Saturday, December 31, 2005

Tea Guy's Top Teas of 2005

I find end of year "best of" lists tedious at best and excruciating at worst and yet, for some reason, I feel compelled to weigh in with one of my own. It's about tea. Who would have guessed?

Here, with not much further ado, are my top picks from among the many teas I've tasted this year. I've also listed my pick for worst of the year. I was thinking of calling this the Rather Drink My Own Urine Award, but as you know I've got way too much class to stoop that low.

Best Black Tea
Ghoom Darjeeling (
Mambo (Adagio)

Best Green Tea
Dragonwell Requiem (Adagio)
Uji Green (

Best Bottled Tea Product
Rooibos Red Peach (Kombucha Wonder Drink)

Worst Tea
Green Tea To Go (Lipton)

Friday, December 30, 2005

Tea Review 47 - Inko's Cherry Vanilla & Hint O' Mint

Cherry Vanilla
Hint O' Mint
Inko's White Tea

In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that I'm not terribly keen on vanilla. And though I like cherries I'm also not that fond of cherry flavored stuff.

So it's probably a foregone conclusion that I wasn't going to be wild about Inko's Cherry Vanilla - and I wasn't. Every time I took a sip I couldn't help being reminded of cough syrup.

But, to be fair, I should point out that if you're coming to this variety without my particular set of biases you'll probably feel differently. Inko's products, in general, have a rather light taste compared to many other bottled teas and drinks. Cherry Vanilla is one of their sweetened blends, but the sweetness quotient is actually fairly tame.

As for Hint O' Mint, well that was a whole 'nuther ball of wax entirely. I liked this one quite a bit. I suspect that the fact that it's unsweetened has a lot to do with it. There's another one of my biases.

Hint O' Mint has a very delicate taste, something that's quite refreshing - and rare - for a bottled tea. There's really just the vaguest mint flavor mixed in with the equally light white tea component. According to the label there's also some ginger in there somewhere, but my coarse taste buds didn't pick up on any of it.

Good stuff, tea fans. I'd put Hint O' Mint near the top of the list of bottled teas that I've sampled to date.


Thursday, December 29, 2005

Chifir, Or Death By Caffeine

Here's a new one on me. Apparently there's a tea known as chifir that's quite popular in Russian prisons for the rip roaring caffeine kick it imparts.

I did some cursory research and found various recommendations on how to prepare this delight. One version calls for 1.5 ounces of loose tea to ten ounces of water. Another calls for 3-7 tea bags cooked in one cup of water for 10-15 minutes, then flavored with milk and sugar.

Sheesh. Well, as the old saying goes - don't try this one at home. Makes me twitch just reading it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Desert Island Tea 1 Brian Smith (The Tea Smith)

Welcome to the first installment of a new feature - Desert Island Tea. From time to time I'll be badgering various tea fanciers, industry figures and so on, trying to get them to reveal what tea they'd want with them in the rather unlikely event that they're stranded on a desert island.

A difficult choice, to be sure, but our first participant seems to have come through the ordeal relatively unscathed. Tea lover Brian Smith serves, in his official capacity, as "Teavangelist" for The Tea Smith, a tea merchant with two locations in Omaha, Nebraska and a little corner of WWW-land located right here.

Many thanks to Brian for agreeing to take the first shift on our desert island.

If you were stranded on a desert island (an island with clean, fresh water and tea making equipment, of course) what one tea (only one) would you like to have with you and why?

Brian Smith's Answer:
I hesitate to put such a limit on my life, even if isolated. One of the greatest aspects of tea is the wide variety of flavors. That being said, I would take a Jade Oolong which I would carefully prepare in gong fu style since I would need to wring every last drop of every infusion from my presumably limited supply. The time alone would allow me to concentrate on the shifting profile of each short infusion. The interplay of floral tones and development of body would occupy my attention, to the neglect of an escape plan. After all, if you are cold, tea will warm you. If you are stranded, it will cheer you…

Monday, December 26, 2005

Tea & Stinky Old Eggs

I'm sure there are uses for tea that are far more off the wall than making stinky old eggs, but I haven't discovered any just yet. As to why you would want to eat stinky old eggs, well, it beats me. But I've heard that there are people who voluntarily consume chunky peanut butter so obviously anything's possible when it comes to the wide and weird world of foodstuffs.

If you're like me and you were clueless about the existence of Century Eggs or pidan or whatever you want to call it/them, you can read more about this "delicacy" in a Wikipedia entry or as a part of a Webdietitian article in which we're also informed that the egg did indeed precede the chicken.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

What Do You Call A Tea Connoisseur?

I guess the easiest way to go about it would be to call them tea connoisseurs and be done with it. But the thing is that that wine connoisseurs have this nifty word - oenophile - to describe themselves.

As far as I can tell there is no corresponding word for tea fanciers, unless I have been less thorough in my research than I should have been.

Anyway, if anyone out there knows of such a word please do tell.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Basil Tea

I can't quite imagine what tea flavored with basil would taste like. I guess the best thing to do would be to try it and end all the speculation.

Apparently basil tea is very popular in India, where it is known as Tulsi Chai or Tulsi ki Chai. If you're itching to give it a whirl try out this recipe from the Indian food Web site

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas In A South Korean Tea Garden & More

Korea may not be one the first place you think of when tea production is mentioned, but as this article in the Korea Times notes, the Posong County region is something of a hotbed of tea cultivation. Of course, at this time of year, as the photo indicates, there's nothing particularly hot about the area, but then again there are the green tea baths at the bathhouse mentioned near the end of the piece.

If you're gearing up for a grand tour of the world's great tea regions or if you're just in the mood for a little armchair travel, be sure to take a look at this article, from The Hindu, about an Indian hotel in a converted tea factory or this one, from South Africa's Independent Online, about the gradual rise of India's tea tourism industry.

Franz Ferdinand Pan American Tea

In a previous life Tea Guy worked in a variety of record (anyone remember them?) stores and kept pretty much up to date with the who's who of pop music. But times have changed and thus, when I came across a piece about the Scottish group Franz Ferdinand, I was fairly clueless as to their existence.

The gist of the article - Franz Ferdinand are not happy with the availability of tea in the United States. Which is probably a criticism that doesn't have at least some merit. But after doing a good bit of research lately on the tea house scene on these shores I'd go so far as to stay that things are improving.

Anyway, it's a short bit, but you can read it here. Don't abandon us yet, Franz Ferdinand. There's still hope.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Tea Review 46 - Kombucha Wonder Drink Jasmine Niagra Grape

Kombucha Wonder Drink Jasmine Niagra Grape
Kombucha Wonder Drink

The last of the five Kombucha Wonder Drink flavors I've had a chance to try - Jasmine Niagra Grape - was probably the most offbeat blend, but, as with the others, it did not disappoint.

One of KWD's two newest flavors, Jasmine Niagra Grape contains kombucha made from organic jasmine tea, organic cane sugar and organic Niagra grape juice concentrate.

Of these ingredients it was the grape that stood out the most. I didn't really detect any jasmine tea flavor at all, but perhaps that's just a shortcoming of my tasting apparatus.

I'm not sure exactly what Niagra grape is all about but I will say that this KWD flavor is a nice blend of sweet and sour. It was also lower in fizz that most other KWD flavors - unless I just happened to run across a relatively flat bottle.

Another winner for Kombucha Wonder Drink. Like all of their blends, the worst thing about it is that there's only 8.5 ounces per bottle. When they come up with the handy two liter size I'll be in line.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Tea In Strange Places - Azores

In early October I posted an entry about tea production in places not normally known for tea production, among them the United States (South Carolina, Hawaii) and England.

As it turns out England is not the only European country where tea is grown. The Gorreana Tea Plantation and Cha Porto Formosa, on the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores (which is technically part of Portugal) both grow tea and, in the case of the former, have been doing so for more than a century. For a little more info and some photos look here.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Tea Review 45 - Uji Green

Uji Green Tea (Sencha)

There is green tea, my friends, and then there is green tea. If you're looking for a brew that falls into the latter category then look no further than's Uji Green.

From the moment you crack open the resealable foil bag you know this one is going to be a winner. I fell into the same pattern each time I brewed up a fresh bag. Open the package, stuff my nose into it and wallow in the amazing fragrance, pull out a teabag - "gourmet" teabag, that is, one that gives the tea leaves sufficient room to expand - breathe deeply, taking in more of that incredible aroma and then get down to business.

Go easy on this stuff, tea fans. Two minutes at a relatively cool temperature - even by green tea standards - is all it needs and each bag is good for numerous infusions.

And oh what infusions they are - the bright green color, the amazing aroma and the heavenly taste. Pardon me while I swoon.

And there's that little bit of green sediment that lingers until the last sip and then it's off to fire up the kettle again. What else are you gonna do?

Tea Guy certainly doesn't consider himself a tea expert, not by any stretch of the imagination. But I've tasted a heap of green teas now and I wouldn't hesitate to put Uji Green tea near the top of that heap.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Tea Review 44 - Bottled Peach Teas (X2)

White Peach White Tea
Inko's White Iced Tea

Peach Oo-La-Long
Honest Tea

I wouldn't go so far as to say that I've never met a bottled tea I liked, but it's close. The problem with bottled tea, at least for me, is the sweetener factor, that notion that a bottled beverage won't fly with the sugar-addled American public unless it's sweet.

White Peach White Tea is the first Inko's tea I've tried. The propaganda on the bottle trumpets the health benefits of white tea and features the slogan, "what white tea tastes like." Uhhh...

Anyway, the ingredients in this one are premium brewed white tea, fructose crystals (an especially vile "F" word, in my book), all-natural white peach extract and citric acid.

Inko's does get big points for appearance, with a nice crystal clear amber color. As for taste - not bad, but I just couldn't get past that fructose thing. Sorry, I really tried.

Honest Tea's Peach Oo-La-Long fares a little better in the taste department, though I'm considering giving them a demerit for the excessively cutesy poo name. I'd also knock off points for cloudiness, but granted that's not nearly as important a consideration as taste.

Peach etc. is an organic fomulation that - oddly enough - places organic Fair Trade Certified oolong and black tea fourth in the billing after purified water, organic sugar and organic peach puree. Also in the mix are organic brown rice syrup, natural peach flavor and that yummy old citric acid.

The presence of two sweeteners was somewhat alarming, but the sweetness factor here is actually quite understated or, as the blurb on the bottle would have it, it's "a tad sweet." Indeed. Overall, the taste wasn't so bad. On a stifling hot day I might just be able to knock off a bottle or two of this stuff.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Return Of Who Grows Your Tea

About a week ago I posted a brief item called Who Grows Your Tea, with links to a few resources related to the Fair Trade Tea movement. Along the same lines is this recent article in the Asian Tribune - A day in the life of a Sri Lankan tea worker. It details the unfortunate plight of many such tea workers.

Also worth your while is this piece describing International Tea Day, which is coming up the day after tomorrow.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Tea Review 43 - Kombucha Wonder Drink Rooibos Red Peach

Kombucha Wonder Drink Rooibos Red Peach
Kombucha Wonder Drink

I was hanging around my humble tea house (tea apartment, actually) the other day, minding my own business, when who should arrive but a jolly portly old guy in a red suit bearing the two newest flavors from Kombucha Wonder Drink.

Okay, it was actually a brown suit and the guy wasn't particularly jolly or portly. He was actually rather young, now that you mention it, and isn't it a bitch trying to sign your name on that big clunky electronic clipboard thingy with that little fake pen?

But I was happy to take a crack at sampling the latest KWD flavors, no matter how they arrived, and the Rooibos Red Peach was certainly no disappointment. The ingredients in this one are kombucha from Rooibos, organic cane sugar and natural red peach essence.

I was expecting the kombucha to overpower the other flavors, especially when I caught a big whiff of that distinctive sour aroma while pouring the goods into a glass.

But the taste is actually rather mild and the Rooibos surprisingly prominent. As for the peach, I think it was there but maybe I was just succumbing to the power of suggestion.

Anyway, here's another winner from Kombucha Wonder Drink.


Saturday, December 10, 2005

Drink Coke, Drink Tea & Darjeeling Tea Tales

Two more installments of Peter Karthak's Darjeeling Tea Tales are now available at Kantipur Online. Here are the links to parts six and seven. Links to three, four and five are in my previous post and still no sign of one and two.

While we're on the subject of India and tea, here's a little bit of background on the rumored initiative by a certain soda giant to wedge their way into the Indian market for coffee and tea.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Happy Birthday to CS

Celestial Seasonings, that is. They're 35 years old this year. Read a profile of the tea maker that recently appeared in the Jackson Hole Star-Tribune, among other places.

If you ever happen to find yourself in the Boulder, Colorado area, be sure to take the CS grand tour and check out their tea shop. More info here.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Tea Review 42 - Adagio Oolong Symphony 18 & 40

Oolong Symphony 18
Oolong Symphony 40
Adagio Teas

Oolong tea can cover a wide range of territory, from varieties that resemble a green tea to those that are very close to black. There's no better way to illustrate this fact than by comparing two teas from Adagio - Oolong Symphony 18 and Oolong Symphony 40.

Oolong 18 features tightly rolled, large, greenish leaves that are reminiscent of a loose green tea. The recommended 180 degrees and five minutes steeping time produces a pale golden brew with a delicate fragrance that resembles a classic oolong, if there is such a thing. Oolong 18 is available in four sizes from a $4 sample to a pound that goes for $42 and also in teabags.

By contrast, the oolong 40 (according to Adagio, the number represents the percentage of fermentation the leaves are subjected to) is considerably darker, albeit with silver tips. It brews up to something almost like a black tea with faint fruity overtones that are not unlike a Darjeeling.

Oolong 40 is also available in four sizes, ranging from $4 to $39.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Tea Guy's Great Botanical Experiment - 3

Pennsylvania is a far cry from Assam, Yunnan or Sri Lanka, but it'll have to do. My tea seeds - burly looking things about the size of hazelnuts - are in the ground, as of today. Since I'm in rather a frigid zone and I'm in an apartment for now the ground is contained in small ceramic dishes - four of them, with one seed in each.

As things progress (if things progress) I'll start posting some pictures. No need to bother just yet since it's just some dishes full of dirt sitting on the window sill.

If all goes well I should be drinking my own home grown tea in several years. Okay, I'm not counting any chickens just yet, but stay tuned. We shall see.

Tea Review 41 - China, Irish & English Breakfast

China Breakfast
Tempest Tea

Farnum Street Special Morning Tea
Emperor Norton English Breakfast

For the life of me I can't fathom the practice of ruining fine black tea with milk/cream and/or sweeteners. Cheap black tea, maybe I can see, but then again I can't fathom why anyone would drink cheap tea. Better to drink none at all...I think.

Maybe if I were English or Irish and had been culturally indoctrinated into the practice of defiling fine English or Irish breakfast tea this way I'd feel differently. But I'm not and I don't.

I guess what I'm getting at is that even with the beefiest of Assams and breakfast blends I still prefer to see that deep brown hue and enjoy the eye-opening robust flavor untainted.

Now that I've finished offending millions of tea drinkers worldwide, let's get on with the review. Of the three breakfast varieties I've sampled recently Tempest Tea's curiously named China Breakfast was certainly no slouch. The one I tasted came packaged in a small "gourmet" type pyramid tea bag. It was very robust, but also quite smooth and not particularly malty. A very dark blend, perhaps the "China" was not so far off base since it kind of reminded me of some varieties of Keemun.

Of the two breakfast teas from, I preferred the Farnum Street Special Morning Tea, though it was a close call. An Irish Breakfast tea, it's a "blend of Assam and Ceylon estate teas."

The other, the Emperor Norton English Breakfast, boasts a "twist of Darjeeling" among its flavor makeup, which is exactly the quality I would unwittingly have attributed to the Farnum Street Special Morning. But hey, what do I know?

All in all, a good trio if you need to get those eyelids peeled open in the morning.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Who Grows Your Tea?

Would you be surprised to know that people who work in the tea growing and production industries are not always treated so well? Didn't think so. If you'd like to do something to change this, at least in some small way, consider buying tea that's Fair Trade Certified.

Here are links from TransFair USA and Ethical Tea Partnership, two organizations working to see that tea workers are treated better.

Here's an article from the Puget Sound Business Journal on Seattle's Choice Organic Teas, one of many companies who offer Fair Trade Certified teas.

And here's an August installment from The Tranquilo Traveler, by Joshua Berman, who was part of a group investigating working and living conditions on Indian tea plantations.

Brew And Brew And Brew And Brew...

How many times do you reuse your tea leaves? How many times can you reuse your tea leaves? If this post at eGullet - complete with photos - is any indication you can get away with as many as ten infusions of a good quality oolong.

I don't recall ever going past four of five infusions of anything, but maybe I'm missing out on something.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Holiday Teas

Here are some holiday teas from two of the big guns of the tea world - Celestial Seasonings and Bigelow. Of course, many of the smaller merchants are also offering holiday-themed teas so be sure to check them out as well.

Celestial Seasonings has come up with six holiday varieties, including two geared toward kids. Get the lowdown here.

Bigelow has two new holiday teas, as well as a few other new ones. Check them out here. I recently tried the Ginger Snappish variety and wasn't completely bowled over. As for the eggnog tea, I couldn't even bring myself to give it a whirl.

Cheap Tea

According to a fascinating factoid at the Twining Teapot Galley Web page, in the early 18th century a pound of topnotch tea might cost as much as a skilled craftsman would make in three weeks.

The Salary Wizard Web site suggests that today the median salary in the United States for a level III carpenter is $44,380. Assume a similar price for today's tea using the carpenter's salary and we'll come up with $2,560 per pound or $160 per ounce.

Enjoy your cheap tea.

Friday, December 02, 2005

I'm A Little Teapot...

I'm neither short nor stout and I don't get too awfully worked up over teaware, though from time to time I do run across something that catches my eye.

My only real requirement regarding tea paraphenalia, as I've mentioned before, is a reasonably eye-catching glass to drink my tea from. The key word here is glass, as in the clear variety. Nothing else will do. I don't care how nice some ceramic ware is. There's something about the light refracting through the brewed tea that, for me, just can't be beat.

But enough of my prattle. If you are into teapots and you're going to be in Salem, Massachussetts in the next few months, head over to the Peabody Essex Museum and check out The Artful Teapot: 20th–Century Expressions from the Kamm Collection.

If that doesn't work for you, you might want to try the Twining Teapot Gallery or the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware.

If neither England nor Hong Kong are on your itinerary, try some virtual teapot gawking at English teapot designer Andy Titcomb's Web page or his blog, Teapots, Teapots, Teapots. The latter has enough links to other teapot related sites to keep you busy for about the next decade or so.

If tea bag wrappers are what strikes your fancy then get thee on over to this site, which displays numerous wrappers from a rather astoundingly large collection.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Tea Review 40 - Green Earth Chai & Cool and Collected

Green Earth Chai
Tempest Tea

Cool and Collected
The Spotted Leopard Teas

It's official. I don't like chai. Time and time again I've tried it, attempting to keep an open mind each time around, but the simple fact remains - I don't like chai. I think there's only one spice commonly used in chai that puts me off the stuff, but I haven't managed to isolate it yet.

My latest adventure in chai tasting was a green variety from Dallas-based tea merchant Tempest Tea. While I'm certain that it's quite a nice blend, as far as these things go, the fact remains - and stop me if I've mentioned this - I don't like chai.

I've sampled chais made with black tea, green tea and rooibos. I'm trying to work out which one I dislike the least, but have yet to come to a conclusion. And so it was that I approached Spotted Leopard's Cool and Collected with some trepidation. After all, it claims to be a blend of green tea, mint and spice - which leads one to the conclusion that it might be kind of chai-like.

But I actually liked this one. The mint provided just the right touch and the spice, whatever it is, is obviously not the dreaded Ingredient X found in most chai. Like most of the flavored teas I've tasted, this is not one I'd turn to on a regular basis, but it would be okay for a change of pace now and then.