A Journey Through the World of Tea

Archive for August, 2010

Featured Tea Blogger: May King Tsang

Who are you?
My name is May King Tsang and I am the founder of MayKingTea. I conduct tea-tastings in the comfort of people’s homes, to celebrate a special occasion or as a corporate team-building experience. As a public speaker, I also raise awareness of the health benefits of loose leaf tea one cup at a time :o) I also retail and wholesale loose leaf tea.

What Blogs do you run?

How did you get into tea?
Funny story. I’ve been drinking tea since I was yay high (imagine me indicating my height with my left hand ) but just like everyone else, I was probably drinking the not so great stuff. Jasmine tea that was loose leaf but probably scented with jasmine essence rather than scented with the real flowers; drinking Pu’erh in Chinese restaurants when ordering Dim Sum on a Sunday but none of the lovely aged cooked stuff that I’m accustomed to now.

A very good friend of mine asked me to go into business with him, to open up, wait for it,  :o) a coffee house with art evenings such as film showings, poetry readings, talks by artists, that kind of thing. We did a bit of research and I reluctantly went into a Starbucks coffee house to check out the competition. I had to call my husband up to find out from him what coffee I ought to drink! And when I looked at the tea menu, all they had were tea-bag herbal infusions, and that was when I had my eureka moment. It wasn’t a coffee house I was interested in but a tea-house!

I went back to my friend and impressed on him about the tea-house idea. He loved it, and we refined our research. As time went on we realized that our visions for the tea-house were quite different and so we went our separate ways but he’s still a very good friend of mine, and that’s how I came into the world of tea.

Whats your favorite tea?
Difficult question. Depends on what I fancy that day, but I tend to like greens, oolongs and pu’erhs

What’s your preferred method of steeping?
Whatever I can get my hands on. I remember growing up and my mum just filling a flask full of tea, leaves at the bottom and the flask would just be topped up with hot water as and when required. These days I might have a flask of hot water so that I don’t need to keep using the kettle, I’ll have an infuser over my cup and reuse the leaves as required. Gaiwan is also a favorite.

What advice do you have for people just coming into tea?
Just keep asking questions. In the world of tea, you’re never alone! LinkedIn is a great place for tea discussions and advice. There are so many tea specialists out there who will be more than happy to help. Tea is a wonderful community to be involved in as the community is all about sharing.

Green or Black? Why?
Not sure what you’re asking here. If you’re asking my preference, then I would say green tea, just because of the huge variety of flavors you can get depending on country, region, estate etc. There are some absolutely delicious red teas though, but if you regard Pu’erh tea as a black tea, then that would be a difficult decision for me :o)

How many cups or pots daily?
Never really counted, 5-6 cups? 2 teapots?

Tea enjoyed better with friends or solo?
Absolutely with friends although I often enjoy being in a tranquil room, placing my hands around a cup and smelling the aroma of the tea. With the delicious oolongs I have in my range, it just makes me smile when I smell the wonderful aroma

Share with us some randomness?
Not sure if you wanted a tea random or a random random so I’ve shared both:

Tea random: I loved Lapsang Souchong so much that I drank it very several months every day, until one day I couldn’t face it anymore. That was about 20 years ago but I tried it again a few weeks back and I rather liked it!

A random random: My parents and their friends sing Karaoke so much they call it K :o) Reminds of Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman when he refers to Jack Daniels as John because he’s known ‘him’ for so long.

Don’t forget to Follow May King on Twitter, check out her posts on the MayKingTea blog, and visit MayKingTea.com


This Week in Tea Volume I

It seems that in the world of tea, there is no shortage of creative and entertaining people, sharing their experiences and using their own expertise to bring information to the masses. I have over the last week been marking things I find interesting, and I have tried to come up with a diverse list of things I found. With that in mind, I wanted to share some of the websites, people, and news stories that I came across this week. Without further ado, the first edition of This Week in Tea:

Over at Tea Guy Speaks, blogger Williams I. Lengeman shares two new products on the market, the ESP Emporium’s Brew Stop Iced Tea Maker, and UV’s Sweet Green Tea Vodka

Tulsi (a.k.a holy basil) is a traditional medicine in India and is also used as a seasoning or herbal tea. Read as Alex Zorach drops some knowledge about handling holy basil properly.

Early in the week I stumbled upon this article when Stephen Wise of Utopian Tea, sent it out through twitter. Scientists have found that bottled tea may contain fewer antioxidants than brewed tea.

Lucid Quark, home of the blogger Jamie (of Montreal) shares with us her experience with the new tea from New Zealand, known as Zealong.

Jesse Jacobs (owner of Samovar Tea Lounge) shares with us the trade secrets of Samovar Tea Lounge at his website Real Ritual.

Tea Show TV’s episode this week features part one of an interview with author James Norwood Pratt.

Nicole does a quick review of Element Tea’s Chocolate Mint at Tea For Me Please.

Bourgea Tea’s Detox gets reviewed by Melissa Wrzeniewsky of Expanding Leaves.

The humans over at Little Yellow Teapot brew up Shui Tea’s Butter Baroness and review it for you.

Finally, post that Cinnabar of Gong Fu Girl put up, titled Pictures of Objects.

Atai – A Ceremony for Friends

“Come, let us have some tea and continue to talk about happy things”

-Chaim Potok

In 18th century, English merchants introduced tea to Sultan Moulay Ismail, as an attempt to find an alternate market in the Moroccan people. Eventually a cultural love of tea was sparked, and Atai (the traditional Moroccan tea ceremony) was born. Often called the ceremony of hospitality (or friendship); it is performed by the male head of a Moroccan family for a guest of the house, and can be considered impolite if turned down. Most often, tea is consumed before or during a meal in Morocco.

1.Atai starts with the washing of the hands, usually with water that has orange flower blossom in it. Once your hands are cleaned, tea ware is brought out, along with the ingredients. The ingredients include: the tea itself (generally a gunpowder green), mint (not to be mistaken for peppermint), and sugar. If mint is unavailable, leaves of Chiba (fresh wormwood) are used in its place.

2. Next, pour a small amount of water into the tea pot before adding the tea and the mint. Shake the pot to rinse the leaves, then dispose of the water.

3. Add sugar (liberally) to the pot and pour new water (close to boiling point) in. Stir the mixture, then let it steep undisturbed for 4-5 minutes (depending on your preferred strength).

4. Pour the tea into glasses from as high as you feel safe, as this is a near boiling liquid (skilled Atai makers can do it from 18 or more inches above the glass). This not only aerates the tea, but generates a froth on the tea’s surface.

5. Next, pour the glass of tea back into pot, and repeat step 4 for further aeration.

6. Serve the resulting brew while hot.

7. Repeat step 4, adding sugar if need be, and serve the second brewing.

8. Repeat once more and serve the third (and final) brewing.

Traditionally the tea is served three times to give three different tastes. For every steep you taste, it symbolizes the experience of life, love, and then death. Even though the tea is traditionally served hot, in my opinion, it makes a good iced tea as well.

In Morocco, tea is considered an art form and the drinking of it with friends and family members is an important ritual. The technique of pouring the tea is even viewed to be equal to the quality of the tea itself.

Tea has become such an integral part of my life for the past year, and I’ve found that indulging in the simple pleasure of tea, while conversing with friends, is something I really enjoy. I think that the Moroccan people also have this thought in mind when performing this ceremony. I hope one day, that I can experience this tradition firsthand. Until then though, my Moroccan mint tea will have to do.

Have you any of you taken part in this, or any other traditional ceremony? What tea ceremonies do you personally find interesting? I would love to hear your feedback and stories.

A Cup A Day Keeps the Doctor Away?

“Diabetes mellitus (MEL-ih-tus), or simply, diabetes, is a group of diseases characterized by high blood glucose levels that result from defects in the body’s ability to produce and/or use insulin” – The American Diabetes Association (ADA)

Now, to help that make sense for anyone that isn’t either a patient, a chemistry lover, or a biology freak, I will offer a brief summary.

Diabetes is a disease that affects 8% of the US’s population, and it can be caused by genetic factors or lifestyle habits.

Glucose is a simple sugar that is present in your blood. Normal levels for humans (before the first meal of the day, the “fasting” period) are less than 6.1 mM (mM is a fancy chemistry abbreviation, but relativity is more important). People with untreated diabetes on the other hand, have much higher blood sugar levels, and are found to be over 7.0 mM (more than 14% extra sugar in the blood).

Just like everything else in the body, more is not usually good. Non-diabetic people regulate these levels with a hormone called insulin. Insulin tells cells to absorb the glucose, and tells the liver to stop giving out glucose. Type 2 diabetics have become immune to their own insulin production, so cells don’t get the message to absorb the glucose, while the liver continues to produce more glucose, causing higher blood sugar levels.

Patients suffering from diabetes may deal with complications such as blindness, cataracts, heart disease, stroke, and nerve damage. While there is no cure for the disease, diabetes can be controlled. Diabetics are encouraged to keep blood pressure and blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. Management of diabetes is kept by having strict control over diet, exercise, and proper use of medications.

Now, I am no mind reader, but I can assume that you might be confused as to why you just read about diabetes on a tea blog. After all, diabetes ≠ tea. Well, a study done by the Institute of Food Technologists has shown evidence that a substance in black tea can help in preventing or fighting diabetes.

“There is a potential for exploitation of black tea polysaccharide in managing diabetes.”

Haixia Chen (Lead researcher of the study)

The substance found in tea that can help with diabetic control is polysaccharide. Instead of being a simple sugar like glucose, it is a chain of many glucose linked together. This substance helps by slowing down the absorption of glucose and reduces sugar in the blood. The study also found that black tea can mimic Precose and Glyset, two commonly prescribed medications that help patients with type 2 diabetes.

I was 14 years old when I learned that my father was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Not knowing anything about it, I did a little research on the disease and came up with all this information. Through this experience though, I’ve learned that preventive medicine is important, and can be as powerful as prescribed medicine. If you are like me, you may not be a big fan of black teas, but learning this information may make you take a second look at black teas.

Featured Company: Utopian Tea

Q – What’s the history behind the company, how did you get your start?
A – Utopian Tea is relatively new, as far as our site going live this April, 2010, however planning started about 9 months prior, sometime in 2009. As someone who has had an entrepreneurial mindset and experience since the age of 10, I’ve put years of reading all of the business magazines, books, practices, and past experiences into full gear the past few years, trying my hand at looking for something about to get big, specific to this day in age, where creating a business on that something would put myself ahead of the game, before it’s too late.

Last summer, I realized that that something is one thing I’ve always loved, loose leaf tea. I was on a roll, ready to learn the business end of the tea industry – I spent months learning about every single wholesale tea company I could find in America & Asia. I talked to owners of a local tea bar about their sources of teas. After learning more about them and actually finding myself talking to actual individual tea plantation owners (some of which are not at all fluent in English), it was an easy choice to stay far away from wholesalers, and only do business with real tea providers in Asia, directly from the plantation. During this time, I tested several teas that American-based online tea companies offer, and decided that I’d only obtain higher quality tea, for competitive advantage, and simply to only provide excellent product to fellow tea enthusiasts.

I also created my second tea site, TeaHacker, that would exist for several reasons, mainly to force myself to research tea to an even deeper level, while sharing my finding with new and seasoned tea enthusiasts. Once I narrowed down the samples I’ve received from my chosen tea providers, I was ready to order several kilograms of the highest quality of each type of tea I found would suit best as the first wave of teas to start Utopian Tea. I develop my own sites, and learning the ins and outs of an e-commerce style site while applying psychological understanding to the design details was a project all of its own. After nearly a year of gathering information and putting it into use, Utopian Tea was born.

Q – Where are you located?
A – We’re based in Charlotte, NC and the surrounding area of Lake Norman. The behind-the-scenes work takes place in a few prime spots around here, whether it’s the facilities we store the tea (long-term & short-term locations), which of us are packaging tea for the given week, maintaining the website, and keeping relationships at full with our great tea providers. I take care of making sure that everyone who orders our teas has the best experience and speedy shipping.

Q – From what Country’s do you get your tea from?
A -Our current oolong & green teas come from plantations based in the Fujian Province & Wuyi Mountains in China. We’ve got plans to expand our tea selection, and depending on which kinds we choose, new locations will be added to this list.

Q – What are some of the difficulties with selling tea?
A – The biggest difficulty isn’t so much the actual selling of tea, but the fact that tea is an international industry, communicating with tea suppliers in Asia isn’t as efficient as it would be working with American tea suppliers, primarily due to language and time differences. Collaborating a new purchase of certain teas from certain suppliers, or building relationships with new plantations can be a tedious and timely process. It’s a game of its own, really. Luckily, I’m fascinated with this type of interactions, seeing that there’s so much to learn, and they’re always very well-prepared, professional, and very happy to let us sample new teas before we buy them. It’s well worth the extra effort, since tea quality is extraordinarily high-grade.

Q – What does everyone order?
A – Our oolongs sell more than the greens we now offer, but everyone simply orders what they are more into on a personal level. Since everyone has their different tastes and expectations, some claim our Green Spiral or White Monkey Paw teas are their favorite teas for life, while others say the same about our oolongs. Our tea’s are very special in their own ways, however our premium grade Iron Goddess of Mercy has gained the most hype as most peoples’ favorite.

Q – What is the companies mission?
A – Utopian Tea’s purpose is to provide two things better than anyone else: Exceptional Service, and Premium Quality Tea, at better prices. Modernizing tea, while helping people ensue a minimalist approach towards tea, as well as life, is another goal. Too many companies have fairly mediocre tea, bought from American wholesalers, wrapped in commercialized, flashy packaging, given a catchy name, then sold for a price well beyond the actual tea’s worth. These places target consumers who don’t know better. We do the opposite – provide the highest quality tea in very simple, minimalist & eco-friendly pouches, keeping the price of our better stuff easily accessible. This is to keep focus on the actual tea itself, without any unnecessary distraction. We simply obsess about providing excellent, sometimes surprising service to fellow tea enthusiasts, while inviting more people who are new to this wave of tea culture.

I’ve personally been amazed by green tea in 1st grade, when our teacher brought back some sencha and steeped some for our entire class, and shared about her trip to Japan and some history on tea. I was fascinated with tea at an early age, and since then I’ve been in-the-know about this sub-culture of Asian tea, direct from the source. Now I enjoy providing this tea at Utopian Tea, and sharing what tremendous teas we’ve come across.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to answer your questions and share some of our culture at Utopian Tea.

– Stephen Wise
CEO of Utopian Tea

Visit Utopian Tea’s website and connect with them via Twitter and Facebook.

Obubu Farms: Houjicha – Dark Roast.

For my first journey into tea reviewing, I will start with a Japanese green tea, courtesy of Obubu Tea Farms, who provided me with a sample of their Houjicha- Dark Roast for review.

Houjicha is a Japanese bancha, or late harvest green tea, that is then roasted in porcelain over charcoal. Since it is late harvest, and generally lower quality than first flush teas, it appears to be a mixture of stalks and leaves, with a dark earthy brown appearance when dry. Three things come to mind when describing the aroma of the dry tea: wood, roasted nuts, and a hint of chocolate towards the end.

For the steeping, I followed the directions provided by Obubu and I used 1 tablespoon of tea for every 6 ounces of water. The water was roughly 195 degrees, and steeped for 3 minutes (the directions called for only 30 seconds, but I found the flavors to be weaker, so I went to a maximum of 3 minutes).

I noticed, that when getting ready to taste the tea, you are hit with a smoky/woodsy aroma, which is one of the tea’s strengths. The liquor is a dark orange, almost a deep amber. The tea has a robust, roasted flavor with notes of nutty, sweetness and a hint of chocolate.

In the end, this tea is a unique flavor, that I could easily have as a day to day tea for myself. I wouldn’t say that this is tea is for beginners, because this isn’t your average green tea. If you are looking for something different in a green tea, and want to expand your repertoire of Japanese teas, you should branch out and try it. It’s a wonderful tea for multiple steeps, as I was able to steep it 6 times before it started to noticeably lose flavor, making it a good deal for the price ($13 for 100g).

Tea Tip:

Obubu suggests that after you have steeped the Houjicha, to cold brew the leaves overnight, and have a light, sweet, iced Houjicha in the morning.

I want to say thank you to Obubu for the chance to try your Houjicha- Dark Roast Green Tea

Connect with Obubu Tea Farms on Twitter and Facebook.

Featured Tea Blogger:Melissa Wrzesniewsky

Who are you?
My name is Melissa Wrzesniewsky. I am Philosophy Major at Drew University in New Jersey. I absolutely love tea and everything about it, especially the culture and history behind tea!

What Blogs do you run?
I run my personal tea blog, Expanding Leaves, which I started earlier this year! I started it to share my experiences and thoughts on teas and cool tea related things that I run into!

How did you get into tea?
I have been drinking tea most of my life, in bagged form, and mostly Lipton or herbal teas from the vitamin store. My mom would always steep me  Echinacea tea when I was sick growing up, and it always tasted horrible. Sometime in high school, I started to drink bagged tea, which was all I had been exposed to during my life. I drank bagged green tea and bagged earl grey black tea, which seemed to be a step up from the vitamin stores’ herbal teas I grew up drinking. Little did I know the best was yet to come.

On a fateful day, in the supermarket, while looking at the expansive tea aisle, searching for something new, for something to fall in love with, I found a woman standing in front of 20 large circular silver cans, all with different labels on them, Chocolate Chai, Rooibos, Silver Needle, Dragonwell, Assam. Then, all these words were overwhelming to me, who knew there was so many types of tea? I sure didn’t. I stood next to the woman, and asked her what this was about, and what she was doing. I wish I had gotten her name, knowing what I know now, finding a fellow tea lover is hard, especially in a metropolitan area that is fast paced and here everyone drinks coffee on the go. I owe my love, admiration, and head over heels craziness to this stranger. She told me all about loose leaf tea, explaining every detail, and suggested I smell all the teas, and get samples of the ones that interested me.

I went home with 10 different small bags of tea that day. My way home was filled with excitement, I didn’t know it then, but looking back, I had just learned about something I would fall in love with and drink every single day from that night forward. When I got home, I chose to brew up chocolate chai, and it was love from the very first sip. In hindsight, that night, in the Wegman’s tea aisle, was the most influential of my life so far.

Whats your favorite tea?
I don’t really have a favorite. For a long time, my favorite tea was Dragonwell Green Tea, but since I have been getting serious with Oolongs, they have become my favorite type of tea.  If I had to choose an absolute favorite, I would pick Iron Goddess of Mercy/Tie Guan Yin. The way the tea’s flavors and aroma expands and changes with each steeping really intrigues me.

What’s your preferred method of steeping (gaiwan, sorapot, etc.)?
Gosh, I wish I had a cool teapot like the Sorapot! They are too expensive for a college student like me right now though. Currently, I really love to steep my oolongs in this wonderful Dragon Yixing Teapot that I received as a gift from my brother, Matthew for my birthday this year. I love this teapot so much! The yixing clay really seems to bring out the flavors and aromas of oolongs very well!

What advice do you have for people just coming into tea?
Try anything and everything you can get your hands on. Make the effort to get into tea socially online. Twitter and Message Board networking have been my best friend throughout my tea journey.  I would also recommend to go to any local tea-house that you can find, as the people there are so sweet and are very knowledgeable and more than happy to help you in your journey into tea!

Green or Black? Why?
I don’t really drink much black tea, so green it is! I love the way Green teas taste differently from different regions. I also love how green teas are very fresh and get so little production, that it can taste as if you plucked them from the plant yourself, dried them, and steeped the tea!

How many cups or pots daily?
This really depends on the day and what I am drinking. It is usually upwards of 5-7 cups, sometimes more though!

Tea enjoyed better with friends or solo?
This depends on the situation. I love to share a cup of tea with a friend and chat about everything and anything we can think of. But, at the same time, I really like those personal moments, where tea calms and regenerates your spirit. That almost meditative state that sipping on a cuppa alone puts me in really helps me put myself and my life in perspective.

Share with us some randomness?
How come cow spots don’t come in a variety of colors like human hair does? I would really love to see a cow with strawberry blonde spots some day..

Follow Melissa and Expanding Leaves on twitter.

Don’t forget to join the conversation over at Expanding Leaves