Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tea with Friends

Tonight I had tea with some friends. I had planned to maked iced French verveine, but this morning inspiration struck and I decided to serve chilled rooibos massala chai blended with soy milk, a bit of Haagendas vanilla ice cream, Mexican vanilla extract, cinnamon, and nutmeg as both a tea and a dessert. I brewed the tisane at double strength, then blended it with everything else until it was frothy and served it in wine glasses. Delicious! Next time, I'll sprinkle some cinnamon on top for a little more color.

Warm Weather in NYC

Today is yet another warm day in the city. For now, it's a refreshing break from the cold, but by August, I'm sure I'll be over it. Of course, as much as people complain about NYC in August, my visit to Calcutta will be worse. Darjeeling and Gangtok, on the other hand, will be misty and cool; just what I'll need by then, and perfect for drinking lots of hot tea!

Right now I'm drinking iced white tea with pomegranate juice. Tomorrow evening, I'm having guests over for an herbal iced tisane (a mildly sweetened French verveinne). I love iced tea in the summer. The southern gal in me gets a chance to shine through!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Tea and Hydration

Now that it's getting hot out, people are becoming more concerned about proper hydration. Everybody knows that tea is dehydrating (because of its caffeine content), right? Wrong. Apparently, that's just an urban myth. Here's a BBC article that explains it in full, and claims that tea is healthier than water. Enjoy!

Monday, May 28, 2007

New Article--Tisane Basics

There's a new article on Vee Tea today. It's an overview of tisanes, a.k.a. "herbal teas." Here's an excerpt:

"There are three main reasons why people drink tisanes, and they’re not all that different from why people drink teas. They are: taste, caffeine content, and health.

There is an enormous range of tastes found in tisanes, from the woody, astringent yerba mate to refreshing spearmint and peppermint leaves to floral chamomile to lemony French verveine. Everyone has their own distinct preferences. I love yerba mate and rooibos (which have woody flavors), as well as French verveine and Korean citrus peel (along with most other citrusy flavors), but I dislike chamomile and rosehips (as well as some other floral flavors). If you try one and you don’t like it, don’t write tisanes off altogether! There are thousands to choose from.

As with teas, preferred caffeine content is often a factor in why people drink tisanes. Many people cannot tolerate caffeine, so they choose to drink naturally caffeine-free tisanes. On the other end of the spectrum are those who love yerba mate for its caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine jolt. Unless a tisane has added caffeine or is blended with tea, coffee, chocolate, yerba mate, or one of the other 56 plants that naturally contain caffeine, it’s naturally caffeine-free. (Don’t worry—the plants I listed are the ones you’re most likely to run into. Caffeine is not lurking around every corner.)

Tea has great health benefits. However, depending on what you’re looking for, a tisane may be your best bet. Consult with an herbalist to see which ones are (as the commercials say) 'right for you.'"

Here's the rest of Tisane Basics. Enjoy!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Tea & Travel

In honor of the upcoming long weekend, I'm dedicating this post to tea and travel.

How do you drink good tea when you travel? I go with two options.

The first option is the most reliable and convenient. I bring an easy-to-use infuser (like The Teastick or The Yo-Yo) and some loose leaf tea. All I have to do when I want tea is find decent hot water.

The second option is less reliable, but much more fun. I look for good tearooms where I'm visiting. Before I leave, I start the search online with search engines and tearoom databases. Then, I ask locals I know about where they recommend. When I reach my destination, I ask people I meet who seem interested in that kind of thing where they suggest I go. Sometimes I end up with great places and tea, sometimes it's a bust. It all depends.

Of course, if you're visiting NYC, you can get reliability and fun in one of my tea tours. :)

Whatever you do this weekend, I hope you have a great time and (yes, yes) enjoy your tea!

Thursday, May 24, 2007


I had a lovely interview with someone from a major tea newsletter today. We talked about tea & health, history (of tea and of me and tea), my business/tours, politics, crafts, and all kinds of other fun things. I let you know when the article comes out!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

VitaminWater-- b-relaxed

Yesterday, I rambled a bit about the advertising trend wherein every type of sugar water on the market has suddenly become a miracle cure-all. Then I drank a VitaminWater. Why? For you, my readers. (Did you see the light glint off of my teeth as I smiled after saying that? It was beautiful.) OK, OK, it was also for my own edification. Anyway, here's what I found.

The first thing I noticed about the VitaminWater is its appearance. There's an eye-grabbing (but not overstated) lime/chartreuse green stripe across the bottle. The graphic design is pleasing. However, the color is absolutely le ick, a translucent peach tone that is wholly unnatural. Already, I was dreading this beverage.

I soon found that this fear was justified. The product's full name is "b-relaxed: jackfruit-guava (b+theanine)." Theanine is, of course, the chemical in tea that makes it so relaxing. (It increases the production of alpha waves in the brain, stimulating left-right brain connectivity and creating a sense of euphoria. You can also get this effect from meditation, yoga, and massage.) Jackfruit and guava are tropical fruits that (when made into almost anything) are sickeningly sweet. This drink is no exception. Crystalline fructose (read: sugar) is the third ingredient. Actually, if you really read the label, it may as well be the second ingredient, as it follows two different types of water. Do we really need to kid ourselves that there's any less sugar because it follows water and . . . water? I think not.

So, the flavor was bad. But what about it's supposed health benefits? Did I "b-relaxed" after I drank it? Nope. I waited to read the label until after I had given it a chance to do anything remotely resembling the effect I get from tea. Nothing (except a slight sugar buzz and sleepy feeling after the buzz passed). Then I checked the label. The theanine is synthesized. I felt very lied to, and not at all euphoric. Go figure.

Here's a summary of my experience with b-relaxed:
beverage color--gross
taste--gross/overly sweet
labeling deception factor--high
"health effects"--poor
overall impression--thoroughly unimpressed

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Healthy Living" in NYC

One of the things NYC is best known for is its hustle and bustle. A major part of that is the contant barrage of information (and misinformation) presented in the form of advertisements. Lately, I've been noticing an increase in a rather disturbing trend in the advertisements I see near my apartment, on the train, and around the tearooms I visit.

For some time, drinks like Gatorade and VitaminWater have been marketed as "healthy," despite the fact that they are, essentially, colored sugar water with vitamins/minerals/herbs mixed in. (Yes, corn syrup and pretty much any ingredient ending in "ose" really means sugar.)

If you want water with the benefits of vitamins, minerals, and herbs, why not drink some tea or a tisane (herbal tea) and skip the sugar and coloring? Or you could (gasp!) eat a healthy meal and drink some water. Or do anything else besides believe CocaCola when they claim that the new Enviga, Gold Peak, and Diet Coke Plus are good for you.

Sure, vitamins are (generally speaking) good for you. So are a lot of minerals (in moderation) and herbs (when used properly). However, sugar/sugar substitutes, artificial colors/flavors, and caffeine are NOT good for you in the quantities that usually come along with these "good for you" supplements. And while vitamins, minerals, and herbs CAN be good for you, it doesn't mean they ARE good for you. It depends on your body's specific chemistry, any conditions you have, any medications you take, and all kinds of other factors that most people don't take into account when buying something to drink at the local bodega.

The most disturbing aspect of this trend is that many of the products tout supplements that most people didn't know about before the ad campaign started. EGCG and theanine, which occur naturally in tea, are in a new Snapple product and a new VitaminWater product. The average person sees the ad/packaging and says, "Hey, what's that?" The ad, packaging, or unwitting person's somewhat health-conscious friend informs them that it's something found in tea and it's good for you. That's about the extent of the information transfer. Your average person thinks, "Tea is healthy. This product must be healthy. I want to be healthy. I'll buy it."

I see how this happens, but I wish I could get people to stop and think for a moment before mindlessly accepting whatever soundbyte or catchy slogan they're fed. Do they consider drinking tea for EGCG, eating berries for antioxidants, drinking pure orange juice for vitamin C, or goig to any of the other sources for the "health" in the bottle instead of selecting a processed, synthisized, and sweetened version? No. Do they seriously think about their own health concerns when they select their beverage of choice? Not really. Do they become healthier by drinking it? I doubt it. Do they consider drinking actual tea? Probably not. (The product is readily available, convenient, and heavily marketed. Tea is mysterious and strange and consumed by oddballs like me.) Do they know what the supplement does? Maybe. Do they buy the drink? In most cases, yes.

I'll admit that I occasionally buy a VitaminWater when I'm out of the filtered water I carry with me and I don't have time to visit a tearoom or other place with good drinks. They are the most successful at marketing themselves as healthy (which is not to say they are healthy!) and providing flavors that aren't completely unnatural-tasting. When I saw that they have a new theanine (tea extract) drink, I had to try it. So, today I am trying it. Tomorrow, I'll post my findings. Wish me luck!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Infusion Methods

There's a new article up on Vee Tea today! It's all about infusion methods. Here's an excerpt from the section on teapots. Enjoy!


It is important to consider the material of the teapot you select for brewing your tea. In this section, I’ll cover glass, iron, silver, glazed ceramic, and unglazed ceramic pots' regions of use, impacts on the flavor and temperature of your tea, common infusion methods, selection considerations, and care.

Glass pots are rapidly increasing in popularity in the U.S. and Europe. They have no discernible impact on the flavor of your tea, except that they influence its brewing temperature. If they are insulated, they will keep your tea hot longer; otherwise, they are less efficient at holding a temperature than other type of pots. (Insulated pots have two layers of glass with a pocket of air in between. It is the air rather than the glass that holds the heat in.) Insulated glass pots are suitable for all types of tea, including ones that require higher temperatures, such as tisanes, blacks, and pu-erhs. Non-insulated glass pots are best for white and green teas. They have metal basket strainers, perforated glass basket-style strainers, or (if they are for artisan flowering teas) forgo the strainer altogether. If they have a glass basket or no basket, they can be a lovely way to watch your tea unfurl as it infuses. When selecting a glass pot, make sure it is suitable for hot tea (many hand-blown/"mouth-blown" pots are just for serving iced tea), check to see if it is microwavable (most handmade pots are not, most Bodum glass pots are), and consider its breakability (does the handle look like it is seriously considering leaving the rest of the pot behind any time soon?). Glass pots can be washed with an unscented soap and hot water, or just with hot water.

Iron pots originated in Japan. The method for making them was born out of the casting of samurai swords. The aesthetic was developed from pots used to boil (and, ideally, sanitize) water. They remain very popular there today, and their use has spread (in a lower concentration) around the globe. Iron pots hold a high temperature very well, especially if they are filled with hot water for a minute or so before the leaves and brewing water are added. Iron pots usually have a basket strainer. If an iron pot’s interior does not have a finish, it can be seasoned over time and will develop a taste specific to the type(s) of tea you brew in it. (If you choose an unfinished iron pot, I recommend staying within a particular flavor family when using it. You wouldn’t want the smoky taste of Lapsang Souchong in your delicate new Shincha.) Unfinished iron pots also supply small amounts of iron in the diet, just as iron skillets do in my homeland (the southern U.S.). Finished iron pots will not affect the flavor or iron content of your tea, and they can be used with a range of teas safely. Rinsing with hot water is safe and will not affect the flavor of your tea, but do not use soap on your iron pot.

Silver teapots were invented in Europe in the 1730’s and spread in popularity throughout Europe and the U.S., where they were viewed as a status symbol. Their heat retention characteristics are similar to those of iron. Unlike iron, silver is a stable, neutral element, so it will not affect the mineral content of your tea. Silver pots may have a basket strainer, or require a teaball/teabags. When selecting a silver teapot, consider whether you prefer a footed design or a trivet (to protect your surfaces from burns). You may also consider the pot�s engraving possibilities, as silver lends itself to etching. Over time, silver pots will tarnish. Use silver cleaner to polish the exteriors AND interiors, and then rinse well and dry with a cotton cloth. (Tarnish is toxic. Sadly, so are silver cleaning chemicals.) Everyday maintenance is as simple as rinsing them with hot water and drying with a soft cotton cloth.

Glazed ceramic pots are most popular in Europe, but can also be found easily in parts of the Americas, Africa, India, and Japan. They do not affect the flavor of the tea. If they are Chinese clay, they hold high heat very well. If they are porcelain, they hold heat moderately well. You can use them with a variety of teas without flavor interference. They may be used with teabags, teaballs, basket strainers, or built-in ceramic strainers (usually at the base of the spout). The main selection considerations for glazed ceramic pots are the infusion method, size, and visual aesthetic. If you have children or are clumsy (like me), avoid the more delicate pots on the market. Many people report that washing glazed pots with soap does not affect the flavor, but I prefer to use only hot water unless there’s a build-up of tannins from brewing lots of black tea.

Unglazed ceramic pots are most popular in China, where they originated, but they can be found all over the world. They hold a high temperature well. Like unfinished cast iron pots, they are seasoned with each use. This means that they are not suitable for brewing a variety of types of tea, but if you stay within a small flavor family for each pot (for example, smoky black teas for one pot, mild/low-oxidation Oolongs for a second pot, and fresh-tasting steamed green teas for a third) you will be rewarded with a wonderfully flavored and complex tea. Many unglazed pots have a small perforated ceramic wall over the base of the spout. If not, you can use a teaball, an in-cup strainer (when pouring), or teabags. When selecting an unglazed teapot, consider the size, visual style, breakability, and what you intend to brew in it. If you lean toward high-quality teas, I suggest investing in a Yi Xing teapot. They are widely reputed to be the best unglazed ceramic pots in the world and can be surprisingly reasonable in price. The clay found in the Yi Xing region of China comes in a range of natural, beautiful colors, the most noteworthy of which is "pear-skin," a deep violet-brown color that is only found in Yi Xing. Yi Xing’s clay has a beneficial mineral balance (in terms of both the taste of the tea and as a supplement to your diet) and has large air pockets that absorb the tea each time it brews (which give it its excellent seasoning capabilities). It is even said that if you brew the same type of tea for many years in a Yi Xing pot, it becomes so well-seasoned that you can brew tea simply by adding hot water to the pot. NEVER wash an unglazed teapot with soap, as the soap will stay in the clay’s pockets and damage the flavor of tea brewed in the pot for years to come. Plain old hot water works well and does not damage the flavor of your tea."

Friday, May 18, 2007

Powdered Tea

I've been a fan of matcha (powdered green tea used in Japanese tea ceremonies) for some time. It is incredibly nutritious and I love the taste. Recently, I tried powdered rooibos and powdered white tea for the first time.

Powdered teas are even more nutritious than infused teas. This is because when you drink a powdered tea, you consume the actual tealeaves (in powdered form), rather than an infusion that extracts only some of their nutrients. Powdered teas are incredibly high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Some say that matcha is the healthiest beverage in the world! They are very high in caffeine and theophylline, but, unlike coffee and cola, they don't produce anxiety and jitters. (For more info, see Caffeine and Tea.) The high concentration of L-theanine (a chemical that increases the alpha waves in the brain, inducing a feeling of euphoria and encouraging left-right brain connectivity/non-lateral thought) doesn't hurt, either. In fact, Buddhist monks used to use matcha for increased concentration and stamina in their meditation. Today, many athletes (and regular people!) enjoy its effects as well.

It's a bit of an acquired taste, but its astringency can be easily mellowed and adjusted to in a few simple ways. The traditional Japanese method is to alternate bites of wagashi (sweets) with sips of tea. It is thought that a perfect balance is achieved when the sweet snack and bitter drink mingle over the tongue. If you don't want a snack with your matcha, there are other ways to get a balanced taste from it. When I first started drinking matcha, I would add a small amount of tupelo honey or a splash of orange juice to counteract the astringency. When I was managing the Teabar at Urbana Cityspa & Teabar, I found that cold matcha lattes were very popular with the customers.

Relatively recently (powdered green teas have been around since the 11th century, when they were first made in China), Muzi Tea started making powdered teas and tisanes that venture outside of the realm of green tea. I tried two kinds, the Granite Ground Rooibos and the Granite Ground White Tea. I was not terribly impressed. I think they'd be much better as part of a tea-based drink rather than as a tea. To be fair, matcha is an acquired taste (so other powdered teas may be, too), the cultivation and processing of powdered green teas has had centuries to develop, and Muzi also makes blended herbal teas (which may have the complexity that I found to be absent in the two kinds I tried). I'd have to try more of their teas before writing their new concept off. If anyone reading this has tried their other products, please let me know what you think of them!

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Today, I've been thinking a lot about green tea. I don't mean green like "we have white, black, Oolong, pu-erh, and green tea on our menu," but green like sustainable. Sustainability is something I've been thinking about a lot in general ever since I was a kid. In fact, it's the primary reason I'm vegetarian. However, today the focus of my thoughts is on sustainability as it relates to tea.

This train of thought started when I read a magazine called Eco-structure, which is about ecologically sustainable architecture and building. The April issue had a focus on sustainability in the food and beverage industries. It talked about a wine vinter, a cafe in Brooklyn, and a beer brewer. There was no mention of tea.

Sustainability can be approached from several angles in the tea industry. The main ones I've been thinking about are the production, the packaging, and the consumer use.

Tea production goes all the way from planting to just before packaging. There are a lot of steps involved and many of them could be more sustainable than they are at present.

The most obvious potential for change is the growing of tea. Some companies are making huge steps with this. The leader in the field (no pun intended) is Makaibari Estates. It's a biodynamic (step beyond organic) tea estate with over 1575 acres of land, two-thirds of which are kept as towering six-tier tropical rainforests and temperate forests. They use a holistic approach in an array of aspect of their farming, from composting and bio-fuel production/use, to integrated forest management and organic practices like replacing pesticides with natural pest predators.

There's also the complex issue of what to do with production by-products. (These include tea stalks and stems, dead plants, and other organic waste.) I know that Ito En uses its tea by-products to manufacture things like pens, which are, in turn, used to promote their business. Clever. There has been discussion of using tea-production by-products as mulch for mushrooms in China, which would be profitable and sustainable. I'm sure more companies are doing things like this. If you know of one, please let me know!

As for packaging, I’ll start with an idea of how bad can get. When I worked at Takashimaya, a two-ounce tea purchase meant a small plastic bag, a piece of tape, a paper bag, a sticker, a brad, a brewing instruction card, an excessively large shopping bag, and a large sheet of tissue paper. That's assuming the customer didn't want it gift-wrapped.

What can be done about this? Producers can choose to use recycled post-consumer waste for their packaging materials (like Numi), use minimal packaging, sell in bulk (like Rishi), or sell loose-leaf teas (which, unlike bagged teas, promote reusable brewing methods). Consumers can choose to buy from companies that engage in these practices, reuse the packaging they receive, or request less packaging. Small differences, yes, but differences nonetheless.

Then there's the issue of consumer use. This one is easiest for the "little people" in the tea world (even if you're a big fish in your own pond!). I like to view each dollar I spend as a vote. In spending money, I am implicitly endorsing the companies and products I spend it on. (Sure, McDonalds has a veggie burger, but they also cause massive rainforest destruction, so I don't buy from them.) As a consumer, you are empowered with the freedom of choice. Below are a few of my choices as a tea consumer and ideas that might work well for you, even if they don't for me. (Composting wouldn't go over so well in my apartment building!)

Buy teas with minimal/recycled packaging
Buy organic/biodynamic teas
Brew multiple infusions from each batch of tealeaves (unless you just really want the caffeine)
Use a reusable brewing method (like a tea strainer or a teapot instead of teabags or disposable tea socks)
Use the tealeaves for other things when you're done brewing them
Compost your tealeaves when you're done using them
Don't buy more tea than you need, or, if you do, give the extra to someone who will use it

If you have any other ideas for sustainability from a consumer standpoint or have any thoughts to add about tea and sustainability in general, please share them!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ceramics Exhibit

I recently saw a great ceramics exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. It included a number of pieces of teaware and all the works were by women. Very cool! Here's a link to the exhibit's info. If you go to the museum, don't forget to check out the new Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, especially the installation of Judy Chicago's Dinner Party--it's amazing!

Lately, there's been a lot of internet hype about "tea art" by Eric M. Sternfels. Personally, I think it's campy and not-so-attractive, but, hey, to each his own, right? You can check it out at Pourtensious, but, obviously, I'd much rather you see the work at the Brooklyn Museum!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Used Tealeaves

I was so excited about my meeting that I forgot to tell you about the newest Vee Tea article on what to do with used tealeaves. Here's an excerpt from a section on health and beauty uses:

"Tea Baths--Tealeaves can make a wonderfully refreshing bath. They contain an enormous amount of nutrients, but only a small percent of these nutrients are removed by the first infusion. A portion of the remaining nutrients can be absorbed into your skin. Just add a few used teabags (or a few teaspoons of used tea leaves in a thin cotton bag) to the water as you draw your bath. Regular, scented, or flavored teas can be used.

Energy--For an extra caffeine boost in the morning, try absorbing caffeine through your skin. There are a few ways to go about this. You can steep fresh leaves in your bath (see tea baths). You can use a tea-scented soap. Or, you can rub used damp tealeaves onto your skin during bathing.

Eye Treatment--Using teabags (or loose-leaf tea in thin cotton bags) as an eye treatment (like you would use slices of cucumber) provides antioxidants to delicate skin and helps it to recover from environmental and biological factors like pollution and stress.

Tea Pillows--Chagra can be used to make relaxing, naturally scented pillows. Chinese folk remedies employ pillows stuffed with chagra for insomnia, headaches, and high blood pressure. Dry your leaves thoroughly, stuff them into a pillow, and sun the pillow often (about once a week), as the leaves will accumulate moisture quickly. You can use a scented or flavored tea if you'd like, but avoid energizing scents like citrus."

Check out the rest here!

Monday, May 14, 2007

World Tea Expo, New Bottled Tea, Iced Tea

Hello! I had a lovely weekend. Hope you did, too.

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of meeting with an employee of Ito En (who also happens to be a fascinating person) over tea, sorbet, and cookies at one of my favorite NYC tearooms. Getting to talk tea with another professional in the field is (almost) always a joy. I was excited about the World Tea Expo before, but now I can't wait! A whole weekend of learning and talking about tea-- what could be better?

Besides the conversation, tea, sweets, and preparation for the World Tea Expo, there was another benefit to my meeting last weekend. I got a sneak taste of two of Ito En's new bottled teas, Jasmine White and Gyokuro. As I've said before, I don't usually like bottled teas (I much prefer the real thing!), but these were surprisingly good. They were completely unsweetened and they are made form quality leaves. Also, the blending of the Jasmine White was very artfully done. I've never had such a balanced bottled tea before. If your local markets carry Ito En's Sencha Shot, they'll probably pick these up, too. Look out for them!

On top of all that, I got to celebrate Mother's Day in Central Park with a picnic of delicious food and (of course!) iced tea (a floral black tea with tupelo honey and fresh lemon juice-- yum!). Now it's back to the work week, but I don't mind too much. I'm one of those terrible people who loves her job.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Tea Products

While playing around on the internet the other day, I found this "Why didn't anyone think of that before?!" mug with a built-in cookie plate. Fun! If you scroll down on the page, you'll also see one of my favorite infusers, The Teastick. (I've met one of the company's owners. It's a great business with an undeniably cool product.) For the more adventuresome, there's also the somewhat risque "Anna" teacup and saucer. (Click the thumbnail of the saucer to see what I'm talking about.) Oh, you crazy German designers!

If you see anything really cool (and tea-related) out there, drop me a line and maybe I'll include it in a blog!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Custom Tea Tour

I spent today on a custom tea tour with a wonderful couple from NYC. Though I enjoy the package tours because they have a flow and a specific focus, I also like custom tours because they cater to the specific interests of the group. Today's group was interested in Indian, Russian, and Afghani food and tea. The highlights were a delicious Indian bread with spiced chickpeas, an incredible Afghani cardamom tea, an unusual pasta dish with mint-garlic yogurt and spiced red beans, homemade fruit- and tea-infused vodkas, a rich smoked black tea, and delicate Russian crepes with sour cherry preserves. Yum!

A reminder to you food service workers out there-- you get a 10% discount on tours (including custom tours) and classes for the month of May.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

NYC Films

As part of the whole "tour guide" thing, I watch a lot of NYC movies. I love seeing familiar spots from my life here on film just as much as movie buffs love seeing the real-life spots they're accustomed to only seeing on the screen.

Some of the recent tea-related scenes I've spotted were in the Lower East Side (PBS's series New York shows a tea merchant's exterior in a photo of the neighborhood), The Russian Tea Room (in Woody Allen's Manhattan, his character (I say this as if he ever REALLY plays anyone besides himself!) visits with his son), in an Upper East Side apartment building (Breakfast at Tiffany's, in which Mickey Rooney performs a matcha ceremony as part of a racist portayal of a Japanese man), and in a Bronx police station (in Serpico, Officer Serpico offers a corrupt cop some tea, which the corrupt cop briskly declines).

Though I find these scenes to be entertaining because of the tea factor, it's not what I'm looking for in the films. I watch them to tap into the collective idea of what NYC is all about so I can share that concept with my tour groups more effectively. New York has such a rich history and so many diverse cultures and sub-cultures-- you could study it your whole life and never know enough! Though I don't intend to devote my life to the study of this city, when I'm not studying tea, I'm really enjoying learning all about New York!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Upcoming Interview

A major tea newsletter is going to interview me soon. It's a little different from my previous tea interviews, which were with local papers and (strangely) Fox News, in that it's an online publication.

I'm really looking forward to it! I love giving interviews because I love sharing information about tea. The fact that it's based online is great, too, because it can reach more people that way.

I'll post a link when it's published. Actually, I should just set up a media section on Vee Tea and post all my interviews and such there. Maybe later-- right now I'm way too busy!

Monday, May 7, 2007

New Article!

There's a new article on Vee Tea today. It's all about determining tea quality, but don't worry-- it doesn't get into grading and all that. It's for tea consumers rather than for industry use. Here's an excerpt:

"There is a complex system of tea grading that is used in tea auctions, processing, and blending, but for everyday buying, determining tea quality can be a simple affair. All you have to do is look, listen, smell, and taste.


A good, fresh tea has a pleasing luster. White tea should have fine hairs on the surface. All teas should have large, uniform leaves and be free of foreign matter. If the tea is flavored (like Earl Grey, for example), pay special attention to the appearance, because flavors are often used to try to cover up a cheap tea's bad taste.

If possible, watch the leaves as they are brewed. Did they expand uniformly and slowly sink as they infused? If so, it's good quality. Also, look at the brewed tea. The liquor should be clear (unless, of course, it is a powdered tea) and free of any particulate matter after it is strained. If you are viewing a green tea it should be emerald or golden in color. If the brew is dark brown, it is stale."

For the rest of the article, click here. Enjoy!

Friday, May 4, 2007

Top Five

I was inspired by a recent rewatching of High Fidelity to compile a list of my top five teas. The question is, which KIND of top five? Here we go . . .

Current Top Five
5. French Verveine (Harney & Son)
4. Homemade Masala Chai (made by mewith ingredients from assorted distributers)
3. Super Premium Sencha (Welcome Station)
2. Lung Ching (Rishi)
1. Jasmine Pearls (In Pursuit of Tea)

As you can see, I'm on a bit of a green tea kick.

All-Time Top Five
5. High Mountain Gyokuro (Welcome Station)
4. Takashimaya Rose (Harney)
3. Super Premium Sencha (Welcome Station)
2. Spicy Ginger Yerba Mate (Rishi)
1. Earl Grey (Rishi)

Subject to change!

Caffeine-Free Top Five (a.k.a. "Top Five Tisanes")
5. Blueberry (Elmwood)
4. Mandela Masala Chai (SerendipiTea)
3. French Tilleul (Harney)
2. Soba-Cha (I've forgotten the distributer at the moment . . .)
1. French Verveine (Harney)

Delicious--check. Caffiene-free--check. All right . . .

Top Five Iced Teas
5. Jasmine Pearls (In Prusuit of Tea)
4. Earl Grey (Rishi)
3. Jamacia Red Bush (Rishi)
2. Blueberry (Elmwood)
1. Tropical Blend (Urbana Cityspa & Teabar)

I brew these at double strength, add some tupelo honey, cool, and serve over ice. Icy AND tasty.

If you think of any top five tea lists you'd like me to compile, drop me a line here, or in the contact section of VeeTea.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

About Me and VeeTea

Here's a little rambling on how I got into tea and why I started VeeTea.

Tea is something I've loved for a long time. I grew up in the South, where no meal after 11 AM is complete without sweet tea. The first time I tasted hot tea, I was 7 years old. To my parents' horror, I went vegetarian for about a year at that age, flatly refusing to eat anything that contained meat on ethical grounds. After a while, they got used to it, and my dad took me out for some tofu at a nice Chinese restaurant near our house. I don't remember the tofu. What I DO remember is this-- at the end of the meal, I got to try green tea. My dad said the tea tasted like the essence of the earth after a heavy rain and for the first time in my life, I noticed the complexity and subtlety a taste can carry.

When I was in college I became a vegetarian again (though this time it stuck!) and started working at Whole Foods. With my hefty employee discount, I could, despite my college-student status, afford to buy foods other than ramen. The thing that made me happiest, though, was being able to purchase high-quality loose-leaf tea. I started to explore the wondrous tastes and aromas of a world of tea I hadn't even known existed a year prior. I began my obsession with tea.

After I graduated, I took my accumulated tea knowledge and a good deal of bartending experience to Urbana Cityspa & Teabar. In its developmental stages I was a consultant and once it opened I became the teabar manager. My passion for tea deepened as I saw how I could use my expertise of it to educate and entertain others. I gave seminars, held tastings, trained employees, and learned as much as I could about tea. Later, my art (I'm also an artist, which makes me different from all the other New Yorkers, who are actors) brought me to New York. I spent my time working at Takshimaya in their tea department and hunting down the city's best tea resources.

At work, I helped those who were lost in the sea of tea. I proved to be a terrible salesperson, but an exceptional educator. Customers raved about my expertise and explanations; one went so far as to write the manager of the U.S. division of the company about how much she had enjoyed learning about tea from me! It was obvious to everyone that I adored entertaining people with tea facts and anecdotes and that they learned a lot from talking with me, but I couldn't very well become "Professor of Tea" at NYU, so I stayed in retail.

In my spare time I delved into New York's incredible array of tea houses and shops. Some of them were beyond compare, while others were unbelievably banal or just plain bad. I began to wonder how the average New York tea drinker had the time and energy to find the gems amidst "the rest" while living a normal life (which is to say, one that is partially rather than entirely tea-centered). And if it's hard for New Yorkers, it must be nearly impossible for the tourists. With a chain coffee store on practically every block, I could see how the travel-weary might give up on finding the local tea haven hidden away on the second floor and settle for one of the worms in The Big Apple instead. I knew there had to be some way to illuminate natives and tourists alike to the joys of tea in NYC, but how?

Gradually, I came to realize that New York was ready for a unique blend of learning and leisure. What it needed was someone offering an entertaining and amusing romp through the city with a carefully selected sampling of the wide spectrum it has to offer, from the fun of a fruity Taiwanese bubble tea to-go, to the serenity of a Japanese matcha ceremony, to the "so right it has to be wrong" hedonism of perfect tea and chocolate pairings . . . with all the trial-and-error testing of places (and tasting teas and foods!) done in advance. With my zeal for tea, love of teaching, disdain for the "trite and true," and love of all that makes tea hot, who better to do the job?

And so Vee Tea came to be. It's company that brings you the best of the best in areas as diverse as chocolate decadence and vegan eats all the while with tea in the spotlight. My goal is to spread joy for and knowledge about tea, one small group at a time. In addition to customized and preset tours, I offer business consultation, employee training, tea tastings/seminars, one-on-one tea classes, and online tea lessons. Experience a tea tour. Learn how to build your tea business. Hold a tea tasting. Pick an expert's brain over a cuppa. Read up while sipping your favorite brew. Most of all, enjoy your tea!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Weekly Articles

From here on out, I'll be adding a new article to Vee Tea every week. Here are the tea articles I have so far. Most technical-- Caffeine and Tea. Most fun-- Iced Tea. Best intro-- How to Brew Tea. Most advanced-- Bamboo Charcoal. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Celebrate Food Service Workers!

This month, VeeTea is celebrating the people who provide the wonderful foods and drinks we love so much-- food service workers! From restaurateur to dishwasher, all food service workers get a 10% discount on tours and classes for the month of May. Take the opportunty to improve your knowledge and presenation of tea with a set or customized tour or class.