Friday, September 30, 2005

Natural Latitudes Yerba Mate

Natural Latitudes LLC

While putting together an article on yerba mate recently, I had the opportunity to correspond with the eminently helpful Andrea Segovia, of Natural Latitudes LLC. The article will appear in one of our fine local publications, but I thought I'd put in a plug for Natural Latitudes in the meantime.

Andrea hails from Uruguay, where, from what I've gathered, yerba mate is everything coffee is on these shores, and quite a bit more. Yerba mate, by the way, is an herbal beverage - sort of like tea - that's indigenous to and very popular in several South American countries.

In fall of 2004, Andrea and Joel Heyn went live with Natural Latitudes, which currently offers its wares - fine quality yerba mate and accessories - at their Web site. Plans are to have a retail outlet up and running locally at some point in the near future.

Locally, in Andrea and Joel's case, means Madison, Wisconsin. I suspect that Wisconsin must be quite a stretch if you originally hail from Uruguay, but I didn't ask. Perhaps they should consider offering a cheese-flavored yerba mate?

The Semantics Post

Thus far, I've used the word "tea" rather loosely to describe any beverage brewed like tea, whether it actually contains tea or not. In the strictest sense, the word "tea" should only be used for products which contain tea from the camellia sinensis plant.

I've occassionally - and sporadically - tried to highlight this distinction, mostly by using quotes when I'm referring to something that technically isn't tea. From now on, I'm not going to bother. Let's be adult about this. I may sometimes use the word in a broader sense and that's that. It's all good, though. We're all friends here.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Tea Cosy Champs

If you're like me, you're probably not quite sure what a tea cosy is. As it turns out it's a little thingie, often decorative, that you put on your tea pot to keep the brewed tea warm.

Chances are if you lived in Miles, Australia you would be no stranger to the tea cosy or the fine art of making them. As reported recently, at the Web presence for the local ABC affiliate, the town, located in southern Queensland, may reasonably be called Tea Cosy Capital of the World.

Not long ago, competitors from around the world came to Miles to take a crack at winning the World Tea Cosy Making Competition. I guess the status of being tea cosy champ was more important to these globe trotters than the bucks, since the total prize money for the event was a rather modest five hundred dollars.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Green Tea & Mice

If your mouse (the furry, squeaky kind, not the computer accessory) has been behaving strangely, it may have Alzheimer's. I never knew this sort of thing was a problem, but that just goes to show what I know.

It just so happens that there's an ingredient in green tea - epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG - that may help mice with Alzheimer's, or so say researchers at the University of South Florida.

But don't race off to find your thimble and start feeding your mouse copious amounts of green tea just yet. Apparently there are other ingredients in green tea that inhibit absorption of the compound when brewed and consumed in the standard manner.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


As mentioned previously in these pages, Jennifer Lopez and Lindsay Lohan are both said to be green tea fanciers, to the extent of having their faves shipped to them when they are on the road.

Now, if that's not exciting enough for you, then how about the recent report that Viggo Mortensen, of Lord of the Rings fame, suffers from a tea "addiction"? Actually Viggo is fond of yerba mate and apparently will not travel anywhere without his own mate (drinking gourd) and bombilla (straw).

No Tea In The Slammer

If you're a tea lover and you're planning on doing time at the Headingley Correctional Centre, in Winnipeg, a recent news report may be enough to scare you straight.

USA Today, among others, reported that inmates of this fine facility were using Darjeeling and Earl Grey tea bags and nicotine gum to make cigarettes. This is quite an involved process, but I guess these guys have plenty of time on their hands.

The jail has banned tea bags but is considering offering instant tea in its place. Now how's that for cruel and unusual punishment?

Monday, September 26, 2005

Tea Review 22 - Peach Paradise

Peach Paradise
London Fruit and Herb

With only a few exceptions, I can safely say that I'm not that fond of flavored teas, most of which seem to be modified using fruit flavors. As for fruit flavored herbal teas, they don't really do much for me either.

The notable exception these days is peach. As I've mentioned before, in these very same pages, Good Earth makes a passably good black tea flavored with peach. There are also some decent peach herbal varieties, including Peach Paradise, from London Fruit and Herb Co.

Peach tea really shines, in my opinion, when it's blended with something with a more low key flavor to make an iced tea. I like two parts rooibos and two parts peach, with maybe a few pinches of a good loose green tea or some yerba mate tossed in for effect. And though I'm not real keen on fruit teas served hot, peach, once again, is the exception to the rule.

The ingredients list for Peach Paradise is an odd one. The first ingredient is apple pulp, which makes perfect sense to me (?). Next on the list are blackberry leaves, the ubiquitous hibiscus (trying saying that three times fast), the mysterious "flavourings," roasted chicory root, malic and citric acid, the also ubiquitous rosehips, peach juice (2.1%), lemongrass and peach flakes (1%).

I brewed a cup of hot Peach Paradise, using nearly boiling water. I steeped for more than the recommended time, as I often do with herbal teas, using the rule of thumb that stronger is generally better. Well, maybe that rule doesn't apply in this case, as the result was distinctly tangy. Since it was my last bag, I couldn't really verify whether this was caused by over steeping. Said theory will have to wait.

Recommended, even so, especially for iced tea.

Contents: 20 tea bags
I paid: $2.29

Tea In The Friendly Skies

Tea Guy returns to active duty.

Is it any surprise that the art of tea on a commercial airliner is not really much to write home about? I wasn't surprised a'tall.

What did surprise me was how absolutely magnificent a bag of Lipton tea, brewed in tepid water of dubious quality and served from a Styrofoam cup, could taste. It was like a life raft to a drowning man and I enjoyed the experience quite thoroughly, so much so that I had another one the next time the beverage cart came clanking dwon the aisle.

It's amazing how a couple cups of lukewarm Lipton made the time pass a bit more pleasantly on a cross-country flight.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Tea Review 21 - Dragonwell Requiem

Dragonwell Requiem
Adagio Teas

I recently found myself in the enviable position of having a number of quite fine, high quality green teas in the cupboard, but during this time I found myself returning to Adagio's Dragonwell Requiem and, in fact, that's the one I ran out of first.

To put it as eloquently as I can, Dragonwell Requiem kicks ass. Now I know that's not the kind of high falutin' language and reserved professional demeanor that's going to land me a job as a tea taster, but that friends, is the way it is.

Everything about Dragonwell Requiem is an outstanding green tea experience, from stuffing your nose in the tin and wallowing in that incredible fragrance to shaking out the thin, flat and rather bright green leaves and then, of course, the best part - drinking it. Adagio describes Dragonwell Requiem as a "First Grade" version of the tea and further describes it as "refreshingly smooth, sweet and delicate."

Hey, I'll buy that and I would add that it's rather forgiving to blundering lunkheads like yours truly who tend to overhead the water or steep the leaves too long. You can coax some bitterness out of this one, but you have to work at it a little harder than you do with most green teas.

Adagio makes Dragonwell Requiem available in the usual array of sizes from sample ($3) to one pound ($33) and you can even obtain it in a package of 25 gourmet bags ($10), should you so desire.

Highly recommended.

Contents: sample tin
I paid: na

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Tea Review 20 - Trader Joe's Honeybush

Trader Joe's

I hadn't encountered a Trader Joe's prior to moving to the West, even though the company is apparently based in Massachusetts. For those of you who may not be familiar with Trader Joes, they're kind of an eclectic specialty grocery store with good prices on most of the items they stock. While the selection's not what you'll get at your local megagrocerymart, the prices tend to compensate for that.

This applies to tea, among other things. You may not find as wide a selection as you will at the grocery store, but you'll definitely get a good price and every now and then they stock something off the wall, like yerba mate or Rooibos, also known as red bush.

Not so long ago, our local Trader Joes started stocking the other bush tea - honeybush. There's not much info provided on the packaging for this one. About all you're gonna get from reading the box is that the sole ingredient herein is honeybush tea, that it's organic, caffeine free and a product of South Africa.

Oh, and there's a little blurb about "the Khoi and San peoples who gathered the Honeybush leaves in the mountainous regions of their native South Africa." Said blurb further claims that the brew is rich in antioxidants, phytoestrogens and essential minerals and that it "makes a luxurious brew with sweet honey overtones."

Well, these honey overtones are very faint ones indeed and actually, for my money, honeybush is not all that far removed from its South African cousin, Rooibos.

To test this thesis, I brewed up a cup of each and tasted them side by side. Though the honeybush brews up just a few notches lighter in color, the taste wasn't all that much different. The only real difference I noticed was that Rooibos had kind of a musty overtone that the honeybush lacked. Which is not necessarily a bad thing and I actually liked both varieties equally.

Like Rooibos, honeybush is good as an iced tea, especially when blended with something a little more flavorful. But then again, it's not bad on its own either.


Contents: 20 bags per box
Paid: na

Friday, September 09, 2005

Product Review - Adagio ingenuiTEA

Adagio Teas

If you've been reading my ravings for a while, then you know I pretty much calls 'em as I sees 'em. If I don't like a tea or tea-related product I say so. Even if someone has sent me a tea or other product to try out, as Adagio was kind enough to do recently with some sample teas and a nifty gadget they've dubbed the ingenuiTEA.

To be quite honest, I was ready not to like the ingenuiTEA, even though it sounded like a keen enough gadget. The problem with some gadgets that are supposed to be convenient is that they turn out to be...well, kind of inconvenient. But not so with the ingenuiTEA. I'm happy to report that it's "slicker than shit," to borrow one of my grandfather's favorite phrases.

So just what is the ingenuiTEA? Well, it doesn't look like much, pretty much like a sixteen ounce plastic pitcher with a lid, though the design is rather aesthetically pleasing.

The way the ingenuiTEA works is like this. Load it with an appropriate amount of loose tea, add hot water and let the lid drop until it's done steeping. Now here's where it gets good, though watching the tea leaves floating freely and infusing the water with a pleasing color was pretty good for starters.

When the tea is ready, place the ingenuiTEA on your cup. A thin stream of brewed tea shoots out of the filter bottom and into the cup. This is a really, really cool thing to watch, by the way, but maybe it's just me.

Anyway, if you've made enough tea for one cup, you're done. If you've made enough for two, lift the ingenuiTEA from your cup. The flow instantly stops and you can repeat the "pouring" process again.

Pretty nifty and, to use another of my grandfather's phrases, "what'll they think of next?"

The ingenuiTEA is available at Adagio's Web site for $15 or in a gift set with four one-ounce sample tins of tea for $19.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Tea Review 19 - Guayaki Yerba Mate

Yerba Mate
Guayaki Yerba Mate

Though some of the peripheral details have faded, I still remember most of my first encounter with yerba mate quite vividly. My wife and I were at a craft show with "new age" tendencies. We passed a booth where a gregarious young fellow stuffed a tea bag into a bottle of water, shook it vigorously and offered it to us.

Well, free is free, so I took it, hoping that it didn't contain any of the fabled brown acid. After a few sips I decided that free was probably a pretty fair price for yerba mate. Suffice to say that I've acquired what, for most, will probably be an acquired taste. Many, for that matter, will probably never acquire it.

I've actually grown quite fond of yerba mate over the years, even though I'm still drinking it tea bag style. I'm told, by a very reliable source, that this is a pale imitation of "proper" yerba mate consumption using a gourd (mate), an ornamental straw (bombilla) and the mate itself, in its loose form. So I have yet to have that authentic experience, but I like yerba mate all the same.

As for a review of Guayaki's mate, that's a bit problematic, since I don't really have much to compare it to at the moment. I may have tried some other brands somewhere along the line, but I can't seem to recall it and, the fact is, if you're an ordinary Joe Schmoe shopping in an ordinary grocery store you're most likely to find Guayaki's version of the goods, if indeed, you find any mate.

So, as far as my review goes, here's what I always say about yerba mate. If you like drinking liquid dust, you're gonna love it. If not, well, maybe it will grow on you and maybe not.

Guayaki's mate is grown in Paraguay, one of several South American countries where the drink is wildly popular. It's 100% organic, it's distributed by a company out of San Luis Obispo, California and now it even comes in six flavored varieties. Why, there's even a Mate Rooibos. How's that for a blend of exotic "teas"?

Contents: 25 bags per box
I paid: na

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Teavigot? Teavigo?

If you're like me, you've probably never heard of a company called DSM Nutritional Products. But, as luck would have it, DSM has patented a process that allows them to concentrate one of the key components of green tea, a substance known as epigallocatechin gallate (say that three times fast), which is known more simply as EGCG. DSM is going to be marketing this stuff under the brand name Teavigot, or Teavigo - I'm a little confused on this point - for use in foods, beverages and supplements.

If this sort of thing gets you going and you'd like to read all about the many wondrous health benefits from using this stuff, be sure to read the full article (or press release?) here. And for more on the assorted and sundry health benefits of tea, refer to my humble little piece, posted a few weeks back.

I couldn't resist pulling one quote from the Teavigot/Teavigo article, the one that states, "In all markets the major reason for not using green tea products is its unpleasant taste." For criminy sakes, who are these people and what kind of green tea are they drinking? Unpleasant taste indeed.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Tea Review 18 - CS Country Peach Passion

Celestial Seasonings Country Peach Passion
Celestial Seasonings Teas

Country Peach Passion sounds like it should be a good old-fashioned dose of down home herbal tea goodness - or something like that. In reality, it falls victim to a problem I've mentioned before in connection with fruity herbal teas - Overly Tangy Syndrome.

"Natural peach and passionfruit flavor with other natural flavors" is seventh on the list of nine ingredients, followed only by peaches and citric acid. This is about par for the course with herbal teas, as are the first six ingredients - rosehips and hibiscus (surprise, surprise), orange peel, roasted chicory, chamomile and blackberry leaves.

Perhaps a more cultured palate could pick out each one of these individual flavors, but for me it was all just a big mishmash of stuff - and did I mention that it was too tart? And no, I didn't oversteep it, thanks very much.

Anyway, it's Celestial Seasonings, so it's all natural and recycled and environmentally friendly and made from free range herbs and not tested on cute little fuzzy bunnies and no baby seals were clubbed in the making of this tea and whatnot, so you can feel really good about yourself and the world while you're drinking it.

Kind of on the so-so side as a standalone tea, but not so bad in a blend with something else that will tend to cut the tanginess. Provisionally recommended.

Contents: 20 bags per box
I paid: $1.99

Monday, September 05, 2005

Japanese Tea Master To The U.N.

According to Japan Today, the Japanese Foreign Ministry has announced the appointment of Sen Genshitsu, an 82-year-old tea ceremony master, as goodwill ambassador to the United Nations. His role will be to raise awareness of Japanese culture through the tea ceremony and other interactions with member nations.

Nepal Ramps Up

Though it's been grown there for about a century now, Nepal is not generally known as a tea-producing region. Nepali growers hope to change that by banding together and building a brand identity for their product.

Look for the tea to be promoted as "Nepali Tea" and keep an eye open for mountaineering great Reinhold Messner, who's been brought on board to lend visibility to the cause.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Iceberg Water

Though I don't drink alcohol anymore, I've taken to regularly watching The Thirsty Traveler, which airs on the Fine Living Network. Each episode finds host Kevin Brauch traveling to a new locale to bring viewers the lowdown on a different type of alcoholic beverage.

An episode I saw not so long ago covered Iceberg Vodka. Now, there's more to this one than just a clever name, as the vodka is actually made from genuine iceberg water. Which got me to thinking that it might be interesting to brew up a fine cup of tea using the same.

As it turns out, Canada's Original Iceberg Water Corporation, in St. Johns, Newfoundland, the company that makes Iceberg Vodka, also offers the water in 500 ml and one liter sizes. According to their Web site, which features some very cooling graphics, they are currently out of iceberg water. No, this is not a global warming thing, but apparently a demand outstripping production thing and they hope to have the H2O back in stock by October.

So unless I go harvest some iceberg water on my own or happen to find a bottle of it elsewhere in the meantime, my experiment is going to have to wait.

If you're up around Newfoundland any time soon and you want to try some tea (or coffee) brewed with iceberg water, you might want to make a visit to Butler's By the Sea. The bed and breakfast claims to offer "coffee and tea made out of iceberg water (when in season)." Iceberg harvesting season, according to the Iceberg Water site, is May through July.

While we're on the subject of water and tea, this is as good a time as any to make mention of From Bud to Brew: Water's Role in the Growth of Tea, an excellent article by Monique Balas, as featured in the August issue of Fresh Cup Magazine. For whatever reason, I don't seem to be able to get a functional link directly to the article, so just go to the magazine's site and look around. It's there.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Tea Review 17 - Adagio Jasmine 12

Adagio Jasmine Suite 12
Adagio Teas

It would probably be uncouth of me to point out that Adagio's Jasmine 12 looks kind of like rabbit pellets and it might even elicit a visit from the gourmet tea police, so I'll refrain.

Jasmine 12 is one of three jasmine-flavored oolong teas currently in Adagio's inventory. I'm assuming that nine others have either fallen by the wayside or are yet to come, but I could be wrong.

Jasmine Suite 5 is made using Chun Hao grade tea, while 9 uses "the finest grade Yin Hao tea." At the top of this modest heap is Jasmine Suite 12, which uses a Dragon Pearl Phoenix oolong grown in the Fujian province of China. At five dollars for a 10-cup sample or $23 for a five-ounce package, this is some fairly serious stuff.

One of the best things about Jasmine 12 is the little show it puts on for you as it brews. The pearls, each of which contains two leaves and an unopened bud, are quite a lot of fun to watch as they slowly unfold in the hot water. Just be sure to give them plenty of room to unfold. I used an "in the cup" strainer the first time around, but the next time I go much better results putting the pearls and water in a covered Pyrex measuring cup.

As for the taste? Well, I'm not a huge fan of jasmine tea, but even I'll admit that Jasmine 12 is something pretty nifty. Now if they could just come up with a name that's a little more on the poetic side.

No More Wrinkled Chickens

I can't imagine why anyone would want to eat something with feathers. Even if the feathers had been removed prior to preparation and consumption. But then again, I'm a vegetarian. I'm also allergic to poultry, something I discovered in my pre-veggie days and furthermore, I don't like birds in any way, shape or form.

But people do eat chicken, turkey, sparrow and whatnot and we all like what we like and that's that. If you do eat chicken, you might be heartened to know that researchers at the University of Arkansas have found, and I quote, "that infusing extracts of grape seed and green tea into chicken before cooking or irradiation can slow down the lipid oxidation process, making the product more palatable."

So how about them apples?

Not enough to convince you that green tea is the greatest thing since sliced milk? Then how about this one? Dr. Nicholas Perricone, described in a recent press release as a "controversial dermatologist and pioneer of the face rejuvenating 'Perricone' diet," claims that green tea helps your complexion. And what better way to do so than with Arizona Green Tea With Pomegranate? I guess it's safe to assume that Arizona had something to do with generating that press release.

Anyway, this fine elixir is said to be beloved by such luminaries as Jennifer Lopez, Lindsay Lohan and Will Smith. To which I say, "by golly, if it's good enough for Lindsay Lohan, it's good enough for me."

So, go on. Get the hell outta here and go "cure your wrinkles by drinking green tea." And while you're at it, feed some to your chickens and keep their complexions glowing and wrinkle free.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Upton Tea Quarterly

You could do all your tea shopping at Upton Tea's Web site, but then again, you could also read War and Peace at a Web site, if you're so inclined. Ecommerce is nice, once you've finally made your choices, but for the actual selection process itself, nothing quite compares to sitting down with Upton's catalog.

The Fall edition hit my mailbox yesterday and it's packed full of an impressive range of accessories and tisanes (herbal "teas") and even features a quite informative article on tea history.

And there are teas. Oh, are there teas. Most are from China and India - Darjeeling and Assam alone are represented with more than fifty varieties. Also prominently featured are teas from Japan, Ceylon and Formosa and there are even a smattering of offerings from lesser tea growing regions like Africa, Nepal, the Himalayas, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Pardon me while I swoon.