Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Teas

In honor of Halloween, here are a few of the pumpkin teas on the market:

Rooibos Pumpkin (Dragonwater)

Pumpkin Spice Tea (Adagio)

Pumpkin Cream Spice Tea (SBS Teas)

You can also make your own pumpkin tea by either boiling or baking sliced, seeded pumpkin until it's soft, juicing or pureeing it, and then blending it with sweetened, spiced black tea. Use a masala chai base or add your own spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom...) to a robust black tea (such as an Assam). Serve hot or iced.

(The pumpkin Yi Xing teapot is available here.)

Happy Halloween!!!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Nilgiri Branding

It looks like Nilgiri and Assam will soon be registered under Geographical Indication. This means that, like Darjeeling teas, certified teas from each region will bear an official seal indicating its origin.

The goals of GI registration for Darjeeling teas were to decrease counterfeit Darjeeling tea sales (which were rampant) and (with an increase in regional branding image due to decreased counterfeits) increase their teas prices. The downside was the certification cost (often a large burden for a small estate).

I have to wonder if it isn't preemptive to register Nilgiri and Assam teas for Geographical Indication. Neither is as well-known as Darjeeling, and I've never heard of problems with counterfeit Nilgiri or Assam teas (in sharp contrast to Darjeeling teas--more counterfeit "Darjeeling" is sold each year than true Darjeeling). Is this an attempt by the Indian government to increase tea prices without building brand confidence (which it actually did with Darjeeling)? Will the increase in tea price make the certification cost worth it to smaller estates? We shall see...

Monday, October 29, 2007

New Article: Masala Chai

Today's new article is part one of a two parter on everyone's favorite Indian sweet drink, masala chai. Excerpt:


Masala chai dates back to over 5000 years ago (some say 9000), when a king created an herbal version in an Indian or Siamese court (or so the legend goes… I’m fairly sure that this is a myth, much like the Chinese tale of Emperor Shen Nong’s discovery of tea). It was an Ayurvedic concoction from the start and was considered to be a cleansing and vivifying remedy for minor ailments. Early on, masala chai was prepared in a variety of ways, served both hot and cold, and comprised of a wide range of spices. Recipes varied from town to town, neighborhood to neighborhood, and even home to home.* Many years later (in 1835), the British set up tea plantations in Assam. The black teas produced there seeped into masala chai recipes, and masala chai as we know it today (tea, sweetener, milk, and spices) was born. It didn’t approach its current popularity level until the advent of CTC (Cut, Tear, Curl) mechanized tea production in Assam the 1960. CTC produces very inexpensive tea that infuses quickly and produces a strong flavor, making it perfect for masala chai in the Indian market. Chai’s popularity spread ‘round the globe, but it remains a cornerstone of Indian culture today.


Masala chai is a major component of Indian culture today, but it is ingrained in everyday life much like coffee in the US. The result is that outsiders see it as a big deal, while locals think of it as ordinary. (This reminds me of the time I made hummus for a friend from Tokyo and changed her whole worldview. To me, hummus is a common food, but to her, trying it the first time was a revelation.) Most people in India drink about four cups of masala chai a day. Many many take a break around 4PM for chai and snacks, usually fried samosas and/or pakoras, “farsan” (savory snacks from West India’s Gujarat region), and “nashta” (savory breakfast foods). There is a “family tradition” element to masala chai in India and neighboring chai-drinking countries. Much like that incredible recipe for… whatever… that your grandmother gave you and that you KNOW tops any other variation out there, people in and around India take great pride in their own recipes and feel that theirs is the only REAL way to prepare masala chai...

Read more about masala chai culture and ingredients on Vee Tea! Next week, I'll give you over a dozen of my own masala chai recipes. In the meantime, feel free to post YOUR favorite masala chain recipe here.

Friday, October 26, 2007

New Tearoom in NYC

Last night I had the pleasure of visiting Amai, a new bakery and tearoom near Union Square. Amai is Japanese for "sweet," and the name fits. They started as a bakehouse (you may have seen their tea cookies around at Ito En or Takashimaya), but have now expanded to include a lovely shop with a strong tea menu that includes teas from Ito En and Red and Green Co., among others. I'm looking forward to returning for more tea and cookies soon! (Try the chai pudding--it's delish!)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Tea Plantation Woes

Tea sales in the US are going upupup, India's tea exports are rising each year, and yet the Indian tea industry is still ailing. Why? Murders and kidnappings by Assamese rebel group ALOF, the increased production cost of ethical employment practices (the British used a system modeled after the cotton plantations in the US... in other words, a slavery system), and poorly managed resources. What's a planter to do? Make tea a tourist industry.

In somewhat related news, a lot of people have been emailing to ask if I'll be starting to tea tours to India in the future. I hope to arrange for a small group trip next year, followed by larger ones in the following years. If you're interested, drop me a line.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Pu-erh Investment

OMG, pu-erh is SO HOT right now. Check out this article on speculative pu-erh investment. Personally, I invest my money in stocks and bonds and I buy pu-erh for the taste, but to each his own.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"Hipster" Teaware?

I recently happened upon an article about class, design, and "hipster" teaware. I use quotations because the example looks like anything BUT hipster teaware to me. This a perfectly hideous (in a non-ironic way, of course) teapot is from Target. Go figure.

Monday, October 22, 2007

New Article: Tea and Iron

So, I FINALLY got around to writing a new tea article, and it's a good one. It's all about tea and iron absorption, which is something a lot of people ask me about. Excerpt:

Let’s begin with tannins. Tannins are naturally occurring molecules in tea and (as you may have noticed) they have a bad reputation because of their association with tannic acid (which is used to tan hides to make leather). Though the tannins in tea are in the same class of chemicals as tannic acid, tea does NOT (contrary to popular belief) contain ANY tannic acid. The tannins tea DOES contain are catechins (like EGCG, which is reported to aid in weight loss) and other bioflavonoids (molecules that are noted for their antioxidant properties). Some of these tannins are responsible for the dark color and astringent taste in some teas, particularly black and Oolong teas. Many of them are found in other “healthy” foods, such as berries, pomegranates, and wine.

So tannins are good, right? Yes and maybe also no. It all comes down to iron...

Read more on tea and iron on VeeTea.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Brooklyn Goes Veg

Starting Sunday, Brooklyn Goes Veg (for a week). It's the first annual Brooklyn Vegetarian Restaurant Week. Restaurant Week is a deliciously egalitarian tradition that has been around since (strangely enough...) the mid 1980s. I hope this Brooklyn-based vegetarian version sticks around a while, too!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ito En Teas

I recently placed an order with Ito En. (I live in NYC, but I've been too busy to make it to the store since I got back from India, so I decided to take the easy way out and order online.) My order consisted of:

2 oz Dragon Well Qing Ming
3 oz Lapsang Souchong
3 oz Organic Makaibari Estate Silver Tips
2 oz Taiping Houkui
1 oz Uji Gyokuro
3 oz Ureshino Tama Ryokucha
1 oz Yame Gyokuro

Thoughts so far:

Dragon Well is one of my favorite teas of all time, and this one is no exception.

I thought the Lapsang Souchong would be a good choice for the fall chill we have going on up here and, boy, was I right.

I knew the Makaibari would be great because I was drinking it daily for a while there in Darjeeling. An excellent choice, as always.

I'd had Taiping Houkui (a.k.a. "Monkey King") before, but this one is really special. The flavor and aroma are superb and the imprint of the cotton cloth adds to the visual aesthetic quite nicely.

The gyokuros are a gift for a friend. I haven't tasted this batch, but I've had them before and they were exceptional.

The Ureshino Tama Ryokucha was new to me. It's a Japanese pan-fired tea, like houjicha, but it tastes more like a mild sencha or gyokuro. Vegetal, mellow, lightly sweet... I'm really glad I ordered this one without waiting to try it elsewhere first. Three cheers for new tea!!!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pesticide Tea, Anyone?

As food safety concerns rise, more and more people are talking about how to clean your foods. If you are finding yourself concerned about any undesirable additives in your tea, I suggest the following:

Buy from a reputable company. Take a minute to look into the company itself. (This is easy enough to do online.) Does it seem ethical, or does it seem like it would sell you turpentine tea to turn a buck? If it seems ethical, is it a mega-corporation with employees paid to make it LOOK ethical, or is it actually kind of ethical?

Consider paying a little more to ensure your tea's quality. 'Nuff said.

To (ideally) eliminate pesticide and artificial fertilizer content, buy certified organic.

Consider buying Fair Trade. (Happy workers are more likely to treat the tea better. I've seen this in action.)

Take a cue from gong fu (high-skill) tea ceremonies: rinse your tealeaves.*

Keep in mind that at least some of the pesticides used in tea production are evaporated during the drying stage of production. It's not totally reassuring, but it's good to know.


Relax. Despite all the media's hullabaloo about food contamination, your tea will probably be just fine. Stress, on the other hand, is a real killer.

Hope this helps. Enjoy your tea!

*How to rinse your tealeaves: Place the leaves into the brewing vessel. Pour water (at the brewing temperature) over the leaves, and then pour the water out. Your leaves are now rinsed and ready for brewing. According to the gong-fu tradition, the leaves are also "awakened" and ready to make the best tea they can.

Related study: Organic food is on the rise, as is local food. 80% say they eat a healthy diet. (Ha! Right...) 59% identified China as a problem area for food safety. The odd thing to me is that people who purchased organic food tended to earn more than those who didn't. Organic food doesn't have to be expensive! In fact, when it's done properly, it should cost LESS than conventional food. (Read "The One Straw Revolution" for more on the costs of organic food production.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Spa Week in NYC

It's that time of year again! Yes, spa week. I'm off to my ayurvedic facial right now. Check out this article on spa tea treatments. It's almost as good as the real thing.*

*OK, not really. But you can pretend.

UPDATE--My facial was fantastic! It was specially formulated to balance and cool my fiery nature. The scents were incredibly soothing, the shoulder massage was just what I needed, my skin feels great, and (best of all) they served tea in a tea lounge after the service! Ah, I love Spa Week...

Monday, October 15, 2007

For the Designo Tea-Drinker in Your Life...

Happened upon a teapot that brings my college's industrial design department's lingo to mind. ("Sleek... svelte... graceful... modern... clean... form meets function...") Added bonus: The shape and materials are designed specifically to keep the water at a lower temperature, making it perfect for white and green teas. Check it out!

More on water temperatures for brewing tea. More on tea infusion methods.

Happy Monday! Drink some good tea!

Friday, October 12, 2007

NY Times Indian Tea Tourism Article

The NY TImes put out a fantastic article on tea tourism in India. Excerpt:

Flying to a remote corner of India and braving the long drive into the Himalayas may seem like an awful lot of effort for a good cup of tea, but Darjeeling tea isn't simply good. It's about the best in the world, fetching record prices at auctions in Calcutta and Shanghai, and kick-starting the salivary glands of tea lovers from London to Manhattan.

In fact, Darjeeling is so synonymous with high-quality black tea that few non-connoisseurs realize it's not one beverage but many: 87 tea estates operate in the Darjeeling district, a region that sprawls across several towns (including its namesake) in a mountainous corner of India that sticks up between Nepal and Bhutan, with Tibet not far to the north.

Each has its own approach to growing tea, and in a nod to increasingly savvy and adventurous consumers, a few have converted bungalows into tourist lodging, while others are accepting day visitors keen to learn the production process, compare styles and improve their palates — a teetotaler's version of a Napa Valley wine tour, but with no crowds.

The writer visited Makaibari and Goom (which I also visited) and Glenburn (which I only saw from across the mountain). He has some very interesting insights into the journey, and he talks about tea tasting for the tea newbie a bit. Read the rest here. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

VeeTea Press/Event

"Urbana to Hightlight Teas of India"


Guest speaker Lindsey Goodwin, owner of Vee Tea in New York City, will present teas she learned about during a three-week tour of plantations in India. She will give a video presentation of images from her trip.

The 7:30 p.m. event will be in Urbana's teabar.

Urbàna serves more than 100 teas from China, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Africa and South America. About 15 percent are from India, including black, white and green teas, as well as chai.

The event is tonight. I'll be serving six Indian teas, talking about tea in India, and showing video footage (in the form of projected video eye candy). If you're in NC, call 704.543.1700 to reserve a seat. (They're almost full!)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

FAQs and Not-So-FAQs

Lately, I've been getting a lot of questions through my ask page. I've decided to post a few in my blog. If you have a basic tea question or a question about Vee Tea, feel free to ask me! For more complex questions, contact me to arrange an hour-long tea class or consultation (in person or via telephone).

"Where can I get your teas?"

I get this question a lot! The answer is, "in my kitchen." I don't sell tea. I am a tea educator. I offer tea tours as well as tea classes, consultation, and training, and I write copy for tea sites.

"Are you doing tea tours in India?"

At this moment, I only offer tea tours in NYC. However, I am interested in putting a group together for a trip to India in the near future. If you're interested, let me know early in the planning stages so I can be sure to include you and your interests. Otherwise, I am available for classes and events outside NYC. (Contact me for more info.)

"I'm a coffee drinker and want to drink tea instead. What do you recommend?"

Congrats on your decision to make the transition! I think you'll find that it is very beneficial to you. On to the answer! If you like the roasty flavor of coffee, try the Japanese roasted twig tea "houji-cha." If you like a robust flavor and more caffeine, try Indian Assam black teas. Is earthy and rich more your bag? Try a pu-erh (also spelled "pu'er") tea (unless you're on a tight budget!). If you want something really smoky and strong, opt for Chinese Lapsang Souchong, its more mellow sister Tarry Souchong, or its cousin Russian Caravan (also from China). If like spices and you drink your coffee with a lot of milk and sugar, try an Indian Masala Chai (commonly called "chai" in the US). If you want milk and sugar sans spices, try an Assam black, a "breakfast blend" (China Breakfast, English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast...), or one of the Ceylon (Sri Lankan) teas that says something like "takes milk and sugar well" on the packaging. If you don't want any caffeine, like the woody notes in coffee and don't mind a little sweetness, go with the African red "tea" (tisane) rooibos. If you usually drink flavored coffee, pick up a similarly flavored tea. Welcome to the world of tea!

"What is a low quality Chinese tea from the last of the crop called? B---A (five letters)"

Hmm... was this a crossword puzzle question?! I'll put the fact that I consider this to be cheating aside for a moment and answer your question. "Bohea." When Chinese tea first became immensely popular in England, a lot of it was mixed with other vegetable matter to increase profit. Excellent teas from the Wuyi region suffered badly from this kind of pollution and their name ("bohea") became synonymous with cheap, degraded tea. Sad, but true.

"I am so envious of your do you make your living? Are you an heiress? (I am smiling)"

Like a lot of other New Yorkers, I work two jobs. I'm not an heiress, but some guy called me "Paris Hilton" at the park last week. (I think it was my sunglasses. I just hope it wasn't all the weight I lost in India!)

"Does herbal tea have any caffeine in it?"

Generally speaking, no, herbal teas (a.k.a. "tisanes" or "infusions") do not contain any caffeine. However, yerba mate is VERY high in caffeine and any herbal teas with chocolate or kola but will have a little bit of caffeine. Blends with any "true tea" (white, green, Oolong, black, pu-erh, or (rarely) yellow tea) will also have caffeine, even if they're labeled "herbal." For more info, read my article on Caffeine and Tea.

I hope this clears a few things up! Contact me if you have any tea questions!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Tea Tasting

Lately, I've been writing a lot of copy for tea retail sites. At the moment, most of the writing is descriptions of the teas the sites carry. For this reason, I have been undertaking tea tasting in a more serious way than I have before, and I have found that I LOVE tea tasting.

Aside from the fact that tea tasting means that I get to consider drinking tea and thinking about how it tastes "work," I love tea tasting because of the huge array of tastes out there. There are so many teas to try, and so much to taste in each tea!

Happening upon unexpected flavors is always a special treat. (Grapefruit rind and dried apricot in an Oolong. Orange blossom and cream in a white tea.) So is the unveiling of a winning aftertaste. (The build in complexity and intensity. The crescendo of a multitude of flavors. The receding of flavors that ends in a lull, an absence of the richness that was there only a moment before, a punctuation of how good it was.)

The complexity of some teas is particularly alluring to my senses right now. The elements that make up complex Oolongs are pretty easy for me to pin down (Jasmine. Yuzu. Nutmeg.), but pu-erhs are trickier. The dampness and darkness of the taste is harder for me to associate with the familiar. Perhaps I should spend a weekend or two camping to build up my sense memory of earth after the rain, fermenting wood, mushrooms, and the like! In the meantime, I'll just enjoy my tea tasting wherever I am.*

*Raleigh, NC at the moment

Monday, October 8, 2007


I rarely watch TV, but today I made a very special exception. On The History Channel, Modern Marvels put on an excellent program on my favorite topic, tea. It included some great segments on The Opium Wars, East India Company-run Assamese tea plantations, tea bags, iced tea, tea blending, and tea & health. It also included one of my favorite tea celebrities, author/educator James Norwood Pratt, and the owner of the fabulous Imperial Tea Court, Ray Fong. It will be showing again tonight at 7PM EST. Check it out!

Friday, October 5, 2007


Still in my home state, North Carolina. I had the most amazingly de-stressing hot stone massage the other day... one of the many perks in doing events with a teabar/spa! The video editing for the (Indian-tea-themed) event is coming along very well. (One of the many benefits of having a good friend who happens to be a professional video editor.)

It's hard to believe it has been more than a month since I left India! Seeing all the footage is making me miss it all the more. Still hoping to return soon.

I've been tasting more teas for the company I'm working with. Heavenly. I even found a flowering tea with a taste that would make it worth drinking even if it weren't gorgeous! (I find this to be quite a feat. Most flowering teas are much more of a treat for the eyes than they are for the tastebuds.) I'm looking forward to trying the rest of their flowering line over the next few days.

Well, I'm off to grab a late dinner with an old friend (Indo-Chinese food). I'll be back on Monday with a more coherent post.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

"Spiced Tea"

I recently noticed that, in the long tradition of naming beauty products after foods, Clairol Natural Instincts has a shade of hair dye called "Spiced Tea."

One of my favorite things in the world when I was a child was the spiced tea my mother would make every winter. It was a black tea (probably Assam) with pineapple juice, orange juice, cloves, and cinnamon, and I couldn't get enough of it. However, I wouldn't want to drink a tea that's the color on that box. On the up side, they thought that "Spiced Tea" sounded "exotic" enough to hang out with "Egyptian Plum" and the rest. Also, they chose "Spiced Tea" for the main photo on their product page (linked above), so you can tell they like the color. Eh. You win some, you lose some.

Down in my home state. Capturing and editing footage from my India trip. Fun times.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Honey for Tea & Colony Collapse Disorder

If you haven't heard already, I adore Tupelo Honey as a sweetener for tea (especially iced tea). For that reason (and for general environmental concern), I've been reading up on a recent phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder, which causes worker bees to abandon their hives (including the queen and larvae). It has been blamed on everything from global warming to cell phone signals, but what may be the real reason has recently surfaced.

Tests on US bees with and without the infection revealed the presence of a honeybee virus from Israel in the infected bees. However, the effect is much stronger on the American honeybees than their Israeli counterparts. The reason may be that US bees are already suffering from parasitic mite infestations (which damage their lungs and eventually kill them) and fungal attacks on their hives. More on NPR.

I'm headed down South today to edit my India footage for a tea event. Check y'all latah!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Darjeeling Limited

I saw "The Darjeeling Limited" over the weekend. It was fantastic, although it had very little to do with Darjeeling OR tea. It was funny, visually luscious, charming, touching, and a tad pretentious... all the things I love about Wes Anderson's films.

This New York Times Style Profile sould give you some idea of the film's gorgeous aesthetic. It also notes, "[Wes Anderson] scouted tea plantations in Darjeeling* with painter Hugo Guinness [click "Imports," and then click "Hugo Guinness"... annoying, I know], but found Rajasthan more suitable for filming." Apparently, a lot of people feel that way. Rajasthan is far more heavily represented in the celluloid world than Darjeeling. I guess we'll have to leave it to some other brilliant auteur to make the film about Darjeeling we've all been waiting for. In the meantime, "Limited" is more than worth checking out, as is its prequel short, "Hotel Chevalier". Enjoy!

*According to my sources, he also spent time in nearby Kurseong, checking out the biodynamic Makaibari Tea Estate.

PS--"Rushmore" is still my favorite.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Eating Local/October Discount

The New Yorker recently published an article on eating local in NYC. I love my local farmers' market (scroll down bit), but I have to admire this guy for trying to eat ALL local (save for olive oil and spices) in NYC for a whole week. He notes that it's much easier in the fertile and biodiverse valleys of food-obsessed San Francisco. (This is yet another reason why I love SF. For more reasons, read about my recent trip to SF.)

Of course, aside from the dietary restraints and huge time commitment involved with eating all local in NYC, the thing I'd really miss is the TEA. Then again, I could just grow my own.

OR... I could skip a bit of the locavore hype and read this Financial Times article about the environmental impact of shipping food long--and short--distances:

"Transport has been taken out and highlighted," says Rebecca White, a researcher at Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute (ECI). "But you can't single out one part [of the food system] and say something that's come from thousands of miles away is automatically less sustainable - it's much more complicated than that."

Sure, I could buy conventionally-grown tea from Charleston, SC to reduce shipping, but I could also source my tea from the biodynamic Makaibari Tea Estate in Darjeeling to reduce my environmental impact in terms of emissions (they use biofuel) and pesticides (they are certified organic). Besides, it's not like tea is something consumed by the pound. The most I ever consume in a day is an ounce. (One ounce of tealeaves can make about ten cups of tea. And that's if you only infuse the leaves once.) If I compare that one ounce to, say, my daily vegetable intake, then I see that shipping tea all the way from India (or Japan, or China, or...) really isn't all that bad.

So, as usual, it's all about the big picture. Why am I not surprized?

All this talk about local and imported food reminded me about the October discount! Anyone from outside NYC who takes a tea tour during October gets a 10% discount. Email me at vee at veetea dot com to set up a tour.