remains the company’s most important product, recently it has branched out into tea. UCC makes a traditional canned green tea without sugar or calories as well as a canned oolong tea.

UCC Barista is a canned beverage available in many coffee flavors, however, there is also one Uzi Matcha variety. Matcha lattes contain sugar and whole milk powder and are said to be lightly sweet.

The company also makes Paradise Tea, which has a black tea base and incorporates herbal flavors like marigold, rose, and cornflower.

Another trend in the Japanese beverage market is companies that sell beer and other alcoholic beverages producing lines of tea products and other soft drinks that can be found in vending machines across the nation. Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo are three of the most prominent.

Asahi’s soft drinks include bottled 16 Blended tea, which is a barley-based herbal tea product that–ironically–doesn’t actually contain any tea leaves. The Asahi company also makes the extremely popular lactic acid beverage, Calpis (a sports drink). Additionally, under the Calpis name Asahi makes a FOSHU green tea called Calpis Kenchao.

Like Asahi, the Kirin company is mostly known in Japan as a manufacturer of alcoholic drinks. Kirin does make soft drinks, however, including Japan’s most popular line of black tea beverages, Gogo-no-Kocha. Kirin introduced this ready-to-drink black tea blend in 1986. Kirin makes an unsweetened black tea called This Afternoon, which is also available in a milk tea version that has whole milk and sugar added. Kirin also sells a peach-flavored tea made with Dimbula tea leaves imported from Sri Lanka. Interestingly, Dimbula is a kind of black tea, but Kirin’s peach tea has a light yellow color, similar to an oolong tea.

Kirin’s green tea product is called Nama-cha. With the popularity of Ayataka’s cloudy products, Nama-cha recently underwent a makeover to make the tea cloudier. Japanese consumers approve of the change, even though (by Japanese standards) Nama-cha is one of the sweetest of the bottled green tea beverages.

Pokka is Singapore’s top food and beverage company and the #1 seller of green tea in Singapore. In partnering with the Sapporo Brewery, the oldest beer brewery in Japan, Pokka sells Japanese consumers bottled green, white, and oolong tea beverages along with iced fruit teas and Afternoon Tea (black tea) in unsweetened and sweetened/milk varieties. One of its specialties is a roasted green tea.

This article is part of Kei Nishida’s published book: Green Tea Cha – How Japan and the World Enjoy Green Tea in the 21st Century
(ISBN-13: 978-1546704416 ISBN-10: 1546704418)

Kei Nishida is back with his latest book on the subject of Green Tea: Green Tea Cha, How Japan and the world Enjoys Green Tea in the 21st Century.   In this 143 page book Tokyo native Nishida covers the changing use and appreciation for tea in the 21st Century.  He brings together a collection of facts and observances that allows the reader to peer into the cultural mindset of those who enjoy Green Tea. He begins by explaining how tea is enjoyed in Japan today and the merger of traditional Japanese culture with that of the jihanki (vending machines) and ends with a discussion of Green Tea Beverages that “you’ve never heard of before but are drop dead delicious.”

Each chapter brings together a plethora of information about the uses of Green Tea in his pleasant, informative style, encouraging the reader to seek out these drinks and dishes for themselves. By the end of the book readers will not only have a list of “must try” drinks and dishes but also an appreciation for this powerful, tasty antioxidant.


Major Green Tea Manufacturers in Japan – Part 1

Ito En is Japan’s #1 manufacturer of canned and bottled green tea products. The company was the first to make a canned green tea drink that was sold in Japanese vending machines when it debuted its canned sencha green tea in 1985.

Today, Ito En’s signature bottled green tea product is Ooi Ocha-Ryokucha, which translates into English as, “Hey, Tea!” Sold in a clear, plastic bottle with a leaf-green wrapper, Ooi Ocha-Ryokucha is Japan’s best-selling vending machine green tea.

The tea is made from tea leaves grown in Japan, using only water and vitamin C as its other ingredients for a natural, fresh taste. Light-tasting beverages without sugar are a popular tea trend in Japan, and these drinks are beginning to be increasingly consumed worldwide. Ito En’s tea products come in two different plastic bottles: one that is designed to be served cold, and the other that is designed to be held at a specific, warm temperature range inside a vending machine.

Ito En’s other bottled green teas include:

Ooi Ocha-Koicha: This variety has a stronger taste than the Ryokucha variety.
Ooi Ocha-Hojicha: While other varieties of bottled tea are light yellowish-green in color, this tea is brown due to a light roasting of the tea leaves.
• Ooi Ocha-Genmaicha: Genmaicha is a mild green tea that pairs well with tempura and other fried foods. The ingredients include a combination of green tea and lightly roasted brown rice, giving this bottled tea a distinctive yellow color.
Jasmine Green Tea: This blend combines green tea with jasmine flowers for a very fragrant yet delicate-tasting brew.
Golden Oolong Tea: Oolong tea has less caffeine than Ito En’s other green tea offerings, so this iced tea variety can be drunk closer to bedtime.

Vending machines in Japan continue to offer Ito En’s canned sencha in addition to other canned versions of matcha and oolong tea. Over 2.5 billion green tea cans are sold in Japan per year with Sapporo making up an 80% share of the entire market. Ito En began importing Chinese tea leaves in 1979, thus making it Japan’s first importer of Chinese oolong tea.

Japanese food and beverage maker Suntory offers bottled green tea beverages in vending machines all over Japan. Its products include:

  • Iyemon: The #2 selling bottled green tea in Japan. To make this blend, Suntory partnered with a traditional Fukujuen tea grower in Kyoto for a rich flavor.
  • Iyemon Tokucha: A functional drink, this green tea variation is specifically for those drinkers who are trying to lose weight as it contains a polyphenol that is said to help break down stored body fat. This is part of the FOSHU drink trend (i.e., Food for Specified Health Uses).
  • Suntory Oolong Tea
  • Suntory Black Oolong Tea: Combining oolong green tea with black tea, Suntory produces this bottled cold tea for consumers looking to avoid the bitter aftertaste that green teas can sometimes have.

Ayataka is a Japanese arm of the U.S. based Coca-Cola company. The Kyoto-based company’s bottled green tea products are known for their cloudiness–unlike the clear beverages made by Ito En and Suntory–which comes from the use of specially milled powdered tea leaves of very high quality.

  • Ayataka Heaven and Earth Green Tea: Available in vending machines as cans and bottles, this unsweetened green tea blend is noted for its cloudiness and is said to taste very similar to tea poured from a teapot.
  • Sokenbicha: Available in five flavors. Some of Sokenbicha’s brews are green or oolong teas, and others are barley teas which contain no actual tea leaves. Each flavor represents one of Japan’s traditional five elements.

Images provided by author

To be concluded tomorrow

Blast From the Past: Tea Basics: Why You Should Drink Loose Leaf Tea

If you’re someone who drinks tea for its health benefits and/or aroma and flavor, you might want to think twice the next time you go to grab those convenient tea bags you purchased because they were the cheapest and most convenient option. Tea leaves need space to steep to their fullest potential. Being wrapped up in a small bag keeps them from delivering the best flavor and quality that tea has to offer.

Loose leaf teas are often folded, rolled, or dried in more condensed forms during processing to ensure that the antioxidants are released when steeped. This condensed state also dictates how the teas will taste after steeping. The rolling of leaves helps to preserve essential oils, adding to the aroma of the tea. Therefore the leaves will need space to unravel when they are steeped to reach their true aromatic and flavor potential.

Tea bags often contain over processed tea leaves including tea dust derived from the processing of the tea leaves. Most of the teas in tea bags go through a process called CTC or “Crush-Tear-Curl.” CTC processing was specifically invented for black tea to save time and money.

This isn’t inherently bad (many CTC-prepared loose teas can be quite good), but the problem is that most grocery store tea bags don’t have the tea produced by CTC or other methods, but instead have the tea “dust” that these processes create as a byproduct. The material, shape, and size of the bag itself will also affect the taste, aroma, and quality of the tea you are steeping. This over-processed tea will yield a more bitter and astringent taste.

Steeping loose leaves freely in water will yield more health benefits, better aroma and flavor, and will give you more options with the wide range of tea types from long needles to rolled balls. There are so many different types of teas that are not available in the on-the-go tea bags. One reason is that packaging the teas in the bags will undoubtedly compromise their quality and flavor. To get the most full-bodied flavor, aroma, and health benefits, brew your teas with loose leaves and let them steep freely in water.

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Originally posted by Thao Ho in November 2016

Five Years of Blogging About Tea

It’s been five years that I’ve been writing a blog about tea–the time flies.  I wrote about how tea culture seems to be changing last year so I’ll go into how my own perspective and experience of tea has changed instead.  I got started just before my daughter was born; a lot has changed beyond tea.

meeting her family, in that first hour

Starting a blog and the rest was as much about exploring social media through a subject interest.  It does carry over into tea group discussions, which ties to co-founding a Facebook tea group.

Of course, the interest in tea did precede writing about it.  We traveled to Laos when my son was quite young, maybe 8 years ago, and I saw tea plants growing in a small farm there.  I was more interested in the coffee they produced but bought both.  That tea being a bit mediocre, probably related to processing limitations, to the farmers probably just letting it dry, probably slowed up what could’ve been a faster start for subject interest.

a Laos tea garden (credit Kinnari Tea)

Discussing tea in groups keeps renewing my consideration of a “path to tea,” of a typical experience curve.  I guess there wouldn’t be any typical version; the starting point, steps, and how far it all goes would vary.  It is just a drink; I love it but can relate to people not really becoming obsessed.  I don’t tend to pass on guidance for what to experience, or approach, although I did lay out some basic factors in an introductory guide once.

I seem to have come full-circle for preferences, in a sense.  I’ve just spent a year delving into sheng pu’er, a type and subject that takes more exploration to piece together, so that kind of review keeps going.  New types, like a Japanese black tea I just reviewed (only the second I’ve tried), keep coming up, but less of them.  What I really meant was that I can appreciate a broader range of types and quality levels than ever before now.  For a long time teas being new to me or as good as better versions I’ve tried, or even better, made them seem all the more appealing, but now the main appeal is whatever the immediate experience offers, which varies.

It doesn’t get much more Thai than this

I’ll give an example:  I’ve purchased that orange-colored flavored version of loose Thai tea for the first time this year.  Even more unconventional, for a tea enthusiast, only this year I went back to drinking tea from tea bags.  Sometimes people who know I like tea but don’t know which types pass those on.  In the past I’d give them away again.  Trying a version of Lipton early this year seemed to reinforce that those just wouldn’t work for me.  But I tried again, mixing one with sweetened condensed milk at work, and kept on with it.  One was a tea version from Kenya, mentioned in this post reviewing Cold War Berlin tea history, covered there related to mixing it with willow herb, Ivan chay.  I like willow herb now too (even though it’s odd), and I’ve been dabbling in tisanes more.

Of course, I can still relate positively with better tea, very exceptional Chinese oolongs (like my overall favorite tea, Wuyi Origin’s Rou Gui).

Wuyi Origin Rou Gui; some versions do stand out

Lately I’ve been wondering where to go from here, related to blogging.  A classic blogger that I’ve learned a lot from has been saying that he’s worked through a lot of what he has to say.  There seems to be an experience curve related to talking about tea that ends in just experiencing it, and not talking about it.  Another older local friend seems to have even cut back drinking it.  I doubt I’ll do many more 100+ blog post years, or keep up the reviewing pace, but for now, interesting subjects and new tea experiences keep coming up.  I’ll stick with it.