Blog Archives

Myths & Legends At Last!


Myths & Legends Header Since I first announced I was working on a book called Myths & Legends of Tea, a lot has happened. For one thing, the project got delayed, interrupted, and re-prioritized for almost two years. For another, it was broken into four volumes. I am pleased to announce, however, that Volume 1 is done! The Amazon Kindle edition and the Apple iBook edition are available now. I’ll be posting some free excerpts and news about the book over the next week, interspersed with all of my World Tea Expo posts. This first volume in the series features six stories, each accompanied by a profile of the tea featured in the story, and a prologue that sets the stage. The stories are:

Prologue: The Origin of Tea

China, 2737 BC One of the most-recited myths in the tea world is that of Shennong, the legendary Chinese emperor who introduced agriculture to China, worked extensively with herbs to create the first Chinese pharmacopoeia, and invented acupuncture. In working with herbs, Shennong discovered that boiling water somehow made even “bad” water healthy to drink. One day, Shennong settles under a tree to relax with a cup of hot water. As he rests and waits for the water to cool, leaves from the tree blow unnoticed into his cup. After a while, he notices a heavenly aroma. He raises the cup to his lips and becomes the first man to enjoy what is now the world’s most popular drink.

The Japanese Tea Ceremony: Tea, Serenity & Death

Japan, 1591 It is never wise to offend a daimyo, as Tea Master Sen no Rikyū discovers when his patron Toyotomi Hideyoshi commands Rikyū to commit seppuku (ritual suicide). Rikyū, who developed the Japanese tea ceremony as we know it today, asks Hideyoshi for permission to conduct one last ceremony. Rikyū shares his philosophy, his poetry, and the beauty and serenity of the tea ceremony with four of his disciples. Each is given a gift and all but one of his disciples, Zen priest Nanpō Sōkei, leave the tearoom. Rikyū hands him a sword. It is time.

The Iron Goddess of Mercy

China, 1761 During the reign of the Qianlong Emperor, the sixth emperor of the Qing Dynasty, a poor farmer by the name of Wei is walking to market. He notices a crumbling abandoned temple of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. Every time he passes the temple, Wei stops for a while to fix it up. He works on the pathway, the gates, the temple building, and the statue of the goddess. When he finishes, the goddess appears to him in a dream and gives him a reward: the tea plant that becomes the heart of one of the greatest oolong teas.

Earl Grey: This Water Sucks!

England, 1806 Lord Charles, soon to become the second Earl Grey, is content at his home in Howick Hall, save one unhappy thing: the water is terrible, and it produces quite an inferior cup of tea. He and Lady Grey have experimented to no avail, and they finally turn to a tea expert for help. Chen shows up at Howick with a huge chest of tea and a virtual mobile laboratory of bottles and vials containing everything from essential oils to ground herbs. We know the rest. Even though Charles goes on to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, his own fame will be eclipsed by the tea that bears his name.

Teatime in Georgia: The Birth of Southern Sweet Tea

United States, 1870 One oft-repeated story is that iced tea was invented in 1904 by a vendor named Richard Blechynden at the St. Louis World’s Fair. He was having little luck selling hot tea, says the story, and dropped ice cubes in the tea, creating the first iced tea. Nice story, but it doesn’t account for the 1879 cookbook Housekeeping in Old Virginia, which includes a recipe for iced Southern sweet tea. Where did iced tea really come from? Our version of the legend is set in Georgia, where a lady named Harriet Suggett is struggling to come up with an alternative to the popular alcoholic tea punches of the day for an event that includes members of the rapidly-growing temperance societies.

Oriental Beauty: The Braggart’s Tea

Taiwan, 1931 Huang is very good at keeping his head down. He comes from a prominent family that has been farming in Beipu for many generations, but since his father and brother were killed in the uprising almost 25 years ago, Huang has tried not to draw too much attention to himself. When his tea crop is destroyed by leafhopper insects, he is near despair. That field of tea is all that he and his mother, Lin, have to live on. The leaves are chewed, the tips have gone white, and his neighbors have already given up. But Huang doesn’t give up so easily!

Post-apocalyptic Earl Grey

Australia, 20 years from now The zombie apocalypse has spread mercilessly across the country. Only small pockets of the uninfected remain. Sam’s band of survivors is a small one, and they have resigned themselves to a long and difficult road ahead. It will be a much easier road, though, if they can only lay their hands on some tea. Earl Grey, perhaps. Little do they know how much that tea will change their lives… I am particularly excited about the cover of the book, which uses a photograph by Nicholas Han of the sunset over a tea plantation in Taiwan. Myths and Legends of Tea cover

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)

Most popular teas of 2014


Most Popular Teas of 2014 header

I’m bringing back the old January tradition that I skipped last year, which is reviewing my tea bar’s most popular loose-leaf teas of the previous year. This time, it’s a little different. In the 2011 and 2012 summaries, I just looked at the overall bestsellers. This time, I’m going to break it down by category.

I don’t want my blog to be a commercial for the shop, but on the other hand, I do want to provide links to the tea bar’s website, in case readers are interested in trying out any of these teas. As a compromise, if you see a regular link in this post, it goes to another post in my blog. If you see the name of a tea italicized in square brackets [like this], it goes to that tea’s page on shop’s website.

Black Tea

My Scottish breakfast blend, which I call [Gary’s Kilty Pleasure] remains the top-selling unflavored black tea for the fourth year in a row. There’s something about the complementary maltiness of the estate-grown Assam and strong traditional flavors of the Mount Kenya black teas that really works together.

Oolong

The classic [organic tieguanyin], a.k.a. Iron Goddess of Mercy, topped the straight oolong charts. It is medium-roasted and lightly-oxidized, using traditional bamboo coal baking techniques. Most of our oolong drinkers like the flavored options, however, and mango was the top flavor of choice.

Green Tea

Overall, [organic Jasmine Green] did the best. There’s something about the delicate aroma of jasmine that really adds to the flavor of a good green tea. Of the unflavored, unscented green teas, it was Dragonwell (longjing) by a big margin!

White Tea

Our new Shou Mei narrowly edged out the [Yin-Zhen Silver Needles Supreme], even though it hasn’t made it to our website yet. On the flavored side, the [Peach Blossom White] blew away all of the competition. We don’t serve many cups of it hot, but it’s far and away the most popular iced tea at the bar.

Pu-Erh

It’s really hard to pin this one down. We get one answer if we measure sales by the ounce of loose-leaf tea sold, but a very different answer if we take into consideration all of the compressed pu-erh (beeng cha, tuo cha, brick, and so forth). In total mass, this year’s winner would have to be ripe “wild” pu-erh bricks from 2005.

Earl Grey

We have nine different Earl Grey blends, but the organic, fair trade [Ancient Tree Earl Grey] has not only been the number one Earl Grey, but has held a spot in our top three sellers overall for as long as we’ve been selling tea.

Masala Chai

In 2013, we made a scary move. We dropped the Rishi organic masala chai that had been our number-one selling tea and replaced it with a house blend. Several house blends, actually. Our house chai, which is made with estate-grown Assam and our own masala spice blend, did reasonably well, but then serendipity stepped in. We were experimenting around with a caffeine-free option, and blended our spices with rooibos and caramel. The first cup we brewed, Doug looked at me and said, “Oh my God! This is a ginger cookie in a cup!” We named it [Ginger Cookie Chai], and it became our top masala chai, and one of the best-selling teas overall. It also makes a great molasses cookie recipe!

The Holly family

Yerba maté has always been a good seller for us, so we decided to add the other two members of the holly family that produce caffeine: guayusa and yaupon. [Guayusa] became a staff favorite, and soon surpassed yerba maté. It’s an amazing drink that we just can’t get enough of!

Rooibos

We sell a lot of rooibos, and I am still surprised that the green rooibos outsells red rooibos by a factor of three. Yes, [Green Rooibos], which most Americans haven’t even heard of, is one of the top 15 sellers out of the 150+ teas and tisanes we sell. When it comes to flavored rooibos, [Montana Gold], a caffeine-free blend from our friends at Montana Tea & Spice not only handily tops the list of rooibos-based blends, but was our #1 seller overall.

Other herbals

When you think of herbal tea, what’s the first herb that pops into your mind? Probably chamomile. Personally, I’m not a big chamomile drinker, which probably explains why none of my chamomile blends compete with [Evening in Missoula], another complex and wonderful blend from Montana Tea & Spice.


While writing this blog post, I was drinking an organic Iron Goddess of Mercy (tieguanyin), as I so often do. It’s a soft and flavorful oolong that’s lightly baked and medium oxidized. I usually use my leaves at least three or four times, brewing it with 175-degree water. I make my first infusion light (2 1/2 minutes), and then add 30 second to each subsequent infusion.

An open letter to restaurants about tea


Open letter to restaurants header

Dear Restaurants,

I love you. Really I do. I’m not a picky guy. I’m certainly not a snob. I love a five-course meal at a five-star restaurant, but I also must confess a fondness for a “Snag Burger” at the bar down the street from my shop. I love a good Indian buffet, a medium-rare steak, authentic London fish and chips, and an authentic Inverness haggis with neeps & tatties. Basically, if the chef cares about how the food tastes, I’m probably going to enjoy it. And if your servers care about serving the customers, I’m probably going to enjoy being in your restaurant. I love eating out.

But we’ve really got to talk about your tea.

First, if your restaurant is even half a notch above fast food, you have more than one type of tea, right? It may be powdered sweepings from the factory floor in a Lipton teabag, but you’ll have a black tea, a green tea, something without caffeine, and either Earl Grey or Moroccan Mint. If you don’t offer at least those four, you’d might as well hang a sign that says, “Tea Drinkers Not Welcome.”

So let’s start with that. When we order a cup of hot tea, either ask what kind we want, or present us with a basket or box containing a selection to choose from. Don’t just bring out a cup of black tea and then let us find out later that you had other options.

RULE 1: Tell us (or show us) the options!

Next, don’t grab the water until you’re on the way to the table. If we’re ordering black tea (and that includes Earl Grey), then we want that water boiling, or darned close to it.

RULE 2: Hot water. Really hot water.

And now, a big no-no. Don’t ever ever put the tea leaves (or tea bag) in the water before you bring it to us. The only exception to this rule is if you run a tea shop and your waitstaff plans to monitor the entire steeping process for us, in which case you’ll be controlling the steep time as well.

RULE 3: The tea meets the water at the table.

There are several reasons for this.

First, most serious tea drinkers have their own opinions on how long their tea should be steeped. I typically short-steep my black teas and drink them straight. My friend Angela steeps hers long and strong and adds milk. There’s no way to prepare a cup of tea that will make both of us happy. You have to let us do it ourselves.

That said, if you start the tea steeping in the kitchen, we have no idea how long the leaves have been in the water when it gets to our table. A glass carafe (like the one in this post’s header) helps that, but if we don’t know the particular brand and style of tea you’re serving, it’s really hard to judge by the color.

Additionally, not all tea takes the same water temperature. If I’m drinking black tea, I’ll pour in that boiling water the second it gets to me. If I’m drinking green or white tea, I’m going to let the water cool a bit first. Boiling water makes green tea bitter.

Once our tea is steeped to our liking, we’re going to want to remove the leaves from the water — or pour the water off of the leaves.

RULE 4: Give us something to do with used leaves or teabags.

I’ve been in many restaurants that give me a cup of water and a teabag, but no saucer to put the bag on when I’m done steeping it. I really don’t want a soggy teabag on my dinner plate, and you probably don’t want it on the tablecloth or place mat. Even the nice places that bring me a pot of water with a strainer full of leaves and a cozy to keep the pot warm sometimes don’t provide a place to put that strainer. Oh, and this reminds me of rule five:

RULE 5: Don’t just dump leaves loose in a pot with a spout strainer unless it’s a single-serving pot.

It’s frustrating to pour off a cup of tea and know that by the time I’m ready for the second cup, it will be oversteeped and nasty and there’s not a thing I can do about it.

Those five rules will cover the basics. All but the real tea snobs can make something acceptable to drink if you have a few choices (which need to include unflavored options — don’t just give us Earl Grey, mint, fruity stuff, and herbal stuff) and serve it properly. But if you’d like to upgrade the experience and really make us tea drinkers feel welcome, here are a couple of bonus tips:

BONUS TIP #1: Make sure all of your servers can answer rudimentary questions about your tea selection.

Everyone who works there should know which of your teas have caffeine and which don’t. They should know the difference between green and black tea (and know that Moroccan Mint is green and Earl Grey is black). They should know the teas from the tisanes (herbals), and they should know which ones are organic and/or fair trade.

If you serve leaf tea, as opposed to bagged dust, give the staff a bit more information, like origin and style. You want your server to be able to tell a customer whether that red wine is a Merlot or Zinfandel and whether it’s from Bordeaux or Napa Valley. Why shouldn’t they be able to say whether the black tea is a Darjeeling, a Ceylon, or a Keemun?

BONUS TIP #2: Give us a couple of upgraded options.

Offering a oolong, a white tea, or a pu-erh makes me feel like you really want me to enjoy the experience. I don’t even mind paying more for a Bai Hao or a Silver Needle. It’s like offering some really nice wines in addition to the everyday wines; or offering craft beer in addition to Bud Light. That tea can make a good meal a really memorable one.

Attitude is everything in the service industry. If you and your staff are proud of the food you serve, it shows. Steak lovers look for restaurants that take pride in their steaks. Tea lovers look for restaurants that take pride in their tea. Most of the time, we’re lucky to find a restaurant that will even put a bit of effort into their tea, much less take pride in it.

If you aren’t a tea expert, find one and ask for advice. Show that you’re trying, and that you take as much pride in your drinks as you do in your food. We will notice. You will turn us into regular customers. We’ll be happy and you’ll be happy. We all win.


While writing this blog post, I was drinking Jasmine King, a jasmine silver needle white tea. The touch of woodiness in the tea blended beautifully with the heavenly aroma of the jasmine. I don’t drink a lot of white tea, but I’m getting hooked on this one.

Tea Dragons


Sometimes my wanderings around the Web are a pure waste of time, and sometimes I end up finding something delightful. This is one of the delightful ones.

While browsing DeviantArt (a website for artists), I decided to search for tea-related stuff. Lo and behold, I found some wonderful drawings of “Tea Dragons” by Thomas S Brown. The dragons are whimsical, and each one just cries out for a story — or at least a good caption. My favorite, with my own caption added, is the White Tea Dragon:

White Tea Dragon by Thomas S Brown

Over and over I’ve explained it to you: don’t use boiling water for a delicate white tea. It ruins it, I tell you. See what you’ve done? You’ve made Brunhilde cry!

Tom, who goes by “CopperAge” on DeviantArt, said that he originally started doing tea dragons as sketch cards for cons and steampunk events. He’s done about 20 of them so far. When he showed them to his wife (and creative partner), Nimue, she came up with the idea of writing a tea dragon book. They are currently shopping the book around with different publishers. According to Tom, she channeled Lewis Carroll a bit as she wrote it.

The steampunk origins of the tea dragons show better in “Tea Dragon Moon,” which I’ve also taken the liberty of captioning. Note that I haven’t read the book, so these captions are coming straight from my imagination and have nothing to do with Tom and Nimue’s book.

Tea Dragon Moon

“I say, Mycroft, the only thing that could improve this tea would be a more automated brewing system.”
“Quite right, Abernathy, quite right. I do believe I have a few extra sheets of copper laying about. Mayhaps you could whip something up in that lab of yours?”

I’m sure the question running through everyone’s mind, though, is what Tom’s favorite tea is. Looking at the “Tea Dragon Moon” illustration, I figured it would be some kind of über-industrial super-smokey lapsang souchong. I suppose his response fits just as well, though. He said he likes a strong black tea, but he’s “not averse to Earl Grey and occasionally a bit of Jasmine.” I suppose, actually, that his “Grand Tea Master” might be brewing up a batch of jasmine tea, or maybe lotus blossom

Grand Tea Master

“You did pick the lotus blossoms when the sun was high and hot, didn’t you, Hu? The aroma isn’t what it should be. I swear, if you waited until it cooled off and the blossoms closed, I’m going to whack you with my magic spoon. And nobody wants that, do they, Hu?”

Since we’re on the subject of lapsang souchong, though, Tom did mention that he was recently commissioned to produce a tea label. It’s for an Earl Grey/Russian Caravan blend. Hmmm. That could end up similar to my own Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey. I’ll have to track it down when it’s ready and give it a try.

A final note on DeviantArt: don’t be put off by the name, or because members are referred to as “deviants.” The site is simply a great place for artists to share their work and communicate with each other. Sure, it has nude elves, but there’s a lot of wonderful traditional art in there, too. There’s a “family filter” you can turn on if you’re offended by nude bodies. If you’re an art fan, go take a look at the site.

Tall Montanan is Tall?


I was perusing a post from a fellow tea blogger about World Tea Expo 2013 … well, perhaps I shouldn’t call it a “post.” It’s more of an essay. Or perhaps a minor tome. If you bound it in creepy leather and added a few paragraphs about demons, you could even call it a small grimoire. But I digress…

Ahem. Anyway. Geoffrey F. Norman (a.k.a. “the Lazy Literatus“) wrote about his experiences at the expo and featured a little snippet about me in which he mentioned one of my blends: Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey tea. I mention this for four reasons:

1) He posted this picture of us with the caption, “Tall Montanan is Tall.”

Tall Montanan is Tall

Yours truly with Geoffrey F. Norman at World Tea Expo 2013. Photo courtesy of Geoffrey F. Norman. Copyright Geoffrey F. Norman 2013.

2) It’s a good blog post. If you’re interested in tea and/or World Tea Expo, I recommend giving it a look.

3) It reminded me that I promised to send him a sample of Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey and forgot in all the hubbub. Sorry, Geoffrey. I’ll get that on its way ASAP.

4) And, last but not least, he’s a perfect example of not blogging on a schedule!

 

Myths & Legends of Tea


Myths and Legends of Tea

This is only an early working concept for the book cover. At this point, Myths and Legends of Tea is only a working title.

Most writers don’t like to talk about their work in process. I guess I’m not most writers, because I like to talk about pretty much everything. I do usually hold back, though, until I’m really sure the book is going somewhere. At this point, I’m far enough along that I’m ready to let the cat out of the bag.

UPDATE MAY 2015: Please see “Myths & Legends At Last” for release news on volume 1, including a story list, summaries, and final cover art.

As anyone who has visited my tea bar knows, I am as much in love with the stories of different tea styles as I am with the tea itself. Thus far, I have mostly told the tales as they were told to me — or as I found them in the course of reading about tea. Many of these wondrous stories are far too short. The poor farmer who cleaned up a temple and was given Tieguanyin oolong as his reward by the goddess. The mandarin who added bergamot oil to an English earl’s tea to compensate for the calcium in the water and created one of the western world’s most popular teas. The tea master who performed one last tea ceremony after he was ordered by his daimyo to commit seppuku.

In Myths & Legends of Tea, my goal is to create the Grimm’s Fairy Tales of tea.

I am taking each of these tales and retelling it in my own style, most of them somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 words long. Each is accompanied by a profile of the tea featured in the story. Some of the stories are entirely legend, their origins lost in the mists of time. Some are based heavily on fact. Some will be familiar to any tea aficionado. Some are purely the product of my own imagination. In all of them, I am focusing on building a sense of the time, the setting, and the characters, and bringing the stories of tea to life.

I know what you’re thinking. At least I hope I know what you’re thinking. “When will I be able to buy this wondrous book?” (If that’s not what you’re thinking, please don’t tell me). If all goes according to plan, sometime in the autumn of 2013. I’ll keep you all up to date!

NOTE

Since I split off Tea With Gary from my writing blog in 2011, I have tried to keep the two separate. In this particular case, however, this post is both about my writing and about tea, so I am placing it on both blogs. Henceforth, I will place my updates about the book in my writing blog and specific tea stories here, although I’ll probably do some cross-linking. Oh, who am I kidding? I’ll do a lot of cross-linking, because that’s the way blogs roll!

Tea. Earl Grey. Hot: Stop 2 on the World Tea Tasting Tour


Jean-Luc Picard: Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.

I’ve seen this picture all over the Web, but I nobody lists credits. If anyone knows where it came from, please let me know.

England may not grow many tea plants, but the United Kingdom has had a massive impact on the development and popularization of tea since the 1660s. Our second stop on the Red Lodge Books & Tea World Tea Tasting Tour explored the world of Earl Grey tea, from the Right Honourable Charles Grey (for whom Earl Grey tea is named) to Star Trek TNG’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Earl Grey isn’t a single tea, but a broad range of styles. We carry nine different Earl Greys, of which over half are our own house blends, made right here in Red Lodge. The teas we tasted were:

  • Organic Ancient Tree Earl Grey
  • Lady Greystoke
  • Jasmine Earl Green
  • Coyotes of the Purple Sage
  • Fifty Shades of Earl Grey
  • Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey

We started out with a discussion of the history of Earl Grey tea. The common myth is that the tea blend was presented to Charles, the 2nd Earl Grey by a Chinese mandarin after Charles (or one of his men) saved the life of the mandarin’s son on a trip to China. In reality, Charles never set foot in China, and the history has a more mundane beginning. The Earl lived at Howick Hall, which had a high lime (calcium) content in its water. This gave his tea an off-flavor and he (or possibly Lady Grey, depending on who’s telling the story) consulted a tea expert for advice. This tea expert — possibly a Chinese mandarin, we don’t know — came up with the idea of adding the oil of the bergamot orange (Citrus bergamia) to the tea. This is what was served in Howick Hall, and the formula was eventually presented to Twinings by the Earl and it became one of their regular offerings. Twinings changed the formula a couple of years ago, but that’s another story. Earl Grey-Slide07 Before we leave the subject of bergamot, by the way, the word is Italian, not French, so the “T” at the end is pronounced. I have heard a lot of tea people talk about “bergamoh,” but it is actually pronounced just the way it is spelled. Tea purists who scoff at Earl Grey often use the word “perfumey” to describe it. There’s a reason for that. By some estimates, as much as half of women’s perfumes contain bergamot oil, and about a third of men’s fragrances. The first Earl Grey that we tasted is Ancient Tree Earl Grey from Rishi — a wonderful blend that does quite well in our tea bar. This amazing tea  won “Best Earl Grey Tea” at the 2008 World Tea Championship. Earl Grey-Slide10 Next, we moved on to a house blend called Lady Greystoke. This is my take on lavender/vanilla Earl Grey, a blend which many tea shops would call Lady Grey, despite the trademark violation. Lady Grey tea is named for Mary Elizabeth Grey, the wife of Lord Charles, 2nd Earl Grey. Our Lady Greystoke is named for Jane Porter, who married Tarzan to become Lady Jane Greystoke (the full story is in an earlier blog post). Earl Grey-Slide14 For people that enjoy the bergamot, but want a milder tea, many shops offer an Earl Green or Earl White, and perhaps a caffeine-free Earl Red made from rooibos (yes, we have all three of those). For a different twist, we offered up a Jasmine Earl Green. Lightly perfumed with both with jasmine blossom and bergamot oil, it’s the most delicate of the teas we tasted. Earl Grey-Slide15 Next, we come to a popular blend of ours that really captures the character of the American West: a sage-based Earl Grey we call Coyotes of the Purple Sage. I know, it sounds rather strange, but the flavor mix really works. The literary allusion in this one comes from Zane Grey’s book, Riders of the Purple Sage. Yes, it’s a Zane Grey Earl Grey! For the story of the logo and blend, see my earlier blog post about it. Earl Grey-Slide16 The next tea also has a book theme — you can tell we have a combination tea bar and bookstore — but I’m not going to call this one a “literary” allusion, as nobody would refer to the Fifty Shades of Grey books as “literature.” I came up with the blend just for fun, with lots of punny references to the book, ranging from tea’s color (black and blue) to the rich flavor and overpowering bergamot. It actually ended up being quite tasty, and we’ve been selling quite a bit of it. Earl Grey-Slide17 We wrapped up with a signature house blend that’s completely different — a lapsang souchong-based Earl Grey that we call Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey. The full story of that tea has already been told here, so I won’t repeat it. Earl Grey-Slide18 If you live in the area and were unable to attend this session, I sure hope to see you at one of our future stops on our World Tea Tasting Tour. Follow the link for the full schedule, and follow us on Facebook or Twitter for regular updates (the event invitations on Facebook have the most information). Let us close with a short video explaining the proper way to order a cup of Earl Grey tea:

Another new tea logo: Terracotta Army Chocolate Pu-erh


Oh, how I love having fun with tea logos. As I’ve mentioned before (see list below), a series of local artists have been creating logos for our house blends. Today’s new logo is for a tea that started out as a custom blend for my wife, Kathy. She is a chocoholic who loves tea. She has tried chocolate tea blends from various companies, and decided that she’s not a fan of chocolate tea blends using mild-flavored tea. She likes to be able to taste the chocolate and the tea.

So we came up with a blend based on a loose-leaf shu (ripe) pu-erh blended with cocoa nibs (and a few other things). The result was so good, we decided to give it a permanent home on the tea bar’s menu. After struggling for a while to come up with a name reflecting its Chinese origins: Terracotta Army Chocolate Pu-erh.

The logo was produced by artist (and art history professor) Kory Rountree:

Terracotta Army Chocolate Pu-erh logo

We love that Kory started with one of the soldiers in the real Terracotta Army, made him chocolate, and gave him a cup of tea. He actually provided two logos for us to choose between. We picked the one above because it is clear, simple, and easy to identify even at small sizes. I actually prefer the alternative (shown below), but it’s just too complex to put on a little tea label.

Alternate Terracotta Army Pu-erh Logo

The details are what really make this one. Note the eyes on the soldier above and left of the chocolate soldier. You can almost hear him thinking “Yummy!” The one above and to the right has a similar, but more subtle expression. It’s not obvious at first glance, but if you look closely, the soldier to the right of the chocolate fellow is holding a piece of the melted/broken chocolate arm in one hand, and a cup of chocolate pu-erh tea in the other.

Thank you, Kory! Another awesome logo for the collection!

This is the latest in a collection of labels I’ve written about here before:

The World Tea Tasting Tour at Red Lodge Books & Tea


Over the next couple of months, Red Lodge Books & Tea will be taking you on a world tour of tea with a series of tastings and classes focused on teas from all around the world. The events will be at our tea bar on Fridays from 5:00 to 6:30. At each session, we’ll taste five to seven teas from a different country as we explore a bit of the country’s geography and tea culture. I will put a quick summary of each stop on the tour up here on the blog for those who can’t attend or who don’t remember which teas we covered.

The full tour consists of:

Friday, Feb 15All the Tea in China
Friday, Mar 1Tea. Earl Grey. Hot. (England)
Friday, Mar 8It’s Always Tea Time in India
Friday, Mar 15 — Japan: Bancha to Matcha (notes Part 1 and Part 2)
Friday, Mar 22Deepest Africa: The Tea of Kenya
Friday, Mar 29The Oolongs of Taiwan
Friday, Apr 5Rooibos from South Africa
Friday, Apr 12Yerba Maté from Argentina
Friday, Apr 26 — China part II: Pu-Erh
Friday, May 3 — India part II: Masala Chai

Each class will cost $5.00, which includes the tea tasting itself and a $5.00 off coupon that can be used that night for any tea, teaware, or tea-related books that we sell.

There will be more information posted on the tea bar’s Facebook page before each event, including a list of the teas that we will taste in each event.


UPDATE MARCH 9: As I blog about each of these experiences, I’m going to create a link from this post to the post containing the outline and tasting notes. I’ve linked the first two.


UPDATE MARCH 23: I changed the dates of the last two events. There will not be a tasting on April 19.

%d bloggers like this: