Posted by: Lauren | December 4, 2014

“The truth about tea”

I stumbled across the below article a little while back, and it was so great I thought I would post the whole thing right here. This is exactly what I have been saying for years! And it’s not too late to join in on the wonder of loose tea. The original article can be find here from the Washington Post.

Tea might become your favorite hot beverage, if you ditch the little bags

 October 21  

Tea is the second-most consumed beverage in the world, after water. But it is a second-class citizen in our nation of hot-liquid drinkers, no matter how much the tea numbers are trending upward. That’s surprising, considering that tea — green as well as black — was the go-to refreshment in America long before colonists dumped 340 chests of it into Boston Harbor. Contrary to popular opinion about a patriotic grudge that sent people on a coffee quest, they kept drinking tea after the Revolutionary War, too; they still had the pots and brewing paraphernalia.

These days, the tea bag rules here and in England. Problem is, it’s the coffee equivalent of instant granules. We can do better, America.

Nonetheless, Bruce Richardson sees progress. “We are enjoying a tea renaissance right now,” says the author of 14 books on tea and the owner of a tea wholesale business in Danville, Ky. (Also bullish: Starbucks, hence its 2012 acquisition of the robust Teavana chain.) He is convinced that 20-year-olds are getting hip to leaves, coming in to sample single-plantation varieties and blends at his tea bar. “They appreciate the health aspects. . . .When they want to stay up late to read, they should be drinking tea” — not coffee, he says with a paternal air.

Perhaps that’s because of tea’s comparatively mild jolt. Typical brewed black teas contain about one-third the caffeine found in coffee (55 vs. 150 milligrams in an eight-ounce serving), yet there’s a contradiction in the cup, as Richardson puts it. True Camellia sinensis, or tea leaves processed differently to create black, oolong, white and green teas, contains L-theanine, an amino acid that helps the brain to simultaneously relax and concentrate. In other words, a little buzz with focus. No wonder tea drinkers feel good about pouring four to six cups per day.

Ask a coffee aficionado what he doesn’t like about tea, and the response might be the same as when the question is turned around for a tea lover: bitterness. Although the reasons for bitter coffee are various, the cause of bitter tea is more likely a matter of over-steeping, which might entail using water that’s too hot as well as letting the infusion go on too long.

Which leads back to the tea bag, really. Ever since its invention in early 20th-century America, the tidy packet has simplified teamaking. Hands-on prowess with loose-leaf tea has become rare — akin to the mid-century era when Americans’ embrace of convenience foods begat a decline in their kitchen acumen. And the quality of the tea in the bags has been unreliable.

Tea brewed via tea bags accounted for more than 65 percent of all tea consumed in the United States in 2012, according to the Tea Association of the USA.

“I just don’t get it,” says Linda Neumann, co-owner with Michelle Brown of the four Teaism shops in the Washington area. “I think if more people took the time to steep and strain instead of dunk and dash, the world would be a better place.”

Not a surprising position for her to take, given Teaism’s exclusive trade in loose-leaf teas and tisanes, which are herbal infusions (not real tea). However, quality is at the heart of the matter. What’s in tea bags “doesn’t come close to the quality of loose-leaf tea. It’s just not of value,” Neumann says. Walk into their Alexandria restaurant and shop, for example, and you can plunk down $15 for a mere 2 ounces of Jinzhen, a Chinese black tea with golden-tipped leaves and a light chocolate aroma in its brew. That works out to about 80 cents a cup. Affordable.

“People think loose-leaf tea is too hard,” she says. “But tea is really very simple.”

Tea has been closely associated with medicinal use and health benefits for centuries. In the past decade or so, consumers have sought out green tea, drawn to its antioxidant properties and studied ability to help prevent cardiovascular disease. So it stands to reason that the full potential of loose-leaf green teas would be preferable to tea bags that can contain little more than tea “dust,” or fannings.

Still, the tea has to taste good to keep you interested day after day, which is why sampling and reading descriptions that act like wine shelf talkers will go a long way toward your personal tea education. There are blends with winelike complexity. Committed tea drinkers will go with an eye-opening black tea in the morning and midafternoon, then switch to something milder, decaffeinated or herbal — officially a tisane, not tea — in the evening.

Getting familiar with tea brewing basics is key. Black teas are steeped with hotter water than green teas, and each type of tea has a recommended range of steeping times. A good tea shop will include specifics on each package, so there’s no need to commit the information to memory.

Experts prefer stainless-steel strainers with deep wells rather than tea balls or chambered teaspoons, so the loose-leaf tea has more room to expand or bloom as it steeps, for optimum flavor. Some teakettles have markings that allow for matching water temperature to tea variety. Travel tumblers and cups for the office sport built-in strainers designed to sit on built-in resting pads.

And there is an acceptable alternative to the commercial tea bag: filling your own. Look for individual, biodegradable tea filters made of simple porous paper that are long enough to drape over the edge of a cup. They take seconds to put together. Pyramid-shaped tea sachets (also biodegradable) are gaining in popularity, as well — a good choice that allows the leaves some room to steep.

Posted by: Lauren | October 29, 2014

Bella Sabatina Tea Shoppe

I recently discovered a new(ish) tea shop in Toronto called Bella Sabatina Tea Shoppe located near Avenue and Lawrence. It’s a fun little shop, and I picked up a couple new teas… of course.

The site reads: “Bella Sabatina Tea Shoppe represents a new concept in the pleasurable tea experience bringing you hand picked teas from the best companies all in one beautiful upscale location.” Based on the two I picked up, I would defiitely agree that the teas are great.

I am absolutely loving the Lychee Peach black tea from Bella Sabatina. This tea is definitely up there as one of my favourites in my tea collection now.

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The Cinnamon Plum herbal is also great – and super cinnamony, perfect for fall.

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Check out the shop if you are in the neighbourhood. Some of the teas cost a bit more than I typically spend, though the ones I picked up were in a fair range. Overall, a good selection, though as a flavoured herbal fan I would have liked to have seen more rooibos and mate varieties.

Posted by: Lauren | August 25, 2014

Tea Time!

I went a little overboard a few weeks ago making some tea treats!

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The cupcakes and cookies were so delicious that it’s only fair that I share the recipes!

The matcha icing for the cupcakes was one of my favourite parts. It was so creamy, buttery and delicious:

Ingredients
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 cup of butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 to 2 tbsp whipping cream
  • 1 heaping tbsp matcha
Instructions

Frosting: In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, blend together sugar, butter and matcha. Keep mixer on a low speed until ingredients are blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes. (Note: I used a hand mixer and it worked).

Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for spreading consistency.

The recipe for the actual cupcake came from here. I used a different blueberry white tea. Next time I would probably brew it much stronger as the flavour was very weak in the cupcake (though still yummy!).

The cookies were from Sweet Beet & Green Bean. I used a raspberry black tea for the recipe. Next time I would probably use a stronger tea for this recipe as well, but they were still quite delicious. I didn’t follow the icing part for this recipe, and instead made a simple Royal Icing mixture using Meringue Powder.

The tea cookie cutouts were purchased on AmazonAmazon also has a variety of teacup cupcake moulds. I also found a set by fluke at a dollar store (Dollarama).

Happy brewing and baking! 

Posted by: Lauren | April 22, 2014

Coca of Peru

I had the pleasure of visiting Peru in March. And of course, I had to try the local tea. Although I didn’t find any notable “tea” per se, I did enjoy coca tea, or mate de coca (an herbal infusion). What is coca? In a nutshell (as described on Wikipedia, yes, Wikipedia), Coca is a plant native to South America, grown in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and of course, Peru. Unfortunately, the plant is known throughout the world for the alkaloid it creates – cocaine. In Peru, it is instead part of the traditional Andean culture. The content of cocaine in coca itself is minimal – between 0.25% – 0.77%. However, this is the stigma it has worldwide and as such I was unable to take any home.

In Peru, many enjoy coca leaves simply by chewing on them. I, however, really enjoyed it steeped. It is delicious! It tastes like a combination between green tea and mate – earthy and sweet, with a yellow green appearance.

Steeped Coca

The abuse of coca is quite sad, and really quite unfortunate given the many uses of the plant.

The main reasons for coca leaf consumption in the Andes include: energizer, medicinal, social and sacred. As an energizer, coca can act similarly to caffeine as well as reduce hunger. It also offers numerous medicinal properties. Socially, coca can be used in labor exchange. As sacred, it allows people to communicate with the supernatural world and obtain protection.

During my visit to Machu Picchu, our guide provided us each with 3 coca leaves. Traditionally, the Peruvian peoples will leave the coca leaves behind as an offering or to obtain protection. We left them in the stones for our own personal ritual offering, which was quite lovely. Our guide asked us to give thanks to those who we wanted to and to appreciate being in the mountains of Machu Picchu and in Peru.

I am particularly interested in the medicinal properties of the plant, as there are many. For me, it was helpful for the altitude sickness I was experiencing in Peru. Livestrong names a few other of the benefits including: weight loss, energy, boosted immune system and aiding in digestion.

I look forward to seeing what happens with coca in the future, and for now will have to remember the taste of the tea until I return to South America!

Posted by: Lauren | February 4, 2014

#teafestto

I had a great time at the Toronto Tea Festival this past weekend. The festival was at the Toronto Reference Library, and offered a variety of talks on tea, ceremonies and of course, a lot of tea vendors. I focused more of my time on the talks this year as my tea cupboard is getting, well, pretty darn full!

I am very excited, however, about the Moose Tracks Black tea I picked up from Herbal Infusions which smells absolutely amazing! I’m looking forward to trying this one as a latte. I also picked up some new tea from Basilur Tea, a tea company that offers delicious blends at low costs – and in beautiful tins! I grabbed the Yellow Fiesta citrusy green tea.

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I was also excited to discover that Bare English and Co – a company that creates tea infused lip balm – now has even more flavours! Super pumped for the amazing smelling Cucumber Melon balm that I purchased. The balms can be found at Rexall, and soon to be at Shoppers as well.

Bill Kamula hosted a great talk on “Buried Treasures”, focusing on the tea collection he explored at the Royal Ontario Museum. Some really neat history of tea culture is found in the collection storage at the ROM. The museum even has a puerh cake in its collection!

Jeff Fuchs offered a great talk on Puerh’s Ancient Roots. It was absolutely amazing to hear his stories about sourcing tea from Asia. His goal was to bring the human element of tea forward, and he definitely succeeded. Interestingly, he also discussed how he does not like flavoured teas. He once tracked the source of a flavoured blueberry tea, and brought it back to the original grower of the tea who did not even recognize his own tea leaves. While I still enjoy my flavoured blends, it was interesting to hear how this part of the world sees tea as a fuel, food and medicine that’s meant to be bitter.

The images he takes while abroad are also amazing. Click on the picture below to see even more wonderful pictures from Jeff Fuchs.

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Lastly, I checked out Diane Borsato’s talk on Tea in Contemporary Art, where she showed us images of how tea has been represented over time in the art world. One of my favourites examples that she showed us was David Shrigley’s contemporary artwork depicting tea. I thoroughly enjoyed the anti-psychotic tea blend!

Shrigley

All in all, a great day at the Tea Festival! Some other neat companies that I discovered and am looking forward to exploring more in the future were Lemon Lily and teALCHEMY. Lemon Lily offers over 150 varieties online. Not too shabby! TeALCHEMY creates seasonal blends, with a philosophy of creating something new through blending. Neat!

I’m looking forward to seeing what the festival has in store for next year. Assuming the festival continues to grow, I hope to see even more vendors next year at a potentially bigger space!

Posted by: Lauren | January 31, 2014

The Toronto Tea Festival

The Toronto Tea Festival is this weekend and I’m really excited to check it out! Last year was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed trying out new teas and hearing new things about tea during the talks. Tomorrow, I’m looking forward to hearing about Buried Treasures, Puerh’s Ancient Roots and Tea in Contemporary Art. Expect an update next week!

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Posted by: Lauren | January 13, 2014

Iron in Tea

As an alumnus of the University of Toronto, I was super stoked when I stumbled across this article about “Saving lives one cup of tea at a time“, an innovative research project taking place at the University.

The article explains that many perinatal and maternal deaths each year are caused by iron deficiency. “Professor Emeritus Levente Diosady of Chemical Engineering believes these numbers can be reduced by creating an ‘iron brew,’ or in other words, developing iron-fortified tea leaves for consumption.” Diosady was initially a part of the team adding salt with iodine, and later iron. He explained, “trying to fortify tea with iron was the next logical step”.

This is a really neat project and I look forward to seeing where it goes.

Dr. Levente DiosadyThe Toronto Star states: “Dr. Levente Diosady was awarded a $250,000 grant by “Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development,” an international initiative calling for innovative ideas to save the lives of mothers and newborns in low-resource countries”.

Tea is the second most popular beverage, next to water, around the world. This study definitely could make a difference if it works!

Posted by: Lauren | January 10, 2014

Pineapple and Tiramisu and Candy Apple, oh my

It’s a new year… and it’s probably time to stop neglecting my lovely tea blog.

I was in a health food store recently and discovered “Tea Squared” – a new company with some really great teas. I picked up Pure Energy, a mate pineapple flavoured blend, and I’m in love. I have problems finding really good mates, and this one is SO good. Based on the site, I’m not sure where to recommend buying the tea, but hopefully it will start showing up in more stores.

I also love the design on the packaging, The Evolution of Tea:

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So great!

I also discovered LuxBerry Tea. I’ve been looking for a Tiramisu Rooibos ever since I finished mine from David’s Tea, not realizing it was from one of the seasonal tea menus. I stumbled across LuxBerry Tea, and purchased both Tiramisu Rooibos as well as Candy Apple Crunch Rooibos. The Tiramisu is perfect, one of my favourite flavours in my tea collection. I’m always looking for some green rooibos too, so I was happy to find Candy Apple Crunch, which also has green honeybush in it. Both are fantastic. I imagine I will be trying Lava Cake quite soon too.

ImageIn other news, I’m extremely excited for the Toronto Tea Festival coming this February. I had a great time last year and am looking forward to seeing what’s in store for this year.

Until next time, happy steeping!

Posted by: Lauren | November 18, 2013

Ai Weiwei: According to What at the AGO

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending Ai Weiwei’s exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario. How is this relevant to tea you ask? Weiwei is a Chinese contemporary artist, and much of his art has political undertones. One of his pieces in the exhibition was entitled “Teahouse” and was made entirely out of tea! Three forms moulded into the shape of houses were included, and all were made from solid blocks of Pu’er from China. Each weighed more than a tonne and were surrounded by even more loose tea. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to touch it, but it did smell delicious. Teahouses can be seen as the social centre of traditional Chinese culture. I would think the artist is playing on the social aspect of tea as well as the political parts of tea farming in this artwork, but as it is contemporary art, I could be wrong. I welcome your interpretation.

Though the exhibition is no longer available at the AGO, it will be at the Pérez Art Museum Miami from December 4, 2013 to March 16, 2014.

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Posted by: Lauren | September 3, 2013

Some new teas!

For my birthday, two of my friends picked me up some lovely tea at the Evergreen Brick Works market in Toronto. The packaging and tea itself is so pretty that it was almost too nice to steep (almost). Look how lovely it looks!

Honeypie.ca

 

The Tea Party herbal blend is particularly lovely and mellow (this is the type in the mug). This one is made of sumac, red clover and elder flowers. Check out Honey Pie Hives and Herbals for a full selection of teas and the other neat products sold by the company, such as soap, lip balm and lotions.

I also got some Lychee Oolong from Ten Ren Tea and it is SO good! It’s a beautiful oolong with the delicious flavour of lychee and flower. This is a great flavour enhancement for an oolong, which I highly recommend.

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