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I love the leaf. The history. The legends. The art and literature. I dream of visiting all the places where it is grown and the many ways it is brewed. The brewed tea that fills my cup becomes more magical as I venture into new taste experiences. The teaware. The tools. The people. Even the Business of Tea. I’m smitten.
The Tea Industry is its own world-wide-web; a network necessary to bring the product from field to cup. Let us assume for the moment that this network is actually the Spirit of Tea.
For countries of origin, places where tea is grown, the time and distance between the freshly picked leaf and the brew in the cup are short. The process visible. The hands involved all rather well known. And the importance of tea in daily life is undisputed. Those of us who do not live within picking distance of a plantation must depend on the industry’s network bring tea to us. Whether we buy teabags at the grocery store or loose leaves from specialty teashops, we must trust the experience and integrity of the purveyor. Or we must educate ourselves enough to discern a tea’s quality and value. Actually, it’s a bit of both.
This article was inspired by a discussion on one of the LinkedIn tea groups - Tea Enthusiasts and Entrepreneurs. Quality Matters. It was started by Kim Jage as a possible theme for the upcoming World Tea Expo.
One interesting point was that high price does not = quality. Giving the consumer what she/he wants at a fair price is the key. We have tasted the trash tea cutely packaged and priced as something it cannot live up to. Not the tea’s fault. On the other hand, there are specialty teas that most consumers cannot appreciate - yet. This is the challenge tea presents. How do we respect and value such a broad spectrum of tea experiences?
A comment from this on-going discussion came from Ruben Marley, comparing tea to wine:
Whether these wines were high or low-end was almost never a real factor in the final results of our efforts… the bottom line was always based upon the level and quality of education we gave our customers. I think tea is no different, because it offers a full range of product to suit anyone’s taste or budget.
Perhaps it is because tea is associated with many spiritual traditions and deeply rooted cultural experiences that we want to hold it to a high standard of integrity in business. Some of us may feel drawn to the world of tea with a belief that we are inherently networked through a loftier business model. We’re looking to escape the world of unconscious marketing - promise and package anything to make the sale.Quality Education & Quality Information
One of my good friends in Tea Land, Amy Lawrence of An Afternoon to Remember, was asked by a Sacramento TV station to come on their morning show and tell the audience that all tea was the same. She refused to make this statement but he still allowed her on the show and still tried to bully her into saying that all teas are equal. She defended the position.
If we allow the public to believe that all teas are equal, we are injuring the spirit and beauty of tea and the potential for the industry.
Our strength is in the diversity of product quality and a culture experience that connects the entire world. Just as we are drawn to an assumption of quality in tea and a desire to trust the packaging claims and marketing spiels, so are the new consumers exploring beyond the grocery store shelves into the larger world of tea.
The Spirit of Tea seems to attract an educated and inquisitive imbiber. We have lured them away from other beverages with the promise of health benefits and the allure of traveling the world through their teacup.We don’t have to be snobs.
My last post featured some of the tea books for children. It’s a niche I’ve chosen for myself. Or maybe it chose me. Either way - one of the remarkable things about introducing children to the whole world of tea is their delight with the legends and fascination with the differences. They’re a long way from feeling like they have to choose between one way or another. They want it all. Even young children are excited to try something new. One cautious sip might be enough. Or, if I show them the tiny rosebuds in the oolong, it could become there new favorite of the day. Tomorrow it could be a tea with chunks of apple and cranberries. The next day a child might want to watch a tied tea flower open and taste the interesting blend of green tea and osmanthus flower. One of my 5-yr-old friends just loves saying the word lychee. His older brother will drink anything if he can stir the teacup with a whole cinnamon stick. Their sister likes to unfold the reconstituted leaf. She considers that she has “won” if she finds two leaves still attached to a bit of stem.
In the Spirit of Tea, I know I can give them a quality tea at a price their parents can afford. It’s do-able. And I believe that the wealth of tea experiences can keep them interested and satisfied for the rest of their lives.It’s not easy but it is fun.
So, now I’m precariously perched on my soap box - or my tea crate. I have to add that tea isn’t easy. There’s a lot to know and here in the US, we’re still relatively young. We’re like children in many ways depending on others to help us understand “quality”. But this year TEAUSA and the Specialty Tea Institute have graduated 35 students through Level 3 - teachers who have invested in something comparable to a college curriculum in tea. We’re preparing for the 8th World Tea Expo where tea pros gather to taste, learn and celebrate this spirit we share. It bridges the gap between the retailers and the plantations be luring people from all around the world to display and sample the newest teas. There are more tea books, tea artists and tea educators every year. We’re all starting to experience a more educated consumer and appreciate the physical and virtual resources available to stay current.
A writer friend recently asked me if I don’t get bored writing about tea?
I love tea. Don’t you?
Russian designer, Natalia Ponomareva created this beautiful origami tea bag for a sencha & berry tea. As you steep this delicate blend, the carefully designed bag expands into the shape of the bird. As it spreads its wings to take flight from your cup, one can imagine it soaring to your senses and captivating your taste buds.
Now if only this was more than a concept design….
It’s been quite a while since I’ve shared my tea filled thoughts with everyone. Oh how I’ve missed it! But during this quiet time I wandered through the land of teaware as I searched for a new cup. And I’m thrilled to announce that teaspoons & petals has a new signature cup. Hooray! This delicate little beauty will hold 8oz of your favorite tea and its curves will rest gently in your palm. Its elegant handle is roomy, allowing a few of your fingers to rest within its bends and arc.
But before you scroll down to take a closer look at the new member of the teaspoons & petals family, just let me whisper one more secret in your direction. While searching high and low for the perfect tea cup, I fed my senses musical caffeine from the lady songbirds of jazz & blues: Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday and Etta James. These smoky notes inspired my newest line of haiku that features 5 haiku exploring the intimate relationship between tea and music. Each word was inspired by a sip of a nutty oolong or floral jasmine and blues notes or a jazzy scat. Hear my inspiration for yourself.
So without further ado…I’d like to introduce you to Music & Tea:
Meet Ella, Etta, Billie, Nina and Dinah…
tea drips like the rain
torn between two loves
sing dear lady blue
steam rises from tea
smoky voice lingers
Be sure to check my etsy site shortly, as I’ll be uploading the cups to my shop later today so that you can take a closer look at each musically inspired haiku. But before you go, I’d like to send some love to Courtney Apple, the fabulous photographer who creatively shot the new music & tea line. I highly recommend that you steep a fresh pot of tea and browse her online portfolio that allows viewers to see the world in a light that is hopeful, vivacious and honest.
Back in the fall, I hopped on a Bolt Bus headed towards NYC to attend a private screening of The Meaning Of Tea, not yet knowing that this film would greatly deepen and grow my connection to tea. The Meaning Of Tea is “a 74-minute documentary film that travels through India, Japan, Taiwan, Morocco, England, France, Ireland, and even Tea, South Dakota to ask a variety of people about their relationship to tea as a beverage, a means of relaxation, and a way of life.”
To state it rather simply, this film intensified my love affair with tea as it explored the emotional, historical, cultural and experiential role of tea throughout the world.
Scott Hoyt, the director of this cinematic journey, notes that “In this film, I seek to capture the compelling essence of tea as philosophy, art form, and as an old tea master once said, a means to cleanse the senses. While other documentary films on tea have focused on its history or sociology, I will focus on what Suzuki calls “the spirit of tea,” the rediscovery of simplicity, harmony, purity, and reverence for life.”
I feel truly fortunate to have experienced such a defining film, as it offered me the opportunity to take a look at how those closely connected to tea viewed its deeper meaning and significance. From tea sellers and pickers, to tasters, teapot traders and plantation owners, each offered an honest insight into the complexities of this plant and beverage from a deeply emotionally perspective. Each carefully crafted and seamlessly integrated scene touched upon the ritual, history, picking, selling, buying and tasting aspects of tea.
As the film explored tea’s role in our modern world and its meaning in our fast paced culture, I was truly inspired to ask the questions, what does tea mean to me? Although its role in my life has changed throughout the years, tea began simply as a welcomed escape from coffee. It would soon evolve into a beverage that excited my senses, then a restorative treat, before becoming a ritual, and now I am proud to say that tea is truly a part of who I am. Tea defines me and has inspired my values.
Although I have no intention of spoiling your viewing experience by exposing details, I need to share a truly moving quote from the film. The carefully considered and soulfully expressed words of lu-feng lu from Wu-ling tea farm in Taiwan captivated my spirit and soul.
“When I drink a good tea, I use my heart to smell the aroma. When I inhale, it goes right into my soul. So when I come across a good tea, I remember it for many years. The memory of that tea stays with me for a longtime. For a tea to be very good, you need the right combination of heaven, earth and man. Sometimes it takes years to comes across one. I feel fortunate, as I’ve experienced this a few times in my life. I’ve come across a good tea only four times. It’s so rare. Some people never come across a good tea in their lifetime. For this reason, I feel lucky. My life is fulfilled.”
Take one more slow sip from your cup and gently read the quote once again.
I highly recommend that you add this film to your collection, as it will help you better understand and define what tea truly means to you. Steep your favorite tea, watch the trailer and take the first step on the path towards understanding how tea has lifted your spirit.
One of the many benefits of sharing my passion for tea with friends, is that I often receive emails filled with photos of teaware, updates about new tea companies and invitations to join them for a cup of tea. So, I was thrilled when my friend, Jolene, emailed me this fabulous photo (originally from the Just Be Splendid blog).
…time to resteep an oolong and dream of the day that I’ll have a tea room with built-in bookshelves lined with my teacups…
Tea allows me to travel via slow sips of exotic blends that conjure images of foreign lands and cultures. Beyond the steep, I often find that I can take a journey through the words of tea enthusiasts, such as Kate Gover of Lahloo Tea located in Bristol, UK. After exchanging emails with Kate a few months ago, she agreed to answer some questions about her love of tea and the story behind Lahloo. I’m thrilled to share her words and beautiful images with you.
(p.s. I’ll be posting reviews of teas from Lahloo very soon!)
What are your top 5 favorite pieces of teaware?
What are your top 5 favorite teas at the moment?
· WAZUKA SENCHA Beautiful deep jade-green leaf full of fresh, grassy aroma and bitter-sweet taste. Grown in full sunlight in row upon row of luscious tea trees in the Wazuka Hills, Uji, it has beautifully balanced flavours. This is thanks to the special care and attention, from harvest to delivery, of Hidekazu and the steaming rather than pan frying of the tea leaf.
What inspired you and your husband to launch Lahloo 3 years ago?
We researched everything we could about the very best tea, where it was produced, who produced it and the history behind its production. Despite the UK’s long relationship with tea, it became clear that to experience truly great tea beyond fancy food halls such at Fortnum & Mason, you had to visit Europe. We did just that, visiting teahouses and boutiques across Europe sampling tea and speaking with tea enthusiasts. She drank very bad but expensive tea in teahouses which should have known better and truly great tea in places you wouldn’t expect to find it. Inspired by what we found, we launched Lahloo.
Lahloo is named after the 19th century tea clipper my great-great grandfather sailed on. In the 1800’s the demand by fashionable Londoners for the earliest spring crop tea created massive competition. The first ‘clipper’ that sailed into London would be met by an almost carnival atmosphere in the docks with its cargo of tea reaching the highest price. Built in 1867, the Lahloo was one of the most famous tea clippers of the 19th century. So-called because of the way they “clipped” miles, clippers were built for speed and raced to bring tea from China to London. Having grown up around dockside in London, my great-great grandfather George Hockaday was drawn into a career as a sailor and he worked on the Lahloo as she joined the clipper races.
The concept for Lahloo has been born out of the knowledge and passion gathered over a decade of research, travelling, sampling, smelling and tasting. This journey of discovery will continue for us. Our ultimate ambition is to open Lahloo tea bar & boutique offering the Lahloo experience: the very best artisan loose-leaf teas from around the world, served with the ceremony deserving of the world’s finest teas. We hope to encourage others to discover delicious artisan tea through Lahloo’s rare and unique collection of loose-leaf teas.
How long did it take you to find tea importers, Alex Fraser and Tim d’Offray?
Beyond your White Chocolate and Matsukaze Matcha Green Tea Truffles, in what other ways do enjoy incorporate tea with your food?
I often wander over to Flickr.com and search the word “tea” just to see a variety of photographic gems fill my screen. I stumbled upon this delightful photo of teacups hanging from a lit chandelier, and it inspired me to write this haiku:
flickering lights gleam
photo credit: Sherry’s Rose Cottage
Hooray! My tea granita was featured in the Food Trust’s newsletter (yes, this announcement is a tad delayed as the warm weather was just fading to chilled air when it was published). For those of you not familiar with the Food Trust in Philadelphia:
“The Food Trust strives to make healthy food available to all. Working with neighborhoods, schools, grocers, farmers and policymakers, we’ve developed a comprehensive approach that combines nutrition education and greater availability of affordable, healthy food.”
I often dream of the day that my closet will be filled with the elegant creations of Leanne Marshall (winner of project runway 2008). When I stumbled across this dress on her blog and in her etsy shop, I was blown away by it’s delicate beauty. Even though it’s designed to be a wedding dress, I’ve imagined wearing this to a garden tea party while serving flowering teas from large glass pots. Champagne pink roses and lilacs would be strewn about the table. Maybe I’d serve lavender cookies.
While dreaming of wearing the dress, I was inspired to write this haiku:
peony tea blooms
While exploring the multiple ways in which I can use my tealeaves beyond the steep, I stumbled across info about environmental chemist turned sous chef with a passion for tea, Melanie Franks. After realizing her heart was in the kitchen, Melanie dove into the culinary world as a sous chef at Hook Restaurant and minibar chef at think FOOD group (Chef Jose Andres), just to name a few.
Although her passion for food spans cuisines, there is one beverage that excites Melanie’s palate. Yes, you guessed correctly, it’s tea. Beyond serving as a tea sommelier and training her staff about pairing and serving tea, she also completed all level three certification classes with the Specialty Tea Institute. Now a sous chef at NYC’s Degustation, Melanie is developing recipes that incorporate tea. How fabulous!
Lucky for me (and you), Melanie (pictured below) agreed to answer a few questions about her love of and experience with tea! Enjoy!
1. What are your top 5 favorite teas?
This is almost impossible to answer there are so many teas I love. However, there are a few favorites that I always come back to. In general, I am an Oolong girl. The complexity of flavor and aroma is unequal. From Pouchongs to Champagne, the range of oxidation levels in Oolongs creates an exceptionally pleasurable experience. I can talk endlessly about Oolongs so it is best for me to move on. Another tea I would have to mention is Silver Needles. Indeed, this tea has the power to transport me to a misty mountain day whenever I take a sip. From the leaf style to aroma, it is simply amazing. Another tea I can’t live without is Puerh, because of its’ distinct earthy qualities and deliciously mellow finish. There is almost a change in mood one experiences when they drink this tea. It is for this reason that I often drink Puerh after a long day at work. Pi Lo Chun, is a great tea that I revisit on a regular basis. Between the tea bushes of Pi Lo Chun apricot, plum and peach trees are planted which yields a beautiful aroma and clean finish. The last tea I will mention is Sencha. I love the oceanic quality of Sencha and brilliant color of the cup. It simply energizes me. In reality, I could easily mention a dozen more teas.
2. Do you have any favorite tea accessories?
When I left Hook, the staff bought me a teapot from China that I adore. It has a natural rough glaze and yellowy brown color. It is beautifully made and has sentimental value. I can’t live without my tea tray that I use for Gung Fu tea service. It is just so practical to have a beautiful vessel that serves for both serving tea and disposing of water. I also have an affinity for my everyday tea cup. It is extremely simple. It is an all white porcelain cup with a matte glaze and has bowl shape that is perfect for holding with both hands. The white color allows me to enjoy the color of the liquor.
3. Can you share a favorite moment/memory of your experience at the Specialty Tea Institute?
This is also a very difficult question to pin point one experience at of two years. However I will say this, the teachers and the people you meet taking these classes are amazing. During the session breaks I still keep in contact with my teachers and friends that I have made along the way. To have such an immense amount of knowledge of tea gathered together in one place solely to educate one another is a beautiful experience. I have to mention Phil Parda (Zhong Guo Cha), Donna Fellman (Tea Education Alliance), and Yoon Hee Kim (Tea Classics) because they truly gave me a diverse and solid foundation in tea.
4. Tell me more about your position as a tea sommelier at Hook restaurant…
This was a large undertaking. While working as a Sous Chef, I changed over the tea program from bag teas to loose leaf tea. Training my staff properly was so very important. We averaged around 250 to 300 people a night, and I learned very quickly that the wait staff did not take the care to brew some of the more temperature sensitive teas when they got busy. In this particular restaurant setting (high volume), I put together a tea list that was both provocative and service friendly. It was exciting for customers because instead of the normal pedestrian cup they were able to have the opportunity to try an array of different teas. Talking to the customers and staff about tea on a daily basis only increased my love of tea. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
5. How do you incorporate tea in your dishes?
Cooking with tea as an ingredient is really limitless. Tea can be both savory and sweet as well as earthy and aromatic. I love cooking with tea because of its flexibility. Right now we have a soup with tea as ingredient that just speaks spring is here (finally). It is a nettle soup with Lapsang Souchong yoghurt, salmon roe, cured Tasmania sea trout, and fava ban flowers. I am going to put on a desert of a chilled chamomile soup with mint and lemon sorbet this week. I can’t possible pick a favorite dish that I have done with tea, but I did really enjoy a desert I that consisted of Matcha tea cake, maldon salt, strawberry sorbet and thyme syrup. My favorite teas to cook with are the highly aromatic teas like Lapsang Souchong, jasmine green, Darjeeling as well as tisanes like chamomile and Rooibos. As for tips with cooking with tea, I find it helpful to infuse tea into oils and liquids first. Then use the tea flavored components in your recipe just as like normal. For instance, if you wanted to make a vegetable puree of some sort take the liquid you are going to use in that recipe and infuse the it with tea. The Infusion should not be stronger than normal, infuse it just as you want to drink it so that it is balanced. This method is more user friendly to start. Than as you get more comfortable with tea one can experiment with smoking, curing, and steaming with tea for example.