Tuesday, September 30, 2008

ZEN Green Tea Liqueur

I'm doing research for a new article on tea cocktails, and I can't help but notice how much attention ZEN green tea liqueur is getting. From ZEN's makers:

"As cultural influences from Asia continue to influence Western palates and the cocktail culture expands to include exotic herbs and interesting new flavors, a distinctive, new spirit is making its mark. ZEN™ Green Tea Liqueur, a unique blend of the finest Japanese green tea leaves, premium herbs and natural flavors is the first super-premium green tea liqueur ever introduced in America.

The fresh and original taste of ZEN Green Tea Liqueur, which is primarily derived from the ceremonial Japanese Green Tea, results from the use of the finest ingredients available. The perfection of the final product is the result of time-honored Japanese traditions of quality and craftsmanship combined with a modern sense of elegance and style."

Sounds great, right? The thing is... it's just OK-ish. I think it's overly sweet and not that flavorful. Actually, I talked with one of their reps at a show and he said the Japanese version is less sweet, which was somewhat of a relief. Have you tried it? What do you think?

If you want to make your own green tea liqueur, check out this tea liqueur recipe I posted a while back. It's very easy and you can customize it to your own tea type and sweetness preferences.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Tea Sales

There are some good tea sales going on right now. Here are a few:

Teance has free shipping for orders over $50 through September 30.
Urbana has half off all rooibos through the end of October.
ITO EN is selling cases of Oi Ocha, Japan's #1 RTD, at a discount through September 30.

Do you know of any others? Let me know and I'll post them!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tea Blender Interview

At the NYC Coffee and Tea Festival, I had the pleasure of meeting Nini Ordoubadi, tea blender and founder of TAY TEA. She mainly blends rooibos, which she acquired a passion for while visiting her husband's family in South Africa, and is known for her innovative flavor profiles and, ahem, unusual names. ("Better Than Sex" is one of her attention-grabbers.) I just learned that she has designed an artisanal tea collection for Henri Bendel. Exciting! The signature tea line includes:

Little Black Dress (black)
Bendel Rose (black)
Girl's Playground (green)
Bendelicious (green)
Safe Sex (rooibos)
Morning After (herbal)

Watch this great interview on tea blending with Nini from Revel in New York, a video blog that does fascinating profiles on noteworthy New Yorkers, to learn more about Nini's approach to tea and (with tea) life.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Superfoods and Slow Food

In my research for my new article on superfoods and tea, I came across a few other interesting articles I thought I'd share. Here's one from the NY Times on aspects of the superfood trend that may not be helpful, and may even be harmful. (It's free, but you have to log in to read it.) It makes me really glad that most superfood-tea blends have actual superfoods in them! Beverage Spectrum looked at the beverage industry's approaches to superfoods in more depth. Fascinating article, though perhaps a bit technical and dry for my non-industry readers.

Here's another one from the NY Times on eating to enjoy food. What a concept! It's being spread by the Slow Food movement... slowly. I hope it catches on! In related news, one of the founders of Slow Food, Alice Cravens, recently decided to change Modern Tea tea house into a cooking school for local youth. Although I'm sure it will be fantastic for the local youth, it's a bit sad for the local tea enthusiasts, even though they can still buy Modern Tea's teas online.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New Article: Superfoods

Superfoods are so huge right now, I just had to do an article on superfood-tea blends. It went up on World Tea News today, and it's called, "How Super is Your Tea?" Excerpt:

Manufacturers and sellers often tout teas and tisanes, particularly greens, whites, rooibos and yerba mate, as superfoods. However, teas and tisanes have yet to gain the same foothold in the North American market as better-known superfoods, such as now-ubiquitous pomegranates and blueberries.


The primary reason for superfoods’ popularity is the perceived health benefit, sources agreed, but the most popular superfoods are those that are most palatable to the mainstream consumer. This trend works to the advantage of tea makers and sellers who offer teas blended with naturally sweet superfruits and other readily palatable superfoods, because these increase the perceived health benefit while giving teas more accessible flavors.

I'll probably post a bit more on superfoods and tea tomorrow. (There's a lot going on in the arena these days!) In the meantime, you can read more on superfoods, teas and superfood-tea blends in my new article.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Coffee Blossom Tea

My sister lives in London and gets to travel all over Europe at the drop of a hat. (Lucky!!!) I get some benefits from her location, too -- she helps keep me attuned to European tea trends. A little while back, she sent me a link to a London tea shop where they sell coffee blossom tea. It's white or black tea scented with the flowers of the coffee blossom, similar to jasmine teas. How innovative! Here's an excerpt from their site:

While revisiting Handunugoda Tea Estate in the south of Sri Lanka last summer I came across a coffee bush in full bloom and was overwhelmed by the amazing aroma of the white blossoms. Knowing how jasmine flowers are used to scent tea, I thought it would be interesting to try the same process with coffee flowers so I talked to Herman Gunaratne whose family have been growing tea and cinnamon at Handunugoda for over a hundred years about making this innovative tea...

Cool! It's available worldwide. Here's their full tea list.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Non-September Wagashi

During a recent interview with professional wagashi-maker Marybeth Welch, I learned a lot about wagashi, which are Japanese sweets used in tea ceremonies. Wagashi are usually made for specific seasons. Aside from the fact that most are extremely perishable, they tend to use stylized icons to represent the upcoming season. Sometimes, they also use seasonal ingredients, like sweet chestnut. The September wagashi I posted about on Monday were a classic version of the namagashi (40% water) style of wagashi in that they were made with only rice paste, sugar and red beans (azuki, ground into a paste in this case, but sometimes left with whole beans intact). Another popular type of namagashi is yokan, which is sometimes (rather incorrectly) referred to as a "jelly" candy. It's much denser than a jelly, and it's more shelf-stable than other types of namagashi. Here's an ACTUAL jelly candy, which is made with kanten (or agar agar, a sort of vegetarian gelatin):

Cute!!! Each element of the flower basket was a separate piece of candy. It's a type of hanamagashi, which are similar to namagashi, but are dryer (20-30% water) and more shelf-stable.

The last main type of traditional wagashi is higashi, or dry sweets (10% water). They keep much longer than other types, and most are pressed or spun sugar, like this:

(Please note: The remainder of this post is information I found on my own, so blame me and not Marybeth if anything is wrong!)

In Kyoto, there are local wagashi called kyogashi. Here are two from famed wagashi-maker Suetomi:

There are lots of other types of Japanese sweets that may be influenced by other cultures or just less traditional. They're often called kashi, which just means "sweets." Here's one of hard candy kashi:

See the guy with the glasses pictured in the candy? He looks like my boyfriend! (Kerry, if you're reading this, don't you agree?)

I'm looking forward to learning more about wagashi through Urasenke Chanoyu in the future. For now I'm still practicing my bowing, cloth folding and other basics. :)

Pate de Fruit

Several of the people I interviewed for the tea and sweets article (I'm not linking it anymore... By now you've read it or you're not going to read it!) lauded pate de fruit as an overlooked/lost treasure of the tea pairing world. I'd never actually tried it before, so before I heard the recommendations, I thought of it as nothing more than glorified gummy bears. The conviction behind endorsements from people like James Norwood Pratt made me very curious about them, though, and I was lucky enough to have Charles Chocolates send me some samples!

Chuck Seigel of Charles Chocolates warned me that two of the flavors, Blood Orange and Passion Fruit, are too acidic to pair with tea. He was right -- they would have overpowered even a strong tea. (Perhaps they could pair with an intense fruit tea? But I can't see that being very interesting...) At any rate, they were good on their own, but the others were wonderful with tea. The White Peach was airy and floral, perfect for a first flush Darjeeling or a slightly astringent Japanese green tea. The Papaya was mellow but tropical, sweet, complex and lingering. I'd love to pair it with a chocolaty pu-erh, second flush Darjeeling, strong Keemun or mellow Ceylon. The Raspberry was refreshing and full of flavor, but not too tart -- ideal for Assam or Sri Lankan black teas or vegetal/astringent greens. Yum! I really hope the idea of pairing teas and pate de fruit catches on again in the near future! I'd love to be able to go into a tearoom and get these with my tea.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dim Sum, Mooncakes and Tea

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of joining Winnie Yu (of Teance) and some of her friends for vegetarian dim sum and tea in Chinatown. (Winnie's rule -- Always bring your own tea to dim sum! Good advice...) She gave me these fantastic lard-free mooncakes, which she ordered from China for Teance. They are an important of the annual Moon Festival, which happens mid-fall, and were used to smuggle secret messages during the Ming Revolution. Since they are very heavy sweets, Winnie suggested pairing them with pu-erh, but they also go very well with the wonderful Tieguanyin Winnie gave me.

You can read more about pairing tea and sweets in my most recent World Tea News article. You can buy Winnie's incredible teas (which she sources from farms directly) on Teance's site. Maybe if they get enough emails requesting mooncakes, they'll offer them online next year. :)

Monday, September 15, 2008

September Wagashi

My good friend, video blogger Tajee, recently visited me from Tokyo and gave me some delicious September-themed wagashi, which includes images of rabbits and an orange moon. They're filled with rice paste and they're oishi (delicious), especially with Japanese green tea!

The wrapping was, as one might expect from a gift wrapped in Japan, gorgeous. Here's the outer wrapper with images of rabbits and the moon:

The second layer, with images of (and I'm guessing here) flowers and grasses (Please let me know if you think otherwise):

The simpler and quite lovely inner box, with text that most likely says the brand and/or product name:

Thanks, Tajee for the fantastic visit, and for the tasty wagashi!!! It was great to see you (as always!) and I hope to visit you in Japan soon!!!

PS -- I'm going to be posting about tea sweets all week. Between a few samples, the gift from Tajee and a box of wagashi I opened in preparation for my classes at Urasenke Chanoyu, I'm on a tea sweets kick!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lady Mendl's Tea Salon

I recently had the incredible pleasure of joining tea etiquette authority/author Ellen Easton for afternoon tea at Lady Mendl's Tea Salon (at The Inn at Irving Place). I'll leave Ellen's fascinating and unique personal history and immense tea knowledge for another day and focus on Lady Mendl's for now.

If you love great tea and food but normally avoid afternoon tea because you find it too fussy, then this is the place for you. They take care of every detail so you don't have to do anything but show up on time, enjoy and pay the bill. The food, from hearty smoked salmon on pumpernickel and goat cheese with sun-dried tomato on seven grain to delicate, creamy crepe cake and petits fours, is magnificent. (Don't let the idea of afternoon tea or the low, especially by NYC standards, price fool you -- this five course meal requires that you arrive with an appetite.) The tea menu, which includes a number of single-origin teas and even some custom blends, is delectable. (If you'd like, you can add candied ginger, orange zest or beautiful handmade sugar cubes, but the teas also stand perfectly well alone.) The decor, from the custom-upholstered furniture and the working fireplaces in each room to the fresh flowers that coordinate with each room's unique color scheme, is impeccable. (Perhaps this is why famously detail-oriented director Wes Anderson considers the Inn at Irving Place a favorite spot for writing and editing his films.) The staff is attentive and knowledgeable without being cloying. (Although I'm sure Ellen would want you to brush up on your tea etiquette before you arrive, the waitstaff do not seem the types to turn their noses up if you happen to commit some mild faux pas.)

I really have to say that this was one of my favorite tearoom visits of all time, especially as it was in the middle of my recent World Tea News article frenzy and I needed a dose of serenity with a dollop of luxury more than anything. There's a certain understated elegance about the whole experience of Lady Mendl's that seems lost on many New Yorkers and tourists alike. The simple act of sitting down to enjoy tea, food and company is so often lost on an espresso-chugging, power-lunch kind of city. I'm glad to find that it remains intact, tucked away in a nearly unmarked building on a quiet little street near Union Square in the heart of old New York's Gramercy Park.

PS -- Reservations required. Call (212) 533-4600 to make them.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tea Sommeliers

I often have people ask me what "tea sommelier" means. My writing buddy Elin Headrick answers the question very well in her new article, Sommeliers Break Out of the Bottle on World Tea News. Excerpt:

Of French origin, sommelier means “wine steward” and has come to be associated with a high level of expertise. It makes sense to apply the term to tea, many believe, because of the cultivated palate required to discern subtleties in different varieties of tea.

Some of the best known tea sommeliers in the United States today are found in large, cosmopolitan hotels: the Boston Park Plaza Hotel and Towers, the Phoenix Ritz Carlton and the Park Hyatt in Washington, D.C. They educate guests on the hotels’ extensive selections of tea and help develop an appreciation for the drink.

Asked what it takes to succeed in their emerging field, these tea sommeliers agreed that it requires a mix of knowledge about tea – acquired through travel and study – and hospitality skills.

You can read more of Elin's article here. On a semi-related note, Elin just had a beautiful, healthy baby a few weeks back (and can now drink as much caffeine as she wants again)! Congrats, Elin!

PS -- My class at Urasenke Chanoyu yesterday was fascinating! I'll tell you more about it as it progresses.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Did you notice that Nestea revamped their teas? I guess all the RTD companies are improving tea quality now. Great news for America's growing population of tea-drinkers!

You can read more on Nestea's changes on Beverage Spectrum Magazine.

PS -- Today I'm starting classes at Urasenke Chanoyu. Exciting!!!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Teance/Charles Chocolates Tea Collection

I recently finished an article for World Tea News on tea and sweets. One of the great perks of being a writer is the awesome samples. I was thrilled to get to try some products from Teance and Charles Chocolates, "The Tea Collection" truffles, and Charles Chocolates' pate de fruit. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to say much about them in my article because of word limits, but I thought you'd want to hear more here. I'll talk about pairing pate de fruit and tea soon, but today I'm going to talk about one of the best ideas EVER, blending tea and chocolate.

(If I sound really excited about this, it's because, well, I am.)

Tea chocolates are a relatively new innovation. Keiko Tea claims to be the first company to make green tea chocolates (matcha-based) and Earl Grey chocolates are a chocolatier's standby, but lately some companies are getting more adventuresome with their tea chocolates. You may remember Chocolatea, which I've mentioned before, or The Tea Room, who does some award-winning pairing. I haven't tried The Tea Room's chocolates, but I can say that Chocolatea approaches teas/tisanes as a functional ingredient and (usually) a flavor source with some positive results.

The Tea Collection is something rare in the world of tea chocolates, though. High-quality Chinese teas are elegantly paired with single-origin and chocolatier-blended chocolates for fantastic results. They range from Osmanthus, which is delicate, milky and sweet, to Charcoal-Fired Oolong, which is deep, smoky, complex and lingering. Like most jasmine chocolates, Special Jasmine captures the intoxicating aroma of jasmine, but it also has a true green tea taste that really sets it apart. Other flavors include sweetly tart Lichee and floral, delicate Formosa Oolong, which unites the creaminess of ganache with the fresh cream notes of a cooled Baochong. My favorite? The ethereal Charcoal-Fired Oolong. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. Yum!

What are your favorite tea chocolates out there? Do you also make your own? Do you ever pair tea and chocolate?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Wabi-Sabi Cupcakes

One of the cool samples I got to try for my latest World Tea News article was an assortment of the brand-new Wabi-Sabi cupcakes from TafuNY. Yum!

My favorites were the milky, nutty Chocolate Genmai and the roasty, complex Sweet Chestnut Houji (a fan favorite, I'm told). TheMatcha was pretty classic, basically exactly what you'd expect it to be, and the Chocolate Matcha was a pleasant balance of rich sweetness and mild astringency. The Kokutou Genmai was very unique (in a good way), but I wasn't such a big fan of the Raspberry Houji. All of them were very snackable (2-3 bites each). Have you tried the Wabi-Sabi cupcakes or been to TAFU? What about other tea-based sweets? What do you think?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tomorrow at the Asian Art Museum (SF)

There's a cool tea event at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco tomorrow. If you're in the area, check it out! Details below:

Thursday, September 4
5 to 9 pm
FREE with museum admission ($5 after 5 pm)

Still dusty from its annual trek to Burning Man, Tealchemy's Tea Temple will be erected inside the Asian Art Museum for MATCHA. Everyone can sip earthy tea inside this mammoth atmospheric, communal space, which celebrates the centuries-old nomadic trade and travel of the Silk Routes. Elsewhere in the museum, taste teas from India, Persia, and Tibet (courtesy Samovar) or those along China's Tea and Horse Roads (courtesy Teance).

Discover how these different blends are brewed and grind your own spicy chai (Indian tea), mortar and pestle style. Learn about tea and its cultural influences, see art of the spice routes on a guided tour, and view Power & Glory: Court Arts of China's Ming Dynasty before it closes (Sept. 21).

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tea and Sweets Article

So... Part Three on tea and sugar is up on World Tea News. It's about tea and sweets pairings and tea-based sweets. Excerpt:

Chocolate pairings are spreading, but recently, Charles Chocolates, Chocolatea, Keiko Tea, Torn Ranch and The Tea Room all have upped the craze with chocolates that include tea.

Joan Freeman, Chocolatea’s owner and chef, sometimes uses tea as a “functional ingredient,” but feels the most successful tea chocolates taste like “true tea in true chocolate.”

She added that teas with strong flavors are easier to blend. This may be because, as Yu put it, chocolate is “overpowering” and masks subtler flavors.

Yu partnered with Chuck Seigel, owner of Charles Chocolates, to make tea truffles that go beyond Earl Grey. Seigel said, “The notes in the chocolates match the notes in the teas, such as robust chocolate with charcoal-fired oolong.”

Yu added that, when it comes to discerning tea and chocolate tastes, “Customers really get it.”

This was an incredibly fun and challenging article to write. It was fun because I got to try some great sweets and learn some amazing things, but challenging because I was trying to compress 5000 words of notes into a 750-word article! You can read the final result, Sugar on the Side, on World Tea News. I'll be posting more about some of the amazing tea sweets I got to try soon. Yum!

Tea sweets from Amai in NYC

Stevia for Tea

For my recent article on tea sweeteners, I got to interview Jim May, the man who introduced stevia to the U.S. market. He's quite an interesting individual and it was great to hear his side of the stevia story. I recently tried his brand, SweetLeaf Stevia, and have to admit that it doesn't taste nearly so bitter as other brands. I wouldn't use it for a delicate tea, but I could see it working well with robust tisanes and strong masala chai. If you're interested in a zero-calorie sweetener for your tea, but don't want to use something artificial, there was a recent article in the LA Times on stevia's safety that's worth a read. Personally, I'd rather just have my tea unsweetened or take a caloric beating with honey, but I can see people who want sweet tea and are diabetic or trying to manage their weight really wanting a product like this. Have any of you tried stevia? What do you think?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Teapot Condom

This is the weirdest "teapot" (and the weirdest condom) I've ever seen. Just... wow. You can find more rubbery weirdness here, if you dare. Happy Labor Day! (Maybe I should have saved this for Halloween!)