Thursday, October 27, 2005

Scotch on the Rocks, With Dragonwell?

Imports of Scotch whisky to China are on the upswing, if we're to believe London's Times. And would you really be surprised to know that the Chinese like their whisky with green tea? Of course not. Read all about it here.

Tea Review 37 - Adagio Opus Pouchong

Opus Pouchong
Adagio Teas

When it comes to oolong tea my descriptive vocabulary - which is no great shakes in the first place - tends to break down. To paraphrase that age old cliché, I don't know about oolong, but I know what I like.

Opus Pouchong is a Formosa oolong, a reference to the island - now Taiwan, once Formosa - where it's grown. Oolong teas may run the gamut from lightly processed and resembling a green tea to heavily processed and much closer to a black tea. Pouchong refers to an oolong which falls into the former category.

Opus Pouchong has large green leaves that brew up to a light amber color in the cup and give off a nice delicate fragrance. As for the taste, well, here's where my vocabulary breaks down, but I can say that it's a very pleasant flavor, very smooth with almost none of the "bite" that tends to put me off of some oolongs.

Available, as always, in four sizes, from a $2 sample tin to a half pound size that goes for $28.


Contents: Sample tin
I paid: na

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Kit Kat Green Tea

Can't get enough green tea? How about a Kit Kat Green Tea? They're only available in Japan and they are a limited edition so you may be out of luck, but it doesn't hurt to try. While you're at it you can also try to get your hands on the Kit Kat Azuki Bean, Green Tea, and Cream, also available in Japan.

Here's an article about the popularity of Kit Kat bars in Japan and a Wikipedia entry about Kit Kats, including a list of some odd flavors that have appeared over the years.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

TeaGschwender - Book of Tea

Love those catalogs. The latest one I've had a chance to peruse comes from tea merchant TeaGschwender, who are based in Germany and have a U.S. office in Chicago.

Though it’s a catalog, the name Book of Tea is not totally off-base, since it's actually one of the more informative tea catalogs I've encountered. Each of the company's products - teas and accessories - are listed, along with descriptions and preparation instructions for each of the teas.

The catalog also serves as a very informative primer on the world of tea - literally - with brief, but informative, articles on each of the world's major tea growing regions.

To peruse TeaGschwender's goods online and to get a copy of the Book of Tea, go here.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Telling Fortunes By Tea-Leaves

Telling Fortunes By Tea-Leaves
By Cicely Kent

Hmmm. I'm never quite sure what to make of this sort of thing. You see, Tea Guy is perfectly willing to believe that there is more to existence than what we ordinary muttonheads are able to sense. But then again nobody ever went broke preying on the great multitude of suckers Barnum alluded to.

So what's up with reading tea leaves? Is it the real deal? Damned if I know, but Cicely Kent, author of Telling Fortunes By Tea-Leaves, seems pretty darned convinced that it's on the up and up. The book is apparently in the public domain now, by the way, so you can read it for free at Project Gutenberg and various other online archives.

The "meat" of Kent's book is informative, but actually rather short - weighing in at about eight thousands words or so. The rest is given over to various sections full of information on how to actually interpret symbols that appear during a reading.

I'd venture to say that anything you'd want to know about reading tea leaves
- and probably a good bit more - is covered here. Kent runs the gamut from very down to earth, nuts and bolts advice on technique all the way to rather fine and esoteric matters of interpretation.

The book was apparently written in 1922, but the information contained here doesn't strike me as something that would have dated much in the intervening decades.

Beware though, as the author notes, "Indian tea and the cheaper mixtures"
should be avoided since they contain "so much dust and twigs" that make it difficult to get a good reading. You've been warned.

Tea Review 36 - Battle of the Senchas

Upton Tea Imports

Sencha Premier
Adagio Teas

I was coming to the end of a few samples of sencha not long ago so I thought I might as well line them up for a side by side taste test.

Upton's entry is their Kabusencha variety. I think it's actually called Spring Harvest Kabusencha - the only Kabusencha listed at their Web site - but since I threw out the package I can't be sure. Anyway, it's one of a number of senchas they offer from countries of origin that include Japan, China and Vietnam. Adagio's Sencha Premier is the pricier of their sencha offerings - the other one is called Sencha Encore. Premier is a first flush from the Shizuoka region of Japan.

Both teas have a very strong and satisfying aroma before brewing and dark green leaves that are thin and flat. The Adagio brewed up to a nice golden color and was clear in the cup. The Upton was noticeably greener and just a bit cloudy.

As for taste, Adagio had more of a grassy flavor, while the Upton had just a hint of brininess or fishiness - not actually as bad as it sounds. Actually, seaweed might be a better point of reference. The Upton also tasted greener than the Adagio, if that makes any sense.

I'd recommend both and neither one any more than the other. They were surprisingly different - perhaps not like apples vs. oranges but more like different varieties of apple.

Sencha Premier is available in four sizes from a sampler ($5) to one pound ($62). Kabusencha comes in a 12 gram sampler ($5) and a 100 gram caddy ($28).

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Tea Review 35 - Four Faces of Rooibos

Redbush Chai Tea
Yogi Tea

Red Chai at Night
Mango Rooibos
Ginger Roibos
Tempest Tea

Feeling a little twitchy? Indulging in too much of the old Camellia sinensis? Maybe it's time to take a break and try out some caffeine free Rooibos, one of a few herbal beverages that can stand in - sort of - for real tea.

I've had a bunch of Rooibos come my way lately. I reviewed several a while back and recently I rounded up the rest and had a tasting session.

First, the chais - which is kind of a tricky thing actually. I keep giving chai another chance, but to be honest, I really don't like it much.

So with that caveat, on to the Rooibos chais. First up, Redbush Chai, from Yogi Tea. This one comes in a tea bag and uses all organic ingredients, including cardamom, cinnamon bark, ginger root, clove bud and stevia leaf.

At the same time I brewed a loose leaf Rooibos chai from Tempest Tea called Red Chai at Night (clever). This one brewed to a darker color than the Yogi and with a fuller taste, though not as spicy. I could smell a little more cinnamon and could taste some of the Rooibos that was overpowered in the Yogi variety. Not bad for a chai.

Also up from Tempest was Rooibos Mango. This one is good, but the mango aroma and flavors are very subtle, at least to my leaden palate. Tempest's Ginger Rooibos was considerably less subtle, with a nice ginger bite complementing the Rooibos rather nicely. It no match for the king of all ginger teas - Traditional Medicinals' Ginger Aid - but it's quite good.

The Wet Stuff

What's tea without water? Well, it's still tea but it sure doesn't go down as well.

My point being that a good cup of tea really only has two ingredients - unless you like to desecrate yours with milk, sugar and whatnot. That said, it's in your best interest to make sure that you're using good water to brew your tea.

Tea Guy swears by a Brita pitcher for all water drinking and tea making needs, but if you're one of those bottled water types here are some resources you might find useful.

The Bottled Water Store - Features a Water of the Month Club and waters from about sixty different manufacturers.

Mineral Waters of the World - A site maintained by a Swiss gent with no apparent connection to the bottled water industry. He says, "My aim is to create the largest database of bottled waters in the world and a valuable resource in finding your favourite water."

Fine Waters - This one is described as "a site designed to be the definitive voice for water connoisseurs and their accompanying lifestyle."

And a few industry sites:

International Bottled Water Association
Canadian Bottled Water Assocation
The Australasian Bottled Water Institute Inc.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Green Tea in the House of Spirits

Some time ago I posted a brief piece about Charbay Green Tea Vodka, which is manufactured by the Napa Valley-based Domaine Charbay Winery and Distillery. That got me to thinking that there surely must be other alcoholic beverages out there that are made using tea.

And what do you know? There are other tea-based spirits and beers on the market. If you head over to the BevMo Web site you can pick up some Bison Jasmine Green Hard Tea, which contains jasmine tea, ginseng, ginkgo biloba, and guarana. Also at BevMo - and probably some other specialty beverage sites - is Zen Green Tea liqueur, which gets a bonus point for it's aesthetically pleasing green bottle.

If you like a little tea with your beer, then try some iKi Bier, which is apparently a product of the Netherlands. And if you'd like the essence of the hard stuff, but still want to respect yourself in the morning, get thee to Culinary Teas and try out their Liquor Tea Sampler. This one consists of five samplers of black tea with liquor flavorings and is guaranteed not to cause your inner teetotaler any undue distress.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Tea Review 34 - Ghoom Darjeeling

Ghoom Darjeeling

Ghoom Darjeeling is a thing of wonder. Let me get that out of the way right at the outset. Not long after receiving my shipment, I brewed a cup to drink with breakfast. I couldn't resist taking a quick sip immediately after brewing it, even though it was still hot enough to incinerate my eyeballs. Based on that sip, I was ready to be disappointed.

After a few moments the Ghoom had settled down a bit and cooled off to where it was drinkable. I took another sip and at this point I did something I almost never do. I made an involuntary exclamation expressing my immense satisfaction. Yep, just squeaked right out of me.

Since then I've been hitting the Ghoom rather hard and each time I do I'm almost overcome by an impulse to click up my heels, grab an umbrella and caper around the room, bellowing show tunes at the top of my lungs. Which kind of worries me, because I'm not really a bellowing show tunes kind of guy. But I guess a really kick-ass Darjeeling will do that to you.

Varieties like this are a reminder of why we drink fine teas, friends. So go to the phones. Operators are standing by.

Mmmm...Diluted Sugar Water

If you've been tuned in here for a while then you know my opinions about the alleged health benefits of tea. In fact, you're probably tired of hearing me prattle on about it. But to summarize as briefly as I can - health benefits are fine and dandy, but I drink tea because I like tea.

Now, if you too have reason to suspect that the health benefits of tea were sometimes being...overstated, then you might find this report interesting. It's from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University and it says that the health benefits of certain formulations of tea may have been, well...overstated.

And you gotta love that comment about "diluted sugar water."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Power of Tea

It would hardly be overstating the issue to say that tea has had a considerable influence on the affairs of human beings. If you'd like to explore this issue in a little more depth here are some reading recommendations:

Did Tea and Beer Make Britain Great, is a brief, but interesting article by Alan Mcfarlane which examines the role these beverages supposedly played in bringing about the Industrial Revolution.

I mentioned Tom Standage's A History of the World in Six Glasses a while back, but it's a great book and deserves another plug. Standage has taken a book-length approach to examining the role of six beverages and their influence on the affairs of human beings. Of course one of the beverages is tea (also c*****, beer, wine, spirits and cola).

For another entertaining and offbeat history - one that has nothing to do with tea - you might also want to check out Standage's The Victorian Internet.

Tea Review 33 - Tempest White Snow & Apricot

Organic White Snow with Apricots
Tempest Tea

To make a good fruit tea that strikes just the right balance of fruit and tea is a tricky business, but when it's done right it's a thing of wonder.

Kind of like Tempest's White Snow with Apricots, which also gets a bonus point for the evocative name. A blend of an organic Chinese white tea with organic apricot pieces, this one hits the nail right on the head, if you'll forgive my descent into tepid cliché.

The fruit overtones are just about right, giving the blend a very smooth taste and a noticeable flavor of apricots that doesn't go too far and become overpowering. This is a very smooth and mellow tea with hardly a trace of bitterness.

Available in three sizes, from one ounce ($5.40) to one pound ($36). The sample I tried was in a pyramid bag that allows the tea leaves more room to brew, thus releasing more flavor. If I'm reading their Web site right, Tempest offers nine flavors of tea in this type of bag.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Best Places to Brew Sun Tea

Tea Guy doesn't bother much with sun tea, but if I were going to I'd be in a pretty good place for it (at least for now). If this table is to be believed then Tucson, my current home base, is seventh on the list of the nation's sunniest cities.

Sacramento, the last place I hung my hat, was ninth and Phoenix, before that, was second. Not bad and it sure beats the hell out of Cold Bay, Alaska, a place for sun tea fanciers and SAD sufferers to avoid at all costs.

Tea Review 32 - Adagio Pi Lo Chun

Pi Lo Chun Green Tea
Adagio Teas

I've had the good fortune to try a number of very nice green teas lately, several of which came from Adagio Teas. And while Pi Lo Chun didn't top Adagio's Dragonwell Requiem (that would be quite a feat), it did surpass every other green I've sampled recently.

Another tea from China's Fujian province, Pi Lo Chun (Green Snail Spring) takes its name from the shape of its leaves. It is only picked in late March and early April and is processed by hand. It has a great fragrance dry and brews up to a nice pale amber color with a delicate fragrance and flavor that had me rushing back until the tin was empty.

Available in four sizes, from a sampler ($4) to one pound ($27).


Contents: Sample tin
I paid: na

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Sample Tea Tins

A few days ago I held forth on the subject of sample size packaging and inflicted my opinion that Adagio's sample tins were a good thing. As nearly as I can tell Adagio does not sell just the tins, though there are worse things than having to buy their tea in order to get a tin.

However, in browsing Adagio's forums, I found a link to a site where you can order just the tins.

Mr. Smithers, Your Tea Kettle On Line One

Hands up. Who remembers the Internet park bench Microsoft dreamed up a few years back? Okay, put 'em down.

Hands up. Who remembers the Internet toilet - the iLoo - Microsoft dreamed up a few years back?

It may come as a surprise to find that Microsoft is not involved with a recent effort to devise a tea kettle that can be activated with a cell phone. Not to be confused, of course, with the I-Pot (which would have been a good name for the Internet toilet, by the way), a kettle with Internet capability that's used to help monitor elderly Japanese.

The gadget, the ReadyWhenUR, is a joint venture from tea makers PG Tips and cell phone company Orange. It's expected to go on sale in January.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Tea Review 31 - Ticolino Mint, Raspberry, Chamomile

Mint Medley
Red Raspberry,
Serengeti Tea Company

Say what you want about Thomas Sullivan and that little gimmick he came up with about a hundred years ago - the tea bag - but don't say that it didn't make tea drinking more convenient.

A century or so later Serengeti Tea Company is trying to go Sullivan one step better with their Ticolino tea infusers. These are small foil straws filled with tea that have tiny holes in one end to allow the hot water to pass through.

The company makes the infusers in three herbal flavors and three tea varieties and were kind enough to send a sample of each. I tried out the herbal flavors first, starting with Mint Medley.

Serengeti recommends brewing their tea for 90 seconds. I wasn't seeing much color at that point so I let it go for twice as long and then some. Even then the flavor was on the weak side, but since I like a mint tea that's strong enough to make my toes curl and my ears flutter that may just be a matter of preference.

Chamomile also came out a little bit weak side but, once again, that may just be me. Red Raspberry brewed up quite a bit stronger and produced a nice bright red color in the cup.

As far as convenience goes, Ticolino tea infusers rank right up there. They are certainly easier to work with and less messy than a tea bag. As far as taste is concerned, the three herbal flavors were a bit too polite for my likes.

Desert Teas

Yes, friends, that's desert teas, not to be confused with dessert teas.

Tea Guy is originally from back East, but I moved to the Southwest about seven years ago and immediately decided that almost everything about the desert is good.

Oddly enough, one of the things I've never gotten around to experimenting with during my time here are the native plants that can be used to make herbal and medicinal teas.

If you'd like to know more about those plants check out Tea Time in the Desert, an excellent article from the equally excellent Web site, DesertUSA. And be sure to heed that warning. Oh, and watch out for rattlesnakes too.

And hey, while you're at it, how about some tea flavored with prickly pear cactus fruits? Check it out here.

High Tea? Afternoon Tea?

Quick, what's the difference between high tea and afternoon tea? And no, high tea is not when you drink tea in an airplane.

That's okay. I didn't know either, at least not until I read Brenda Coulter's article explaining the difference between the two.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Tea Review 30 - Kombucha Wonder Drink Himalayan

Kombucha Wonder Drink

I'm growing very fond of this Kombucha Wonder Drink stuff. So far I've tried three of their five flavors and look forward to checking out Jasmine Niagara Grape and Rooibos Red Peach as soon as I can track them down.

KWD Himalayan is made with organic green tea, organic cane sugar and organic lemon flavor. That telltale sour taste of kombucha is not as pronounced in this blend, but I'm actually getting to like that aspect of the drink.

I wasn't quite as fond of Himalayan as I was of the other two flavors. If I were to rank them, I'd put Asian Pear Ginger at the top of the heap, followed by Orient Blend and then Himalayan.

Which is not to say that there's anything wrong with Himalayan or that I don't recommend it because I do. So take that.

Contents: 8.5 ounce bottle
I paid: na

Typhoo Tea Sold To Apeejay

Acquisitions, acquisitions, acquisitions. Big businesses sure like to toss companies around, don’t they?

As you may recall - it was only two days ago - India's Tata Tea announced that they were buying California tea maker Good Earth, as noted here. On the same day English paper the Guardian reported that another Indian firm, Apeejay International Tea, was buying British tea company Typhoo, the country's third largest.

For the full report from the Guardian, look here.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Tea Review 29 - Rooibos

Organic Rooibos
Rooibos Orange
Rooibos Provence

Rooibos, for those of you who may not be familiar with it, is an herbal beverage made from a plant - Aspalathus linearis - grown only in South Africa. It is brewed like tea, contains no caffeine and is commonly known as red bush, a reference to its color.

Most of the Rooibos I've tasted thus far has been in tea bag form. I recently had the good fortune to sample three loose varieties from tea merchant, who sell about a dozen types of loose Rooibos in "plain" and flavored varieties.

Organic Rooibos brews up to a very appealing dark reddish brown color and has a great flavor. While it doesn't really taste like black tea, I'd say it's about as close as you can get if you're looking for a caffeine free substitute.

Rooibos Orange is flavored with citrus peel and orange blossoms. It has a whopping strong aroma dry, but a rather delicate and pleasing taste.

There's no kitchen sink in Rooibos Provence, but that's about the only thing not present. The flavorings in this one are lavender, rose petals, dried black currants, dried blueberries, rosehip shells and the rather mysterious "natural flavors."

All three of these teas are quite good, but the last was probably my least favorite. One of the flavors didn't quite click with me, though I couldn't place what it was - perhaps the currants.

Anyway, for a nice iced tea you might try one part Organic Rooibos, one part Rooibos Orange and one part mint. I used Celestial Seasonings Organic Peppermint, which packs quite a kick, as the latter ingredient.


Sample Packaging Awards

Well, not really. Just a few thoughts on the packaging of tea samples.

I've already confessed my fondness for reasonably priced sample packets. Among the tea merchants who offer these are Upton, Adagio and Alltea.

Upton's samples come in a grey foil/plastic packet that's constructed so that it stands by itself. It's a little larger than a playing card.

Alltea uses a similar material, but in a longer, thinner shape and in a nice copper color. This one also stands up, but on it's side.

But for my money Adagio takes the cake with its mini sample size tea tins. They're resealable, reusable and all around wunnerful. Yes, they probably cut into Adagio's bottom line more deeply but they lend the proceedings a touch of class and I hereby declare them to be a very good thing.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Bad Monkey...Bad

A man, a monkey and the insidious influence of green tea. If you've never read Green Tea, a short story by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, a renowned Irish writer of supernatural tales, then maybe it's about time to rectify that matter.

Check it out at Project Gutenberg. It's paired with another Le Fanu story, Mr. Justice Harbottle, which is also worth your time. Now that you mention it, there are plenty of Le Fanu tales that are worth your time, but this is as good a place as any to start.

Tata Buying Good Earth

If you follow tea news, you might be aware of rumors that India's Tata Tea was looking to buy an American company. As it turns out, the rumors were not greatly exaggerated. The Washington Post, among others, reported today that Tata, the world's second-largest branded tea company, has announced plans to buy Good Earth.

Good Earth will keep its name and continue to operate in Santa Cruz, California. The Post article, with all the thrilling facts and figures, is here.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Half Baked Fake Tea

Want to create the illusion that you're one of those discerning tea drinker types, but just don't have the time or the inclination to brew up a cup of tea?

Well then, get thyself right over to Half Baked Food Novelties' Web site and check out their fine fake tea products, which include iced and hot tea items and even a pitcher of iced tea.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Tea Review 28 - Adagio White Assam

White Assam
Adagio Teas

White Assam. Who knew? Certainly not me.

I should preface these remarks on White Assam by saying that there are few things I like better than a good, robust black Assam. It's the sort of thing that makes me want to thump my chest, pinch the senoritas and shoot holes in the ceiling.

But White Assam doesn't go there, as you might have guessed. What you get for your 180 degrees and seven minutes steeping of these long, thin leaves - mostly grayish, with a smattering of white - is something quite different.

The last time I brewed White Assam half of the leaves hung suspended in the water and half sunk, which created a nice effect that reminded me of stalactites and stalagmites in a cavern. The leaves produce a light reddish-brown brew with a delicate taste and perhaps just the faintest overtones of fruit and malt. Overall, I though the taste was closer to a nice Darjeeling black, but what do I know?

Available, as most Adagio teas are, in four sizes. In this case, a sample size ($4) all the way up to a half pound ($38). Not for bargain hunters, but well worth it.


Contents: Sample tin
I paid: na

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Tea Review 27 - Kombucha Orient Blend

Orient Blend
Kombucha Wonder Drink

My first experience with Kombucha Wonder Drink was with their Asian Pear Ginger variety, which I liked quite a bit. Now that I've had a chance to sample another of their blends I realize that kombucha, in it's "purer" form is something of an acquired taste.

I gather that Kombucha Wonder Drink's Orient Blend is their version of "plain" kombucha. It consists of kombucha brewed with oolong tea, organic cane sugar and nothing else. When I tried the Asian Pear Ginger, I wondered if perhaps the tartness might come from the asian pear component, but now I know that's not the case.

Orient Blend is quite a tart one, now that you mention it, with a flavor best compared to cider made from really overripe apples. I didn't really detect much cane sugar flavor, so I can only imagine what "straight" kombucha must taste like.

But once again, after the initial shock, I began to adjust, though a little more slowly than the last time around. I can see myself getting used to Orient Blend, but for now I'll probably stick with the flavored varieties of KWD.

Contents: 8.5 ounce bottle
I paid: $1.99

Tough Times For Tea Tasters

For those of us who love tea, working as a tea taster seems like it would be the ultimate dream job. Of course, like anything else, I'm sure the reality probably falls rather short of the fantasy, but who knows?

Anyway, if we're to believe the Calcutta Telegraph, there are less and less people all the time who aspire to such a position. Apparently the Indian tea industry is having a tough time drumming new tasters into the ranks. Read all about it right here.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Pure Inventions Green Tea

I've said it before and I'll probably say it many more times. I don't particularly give a rat's ass about the assorted and sundry health benefits of tea, some of which I elaborated upon in this previous posting. While it's a nice fringe benefit, I'd still be an avid tea drinker even if there were no benefits and, as a matter of fact, since I have a bit of a sensitivity to caffeine I generally feel rather shabby after drinking tea. Don't weep too copiously for me, though. I can take it.

I'm working my way around to a point here and that is that I drink tea, like so many people, because I like tea and I like the entire experience of tea drinking. The notion of getting my tea in a pill or a eye dropper doesn't get me excited.

For those of you who might be interested in getting your tea from an eye dropper, there's Pure Invention's line of flavored tea extracts - six in all. I'll go so far as to say that this sort of thing isn't my cup of tea, but perhaps it would be yours. So here you go.

Tea Review 26 - Steaz Lemon Dew

Steaz Lemon Dew Green Tea Soda
The Healthy Beverage Company

Steaz makes eight different flavors of green tea soda. I've sampled five so far - Orange, Root Beer, Key Lime, Cola and now Lemon Dew. The other three flavors are Ginger Ale, Grape and Raspberry. Of the Steaz products I've tried up to this point I liked Key Lime the best. Lemon Dew isn't bad, but I didn't like it enough to give it the top ranking Steaz-wise.

Lemon Dew has essentially the same mix of ingredients as other Steaz sodas - sparkling filtered water, organic evaporated cane juice and organic Ceylon tea. This time around it's "natural lemon flavors" that give this variety it's unique taste. The problem is, if you ask me, that there isn't nearly enough of it. The drink has a pleasant enough taste, but it's not one I'd walk a mile for. Of course, I like lemons and have a marked preference for stronger flavors when it comes to this sort of thing. Lemon Dew is more like a weak lemonade.

With all that said, Lemon Dew is not really bad - just a little light on that key ingredient. But I think I am belaboring the point.

Contents: 12 ounce bottle
I Paid: $1.49

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Ipsei? Pepsi? Rooibos? Huh?

From the Who Really Cares desk. Coca-Cola is apparently poised to launch a non-carbonated beverage called Ipsei in the United Kingdom. I mention it here because it contains rooibos (redbush) extracts, among other things. claims that Ipsei is derived from the Latin word for self, but that other big soda pop maker thinks there's more than a passing resemblance to the name Pepsi and they're not so happy about it. Ah, the trials and tribulations of the giant sugar water manufacturers.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Pumpkin Tempest In A Teapot

(Updated 09/19/06) - The Asia Dragon link below seems to be down for the count. Here's one for Dragonwater Tea's rooibos pumpkin tea.

Let's see. If it's autumn, then it must be time for pumpkin tea. Texas tea makers Tempest Tea (pardon my gross alliteration) is offering - for a limited time - Pumpkin Bubble Tea and Pumpkin Tea Latte. The catch, as far as I can tell, is that you have to be in Texas to take advantage of the offer - Dallas, to be exact.

But fret not, there are other pumpkin teas out there, believe it or not. Adagio offers one and you can also give this one - from Asia Dragon - a shot.

I have to confess that I'm a little behind the curve on bubble tea, having not had a chance to try any yet. But I'm working on it. Tempest's pumpkin variety is made with Ceylon tea and flavored with pumpkin (duh), nutmeg, vanilla and more, essentially the same mix as their Pumpkin Tea Latte.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go wait for the Great Pumpkin.


You learn something new every day, or so the old saying would have us believe. What I learned today (well, a few days ago) is that there's a type of soup made with green tea.

It's called Ochazuke and it's popular in - you guessed it - Japan. Apparently the two standard ingredients in Ochazuke are green tea and rice, which are livened up with assorted and sundry others, depending on the preferences of the chef.

For a little more info on Ochazuke, check out this brief piece over at While you're there, be sure to take a look around. The page is a production of the Japan-based World Green Tea Association and they've got plenty of information there on green tea. Maybe you'll learn something new today.

Friday, October 07, 2005

High Tea on the High Seas

If you fly coach on the average commercial airline, as I did recently, you'll probably have to make do with mass market trash tea, for lack of a better term. If that doesn't work for you then you might want to consider traveling on Seabourn Cruise Lines, who recently introduced a menu of more than a dozen rare estate teas, as well as a selection of teas and tisanes - the latter being the "proper" term for what most of us refer to as herbal teas.

The program has been christened Seabourn to a Tea and the teas presented will be loose leaf. Pardon me while I swoon. Among the varieties you'll encounter if you decide you're up for some upscale cruising are Bleu Peacock, a blend of premium Chinese and Formosa oolongs; Jasmine Downy Pearls; Himalaya Peak Darjeeling Organic and such herbal blends as Ginger Twist and Verbena Mint Organic.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Nifty Gadget Post

I ran across two products recently that sort of work along the same lines. I haven't had the opportunity to try either one yet.

The Health Tea Wand is made by Wisdom Wands, Inc. and is allegedly "the most remarkable tea accessory ever invented." That's laying it on a bit thick, but like I say I haven't had a chance to try it yet. Maybe it really is.

Anyway, if you're familiar with the bombilla, an ornamental straw with filter that's used to drink loose yerba mate, then you've got an idea what the Health Tea Wand is all about. It's a clear glass straw with fine holes at one end. Brew your loose tea in a glass, stick the straw - err, wand - in and drink. The only issue that's not clear to me is how you keep from oversteeping your tea or keeping the leaves from blocking the filter portion.

The other product is the Ticolino Tea Infuser, from Serengeti Tea Company. This one looks a little bit like a straw, but is actually a single serving packet of tea that you unwrap, pop in your glass, steep and remove. Looks like an okay product too. The only potential issue with this one is that it doesn't seem like the leaves have much room to breathe and get the maximum contact with the water.

Anyway, the TTI is available in three tea and three herbal varieties, though with a minimum order of $40 I'm thinking that it's geared more toward the retail and food service trade.

Tea Review 25 - Kombucha Asian Pear Ginger

Asian Pear Ginger
Kombucha Wonder Drink

After writing about Kombucha Wonder Drink the other day, I decided I'd like to give it a try. One trip to my local Wild Oats store later and I was in possession of a bottle of the Asian Pear Ginger variety.

The full ingredients list is kombucha from organic oolong tea, organic cane sugar, natural pear flavoring and organic raw ginger juice. Though it purports to be "subtly carbonated" it pours up with a color and head on it that looks just like beer.

The flavor was quite tart, almost sour - kind of like grapefruit juice mixed with apple cider - but after the initial shock it grew on me rather quickly.

Though it's a little on the pricey side, I could see myself getting into a regular KWD routine. I think I'll make my way back to Wild Oats and try out the other flavors, which include Himalayan Blend, Orient Blend and two new additions - Jasmine Niagara Grape and Rooibos Red Peach.


Contents: 8.5 ounce bottle
I paid: $1.99

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Tea and Coffee Towers

If you're interested in offbeat tea and coffee ware and you're in the Phoenix area any time soon, you might want to make your way to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art to check out Tea and Coffee Towers. The exhibit, which features tea and coffee sets by "twenty of the world’s most innovative architects," runs until the end of the year. More info here.

Tea Review 24 - Adagio Golden Needle

Golden Needle
Adagio Teas

While I'm by no means immune to the charms of a good oolong or white tea and I'm even fonder of quality green tea, nowadays I find black the most appealing. Unfortunate, perhaps, given the fact that I have a sensitivity to caffeine, of which black tea contains the most, but so it goes.

Adagio's Golden Needle is one of those that keep me coming back to black tea. Named for the thin leaves and golden tips that give it added visual flair, it is grown in China's Fujian province and hand processed.

Golden Needle has a great aroma dry and brews up with a very pleasing reddish brown color. I steeped it for the recommended five minutes with boiling water and came up with a brew with a very smooth and mellow taste, flavorful and with just a hint of malt.

Golden Needle is available in four sizes, from a three dollar sample size to a one-pounder that sells for $34.


Contents: Sample tin
I paid: na

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Kombucha Wonder Drink

The Portland Tribune recently reported on the exploits of Steve Lee, who was involved with the founding of Stash Tea and later Tazo Tea. Lee's current project is Kombucha Wonder Drink.

KWD's Web site describes it as "a refreshing organic sparkling fermented tea". For those of you who are not familiar with kombucha, there is also an FAQ at the Web site that should help bring you up to speed.

I actually had an experience with kombucha some years back, courtesy of a coworker who was quite fond of the stuff. He convinced me to take a crack at making it, a process that basically consists of using a bit of starter culture to ferment and make your own.

Memory's a tricky thing and I have to confess that I don't recall the result of this adventure. Something tells me that the brew-in-progress got tossed after while because my better half felt that it was thoroughly nasty. Or maybe it was me who felt it was thoroughly nasty. But to tell you the truth, I don't recall. I guess I'll have to give it another try sometime.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Tea In Strange Places - US & UK

When you think of great tea-growing regions, the United States doesn't immediately spring to mind. Nor does England, in spite of their legendary fondness for the drink. But tea growers have turned up in both countries lately and, by all accounts, are doing rather well.

Tea has actually been grown in the United States - primarily in South Carolina - since 1848. Charleston Tea Plantation, growers of tea marketed under the American Classic Tea brand and for a long time one of the nation's only such concerns, has been operating in South Carolina since 1987. For a good summary of tea history in this region, see Martha Bowes' article, Brewing Up American Pride: Charleston Tea, over at Tea Muse.

Now Hawaii - a state better known for its premium grade Kona coffee - is taking a crack at tea production, according to a recent article from MSNBC. The effort, set in motion by the United States Agriculture Department and the University of Hawaii, has been going on for about five years and the crop currently occupies a modest eight acres. For more information, check out the Web presence for the Hawaii Tea Society.

Over in England, according to another MSNBC article, tea is under cultivation, for the first time, at the Tregothnan estate, in the southwest part of the country. Things got underway there in 1999 and the premium tea is finally hitting the market.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Tea Review 23 - Republic of Tea Pink Grapefruit

Pink Grapefruit Green Tea
The Republic of Tea

The field of flavored green teas is looking a little crowded these days, but Republic's Pink Grapefruit entry sounded promising all the same. It's part of the company's Sip For the Cure line, which also includes Pink Lemonade, Pink Rose and Pink Lady Apple. A portion of the proceeds from each sale go to support breast cancer.

The ingredients list for Pink Grapefruit includes Premium China green tea, pink peony petals and natural pink grapefruit flavoring and it's all packed into a nifty round tea bag. When I opened the single serving sample pack I was assaulted by a strong grapefruit aroma. Not a bad thing, mind you. In fact, I kept the empty packet around for a little while just to enjoy that fragrance.

Unfortunately, the pink grapefruit flavor and aroma didn't carry over to the tea quite so well. After brewing, I caught a faint whiff of it and then for the first few sips there was an ever so subtle grapefruit overtone, but this seemed to dwindle.

But this is not such a bad tea, all in all, as the green tea component is good enough to make up for the relatively weak grapefruit taste.

Contents: Single serving sample packet
I paid: free

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Mudob? Bodum?

Bodum USA

Some time back, when I was still gainfully employed, I went together with that rarest of beings, a tea-drinking coworker, to buy a set of tea glasses. I was a bit disappointed to find that they were these little frail things, but over time I grew to like them and was even distressed when one took a flying leap from a kitchen cabinet and did itself in.

Until recently - yesterday, actually - I though the cups were made by a company named Mudob. It was only when I went to the Bodum Web site and saw the glasses (Sumatra) listed that I realized that I'd been reading from the wrong side of the glass.

Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed this gripping anecdote as much as I've enjoyed relating it. The point of all this is that you should check out Bodum's Web site. They have some great stuff there for tea drinkers - cups, pots and the like. There's also a bunch of coffee gear too, but whoop dee doo. Coffee, schmoffee.

A Catalog Cometh - Republic of Tea

The Republic of Tea

It's always a happy day when a new tea catalog arrives in the mail. The latest to grace my mailbox is from The Republic of Tea. You may know them from their distinctively designed tea tins, which seem to turn up mostly in high-toned groceries and specialty shops.

Republic's latest catalog is their 75th and the first one I've seen. According to the cover, it retails for a dollar. That seems odd for a catalog, but what do I know?

If you're looking for a wide variety of single estate teas and that sort of thing, there are probably better places to look than here. While Republic offers a nice selection of black, green, oolong and white teas, they seem to lean more toward flavored teas and infusions, many of which are offbeat and rather intriguing.

Some of the more notable offerings include the gourmet Imperial Republic line, the Red Tea (rooibos) line, a selection of fair trade certified teas, a nice assortment of white teas and an organic line.

Republic also seems to be branching out rather extensively into bottled ready to drink teas. I'm not much of a fan of this sort of thing and these seem a bit pricey, but hey, everyone likes what they like.

Also on hand are a wide assortment of kettles, pots, accessories and related merchandise, including such oddities as stir-fry tea tree oil and a really nifty iced tea pitcher. And while I don't often get excited over tea ware, there are some quite striking clear glass cups and pots by Bodum and a set of modernist stainless steel tea ware that caught my eye.