Friday, February 29, 2008

Full-Leaf Tea Production on the Rise

It looks like the surge in popularity of full-leaf tea in the US, Russia, and Europe is making a major impact on producers' behaviors. According to a recent article from Reuters, orthodox tea production in India is on the rise and is being encouraged by the government-run Tea Board with a subsidy of 3 rupees per kg of orthodox tea produced. At present, many tea plantations in India (particularly those in Assam) produce CTC tea. Orthodox production involves the hand-plucking of tea leaves, which means that the whole leaves can remain intact and that the best new shoots can be plucked without also plucking older leaves and stems. CTC can produce a stronger flavor with a shorter brew time, but is generally a less nuanced and a much lower quality tea.* Most Indian CTC tea is consumed within the country, whereas most orthodox tea is for export.

*Despite this difference in quality, innovative Indian cooks can do amazing things with CTC! I had the best masala chai of my life when I was in Kolkata, and most of it was made from CTC. At one hotel near Darjeeling, I talked tea with the "tea boy," who had created an extensive, widely varied, and delicious tea menu out of both CTC and orthodox teas, as well as blends.

All this talk about Indian chai has me even more excited about my upcoming tea tour to India! More details on that soon to come...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

More on Cooking with Tea

The Arizona Republic recently published an article on cooking trends with tea. Here's an excerpt:

Tea flavors range through floral, earthy, grassy, astringent, clean and brisk, and deep and hearty.

Modern-day applications for cooking with tea are surprisingly similar to those of the ancient Chinese, who stuffed fish with dried, pungent oolong leaves before steaming, and infused boiling water while boiling eggs.

Both tea leaves and brewed tea can be used in cooking. Dried leaves work best as a flavorful rub for fish, poultry, pork and beef. Use only loose tea leaves, not the finely crushed (and less flavorful) contents of brewing bags.

Agreed. However, I had to disagree with the next statement:

"Treat tea like you would any other ingredient. Go for quality, the best you can afford, because quality matters," (Charlie) Romano (vegan-organic chef at the Mandala Tea Room in Scottsdale) said.

To a point, this statement is true. However, beyond that point it absolutely does not apply. One should NEVER waste a delicate white tea or a decadently complex aged pu-erh (some of the most expensive teas you can buy) by adulterating it with any other ingredients (or treating it as an ingredient alongside anything but pure water). It would be absurd. Some of the best teas are meant for tea and tea alone (unless of course you want to infuse the tea multiple times and then make it into chagra for other uses).

I digress. Tea has an enormous potential as a culinary ingredient. I've previously written about making vegan green tea ice cream and posted a listing of tea recipes. In addition to health benefits and a fantastic range of flavors, tea may provide another perk: it may act as a natural preservative. This article pertains to meat preservation in particular, but I have heard from many sources (including the owner of NYC's own Amai Tea & Bake House) that tea acts as a preservative in baked goods as well. This is great news for those seeking natural (and even organic) alternatives to conventional preservatives. As a young city-dweller who loves baking, I find this to be particularly useful, as I no longer have to pick between letting baked goods go bad, force-feeding them to my roommate, and spending days at a time at the gym. :)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Yoga Teas

Simpson and Vail just released a new line of "Yoga Teas". Each one focuses on a different chacra. Example:

The Third Eye Chakra (Ajna) is located in the center of forehead and is symbolized by the two-petal lotus flower and the color indigo. It is in this sight center that we find the home of the part of our consciousness that absorbs the knowledge of the outer world and externalizes the thoughts of our inner world. An open and balanced Third Eye Chakra will allow us to trust our intuition, help us to focus and allow us to see an unobstructed view of reality. This insightful herbal blend brews to a light golden color with a heady aroma and a light floral taste with the pronounced flavor of lavender and rosemary. Connect to this energy center through meditation or guided visualization. Suggested yoga poses and further information on this chakra are included inside the box.

It's a cool idea, but I have to wonder how long it will take before Yogi Tea's lawyers decide to skip their morning Pranayama and file suit.

The really funny part? Almost none of these products contain any actual tea. They're almost all tisanes.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

New Links

You may have noticed that I've added some new links to my Blogger page. Here's a quick intro to each one.

Gongfu Girl is a tea blog that does reviews and more. Very informative and well-written.

Makaibari Estate is a rarity--a blog by a tea producer. It is by Rajah Banerjee, the owner of the last family-owned tea estate in Darjeeling (and the first biodynamic tea estate in the world).

Steph's Cup of Tea is a blog by a tea-lover that covers many aspects of tea and tea culture in the US. Charming and very well-written.

T Ching is a new tea publication that focuses on health, tea trends, and more. It has a wide range of contributors, so there's a little something for everyone.

Tea Drone is a tea review blog by my cousin and a few of his friends.* They're off to a great start, and I look forward to reading more from them.

Tea Guy Speaks is a varied tea blog with a lot of interesting information. Posts have become less frequent since Tea Guy was tapped to write for the Twinings blog, which is also on my list and a good source of info despite the obvious corporate involvement.

Tea on Tap is, according to its heading, "Reviews and notes on tea and teaware from an everyday tea lover." I think that sums it up pretty well!

The Leaf is a new free online tea publication. Though it only has one issue out at present, it's off to a fantastic start and has the tea world talking.

Vee Tea is a site about tea or something. I don't really know anything about it. I've never read it, actually. :)

wikiCHA is a cool new project by tea enthusiasts, business owners, and bloggers. It's just getting started, but I think it has a lot of potential. Those of you who are more knowledgable about tea may consider contributing to it.

*Tea runs in my family. The newest proof is my cousin's tea blog, but my aunt has been called "The Tea Lady" in her neighborhood for years and my mother owns and runs Urbana Citispa & Teabar. It was my father who first introduced me to hot tea, which I loved immediately.

Monday, February 25, 2008

England Goes Foodie, Tea Prices on the Rise?

England is following and surpassing the American trend of "going foodie." Acoording to a recent article on CNN, they are getting ahead of the American trend towards for organic, fair trade, and local: the British govenrment has even asked retailers to develop "eco-labels" that indicate the environmental impact of each product. The focus is much more on sustainability than on personal health. (It seems to me that most Americans are more interested in their own health than the planet's when it comes to organic food production.) The ethical treatment of animals (still a mojor taboo in the US, despite all of PETA's well-meaning efforts) has also gained some attention in the press on both sides of the issue.

I wonder how the foodie movement in one of the world's biggest tea-drinking nations will impact the tea market. Will more plantations and gardens go organic/biodynamic? Will packaging be altered to be more sustainable and will marketing begin to reflect the (in many cases, newfound) sustainability more? As tastes change in England, will the ubiquitous teabag be replaced more and more by loose leaf tea?

As for the prices, it is already predicted that tea prices will rise in 2008 due to civil unrest in Kenya. Of course, most tea production in Kenya is CTC at present, so it may not impact the prices of loose leaf. Perhaps a price increase in CTC black tea (Kenya's main tea product and England's favorite cuppa) will actually encourage a shift to loose leaf. We shall see!

EDITED TO ADD: A new article on the UK's efforts to make grocery stores more sustainable, ethical, and healthy. Yay!

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Leaf Magazine

A new tea magazine has arrived on the scene. It focuses on Cha Do, the Chinese way of tea, and it has some fascinating articles (including one on ancient tea expert Lu Yu by the renowned James Norwood Pratt). Check it out and have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Caffeine During Pregnancy

There's a lot of attention being paid right now to a new study on caffeine during pregnancy. It's bad news for tea-drinking women who want to have children: as little as 100 mg of caffeine a day can double your chance of miscarriage. However, this doesn't mean that pregnany women have to forego all tea. "Herbal teas" (not technically teas, but tisanes) like chamomile and peppermint are still safe. (Do a little research on each one before drinking it, but most of the mainstream herbals are safe.) And there are ways to significantly decrease your caffeine consumption without dropping tea like, well, a BAD habit. Here's an article I wrote a while back that may be of some use: Caffeine and Tea. I feel that it is worth noting that MANY pregnancies have been carried successfully to term with regular consumption of large amounts of caffeine (or much worse). Yes, some of the media attention is valid and, yes, some of it is probably hype. However, I am not a doctor, so please consult with your doctor for more information.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Antimicrobial Tisane from Hops

Hops, one of the main ingredients in beer, are now being used to produce a naturally antimicrobial tisane. The variety used is called "Teamaker," and it is substantially less bitter than typical brewery hops. This is because hops have antimicrobial (bitter) alpha acids and (not bitter) beta acids, but whereas most hops have more alphas, Teamaker hops have more betas. Read more here.

In semi-related news, Queens' contemporary art museum, P.S.1 has announced a new, sustainable architectural plan for their courtyard. The whimsical design includes a large V-shaped (yay!) structure of heavy cardboard tubes, in which a variety of herbs, garden vegetables, and even (you guessed it) barley and hops will be grown. They intend to use fresh tomatoes for bloody marys, various vegetables and herbs for fresh juices (made at a juice stand in the courtyard), and the barley and hops for their very own P.S.1 beer. Now if only they would start growing tea!

Read more on P.S.1's plans.

Side note: I visited P.S.1 last weekend for their current exhibit of feminist art. It's a fantastic show! If you are into art and/or feminism and will be in NYC before the show comes down, I highly recommend checking it out!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

World Tea Expo Forecast

The World Tea Expo is approaching fast. They have new programs lined up, including a New Business Boot Camp and an Executive & Technical Series. They will also continue to have the Exhibit Hall and the Core Conference Program, which I covered on the Vee Tea Blog last year (scroll down). Very exciting. Below are some of the Core Conference Seminars which I think will be highlights of the 2008 World Tea Expo.

Skill Building Workshop: Cupping
I think that everyone in the tea industry should have at least a basic working knowledge of cupping. If nothing else, it cultivates a fuller appreciation for the product.

2008 Tea Report
Tea trends of the past few years and tea forecasts for the upcoming one, all summed up in a neat little hour-long presentation. If you don't stay on top of the trends for yourself (which you should!), this is the "Cliff's Notes" way to try to stay on top of the game.

The Profound World of Pu-Erh
Pu-Erh is a misunderstood and under-represented tea in the West. I hope this seminar will help more tea professionals (and, in turn, their clients) understand this complex and sophisticated tea.

Tea Purchasing
Tea purchasing can be overwhelming for new tearoom owners. In fact, many of my clients come to me for consultation on this very matter. While a seminar can't provide much in the way of one-on-one time and customization, it may be a quick fix for sourcing woes.

Marketing Organic
Organic products are making up an increasingly large segment of sales revenue in many areas of the food and drink markets. This seminar addresses how to market organic teas effectively. This course would pair well with this is "Social Responsibility Panel Discussion."

Focused Tasting: Taiwan
This tasting is led by the renowned Jane Pettigrew. Need I say more?

Super Workshop: Tea and Chocolate Pairing
I attended last year's version of this seminar and it was pure fun. If you, like me, have a fairly well-developed palate and understand the concepts of pairing, then you probably won't gain much in the way of profound knowledge from this seminar. However, it is highly entertaining and also quite delicious.

Skill Building Workshop: Blending
This session addresses the art of tea blending, which is cool. I hope that next year, they also address the legality of blending, which is not so much cool as it is absolutely necessary for you to not get in loads of trouble for blending tea in your tearoom's back room.

Whole Body Tea Retailing
A few years ago, tea spa treatments were the hot new thing. Now, this trend is filtering down to the mainstream in the form of tea soaps, lotions, etc. This workshop addresses expanding your tea line to include tea body products.

Package Design for the Green Generation
Green packaging is huge (or, rather, tiny) in Europe. It seems that many American companies and designers have forgotten that bigger is not always better, and flashy and fast is not always the best way to win the race. However, this trend is changing, and not just in the local health food stores. More people are using totes for their groceries and noticing just how much they have to throw away to reach the product inside the packaing. This workshop seems like a good intro to sustainable packaging and its potential benefits to your brand.

How to Conduct a Successful Tea Tasting
I attended this workshop last year. It was so good, had to restrain myself from signing up again. The entire audience was so thrilled with the depth and breadth of information presented, as well as the clarity of the presenter. The question on everyone's lips afterward was, "When can we expect your book?" Even if you have held tastings before, this is a fantastic workshop to attend.

Tea and Meditation
I have the feeling this will be a hit or miss workshop with attendees. Personally, I think it will be amazing, but it all depends if you're into that kind of thing. If you are, check it out!

Super Workshop: The Way of Tea
This workshop is led by the Ura Senke Foundation. That alone is enough for me to give it the thumbs up.

Victorian Matrons, Fearless Flappers, and Chai-Sipping Executives: The History of American Tearooms
Despite the typical association of tearooms with the UK, the US also has a fascinating history of tearooms. Personally, I can't wait to attend this workshop.

Social Responsibility Panel Discussion
I think this seminar will be the most important one in the whole Expo. It will address key issues in the future of tea production which directly impact tea quality, not to mention quality of life on this planet. That aside, if you are looking for the dollar signs in your workshops, using marketing to highlight a socially responsibile aspect of your brand can be great for sales.

Social Media Marketing Strategies
Those around my age probably know a thing or two about this. Learn more. For those above their late twenties, welcome to the future. If you are at all interested in having a strong web presence, you should really take this course.

So, that's my forecast for the 2008 World Tea Expo. If you have anything to add, please drop a note in my blog!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Tea Caddy

My very dear friend and fellow blogger Tajee just sent me a gorgeous tea caddy from Japan! It was wrapped on the diagonal, which is how many gifts are wrapped in Japan. (This is a tradition which comes from the use of ornate pieces of cloth ("gift cloths") to wrap gifts.) The caddy itself is laquered (a traditional Japanese technique) and has a lid in the style of shibori (resist-dyed) kimono fabric. (Can you tell I have a background in textile design? Tajee knows my tastes all too well!) I'll use it next time I'm enjoying matcha with friends. Thanks, Tajee!!!

PS--I'll be away on Monday, but check back on Vee Tea for more tea news (including a World Tea Expo forecast, info on a new tisane made from hops, what's up at P.S.1 in NYC, and the current hype on caffeine during pregnancy) later on next week. In the meantime, have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Thé Adoré

Since today is Valentines Day and my recent tea article is Valentines Day themed, I figured it's OK to be a bit redundant this once.

TeaMuse recently published an article I wrote on one of my favorite NYC tearooms. Excerpt:

February in New York City is about two things: escaping the bitter cold of a Northeastern Winter and embracing the sweet warmth of Valentines Day. NYC's Japanese-run, French-styled tearoom Thé Adoré is ideal for both. As an oasis of calm in the hustle and bustle of Union Square, it offers sustenance and succor for the sidewalk-weary pedestrian. As a tearoom that was born out of Japan's love affair with France, it offers an understated Japanese simplicity and provincial French charm that can bring a smile (and an exceptional cup of Mariage Freres tea) to the lips of the most hardened, been-there-done-that New Yorker.

If you're in NYC, check out Thé Adoré and escape the nasty weather we've been having! Happy Valentines Day!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

New Green Tea Chocolates

Sencha, the company that makes those tasty little green tea mints that everyone loves, has a new product coming out. It's a chocolate bar with a sencha base and a choice of three flavors: Original, Delicate Pear, and Lively Lemongrass. Yum! They come out in March and they will be at the Fancy Food Show this year. Can't wait to try them! Read more about them on The Fancy Food Show's site or Sencha's site. Yum!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Celestial Seasonings Coffee???

Celestial Seasonings, known for bringing tisanes to the average American household, has made an unexpected move and launched a new line of coffees. It's organic and fair-trade certified. Still, given that their original line was made by hippies in a garage and entirely caffeine-free, I find this to be very odd.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Chic Tea Gifts

Looking for a chic tea gift? San Francicso-based Violet has some cute items including a flowering tea set, an American honey flight, and (my personal fave) The Teastick. Eco-minded folk will also love their sustainable gifts. Cool.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Caffeine and Diabetes

A new study from Duke University has linked caffeine with a rise in blood sugar levels for those with type 2 diabetes. Dr. James Lane, who lead the study, says that there are two possible reasons for this:

1. Caffeine interferes with the mpovement of glucose from blood to other tissue

2. Caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline, which boosts sugar levels

From personal experience and from discussions with many people who have diabetes, I am inclined to agree with the latter possibility. It explains why so many people with diabetes can drink loose-leaf tea without feeling shaky, but have trouble with coffee and bag tea. As I explained in my article on Caffeine and Tea:

Caffeine is a stimulant that is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and assimilated into the system. It causes an increase in alertness and energy levels for a short period of time. Its chemical structure is similar to adenosine, which triggers a decrease in cell activity, or a feeing of tiredness. It blocks the brain�s adenosine receptors, tricking them into speeding up activity rather than slowing it down. (They don't recognize the caffeine itself, but react to the LACK of adenosine.) Also, where adenosine would dilate blood vessels, caffeine causes them to constrict. When cell activity speeds up rapidly, the pituitary gland interprets the neural firings as an emergency and releases epinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline). Adrenaline, in turn, increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels while dilating your pupils and breathing tubes and tensing your muscles. The result? You feel excited, alert, and ready to go . . . but not for long. Your body responds to the increase in blood sugar by releasing insulin. If your blood sugar levels were rising rapidly (as they tend to do with the rapid absorption of caffeine), then the body tends to overreact. It sends out too much insulin, resulting in LOWER blood sugar levels than BEFORE you consumed the caffeine, as well as the craving for MORE caffeine.

(Added note for blog: Obviously, the wreaks havoc on the blood sugar levels of those with diabetes.)

. . .

In freshly brewed tea, the caffeine binds to the tannins (a.k.a. catechins, a type of polyphenol) and L-theanine when it is brewed. The bond requires more time to metabolize than unbound caffeine, so the absorption of caffeine into the bloodstream is slower and more gradual than it is with coffee and caffeinated sodas. (L-theanine also has some other really cool benefits, like stimulating alpha wave production and GABA formation to induce an alert yet euphoric state.) Meanwhile, the body is absorbing L-theophylline, a naturally occurring substance in tea that produces similar effects to those of caffeine, but with a slower absorption rate. After absorption, caffeine's effects last about 4 hours, L-theophylline, about 8 hours, and the L-theanine, 8-10 hours. This means that you are left with a calm, gentle return to your original energy level. Coffee is different from tea in that its caffeine is quickly absorbed, causing an increase in adrenaline (and stress) levels and resulting in a icky feeling when it wears off (often referred to as a "crash").

Read more on caffeine absorption and tea on Vee Tea.

Anyway, back to the study . . . Dr. Lane also said, "If patients are having trouble controlling their blood glucose and they are coffee drinkers, particularly heavy coffee drinkers, they might want to give it a try to see if it makes a difference to them (to quit drinking coffee)." Read more on the new caffeine and diabetes study on BBC. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

V-Day Teas

It's one week to Valentines Day. Do you have a gift for your sweetheart? We all know that V-Day flowers are toxic to the environment and the humans who grow/harvest them (Right? You surely didn't think all those flowers bloomed on the same day naturally.), but what to get instead? If you're turning to tea to turn your partner's heart, here are a few Valentine's-related teas out there:

Adagio's Valentines Tea
Chocolate and strawberries and Ceylon! Oh, my!

Flowering Teas
There are a lot of them out there. More on flowering teas and their suppliers on Vee Tea.

Harney & Sons Rose Tea
One of my personal favorites. Very sophisticated.

Mariage Freres
Mariage Freres has Valentines Day covered. They have heart--shaped flowering teas, an aromatized tea called "Amore," a Kama Sutra tea gift box, and more. I guess the French really do get the whole "romance" thing.

Rishi's White Tea Rose Melange
Rumor has it that this tea was blended as an anniversary gift for the blender's wife. Tastes good, too.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Even More CocaCola Tea

UPDATE--Coca Cola Buys Honest Tea (scroll down)

As though Enviga (Coca Cola's "calorie-burning" sparkling "tea" drink) wasn't enough...

"Coca-Cola, which owns the orange juice brand, said Wednesday that it is adding a pomegranate-flavored tea and lemonade to the Minute Maid lineup. The new juices will hit store shelves next month."

Be sure not to confuse it with Republic of Tea's bottled Pomegranate Green Tea, anything by anything by POM, or Honest Tea's Pomegranate White Tea with Acai. Hasn't this been done to death already? And isn't the whole point of drinking multiple things with mega-antioxidants (that's the technical term, I swear) to be HEALTHY? I'm sure Coke has loaded their version with even more sugar than the others on the market. Sigh...


Coke has just bought out 40% of Hosest Tea. I guess this makes the pomegranate tea even more redundant than it was. A previous press release from Honest Tea stated that they were unveiling Jasmine Green Energy Tea and Citrus Decaf Spice (both with superfood cupuaçu (pronounced coo-pwAH-soo)), as well as 64-oz bottles of Mint Green Tea and Mango Acai White Tea. I wonder if these will still be released...

Honest Tea has yet to comment on the sale on their site.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Single Serving Teas for Coffee Makers

The Keurig coffee maker (known for its single-serving ""K-Cup" coffee portions) is releasing a line of single-serving Celestial Seasonings teas for use with their coffee maker. The flavors are: Sleepytime, Decaf Green, and India Spice Chai. (Full story.) Convenient for those with a Keurig? Definitely? At all tasty? Probably not. (Decaf prepackaged/basically bagged green tea steeped with boiling water? *Shudder*) I doubt that it will get many coffee drinkers to try out loose leaf any time in the near future.

Monday, February 4, 2008

India Tour

Today is my birthday. I decided to make a special announcement in honor of the occasion. For some time, people have been asking me when I'll start planning tea tours to India. Today, I can safely say "now." Plans are in the works for a trip to Darjeeling this fall. It will be an eco-tour, focusing on organic and fair-trade practices, and a culinary tour, with lots of extraordinary tea. Vee Tea and Silver Tips Tearoom will take a small group to the famed Makaibari Tea Estate and other tea highlights of India this fall. Exciting! More details soon to come.

Friday, February 1, 2008

New Vee Tea Article on TeaMuse

This month's TeaMuse features an article by yours truly. It's a review of one of my favorite NYC tearooms, and it's just in time for Valentine's Day. Excerpt:

February in New York City is about two things: escaping the bitter cold of a Northeastern Winter and embracing the sweet warmth of Valentines Day. NYC's Japanese-run, French-styled tearoom Thé Adoré is ideal for both. As an oasis of calm in the hustle and bustle of Union Square, it offers sustenance and succor for the sidewalk-weary pedestrian. As a tearoom that was born out of Japan's love affair with France, it offers an understated Japanese simplicity and provincial French charm that can bring a smile (and an exceptional cup of Mariage Freres tea) to the lips of the most hardened, been-there-done-that New Yorker.

Check out the full VeeTea article on TeaMuse. Have a good weekend!