Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Laid Back Person's Guide To Tea on The Go

Like it or not, everybody must leave their house once in a while and venture out into the great unknown. If you're a lover of premium loose leaf teas these trips can raise some serious questions, such as: "Will there be good tea where I'm going?" "How much and what kinds of tea should I pack?" "How will I brew the teas that I bring?"

Whether you're going on an awesome vacation or just a routine business trip the Laid Back Person's Guide is here for you with some great tips on how to make the most of your tea on the go!

Tip #1 - Do your homework
We live in the age of online resources. Use them. Before going to a new city, I will always check Tea Map and Tea Guide (for tea shops and tea houses), and Happy Cow (for veggie restaurants and health food stores). If I don't find any tea places near my destination I still may be able to find a good cafe or coffee shop that serves decent tea. It also helps to ask your friends for their recommendations before visiting a new place. If you're vacationing at a rental cabin or condo, ask the proprietor if the unit already has mugs, a teapot and/or a kettle. That way you'll have a better idea of what you'll need to bring.

Tip #2 - Pack light
Just as some people pack too many shoes, we tea lovers have a tendency to bring too much tea! I recommend limiting yourself to no more than three teas and not packing more than an ounce or two of each. It helps to get a few very small tins to protect the leaves. As for teaware, I suggest only bringing one small strainer because I believe it can be fun trying to use what's available at your destination to brew the leaves you brought along (see tip #5 Get Creative). That being said, you should bring a sturdy lightweight mug and pan if you're going to be off the grid.

*Rule of Thumb - If you don't have any room for clothes
then you've packed too much tea!

Tip #3 - Go with the flow
You never know when an unplanned tea opportunity will present itself. Keep your itinerary loose and keep an eye out for other tea lovers. No matter where you go you will find other tea lovers. Whenever possible, drink what the locals are drinking and always be grateful and humble.

Tea People Are Everywhere!

Tip #4 - Settle
Sometimes you're just not going to get that perfect cup you crave. Perhaps you're in a large oppressive food court surrounded by teenagers in paper hats and you're just going to have to "settle for less." I usually feel that some tea is better than no tea (those of you who disagree may prefer to order some coffee when no good tea is available). For me, a teabag of English Breakfast is usually safe and should be cheap or I might purchase a ready-to-drink bottle of brewed tea. For what it's worth, I've been known to order a "tall China green tips with five ice cubes" at Starbucks and found it to be a pleasant enough beverage.

Drinking teabag black teas from a rural Nor-Cal gas station.

Tip #5 - Get Creative
Sometimes you have to think like MacGyver when you're brewing tea outside of your comfort zone. Look all around you for anything that could be even a little bit useful. Maybe you have a stock pot, a wooden spoon and beer stein? You can make tea with that! Our Australian friends have been known to simply string a tin can over an open flame and toss in some leaves. I once poked a bunch of holes in a Dixie cup with a pen and used it as a tea strainer. It was no well-seasoned yixing clay teapot but, it still did the job.

Gold star for the most creative way to brew tea using only these items.

Thanks for reading today's edition of the Laid Back Person's guide! We really hope these 5 simple tips help some of you manage your crippling Tea Lover's Agoraphobia.

(Don't laugh, TLA is a very real psychological disorder!!!)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

2005 Awazon Sheng Bing Cupping Experiment

Back in 2005 I purchased a couple stacks (aka tong) (筒) of 2005 Awazon (阿佤山) factory sheng puer cakes. I kept two cakes for myself. One, I stored among other random sheng cakes on my puer shelf. Let's call him "Whole Bing."

Hi, I'm Whole Bing!

The other, I broke up into small chunks and stored in a large clay teapot. Let's call him "Pot Head."


Today I thought it might be fun to cup them up together. This will be my first experience with this tea in 5 years.

I set up my usual cupping station...

...which looks something like this...

...then I grabbed my notebook, and got down to business.

I used 5 grams of dry leaf to about 8 ounces of boiling water and took my time going back and forth smelling each spoon and slurping the tea soup.

Turns out they taste pretty different!

Whole Bing is on the right and Pot Head is on the left.

Whole Bing was a little bit woodsier, smokier and more earthy. I believe he picked up some of these flavors from the other cakes with which he had cohabited. He was also a shade darker.

Pot Head's isolation in the large lidded teapot seems to have shielded him from most outside influences and perhaps caused him to taste "less aged" to me. He had a lighter body with more grass and herb notes. His flavor was closer to how these cakes tasted five years ago.

I did not prefer one storage method over the other and I do not take the results of this experiment too seriously. There are quite simply too many variables to consider when dealing with puer tea storage. In fact, I believe, this exact same experiment could easily have yielded different results in different places, on different days or for different people. That being said, I still found this to be a very rewarding and educational cupping.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Cacao Husks

I love tea and I love chocolate.... but I do not like chocolate tea (or any scented teas for that matter). I do, however, occasionally enjoy a single-ingredient herbal infusion such as rooibos, ginger or mint. To that end I offer a post about drinking cacao husk tea!

On Tuesday, while at work, I met a representative of "Tisano Cacao Tea." He and his partners import organic chocolate from South America and one day one of them had this wild idea: "Why don't we import the fibrous husks too and try to sell them as an herbal tea?"

According to Tisano's website, 12% of the cacao bean is lost along with these fragrant husks. I guess that means a lot of cheap chocolaty goodness is also being lost when these husks become mulch, compost, feed or whatever.

The husks look like this...

... and I have seen them before. In fact my wife and I once purchased several large bags of these sweet-smelling husks from a nearby garden store to mulch our front yard flower bed. It never would have occurred to us to steep them like tea.

But that's just what I'm doing now. I follow the steeping directions on the bag and sniff the brown steeping husks. My nose immediately tells my brain to release a flood of happy chemicals.

The resulting beverage is tawny brown and smells similar to a cup of hot cocoa. The taste, on the other hand, is pleasantly nutty and not super powerful. Instead it yields a more relaxed, subtle cocoa flavor. I am a fan.

Drinking a hot infusion of cacao husks in my opinion certainly qualifies as a "strange brew." Has anybody else ever heard about this?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Teacup Tea Classes - November 2010

I am excited to offer one tea class this month at Teacup (2128 Queen Anne Ave. N. Seattle, WA, 98109).

Thursday, November 18, 2010 - 7:00 to 8:00 PM
Herbal Tea Tasting Party - In this class we will taste and discuss ten exciting, healthy and unique herbs and herbal blends. These tasty brews are naturally caffeine free and very aromatic. This class would be great for kids and people who avoid caffeine, but even drinkers of pure traditional tea may learn something at this tasting party.

My tea classes are fun for tea lovers of all levels, so feel free to bring a friend or family member that you'd like to "get hooked" on tea (or in this case herbal tea). The cost is $3 per guest and a RSVP is required. You may RSVP anytime by visiting or calling the Teacup (206-283-5931) or by emailing me at

I will let you know as new classes are scheduled, and please feel free to suggest a class idea on a subject you'd like to learn more about. I hope to see you soon at a class!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Why I Blog About Tea

I began my tea career back in 2001 and ever since 2005 I have aspired to be a well respected tea educator and tea seller. Over the last nine years I have watched as North America's tea culture rapidly evolved alongside the Internet and I wanted to stay connected and relevant. Because of this I proudly admit that my original motivation behind tea blogging was self promotion.

I don't think I have a print tea book in me (although never say never, right?) but I do have a strong urge to share my thoughts and opinions about tea. So, back in 2007 I dipped my toes in the water by blogging on MySpace. I soon realized that MySpace was an extremely limiting format and began to consider other free blogging platforms.

Like many online tea fanatics at that time, I was already a huge fan of Chadao, Half-Dipper, Gongfugirl and Tea Masters blogs. I think those blogs (and probably several others) inspired me to take my blogging to the next level and so in 2008 I graduated from MySpace to Blogger.

As I wrote last year in my post entitled "Regarding This Blog" - "my blog has grown to include tea education, tea reviews, occasional silliness and many personal stories. I have learned a lot about myself and tea by blogging and find it to be a very rewarding hobby." To this I must include a heartfelt digital hug to all the wonderful people I have met, both in person and online, over these last few years writing about tea.

This post is my contribution to the November 2010 Tea Blog Carnival as presented by the Association of Tea Bloggers. Our theme for this carnival was "Why do I write about tea?" This month's carnival was hosted by Walker Tea Review and links to all other participating posts can be found here.