The Tea Leaves and Tweed Tea Primer: Prologue

(or “So you’re interested in tea…”)

I think my ultimate goal with this piece is to end up drawing in readers who google “How to tea?” or “How do I even tea?” or “What to do with this tea?” As someone who has been drinking tea in various forms for at least thirty of my thirty-five years, I’ve had a varied evolution to the gong fu-brewing, matcha-whisking tea enthusiast who graces the pages of this blog. And many people in my life and who read my blog simply aren’t interested in the nuances of sheng vs. shu pu-erh or the terroir of oolong tea. Many of them just want to try something nicer than Lipton’s tea bags, or want to know what to do with this loose-leaf tea their friend gave them, or want to know what they really need to get started trying better-quality teas.

A note about motivation: If you’re here because you want to switch from a different source of caffeine to tea because you think it’s somehow healthier, this is probably not the place for you. I can’t teach you how to enjoy tea, and I can’t speak to any particular health benefit of tea over coffee. I personally made the switch from drinking primarily coffee to drinking almost exclusively tea, but I had been enjoying tea for decades before that. I merely made the cost-benefit analysis for my own personal body. I actually love coffee, but it doesn’t love me back, so I limit it to once a week (unless I am in Europe, in which case, I suffer the consequences with wild abandon). And I feel absolutely no deprivation because I also love tea.

But if you’re here to find out how to dip your toe into the tea, I hope you find this helpful. This primer will be organized into layers of tea enthusiasm, from least to more complex (I don’t claim to be a tea expert and couldn’t possibly write about the most complex layers of tea). I’ll start out talking a little bit about tea and what it is, though this will hardly be an exhaustive education. If you’re interested in more about the processing that goes into making the different types of tea, I highly recommend A Little Tea Book, or else check out Sebastian’s website, In Pursuit of Tea, where he offers a brief description of tea types in his “Tea 101” section.

Okay, so. Tea. The first thing is that, while “tea” can colloquially mean the infusion of pretty much any plant matter in water, what I mean when I say “tea” is an infusion of the leaves, buds, and/or twigs of the Camellia sinensis plant. True “tea” comes from one species of plant, which is why I generally refer to herbal brews as “infusions” or “tisanes.” I love my herbal infusions as well, but they are not tea, to my mind. So with that in mind, what follows is a guide to the levels of enjoyment of Camellia sinensis.

Despite only coming from one species of plant, tea comes in many different types. Most westerners are familiar with “black tea,” which is made with tea leaves that have been completely oxidized before being heated to stop this process. That said, green tea, which is heated to stop the oxidation process before being dried, has also gained popularity in recent years. Additionally, white tea has also appeared on the mainstream tea scene in the US recently. White teas are only dried and are not heated at all after harvesting. Rounding out the main types of tea are oolong tea, which is oxidized to some extent, and pu-erh tea, which are aged or fermented.

Much of a tea’s flavor profile will come from its processing. Black teas are often described as richer, fuller-bodied, with flavors of tannin, malt, and dried fruits. Green teas are generally more delicate, with flavors of green vegetables or grass, while white teas can be intensely floral, belying their light colored brew. Oolongs have a wide variation, because “oolong” can describe a wide variety of processing techniques, and can range from creamy “milk” oolongs to floral-honey bug-bitten oolongs to cannabis-y roasted oolongs. Finally, pu-erh comes in raw or ripe and can range in flavor from similar to white teas to redolent of damp earth and mushrooms.

When choosing starter teas, you’ll want to consider price, convenience, availability, and your own personal tastes. If you like really funky Islay whisky, consider giving ripe or shu pu-erh a try (despite the fact that a colleague of mine refers to it as “shoe” tea because of the aroma of earth and leather). If you’re a green juice fanatic, you might prefer to start with green teas, and if you’re a staunch traditionalist, the world of available black teas is hardly basic. Personally, I came late to the oolong and white tea games, so I tend not to think of them as starter teas, though they absolutely could be. The trick is to find decent examples of them for a reasonable price and without having to look too hard.

Before we begin, I want to say something about how I’m setting this up. I’m calling the various chapters of this primer “levels,” but not as a way of denoting superiority. It’s more like the levels in a dungeon-crawling game. Just because you’ve “passed” one level doesn’t mean you can’t revisit it. And you should feel free to spend as much time on any given level as you’d like. Don’t worry about being a completionist.

From there, the main question is: Now what do I do with these dried leaves? And that, gentle reader, is where we begin.

Next week: Level One, or “I’ve only ever had supermarket tea bags”

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On My Bookshelf: A Little Tea Book

At first glance, A Little Tea Book appears to be a typical decorative book. It’s the kind of brief, heavily-visual book with just enough text that my in-laws might put it in a guest bathroom for a little light reading on the toilet. But such books are generally pretty to look at without a whole lot of substance. Granted, coming from a pre-eminent tea authority, author, and illustrator, it’s likely to be enjoyable, at the very least. But A Little Tea Book went beyond these superficial expectations and surprised even me.

A quick note about the title: I keep thinking the title is The Little Book of Tea, which reminds me the episode of Black Books where Bill swallows The Little Book of Calm. And similarly, I have utterly devoured this book. Though I haven’t gained preternatural skills in meditation or tea from my consumption, I found the entire book thoroughly enjoyable.

The book combines information about the botanics, history, processing, and enjoyment of tea written by a foremost authority with beautiful photographs and illustrations to perfectly offset the text. It begins with the botany of the tea plant, and how processing turns a single species of plant into a diverse array of types of tea, before going into the differences between varieties and cultivars. I found this particularly fascinating because, while I know that only Camellia sinensis can truly be considered tea, and I have a passing familiarity with the two major varieties, I’d never gone into much detail about the cultivation of tea. I also appreciated the personal anecdotes about rarer types of tea.

From there, the book discusses the cultural context of tea, describing the naming of tea and how history has affected global distribution and tastes in tea. I was intrigued by the historical background, particularly how politics and economics drove different tastes around the world.

And finally, the book goes into the enjoyment of tea. I appreciate Sebastian’s informal, forgiving tone on the subjects of flavoring and adding to tea, neither demonizing either practice, while not encouraging it. He suggests tasting teas as they are, but ultimately admits that the best way to drink tea is the one that you enjoy. After all, tea rules, as he says, are less rules, and more “rules of thumb” (or as I like to say: tea rules are like the pirate code; they’re really more like guidelines).

And through the whole book, the visuals are fantastic. Gorgeous photographs of tea growing, processing, and brewing are interspersed with Wendy MacNaughton’s watercolor illustrations, which are both beautiful and informative. My favorite illustration would have to be the “flavor tree” of teas. But of course, I would expect nothing less from the illustrator of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.

All in all, I would consider A Little Tea Book a delightful gift for both the veteran tea-lover as well as an enthusiastic novice. It is both beautifully designed and illustrated and contains a non-threatening, yet informative, introduction to the culture and enjoyment of tea.

NB: I purchased this book with my own money and have not been given any incentive to review it. All thoughts are my own.

Getting Started with Tea and Amazon Prime, part two: Tasting Teas from Teavivre

So last week, I shared some of my favorite teaware purchases on Amazon Prime as a way of helping someone get started with loose-leaf tea more easily and accessibly. In that post, I mentioned that I’ve also bought some quality loose-leaf teas off Amazon recently from Teavivre. Teavivre is a company that sells teas from China and is pretty consistently ranked in the top 10 among the User’s Choice Vendor List on Reddit’s Tea subreddit, r/tea. Since they have an Amazon storefront, with options available through Prime, they’re also really, really convenient, especially if you’re impatient like me.

Now, a note about shipping: Most of the vendors I use charge shipping, and shipping can add up, especially when you’re sourcing teas directly from the country of origin. If you have a hard time getting over paying almost as much for your tea again for shipping, it would help to read this post. One thing to note about buying items through Prime with “free shipping” is that they will probably be priced higher than the same item on Teavivre’s own site because companies work shipping prices into their item prices when they decide to offer free shipping. In fact, I’ve bought matcha from one site that had low prices and charged a lot for shipping, only to find that, ultimately, if I bought a couple of things, it was much more economical to buy from them than from a site with free shipping. And the matcha was excellent. But I do like free Prime shipping when I just want to try one thing and don’t feel like putting together a large order. It’s about your shopping and drinking habits. Anyway, on to the tea. I’ve chosen to try one each of black, green, oolong, and white teas to review here, so you can get a sense of what they offer. I didn’t get a puerh because I’m still working through the samples I got from white2tea a while ago!

Organic Bai Mu Dan White Peony white tea: This was the first tea I tried, and I actually showcased it in a sunrise tea session video a while ago. I’d never tried a white peony before, but it had a pretty standard non-silver-needle white tea profile, if a little straw-y for my tastes. It brews up nicely in gongfu and lasts for at least five infusions. This is a very fluffy tea and will probably seem like a lot of leaf if you measure your tea by weight.

Tieguanyin oolong tea: I’ve spoken at length about my love of oolongs, and Tieguanyin is one of my favorites. This is a great example of this style of oolong, still quite green and light, but with a satisfying slight creaminess and honey-floral character that I adore. I got 100g of this and it’s my go-to, can’t-decide-what-kind-of-tea-to-make, I-need-a-nice-cuppa-to-perk-me-up tea.

Premium Tai Ping Hou Kui green tea: I got this tea simply because I keep seeing “the green tea with the big leaves” on Instagram and I wanted to try it for the novelty. But it’s quickly become one of my favorite teas for a lazy, warm morning. I don’t know how much I’ll drink once the weather (finally) cools off, but it’s pretty much what you’ll find me drinking on work-from-home days and weekends. I just put 2.5g in my double-walled tumbler and drink it farmer-style, and it’s a delightful classic Chinese green tea. It’s a bit light in flavor, but it has distinct notes of grass, green leafy vegetables, and just a tiny touch of the sea.

Yunnan Dian Hong Golden Tip black tea: Wow, I saved the best for last here. With the aforementioned weather cooldown, I’m finding myself more drawn to black teas, and I was curious to try a Dian Hong. This Dian Hong is absolutely wonderful, with notes of dried fruit and syrup. It doesn’t get too tannic or bitey, and I just find it a lovely mellow tea to sip on a rainy or cool morning.

So that’s my round-up of some teas I’ve tried at Teavivre, all purchased through Amazon. Do note that I wasn’t given any incentive to write this post, nor are any links affiliate. I hope you’ll consider them a way to get started with some great teas without needing to navigate all the different tea vendors out there. Of course, once you find teas you like, definitely branch out and see how different vendors’ offerings differ, but the beginning shouldn’t be daunting. I hope this helps at least one person feel a bit less intimidated by loose-leaf tea!

Getting Started With Tea Using Amazon Prime

I know that Amazon as a company is controversial, and you’re probably going to find better quality tea and teaware going through one of the smaller vendors I’ve talked about before on this blog and my YouTube channel. But I’ve noticed that a lot of people find it daunting to get into loose-leaf and gongfu-brewed tea, and I thought I might share some of the tea and teawares I’ve gotten off Amazon Prime that have been helpful in informing my journey.

My most recent tea video features my first gaiwan, which was an Amazon purchase, but that I found out after filming the video isn’t available on Amazon any more, sadly. So, to make up for that, I’ve put together an Amazon idea list of all the various tea things I’ve gotten off Amazon and liked, that still look like they’re available. Note that this doesn’t have affiliate links, since I’m not an Amazon affiliate. I thought I’d call out a couple specific items that have served me well through my tea journey.

FORLIFE Curve Infuser Mug: This was one of my first go-to brewing vessels when I made the conscious choice to stop drinking coffee most days and switch to tea, almost exclusively. I knew I would use loose-leaf tea, which I generally got from my grocery store, but I needed a simple, non-fussy way to brew it. This is definitely a vessel for brewing Western-style, with a few teaspoons of tea leaves to a large mug. I still get multiple steepings out of a single batch of leaves with this mug. I don’t use it as much anymore, as I actually do steep gongfu-style at work, but for years, this was my constant desk companion, and it’s a great starter infuser for anyone looking to make the switch from tea bags to loose leaf.

Hario Glass Kyusu: This was my only teapot for small-leaf Japanese green teas for a long time. It has a nice fine mesh, and the shape is such that I can fill it halfway with hot water and brew a little less tea. And you get to see the color of the infusion, which is nice.

The Fish Teapot: This is a perennial favorite on my Instagram, so I thought I’d share its origin. This was actually on my Amazon wish list for ages, and my husband bought it for my for my birthday one year. This is a great way to brew gongfu-style at work because the pot holds only slightly more liquid than the cup, so as long as I don’t fill the teapot completely to the brim, I don’t need a sharing pitcher. And it’s just so darn cute.

Of course, there’s more than these three things on the list, but these are some of my most-loved and longest-used items that originally came from Amazon. If you’re looking to get started with loose-leaf tea or gongfu, you can get started with the basics quickly and then take your time looking for more interesting pieces to expand your collection. Unfortunately, the gaiwan that I originally got off Amazon is no longer available, but this gaiwan is from a company that I’ve purchased from before and liked their teaware, and it is reasonably priced for the gongfu beginner.

As far as the tea itself goes, I’ve recently started buying some teas from Teavivre, which has an Amazon storefront, with Prime options. Because I am impatient, I like the convenience of Amazon Prime sometimes. So far, I’ve tried one white, one green, one black, and one oolong tea from the store and have been pleasantly surprised with the quality. I’ve already reviewed their Bai Mu Dan white tea on my YouTube channel, but I’ll share my thoughts on the rest sometime soon.

The End of Summer: Cold-Brew Teas That I’ve Enjoyed in the Heat

I’ve posted some images recently on my Instagram of my experiments in cold-brewing tea, and I’ve even teased on my YouTube channel that I would do a cold tea video sometime. But I’ve decided that to really do justice to my cold-brew adventures, I needed to devote a blog post to it. And stay tuned to the end, when I share a little recipe for one of my favorite summer iced tea drinks!

At its heart, cold-brewing tea is incredibly simple. You just put some tea leaves into some cold water, stick it in the fridge, and wait. I used this article from Serious Eats as my guide, specifically the author’s recommendation of about 10-12g of tea per quart of water. I tend to brew a pint of tea at a time, so that’s about 5-6g of tea per brewing.

Then I decided to go a little nuts and try brewing in sparkling water. I got some good-quality 500-ml bottles of sparkling mineral water from the store and experimented with green, black, and oolong teas. I haven’t tried white tea yet, but I imagine it would be pretty nice. Here’s what I’ve found so far.

Green Tea:

I started out with Rishi Sencha as my first experiment. I’d heard a lot about brewing Japanese green teas cold, and I thought it would be a good place to start. The Rishi sencha is a decent sencha, with a nicely balanced flavor profile of grassy and umami, but it’s also available in my local grocery store and not so expensive or difficult to get that I would worry about “wasting” it on an experiment. So I started there.

Cold-brewed, this sencha retains a lot of it’s interesting umami flavor, with a nice green undertone. It doesn’t have any bitterness or even really astringency, apart from a mild tartness that is quite pleasant. It’s very refreshing. It also shines in sparkling mineral water, as the minerality of the water offsets the umami. I could also see using this as the base in a gin-based tea cocktail, if I liked gin (or were indulging in hard liquor at the moment).

Black Tea:

I will admit, I only tried cold-brewing black tea because my husband made a nostalgic comment about Wawa peach iced tea and I wanted to see if I could make something better using cold-brew and homemade peach syrup (spoiler: I did; read on for the recipe at the end of this post). So I grabbed an old tin of Harney & Sons Darjeeling that my mother brought over for a tea party at my house. I chose the Darjeeling for two reasons. The first was the aforementioned rationale about not using teas I would miss if the experiment failed, and the other was that the Serious Eats article doesn’t seem to recommend cold-brewing black teas because their flavor profile is muted, so I thought if I went for a lighter black tea, rather than a big, punchy Assam, it might work better with the cold-brew method.

I was right about the tea. Despite the fact that I only brewed this to be sweetened, I tried a taste of it before adding sweetener and it’s fantastic. The infusion is a deceptively light color, but it has a lot of black tea flavor, without any dry-your-mouth-out tannins or unpleasant bitterness. It tastes like perfectly-steeped black tea. And it stands up quite well to the peach syrup, too. I also enjoyed it in sparkling water.

Oolong Tea:

Oolong is my favorite tea and one that seems well-suited to cold-brew, as it has a lot of complex flavors that seem like they would work well in a refreshing cold beverage. I only tried oolongs steeped in sparkling mineral water, though their charms would almost certainly translate to still water. The first one I tried was a Golden Lily oolong that is a “milk oolong” variety. I idly thought to make a sort of oolong cream soda. It worked well enough, but the green-ness of the tea made for a rather light cold-brew infusion.

But, wow, my next experiment did not disappoint. I found some old heavy-roast Tieguanyin in the back of my tea cabinet and thought, hey, why not chuck it in some fizzy water? I had thought to try it with my peach syrup. Well, the resulting brew was so lovely and complex — with notes of peaches, honey, flowers, and cream already — that I didn’t dare touch it with sweetener. This is my favorite yet and will likely become a new regular in my daily tea rotation. The absolute only thing I would ever add to it would be a shot of bourbon.

Cold-Brewed Peach Darjeeling Tea:

As promised, I’ve also come up with a recipe for peach iced tea using cold-brew. The first step is to steep 5g of Darjeeling tea in 16 oz. of water. Then, you’ll need to make the peach syrup by roughly chopping one fresh peach and putting it in a small saucepan with 1/2 cup of water. Let this simmer until the peach is soft enough to be mashed with a fork, about 15-20 minutes. Then, stir in 1/2 cup of granulated sugar and simmer until all the sugar crystals have dissolved. Strain the syrup into a jar and let cool.

To put together the drink, strain the tea leaves out of the tea, and add about 2 Tbsp. of peach syrup (or to taste) to the tea. Stir well and serve over ice with a slice of lemon and a couple slices of fresh peach. Makes two glasses of iced tea.

My husband’s review was that “it’s pretty good.” So there’s that. Happy steeping!

Tea and a Story: The Apocryphal Origins of Tea

It’s been such a long time since I’ve done a folklore post that I thought I’d get back into it a bit. And given that I’ve been very focused on tea lately, what better way than to investigate the stories around the origins of tea? Tea has certainly gained a reputation as a drink with a certain amount of ceremony and mystery around it over the centuries, from the tea ceremony of Japan to afternoon tea in the United Kingdom. So it’s only natural that stories have sprung up surrounding the origins of this seemingly-magical beverage.

One of the most well-known apocryphal stories of the origins of tea comes from China, where its discovery is attributed to the emperor Shennong, who may or may not exist only in myth. He seems to have been something like an Arthur figure in Chinese mythology and literature, and many advances in Chinese culture and society are attributed to him, particularly the knowledge of agriculture and healing plants. In this story, the emperor has decreed that everyone must boil their water before drinking it for health and safety reasons. One day, while boiling his water, the emperor noticed that some leaves from a nearby tree had fallen in. Rather than discarding the contaminated pot of water in annoyance, he tasted the resulting brew and found it not only delicious, but invigorating. He declared to his people that “Tea gives vigor to the body, contentment to the mind, and determination of purpose.” I, for one, agree with him. The fact that such an important figure in Chinese legend is attributed with discovering tea speaks to its importance in Chinese society.

My favorite story of the origins of tea comes from the Zen/Chan Buddhist tradition. When Buddhism first spread out of India, it was brought by the Indian sage Bodhidharma. One of the great feats of meditation that Bodhidharma achieved was meditating while gazing at a wall for nine years. There is a story that he fell asleep seven years into his nine-year meditation, and when he awoke, he was so disgusted with himself that he cut off his own eyelids for betraying him, flinging them to the ground. When they hit the ground, they sprouted the first tea plants, which are thought to be a gift to Buddhist practitioners to encourage wakefulness. To this day, Zen Buddhist meditation sessions are often punctuated with a cup of tea, and supposedly for a long time, the Japanese used the same character for tea as for eyelid. Personally, if Bodhidharma did sacrifice his eyelids for the origin of tea, I would thank him for it, and find the little Daruma dolls of him, with their wide, staring, lidless eyes, to be a welcome addition to my tea table when I enjoy a cup in his memory.

I thought I’d finish with a story related to one of my favorite kinds of tea: Tieguanyin oolong tea. I’ve written before on a story of the Guanyin in China, the goddess of mercy who became a bodhisattva in Buddhist tradition. One story of the origin of tieguanyin tells of a poor farmer named Wei who walked past an abandoned temple with an iron statue of the Guanyin as he walked to and from his fields every day. Distressed by the poor condition of the temple, Wei began to take some time out of his day every day to maintain the temple grounds and light incense to the Guanyin when he passed by, always wishing he had the means to do more. One night, he had a dream of the Guanyin in which she told him of a treasure he would find behind the temple. The next day, he looked and found a small tea shoot, which he took home and nurtured. When he made tea from the plant, he found it delicious, named the tea in her honor: Tieguanyin, which means “iron Guanyin” (or, colloquially, “iron goddess of mercy”). I love stories of the Guanyin because they generally involve someone getting rewarded generously for simply doing the right thing quietly and without the expectation of reward, and I love tieguanyin as a cup of tea, so this story was a natural finish to this collection, I think.

So there you have three stories of the origins of teas to go with your morning cuppa.

Sources:

  1. Saberi, Helen. Tea: A Global History [link]
  2. “About Tieguanyin Oolong Tea,” Tea Adventure [link]

Adventures in Tea: Tetereria Tea House in Barcelona

I recently had the joy of visiting Barcelona for a week. My husband was attending a conference while I spent my days touring around, but I knew there was one place I wanted to go before I left: Tetereria Tea House. I found out about this tea house when I was looking up whether I could reasonably expect to find a decent cup of tea while I was there, or if I should consider bringing my own (it turned out that the coffee shop around the corner from our hotel had a lovely assortment of loose leaf teas, plus almost everywhere served tea in pyramid tea bags, so I needn’t have worried!). I discovered that Barcelona is home to a tea house where you can not only get a decent cup of tea, but you can get a tea session with traditional teaware and a surprising variety of teas. Sadly, Tetereria is only open from 5-9:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, so I had a limited window in which to visit (if I’d looked up the hours sooner, I might have tried to stop by the first night we were in town, jet lag be damned!). But I knew it was something I wanted to make sure to experience, so I convinced my husband that we could visit the tea house on a Wednesday afternoon before his conference’s gala dinner that evening.

Tetereria is located a short walk from the Lesseps subway stop, which is on Line 3 (the green line). This made it very convenient from our hotel near the Placa d’Espanya! I imagine it would also be relatively convenient from the Gothic Quarter as well. The walk brings you down some typically narrow European streets, around a corner, and through the narrow shop entrance into a veritable oasis of tea. It’s cozy and has a warm feeling to the decor, with an eclectic mix of styles. About halfway back, there is a small counter where you can order tea to go, mostly latte-style drinks like chai lattes and matcha lattes, and then there are several small tables around the tea house. My husband and I sat towards the back of the shop and were able to see the partitioned area at the back, which is set up like a traditional Japanese tatami room for the Japanese tea ceremony.

Upon sitting down, we were greeted by one of the owners, and given menus. There was a book of available teas, sorted by type (pu-erh, black, oolong, green, white, herbal, etc.), and listed with a flavor profile diagram that gave the relative qualities of different flavors in the tea such as floral, astringent, body, etc. I decided to try a hei cha, which I had never tried before, and my husband went for a traditionally-prepared bowl of Kyoto matcha. We also got some sweets to go with the tea: I had a thin slice of apple cake and he had a rather large matcha-flavored dorayaki.

Upon making our selections (and it took much longer than outlined above — I oscillated among an oolong, a shou pu-erh, or a hei cha for a while), we were faced with what was probably the biggest obstacle we faced: I understand the intricacies of the teas we wished to order, while my husband is the one who speaks Spanish. This was made particularly apparent when they turned out to be out of the matcha that my husband initially chose (i.e., that I chose for him), and he had to decide on the fly which matcha the lady suggested he would like to substitute. I believe he chose the Kyoto because he’d heard of Kyoto (similarly to how my father used to order Merlot because it was the only wine he could confidently pronounce). I was then able to order my hei cha mostly in Spanish (and Chinese, I suppose), along with my apple cake. Luckily, I’d spent the last three days learning the words for foods that I liked to eat!

After we ordered, the tea arrived fairly quickly. Each tea is brought out individually with a cart that holds all the necessary teaware. So first, she brought out mine, with a gongfu brewing set, the pot of hot water, and a small dish of the single serving of tea (I was able to watch her weigh it out off the larger brick of tea while she prepared the cart). She gave me the leaves to inspect, and I noted that they didn’t have either the strong earthy quality of dried shou pu-erh, nor the green nature that I associate with sheng, but instead were a unique experience. Which was exactly what I had been hoping! She then went through the rinse of the leaves and two steepings. One steeping she poured from the sharing pitcher into the single cup, and the other she left in the pitcher. The entire set was placed before me to consider while I enjoyed my tea.

She then re-prepared the cart to bring my husband his matcha, gathering a matcha bowl, whisk, scoop, and a dish of beautifully green matcha powder. I was particularly impressed with her whisking technique and the voluminous amount of froth she was able to generate in a short time. Unfortunately, my husband finished his matcha fairly quickly, so I got very few photos of it, but I did get a taste, and it was a lovely, balanced matcha with a mild umami flavor that melted almost instantly into sweetness, plus a vegetal floral nature that I found very pleasant. He liked it, too.

My tea started out with a lighter body and subtle earthiness, as compressed teas sometimes do, but after the second or third steeping, started opening up into something with a lovely sweetness and depth. There was almost a smokiness at one point. After my initial two steepings, the lady in the shop came around every so often with the pot of hot water so I could keep steeping, which was nice. At one point, she noticed that I was sharing with my husband and let me know I could turn down the water at any point, but I (stiltedly) explained that I thought he would like it, too. I was intrigued by the almost coffee-like qualities I noticed as the session went on, which is part of why I started sharing with him. We share tasting notes when he gets single-origin coffee at our favorite coffee house, so I thought this would be a nice way to reverse that, given that he’s not often present for my tea sessions.

Sometime in this whirl of amazing tea, our food came. The apple cake was delicious, not too sweet, and the perfect amount to serve as a late afternoon snack before a late dinner. My husband was hungrier, which was good because he received a jellied sweet along with his matcha, as well as the dorayaki he ordered.

All in all, it was a lovely visit, taking just over an hour. We probably could have spent longer, but we did need to make our way to the gala dinner for my husband’s conference. But I didn’t feel rushed or cheated. I did, however, leave with a desire to return not only to Barcelona, but also to Tetereria.

Tea and Caffeine and my Delicate Condition

NB: I am not a medical doctor and am not making any recommendations for your personal caffeine consumption. If you have a health problem, of course, consult your doctor for advice. This is just how I’ve handled my personal caffeine consumption.

As I announced yesterday on my YouTube channel, there’s a reason I’ve been quiet on this blog and on social media: I am pregnant again. Now, I don’t want this to turn into a pregnancy blog — I’ve even created a separate blog for those who want to more closely follow my pregnancy and parenting updates — but I thought I’d talk about a pregnancy-related topic that is near and dear to my heart: how I’ve handled drinking tea while watching my caffeine intake.

Monitoring caffeine is not actually a new thing for me. I have another (minor) health issue that gets exacerbated when I have too much caffeine. But since it’s more uncomfortable than dangerous, I mostly just wing it, assuming I’m taking in less caffeine drinking tea regularly than when I was drinking coffee regularly. When I started trying for a baby, I realized that I should probably figure out how to keep a closer eye on things.

Of course, when you look up “caffeine in tea,” you generally get the information back that an 8-oz. cup of tea has 26 mg of caffeine (or maybe it’s 50 mg, depending on your source). And that green tea and white tea have less caffeine than black tea. But then, sometimes you can find sources claiming that green or white tea have more caffeine than black tea. And few sources mention oolong, but mostly assume it’s somewhere between black and green tea. And finally, most of these sources assume that you make a cup of tea by taking a tea bag and putting it in a mug of hot water for 2-5 minutes.

So what if you don’t make tea like that? What if you re-steep your leaves? What if you use more leaf than they put in the average tea bag? And what is the actual variation among different tea types? Well, it’s unclear. Oh, and to get this out of the way: You cannot “decaffeinate” tea at home by steeping it for thirty seconds and discarding the first steeping. There’s more information about it here, but suffice to say that caffeine is released at a relatively even rate for at least the first 10-20 minutes of steeping, so you’d have to throw away all the enjoyable tea to get “decaffeinated” tea from this method.

The first thing I did was to try to get some information about how tea is handled during pregnancy in countries where tea is consumed more widely than coffee. Generally, in the US, tea is lumped together with coffee and is consumed mostly as a drug, for the caffeine. Caffeine is considered a vice, and therefore something that might be dangerous in pregnancy. In other countries, tea is considered a healthy drink, consumed for its benefits rather than as a vice. I did find a few blog posts  and articles about women’s experiences with recommendations from doctors in Japan, and this video from Mei Leaf, but there’s not a lot of reliable information about how tea-loving countries handle advising pregnant women on drinking tea.

But I do know that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists considered “moderate caffeine intake” below 200 mg per day to not increase risk of miscarriage or preterm birth. Most doctors stick to this number and say that it’s safe to have up to 200 mg of caffeine per day in pregnancy. So, armed with this number, I set out in search of a more accurate way to figure out how much caffeine I was getting from my tea.

From here, I decided I should probably consider how I brew tea. Since I generally tend to weigh my loose tea leaves, rather than using a tea bag, I knew I tended to use 3-6 grams of leaf per session. I’ll sometimes go as high as 8 g if I’m doing a flash-steeped gaiwan session. I also knew that brewing time was a factor, so I looked at the various ways I steep teas. Generally, I like to steep for 30 seconds to maybe a minute or two for each steeping, and I usually do maybe four steepings over the course of a day, so that’s definitely under five minutes of total steeping time. If I look at the white2tea steeping guidelines for a flash-steeping session, those times add up to 275 seconds for ten steepings, or just under five minutes. So I decided I would consider my brewing parameters to be somewhere between 3-5 g of tea steeped for five minutes.

Now, let’s talk about assumptions. I’m definitely making some assumptions here. First of all, I’m assuming that water quantity doesn’t really effect caffeine release. I mean, this may not be the best assumption, but at the very least, brewing more tea in the same amount of water shouldn’t make caffeine release more efficient, right? So at worst, my assumption is leading me to overestimate caffeine. Same with water temperature. The studies I found assume water temperature of 100 C, and I often use cooler water. There are studies of water temperature and caffeine release, though I didn’t look them up specifically for this project, but again, I’m assuming that, again, I’m likely overestimating caffeine by disregarding the effects of water temperature.

Okay, on to the studies. The first one looks at caffeine and theanine in standardized brews of 39 different teas, with the standard brewing method being to steep 1 g of tea in 100 ml of water for three minutes. For my purposes, I multiplied their caffeine numbers by two to account for my longer brewing time and then by 3-5 to account for my increased tea quantity. So if I wanted to steep 5 grams of tea, I assumed I would need to stick to teas with fewer than 20 mg of caffeine, as reported in Table 2. For 3 g of tea, I could go up to teas with about 30 mg of caffeine. Almost every tea in the study would fall under this amount.

I also looked at this post, which got some caffeine information from a couple studies, and expanded the range of tea types I for which I had data. The table in the post considers teas that are brewed with 1 g of tea in 100 ml of water for 30 minutes, which is pretty close to full extraction. So all I did in this case was to multiply the reported number by the amount of tea I would use, which is pretty convenient (and almost certainly exaggerating my caffeine consumption). I especially like this resource for when I want to do a special session with 8 g of a nice pu-erh and want to see just how excessive the caffeine would be.

Now, one more note about caffeine in pregnancy: One of the books I got to prepare for pregnancy was called The Panic-Free Pregnancy, which specifically addresses concerns about caffeine in pregnancy. First of all, the author of that book looks at studies of pregnant women consuming caffeine and concludes that 200 mg per day is too conservative and it’s likely that up to 300 mg per day is probably safe. He also points out that, this is meant to be a limit on average consumption, so if you go nuts and have several espressos one day, you’re probably safe if you limit yourself to decaf the next day (fun fact: decaf coffee has a small amount of caffeine and I personally find that it’s enough to ward off the headaches I get when I have no caffeine at all). So I took this as permission to occasionally indulge in a long tea session, without worrying too much, as long as I was careful for a couple days after that. I particularly like Pique Tea tea crystals for the “careful” days because I can be more certain of how much caffeine I’m getting, and one serving of Pique Tea doesn’t seem to ever have more than 50 mg of caffeine. In addition to all of this, Emily Oster, author of Expecting Better, points out that there doesn’t seem to be the correlation between tea consumption and miscarriage the way that there seems to be a correlation between coffee consumption and miscarriage, which suggests that perhaps there is something else at work here besides caffeine affecting things. Take that as you will.

One last thing: there is another concern with tea in pregnancy. Apparently catechins, which are found in the highest levels in green tea, can bind with folate, which could potentially increase the risk of folate-related birth defects. While this study did conclude that high consumption of green tea did correlate with lower folate levels, this study concluded that, for women who were taking supplemental folate, increased tea consumption was not associated with an increased risk of spina bifida. Personally, I chose to deal with this by making sure to take a prenatal vitamin (which I started months before becoming pregnant anyway) and also to offset my tea consumption and my vitamin consumption. That is, I drink tea in the morning and take my vitamins in the evening. That way, the vitamins and the tea aren’t in my digestive system at the same time.

All in all, you can tell I’ve put a lot of thought into how my tea-drinking could affect my pregnancy. Possibly too much thought (after all, people have been drinking tea for centuries and we’ve managed to keep having babies). But it helped give me peace of mind, and I hope that aggregating some of the information I found helpful might help someone else, too. I’ll close by pointing out that a lot of this research ended up being moot, as my first trimester nausea ended up limiting the amount of tea I drank anyway, mostly because I felt too sick to really enjoy the good stuff.

Tea Review: Adagio Teas Jasmine Phoenix Pearls

Earlier this month I had a birthday and one thing that people know I will always appreciate for my birthday is tea. Because my mother knows me very well, she got me a pack of jasmine tea because I love jasmine. I don’t tend to drink a lot of flavored teas, with the notable exception of traditional flavors — so Earl Grey, the occasional masala chai, and floral-scented green and oolong teas. And rolled jasmine green tea is a particular favorite.

Adagio Teas is probably the way I first got really into loose-leaf tea. I do remember visiting Teavana when one opened in a nearby shopping mall, but instead of buying there, I went home and opened up our newfangled internet machine to search “The ‘Web” for a way to find even more high-quality teas. I stumbled upon Adagio and first learned the joys of loose leaf tea. These Jasmine Phoenix-Dragon Pearls might have even been in my first order because I found the name romantic and lovely, and even as a teenager preferred deep floral scents to the typical light scents favored by my peers.

But since then, I’ve moved beyond the one-stop shopping experience of Adagio Teas, so they don’t often feature in my rotation when I decide what to review. So because it seems appropriate for early spring, I thought I’d add some florals to my tea reviews. You know, for spring.

The Adagio Teas Jasmine Phoenix (also called Dragon) Pearls are described as hand-rolled young tea leaves and buds, scented with jasmine. They are delicate and pretty to look at, with some variation in the color of the leaf, as well as a few white jasmine buds sprinkled in to enhance the look of the dry tea. When they steep, you can watch them unfurl into small leaves. The jasmine scent, particularly of the first infusion, is heady, and I find that it does best when it’s steeped for about a minute at first, and then as little as possible on subsequent infusions, until the strength of the tea settles down a bit.

The brewed tea, if not allowed to oversteep, is luscious and almost sweet-tasting. It smells heavily of jasmine, but also of the vegetal notes of good-quality Chinese green tea. While the first steeping will always have the strongest flavoring for any scented tea, this tea maintains a respectable jasmine punch for several steepings, although as you go on, you’ll find the qualities of the green tea coming through more and more. While Chinese green teas are not my favorite, this is a lovely example of one.

Adagio Teas is known in the tea community for being a bit overpriced for their quality, but there are a great place for someone who is new to tea to go and learn a bit about loose leaf teas before diving into sourcing teas more directly. Their website is visually pleasing and provides good information and reviews to help you choose a tea. And the fact that they offer small samples of almost all their teas is a fantastic bonus.

NB: I was not paid or encouraged to write this review. While the tea in question was a gift, it was not a gift from the company. All thoughts are my own. Read more about my sponsorship and review policies here.

Tea Review: Brief Reviews of Everything Made by Pique Tea (plus a bonus recipe!)

NB: I purchased everything reviewed here for full price with my own money directly from Pique Tea. Pique Tea did offer me a discount code after my initial post on Instagram about their Jasmine tea, but I had already ordered all of this and didn’t use it.

Pique Tea is an interesting company. They claim their product has the same health benefits as high-quality, brewed loose-leaf tea, but in a powdered product. I first saw them at a local herb store and was intrigued. I figured if it wasn’t terrible, it would be a great way to take tea to conferences without having to worry about bags and steeping times and water temperature. When I tried the flavor I first got (Jasmine), I was so impressed, I decided to buy everything and review it all in one go.

Since I love Tracy’s mega-review of Glossier over at Fanserviced-B, I thought I’d do my review in a similar style. I should probably give a little info about my likes and dislikes and how I do tea. First of all, I love the ritual of tea, so something like this is never going to fully replace my tea leaves. But two things have come up for me recently. First of all, I travel semi-regularly and never know what the situation is going to be in terms of tea availability at conferences. Since I’m supposed to be a representative of my organization, I strive not to appear too eccentric or high-maintenance when I travel, which means that loose-leaf tea is pretty much out. I’m stuck with tea bags, and I have to worry that I’ll get caught up in a conversation and forget how long I’ve steeped my tea. These tea crystals definitely work great for travel, and I even convinced a researcher at a recent conference to try them for her field expeditions!

Second is that my husband and I have been trying to have a baby, and one of the things to worry about is caffeine intake. Because most of the information about caffeine in tea out there is pretty much wrong, and it varies so much due to factors such as brewing parameters, using a product like Pique helps me get a better handle on how much caffeine I’m consuming. They not only test their products and post the caffeine range on each product’s page, they also report numbers that I find believable and not just taken from old estimates of caffeine in general tea types. For example, they report that their Jasmine Green Tea has a higher level of caffeine than their Earl Grey Black Tea, which goes contrary to the conventional thought that green tea has less caffeine than black tea, but is more in line with more accurate research that suggests that processing doesn’t affect caffeine levels as much as previously thought.

But how do they taste? I tested all of the flavors I received, using Pique’s preparation guidelines, and then tweaking it for myself, and I’ve come to a ranking of the Good, the Okay, and the Not-so-Good. Are these going to have the same delicate nuance as a session with a high-grade loose-leaf, carefully selected, and brewed precisely in the perfect teaware for the leaf? No. Do they offer oolong tea? No (darn). But compared to the kinds of mid-range teas you can get from companies like Teavana, Adagio, and Rishi Tea, they hold their own. Here are the details:

The Good:

Jasmine Green Tea: This was the first one I tried and I was impressed. This tastes exactly like a brewed cup of Rishi Tea full-leaf Jasmine Green Tea. Plus, I just love jasmine tea.

Sencha Green Tea: This has that classic Japanese restaurant tea taste. It doesn’t have the ocean notes of really good sencha tea, but it’s a solid Japanese green tea.

Mint Sencha Green Tea: This brings back memories of Teavana Moroccan Mint tea. I like it in the afternoons after a snack or right after lunch to cleanse my palate and keep me from snacking more.

Peach Ginger Black Tea: This is a weird choice for me to like, but it tastes like exactly what I wish Republic of Tea’s Peach Ginger Black Tea tasted like. A great ginger kick, subtly peachy, but not cloying. I haven’t tried this iced, but I imagine it will be great that way, too.

The Okay:

English Breakfast Black Tea: I find the other two Pique black teas to be a bit harsh drunk plain. So this is just okay, but it really makes a fantastic morning cuppa with a splash of milk and a spoonful of sugar or honey. I actually drink a sweet milky cup of this before going to the gym in the early morning.

Earl Grey Black Tea: Again, too harsh on its own, but it has some really interesting honey notes to it, if you can get past the bitterness. But it does make a really amazing Earl Grey Latte (recipe at the end of this post!)

Passion Fruit Green Tea: It isn’t really this tea’s fault that I don’t think it’s great. I really don’t prefer nontraditional fruity teas. But it’s a great representation of a not-too-cloying fruity green tea. Again, probably would be great iced.

The Pique Cup: I couldn’t call this great because, well, it’s just a cup. But it’s attractive, has a sort of millennial-minimalist flair, and the double-walled construction does a great job of insulating your hands from the hot beverage. It’s not my style, but if you’re into it, it’s sturdy but not clunky and holds the perfect cup of tea.

The Bad:

Hibiscus Mint Herbal Tea: I hate stevia. I hate all non-nutritive sweeteners, so I don’t really single out stevia. But stevia has crept into “healthy” foods and beverages and to my taste, has ruined them. And it’s a shame, because once my taste buds started saturating a little to the stevia taste, I could detect some really nice tart and herbal notes in this tea. But I haven’t had more than my first cup because I really hate stevia. If they ever decided to try a non-sweetened version of this, I’d be first in line to try it again.

So there are my thoughts. Most of the teas are not bad and worth buying again. I know I’ll almost certainly buy the three non-fruity green teas again, and possibly the English Breakfast, for the ease of my pre-gym cuppa (seriously, I go from bed to car in 15 minutes when I’m going to the gym, so five minutes to steep a cup of tea counts). And now, as promised, my recipe for a Lavender Honey Earl Grey Tea Latte:

Ingredients:

1 packet of Pique Earl Grey Black Tea
1 cup of milk (I used full-fat goat’s milk)
1 tsp. dried lavender buds
1-2 tsp. honey (to taste)

Add the packet of Earl Grey tea crystals to your cup. Add the lavender, honey, and milk to a small saucepan and put over medium-low heat. Heat over the course of 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the honey has dissolved and it reaches at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit (no more than 180 degrees). Strain into the cup with the tea crystals, making sure your strainer does not touch the surface of the liquid in the cup. Froth with an electric hand frother for a few seconds, until a little foam forms. Drink as soon as it’s cooled off enough.