I came across a fascinating article the other day with pictures (and short captions) of tea as they drink it in 22 countries around the world. Obviously, picking one tea — and one style of drinking it — to represent an entire country is difficult, but they did an admirable job of it. What I appreciated, though, is that it got me thinking about the way we experience tea from other countries.
I was rather distressed that the caption they chose for the U.S. was:
Iced tea from the American South is usually prepared from bagged tea. In addition to tea bags and loose tea, powdered “instant iced tea mix” is available in stores.
Eek! As much as I enjoy a cup of iced tea on a hot day, I rarely stoop to tea bags, and never to “instant iced tea mix.” If you are one of my international readers (when I last checked, about half of my blog’s visitors were outside the U.S.), please don’t judge us based on that article!
Despite that, the article made me think about something: When we experiment with the drinks from other countries, we usually prepare them our own way. Yerba mate, for example. The traditional method of making mate in Argentina, Uruguay, or Paraguay is in a gourd, with water that Americans would call “warm.” Americans trying out the drink usually make it just like a cup of tea, using boiling water in a cup or mug.
With tea, many of us would have difficulty drinking a cup of tea like they do in another country. Follow that link above and look at their description of Tibetan tea (#5 on the list). I don’t know about where you live, but here in Montana, I can’t easily lay my hands on yak butter.
Nonetheless, it’s a lot of fun to research how people eat and drink in other countries and try to duplicate the experience. Even if you’re not doing it exactly right at first, it makes you feel connected with other people and their cultures.
When my wife and I were dating, we discovered a Moroccan restaurant that we both loved: Menara in San Jose, California. They had fabulous food, belly dancers, authentic music, and — of course — Moroccan mint tea.
Kathy and I loved enjoyed watching them pour the tea as much as we enjoyed drinking it. We sat cross-legged on pillows around a low table. The server would place the ornate glasses — yes, glasses for hot tea — on the table and hold the metal teapot high in the air to pour the tea.
I am not a big fan of mint teas, generally, and I do not sweeten my tea, but I absolutely loved the tea at Menara (and no matter what my wife tells you, it had nothing to do with being distracted by the belly dancer).
When I made Moroccan mint tea at home, it never came out the same. There was always something off about the taste. I tried different blends, but just couldn’t duplicate the flavor. Then I decided to try duplicating the technique.
Take a look at that picture to the right (a marvelously-staged and shot picture from chelle marie). Look closely at the glass. That, as it turns out, is what I was missing. Pouring the tea from a height does more than just look good; it aerates the tea, which changes the way it tastes and smells.
You’ll find the same thing with a well-whisked bowl of matcha (Japan), a traditionally-made cup of masala chai (India), a frothy-sweet boba tea (Taiwan), or a cold, refreshing Southern sweet tea (USA).
If there’s a tea shop or restaurant in your area that makes the kind of tea you want to try, get it there first. Otherwise, read a few blog posts, watch a few videos, check out a good book, and give it your best try.
Tea is more than just a beverage; it is a window into the cultures that consume it. Embrace the differences. Enjoy the differences. Enjoy the tea!
Recently, I came across a Quora question asking, “What advice is there for starting a tea shop … that is targeted to a younger crowd?” I’d been thinking a lot about that demographic since my Millennials & Tea post last month, so I decided to answer it. Looking over my answer, I realized that it was absolutely begging to be tweaked, expanded, and transformed into a Tea With Gary blog post.
If you are planning to open a tea shop and you want to target the young folks, here’s what I’d advise:
- Figure out where your target audience hangs out and put the shop close by. Don’t try to entice them to come all the way across town to get to your shop. They won’t.
- Keep it calm. If they want a frenetic environment with lots of energy and noise, they’ll go to a coffee shop (or a club, or a mall, or…). Tea shops are gaining in popularity because they are relaxing places to hang out.
- Hire people who are enthusiastic about tea and train the bejeebers out of them! In many ways, today’s tea shops are where coffee shops of the 1980s were. Our customers don’t just walk in and order a double-shot half-caf low-fat light-froth caramel mocha latte. Most of them walk in and look around, rather overwhelmed by the options. It’s our job to educate the customers. When they learn from us, they come back.
- Pick your niche and fill it. Are you going to be the healthy place that prescribes tea like medications? Are you going to be the socially-conscious place that has the organic, fair-trade, and ETP teas? Are you going to be the British tea house with Earl Grey and scones? Are you going to specialize in Chinese teas only? Will you be the über high-end place with the $500 pu-erh beengs and the $25/oz specialties, or the cheap place where tea is a buck a cup? You can’t be all of those things, so pick something that fits the youth in your area and do it well.
- If you want to sell loose tea, make sure to either sell by the cup or make samples. People are far more likely to buy it if they try it first.
- Prepare the tea for the customer and pour it yourself. Younger customers are less into product and more into experience. Control the amount of leaf, the water temperature, the steep time. Explain what you’re doing, and make it both educational (see #3) and fun.
- Don’t use solid colored dark mugs. Let the customers see the tea. I use glass mugs so that they can enjoy the beautiful colors of the various teas — engage the eyes, not just the taste buds and nose.
- Serve iced tea. No matter what the weather is outside, iced tea is massively popular in the United States. Make sure every single one of your teas is available iced, and teach your staff how to make a proper glass of iced tea. And brew each cup fresh!
- Serve boba tea, but keep it authentic. You’re a tea shop, not a snow-cone shop. Don’t use the sickly sweet syrups, make your boba from tea! Brew it up fresh and make it an experience (see #6). We do our boba in cocktail shakers.
- Most of the younger crowd is looking for a place to settle in and relax for a few minutes, not a place to dash in, grab a drink in 93 seconds, and dash out. Make your shop comfortable, brew everything fresh — even if it means your masala chai lattes take a while — and perhaps keep a hot pot of your tea of the day and a big jug of iced tea of the day for those customers who are in a hurry.
- If you’re pondering this right now, go to World Tea Expo and take their new business bootcamp. It’s coming up fast, and the bootcamp may be booked, but give it a try. The rest of the Expo is a great place to learn the industry and meet the people; and you do not want to miss that wonderful Tea Blogger Panel that I’m moderating. It’ll be a blast!
Even purists who eschew “flavored” teas will often enjoy a cup of jasmine green tea. Perhaps it is because when you look at the loose tea, all you see is tea leaves; there are no visible indications that your tea leaves have been adulterated in any way. Perhaps it is because the affect of the jasmine in a well-made jasmine tea is delicate and subtle. Perhaps it is the rich history of jasmine teas.
Jasmine first made its way to China from Persia (now known as Iran) over 1,700 years ago, and it took hundreds of years before it was used to scent tea. Even then, it spread quite slowly, and it wasn’t until the Qing Dynasty, which began in 1644, that it became widespread.
The making of jasmine tea is quite different from typical flavored teas. Most flavored teas are either blends, where dry ingredients are mixed together, or tea leaves sprayed with flavor extracts, like Earl Grey with its bergamot oil. Jasmine tea, on the other hand, is scented rather than flavored.
In the traditional process, jasmine flowers are picked early in the morning, when the blossoms are still tightly rolled. Trays of processed and dried tea leaves (usually, but not always, green tea) are stacked in alternation with trays of jasmine. The trays have woven mesh or screens as bottoms, so as the jasmine blossoms open up and release their scent, it travels freely into the tea leaves over the course of about four hours.
The tea leaves pick up moisture from the flowers along with the jasmine scent, so they have to be re-dried before they can be packaged. In the finest quality jasmine teas, this scenting process may be repeated half a dozen times or more. The finished tea has no jasmine blossoms in it — only the scent that has transferred.
How you prepare a cup of jasmine tea depends on the base tea used. If it is made form a green tea, as most of them are, then you’ll want to use 175-185°F (80-85°C) water, and steep for three minutes or less. Using boiling water is a quick way to ruin a good cup of jasmine tea — or any other green tea, for that matter — by bringing out unwanted bitterness.
Grades of jasmine tea vary with the quality of the tea and the process used. One of the popular higher-end styles involves tea leaves that are tightly rolled, often known as “jasmine pearls.”
When drinking jasmine pearls, seven balls are placed in a small cup. Seven is considered good luck, so with jasmine pearls you don’t weigh them out or measure them in a tablespoon. Each rolled ball contains two leaves attached to a bud, which will slowly unfurl when the hot water is added.
Unlike most loose tea, jasmine pearls are infused right in the cup with no screens or filters, and you don’t remove them before drinking. The unbroken leaves assure that if you sip carefully, you won’t get a mouthful of leaf. If you’re drinking jasmine pearls with friends, the host should make sure that there’s always more hot water available to keep refilling the cups.
Jasmine blossoms certainly aren’t the only flowers used to scent tea — I’ve written about Vietnamese Lotus Tea, for example — but jasmine is definitely the best-known and most popular.
Cor, I’m gobsmacked! The world’s gone barmy! The Telegraph, that bastion of Britishness, has declared in no uncertain terms that 80% of Britons don’t know how to make tea! Not only that, it’s scientists that say so. Scientists! Why, just look at the headline:
Okay, let’s all just keep calm and carry on here. I have certainly addressed the subject of making the perfect cup of tea before. And scientists have weighed in, too. Why, there’s a British standards document from the Royal Society of Chemistry that explains it step by step. Even George Orwell defined the ideal cup (although I disagree with him).
You see, the world is filled with tea Nazis: people who aren’t happy with figuring out how to make their tea; they have the cheek to tell you how to make your tea. I am a much more mellow fellow myself. I believe that if you make a cup of tea and you enjoy it, you’re doing it right. You may not be doing it my way, or the Royal Society of Chemistry’s way, or George Orwell’s way, but you’re doing it in a way that makes you happy. It doesn’t get much more “right” than that.
But let’s set my sappy altruism aside for a moment and examine what The Telegraph and the scientists at University College London have to say. They do, as it turns out, have some quite valid assertions — although their science reporter may have been a bit hasty in his conclusions.
“Despite drinking 165 million cups of tea each day, scientists believe that most Brits do not allow the leaves to infuse long enough for the complex flavours to emerge. Researchers at University College London and the British Science Association claim tea must be allowed to steep for up to five minutes, far longer than the toe-tapping two minutes allowed by most drinkers.”
I’m going to start out by making an assumption here, and that is that we’re specifically talking about black tea. I make my assumption based on the fact that their entire article assumes you’re adding milk to your tea (I have never met anyone who added milk to white or green tea, although I did meet one sad little man who put milk in his oolong), and that you’re using boiling water, which is perfect for black tea or pu-erh but ruins white or green tea.
One of the characteristics prized by British tea aficionados is astringency (which Lipton’s calls “briskness”). Your average breakfast tea in the U.K. is steeped until it is quite “brisk” (which I call undrinkably bitter). The astringency is then cut with milk, and possibly sugar as well. Generally speaking, when I want milk I drink a glass of milk. When I want tea, I want it to taste like tea. I take mine black, which means I use shorter steep times to control the astringency.
“And they advise using a pot rather than a tea-bag in a mug to allow convection currents to swirl tea leaves fully through the water.”
Okay, I have to agree with them there. Teabags are evil, and here’s why:
Dried tea leaves swell as you steep them. To extract the maximum flavor (and caffeine, and antioxidants…) from the leaves, they need water flow around them. Teabags were introduced for convenience, and they are, indeed, convenient. On the downside, though, they don’t give the leaves room to swell, and they severely limit the flow of water around the leaves. To address this problem, tea makers generally don’t put high-quality whole-leaf tea in the bags. Instead, they use finely crushed leaves, known as “fannings” or “dust.” This increases the surface area exposed to water, allows them to make the bags smaller, and (here’s the evil part) use the lowest-quality tea that was passed over by all of the tea makers that buy whole leaf — what I refer to as “floor sweepings.”
The article goes on to quote Mark Miodownik, Professor of Materials and Society at University College London:
“It’s obviously subjective but I feel people are missing out on a drink which could be so much more sophisticated because they don’t wait for the tea to brew long enough. Tea is made of 30,000 different chemicals, it’s a very complex thing and those molecules take time to emerge and influence each other.”
He could well have stopped after the first three words. It is obviously subjective, indeed. Perhaps the first 10,000 chemicals that emerge are the ones you find tastiest, and the last 10,000 are the ones that I prefer. Should we both steep our tea the same? Of course not.
On an unrelated note, I sometimes feel that my formal training in electrical engineering and computer science does not really qualify me to speak as an expert on tea. Seeing The Telegraph quote a professor of “materials and society” as a tea expert makes me feel better.
Back to the point at hand, Mr. Miodownik goes on to say something that reinforces my point from above:
“Fair enough if you want a hot milky drink, but then why drink tea?”
The article explains that the UCL people have an answer to the question of whether the milk should be added before or after the tea is poured. They don’t, however, address the issue of whether the milk should be there in the first place. That’s because it’s subjective. Some of us prefer tea, instead of hot milky drinks!
I also particularly enjoyed their discussion of a tea study by a milk company, which quite refutes the premise of the article.
A study carried out by Cravendale milk in 2011 found that the perfect cup of tea needed eight minutes (two minutes with the tea bag or leaves, six more afterwards) before it reaches optimum flavour and temperature.
UCL tells us that tea must be steeped “far longer than the toe-tapping two minutes allowed by most drinkers,” but Cravendale says that a two minute steep is just fine as long as it can sit in milk for six minutes after it is steeped.
So who do we believe? The scientists or the milk company?
How about neither?
Make your tea the way you like to make it. Steep it until it tastes good. If you want to add milk, cream, lemon, sugar, ice cubes, honey sticks, a sprig of mint, a dash of cinnamon, or a soupçon of cayenne, then by all means do so.
As for me, I shall eschew teabags, brew my favorite black tea for 2:30 to 3:00, and sip it straight.
As I write this, I am drinking an 8-year-old aged shu (“ripe”) pu-erh tea from Vital Tea Leaf in Seattle. I started by doing a 20-second “wash,” swirling the leaves in boiling water and then pouring it off. My first infusion was 2:00, and the second was 2:30, as I wanted it a bit stronger. Proper British tea drinkers may want to stop reading now, as I steeped it neither in a mug nor a ceramic teapot, but in a brewing device made of (*gasp*) plastic. After drinking rich, earthy teas like this, it’s hard to go back to plain black tea!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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)
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:
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.
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!
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.
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: 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. 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. You 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. (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:
- Robert Godden: thedevotea.teatra.de/2015/02/27/fine-words-butter-no-parsnips/
- Jo Johnson: scandaloustea.teatra.de/2015/02/27/fine-words-butter-no-parsnips/
- A. C. Cargill: accargill.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/fine-words-butter-no-parsnips/
- Rachel Rachana Carter: iheartteas.teatra.de/2015/02/fine-words-butter-no-parsnips/
- Jen Piccotti: internationalteamoment.blogspot.com/2015/02/a-fine-words-butter-no-parsnips-moment.html
- Ken Knowles: lahikmajoe.me/2015/03/01/fine-words-butter-no-parsnips/
- Nicole Schwartz: amazonv.blogspot.com/2015/02/fine-words-butter-no-parsnips.html
- Naomi Rosen: www.joysteaspoon.com/blog/fine-words-butter-no-parsnips-ummm-what
- Jackie Davenport: cupsofteawithjackie.teatra.de/fine-words-butter-no-parsnips/
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.
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.
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!