Darjeeling Strike: The Aftermath – T Ching


This time last year was very exciting in the Darjeeling region of India, the home of rolling tea hills and the fierce and friendly Gorkha culture. Locals had a sense of empowerment after a labor strike that took the tea industry by hostage. There was no choice but for the tea industry to listen to the people and understand the struggle the local labor has been experiencing as growers and makers of the Champagne of Teas. All eyes on the demand for independence and Gorkhaland, but has anything changed? Gorkhaland was not formed and workers continue to deal with the daily struggles of low profit margin production as they go back to work. There is one big difference though that is not spoken about in media or among industry professionals, the strike further solidified the supply chain of lower value Nepalese teas to be sold as Darjeeling tea.

I have been working with a community of small tea growers led by a Gorkha family in Darjeeling that is focusing on producing high-quality tea to sell to the foreign market called [Yanki Tea Factory](https://tealet.com/grower/profile/25). Their teas have been valued greatly in the international market, but there is only so much of these highly specialty teas that can be made, the majority of their production is bulk orthodox teas. Following the second flush season, leading up the festival season of Dusshera and Diwali, the family was becoming very worried that they won’t be able to distribute bonuses to the small growers working within their network. The reason why is because they were sitting on large stocks of tea from the first and second harvests of 2018 because tea buyers refused to pay a fair price for the tea. The buyers’ argument is that they are able to get similar quality teas at a much lower price from Nepal. These relationships and supply chain had been formed during the time of non-supply during the 2017 strike.

Independent tea makers are not the only ones affected by this development, even large and famous tea estates are sitting on larger stocks this year. Unsold tea means no cash which means no bonuses. Throughout Darjeeling this year only 8% was given to the workers whereas a 19.20% bonus was given to the workers in previous years. The festival season is an important time for these communities and the bonuses have always been the way they are able to enjoy. This year’s festival season will always have the love and energy of the Gorkha, just more financial struggle.

For the Yanki Tea Factory community, this festival season will be an encouraging one as their direct trade buyers around the world have been introduced to their bulk teas at a fair price and have provided enough revenue for them to provide proper bonuses to their network. There is still much more work to be done in improving quality, efficiency, and marketing for these teas around the world, but it is progress.



Blast From the Past: Making Tea While Traveling


We enjoy the comfort of our tea setups at home. From simple infusers to teapots to gaiwans and yixing pots, it is nice to be able to make tea however we want at home. But what happens when we find ourselves traveling but still want to make tea? There are several ways to still enjoy good tea while traveling.

Perhaps the easiest way to make quality tea while traveling is to buy tea in sachets. Unlike tea bags which contain the dust and fannings, full leaf sachets contain loose leaf tea in a larger bag that still allows the tea to expand and properly infuse. Most hotel rooms nowadays have a coffee maker in the room. Use the coffee maker to heat the water and infuse your sachet in a cup.

If you still want to brew loose leaf tea while traveling, fear not. There are still many ways. There are two ways to be creative in a hotel room. If the room has paper cups, poke holes along the bottom of the cup and along the bottom quarter of the sides of the cup. Put another cup outside of the cup that you just poked holes into, and fill the cup with your tea. Heat up some water in the coffee maker into the paper cups and let your tea steep. Once the tea is steeped, very carefully and slowly lift the top cup up and allow the tea to filter into the outside cup. This method best works with larger leaf teas as smaller leaves can clog up the holes. Another way to utilize the coffee maker and paper cups is to take a lid and strain the tea leaves through the mouth hole. I’ve had success with this method with smaller leaves as large leaves may block the opening of the mouth hole.

Another option is to drink tea “grandpa style”. This refers to the method of brewing tea without filtering the leaves out. Not all teas are suitable for this type of brewing as some teas can become too bitter by overbrewing. Some recommended styles of teas to enjoy this way are dragonwell greens, shu (ripe) puerh, silver needle white teas, and roasted oolongs. This is a great method for hiking! I’ve also used this method during long conferences at work.

If your hotel is nice enough to give you a mini fridge, you can cold brew! Cold brewing tea needs to be done the night before, but can give you a delicious cup of tea that is ready when you wake up. Be careful and make sure that the mini fridge doesn’t have motion sensors. Some hotel mini fridges may charge you even if it detects something has moved, if you do not have a motion sensor in the mini fridge, you’re in the clear! My favorite teas to cold brew are Japanese green teas like gyokuro and sencha. Green oolongs and Yunnan black teas are also delicious when cold brewed.

Of course, if you are traveling, do not miss the chance to find great local tea shops!

Image provided by author

Originally posted in October 2015 by James Rubly



Tea of the Month Buyers Guide – Part 2


Continued from yesterday

Ability to purchase more tea?

You’ll probably come across tea that you absolutely love and will want to buy more of. Another question would be can you buy more of a particular tea from the seller? Some boxes that mix different brands will not be able to do this –  you will have to order from different companies which may be inconvenient. Some companies have a very limited selection of tea on their website. Some clubs offer perks in the way of discounts to their website for plan members. It’s good to know what your options are in advance.

Anything else included?

Some subscriptions will send you the tea by itself, some will send you some disposable tea bags, and some others offer infusers or even teapots. If you already have a collection of teapots, you may not want to pay for an additional one you don’t want or need. On the other hand, if you are sending as a gift, having something included so that it can be used on day one isn’t a bad idea.

Managing the subscription

Companies can host their own services or use a third party provider like Cratejoy. The software for managing subscriptions and payments is pretty complex, which is why some companies opt to outsource this. We like to see a mechanism for being able to change billing methods, delivery address, pausing or cancel subscriptions. Some places let you do a pre-pay, which we only recommend if the company has a good reputation (see below). This avoids interruptions in shipments due to credit cards being expired or lost.

The company behind the box

Is it a subscription-only company? Or a tea company that happens to have subscriptions? Which is the better choice? Regardless of who hosts the box, it’s a good idea to look at the companies web page and learn more about the company itself. Does it inspire confidence about the products being offered? Is there customer service easily accessible?  Is a phone number or address listed?

Recommendations

There is no one perfect club. Using the factors discussed above will help you find the ideal tea of the month subscription that best fits your needs.

Examples of some tea companies that offer subscriptions:

Art of Tea
Adagio Tea Club
The Tea Spot
The Tea Table
Silver Tips
Imperial Tea
Republic of Tea
Whistling Kettle

Image Source



Tea of the Month Buyers Guide – Part 1


Like other food-based “monthly” clubs, it’s a great way to get a curated list of teas shipped to you automatically each month. Regardless if you are getting this as a gift or for yourself, you get exposed to a variety of teas on a regular basis. But what makes one club different from another one? The amount of tea of the month clubs available on the market has expanded over the past few years. But not all clubs are the same, and this article is designed to help you make an informed decision.

Scrutinize ‘TOP 10 lists’

If you are searching on google, you might come across ‘top 10’ pages. In fact, search just about any general product and you will get top multiple “top 10 “lists. Most of these are usually not individual reviews by a qualified reviewer, but just a list linking to affiliate marketers (i.e. they cut of the sale).  While there isn’t inherently anything wrong with this, make sure the guides do more than just list the features of the box.  Do they have any knowledge or authority on the subject matter or are they just reading the product description verbatim?

Shipping

Most plans by default include “free” shipping. However, if you are sending as a gift, make sure you know what the box looks like. It is a cheapy plastic envelope? Generic box? Or is it something a little more fancy?

Most places will ship on a set schedule each month. If it’s close to the holiday season, you’ll want to know the cut off date to get the first box in time.

What are the plans?

First and foremost, we are biased against bagged tea so we prefer any subscription that consists of only loose tea. This is simply for quality and variety.  Some clubs are limited to just one plan – you take whatever they send you. Some clubs offer a variety of plans focused on particular tea categories. A few clubs might offer hyper customized plans based on a “personality algorithm”. While this is may be ideal for a certain customer who is hyper picky, such as “I don’t like Earl Grey, Citrus, Chocolate and want to avoid caffeine” offering too much customization might reduce the serendipity of trying teas you might not even know you might like, or exposing you to a taste that you never knew existed. Since we consider tea like food, we like the more adventurous route of not knowing what you may expect.

Price and Quantity 

Prices are very subjective, and you will see a wide range of prices from plan to plan. In most cases, shipping is built into the cost of the plan. Besides the shipping materials, boxes, labor, marketing, overhead, and management – the rest of the cost is the tea itself. Here is where things get murky. Not all plans reveal the exact menu of teas you will receive, which is admittedly hard to do in advance especially during certain seasons. Some clubs lure you in with ‘too good to be true’ prices, but in reality, the amount of tea offered is either minuscule or the teas provided are mostly cheaper teas that cost very little. Sometimes weights are provided, often in grams which requires a little conversion to determine how many ounces you will receive. Others will not provide weights but rather ‘cups’. This is also subjective and sometimes there is cup inflation when it comes to calculations, using a much too low amount of tea per serving and thus driving up the amount of “cups” you get. 

If a plan doesn’t offer as many teas per month, ask yourself this: What happens if you don’t like a tea? If you get 1 or 2 teas, you will be saddled with a lot of tea that you don’t want to drink. A good club will give you a reasonable amount of tea – enough to try stuff out, but not too much that you wind up not being able to drink it all.

Image Source

To be concluded



Go Green this Halloween!! – T Ching


Following up on last month’s Monster Muffin recipe, here are five more drop-dead, spookily easy matcha recipes to make Halloween a little more healthy! These were tested on kids big and small in my matcha masterclass and they all screamed in delight! Have FUN!

Nightingale Drops

  • (topping for ice cream, cereal or yogurt)
  • Chocolate Chips (milk, dark or white)
  • Matcha to coat

Put a handful or more chips into a large baking bowl, drop in enough matcha to coat and toss the chips using both hands gripping the bowl. Don’t use utensils to toss! Add more matcha or chips as needed to evenly coat.

Emerald Savory Sprinkles

  • (savory topping for rice, salads, vegetables, soups)
  • Black sesame seeds
  • Matcha to coat
  • Pinch of sea salt

Using a cereal bowl, add a tablespoon or two or three of seeds and enough matcha to coat, usually 1gram will do it. Then without using utensils, shake the bowl to coat the seeds. The black sesame seeds have a delicious and completely different taste to white ones. You can usually find these in most Asian grocery stores and some mainstream supermarkets with a good ethnic selection.

Dew Drops

  • (Perfect on ice cream and in yogurt)
  • Black Sesame Seeds
  • Matcha to coat

Use the same method as above only omit the salt!

Frankenstein Popcorn. It’s a scream!

Frankenstein Popcorn

  • Prepare popcorn as usual
  • Melted butter
  • Matcha for dusting (make it as green as you like…)

Toss popcorn in melted butter then using a small tea strainer, sift matcha and keep tossing until the desired green is achieved. To add a little heat to this monster recipe, sprinkle with some chili pepper! YUMMY!

Green Goddess Dressing

Great for salads or marinade

  • 40ml apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 1.5g matcha
  • 120ml cold-press extra virgin olive oil
  • Stevia (sprinkle, 1/4 package)
  • 2 ml prepared French/Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp powdered garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk the matcha into the vinegar. Pour into salad dressing bottle and add remainder of ingredients. Very gently shake (or if using a pitcher, whisk) to create an emulsion. Vigorous shaking will make the dressing runny.

Image provided and copyright held by author



Blast From the Past: The connectivity of tea


Yesterday I had lunch at a local eatery that specializes in things grown within a 50 mile radius of our city.  My lunch companion was someone I met when she became a customer in the store we had here for four-and-a-half years.  She is a systems engineer for Verizon, connect_tea_cropbut was recognized by USA Today as one of the country’s top Latino bloggers, along with many other honors.

She was one of the fortunate 8,000 or so chosen by Google to be first users of their Google glasses.  I got to try them on. . .made me slightly dizzy trying to use them!  She is brilliant and lives life to the fullest, currently developing a series of blogs and bloggers who are all part of an even bigger vision she has.

She loves really high quality loose leaf tea.

While we were eating, one of the owners of the woman-owned eatery stopped by to tell me they were going to need to order more tea soon.  Her business is featured on indiegogo.comright now to raise funds to move and expand and help the local economy in an even bigger way.   She wanted to make sure their tea was of the same high quality as everything else they offer.

As I watched the two of them and listened, I realized that we are all passionate about what we are doing and that tea is the common denominator that brought us together. And tea is helping to keep us connected.

Tea is a connector.  I think it is much more a connector than coffee, even though people meet ‘for coffee’ socially much more in this country than they do for tea.  I mean connected on a deeper level than just chatting over a cuppa or having a cup sitting next to a laptop, glued to the screen for hours in a coffeehouse, surrounded by others doing exactly the same thing.

There’s something about tea that brings about more depth of knowledge and involvement with the product when one embraces loose tea culture. Tea people also tend to be interested in other food/beverage subjects like gluten, caffeine levels, and health in general.  When I think of foods consumed with coffee, what comes to mind is usually heavy on sugar and fat.  When I think of tea, lighter, healthier accompaniments come to mind.   There are exceptions, of course, to all generalities.

I’m sure all of us who write for, or read, tea blogs have experienced our own connecting experiences over or because of tea.

Image Source

Originally posted by Diane Walden in October 2013

The post Blast From the Past: The connectivity of tea appeared first on T Ching.



4 Easy Steps To Make Your Own Herbal Tea Blends From Scratch


We all know that tea is the nation’s favourite hot drink. Most people have a favourite brand – but whether you drink PG Tips, Tetleys or Yorkshire Tea, they’re all proprietary blends of black tea that have been carefully created to achieve their particular flavour. If you fancy a change from regular builders’ tea, how about creating your own tea blend?

Not as scary as it sounds, making your own custom loose leaf tea blends from scratch is actually remarkably easy and fun to do. Perhaps you fancy experimenting with different fruit, herbs or spices to give your tea some oomph, or maybe you’re thinking of making Christmas gifts for your friends? You never know, it could even open up a whole new career path for you!

So, what exactly is blended tea?

A tea blend is a mixture of various ingredients, the main one being tea or herbal tea. Traditional tea companies have professionals with very advanced palates who mix different types of tea from the tea plant camellia sinensis to create the sophisticated commercial tea blends that we all know and love. Don’t worry, we won’t be doing that here.

Instead, we’ll be starting with a base tea of your choice, to which an almost limitless range of ingredients can be added to produce your unique and exciting blend. You really can’t go wrong with any combination – some will be bolder or spicier than others – as long as the result is to your taste. Whether you choose herbs or spices, dried fruit, seeds or flowers or anything else, the only condition is that it can be steeped in boiling water and extract flavour.

Shall we make a start?

Step 1: Select your base tea

First off, you need to choose your base tea. This can be any loose leaf tea or herbal tea and will make up anywhere between 40% and 80% of the final tea blend by weight.

Popular loose leaf teas you could use include:

  • Black Tea including Darjeeling, Assam, and Ceylon from the Indian subcontinent, and Keemun or Yunnan from China
  • Green Tea such as Sencha (Japanese) or Gunpowder (Chinese)
  • Chinese White Tea
  • Red Rooibos or Redbush Tea, made from the Fabaceae bush indigenous to South Africa
  • Yerba Mate Tea derived from a South American tree from the holly family

Step 2: Choose your herbal ingredients

Now is the time to get creative. When it comes to choosing ingredients to add to your base tea, the only limitation is your imagination! If you’re stuck for ideas, take a look at the herbal tea aisle in your nearest supermarket or health food shop for inspiration, or peruse the herb/spice rack in your kitchen.

Favourites to use in unique tea blends include:

  • Peppermint, spearmint leaves, nettle, lemongrass
  • Chamomile, lavender, rose petals, rosehip, hibiscus, echinacea
  • Dried apple, lemon, cherry, red berries, elderberries
  • Cloves, pepper, dried chillis, fennel, cinnamon, cardamom, aniseed, coriander
  • Liquorice root, ginger, turmeric, valerian
  • Vanilla, cocoa nibs

Step 3: Blend your ingredients

This is where it gets interesting. Once you’ve collected all the components to go into your new tea blend, it’s time to get mixing. This is by no means an exact science – the result will come down to your personal taste preferences and it may take a bit of trial and error to get you there, adjusting as you go.

Start by taking a big enough mixing bowl for the quantity of tea you’re making and measure out your base tea – 40-80% of the total blend volume. Next, use your instinct and taste buds to guide you to the end result, tasting as you go. Blend it all together using a large spoon, or use a mixing jar with a lid and give everything a good shake.

While you’re experimenting, it is highly recommended that you keep an exact record of what you’ve been doing. Write down your blend and the precise proportions of ingredients used so that you can remember it when you go back to tweak it, should it be necessary.

When you’re happy with the flavour and aroma of your own master blend, keep your creation in an airtight jar in the kitchen cupboard ready for enjoying a cup at a time. Better still, make large quantities, choose the perfect packaging and turn your herbal tea blends into great looking gifts.

Step 4: Enjoy a unique hot beverage

Finally, it’s time to enjoy the fruit of your labours. Grab your favourite tea pot and brew your first batch of tea. For best results, make the tea according to the instructions for your base tea. Green tea, for instance, should be steeped for 3 minutes in nearly but not actually boiling water (80-85°C is ideal) so the tea doesn’t develop a bitter taste.

Again, it may take a bit of experimentation until you get the taste just as you like it – just make sure you keep a log of any changes on the recipe sheet.

Guest post by Dakota Murphey

Images provided by author



Tea Taste Profiling and Machine Testing “Tasting” – Part 2


Continued from yesterday’s post

It’s an interesting idea, that sensor testing might be able to do what both of those profiling systems just drew on, with the input an objective, measured assessment.  One problem: related sensor based aspect testing just isn’t there yet. It complicates things that when we taste foods we’re really sensing two different things (aside from feel aspects like astringency, and noticing aftertaste, which is something else).  We pick up basic flavors through our tongue (sweetnees, salt, sourness, bitterness, and umami, or savory taste), and also detect aromatic compounds through our nasal passages, a version of the sense of smell.

Electronic tongues and noses can replicate some of both, but there are gaps in getting them to cover our range as effectively, and even broader gaps when it comes to interpretation.  It’s all early in the research phase. If there was a strong commercial driver for machines to taste things as effectively as we do they probably would be a lot more advanced, even though most of the current simpler forms of sensing equipment, testing process, and analysis (AI function) have only been developed in the last 20 years or so.

Even the description of the research into that subject is a bit much:

Tea quality prediction using a tin oxide-based electronic nose: an artificial intelligence approach

In this paper, we have (analyzed using a metal oxide sensor (MOS)-based electronic nose (EN)) five tea samples with different qualities…  The flavour of tea is determined mainly by its taste and smell, which are determined by hundreds of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and non-volatile organic compounds present in tea. Tea flavour is traditionally measured through the use of a combination of conventional analytical instrumentation and human organoleptic profiling panels… The methods are also inaccurate because of a lack of either sensitivity or quantitative information. In this paper an investigation has been made to determine the flavours of different tea samples using an EN and thus to explore the possibility of replacing existing analytical and profiling panel methods…

This graphic combination of two sources shows a listing of measured compounds in teas (from here), with Wikipedia article reference to what some of those taste like.

I’d love to say more, and I did include a lot more detailed research findings citations in that recent post, but that long summary was still only a limited sample of the range of looking into the potential.  You can kind of see where it’s going, and a bit about how it works, but it’s all very complicated, technical, and at present very limited in function.  I’ve talked to the Teapasar vendor about it and there’s more to pass on about what they’re doing, but filling that in will require more research.

Images provided by author



Tea Taste Profiling and Machine Testing “Tasting” – Part 1


This title might seem to mention two different subjects but they do naturally link.  

I recently posted about a tea conference event in Singapore.  That was based on input from two acquaintances who attended, where the organizers (Teapasar) used an aspects range profiling system to help guide participants in what to try.  The input was from an online survey of preferences, about food types and such, which was converted to a profile mapping and set of tea recommendations. Very cool!

Teapasar profile system summary

This reminded me of getting into the subject of machine / sensor testing of tea flavor aspects last year.  That started more from the starting point of potentially measuring tea quality, more through markers than detailed analysis, but the review scope gradually shifted into considering general tasting.  Can a machine (sensors, and AI / artificial intelligence programming) “taste” tea? Not really, but there is research on a starting point, that gets further than one might expect. Explanation works better based on background about what people perceive when they taste foods first, but this is just a broad summary of some related ideas, not including that part (covered more in the second of two original posts on aspect profiling and machine tasting).

The Singapore event Teapasar organizer describes the system in general terms:

Our ProfilePrint methodology also identifies distinct taste profiles of each tea listed on the marketplace. At the same time, when customers create their personalised taste profile online, their unique preferences can then be matched to our database of teas, and the closest matches can be recommended.

Cedric Teng related his impression of it at that Singapore event:

…users were prompted to select their tea preferences based on 8 different tea characteristics, namely sweetness, umami, saltiness, sourness, astringency, bitterness, aftertaste, and richness. The online algorithm will then formulate an individualized Profile Print based on these preferences, and offer some suggestions for teas that you may enjoy and the percentage match…  With the number of booths available, it soon became more convenient to just go from booth to booth rather than follow the website recommendations, and I found myself sampling a bit of everything…

…Even though I started off preferring teas which were stronger and more bitter, I found myself gravitating towards sweeter teas with floral or fruity notes in the end, but I think more tea needs to be drunk before I decide on my preferred tastes.

Seemingly a well-organized event

It would be natural to want to try as much as possible of samples available at booths, versus working around any preconceptions or aspect mapping formula.  It’s a much different context than ordering tea samples online.

This is actually the second such tea aspect profiling system I’ve encountered, the first being early development of flavor mapping conducted in a Penn State Tea Institute group (my alma mater, by the way; I graduated in Industrial Engineering there long ago).  That earlier version was an tea tasting oriented approach that later initiated a private food-service profiling system, the Gastrograph application (available through Google Play), which does essentially the same thing the Teapasar ProfilePrint system is doing, just not limited for use for tea.

A Guardian article reviews this general theme and specific program features:

…Analytical Flavor Systems’ main data collection tool is its smartphone app, Gastrograph. The app’s central feature is a wheel with 24 spokes, where each sliver represents a discrete category of sensory experience – such as “meaty”, “bitter” or “mouthfeel”. Tasters map the contours of flavor perception by tracing the spokes corresponding to the qualities they detect, designating the intensity of each on a scale from one to five. A submenu allows for a more granular record of experience…

I did check out that app.  It’s simple to use, just not functional without more purpose or context.  There would need to be some equivalent to using a database to get suggestions, as in the Teapasar case.  If it was more customizable in format and export function it might work to retain tea reviews but written notes would seem more functional than a limited graphical list of aspects.

To be concluded tomorrow