Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tea for Colds

I've previously talked about my favorite cold remedy. I've also interviewed a tea-focused nutritionist about whether tea is proven to shorten colds. Still, I was very glad to see an article in The New York Times about hot tea's effect on colds, especially since so many are suffering from them right now! Have a cold? Have a cuppa! Apparently, it works.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Quick Reminder...

The print edition of my "top ten spots for a spot of tea" in NYC hits the stands today. If you have access, please do check it out! It's in the new issue of New York Observer.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tea Chemistry

In honor of the Chinese New Year here's a cool video on tea chemistry with a New Years angle. It covers some very cool aspects of tea chemistry that I think even the non-geeks out there can enjoy.

EDIT TO ADD -- PS -- Teance is having a two-day, free-shipping sale on orders over $60. Enter the code "CNYFREE" on January 30 and 31 for free shipping. They recommend the following as Chinese New Years gifts:

Yunnan Gold
Yellow Gold Oolong
Osmanthus Oolong
Flower Bouquet
Pu-Erh 15 Year Aged

Monday, January 26, 2009

Romantic Teas

I know I rarely talk about personal things these days, but this news was too big to leave out: I got married on Friday! Here are a few photos of our little ceremony:

As a small wedding gift to and from my lovely readers, I'd love to start a list of romantic teas here. I'll get it started. Please add any you can think of, and let's get this list going!

Flowering Teas (in general, but if you have any great sources for beautiful, flavorful ones, please add it below!)

Tay Tea's Lovers Tea, Persian Rose, Marry Me Again, Better Than Sex and Duchess' First Love

Petali's Wedding Tea and the similar Rooibos Sweet Heart Tea from Dragonwater

Portsmouth's Love Me Tender

Urbana's Love Potion, Unity, Chocolate & Strawberries and Chocolate Spice

Teality's Romantic Tea Samplers

Adagio's Valentine's Tea and Chocolate Tea

Chocolate Lovers Teas by SBS

Harney & Sons Chocolate Tea and Valentine's Tea

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Top Ten West Coast East-Meets-West Tea Spots

Sunset Magazine's current issue includes a great list of the West Coast's top ten East-meets-West tea houses. Cool! The fantastic Teance tops the list, and some of my other favorites (Imperial Tea Court, Tao of Tea, Le Palais de Thes) also make the list. I hope to visit some more of the tea houses listed in my future trips out West. Have any of you tried them? What's your opinion?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

New Adagio Teabags

Adagio recently expanded their tea offerings to include pyramid bags of some of their top flavored teas. I tried six and, although I don't usually care for flavored teas much, a few showed some promise. Here they are:

A bit strong on the flavor for, but not bad at all. I would be thrilled to see this, say, on an airplane or in a simple cafe.

Not too heavy. There's a much stronger aroma than flavor.

Mandarin White
Lightly flavored. It's mellow, and tastes like it may be a Darjeeling white (somewhat earthy). The suggested brew time is 7 minutes, which I found to be a but long. Otherwise, pretty good.

Although none of them said how much water should be used for each bag, I found they were well-suited to a medium-sized pot (about 12 ounces). Have any of you tried these, or other pyramid bags from Adagio? What did you think?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tea & Health

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Doug Balentine, Director of Nutrition Services for Lipton/Unilever, for World Tea News. Here's an excerpt of our Q&A, which was based around tearoom customers' FAQs:

1. Is green tea the healthiest kind?
“When green, oolong and black teas are studied together, they have similar benefits. However, if you’re particularly looking to get catechins (antioxidants that give tea its brisk flavor), then green is a better source than black.”

2. I heard that tea is a miracle cure for (obesity, cancer, etc.). Is that true?
“The claims people are making about the health benefits of tea are not reflective of the balance of the science. While there is science in many areas either from animal studies or poorly done clinical or population-based studies, people are using single studies to draw conclusions rather than looking at the totality of the evidence.”

3. What’s it proven to do?

“The strongest evidence shows that regular tea drinking is associated with improving blood vessel function. While the reasons for this benefit are not fully understood, the science does not support that is has a cholesterol-lowering effect.”

You can read the remainder on World Tea News.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Inaugeral Tea

Tea has historically been a part of many types of celebrations, including weddings, holidays and, yes, inaugurations. The First Ladies' Inaugural Tea will be held today, and a number of tea companies have developed teas in honor of President Obama, perhaps (in part) because Obama loves tea. These include:

Barack Obama Tea
Obama Inspired Green Tea with Ginger
SerendipiTea's Inaugural Blend
Tea-Co's Barack O-Baby
and, of course, Honest Tea's Barack Forest Berry

What kind of tea are you drinking to celebrate?

Friday, January 16, 2009

New Article in The New York Observer

I have a new article out in The New York Observer about NYC's top ten spots for tea. Excerpt:

Credit globalization, Baby Boomer aging fears, or the rise of foodie culture, but after years under the radar tea is making a commanding comeback. It’s been heralded as a palate-spanning wine alternative. It’s a hot ingredient in both cooking and cocktail worlds. Although tea can symbolize class and wealth, it’s also a cheap way of socializing, making it simultaneously a healthy indulgence and inexpensive luxury. Tea’s recession-era success in N.Y.C. is only natural, then. The city now abounds in tea destinations, each offering its own flair and focus. At Passage, you’ll find an intensive tasting series, without the hangovers of the boozy alternative. (Although lively tea-based cocktails can be found at both Sanctuary T and T Salon.) Amai Tea & Bake House specializes in low-guilt “tea sweets,” while Lady Mendl’s offers five full courses for its reasonably priced afternoon tea. From everyday English Breakfast to incredibly rare yellow teas and aged oolongs, N.Y.C. is certain to offer something that’s exactly your cup of tea.

You can read the rest of the article on The New York Observer's webpage, or in an abbreviated version in print next week. It was tough to pick the "top ten," as the hierarchy depends so much on what types of tea you're looking for! I tried to keep this list in the lower end of the price range (given the current economy) and include a variety of styles of spots for tea. Still, I wish it could have been the top ten spots for ____ (style of tea) or NYC's top 50 spots for tea. There are so many great places to choose from! You can read more of my tea recommendations in my blog, or learn which tea spots are best suited to your tastes by arranging a tea class with me.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

ITO EN Kai Visit

I have a confession to make. Although I have lived in NYC for 2.5 years, drunk tea around the globe, written extensively on tea in NYC and tried many an ITO EN tea, I had never actually been to Kai (ITO EN's flagship store restaurant) before this week. You see, if tea is not a separate item on the menu, I often just skip the venue. Now I know that (unless you just hate amazing Japanese food) this is not a valid excuse. Fortunately, I do NOT hate amazing Japanese food; in fact, I love it. Although I generally have a strict vegetarian diet (no chicken broth, nothing with gelatin, etc.), I have made occasional exceptions for seafood over the last four years thanks to the irresistible nature of seafood in Japanese cuisine. Kai was one of those welcome exceptions. I'm sure you'll see why!

The orchid on each table and the very Wabi Sabi bamboo hot-towel holders visually kicked off the attention to detail that was present throughout the meal. The decor was lovely -- I was particularly enamored with a washi (Japanese handmade paper) hanging that could be seen in the restaurant and the store.

The Kai bento box (for me) and the sushi-tempura lunch (which my friend Evan adored). Before this arrived at the table, we were both served fantastic miso and I was served wonderfully creamy silken tofu with spring onions and ginger. Yum!

Here are some of the goodies from the bento box. The salmon was absolutely amazing. You can't see it in the second photo, but there are two cubes of steak behind the grilled fish. I gave those to Evan. There is also some tempura-fried pumpkin and lotus root hidden in the first photo. Yum!

Throughout the meal, we were served houjicha, which was a perfect pairing for some of the stronger flavors in the meal (wasabi, tempura-fried green pepper, grilled fish). I loved the leaf coasters for the teacups. The silverware pictured here was for the dessert. The forks remind me of some of the handcrafted silver from Penland School of Crafts.

The assorted sweets were a satisfying visual and culinary finish to a delightful meal. They were: yuzu cheesecake (great texture; loved the bits of yuzu zest in it), chocolate cake (rich and creamy with a bit of crunch from a whole walnut), fruit jelly (slightly-sweet agar with fresh fruit, fresh mint and bits of gold), matcha almond (I kid you not, these are legendary. I'm talking cult following here.), raspberry sauce accent.

I wish I knew enough Japanese to give ITO EN an articulate thank you for this meal, but for now I'll just say "Oishii!" (Delicious!)

PS -- ITO EN has a well-curated selection of loose-leaf teas available through their flagship store and online. Expect to pay top dollar and receive top quality. In the past I've bought their Qing Ming Dragonwell, Makaibari Muscatel, Ureshino Tama Ryokucha and Taiping Houkui, all of which were amazing, and this time I bought a magnificent Uji Sencha (a store exclusive that has the marine notes and richness of Uji Gyokuro with the softer, sweeter notes of sencha) and their Linden tisane (which I have yet to try, though in general I love Linden, and the fact that it's where my name comes from). I also bought their new Oolong Shot, which is served hot or cold. I tried it hot, and quite liked it for an RTD.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

BISCOTTEA Gluten-Free Review

As I said a few days ago, I recently sent out a press release for BISCOTTEA's new line of gluten-free shortbread with baked-in tea. Today, I'm putting on my reviewer hat and reviewing the new products.

I have to say that I have had some less-than-stellar GF products in the past. Usually, I won't do PR or write copy for a company unless I've tried the products I'm writing about, but I know the BISCOTTEA brand and trusted that they wouldn't release anything that didn't meet their (and my) standards. I'm glad I trusted my instincts on this one! The samples I received yesterday were incredible -- flavorful, crunchy, buttery and delicious. While I didn't do a side-by-side tasting, I found the GF version to be nearly indistinguishable from the original. (The only thing I could discern was a slight cornstarch texture to the crumbs that differed from the original, but it wasn't a detriment and the mouth-feel was otherwise the same.) Although I'm not usually a "dunker," I tested the GF BISCOTTEA for those of you who ARE dunkers, and it held up very well. So far, my favorite flavor is the Earl Grey with Darjeeling, but it was a close call. The Blueberry with White Tea and the Chai flavors are also wonderful.

Aside from the great taste and texture, I was really glad to know that the GF line is batch-tested for gluten levels with a tolerance of only four parts per million, especially given the recent Whole Foods gluten scandal. It's an issue many of the GF bloggers I talked with had voiced concerns about, so it's good to know there are more (safe!) options out there for those who are particularly sensitive to gluten.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tea and Chocolate Pairing in NY

You've heard me talk about pairing tea and sweets before, but on Thursday, those of you n NYC will have an additional chance to try it. Lola's Tea House (Pelham) and Chocolations (Mamaroneck) will be hosting a tea and chocolate truffle tasting at Lola's from 7-9 PM (reservations suggested, $10 a person). Yum!

If you're interested in sweets with tea as an ingredient in NY, check out Amai's tea cookies and Tafu's tea cupcakes and other tea sweets.

Monday, January 12, 2009

BISCOTTEA Gluten-Free Shortbread

I had the pleasure of working with BISCOTTEA on a press release for their new gluten-free line of Scottish-style shortbread. I'll be reviewing samples in a few days. In the meantime, here's the release:

BISCOTTEA® to Launch Line of Gluten-Free, Tea-Flavored Shortbread at Winter Fancy Food Show

January 10, 2009 -- BISCOTTEA’s popular line of tea-flavored, Scottish-style shortbreads is expanding to include three flavorful gluten-free varieties. The hard launch will be at The Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, CA, January 18 through 20. The new gluten-free varieties were a “Top Pick of the Week” on The Nibble, which called them “a real find for anyone in need of a gluten-free treat,” and include three flavors from BISCOTTEA’s established line-up: Chai Spice, Blueberry with Organic White Tea and Earl Grey with Organic Darjeeling Tea. They are available in giftable 5.6-ounce boxes and convenient “grab-and-go” two-cookie packs for lunches and snacks on-the-go.

Seattle-based BISCOTTEA has experienced rapid growth since opening 16 months ago thanks to the singularity of their product. Their buttery, Scottish-style shortbreads are baked with organic tea, were featured on The Food Network's "Unwrapped" and have been a consistent “Top 10” amongst food reviews throughout 2008. The original varieties include the flavors in the gluten-free line, plus Honeybush (a relative of rooibos or “red tea”) and Mint.

The decision to launch a gluten-free line came from co-owner Nicci Milner’s work with children with autism. According to Nicci, “It was evident in my work with kids with autism that they show great progress when they are on a gluten-free diet. The increasing number of children with celiac disease needing gluten-free diets motivated us to develop sophisticated GF shortbreads that replicate the crunchy mouth-feel and rich flavors of our wheat-based BISCOTTEA.” The resultant GF line provides safe, delicious treats to a growing population of people with gluten sensitivity or intolerance. Each batch is tested for gluten by an independent testing agency, and BISCOTTEA reports that its gluten-free shortbreads have less than four parts per million of gluten. A portion of each sale will benefit autism research.

If you’d like more information about this topic, please email Lindsey Goodwin at or call her at 347/558-5846. You may also visit BISCOTTEA at the upcoming Fancy Food Show or schedule an interview with BISCOTTEA’s founder Laurance Milner by emailing Lindsey at


Thursday, January 8, 2009

New Vee Tea Look

Vee Tea got a makeover! There's a new background, favicon and banner. There have been a few changes in the text (my outdated tours are now replaced with info about tea writing), too. Soon, there will also be new thumbnails alongside each article and the newest blog post will appear on the main page. Exciting!

The photography is by my friend (and one of my favorite photographers!) Sam Bennett and the web design is by my friend (and trusty web designer!) Pat Boyd. Thanks, guys!!!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

New Starbucks Drinks

Starbucks is getting in on the tea trend with a new line of tea lattes and non-dairy infusions. You can read about it on World Tea News or Yahoo Finance. Excerpt from Yahoo:

The gourmet coffee retailer said all but one of the new drinks are less than 200 calories for a 12-ounce, or tall, serving.

The new lattes are made with steamed milk and Tazo full-leaf tea bags. The new varieties include the Black Tea Latte, the Vanilla Rooibos Latte and the London Fog latte. The company already sells a chai tea and green tea latte.

Starbucks will also launch new Tazo Tea Infusions -- nondairy drinks made with Tazo black chai tea and fruit juice. The company will offer a Berry Chai Infusion, made with berry and black currant juices, and an Apple Chai Infusion, made with apple juice. That drink is 250 calories, the company said.

The latte drinks will be priced between $2.85 and $3.50 for a tall, depending on the location of the store. The infusions will sell for $2.40 to $2.70 for a tall.

Very interesting. I'm curious to see what happens with the balance between convenience and quality in Starbucks' move and the overall tea trend in the U.S.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

American Tea Production

Did you know that there is tea growing in America? If you read my blog often, you may remember that I'm growing some in my apartment, but I'm talking much larger scale here! Perhaps you've heard of Charleston Tea Plantation, or heard mention of tea in Hawaii, Washington or Oregon. But I bet you didn't know there's a tea plantation in Alabama! Or that tea can grow in lots of places. You can grow tea in most of the Southeast up to southern NC (including Athens, GA) and on North America's West Coast from Vancouver Island, British Columbia down to Mexico. I recently had the pleasure of covering the growing phenomenon of American-grown tea for World Tea News. Excerpt:

The way William Hall, partner in South Carolina’s Charleston Tea Plantation, tells it, tea plants were grown in South Carolina for decorative purposes as early as 1799. (After all, the sinensis or “Chinese” in Latin, variety is just one of many camellia plants.) A compelling course of events, involving commercial failures, and abandoned fields and research stations, eventually led to Charleston Tea Plantation, self-dubbed “America’s only tea garden.”

However, South Carolina isn’t the only state growing tea. Agricultural consultant John Vendeland said you could “very successfully” grow tea in most of the Southeast and West Coast, just like other camellias. We interviewed growers in Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Alabama and found that many had origins not unlike Hall’s.

You can read more on tea production in America on World Tea News.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Detox Teas

January is the time of year when people take the most interest in detox teas and tisanes. Companies like The Republic of Tea, Traditional Medicinals, Yogi Tea and Mighty Leaf all have detox teas, as do a number of smaller brands in health stores (Triple Leaf Tea, Tulsi Teas) and online companies. Even Celestial Seasonings is getting in on the act. Personally, I like Yogi's Peach DeTox Tea. (They also have regular DeTox (linked above) and Berry DeTox, which I haven't tried yet.) What are your favorites?

PS -- The BBC recently reported that many products claiming to be detoxifying are not. Most of the products above are based on Chinese medicinal herbalism. Some of the products listed in the BBC article are face soaps (apparently, removing dirt and oil from skin counts as "detoxifying" to the product's maker) and dietary supplements (which advise a healthy diiet and lots of water -- perhaps the true source of detoxification). What do you think about the controversy? Do you think tisanes can be detoxifying?