Tea Sets and Appreciation

A few days ago, my husband and I were in the kitchen in order to discuss what we wanted to do about dinner. While we were talking about it, I wandered into the dining room. We don’t typically use it, as we don’t presently have a table, but we do have a few things on a shelf against the window. One of which being my tetsu kyusu tea set. I wandered over and admired my tea set, until suddenly I noticed that there were curious white spots on it. I picked up a cup, and found that there were indeed a small number of tiny, white specks scattered on the inside. I found my gaze darting all over the set with mounting horror, until I carried the cup to my husband and asked him, “Is this… paint? From when you were doing the walls a few weeks ago?”

He replied in the affirmative, and I felt increasing levels of horror and pain wash over me. I wondered how they (my husband and mother-in-law who assisted him) could have so callously and carelessly destroyed something that they must know I care about, and either not even notice or not think to tell me. I ran a fingernail over a speck of paint in despair, and then realized that the speck came off when I did so. I checked the cup, and it was unmarred where the spot had been removed. Despite my resentment, I felt a spark of hope bloom that I might still be able to keep them.

One at a time, I picked up each piece of the set. Each cup, each saucer. The teapot, the chafing dish, the trivet. I went over every one with great focus, gently scraping off each speck of paint I found. As I did so, I reflected on my emotional response to what had happened. I reminded myself that they hadn’t known it had occurred, it was genuinely an accident. Then I considered why I cared so much about the set to begin with. It had been a gift from my ex-fiance. There was nothing special about who it came from. But when I reflected on when I got it, I realized it wasn’t that simple. My ex-fiance and I had been out with my mom, and we went to a shop that sold them. When I was admiring them, my then-boyfriend told me that I should pick one out, and it could be my birthday present. It wasn’t something he chose with care. It was something that I chose, and he was relieved he didn’t have to put forth any effort. It was important to me because it was mine and I had chosen it, not because of who it came from or why or how much it cost.

As I cleaned the paint off, I was also doing something else to them: I was wiping the dust off. They all had it. If this set was so precious to me that I would be upset at the thought of it being marred, why did I then leave it sitting and never think to clean it? It makes sense that I don’t use it all the time: It holds significantly more tea than I typically need in a day, and it’s more effort to use a pot and small cups than to make a mug at a time. But that doesn’t mean that it deserves to gather dust. If I care so much, why do I not take better care of it?

And that’s the most important thing, I realized. It’s not that it got tiny paint spatters on it. It’s that it had that paint on it for a few weeks and I never even noticed. I was feeling guilty, and trying to blame other people. I forgave them, and then I forgave myself. And from now on, I will make a point of trying to keep the dust off even if I am not using it. Because we should cherish and appreciate the people and things that we care about, and not take them for granted.

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It Ain’t Just For Stomach Distress – The Wonders of Chamomile Tea

I think we’re all familiar with the GI benefits of this wonderful herb, chamomile. This mild-tasting tisane is something that you might want to give another look at. I wouldn’t think of not having some in the house for those occasional stomach upsets. Although my mom kept Pepto Bismol in the medicine cabinet for such a purpose, chamomile tea is far superior in my opinion.

It is believed that the flavonoids in chamomile, which are a type of nutrient present in many plants, play a significant role in chamomile’s medicinal effects. The one I’ve been investigating which is present in chamomile is apigenin. This terrific phytonutrient seems to have a significant impact on anxiety and depression (source).

In a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in 2012, people with mild to moderate depression and anxiety were given 220 mg a day of a chamomile extract for eight weeks. Using well-established universal measurements, such as the Beck Anxiety Inventory System and the Hamilton Anxiety Rating, the team found that a majority of the group (57 percent) experienced significant reduction of symptoms.

One very encouraging finding from the study – which was published in the well-respected journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine – was that chamomile’s therapeutic effects actually increased over time – although the dosage did not. (With some pharmaceutical drugs, tolerance develops – necessitating ever-increasing dosages to bring about the initial result. But, chamomile seems to display the opposite effect).

Scientists believe that a flavonoid called apigenin – which binds to the benzodiazepine receptors in the brain – may be responsible for chamomile’s anxiety-reducing and antidepressant effects.

Having been a psychologist for over 25 years, I can tell you that there isn’t a safe pharmaceutical drug on the market that effectively improves symptoms of mild to moderate depression and anxiety in 57% of the people taking it- and that’s without side effects or increased tolerance mind you. With chamomile tea, the improvements seem to increase over time. I think that’s absolutely amazing.

This ancient herb has been used by healers for centuries. We might tend to disregard folklore and the medicinal herbs they employ but I’m coming to understand that these herbal remedies have withstood the test of time. Many are taken in the form of teas, or more appropriately called tisanes. Although they didn’t come with double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, they’ve been passed down through the generations and are finally being proven with stringent scientific testing. I get some real satisfaction knowing that Mother Nature has created countless herbs that are available to fight a huge variety of ills that continue to plague people around the world. Always check to see if there are any contraindications. I found an interesting study about infant colic and the effectiveness of chamomile tea to sooth this form of GI distress although another article noted potential concerns about giving chamomile tea to infants and very young children due to possible contamination with botulism spores. This is a similar concern found in raw honey. When in doubt, check with your alternative health care provider. Unfortunately, traditionally trained medical doctors receive no education about herbs and extremely little about nutrition in general.

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Blast From the Past: TEAsicles!


Cold-infused tea is a splendid way to beat the summer heat. Take cold infusion one step further with refreshing TEAsicles. You are only limited by your imagination. Be creative! Tempt your senses with chai creamsicles, lemon green tea popsicles, creamy avocado tea popsicles, sweet peach tea popsicles, matcha, and many others. My personal favorite: strawberries puréed in a blender, add prepared oolong cold infusion, blend the two together, and then pour into popsicle molds. Add popsicle sticks, pop them into the freezer for few hours, and voilà!

Cold infusion:

1) A tall glass vessel.

2) 2-3 tablespoons of whole leaf tea.

3) Add water (I use filtered water from my Brita).

4) Place in your refrigerator for 4-10 hours. The longer you leave it to brew, the stronger the flavor and caffeine will be. White Teas will infuse faster, closely followed by green teas and oolongs. More time is needed for rolled oolongs, pu-erhs, herbal, and black teas.

5) After 4 – 10 hours, strain your infusion and serve with ice or create TEAcicles!

Cold Fusion TEAsicles:

1) Pour infusion into popsicle molds.

2) Add in raspberries, blueberries, peaches, edible flowers, or whatever tickles your fancy. Pour less tea into each mold if fruits are added.

3) Place popsicle molds in the freezer for 2-3 hours.

4) Enjoy.

Examples of additions to your TEAsicles:

Citrus zest, peel or slices

Fresh berries

Lavender, mint, and other savory herbs

Edible flowers

Honey, maple syrup, no synthetics

A splash of fresh fruit juice or nectar

Make your summer tea experience cool, refreshing, and TEAlicous! 

NOTE: I tried two different teas: Tie Kwan Yin (Oolong) and Coffee Pu’erh from DavidsTea.
Coffee Pu’erh: Pu’erh leaves, coffee beans, almond and vanilla flavoring which gave the TEAsicle tealicious kick!
Tie Kwan Yin oolong is fresh grassy and complimented the edible flowers, I chose pansy.

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Best Teas to Cleanse and Detox

Two very popular diet and tea terms are ‘Cleanse’ and ‘Detox’. But what are the differences between these two terms, and what–if anything–do these teas have to offer? Read on to find out!

Why do a cleanse or detox anyway?

The biggest reason a lot of people do a cleanse or detox is for weight loss, and this is where a lot of the industry focuses its marketing. There are additional reasons we’ll cover shortly, but the majority of these diets focus on weight loss as the ultimate benefit.

What is the difference between a Cleanse and Detox?

While these terms are used often interchangeably, they are drastically different. So depending on your goal, you may do one or the other, or both in different stages.

A cleanse is the process where you eliminate junk food and replace with fiber and nutrient-rich foods. These foods will not only make you feel better, but it will help all your organs, including the liver and kidneys to work more efficiently. A big focus is on releasing stagnation from the GI tract and helping with elimination. Eating properly, along with fiber will help you get rid of bloat and excess water and other “junk”.

Detox works differently. This process helps your body, and more importantly, your kidneys and liver get rid of accumulated toxins such as heavy metals. Food itself cannot detoxify your body, but eating the right type of foods can help your kidneys and liver do their job better. These diets tend to be much more restrictive than their cleanse counterparts. They are often paired with fasts.

How does one choose?

As mentioned before, a common reason for a cleanse is to lose weight. A detox is more of a shock approach and may be used in situations where you ate a lot of bad food or had too much to drink. Detox regimens are usually shorter term in duration. But the key is for you to understand your goals and choose the appropriate approach that will help you reach them. There are also many different diets, but how do you know which one works? A great tool is to use the annual ranking of diets by US News and World Report. One piece of advice: If you are using diet to overcome a medical condition, weight loss, or to reduce your reliance of prescription drugs make sure you coordinate with a doctor who has a nutrition background (most do not) and be willing to have your blood tested regularly to see the results. This is especially for diets that are more restrictive.

How do Cleanse and Detox teas work?

Since tea is considered a food, it is simply another ingredient that you can consume in conjunction with the cleanse or detox diet you are using. A detox tea would generally be a combination of herbs that simulate the kidney and liver and encourage urination. Some of the well-known herbs and spices used are fennel seed, coriander, milk thistle, and dandelion. 

A cleanse tea is usually focused towards releasing stagnation and helping your GI tract. Green tea, fennel seed, senna (a natural laxative), ginger and cinnamon are often found in cleanse formulas.

Regardless of the teas you use, remember they are a tool used in addition to your diet. Drinking tea alone will probably have little effect by itself.

Danger of tea?

One of the issues to be aware of is that some vendors have Senna as their main ingredient. No long-term solution should include diuretics and laxatives day after day. Senna is often used to clear out patients prior to surgery. However too much Senna can also lead to your body becoming addicted. So know the ingredients and make sure you know how much and how long you should drink the teas.

“Regular”  Tea

Besides teas specific to cleansing and detox, a good diet supplemented with pretty much any tea will be beneficial. Old school advice of eating a varied diet also applies to tea. Using green, oolong, black, and pu-erh tea will expose you to all the benefits and can be used in most cases indefinitely without side effects.

Buying Cleanse and Detox Teas

It’s not a bad idea to have a few of these teas handy just like aspirin in your medicine cabinet. We always recommend buying from a dedicated tea merchant who offers a good variety of tea. We do not recommend vendors who specialize in specific detox or cleanse teas, as they are usually not experts in tea but rather social media. Secondly, the prices from these specialty vendors are often much higher because of their much higher marketing overhead.

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Ten Tips For Brewing Better Tea – Part Two

Continued from yesterday’s post

  1.  try out Gongfu brewing, versus Western style

There are two main ways to brew tea; Western style uses roughly a teaspoon or 2 grams of tea per one cup of water, infused for around 4 minutes, often twice.  Gongfu style brewing uses a higher proportion of tea to water and a different type of device, most often either a gaiwan or clay pot instead of a ceramic teapot, tumbler, or gravity infuser.  Different teas work better using different proportions, timing, and water temperatures. One school of thought advocates using boiling point water for everything, adjusting for strength using shorter infusions.

For many people, clay pots make for an optimum solution for some tea types.  Any porous clay material allows for tea components to soak into the pot, and to re-release flavor back into later rounds of brewing, once a pot is appropriately “seasoned.”  It takes a lot of research to even get started on clay pot styles, ideal clay types (Yixing, a region also used to describe a range of local clay comes up), how to best limit use to one tea type (how narrow to go for range), and which pot style and clay types match with which tea versions.

gaiwans work really well but clay pots are handy and provide a different aesthetic experience

  1.  try varying infusion strength

People tend to have a preconception about what infusion strength is normal for different types of teas, often based on how that typical Western proportion and timing works out.  I wouldn’t go much stronger than that (longer, or just infused stronger), but lighter in strength can be nice to experiment with. Sheng pu’er works better brewed quite light compared to black teas, for example.  White teas work across a broad range, brewed strong to match the thickness and style of black teas, or brewed very light to be enjoyed as a more subtle version.

  1.  consider the water

Different mineral content in water can make or break a tea brewing experience.  This tends to be where dedicated (obsessed) enthusiasts separate from casual tea drinkers, but really anyone could try out using a bottled water instead of tap water.  One might think distilled water or reverse osmosis processed water–stripped of everything, minerals included–might be ideal, but the minerals play a role in the infusion process, and affect the final outcome positively (or negatively, if the balance or type doesn’t work well).  Researching the absolute best water for a specific type is nearly impossible but trying out minor variation at home is easy.

Per most input even using a Brita filter could make a positive difference.  One odd trick relates to placing bamboo wood charcoal into the water–not while you brew, in a pitcher of some sort before heating it–to either absorb the wrong types of minerals or trace elements or maybe to add some others.  I guess if it seems to work you really don’t need to know how it works.

  1.  consider the cup

It’s only psychological, I think, since you could drink tea out of a coffee mug, a fancy British tea cup, or a stainless steel camp cup (my typical water glass, at home) and it shouldn’t make that much difference.  But most tea enthusiasts claim it really does, and I sort of have to side with that, even though my range of use of teaware is non-existent compared to most. For people with no budget limits what to try out for teaware is an easy call; choose it all, and see what works.  For everyone else taking small steps in different directions can work; try out a few interesting variations from a thrift store, or splurge and try a beautiful bowl-shaped version that looks more like artwork than an everyday use cup.

Some teaware does have a cool look (photo credit)

  1.  try different teas

This isn’t advice about brewing, it’s about sourcing the tea and the type instead.  If you like Indian or Sri Lankan black teas (Assam, Darjeeling, or Ceylon) it’s still worthwhile trying Chinese blacks, to see how those vary.  Different oolongs can be approachable, not necessarily hard to brew (maybe just tricky to optimize in some cases), and many are good across a broad quality level range.  As your palate and preferences change, and as you try different types and better quality teas, factors that were less important earlier on can influence results more.

  1.  make it your own

Experiment, and break rules!  It works to vary infusion technique every time you make tea, or even infusion round to round.  Or go the other way, and make a science of it, and try to zero in on carefully controlled optimums through small adjustments.  That second approach would seem to tie together with researching other people’s informed opinions more but I guess that could work either way; someone might experiment from the ground up on their own, based on conventional approaches, or read up on lots of crazy ideas to try new things that are unconventional.

To me, the nice thing about tea is the range it covers.  It can be an inexpensive food-related interest, with lots of variation possible even at low cost, involving low effort and knowledge input.  Or the subject can be bottomless, involving ever deeper layers of exploration.

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Ten Tips For Brewing Better Tea – Part One

I don’t cover that many back to basics themes but in this I’ll explain ten ways to improve an approach to brewing tea.

  1.   Ditch the tea bags and drink better tea

Tea in tea bags is typically terrible; low quality, ground-up dust.  Sticking with an old favorite brand is fine but in the end that usually amounts to drinking bad tea.

Beyond tea bags, loose teas vary a lot.  In general, if a tea looks ground up (as CTC, crush-tear-curl automated processed teas are, or just broken orthodox versions can be) then the brewed tea won’t be very good.  It’s difficult to summarize what makes up “good tea,” since that can mean a range of different things. Paying more is no guarantee, and not all vendors can probably even tell the difference themselves.  The look of a website or physical shop tends to not mean much either. You have to go through a learning curve to judge for yourself.

Wuyi Origin old bush Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong oolong

  1.   Don’t use boiling point water for green tea

Simple enough.  Preferences could vary, and for different green teas different temperatures would work best (per individual preference), but dropping down to something like 75 C / 170 F for most green teas works much better, for most people.  Even lower for some Japanese green versions; it’s best to experiment a bit and read around.

  1.   Don’t trust bloggers or vendors for input

So much for the rest of this list, right?  More than half the people offering advice about tea online–vendors included–know very little about tea, and haven’t experienced much for varying parameters, checking out different versions, even trying very high-quality tea, looking into background research, etc.  Even what I say should be taken with a grain of salt, to some extent. Most input really would be helpful, it all just needs to be screened.

  1. About infuser devices

Orthodox Assam in a for-purpose basket, cup, and lid infuser device

I tend to de-emphasize this factor but brewing devices are a critical aspect.  For Western style brewing (the teaspoon per cup approach) it seems to not matter as much; you could use a ceramic teapot, infuser basket, gravity device (similar to a drip coffee maker in design), or even a French press, and results wouldn’t vary much.  Some people brew green teas in a glass to see them swirl, which also works out using specialized tea bottles / tumblers, and those also travel well. Covering a tea while brewing probably makes a difference; volatile components that make up the flavors could evaporate off otherwise.

To be continued tomorrow

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Inspired With Japan: How to Create Your Own Personal Tea Room

Guest contribution by Hannah Thomas

The word “Zen” is what first comes to mind when we think of Japan. Japanese design is characterized by simplicity and minimalistic approach, which ultimately leads to serenity and harmony. The cluttered living is bad for the mind and body, so Japanese modest design is about restoring balance into our lives through a careful choice of elements and colors in our homes.

Ancient tea ceremonies performed in Japanese households are focused on achieving inner peace and deep contemplation while drinking and enjoying tea. This is why there is a special attention paid to designing a tea room in a home where the perfect ambiance for relaxation can be reached. If you are considering creating your own tea room, here’s what you should have in mind.

1. Elements of Nature

Image source: https://pixabay.com/en/bonsai-tree-bonsai-tree-small-738463/

Tea is meant to be drunk outside; that’s why it’s important to add natural elements in the room. Place traditional Japanese plants in the corners, such as bonsai and bamboo. Of course, adding more greenery of any kind will heighten the feeling of being close to nature. Sleek plants like orchid or palm will give a touch of simple elegance to the space.

2. Alcove (tokonoma)

Tokonoma is a recessed alcove that’s often decorated by a hanging stroll, usually changed at the beginning of every season in order to reflect it. Tokonoma has gained popularity in many European countries like Norway, Sweden, and the UK – actually, in any country where gardening is art. It is an unmissable element of a tea room, as it’s one of the essentials of Japanese design. if you don’t want to change it every season, choose one for the whole year.

3. Low tables

Image source: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1395443

A traditional Japanese room should have a low table, as it’s common to sit on the floor, that is, on a tatami mat or a cushion. If you experience colder months, you can buy a heatable low table (kotatsu), which is popular not only in Japan but also in northern countries. Their specificity is in the upper part covered by a blanket, while it gets heated from the underneath.

4. Tatami mats

This type of mat is thick and made of woven straws and is usually two meters in size. Every traditional Japanese home has it, to that extent that rooms in Japan are measured by the number of mats that could fit in them. Bear in mind that you should only be stepping onto tatami barefoot.

5. Translucent sliding doors

Shoji Japan House Japanese Paper Bran

Image source: https://www.maxpixel.net/Shoji-Japan-House-Japanese-Paper-Bran-1604870

Shoji, a special kind of sliding doors is made of wooden lattices which are covered with translucent paper that allows the light entering or a dash of fresh air. A slightly different version of shoji, also used in China, has a sheet of glass on one side of the door. Alternatively, sliding panels can be moved up and down instead of right and left – a version popular in European countries for practical reasons.

6. Presence of light

The right presence of natural light is very important for the tea room. In Japan, windows are frequently covered with rice paper. This unique translucent paper diffuse natural light that shines in the room, which creates a highly serene ambiance needed to enjoy the tea ceremony. In other countries, a great alternative is often used. Basswood is used for shutters that achieve the same effect – they are able to adjust according to the changes in the light. Timber, like the one used for plantation shutters in Sydney, Australia, is adjusted to the air moisture in a specific room, so the natural processes in the tea room aren’t interrupted.

Final words

Lastly, it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t go too far with the elements. Minimalism is the direction to follow, so it’s not just about WHAT you put in the tea room; it’s also HOW MANY elements you use.

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How Much Caffeine is Too Much?

Guest Contribution by Steve O’Dell

Caffeine. It’s not good for us…

…or so we thought.

Caffeine tends to be one of those issues that get highly debated without there ever being a conclusive answer. Why is that?

Some people claim that caffeine makes them anxious and prevents them from sitting still, while others feel little to no effect. This is important because here’s the deal with caffeine: it all depends on how you’re getting it.

The effect of caffeine in soda is not the same as caffeine in coffee, and both are totally different from the way caffeine will influence a matcha tea drinker. All 3 of these drinks are made up of completely different ingredients. Ever notice how quickly you burn out when you drink soda? Sodas are much like sports drinks in that they contain loads of sugar. They are great for when you need a quick boost of energy, but that energy is short-lived. With the aggressive combination of sugar and caffeine working in unison, that energy surge goes away just as quickly as it came on. This has a lot to do with the sugar involved.

Coffee, on the other hand, contains a lot of caffeine on its own. Morning coffee drinkers complain that they feel jittery by lunchtime. It is important to realize how caffeine works when left to its own devices. Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning that when you consume large amounts of it in the morning, there’s a strong possibility you may feel dehydrated later in the day. That’s why it’s imperative that you balance out your coffee intake with an equal amount of water.

Tea is the exception when it comes to caffeine. People who drink matcha tea are much more energized throughout the day than their coffee and soda drinking peers. Matcha tea is unique in that it contains powerful ingredients that bring out the power of caffeine in the best way possible. Matcha tea comes packed with something called l-theanine and, while it sounds pretty scientific, is just a naturally-occurring compound that helps reduce stress, increase focus and lower heart rate.

On paper, it seems that the effects of caffeine and l-theanine would contradict each other, but the end result is actually the complete opposite. When combined, the end result is something of a superpower. Caffeine in green tea is absorbed into the bloodstream at a slower pace so that you have an energy boost just like you would with coffee. The difference is that the energy you get from green tea lasts longer because of the introduction of l-theanine. When the l-theanine kicks in, your mind will be able to relax and focus on what’s important. The caffeine will still be there so that you have the energy necessary to take on the day.

Is there really such a thing as too much caffeine? Like anything, caffeine should be taken in some form of moderation. If it wasn’t safe, caffeine would not be on the FDA’s list of “safe” substances. It generally comes down to how you get your caffeine. The way your body reacts to large amounts of caffeine in soda or coffee will be different from the way it will react to the caffeine in matcha tea. And it’s important to keep in mind that it is naturally-occurring. Even decaffeinated teas still contain small amounts of caffeine. The next time you take a sip of your favorite green tea, take a moment to appreciate the most natural ingredients working together to do their job.

Steve O’Dell

Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder

Blast From the Past: Unique and sophisticated tea cocktails for the dog days of summer

It’s the height of summer, and these long, hot days practically beg us to get a bit more creative with our liquid refreshment. If you still haven’t gotten around to making a few tea cocktails to dazzle your guests at a summer soirée, now’s the time to try.

Tea can be introduced into your cocktail by infusing the leaves into the spirit, by using brewed tea or tea concentrate as a mixer, by infusing tea into a simple syrup, or by using tea ice cubes. Vodka or gin are great places to start with creating a tea-infused spirit: steep 1/2 cup of jasmine tea or 1/2 cup of Earl Grey tea in a 750 ml bottle of vodka or gin for a few hours (some say up to a couple of days, but in my experience, that’s a bit long), strain using cheesecloth, and store.

Aside from spirits, a few basic building blocks will help give you the flexibility to get creative: simple syrups, garnishes, and tea ice cubes provide endless possibilities. Make a simple syrup by bringing 1 cup of sugar and a 1/2 cup water to boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Cool and store for up to 2 weeks. The cool thing with simple syrups is that you can steep tea, ginger, citrus, herbs, spices, flower petals, and practically anything else you can think of in the syrup. My favorite ingredients for simple syrups to use for tea cocktails are ginger, citrus, and lychees.

For garnishes, unfurled (or even rolled) tea leaves make great garnishes, as do matcha / flower / zest-laced sugar, lychees, graham-cracker rims, pomegranate seeds, or flowers / petals. The choices are endless, so think outside the cherry (or olive)!

To get you started, here are a couple of simple, unique cocktails that everyone loved at the last tea cocktail tasting we hosted:

Kentucky Green Tea

While it may sound extremely odd (and extravagant) to use a meaty gyokuro in a bourbon cocktail, you might be surprised at how well the savory tea and bourbon commingle:

1 oz gyokuro or kabuse concentrate, chilled
1 oz Jim Beam or other bourbon
1 tsp of honey, or to taste
lime splash

Shake in a cocktail shaker and pour over ice. Garnish with lime slice.

Jazmine Quartet

1 oz jasmine-infused vodka
1/2 oz St. Germaine
1/2 oz lychee syrup
Drop of ginger juice*

Shake ingredients in cocktail shaker with ice, strain into a glass, top with seltzer water, and garnish with jasmine pearls.

* You can make ginger juice by finely pulverizing ginger in a food processor, placing the pulp in cheesecloth, and squeezing out the juice.

Article by Tracy Monson, originally posted July 2012.

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Review: The Tea Spot Simple Steeps

I received three flavors of The Tea Spot’s “Simple Steeps” to sample and review. I was intrigued and curious to know what was a “Simple Steep”. Turns out they’re individually-portioned packets of loose tea. So imagine a teabag’s individually-sealed packet, but picture it filled with loose tea instead of tea-filled sachet. While requiring slightly more effort than a tea bag, it still seems a very convenient option for travel and portability, skipping measuring, and maintaining freshness while still getting the enjoyment of whole-leaf. When I measured one of the packets, I found it to have just under a tablespoon of tea: A delightful amount for a single cup. While a part of me cringes at the waste from extra packaging, it seems to me that the convenience would occasionally be worth it (hello, travel!). Each box had an explanation of the flavor, illustrated instructions, and lists the health benefits and facts of the tea in question.

I decided to start my morning off with “Rise and Chai”. The name made it an obvious choice, as well as the fact that I tend to only have black teas in the first half of the day. An interesting chai consisting of both pu-erh and black tea, it is a minimal-ingredient chai compared to many with the other ingredients being cinnamon, turmeric, and fennel. While I tend to think of cardamom as an essential chai ingredient (we all have our biases) I found this chai to be pleasantly well-rounded. The cinnamon and turmeric gave it just enough bite and the fennel rounded out the flavor with a little bit of that sweet-herby flavor. The box claims that it’s “…delicious even without any added cream or sweetener” and they’re right that it has a nice level of natural sweetness. I feel that one could add a touch of honey to round out the flavor a tiny bit more, but it certainly wasn’t necessary. The second steeping was what one would expect: the cinnamon came through the strongest, but the flavor was still good even a little mellowed.

After a long and tiring day in the office, I decided that a cup of matcha would be the perfect pick-me-up. I was surprised by the instructions, as they say to whisk the small packet of matcha with 16-20 ounces of warm water. It sounded like a huge amount of water to me, but I believe in following directions to the letter on the first try. So I whisked the matcha into a small amount of water and then poured it into a mug and added the rest of the water, swirling to combine. I found the flavor to be mellow and well-balanced, but I would probably use less water next time, perhaps eight or ten ounces. My assumption is that the goal when designating that quantity of water is to make it more appealing to those who are less accustomed to the flavor of matcha and expect something thinner. I’m certainly in favor of expanding the tea audience and exposing people to new flavors, so I can only applaud their efforts to mainstream this delicacy.

I sampled the final tea “Flat Belly” in the evening not long before bed. Technically a tisane, the herbal had only three ingredients: hibiscus, peppermint, and licorice root. Touted as a tea for maintaining a healthy weight because of its natural sweetness but full flavor, I was glad that I only steeped it the minimum suggested time of six minutes! With those three power-packed flavors it was quite strong. I’ve always been fond of hibiscus, with its bright color and sharp-sweet flavor. The combination of bright hibiscus, cool mint, and earthy licorice was a good blend. I thought the licorice was a little strong, but I also used merely hot water rather than boiling. I think full-boiling water would help bring out the mint and hibiscus to better balance the licorice.

The Tea Spot was founded by a cancer fighter who found tea during her recovery and fell in love with the amazing health benefits. Based out of Boulder, Colorado in the USA, they blend their teas in small batches to maintain quality control. Along with a goal of touching lives, fostering health and wellness, and teaching the benefits of whole tea; they also donate 10% of all profits in-kind to cancer and community wellness programs.