Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Tea & Health - Again

There it is again, the "H" word. There seems to be a notion nowadays that tea is a magic elixir that will cause you to cast aside your crutches and frolic after the first sip - and you'll live to be 142 years old as well.

I don't doubt that tea has many health benefits but if you believe some of the claims coming out these days get in touch with me - I'll make you a nice deal on some Florida real estate.

Here are some of the many, many, many "tea as elixir" stories making the rounds lately.

From my old hometown paper - Tucson's Arizona Daily Star - comes a report on the wonders of green tea toothpaste. No kidding.

If you're troubled by the malaise of cognitive impairment read this article from South Africa's Independent on how green tea may help. If you have no idea what cognitive impairment is (or if you're suffering from it), this rather dense and technical summary of the same story may not be of much use to you.

On the flip side of the health thing is a report about how green tea might actually damage your liver. Hold on - don't put down your cup yet. We're talking about concentrated doses of green tea extracts here, friends.

Here's another example of how tea can harm you. Okay, not exactly, or at least only in a very roundabout way. Well, just read the article.

Last but not least - and not really having anything to do with tea (sorry) - is a report on ice cubes in fast food restaurants and toilet water. Want to take bets on which is cleaner?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Seth Speaks

A few weeks ago I sat in on a conference call hosted by Beverage Spectrum, a trade magazine targeted to the beverage industry. The guest speaker was Seth Goldman, "TeaEO" (CEO) of the Bethesda, Maryland-based company Honest Tea, who make bottled tea, whole leaf tea bags and caffeine free bottled drinks. While the event was geared more toward industry insiders rather than consumers, I thought it would be interesting to pass on some of Goldman's remarks.

Honest Tea was founded by Goldman and Barry Nalebuff in 1998. Goldman said their reason for starting the company was "motivated by a desire to create a drink we thought was missing in the market," referring specifically to a flavorful bottled tea with no artificial ingredients.

The company made early inroads in 18 Whole Foods Markets in the Bethesda area and by the end of their first summer in business were one of the best selling beverages in those outlets. Growth was steady and over the last two years they have focused on expanding beyond the "health foods" niche and into the mainstream. Today the company employs 23 people but even though they saw a 65% increase in sales last year they are still a David in a world of beverage industry Goliaths.

One of the company's areas of focus thus far has been the Fair Trade movement since, as Goldman noted, tea is enjoyed by some of the world's wealthiest cultures and produced by some of the poorest. "We're selling a product that's authentic," Goldman said, "And we're trying to build relationships that are authentic."

Another area of focus for Honest Tea is organics, the increased interest in which, Goldman said, reflects an increasing consumer concern about health. Organics are especially important for a product like tea because the leaves are not rinsed during processing and thus any chemicals used during production are released when the tea is steeped.

Honest Tea came out with their first organic product in 1999 and went all organic in late 2002. "Organics, I think," Goldman concluded, "Is one that is here to stay."

A few of the new and upcoming products from Honest Tea include a line of unsweetened Fair Trade bottle tea - Just Green Tea and Just Black Tea. Also, pomegranate blueberry, part of their Honest Ade line, and Tangerine Green, which Goldman says will be the first organic diet drink.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Oiling Up With Tea

Green tea cooking oil - well, why not? It's no more unusual than many of the other specialty products that flood the marketplace in a given year and it's apparently a product that's been used in Asia for quite some time.

This particular variety comes to us courtesy of a company called Brand Concepts and it's full name is Treasure Green Camellia Tea Oil.

Now if you were to presume that Brand Concepts had the market cornered with such a product, you'd be presuming a bit too much. Over at Republic of Tea they sell a Stir Fry Tea Oil pressed from the seeds of the tea plant.

Desert Island Tea 3 - Gail Gastelu (Tea House Times)

It's been a while since our last installment of Desert Island Tea, but here we go again. Be sure to check out the debut installment here.

This time around our tea-sipping castaway is Gail Gastelu, publisher of The Tea House Times. Many thanks to Gail for taking part.

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

Gail Gastelu's Answer:
I would choose an unflavored, high quality, loose leaf, green tea since it may be re-brewed a few times and still offer a fine, tasteful cup of tea--and thus my supply would hold up longer. Hopefully the island would have fruits and edible flowers to add to my brew for variety and a beautiful presentation.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Tea, Caffeine & Seasonal Affective Disorder

Oh, I wish. Moving back east after seven years in the great Southwest, Tea Guy realizes how spoiled he was by all those sunny days. The sun doesn't show itself much around these parts this time of year and I'm starting to feel it's absence.

So I thought I might take a look and see if there's any link - positive or negative - between tea and Seasonal Affective Disorder. Over at What Really Works I found an article that suggests that basil tea, previously mentioned here, might help.

A number of sources suggest that caffeine and SAD are a bad mix, but I've decided to ignore those for now. On the plus side, is a 2002 article in Psychology Today that recommended tea as a SAD palliative based on its polyphenol content.

Another site suggests that a compound called L-Theanine might help. L-Theanine is "a natural amino acid derived from green tea that relieves anxiety and stress without the drowsiness associated with antidepressants." As luck would have it, the good people who run the site just happen to sell L-Theanine in supplement form. Well...

If you're really having trouble with this sort of thing, try the The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association. This has nothing to do with tea, but there it is if you need it.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Abraham's Tea Party

A belated birthday wish to the late Mr. Lincoln. I'm almost two weeks late, but I'm sure he'd understand.

While we're at it, what better time to recall Honest Abe's famous quip about tea, "If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee."

Then there's this little Civil War ditty, circa 1864:

Abraham's Tea Party

We're going down to Dixie, boys,
Upon a little ride,
Our knapsacks on behind us, boys,
And sabres by our side;
Our Abraham invited us,
Three hundred thousand strong,
To come to tea, and here we are,
We're coming right along!

Heave, ho, laddie!
We'll sing to Abe our song:
We're coming father Abraham,
We're coming right along.

And when we're down in Dixie, boys,
"Old Abe" with us will be
One little job he'd have us do
Before we take our tea:
There is a thief called "rebel Jeff"
Who steals from Uncle Sam,
We'll catch, and him we'll introduce
To father Abraham.

We'll make a present to the crews,
Of Beauregard and Lee,
Some pepper, grape, and canisters
Of strong gunpowder tea!
And when we've swept the rattlesnakes
Into the gulf and sea
We're coming, father Abraham,
We're coming home to tea!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Jerry Tea

Tea Guy's never been much of a Grateful Dead fan, though you have to admire them for treading their own unique path and still making something of themselves. Or whatever.

But what's any of this prattle have to do with tea, you ask? Glad you mentioned it. Republic of Tea is now offering a J. Garcia line of artisan teas. Garcia's artwork will grace the packaging and a portion of the proceeds goes to help homeless children.

The J. Garcia line consists of five teas. Morning Brew Tea is "a classic organic black tea from the cloud-shrouded organic tea estates of Southern India." Jerry Cherry Tea is black tea flavored with cherry and vanilla. Shady Grown Tea is a blend of yerba mate, rooibos ("an antioxidant wonder herb"), cinnamon and vanilla. Spirit of Sage Tea is a mix of organic green and sage and Magic Herb Tea (insert your own "herb" joke here) is a caffeine-free mix of orange, peppermint and whatnot.

For more information, check out this article in the San Jose Mercury News. Or head to Republic of Tea's site and click What's New.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Even More Philadelphia Tea - Portland Too

Since I'm in the general vicinity of Philadelphia I've managed a few visits lately to check out their tea scene. Among my stops - Great Tea International, Bubble House and one of the Philly outposts of Teavana. Check out my previous postings on the subject here and here.

I haven't made it to Remedy Tea Bar yet, so in the meantime I'll have to settle for the next best thing, which is to read this article recently published in the Philadelphia Daily News.

In Portland (Oregon, not Maine) the tea scene seems to be booming. The area has given us a few pretty well known tea companies, including Kombucha Wonder Drink, Stash Tea, Tazo and Oregon Chai. While we're on the subject of the quite yummy Kombucha Wonder Drink, be sure to check out this profile in the Portland Tribune.

If that's not enough Portland tea stuff for you, check out this article from the Seattle Times. It gives the lowdown on five Portland area tea houses, none are of which of the snooty and Victorian sort.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

March Is Assam Month

Hold on. Don't go running off to check your calendar. As far as I know this is the only place where Assam Month will be observed.

What's it all about? Nothing special, really. I just decided that it might be nice to narrow my focus every now and then. Since I'm quite fond of Assam tea I thought that would be a great way to kick things off.

So be sure to tune in as the vast majority of March's content will be Assam related. If you've got tips on something that might be of interest leave a comment and I'll check it out. If you're a merchant and you'd like to provide a sample of Assam tea for review, let me know. I've got a heap of samples coming from Upton, but you certainly can never have too much Assam tea on hand.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Tea, Tea, Tea

Lately there have been a flurry of "tea is more popular than ever, tea is really good for you" type stories in the media. Here are a few of them.

Time For Tea appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a few days ago. It's a Tea 101 article with input from a local tea drinker and Ron Rubin of Republic of Tea. Read it here.

Best Place To Brew Tea Is Home Sweet Home appeared in a Minnesota paper, the Pioneer Press. It focuses mostly on how best to prepare different types of tea. Read it here.

Tea Riding Wave Of Coffee Craze just appeared in the Washington Times. A few tea industry types sound off as well as some local DC-area tea drinkers. We also find that tea was first drunk in 2737 B.C. - how's that for precision? Read it here.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Pricey P'uerh At Food & Wine

The February issue of Food & Wine weighs in with a whole whopping paragraph about p'uerh (so what is the correct spelling, anyway?) teas with whopping price tags. It's right here. Don't wear yourself out trying to read it all in one sitting.

If it was up to me the p'uerh article would have been several pages and the piece on hoity-toity chef Joel Robuchon could have been reduced to a paragraph. Same for the thrilling report on "the comeback of carbs." But it may just be that I have a slight bias in favor of tea.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Tea Review 52 - Adagio's Bloomers

Jasmine Bloom
Red Bloom
Adagio Teas

The argument could be made that display teas are the dancing bears of the tea world. There's really no good reason for a bear to dance but it's entertaining to watch all the same. By the same token, there's no good reason for tea to put on a show, but it sure is fun to watch.

Adagio's bloom teas come packaged individually, ten to a box, with a selling price of ten dollars per box. Both types, in their unsteeped form, are round and about the size of a grape. When hot water is added the show begins. The leaves, which are woven together, slowly unfurl to form a flower shape with a genuine bonafide bloom at the center.

At which point, the show over, you're now left with a cup of tea that you'd presumably like to drink. Fortunately neither of these flavors disappoints. Jasmine is not normally my first choice of teas but I've come to like it more as time passes. Adagio's Jasmine Bloom is one of the better variations I've sampled, with a jasmine essence subtle enough that it doesn't stomp all over the green tea component.

But the real crowd pleaser, at least for this crowd of one, is the Red Bloom. This is a black tea, of course. Nothing confusing about that. It takes its name from the red flower that appears in the center of the tea as the leaves unfurl. The result of all this is a real kick-ass cup of black tea, if I do say so myself. It's one of the better black teas I've tasted, though I was driven to distraction trying to figure out what variety it is. There's a note there that I just couldn't quite put my finger on.

But never mind about that. Red Bloom gets a high recommendation from me, regardless of its origins. As for Jasmine Bloom, also recommended.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Evolution of a Tea Drinker

Growing up in a thoroughly middle-class, suburban white household in the heartland (Pennsylvania), I was subjected to cuisine that was pretty much thoroughly middle-class, suburban white bread, meat and potatoes and a squishy vegetable on the side because someone said it was supposed to be good for you. No big deal really. That's just the way it was and I'm pretty sure I didn't suffer any lasting trauma as a result.

As for beverages, let's just say that tea was an unimaginably exotic sort of thing, perhaps not so out there as mangosteens or monkey brains served fresh from the skull and still steaming, but pretty damned close.

We did actually have tea in the house at times, but it was iced tea from a powdered mix that came in a jar and I never developed a taste for it - imagine that.

What I did have a taste for in those tender years was milk. I drank the stuff in sufficient quantities to keep quite a few cows off the unemployment line. As for my preferences, it was mostly white milk at home and occasionally some chocolate on visits to my grandparents. I also liked soda, but that was strictly rationed and thus I never developed too much of a taste for it.

There wasn't much coffee around our house either, if you can imagine such a thing, though both my grandparents drank it regularly. At a rather tender age, I too became a coffee drinker, feeling rather grown up and proud of myself as a result. But this phase was brief since I ultimately realized that coffee was pretty nasty no matter how much you doctored it up.

As I grew up and the parental yoke loosened and finally fell away I made up for some lost soda drinking time, eventually switching over to diet when I was diagnosed with a blood sugar condition. By this time milk had fallen by the wayside. Then, at some point in my late twenties or early thirties, a new beverage appeared on the scene, at least for me - tea.

I don't recall how this came about, but for a decade or so I was only an occasional tea drinker and mostly consumed it during the winter months as a way to keep warm and only herbal teas.

Of course, somewhere along the line I discovered "real" tea, starting with Stash tea in bags, if memory serves correctly. Then, at some point quite a bit further down the road, and again thanks to Stash, I began to dabble with loose teas. And the rest is pretty much history, if only personal history and one still in the making.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Green Tea Strips

Rare is the day that I don't run across a host of reports breathlessly touting the wondrous health-giving and curative properties of tea, particularly green tea. As one would reasonably suspect, there's no shortage of entrepreneurs looking to develop a product that will cash in on this deluge.

For example, we now have Vitasolve Green Tea Strips, a product apparently not unlike those creepy little breath freshener strips that dissolve on your tongue. Vitasolve, a Sacramento-based firm, makes several types of these strips with the green tea one being touted more or less as a weight-loss aid. Check out their no-frills Web site here.

For a little added perspective, check out this not so breathless report on the product from a Sacramento-based TV station.

For the lowdown on some of the lesser known health benefits of tea, be sure to refer back to my earlier post on the topic.

And for criminy's sake, if you want to benefit from the health benefits of green tea buy some half decent loose leaf tea, brew it, drink it and be done with it. Sheesh.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Little Bit Of Tea, Little Bit Of Chocolate

Something tells me I should write about chocolate today. I'm not sure why that is. But, this being a tea site, the best I can offer is to examine that space where tea and chocolate intersect.

To start with, here's a list of chocolate-flavored teas. It's by no means comprehensive, but rather a jumping off point for those of you who might like to try such a thing.

Adagio Teas (Ceylon)
Boston's Chocolate Tea (Bulk Lot)
Harney & Sons
Scent By Spirit (Chinese)
SerendipiTea Chocolate A-Peel (Chocolate, Orange)
SerendipiTea ChocolaTea (Chocolate, Vanilla)
Spotted Leopard Teas Out Of Africa (Coconut, Chocolate, Vanilla, Rooibos)
Stuffed Chocolate Ltd.

Here's an interesting Georgia tea room - the Craving For Chocolate Tea Room - that combines what, for a lot of people, is the best of two worlds.

Last, but certainly not least, is an article Fox News did a little while back about chocolate - in solid form - that's been infused with assorted and sundry varieties of tea.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Buzz On Tea

Time for some more of that shameless self-promotion, but today there's a twist. Today my shameless self-promotion actually has a connection to tea and a rather strong one at that.

One of my most recent articles is called The Buzz on Tea. It's kind of a Tea 101 type article, with some additional information on tisanes, yerba mate and Rooibos. It's currently appearing at AskMen.com and you can check it out here. Tell 'em Tea Guy sent you.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

A Little Bit About Oolong

I was sniffing around at the Nala Web site the other day when I came across an interesting piece about traveling Taiwan in search of rare oolong teas. It's worth a look. Check it out here.

While we're on the subject of oolong it's as good a time as any to mention OolongOz.com. They are, as their Web site points out, "a dedicated group of High Mountain Oolong Tea aficionados living in Australia." Sounds good to me. I could think of worse ways to live your life.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Food Geeks

Here's another one that falls into the Shameless Self-promotion category. So if you're not interested in me prattling on about myself without even mentioning anything about tea (the nerve), then move along.

Ever get to thinking that there's so many food science books out there nowadays that somebody should write the almost definitive guide to them? I did. And so did the fine folks over at Epicurean Online, who recently published my article, Food Geeks: The Almost Definitive Guide to Pop Food Science Books. Read all about it here.

Tea Or Wine?

Can't decide whether you're up for a cup of tea or a glass of wine? Your problems may be solved. As this brief article notes, the Sri Lanka Tea Research Institute has come up with a beverage that combines the best of both worlds.

If you like your tea with a kick, or your kick with a little tea, for that matter, be sure to check out my previous entries on the subject of tea and alcoholic beverages here, here and here.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Tea Review 51 - Assam & Assam

Assam - Mangalain Estate
In Pursuit of Tea

Assam Black
Honest Tea

Over the course of the past several weeks Tea Guy has been taking in a lot of black tea, almost to the exclusion of all others. I'd probably still be on that track except that I've exhausted my supply and wasn't quick enough on my toes to make sure that it was replenished. Oh, woe.

Of all the great black teas out there - and I don't think I've met any I don't like - the one I keep coming back to is Assam. There's just something about it. I can't quite put my finger on it. Must be that remarkable full-bodied flavor.

One of the true standouts in this category is In Pursuit of Tea's single estate Assam from Mangalain Estate. As the package points out, the estate is located by the Towkok River in the foothills of Nagaland, in northeast India, where it covers a total of 105 hectares.

Which is right interesting stuff to know about but I'd have been just as happy with this one if it had come in a plain brown paper bag. As a matter of fact, I liked it so much that I was out of it almost before I'd cracked open anything else in the In Pursuit of Tea shipment.

Excellent, and highly recommended.

Honest Tea's Assam Black ain't so shabby either, suffering only by comparison to the Mangalain. This one's a bagged variety that uses organic large leaf tea and comes packaged 18 bags to a box. You could do a whole lot worse and the nice part is that you might even be able to track this one down at your local supermarket. I did.

Also recommended.

By the way, Assam tea purveyors like to mention that it works well with milk and sugar and I suppose that for many people it does. But if you're a milk and sugar person, you might want to try some straight up for a change. Who knows? Maybe you'll like it.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Tea And Biscuits, Tea In Biscuits

Sometimes I fail to see the point. Take this article from Reuters about a recent research project in India, for example. It's not a long article, but to summarize very briefly this particular pack of scientists are making biscuits (I think that's cookies, to the rest of us) that contain the essential ingredients of tea.

So, as I said, sometimes I fail to see the point. I guess it would have helped if the article had been a bit more clear about that part. It implies that this will be a health benefit and perhaps a convenience, but maybe it's really just a way for India to unload more tea in a tough market. Of course, if people stop drinking tea and eat it in cookies instead...

Whatever the point of all this may actually be, I don't see myself substituting a cookie for a cup of tea any time soon. Thank you for listening.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Pu-er? Pu erh? Pu-erh? Puerh?

Tea Guy is starting to realize that the topic of Pu erh tea is a rather large one. It's not something that I've really delved into much thus far, though I recently received some Pu erh from Adagio Teas that I'll be reviewing soon. Prior to that I'd tasted Pu erh exactly once in my life - at the Bubble House, in Philadelphia.

For a little more info about Pu erh check out a pair of articles I ran across recently. The first appears to be from a publication put out by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and the other is from the Toronto Globe and Mail.

Another good resource would be Pu-erh.net, a Web site devoted to the study of, well, you guessed it.

Now, about that spelling...

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A Royal Tea Party & C.S. Lewis Tea

Adelaide's Advertiser (Australia) reports that to mark her eightieth birthday this summer the Queen of England will hold a tea party. One thousand children chosen through a lottery arrangement will each be allowed to bring a young guest and an adult. Also on hand will be Paddington Bear and Harry Potter celebs J.K. Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe. Naked Chef Jamie Oliver will prepare a picnic lunch.

While we're discussing well known fantasy authors who identify themselves by their initials, it's as good a time as any to mention that Tea Treasures is offering a special C.S. Lewis Blend Tea. Irish Breakfast lovers might want to check out this blend of Assam estate teas. Order it here.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Snapple's Got It In The Bag

How's that for a snappy and oh so clever headline? Madison Avenue, look out.

Anyway, the Chicago Sun-Times reported recently that Snapple is now making a line of tea bags. So far there's a lemon flavored black, a strawberry white and orange and berry herbal varieties.

Tea Guy went to Snapple's Web site to see if he could find out more but I wasn't able to find any mention of such a product. I'm not sure if that means I'm a dimwit or that the site is not terribly easy to navigate. I think it's a little bit of both.