Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Steep Thoughts: Happiness of Tea

Lately I've been thinking about how much there is to learn about tea. Tea education is a beautifully infinite thing. No one can truly know everything about it. There are those that can dazzle with their tea knowledge, and while I strive to be well educated, right now I'm happy with my quiet feelings for tea. There are those that can taste every little nuanced flavor and liken it to the most esoteric ingredient. I know what I like, and I like trying everything. I know what I don't like, but I still want to try it all. I drink and feel, and love, and express. Words flow onto the page when I think about the flavors and sensations.

Tea gives me an opportunity to focus on myself, focus on how it feels to prepare it, to drink it. To meet others that find solace in the same diverse beverage is a a unique kindred experience. Tea people immediately share a special bond. There has been some frustration in my world recently, and having the opportunity to escape by sipping and talking tea has been a huge comfort. A spiritual diversion. After a cup of tea, things look brighter, more vivid, more hopeful.

I often over-steep or under-steep tea in my gaiwan, but it's a learning process. I can't froth my matcha that well, but I'll keep trying. In the meantime, I'll slurp it up with a smile on my face. I enjoy sharing my love for tea with others, even if I have to check my notes before we discuss. I may not remember all the processing steps in a particular tea, but I'm happy to share a cup with you, and we can learn about it together. My young daughter has taken an interest in tea. She can identify the basic types, and loves tasting it. I'm proud of her, but happier that it brings us together. We taste tea, and then end up discussing something completely unrelated and more important. The natural flow of togetherness. A few co-workers and I have been gathering to taste teas, learn, and converse. The curiosity, and camaraderie helps strengthen us. It's a time to relax and enjoy the group dynamic.

Of course, knowledge is key to producing, processing, selling and sipping tea. Educating yourself is important, and so is respecting how others feel. The journey of tea education should be one of happy discovery, not shame or frustration. There are many loving people involved in the tea community, and they people help bring joy to the world. However you come to tea, whatever you like about it, it's right. As long as it is touching your life and you are enjoying yourself, it's right.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tea & Camping

I love drinking tea outdoors, especially while camping. Listening to the conversation of birds, smelling all things earthy and green, the meditative experience is magnified in the fresh air. Early camping mornings are magical instead of hectic and blurry. The sun feel stronger and brighter, the colors of the world more vivid. But still, it's early. Without a clock the kids get up even earlier than usual. I Need tea for the caffeine just as much as for the reflective experience.

Camping of course poses a few difficulties in preparing tea. How to heat the water? What to heat it in? What to steep the tea in? I'm sure avid campers are able to basically boil water with just a few sticks and some sort of vessel. But for me, I had to have just the right gear! Only a sturdy enamelware kettle would do, with a few vintage cups for good measure. After looking for just the right kettle, I settled on a white version of this one from Falcon. Now that I had the perfect kettle and the right cups, I needed the right tea.

One of my favorite aspects of camping is the campfire. The fire infuses everything around it with that iconic smoky aroma. I ended up bringing two teas with me on the trip, one is the delightfully smoky Wijnhuis Melange from de Pelikaan. This is a super strong black tea blend reminiscent of the campfire. It was perfect with with the bacony heavy breakfast we had to fuel a long day outside.

The other tea I chose to bring is the Bellocq Breakfast blend from Bellocq. I chose another black tea for the robust flavor and caffiene jolt. As much as I love a roasted oolong or subtle green tea outdoors, I wanted something comforting (black tea is very nostalgic for me), and uplifting. A tea that also has sturdy leaves I wasn't afraid of accidentally crushing during our journey. I also wanted a tea some of the coffee drinkers would try. This tea was exactly what I needed in the early morning with its bold, sweet flavor. It was perfect to warm up with a few cups in the chilly early hours while the kids ran around searching for sticks and acorns.

The tea kettle was super helpful, and the enamel retained its heat for a nice long time. We boiled water in the kettle, and then I added a sachet filled with the tea leaves for steeping. If you are set on having the leaves completely loose, you may wish to bring some sort of strainer along. Since space is at a premium while camping, I chose the simple paper sachets instead of another gadget. Besides, I wanted to keep that extra room for the kettle!

Perhaps it was 'glamping' with my enamelware kettle and mugs, but I'm just fine with that. I must have my priorities! Do you bring tea on your camping trips? How do you prepare it?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Interview: Emilio Delpozo of The Jade Leaf

Photo Courtesy of Emilio Delpozo

If you've ever daydreamed of moving to Taiwan to immerse yourself in tea and culture, this week's interview is for you. Emilio Delpozo moved to Taiwan several years ago with the intention of studying Chinese medicine and found himself enraptured with tea, tea culture, and the local pottery techniques. He has built up a deep relationship with tea through working at a tea house, and learning traditional pottery techniques. He has started The Jade Leaf to sell unique Taiwanese teas and his own stunning teaware. He's been seeking out tea through word of mouth, even taking a scooter around tea farming areas to discover the best he can find.
Now that so many people are interested in tea it made sense that I share all the great tea I'm drinking with people outside of Taiwan. There's so much good tea in Taiwan ands there's much more variety than you would think. It seems that some people like to think they know everything about tea and have everything neatly categorized in their mind, but there's so many random tea variations to be found in Taiwan. I'm always finding new teas that I've never even heard of.
Learn more about Emilio's fascinating story, his love for tea, and his dedication to pottery below...

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Tasting: Two New Teas from Honest Tea

A photo posted by sara shacket (@tea_happiness) on

I'm going to start by saying I only drink bottled tea when I have no other option. Usually when I'm stuck in crazy summer weather with the sun melting my eyebrows off. When I do seek out bottled tea, I usually do an unsweetened one. I recently had the opportunity to try two new herbal teas from Honest Tea. I admit, I was beyond skeptical. I don't usually drink bottled, and never do I have herbals!

Well, these two teas have opened my mind a bit.

The Ginger Oasis was very refreshing on a day that was thick with humidity. I enjoyed the zingy ginger and tang of lemongrass. The ingredients listed are organic rooibos, organic and natural flavors (this is always a vague description that I find confusing), organic ginger root, organic lemon grass. My only quibble is that I could taste the rooibos more than I'd like to. I've never been a huge fan of rooibos. But still, I was surprised at how balanced and flavorful it was.

I pulled out the Cinnamon Sunrise herbal tea during a sweltering, hectic day. I took a few moments to relax, and sipped from the bottle. I love cinnamon, and I really enjoyed this tea. It is strong and flavorful, bursting with cinnamon. The strength of the cinnamon and subtle spice of ginger does a nice job of masking the rooibos, which is just fine with me. This is a tea I will definitely seek out. The ingredients in this are organic rooibos, organic cinnamon, organic and natural flavors (again, this is vague), organic ginger root. This is a good tea to choose if you're looking for something bold, but without the caffeine jitters.

The fact that these are caffeine free makes it easier to reach for them later in the day. Thank you to Honest Tea for the samples.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Interview: Gay Hughes of Gay Grace Teas

Photo Courtesy of Gay Grace Teas

While on vacation with my family, we visited a crafts fair and I happily stumbled upon a tea booth. This booth stood out with a romantic, afternoon tea vibe. I loved the setup, and also the use of 'sniff bottles' to smell the tea leaves. Clever! I had a brief conversation with the owner, Gay Hughes. The Littest Tea Critic was curious to see more of the fair, and pulled me away. But I was left hoping to learn more about the woman behind the lovely tea booth. Turns out that she's had some very interesting tea experiences that started from childhood, and even owned a tea truck! Learn more about Gay Geiger Hughes and her company Gay Grace Teas below...

Monday, July 27, 2015

Tasting: Saffron & Green Tea from Buddha Teas

Buddha Teas has a large selection of traditional and herbal teas focusing on wellness for body and mind. They sell teas that contain organic and/or wild grown ingredients.

From their website:
The name “Buddha Teas” was chosen not to reflect a religion, but a philosophy. One of the key aspects of Buddhism is living a life in harmony with the world, one of simplicity, generosity and filled with compassion for all life. As a company devoted to offering natural teas that are healthy for consumers and for the environment, this philosophy was a perfect fit. By taking from the earth no more than what we need, and giving back to it through recycling and compostable products, Buddha Teas would strive not to profit from the earth, but to honor it and its many blessings.
The company recently sent me their saffron and green tea blend. I've never had saffron in tea before, and I was intrigued. Saffron is an expensive ingredient and I was curious to see how much was actually added to the tea. The tea is bagged, so I opened one and had a look at the leaves.

You can see quite a few bright orange saffron strands within the bits of green tea. The dry leaves have a sweet and vegetal aroma. The steeped tea is earthy, a little bit sweet, and a little savory. There is a steamed green vegetable flavor from the green tea. Overall it reminds me of steamed rice. This could be because I often have saffron in rice dishes. My favorite part of drinking this tea is the cheerful bright yellow liquid it produces. It's sunny and brings an immediate smile to my face. The saffron and green tea work nicely together creating a calming experience. The flavors don't compete or mask one another.

This creates a unique flavor. Not something I'd drink every day, but a nice change of pace. The color alone would be a helpful remedy for grey winter months. The savory flavor would also work well in recipes, and I might give it a try with a rice dish or two. 

Each tea tag has an inspirational quote. This could feel cliche, but it actually adds to the meditative experience. The last cup I had said 'Positive mind positive vibes positive life'. A nice little reminder for cranky work days and chore filled weekends.

I'm not usually a big fan of herbal teas and do not promote any wellness information. But I admit I am curious to try some of the relaxation teas that Buddha Teas offers, to see if they are at all helpful. These days I can use all the help I can get!

Thank you to Buddha Teas for the box of tea!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Tasting: Tracy Stern Tea & Co Iced Tea No. 6 Worth

This week's tasting is from Tracy Stern Tea & Co, a company showcasing blends specifically made for iced tea. The blends are categorized by location -NY, Paris, and Palm Beach. I was given a choice of tea to sample, and I chose 'No. 6 Worth' which is from the Palm Beach collection. This is a black tea and raspberry blend. I usually shy away from flavored blends, but when it comes to iced tea, I tend to be a bit more adventurous. I often find fruity flavors work well with cold teas. Very unlike me, I know!

I received an eye catching bright pink tin, a color quite suitable for Palm Beach. The tin contains 6 very large tea bags. These are made to be used for 8 cups of iced tea. The ingredients list black tea, raspberry leaf, strawberry leaf, and natural flavoring.

The dry tea has a very strong 'berry' flavor that I've come to recognize from 'berry' blends. It's hard to say if it was specifically raspberry, but ripe red berries definitely come to mind. The directions note to steep the bag in 2 cups of hot water for 12 minutes, and then pour in 6 cups of cold water. I love cold brewing tea so I tried that first. I left the teabag in 8 cups of water overnight. The resulting tea had a strong berry flavor. Juicy, a little tart, and a bit of sweetness. But there was also a strange aftertaste that I couldn't identify. For the second round I followed the directions on the package to make the iced tea. I was surprised that the results were much better. The berry flavor was full and smooth. It's more on the subtle side, which some folks may not appreciate but I prefer it for flavored blends. This way the added flavor isn't punching you in the face. My contact at the company mentioned I could steep the tea in the full 8 cups of water for 15 minutes for a stronger brew. I was fine with these results though.

My family gave this tea a thumb's up. This is a fun go-to tea flavor for backyard sprinkler play-dates and beach picnics. I still prefer pure teas even for iced, but I'm happy to have tried something a bit different.

Thank you to Tracy Stern Tea & Co for the samples.