Monday, October 30, 2006

The Mysterious Origins of Bubble Tea

One thing you can't deny about bubble tea is it's ever increasing popularity. Something that's not clear - apparently - is exactly how, when and with whom it originated.

Tu Tsung-ho, owner of Taiwan's Hanlin Tea Room, claims to be the originator of bubble tea, but a District Court ruling there says that's not the case. Liu Han-chieh, owner of Chun Shui Tang Cultural Tea House, in Taiwan, is also laying claim to being the originator of bubble tea - claiming to have come up with the concept as early as 1984.

For more on the whole thrilling saga, look here.

For an overview on bubble tea, read what Wikipedia has to offer.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Green Tea, Koots & HIV

We last wrote about Koots Green Tea in May, around the time they were opening their first green tea cafe in the Seattle area.

Apparently the chain still has only that one location (and 10 in Japan) but are planning to expand. It probably won't hurt that founder Kouta Matsuda was profiled in the New York Times yesterday, in an article that positions him as the man who took on Starbucks, but questions whether Americans are ready to give up their coffee for tea.

Read the full NYT article here.

If you follow the assorted and sundry health claims made for green tea, you might have trouble keeping up. The latest claim is elaborated in an article in the Houston Chronicle. Seems that green tea, or at least epigallocatechin gallate, a component in green tea, "holds some promise in fighting HIV."

Read all about it here.

Image: Koots Green Tea

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Tea Review 80 - Rishi Rooibos (x2)

Jamaica Red Bush
Blueberry Rooibos
Rishi Tea

I've never been much of a fan of flavored tea. That's tea, in the strictest sense of the word, as in the beverage made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. But when it comes to rooibos and its African cousin, honey bush, it's a different story. While I can drink either one plain, in my opinion, they both benefit from the judicious addition of flavorings.

Which Rishi Tea does quite nicely, at least with the two flavors under consideration here. What caught my attention with both of these blends is how strong and fresh the flavoring is. In each case, when I opened the package, I was nearly bowled over by the aroma - and I mean that in a good way.

Jamaica Red Bush was a little less to my liking than the blueberry, but that's a matter of personal taste. Its a blend of organic ingredients, including rooibos, hibiscus, honey bush, lemongrass, schizandra berries (a new one on me), rosehips, licorice root, orange peel, natural passion fruit flavor, natural essential oils of orange, tangerine and clove, and natural mango flavor (sheesh). The overall aroma and taste of this one tends toward citrus and it's very nice.

But it's the Blueberry Rooibos that made me sit up and take notice. These Rishi guys are on to something with this one. It's a blend of rooibos, blueberries, schizandra berries, hibiscus, natural blueberry and strawberry flavors. The interesting touch here is that the blueberries are real or, as the packaging puts it - "real wild blueberries."

As a result, the aroma is so strong that you could actually use it as potpourri if you didn't care to drink it. Or you could do both. I made some into a batch of iced tea and the smell permeated the entire apartment. Oh, and it tastes good too.

Recommended on both counts, with a very high recommendation for the Blueberry Rooibos.

Image: Rishi Tea

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Good Earth's New Organic Teas

Good Earth Teas announced recently that they're adding a line of 12 organic teas. Look for them to hit store shelves some time around January.

According to Good Earth, growth of organic teas is on the upswing, with a 30 percent increase over a one year period ending in mid-summer 2005.

Here's the list of Good Earth's new teas:

• Organic Apricot Ginger Black Tea
• Organic Cool Mint Herbal Tea (Caffeine Free)
• Organic Good Night Herbal Tea (Caffeine Free)
• Organic Green Tea
• Organic Decaffeinated Green Tea
• Organic Jasmine Blossom Green Tea
• Organic Original Sweet & Spicy Tea
• Organic Original Sweet Spicy Herbal Tea (Caffeine Free)
• Organic Red Tea (Caffeine Free)
• Organic Seven Spice Chai Tea
• Organic Decaffeinated Seven Spice Chai Tea
• Organic White Tea

Image: Good Earth Teas

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tea Review 79 - Rishi Snow Buds White

Snow Buds (Xue Ya), Organic White Tea
Rishi Tea

I've sampled assorted and sundry white teas before. I remember liking most of them, but nothing really stood up head and shoulders above the pack. But just recently I found myself really impressed with Snow Buds, from Rishi Tea.

This is an excellent white tea, or at least so say I, but I think part of the fact that I liked it so much had to do with my tea drinking habits lately. Which has pretty much consisted of a whole lot of strong, heavy black teas - Yunnans and Assams mostly.

To suddenly make a changeover to a delicate white tea was a nice switch and served to remind me that black is not the be all and end all of tea.

Rishi describes Snow Buds as "a rare white tea that is hand harvested in very limited quantities for Rishi on the high mountain peaks of northern Fujian, China."

As for the flavor, there's no point in me reinventing the wheel, when Rishi has already offered up a good description, "its clear infusion offers a fresh green note with a complex savory flavor and aroma that can be likened to toasted grains and baked sweet potato."

I don't know that I'd have been clever enough to isolate the two latter components of the flavor, but I also won't argue with that description.

If you're looking for a nice, light white tea, whether as an antidote to too much black or just because, you could do a lot worse than Snow Buds.

Highly recommended.

Image: Rishi Tea

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Tea Review 78 - American Classic Tea

Our last tea review covered Tregothnan's teas, which are made from the only tea plants grown in England for commercial use. With that in mind it seemed logical that the next review should be of American Classic Tea, which is the currently the only tea being grown for commercial use in the United States.

It all takes place in South Carolina, at Bigelow Tea's Charleston Tea Plantation. The Plantation's Web site is located here. There have been a flurry of articles in various newspapers about the Plantation over the last few months. Here's a recent one by the Associated Press. Here's a good article, from TeaMuse, about tea production in the United States. It's kind of a limited topic and the article is about five years old, but it's still worth a look.

American Classic Tea, as far as I can tell, is only available in tea bag form. It's a black tea and my understanding is, that because there's not a whopping amount of tea produced at the Plantation, it's blended with other black teas. While it would be interesting to taste the Plantation's tea on it's own, in loose tea form, apparently that's not possible right now.

As for the tea itself, well, I have to say that I wasn't exactly bowled over by the taste. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it was bad, but I found it to be a little bit on the harsh side. Of course, I typically drink everything straight up - no additives. If you're keen on milk, sugar, lemon and whatnot, you might find American Classic to be much more agreeable.

You can order American Classic Tea directly from Bigelow, but you'll have to buy a minimum of six boxes (144 bags total). I haven't done any research into where to buy it in smaller quantities, but I'm sure Bigelow could answer that one, if you'd like to know.

Image: Bigelow Tea

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Tea Review 77 - Tregothnan Tea

English Estate Classic Tea
English Estate Afternoon Tea
English Estate Green Tea
English Estate Earl Grey Tea
Tregothnan Tea

Tea and Britain. They go together like peanut and butter, like cup and cake, like sand and wich. Well, you get the point, however awkwardly made.

Of course, all of the millions (billions? trillions? gazillions?) of gallons of tea the British have guzzled over the last few centuries have been imported. Until recently there was no other option.

Enter Tregothnan Tea, the first company to offer tea that's actually grown in Britain. It all takes place at Tregothnan, an estate in Cornwall, in western England, that's been around since 1335.

The good people at Tregothnan were kind enough to send samples of each of their four teas. They are all blends of the tea grown at Tregothnan with assorted and sundry other varieties. They also offer a limited-edition, single-estate variety that is 100% Tregothnan. Unfortunately, it's so limited that it's currently not available.

I wasn't sure what the expect from these teas, but for the most part I was pleasantly surprised. Here are a few brief notes on each. Though they're available in tea bags, in each case I sampled them in loose form.

English Estate Classic Tea
Tregothnan's Classic Tea is a robust black that's similar to a breakfast tea. Which is okay by me. It mixes the Estate's tea with black varieties from China and Assam. A nice blend, with a good flavor and very little bitterness. Takes milk and sugar well, as they say in the tea catalogs, though that sort of thing is not my...cup of tea.

English Estate Afternoon Tea
Though I tend to gravitate more toward the stout Assam varieties than the delicate Darjeelings, I'd have to say that this blend was probably my favorite of the four. As I've already suggested, it takes Tregothnan's homegrown and mixes it with Darjeeling. Though I could taste a hint of the latter, overall it's an interesting mix that I can't quite compare to anything else.

English Estate Green Tea
This one is blended with what's simply described as "specially selected green tea." I'm going to assume that it was selected from China. I could swear that I tasted just the faintest hint of the gunpowder variety in there. This one's not really the bright shade of green you might expect if you're accustomed to Japanese teas, but more of a yellowish-golden color.

English Estate Earl Grey Tea
I've never been able to make my piece with bergamot - the "active" ingredient in Earl Grey tea. Though I have tried. So I won't offer much in the way of comment on this one, except to say that the flavoring is rather low-key. If I've got my story straight, the bergamot, as well as the tea, is grown at the estate.

Image: Tregothnan Tea

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Enviga - Coke's Green Tea "Calorie Burner"

When we first mentioned Enviga, Coke/Nestea's new green tea drink, it was still buzzing along under the radar. Since then the drink has begun to get some press and now has its own Web site.

It's a Flash-heavy site and for some reason I haven't had much luck getting to it. One of the few times I did, I discovered that it features the slogan - "be positive. drink negative." This refers to the notion that Enviga not only has no calories, but actually taketh them away. Or so saith its makers. If that notion sounds as flaky to you as it does to me, we're not alone.

Over at Gizmodo, they don't mince words when it comes to the claims put forth for the product. Unless I'm misinterpreting the phrase "snake oil scam."

A recent Reuters report comes to similar conclusions, though it does it in a more mannered, journalistic style.

Even the gang over at BevNET, a beverage trade magazine and Web site, seem a bit dubious about the whole affair. You can read their thoughts and check out reviews of each of the three flavors here.

On the plus side, I will say that the can designs are not so bad, especially for the "plain" green tea flavor.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Black Gold & Red Espresso

No, we're not going over to the dark side here at TGS. But there's a new movie that has to do with the other hot drink (you know the one) and that seemed worthy of a mention.

It's called Black Gold and it takes a look at how your cup of coffee makes its way to your breakfast table or your local Starbucks counter or whatever the case may be.

The Sundance Film Festival's concise take on the movie, which is posted at the Black Gold site, reads thusly:

"Black Gold is a moving and eye-opening look into the 80-billion-dollar global coffee industry, where the spoils of overpriced lattes and cappuccinos are sparsely shared with the farmers who make it all possible."

Speaking of coffee, how does a tea espresso grab you? Huh? What?

In the strictest sense of the word, red espresso isn't a tea drink, given the fact that it's made with Rooibos, the South African "herbal" tea also known as redbush. But let's not split hairs.

I guess it remains to be seen whether there's a market for this sort of thing, although the company's Web site indicates that the product is already available at some South African cafes.

Image: Red Espresso

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Tea Review 76 - Inko's White Tea Energy

Inko's White Tea Energy
Inko's White Tea

Until now my experiences with energy drinks have been rather limited and totally unsatisfactory. In fact, the full extent of my experience has been about two sips each of a couple of the big name ones - which shall remain nameless and which really sucked, if I may be blunt. But maybe taste is not a key factor when it comes to selecting these products.

If you're looking for an energy drink that doesn't taste like cough syrup, you could start with Inko's White Tea Energy. Inko's also makes a quite fine line of bottled white teas, with nine flavors in all, most of which we've reviewed here at TGS.

Inko's White Tea Energy comes in an attractive, blue 15.5 ounce can and contains 92.4 milligrams of caffeine, which Inko's claims is "jitter-free." Since I'm fairly sensitive to caffeine, I decided not to test their claim by downing a whole can of the stuff. But I did taste it and found the taste to be quite nice, kind of like a lightly sweetened lemonade.

While I didn't really pick up much of a white tea flavor, it's nice all the same and it sure beats those carbonated Robitussin knockoffs.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

China Top Tea Grower & More

India's Business Standard reported Friday that China is now the world's top tea-producing country, a distinction that was formerly held by India. The International Tea Committee says India produced 927 million kilograms of tea in 2005. China edged them out by just 7 million kilograms, producing a total of 934 million kilograms last year. Read the full report here.

I didn't know there was a need for a bubble tea subsitute, but apparently there is. The AP reports that a group University of Idaho food science students won a prize - and $10,000 - for devising such a substance using alginate, which is made from seaweed.

Here's a link to the AP's brief report. For more detailed information, check this page from Danisco, who sponsored the contest.

If you're looking for Tea Smoothies, Jamba Juice has got 'em. The chain recently announced that they will offer the drink in three flavors - Tahiti Green Tea, Razz 'n Red Tea, and Matcha Green Tea Blast.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Tea Smith, Diversitea & More

If you're in Nebraska and you're itching for a cup of tea, be sure to check out the Tea Smith. If Nebraska's not on the itinerary, then check out their newly redesigned Web site.

This one might be the ultimate specialty tea. It's called Diversitea and it's designed to help divers reduce fatigue caused by multiple dives. Find out more here and in this article about the company here.

Garden of Life recently announced the launch of Living Foods Organic Teas. These are single-serve tea concentrates in liquid packets that you can mix with bottled or hot water. They are "from the pristine Wuyi Mountains of China," and come in traditional green tea, lemon-flavored green tea, and coffee-flavored oolong tea. More here.

If you're looking for more information on the Malaysian tea scene, you could start with this article from the Scotsman. It's a profile of Malaysia's Boh tea, whose Web site is located here.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tea Review 75 - Voyant Chai Cream

Voyant Chai Cream Liqueur

If you like the taste of chai tea but you find yourself longing for something with a little more muscle, Voyant Chai Cream Liqueur might be just what the doctor ordered.

Voyant, which bills itself as "the original chai cream liqueur," is a mix of "Aged Virgin Island Rum, Fresh Dutch Cream, Black Tea from India, Premium Spirits from Holland and a Distinctive Blend of Spices."

Since I first mentioned this product a while back, I've had a chance to sample it. I should say that I'm not much of a tippler these days and I've always been impervious to the charms of chai. With that in mind, I've got to admit that I found Voyant Chai Cream surprisingly tasty.

I didn't catch too much of the tea flavor, but that's not surprising, given the nature of the other ingredients. The creaminess was appealing and the chai component didn't overpower the other elements, which was a big plus for me.

Voyant Chai Cream also gets points for the eye-catching design of its bottle. I'm not much for knick-knacks, but I was tempted to keep one on hand just for decoration.

More about Voyant Chai Cream at their Web site. For cocktail and food recipes that use the product, visit the Voyant Creations section.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Japanese Tea Drinkers Break Record

I've given up trying to figure out why people do the goofy things they do. "Why ask why," as the ad slogan goes.

But when it comes to gathering together to do goofy things, I guess you could do a lot worse than hooking up with 14,717 of your closest pals to drink green tea.

That's what happened yesterday in Nagoya, Japan, where they set a new record for simultaneous tea-drinking. The line of tea-drinkers, who faced off against each other in pairs, stretched for nearly a mile.

If ever there was an article that could have been enhanced by a photo it's this one, but alas, no such luck.

While we're on the topic of records and tea and whatnot, I'll refer you to my earlier pieces on the World's Largest Teapot and the World's Largest Tea Bag.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Starbucks, Black Tea & Weird Eats

Not long after Reuters reported that Starbucks is being "sued for squashing competitors," comes the news that the coffee (and a little bit of tea) giant's long-term goal is 40,000 stores. Starbucks currently has 12,000 stores. The fact that I can't understand why Starbucks needs so many stores probably renders me unfit for the high-falutin' world of big business.

This news appeared in numerous media outlets. Read what the International Herald Tribune had to say here.

If you feel that green tea's been getting all the press, at the expense of black and others, you'll be happy to read this report from Web MD and CBS News. If it's to be believed, black tea has considerable health benefits too.

I don't see the connection between black tea and stress reduction. Whenever I drink it - which is often - I tend to feel rather keyed up. But what do I know?

Last, but not least, I'd like to mention a new project I'm rolling out. It's called Weird Eats and it's a Web site created to take a look at...well - weird eats. It's only been around for a week or so, but there's plenty more to come. Have a look here and tell all your friends.

Image: Starbucks

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Natural Products Expo East & Mood-Teas

One of my tea industry contacts made it possible for me to spend some time at Natural Products Expo East, which is currently underway in Baltimore (thanks, Alex). I headed out yesterday to have a look around, but didn't cover nearly as much ground as I had hoped. It's a big show and my time was somewhat limited.

According to Expo's directory, there are about three dozen companies at the show that have something to do with tea. I recognized quite a few of them, including Adagio, Bigelow, Yogi, Good Earth, Honest Tea, Inko's White Tea, ITO EN, Numi Tea, Republic of Tea, Stash Tea, Steaz and more.

I didn't actually make it to the Mood-Teas booth while I was at the show - or perhaps I overlooked it - but it looks like they have kind of an interesting approach to this whole tea selling thing. They currently offer a line of what look to be custom-blended teas using tea, yerba mate, rooibos and various herbs and flavors. Among the varieties, Mood-Renewal, Mood-Passion and Mood-Energy.

The gimmick here is aromatherapy and the parent company - Mood Factory - also makes mood lighting products and aromatherapy scents. Check out the Mood-Teas site here.

Image: Mood-Teas

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Book Review - Fine Waters

Fine Waters:
A Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Most Distinctive Bottled Waters
by Michael Mascha
Quirk Books, 2006
Reviewed by William I. Lengeman III

Some have suggested that the increasing popularity of tea has made it "the new coffee." While it might seem a stretch to call water "the new wine," after reading Michael Mascha's Fine Waters you might not be so sure.

Mascha, who presides over the FineWaters Web site, took up serious water drinking when his doctor recommended that he give up wine. While most of us probably assume - deep down in our little hearts - that all bottled water is more or less equal, Mascha says this is a common misperception, "bottle water is still treated as a commodity lacking this terroir - the distinctive flavor determined by the local characteristics of the source."

After a glossary that bottled water novices should find useful, Mascha goes on to give a grand overview of water in six parts, starting with a brief history. Nowadays there are more than 3,000 brands of bottled water worldwide, with the most (600+ brands) in Italy, where the average citizen downs more than 50 gallons of the stuff every year.

Mascha makes a distinction between bottled waters that are just purified tap water and those that are something more. He provides a summary of various sources, ranging from springs and aquifers to icebergs and glaciers and even rain water. Who knew?

In his discussion of flavor and characteristics, Mascha presents the FineWaters balance scale for carbonation, with five levels, ranging from still to bold. He also devotes a substantial chapter to food pairings, which includes a handy chart for quick reference.

The author is not keen on adding ice to bottled water and recommends serving it at anywhere from 54 to 62 degrees, depending on the type of water. Other sections include one on stemware and another with tips on conducting a water tasting.

From here it's on to the directory. As Mascha notes, it's subjective and not at all comprehensive. Only about 100 waters from his "favorites list" are covered. There are no ratings. Factors considered include carbonation, minerality, hardness, orientation, virginality, vintage, region and source. Waters covered run the gamut from Antipodes (New Zealand) to Wildalp (Austria).

A photo accompanies each entry. Some bottles are quite bland but others are works of art. Among the more striking ones, in my humble estimation - Antipodes, Fine (Japan), Gleneagles (Scotland), Karoo (South Africa), Malavella (Spain), Voda Voda (Serbia), Voss (Norway), and 1 Litre (Canada), which is packaged with a small plastic cup.

All of this bottled water stuff admittedly finds us straying from our preferred TGS subject matter. But, as I've said before, if you underestimate the importance of water in a good cup of tea, try drinking one without it.

Image: Quirk Books

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Lipton's Tea Party

In line with the launch of its Pyramid Teas, it seems that Lipton is trying to upgrade its image a bit.

Let's face it, when you think Lipton, you think (or at least I do) of a box of 100 plain-jane black tea bags that go for a couple bucks - and heavy on the milk and sugar.

If their kickoff party in NYC is any indication, Lipton would like us to adjust our thinking a bit when it comes to the Pyramid line. The Lipton Pyramid Teas Launch Party is being held tomorrow night, at Manhattan's Gen Art and looks as though it will be a not at all stodgy type of affair.

Find out more about it at Lipton's Pyramid site (click Event) or at Gen Art's site.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Tea Merchants In The News

Here's some recent news coverage of tea companies, at least one of which is pretty well-known.

That would be Good Earth, who are profiled in this article in their local paper - the Santa Cruz [CA] Sentinel. The company, which started out, in a small way, is 1972, is now planning to go global with their products.

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, comes a story about Cha Dao Tea Co. , who currently offer jasmine green, herbal chrysanthemum, high mountain oolong and Japanese green sencha bottled teas.

For those who prefer a Southern-style (sweet) iced tea, there's Milo's. The Birmingham News recently profiled them here.

Image: Cha Dao

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Lipton Pyramid Teas

A few weeks ago I reviewed Black Pearl, one of Lipton's new premium teas. I wasn't overly impressed.

As I look back over the review, I realize that I skimmed over the fact that Black Pearl was only one of six varieties Lipton was introducing. In fact, I didn't mention it at all. So now I am.

Here's what Lipton has to say about their new line:

"Lipton(R) Pyramid Teas are made with innovative, pyramid-shaped, gossamer tea bags that allow the long leaf tea and real pieces of fruit more room to infuse for greater aroma, color and taste. This is the first premium tea of its kind offered in mass-market retail and grocery stores. Similar premium teas can only be found at online shopping sites at ultra premium prices."

Suggested retail price is $3.49 for a 20-count box.

The other five varieties:
White Tea with Island Mango and Peach
Green Tea with Mandarin Orange
Red Tea with Harvest Strawberry and Passionfruit
Bavarian Wild Berry Tea
Vanilla Caramel Truffle Tea

Image: Lipton


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