Five bits of tea trivia that are WRONG!


Tea Trivia That Is Wrong

I suppose tea trivia is like any other kind of trivia. Some of the most fascinating trivia is also some of the least accurate. I did a little bit of searching around the web for tea trivia, and found some that were a little bit off, some that were just badly phrased, and some that were flat-out wrong. Here, for your reading enjoyment, are four of those inaccurate gems I dug up.

1. Iced tea was invented at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair by an Englishman named Richard Blechynden.

WRONG! This was the first “fact” in the top Google search for tea trivia (“51 Tea Facts Every Tea Lover Should Know“). The present a compelling explanation that it was hot, and his tea wasn’t selling, so he poured it over ice, thus inventing iced tea!

That’s a cool story — and it’s one you can find all over the Internet, but it’s all ruined if you happen to take a peak at Housekeeping in Old Virginia, by Marion Cabell Tyree. It was published in 1877, proving that iced tea had been around long before the St. Louis World’s Fair.

Iced Tea Recipe

Excerpt from page 64 of Housekeeping in Old Virginia

As a side note, Mrs. S. T. wouldn’t have had to “correct the astringent tendency” if she had used cooler water and not left the leaves sitting in them all day long.

2. The only tea plantation in the United States is located in South Carolina.

WRONG! Or at least quite out-of-date. This is the first piece of trivia on the tea page at funtrivia.com. There is, indeed, a fairly sizable plantation called the Charleston Tea Plantation in South Carolina, but they are far from being the only tea plantation in the U.S. There are also producing tea plantations in Washington (I have some of their white tea), Oregon, and Alabama. There are dozens of small growers in Hawaii, and new plantations that aren’t in production yet in various other states.

3. Tea bags were invented in 1908 in the United States by Thomas Sullivan.

WRONG! We’re going back here to the “51 Tea Facts” website from our first false “fact” above. This is their second piece of trivia, and so far, they’re batting zero. Again, they tell a fun story, but the story doesn’t address United States Patent #723,287, which was filed in 1901 and issued in 1903.

Tea Bag Patent

This pretty clearly indicates that Roberta C. Lawson and Mary McLaren invented the teabag well before Thomas Sullivan supposedly sent out little fabric pouches of tea that confused people put in their teapots.

4. Restaurants in Georgia are required by law to serve sweet tea

WRONG, but with a kernel of truth. Georgia Representative John Noel (D-Atlanta) did indeed file a bill with four co-sponsors just before April Fools Day 2003. He said it was “an attempt to bring a little humor to the Legislature.” The bill never made it out of committee. It said:

(a) As used in this Code section, the term ‘sweet tea’ means iced tea which is sweetened with sugar at the time that it is brewed.
(b) Any food service establishment which serves iced tea must serve sweet tea. Such an establishment may serve unsweetened tea but in such case must also serve sweet tea.
(c) Any person who violates this Code section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature.”

Although I have a lot of friends in the South that would have supported this bill, it definitely did not become law.

5. The tea dumped in Boston Harbor in 1773 was in bricks

WRONG! I’ve seen this picture all over social media today with the caption, “This is what the tea looked like that was dumped into the Boston harbor.”

Not the Boston Tea Party tea

No. No it isn’t. As this excellent debunking points out, historians at the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum say that the three ships that were raided that night contained 240 chests of Bohea, 15 of Congou, 10 of Souchong (all black teas), 60 of Singlo, and 15 of Hyson (both green teas)–all in loose-leaf form. Not a brick of compressed tea to be seen.


While writing this post, I’m enjoying a cup of wild shu (“ripe”) pu-erh, which has been out of stock in my tea bar for months. I’m very happy that we just got it back in. It’s a 6-year-old pu-erh that comes in brick form (unlike the tea at the Boston Tea Party), and it is one of the richest, earthiest, most complex shu pu-erh teas I have. I love this stuff.

The Dream and the Dancer


Dream and the Dancer header

Yeah, that’s me in the picture. You have a problem with that?

I stepped away from the horse and let the saddle fall in the mud. The old Arab mare looked dejected, embarrassed. As well she should be. Anger still flashing in my steely eyes, I reached for my teddy bear cup on the post by the barn door. I needed the warm, soothing taste of a good first-flush Darjeeling. Despite the cold, a bead of sweat ran down my temple as I lifted the cup to my lips. Tepid. Of course. Just like the horse’s performance when we rounded up the bulls.

Oh, wait. Robert Godden asked for a non-fiction blog post. He and two other studly tea bloggers have a blog called “Beasts of Brewdom: The Men of Tea. Huzzah!” Yes, it appears that while biting the top off of a whisky bottle and wiping the excess testosterone from his eyes, Godden decided to use the word “huzzah” in the name of a tea blog for men. Strange creature, this Godden.

Then, to make things even manlier, he decreed that challenges would be issued to grizzled specimens of manhood such as myself, and that the title of the blog post must be the title of a romance novel from some British publisher called Mills & Boon. Somehow, I was lucky enough to draw the title, The Dream and the Dancer.

I lowered the cup and glanced to the house. Lo, what vision of loveliness to my virile eyes did appear? My wife, Kathryn, dancing in the living room as she did her dusting (don’t look at me like that — everyone’s wife dances while she dusts, right?). I took another sip of the lukewarm Darjeeling and set the cup down on the post. I hefted a pair of 12-pound double-bit axes to my shoulder and set out to the shed. I had three cords of wood to split before I could go inside to my wife and the delicate new Taiwanese oolong we had just purchased. The splitting would go faster if I used an axe in each hand.

Tea is oft considered a woman’s domain. We muscular paragons of manhood are expected to go more for coffee sludge that’s been boiling over a buffalo chip campfire for the last 12 hours. Or perhaps a pint of Jack Daniels downed in a single long draught. But tea should not be the demesne of the ladies. Was the Emperor Shennong (who reputedly discovered tea five millennia ago) a woman? Charles, the 2nd Earl Grey, for whom is named perhaps the best-known tea in the western world? Sen no Rikyu, who developed the Japanese tea ceremony? Of course not! They were men!

I have a dream.

I dream of men realizing that there’s nothing feminine about a hot steaming cup of smoky lapsang souchong!

I dream of women saying, “Look at that sexy studmuffin over there drinking pu-erh tea. He must be a staunch fellow, indeed!”

I dream of sweaty rugby players saying, “Put away that girly java and get me a proper cup of sencha.”

The chores done for the day, I headed back to the house. I stretched my aching muscles as I strode up the front walk, and looked at the window to see if I could catch another glimpse of my wife dancing through the living room. That’s when the mountain lion appeared. He stepped out from behind the tractor, muscles rippling under his thick pelt, and stopped in the middle of the walk, his yellow eyes flashing at me. I continued walking toward him, our eyes locked. We both tensed as the distance between us closed. “I want tea and you’re in my way,” I growled at him. The lion looked down and slunk away, recognizing that I was in no mood to deal with him. I stretched my sore shoulders and continued to the house, where Kathryn met me at the door. With a smile, she held out a hot, fresh cup of jade oolong. I held it to my nose, closed my eyes, and inhaled deeply. “You might want to shower before dinner,” she said softly.

Yes, we are men. We can use our rippling muscles to stack ten tons of hay, and then relax with a delicate cup of tea. We can sip an Earl Grey with our friends while debating whether that noise coming from the Camaro is a tappet problem, or just a loose fan belt. We can drink half a glass of iced tea, and then pour the rest over our heads to cool down after setting a new obstacle course record. We can share a pot of tea with a friend after beating each other bloody in a boxing ring.

Tea has been the drink of manly men for over 100 generations. So, gentlemen, the question isn’t whether tea is manly enough for you — the question is whether you are manly enough for tea.

(Caution: Just in case the title of this video doesn’t give it away, it does contain some foul language)

Millennials & Tea


Millennials & Tea header

When a new study comes out, it’s interesting to see who spins it how. YouGov released a survey last month comparing American consumption of tea with coffee. Their headline was “Coffee’s millennial problem: tea increasingly popular among young Americans.” Oh, no! A coffee problem!

World Tea News, on the other hand, reported that same survey with the headline, “America’s Youth Embrace Tea.” Oh, boy! Kids are drinking tea.

Most of the articles I read about the survey included this handy-dandy chart:

YouGov coffee v tea by age

It pretty clearly indicates that the younger you are, the more likely you are to prefer tea to coffee. The statistic I liked, on the other hand, I turned into the Venn diagram on my header for this article. Of Americans aged 18-29, 18% drink coffee, 27% drink tea, and 39% drink both (the remaining 17% don’t drink either one). In case you’re interested, 998 people were surveyed and 143 of them were in that “millennial” age range of 18-29.

I’m sure there are some people in the tea business that are saying, “This is marvelous! We just have to sit back and wait and we’re going to own this market!” Others are saying, “We really need to get people over 30 to drink more tea.” The coffee industry, of course, has known about this trend for years. That’s why Starbucks bought Tazo and Teavana.

Being a numbers geek, I decided to pull up the PDF of the full report and do a bit of digging. Here are some interesting points you might enjoy:

  • The under-30 crowd is much more likely than the older crowd to drink neither coffee nor tea.
  • Blacks are over twice as likely to drink tea only (no coffee) than whites or hispanics.
  • 64% of Republicans prefer coffee, vs 55% of Democrats and 52% of independents.
  • 33% of independents prefer tea, vs 32% of Democrats and 28% of Republicans.
  • Middle-income Americans earning $40K-$80K/year are more likely to prefer tea than higher or lower-income Americans.
  • 42% of people surveyed are trying to limit their coffee intake vs only 25% that are trying to limit tea.
  • Women are much more likely to prefer tea than men

So let’s see here. A tea shop’s target audience is young women? This comes as a surprise to absolutely nobody in the tea business.

Rapt audience at tea bar

A completely candid (you believe that, right?) shot of a typical crowd at my tea bar, waiting for me to tell them tea stories.

I confess that I didn’t expect some of these results. Since Montana is 89% white and 0.4% black, I don’t really have a statistically significant sampling to judge African-American preferences. I do see, however, quite a few Native Americans in the shop getting tea, although I haven’t tried doing any statistical analysis there.

To what do I attribute the tea-drinking millennial trend? The obvious factor is healthier lifestyles, but I would posit something else as well: younger folks are better informed about tea.

I am much more likely to hear an older person say, “I don’t like tea,” because back in their day, tea meant either a teabag full of basic Lipton black tea or the green tea at a Chinese restaurant. Millennials are more likely to have discovered tea in a tea shop that offers dozens — or hundreds — of options. That person who doesn’t like tea may never have tried masala chai, or oolong, or pu-erh, or white tea, or the huge variety of flavored, spiced, and scented options. They’ve probably never experienced the difference between that teabag full of dust and an FTGFOP-1 golden black whole-leaf tea. They may still be under the mistaken impression that latte means coffee, leaving them blissfully unaware of the wealth of tea lattes awaiting them in a good tea shop.

I’ve said many, many times that if you work in the tea business today, your primary job is education. I think this survey shows that tea education is working. Sure, we still sell your basic Earl Grey tea, but younger folks like the ladies in the picture above are well educated about their options. You’re as likely to see them sipping whole-leaf black Vietnamese tea or Indian oolong as you are a peach-flavored white tea or a sage Earl Grey (popular in our corner of Montana).

So let’s get out there and buy Grandma a great cup of tea!


 

While writing this post, I was drinking Jasmine King Silver Needle tea. It’s a delicate white tea perfectly scented with jasmine blossoms, so that you get the aroma of the jasmine and the flavor of the tea. Yes, jasmine isn’t just for green tea anymore. Hey, that’s a great tagline. Look for it as a blog post title one of these days!

OMG! Twins! Tea With Gary and Gary With Da Tea


Garys and Teas Every now and then, I check my site statistics. This is to serve you better, of course, and not because of some neurotic compulsion to see whether I have more followers this week than last. Among other things, I look at the search terms that you have typed into Google (or whatever) that brought you to my humble website. One that took me by surprise a while ago was “Gary Wit Da Tea.” I understand how “Tea With Gary” could be transposed easily enough into “Gary With Tea,” but “wit da tea?” Hmmm. So I did a little search of my own and discovered this fine fellow named Gary Hayes. Now, it’s understandable that Mr. Hayes (a.k.a. “Gary With Da Tea“) had escaped my radar. After all, the fellow’s only been doing his radio show for a couple of decades, and he has a paltry 65,000 followers on Twitter. That’s only about a hundred times my humble Twitter readership. Oh, he also has an IMDB page. Here are a few excerpts from their mini bio of that other Gary with that other kind of tea:

His ever-popular “Colour of the Day”, fashion reports, flawless entertainment news and celebrity gossip (which Gary calls “Da Tea”) are can’t-miss features for Rickey Smiley Show listeners and Dish Nation viewers. At every radio appearance and community event, listeners flocked to his live remotes to see for themselves just who was pouring “The Tea”, and serving up the celebrity dish! It wasn’t long before he was asked to join The Rickey Smiley Morning Show team, where “Da Tea” is now poured daily.

Brimming with curiosity, I searched for pictures of Da Tea Man. Holy cow! We’re virtually twins. All I have to do is shave my beard, buzz my hair, and acquire a shiny suit and you’d have trouble telling us apart.  I’m telling you, next time I’m in Dallas, I have to get my picture with him. Wait a minute. He is the one in Dallas, and I am the one with the cowboy hat? Hmmm again. Since I’m sure a daily radio show doesn’t take much time at all (trust me, I used to do a 2-minute weekly live promotional segment on KMXE in Red Lodge, MT, so I’m clearly an expert), I’m going to check in with him. Maybe we can write guest posts for each other’s blogs.


You know how I’ve been adding that little paragraph at the end of my blog posts that tells you what tea I was drinking while I wrote it? As you might have guessed, I’m not drinking tea at the moment. I’m having a glass of red wine. That must mean Gary Hayes is the one having tea at the moment. Darjeeling, perhaps? Yeah, he looks like a Darjeeling kind of guy.

Fine Words Butter No Parsnips – and I’m not talking about Tibetan Yak Butter Tea


Fine Words Butter No Parsnips I have some strange friends. One of them is a rather … unique … tea blogger from Australia named Robert Godden (his blog, for those who dare to look, is Lord Devotea’s Tea Spouts). One day last week, I signed on to Facebook, only to see that Robert had tagged me in a post. That’s never a good sign. I followed the link to find this: Godden challenge My first thought was, how do you punctuate that? I imagine a restaurant reviewer getting a call from her editor. “Yeah? What do you want?” The editor responds with, “Fine words. Butter. No parsnips.” Check. Got it. Like her other reviews, this one should be fine words. Maybe the next issue of the magazine has a Paula Deen theme: every article must include butter. And the editor probably hates parsnips. It makes sense — in the same kind of twisted way that any idea of Robert’s makes sense. Paula Deen butter But what does all of this have to do with tea bloggers? Should I write about Tibetan yak butter tea? There aren’t any parsnips in Tibetan yak butter tea. But then it hit me. He’s using “butter” as a verb. Buttering parsnips is a good thing. You want to butter your parsnips. But you can’t do it just with fine words. It requires action. Fine words alone ain’t going to butter any parsnips. That does mean something in the tea world. There are all kinds of ways to promote tea. Yak approvedYou can describe a tea using fine words: “This astonishing infusion has sylvan aroma, full buttery mouthfeel with floral overtones, notes of antebellum parsnip and yak musk, and a mild nutty aftertaste.” You can pitch the benefits of a tea using fine words: “This health-laden tea is Ethical Tea Partnership certified, loaded with theanine and antioxidants, 100% organic, and picked only by virgins on the full moon. Oh, and the label was drawn by a Seattle artist who dresses only in all-natural fair-trade hemp.” You can market the tea shop that sells a tea using fine words: “Our tea house was founded in 1492 by two monks and a tea farmer. We have buyers in 17 countries who hand-select every single leaf that appears in our shop. Every one of our stock clerks has a PhD in botany and is an ITMA Certified Tea Sommelier™.” But none of those fine words are what really butters your parsnips. What’s important is whether you like the tea, not whether the barTEAsta is a stunningly-good-looking expert in selling tea. You don’t want to get sucked in by all of the fine words on the label, buy a $20 bag of fine tea, and then have it rot in the pantry because you don’t want to drink it. Instead, buy your tea from a shop that lets you taste it before you commit. Buy a cup, or avail yourself of a free sample if they offer one. If buying tea online is your thing, ask if you can get a sample with your next order. If you’re buying $50 worth of tea, I doubt they’ll begrudge you a tablespoon or two of some other blend — especially if you’re a regular. Don’t ask them to send you a sample for free if it’s not piggybacked on an order, though. That’s not nice. Even if it’s just ten grams of tea, they would still have to pay for the packaging and shipping. Taste it. Enjoy it. Make sure it’s a tea that you’ll actually drink a big bag of. Then make your purchasing decision. Read the fine words. Listen to the sales pitch. But remember, the proof is in the pudding — err — parsnips. buttered parsnips (Just click on the picture above for a buttered parsnip recipe)


While writing this blog post, I was drinking tieguanyin (a.k.a. Iron Goddess of Mercy), a soft, flavorful oolong tea. I brewed this cup for 3:00 using boiling water.  I often do it with cooler water, but I’m feeling saucy today. Not saucy enough to add yak butter, but saucy nonetheless. In my not-so-humble opinion, the second infusion is better than the first.


POSTSCRIPT: Posts from the other bloggers that have answered the challenge are starting to appear. I shall add each to this list as I discover it:

Tea Lattes


Tea Latte header The coffee industry would have you believe that the word “latte” means “espresso with steamed milk.” That basically is what “caffelatte” means, but “latte” just means “milk” in Italian. A tea latte is every bit as much a latte as a coffee latte, and the growing popularity of masala chai lattes has been bringing that point home to coffee drinkers of late. In the coffee world, a latte is typically made by preparing the espresso, mixing in the milk, and then adding foam on top. The milk is there to add flavor and to cut the espresso so it doesn’t taste as strong. In the tea world, the milk serves a somewhat different purpose. For the record here, I am not talking about Starbucks-style chai lattes, which are made with a sweet syrup. I’m talking about tea that’s fresh-brewed in milk and water.

Flavors and nutrients from tea leaves extract well in water. That’s why a straight cup of tea tastes so good. That’s why people who like milk in their tea traditionally add the milk after the tea is brewed. A lot of other things, however, don’t extract quite as well.

Many of the flavors in a masala spice blend (no, they aren’t chai spices — chai just means “tea” in Punjabi) are lipophilic. Directly translated, this means “fat-loving,” which means that they extract much better in fats (e.g., milk) than in water. That’s why it’s important to brew the masala chai in hot milk and water instead of just adding the milk later. In my tea bar, we’ve done side-by-side taste tests of tea lattes made both ways. We use a milk heater/frother instead of using the steamer that’s found on commercial espresso machines. We tried steeping the tea in water and then adding the frothed milk vs steeping the tea in a 50/50 blend of hot water and frothed milk. In this entirely subjective set of tests using our employees and customers, the lattes brewed with milk won consistently. I realize that our production method wouldn’t work in a typical coffee shop where people are rushing in and out on their way to work. They want their drink now. They don’t want to wait four to seven minutes for a fresh-brewed cup. But in a tea bar like mine, things are different. We make a lot of lattes — close to 1/3 of all of the cups we serve. We offer a choice of milk (nonfat, 2%, whole, half-and-half, soy, almond…), and over 150 different types of tea.

Capresso frothPRO

Capresso frothPRO milk heater and frother.

The majority of our lattes are served unsweetened. For those who want it sweetened, however, we do the same thing we do when making traditional sweet tea: we add the sweetener when we’re brewing instead of at the end. Most of our customers go for either plain sugar or agave nectar, but we offer other options there, too: flavored hail sugars, honey, stevia leaf, stevia powder, and other artificial sweeteners. You can’t do something like this in a fast-moving production line environment, but you can do it at home. A milk heater/frother is less expensive than a high-end home coffeemaker. We started out with Keurig units, but found they didn’t hold up to commercial use. There were too many fragile parts, and most of them broke in the first six months (that Keurig unit didn’t even end up on this list of the top 10 frothers). We switched to the Capresso frothPRO and we’ve been quite happy with them. They aren’t the fastest solution, but they’re solid, reliable, and easy-to-clean. It’s also easy to switch between heating/frothing and just heating. If you don’t want to invest $50-$100 in a frother/heater, there’s another solution that works great at home. Just heat the milk in the microwave. Don’t let it go to a boil, but get it as hot as you can without boiling it. There are quite a few handheld battery-powered electric whisks available if you like it frothy; the list I linked in the previous paragraph includes three of them.

Battery Powered Whisk

SCHIUMA battery operated milk frother

How do you know which types of tea work best in a latte? Experiment. One of the most popular tea lattes is called a London Fog. It’s very straightforward: just Earl Grey tea and a 50/50 mix of milk and tea. We usually start the tea steeping in water and add the milk halfway through. Make sure you use the right amount of tea leaf for the total volume of milk and water; if you’re using 8 oz of milk and 8 oz of water, use enough leaf for a 16 oz mug. Many of our blends with cinnamon make good lattes, as do fruity teas. We use sweetened matcha powder for our green tea lattes. Want something different? Try making a strong shu pu-erh latte with chocolate milk. Experiment, have fun, and then teach all of your coffee-drinking friends just how many kinds of latte there are!

What’s the Healthiest Tea?


Healthiest tea header

Unlike some of the other questions I address here, this one has a very straightforward answer. The healthiest tea is the one you’ll actually drink.

Figuring out which specific tea has the most health benefits is a complex task. Most styles and brands don’t have lab analysis of their antioxidant content, caffeine levels, and other details. Many scientific reports and studies are being misinterpreted, and others are being oversimplified.

Here’s the bottom line, though: if you don’t like the taste of a tea, you won’t want to drink it. You’ll have fewer cups per day. You’ll use smaller cups. You’ll use less leaf.

But if there’s a variety that has a bit less benefit — perhaps half of those healthy amino acids you’re after — and you love the flavor, you’ll drink more. You’ll use one of those big American mugs instead of a dainty British teacup. You’ll make it stronger. You’ll sneak in extra cups because you enjoy it. And even though each cup has less of what you’re trying to get, you’ll get a lot more.

So if your goal is to drink more white tea, don’t just buy a pound of the first (or cheapest) white tea you find and choke it down. Experiment! Try a variety of white teas and buy the one you really enjoy drinking. If you want green tea and you don’t like the Chinese variety you tried, try a few Japanese green teas.

Whether you’re in this for the health benefits or for because you enjoy tea, it’s fundamentally all about the taste!

Organic, Fair Trade, and the Ethical Tea Partnership


Ethical Tea Partnership header

Ten years ago, I had a pretty simplistic view of the word “organic.” I figured there was some set of guidelines you had to follow, and *presto* — you could put the word organic on your product. As it turns out, things are much more complicated than that.

When my wife and I had our ranch, we had a neighbor that produced organic pork. One day, they were forced to make an unpleasant choice. A disease was circulating among the hogs in our area. They could inoculate their hogs, but it would cost them their USDA organic rating. Or they could keep the organic rating, and potentially lose the animals — possibly even the farm. In another post on this blog, I told a story of an herb farm near us that gave up their USDA organic rating simply because they couldn’t keep up with the paperwork. There is a daunting amount of documentation required for a small family business to be certified organic.

I learned even more about organic products when I got into the tea business.

I learned that if you take some organic tea leaves and mix them with organic peppermint leaves, you cannot call the resulting mint tea “organic” unless you go through the process of having your facility certified and document everything you do.

I learned that some of my customers will only buy tea that is certified organic — and others will only buy tea if it is not certified organic.

I also learned that there are countries that won’t produce USDA organic tea simply because they don’t want a U.S. government agency telling them what to do. That’s when I found out that not all organic tea is USDA organic. Japan has their JAS (Japanese Agricultural Standard) program, the logo in the center bottom of the header image for this blog post. The European Union countries have their EU organic program. All of these programs were designed to encourage natural and sustainable farming techniques, but they all do so in different ways.

There’s also Fair Trade. In their own words, “Products that bear our logo come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated. We help farmers in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities.”

 

In 1997, a group of tea companies grouped together to create a program that was more specific to tea. At first, it was about tea companies working to monitor and certify their supply chains. Eventually, it became the Ethical Tea Partnership. Many of the members are names you’d recognize, like Bigelow, Tazo, and Twinings. Others are boutique brands. All work with the entire chain of people involved in tea production, from the farmers all the way to the distributors.

The ETP certification process is unlike organic and fair trade certifications, but it has elements of both. Provisions of their global standard include:

  • No bonded or forced labor. Employees can’t be forced to leave their identity papers with the employer, must be free to leave at any time, and may not be forced laborers from prisons
  • Freedom of association. Employees must be allowed to join trade unions and bargain collectively if they so choose.
  • A safe and healthy workplace. Tea businesses must provide clean, well-lit, and safe work areas. Workers in potentially hazardous areas must be provided with health and safety training and appropriate protective clothing.
  • Safe and hygienic wash stations and restrooms.
  • No child labor, and special treatment for workers under 18 years of age.
  • Fair minimum wages and on-time payment of workers.
  • Reasonable working hours, including a maximum of 48-hour regular weeks, paid overtime on a voluntary basis, maternity leave, and a minimum of one day off in every seven-day period.
  • Equal opportunity employment, including equal pay for men and women and a written policy forbidding discrimination on the basis of race, caste, nationality, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, and other factors.
  • Environmental management systems, including policies for control and reduction of agrochemicals, and for prevention of soil erosion.
  • Water and ecosystem conservation.

The entire global standard document is available online as a 30-page PDF file.

 

So the next time you’re looking for tea, don’t just look for that USDA logo. Keep an eye out for these other logos as well!

organic logos


While writing this blog post, I was drinking Pi Lo Chun, a hand-processed Chinese green tea. I brewed this cup for 3:00 using 175 degree (F) water. If you’re squeamish, you may want to taste it before looking at the translation of its name (“green snail spring”) — but it contains no snails; it’s just straight green tea. It has a full body and an earthy flavor, but it’s not overpowering at all. In fact, I’d describe this tea as “soft.” It’s not like a hearty Japanese Sencha, which I almost feel I have to wrestle into submission.

I suppose I should be drinking something organic, or fairtrade, or at least ETP. Mea maxima culpa!

How much caffeine is in my tea?


How much caffeine is in my tea-header

I wish there was a simple answer to this question. It would be ever so cool if I could just say, “black tea has 45 mg of caffeine per 8-ounce cup.” In fact, a number of people say it is that simple. This graph came from the front page of the eZenTea website:

tea caffeine chart-eZenTeaAnd this one just showed up in my Twitter feed from SanctuaryT (the tweet said, “Finally, the truth about and !”):

tea caffeine chart-SanctuaryTThey make it pretty simple, right? But that’s not very useful when they disagree with each other! The first chart shows the caffeine green tea at 20 mg/cup and white tea at 10 mg/cup, showing that white tea has half as much caffeine as green tea. The second chart shows green tea at 25 mg/cup and white tea at 28 mg/cup, indicating that white tea has 12% more caffeine.

Then we get confusing (and frankly pretty silly) charts like this one from HellaWella:

tea caffeine chart-HellaWellaAll three charts have green tea in the same basic range (20-25 mg/cup), but the HellaWella chart breaks out black tea (which is 40-42 mg/cup in the other two charts) into “brewed tea” at 47 mg/cup and “brewed imported tea” at 60 mg/cup. Huh? “Imported”? HellaWella’s “about” page doesn’t say what country they’re from, but I’m going to guess from the spellings that they’re from the U.S. Sure, there are few small tea plantations in the U.S., but I would venture to guess that approximately zero percent of casual tea drinkers have ever had a domestically grown tea. In America, pretty much all tea is “imported.”

So why the discrepancies?

Because the people making these charts (a) don’t explain their methodology and/or (b) don’t understand tea.

As I explained in my three-part caffeine series (here’s part 1), green, white, oolong, black, and pu-erh tea all come from the same species of plant (Camellia sinensis), and in some cases, the same actual plant. We carry a black and a green Darjeeling tea that are picked from the same plants, but processed differently. No part of that process creates or destroys caffeine.

Let me make that clear: let’s say you pick a bunch of tea leaves on your tea farm. You divide them up into four equal piles. You turn one pile into green tea, one into white tea, one into black tea, and one into oolong tea. When you’re done, you make a cup of tea from each. Assuming you use the same water at the same temperature, use the same amount of leaf per cup, and steep them for the same time, they will all have the exact same amount of caffeine.

If that processing doesn’t change the caffeine content, what does?

  1. The part of the plant that’s used. Caffeine tends to be concentrated in the buds and leaf tips. A high-quality golden or white tea made from only buds will have more caffeine than a cheap tea made with the big leaves farther down the stem.
  2. The growing conditions. Soil, rainfall, altitude, and many other factors (collectively known as terroir) all affect how much caffeine will be in the tea leaves.
  3. The time of year the leaves were harvested. Tea picked from the same plants several months apart may have dramatically different amounts of caffeine.
  4. How long you steep the tea. The longer those leaves sit in the water, the more caffeine will be extracted into your drink.
  5. How much leaf you use in the cup. Use more leaves, get more caffeine.
  6. How big the cup is. This seems ridiculously obvious, but it’s something a lot of people miss. Anyone who went to elementary school in the United States knows that one cup = eight ounces. However, a four-cup coffee maker doesn’t make 32 ounces (8 x 4); it makes 24 ounces. They decided their coffee makers sound bigger if they use six-ounce cups.

Even if you and I measure the same amount of leaf out of the same tin of tea, your cup might have twice the caffeine of my cup, depending on how we like to fix it. Unless we both precisely followed the ISO 3103 standard for brewing the perfect cup of tea.

Unfortunately, the lab tests to assess caffeine content are expensive, so most tea shops never test their teas. On top of that, people can’t seem to agree on how to brew the tea they are testing. I read one study where every tea was brewed for five minutes in boiling water. That’s consistent, but it’s not realistic. You don’t brew a Japanese green tea that way, or you’ll have a bitter, undrinkable mess. Another, by Kevin Gascoyne, tested tea as most people drink it (e.g., black tea in boiling water, white tea in cooler water). That’s better but even still, Kevin’s way of brewing a particular tea may not be the way I do it.

UPDATE: After I wrote this post, but while it was still in the scheduling queue, a blog called The Tea Maestro put out a post about this same subject, titled “The Latest Buzz on Tea and Caffeine.” If you’re interested in caffeine and tea, I’d recommend reading it. If not, I can’t imagine why you’re reading this post!

The bottom line is that every tea is different. Very different. In fact, Kevin tested two different sencha teas and one had four times the caffeine of the other. If someone shows you a handy-dandy chart that indicates exactly how much caffeine a cup of tea has (as opposed to showing a range), it’s wrong.


While writing this blog post, I was drinking Green Rooibos from South Africa, which has no caffeine at all. It is a non-oxidized “redbush” tea that I blogged about back in 2011 (“I’ll have a green red tea, please“). I brewed this cup for 4:00 using boiling water. It’s a remarkably forgiving drink, and I’ve steeped it for as long as 10 minutes without ruining it. It’s usually good for at least two infusions.

Tea Bloggers Roundtable 2015


Tea Bloggers Roundtable 2015 header

Once again, World Tea Expo attendees will have an opportunity to share in the wacky (and occasionally educational) world of professional tea bloggers. You’re all invited to the Tea Bloggers Roundtable 2:30 to 3:30pm on Thursday, May 7. It will be a panel discussion featuring some of the names tea aficionados just might recognize.

The panel will consist of Rachel Carter (iHeart Teas), Chris Giddings (Tea Guy), Jo Johnson (A Gift of Tea), Nicole Martin (Tea for Me Please), Geoffrey Norman (Lazy Literatus), Jen Piccotti (An International Tea Moment), and Naomi Rosen (Joy’s Teaspoon). I’ll be moderating the panel, which has the theme this year of “Melding of Voices.” I know, all of those names are in that poster image right below this paragraph, but I wanted to include links to all of the blogs. Check us all out before the event!

Tea Bloggers Roundtable 2015 poster

One of the things I enjoy most about the world of tea blogging is the lack of competition. I don’t find myself thinking “oh, no, Geoff scooped me on that story,” or “how can I get more viewers than Robert (Lord Devotea’s Tea Spouts) this week?” Instead, we read each other’s posts; we talk about each other’s stories; we link to each other’s blogs; we gain inspiration from each other. We’re not in it to beat each other at the game. We’re in it to share our love of tea and each be the best we can be.

Our blogs all have different themes, too. Some of us just do tea reviews. Some talk about gadgets. Some are very professional in tone; and some are very personal. Some talk about the tea business, and some prefer to just focus on the tea itself. Some blogs, like mine, are all over the map. That’s what makes the tea blogging community such a great environment for newcomers.

Tea Bloggers Roundtable at World Tea Expo 2014

Speaking of past events, here’s a candid shot from last year’s Roundtable. I’m the big dude on the right.

It really gets to be fun when we open things up to questions from the audience, and that’s where we find out just how many people in the tea business are interested in blogging. In addition to the prepared questions, if past roundtables are any indication, we’ll also be dealing with questions like how to choose topics, how to get tea to review, the Association of Tea Bloggers, whether to schedule posts, what social media sites work best for promotion, the difference between a hobby tea blog and a professional tea blog, and much more.

If you have a conference badge, there’s no additional cost to attend the Tea Bloggers Roundtable, so take advantage of this opportunity to hobnob with experienced tea bloggers, writers, and social media marketers.

If you have questions, contact Jo Johnson at agiftoftea@gmail.com. She’ll take care of everything!

Tea Bloggers Roundtable at World Tea Expo 2013

And just in case you haven’t had enough nostalgia, here’s the 2013 Tea Bloggers Roundtable. I wasn’t on it back then, so they had to add three extra people to compensate.


While writing this blog post, I was drinking a Vietnamese black tea called Good Morning Vietnam! I brewed this cup for 3:00 using boiling water. As usual, I did not add milk or sugar. Although this is a typical black tea in most ways, there is very little astringency. I don’t think your typical half-tea-half-milk breakfast tea drinker would find it overly satisfying, but it’s turning into my new favorite black tea.

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