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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.

Most popular teas of 2012


As I did a year ago, I’ve gone through the year’s numbers from our tea bar to see what have been our most popular teas. A few have stayed consistent, but there have been a lot of changes, too. These sales only reflect bulk loose-leaf tea sales, as we don’t track the cup sales the same way.

Tea Bar 2012

Our top three sellers are all black teas — the same three as last year, although in a different order — which doesn’t surprise me. They are, however, the only black teas on the list, which does surprise me. There is only one green tea, one pu-erh, and one pu-erh/yerba maté blend. Everything else is yerba maté, rooibos, honeybush, and chamomile. That really surprises me.

  1. Premium Masala Chai (#3 last year)
    Organic & Fair Trade
    I suppose this one shouldn’t have surprised me. There are a lot of masala chai fans out there, and the coffee shops tend to make their masala chai from concentrates instead of brewing it up fresh like we do. I typically make this with milk and locally-produced honey.
  2. Gary’s Kilty Pleasure (formerly known as “Gary’s Scottish Breakfast” — #2 last year)
    This is a nice, strong, kick-in-the-pants first cup of the morning. It’s a blend of Kenya and Assam black tea. Traditionalists would steep it a long time and drink it with milk. I tend to prefer a fairly short steep (2-3 minutes), and I drink it black. This is the tea I used in the Hipster Hummus recipe for our Chamber of Commerce mixer in February.
  3. Ancient-Tree Earl Grey (#1 last year)
    Organic & Fair Trade
    This organic Earl Grey is made from 100-year-old tea trees and blended with pure bergamot oil. We carry nine different Earl Grey teas, and this one is consistently at the top of the sales list, although in the last few months Lady Greystoke has been coming on strong. It only missed the top 10 by one position this year, and I expect to see it on this list in 2013.
  4. Moroccan Mint (#4 last year)
    Organic & Fair Trade
    The popularity of this tea crosses seasons, as we sell just as much of it iced in the summer as we do hot in the winter. It’s a Chinese green tea with jasmine blossoms and peppermint leaves. I’m doing some experiments now as to the best way to aerate it when we serve it, which is typically accomplished by pouring it into the cup while holding the pot high in the air.
  5. Evening in Missoula
    This one wasn’t even on the list last year, and it’s the only chamomile blend ever to make our top ten list. It’s a blend from the Montana Tea & Spice Company, and it has completely blown away all of our other herbals in sales.
  6. Chocolate Maté Chai (#8 last year)
    Organic & Fair Trade
    Dessert in a mug! This velvety masala chai is made with yerba maté and pu-erh instead of black tea, and the standard masala chai spices are enhanced with cacao nibs & husks, vanilla, coconut, and long pepper. We usually prepare it with vanilla soy milk and local honey. It was also very popular during the summer as a base for boba tea.
  7. BlueBeary Relaxation
    Organic & Fair Trade
    Another debut on the list. Yes, that name is spelled correctly. It’s a red rooibos blend named for one of the bears at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary. We send a donation to the sanctuary for every ounce of this blend that we sell.
  8. Carnival Maté (#9 last year)
    This is not your basic yerba maté. This yummy south-Argentina style beverage uses roasted maté with caramel bits, marigold, and Spanish safflower petals. I’ve converted a lot of coffee drinkers using this one!
  9. Hammer & Cremesickle Red
    This is a fun rooibos/honeybush blend with orange and vanilla (among other things). I’ve blogged about the name and logo and about cooking with Hammer & Cremesickle Red.
  10. Blood Orange Pu-Erh
    Organic & Fair Trade
    This pu-erh blend uses intense orange to balance the strength and depth of the base tea.

Six out of our top ten are organic (up from five last year), and all six of those are fair trade as well. I expect that trend to continue — especially since we’re replacing many of our non-organic blends with organics — and to see at least one ETP (Ethical Tea Partnership) blend in next year’s top ten.

There is only one unflavored tea on this year’s list, and it is a house blend (Gary’s Kilty Pleasure). More of our customers are growing to appreciate the straight teas, though, and I’m hoping to see more of them next year.

We’ve been doing a lot more house blends in the last few months, and we are slowly replacing many of the blends that we buy premade with our own house blends. I’m expecting this list to be at least half house blends for 2013.

Another new tea logo: Fifty Shades of Earl Grey


After a variety of local artists have had the fun of producing logos for my tea bar’s house blends, I thought it was about time to do another one myself. Since drawing isn’t my strong suit, I decided to pick a blend where I could work from a stock photo to start, and that would be Fifty Shades of Earl Grey.

50 Shades of Earl Grey logo

I developed the Fifty Shades blend a few months ago at the height of popularity of the Fifty Shades of Grey books, which we still sell plenty of in our bookstore. It was a funny little thing to start, and I didn’t think it would earn a permanent spot on our tea menu, but this odd blend started picking up popularity.

DISCLAIMER: There is no connection whatsoever between this tea and the Fifty Shades of Grey books. This is not a licensed product, and it has not been endorsed or authorized. It is strictly a parody.

The tea is based on a Kenyan black tea with a bit of Ceylon and Royal Purple mixed in. Then, of course, it gets the bergamot oil that characterizes an Earl Grey – a lot of bergamot. On top of that is a melange of cinnamon, orange, lemongrass, cornflower petals, and other goodies. Some of the ingredients were added for flavor, and some for looks. I wanted a black & blue tea, and I wanted something with a dominating flavor. What can I say? I just couldn’t resist the wordplay.

Coincidentally, it’s certainly one of the prettiest teas we have.

For the background picture, I wanted to capture the feel of the book cover artwork without using any of their imagery. I found a stock photo I liked, clipped out a portion of the pot with the steam, extended the dark background, and then adjusted the tone to get that bluish-grey color we ended up with. For the text, I chose a typeface with the look & feel of an old typewriter font, but proportionately spaced, and then I kerned it to suit.

The tagline at the bottom? Well, once again, I just couldn’t resist.

Old familiar blends vs. creative house blends


It’s a dilemma for anyone who owns or manages a tearoom: how many different teas shall I carry and how many of them should be funky house blends? Looking at sales for 2011, our top four sellers were very traditional teas: an earl grey, a breakfast blend, a masala chai, and a Moroccan mint (note that only one of those is unflavored). The next six were all creative flavored teas.

UPDATE March 2013: Results for 2012 weren’t much different from the 2011 results cited above.

Reading that may make you think that the classics aren’t important for the tea bar, but let’s look behind those numbers:

First of all, those only reflect our bulk tea sales, not sales by the cup. I don’t have a good system in place for tracking sales by the cup — especially since we make some special by the cup blends for our regulars — but I’d guess that a lot more of our cup sales are straight traditional tea than the bulk numbers indicate. When I’m behind the bar, I sell a lot of Darjeeling, assam, sencha, silver needle, dragonwell, Scottish breakfast, jasmine green, taiguanyin, and shu pu-erh by the cup.

Second, those numbers include web sales. On the web, there are many many sources for sencha or Darjeeling, and we compete against the huge Internet retailers who can undercut our prices. On the other hand, there is only one source for our house blends like Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey or Coyotes of the Purple Sage. We sell very little dragonwell on the web site compared to our house blends.

When deciding what tea to carry in your shop, the first thing to ask yourself is, who is your target audience? If you want to capture the Celestial Seasonings fan, you want to have a lot of flavored blends with colorful logos and clever names. If you want to capture the serious tea fan, you’d better have a good selection of unflavored tea of various styles and origins.

Of the styles, a casual shop would be expected to have black and green at the very least, with at least one white and one oolong. A more serious shop should expand the oolong selection significantly and add a couple more white teas and at least one or two pu-erhs. The sign of a teahouse that really caters to the connoisseur would be an extensive collection of ripe (shu) and raw (sheng) pu-erh in both loose and cake form, and a yellow tea or two.

When it comes to origins, a shop can go two different ways: specialized or generalized. It’s easy to put together a tea selection covering every style where all of the tea comes from China. It’s possible to cover the four basic styles from countries like India and Kenya, although the selection of oolongs and whites will be pretty sketchy. In my opinion, a generalized shop should have tea from, at the very least, China, Japan, Taiwan, India, Kenya, and Sri Lanka.

If you are going to offer house blends, I’ve found that they do best with unique names, preferably tied to your theme or location. Your customers can find English Breakfast and Moroccan Mint anywhere, and many would argue that you should use exactly those names so that your customers can find something familiar. On the other hand, hearty adventurers who find a tea shop in New York offering Buffalo Breakfast and Manhattan Mint are likely to come back for more if they like it instead of just grabbing generic English Breakfast and Moroccan mint at the next store they see.

You’ll want to offer some caffeine-free alternatives as well. It’s a philosophical decision whether you want to offer decaffeinated tea, naturally caffeine-free alternatives (e.g., rooibos), or both. Lately, we have a lot more customers specifically looking for rooibos. Most of them want flavored blends, but there’s enough demand to keep plain organic red and green rooibos available as well.

The bottom line is that your tea shop should reflect your personality. If people want a drab corporate-looking shop, they’ll go to Teavana. An independent tearoom should be unique, and the tea selection is even more important than the decor in conveying that uniqueness.

Zane Grey Earl Grey: Coyotes of the Purple Sage


Coyotes of the Purple Sage LogoWith new tea blends, sometimes we come up with the tea first and struggle to think of the perfect name. Sometimes we come up with a cool tea name and then spend weeks tweaking the formula until we find just the right taste. And then the logo works its way into the equation.

Sometimes, however, everything comes together in a flash, and that’s what happened with this tea.

We were looking for ideas for a fundraiser, using a tea that had a real American West flavor to it. Being a tea bar/bookstore combo, a literary allusion makes things even better. As we were throwing out ideas, someone said “Zane Grey.” The next obvious leap was “a Zane Grey Earl Grey.” The next obvious leap was to Zane Grey’s best-known book, Riders of the Purple Sage.

The fundraiser is for the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary here in Red Lodge, and two of the well-known noisy critters right by the entrance are a pair of coyotes named Bonnie and Clyde. We wrapped everything up by tying in the Wildlife Sanctuary and naming the tea Coyotes of the Purple Sage.

The ingredients for the tea came together pretty quickly as well. Black tea and bergamot oil are the base for most Earl Greys. Sage was pretty much a mandatory ingredient. A bit of lemon verbena and and lemon thyme added more citrus notes and the thyme goes well with the sage (I will resist breaking into song here), and a subtle touch of peppermint finished off the blend.

My logo is an homage to the cover of the first copy of Riders of the Purple Sage that I read:

Riders of the Purple Sage Cover

The Lady Greystoke logo


Does it seem like I’ve got a theme going on this blog lately? I’ve had quite a few posts about the fun we’ve been having with logos for our house blend teas. Some great artist friends have done logos for us, including Al Jones (Hammer & Cremesickle Red Tea and Robson’s Honey Mint), Brandon Pope (Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey), and Suzanna Bailey (MaterniTEA). Now, I’d like to introduce the latest in the series: Doug Bailey (Suzanna’s husband) made us a logo for our Lady Greystoke tea (the story behind the blend is here).

Lady Greystoke logo by Doug Bailey

Lady Greystoke logo by Doug Bailey

As with the other artists, I didn’t give Doug any direction at all beyond explaining the origin of the name and the ingredients in the blend. He picked up on the “wild yet civilized” aspect of Jane Greystoke, and being Doug (his nickname is “the Beerbarian”), he added a saber-toothed tiger. I don’t remember any saber-toothed tigers in the Tarzan books, but that’s probably just because Edgar Rice Burroughs didn’t think of it.

Doug is a pencil kind of guy, so he gave me the logo as a pencil sketch and I colorized it. I’ve always done my colorizing by scanning the image, loading it into Photoshop, making the background transparent, and then painting behind the image. This has the disadvantage of taking out light shading and fine detail from the original sketch, and Doug did a lot of shading in this one.

This time around, I added the color by creating new layers for each element (16 layers in this case) and setting the layer to a linear burn. That way, I don’t have to modify the original layer at all, and any shading — no matter how subtle — shows through the color.

As an aside, I’ve always preferred to drink my Earl Grey teas hot. I got to thinking about iced Earl Grey today when a customer ordered an iced Lady Greystoke at the Tea Bar, so I had to give it a try. The addition of the lavender, rooibos, and vanilla really seems to make this a smooth iced tea. I may be drinking more of it iced.

Yet another new logo: Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey


Mr. Excellent's Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey Logo -- FinalSuch a delay! It was about eight months ago that I came up with the Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey Tea blend (see my blog post about it here), and we finally have a logo for it! This one was drawn by my son’s friend from college, Brandon Pope.

I’ve found that logo art comes out better if I don’t tell the artist what I want, so I gave Brandon little more information than the name of the tea and what it is (an Earl Grey lapsang souchong). If I could draw, I probably would have done something with a dude sitting in the middle of a burned-out town, his shotgun at his side, drinking a cup of tea as the zombies eye him from a distance. In other words, something way to complex to use as a logo.

Brandon came up with the skull and gas mask, with one of the air filters replaced by a teacup. Very simple, yet immediately recognizable. His original was a hand-lettered pencil sketch (see below), which I needed to colorize. Brandon’s shading was great, especially where the texture of the paper showed, so I just added solid blocks of color behind the skull, mask, and teacup.

I really, really wanted to put this one on a black background, and I just couldn’t seem to make that work using his text. I re-did the text using a fun font called “Disgusting Behavior,” stretched vertically to achieve the look and aspect ratio that I was after. A blood-red color for the text with a subtle glow and an emboss effect finished it off perfectly.

For comparison, here is Brandon’s original pencil sketch (below) and the final logo (above). You can click on the final logo for a larger image.

Mr. Excellent's Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey original logo sketch

This whole program of guest artists for tea logos (kicked off by Al Jones and his Hammer & Cremesickle logo) has been a blast. Thank you very much to Brandon for the artwork, and watch this space for guest logos by husband and wife team Doug and Suzanna Bailey, coming up soon.

Lady Greystoke


Enid Markey-Lady Greystoke

Enid Markey, the first actress to bring Jane Porter to life in film. Jane married Tarzan in the book, "The Return of Tarzan," becoming Lady Jane Greystoke.

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, we decided to rename our Lady Grey tea. I put the word out to friends on all of the social media, and a former fellow moderator at the Straight Dope Message Boards who goes by the moniker of “Czarcasm” came up with the winning suggestion: Lady Greystoke.

Since the tea bar is a part of Red Lodge Books, we liked the literary connection behind Lady Greystoke: In Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan books, Jane Porter was the love interest. Tarzan himself was John Clayton, Earl Greystoke, so when he married Jane in the second book of the series (The Return of Tarzan), she became Lady Greystoke.

We had many other great suggestions — and quite a few silly ones — but none caught our attention quite like this one. We just may use several of those other names for other blends in the future, so we appreciate everyone who took the time to make suggestions.

The most common suggestion, interestingly, was to call the tea Jane Grey. Lady Jane Grey, also known as The Nine Days’ Queen, was the great-granddaughter of Henry VII. She ruled as de facto Queen of England for nine days in 1553, and was later executed for high treason. Since Lady Greystoke was also a Jane, we liked this connection, too.

In celebration, I shall be enjoying a mug of  Lady Greystoke tea tomorrow morning at the tea bar. Everyone’s invited to come in and join me!

Lady Grey


Trademark SymbolToday was tea blending day at the tea bar, as I mixed up new batches of our house blends. As I was working on our Lady Grey, I got to thinking about how incredibly different Lady Grey teas are from one company to the next, and decided to do a bit of reading on the subject.

It didn’t take long to find a comment that “Lady Grey” is a registered trademark of R. Twining and Company in the U.S. and U.K. (here’s a link to the trademark search on Trademarkia that shows it renewed in March of 2006). This hasn’t stopped quite a few companies from producing their own variations, like Jasmine Pearl (theirs has orange zest and lemon myrtle, but no bergamot!), SereneTeaz (an Earl Grey with lavender),  American Tea Room (they don’t have a full ingredient list, but it includes cornflower petals), and Tea Embassy (another Earl Grey with lavender).

Should I follow their lead and continue calling my blend Lady Grey? Nah. I have better things to do with my time and money than fight legal battles. I’ll do the right thing and follow the example of Marks & Spencer (they call theirs Empress Grey) and Trader Joe’s (Duchess Grey).

Duchess Grey Tea Empress Grey Tea

Twinings originally named their Lady Grey tea for Mary Elizabeth Grey. Their Earl Grey tea (which they changed last year) was named for her husband, Charles, who was the second Earl Grey. Twinings uses less bergamot in their Lady Grey than they do in Earl Grey, but they add other citrus and some cornflower.

I’ve never understood the rationale of “clone blends.” My “Lady Grey” isn’t the same as anyone else’s. If it was, I’d just buy theirs. I want something different. Mine is an organic blend, using Chinese black tea, oil of bergamot, wild Tibetan lavender, a little bit of vanilla, and a touch of rooibos.

What to call it? The one consistent thing about all of our other Earl Grey teas is the word “Earl.” Earl Green (green tea + bergamot), Earl Red (rooibos + bergamot), and all of the blends that use the full “Earl Grey” moniker, like Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey and Cream Earl Grey. The name “Lady Grey” keeps the “Grey” instead of the “Earl,” but is still connected.

So I have done what I often do in such situations: turn the question over to my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. I’ve asked Facebook and the Twitterverse for suggestions, and I’m starting a thread on my favorite message board (the Straight Dope). When we decide on a new name, you’ll read about it here first!

Most popular teas of 2011


As 2011 draws to a close, I am looking over the numbers from our tea bar to see what have been our most popular and least popular blends. When we opened the tea bar I expected our biggest sellers to be what people are most used to, like English Breakfast and Earl Grey, and that’s essentially what the top two slots were. Beyond that, however, I got some surprises…

Red Lodge Books & Tea Bar#1: Ancient-Tree Earl Grey

This organic Earl Grey is made from 100-year-old tea trees and blended with pure bergamot oil. I’ve tried a lot of Earl Grey tea in my time, and this is probably my favorite, although recently I’ve been drinking more of our new house blend: Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey.

#2: Gary’s Scottish Breakfast

This is a nice, strong, kick-in-the-pants first cup of the morning. It’s a blend of Kenya and Assam black tea. Traditionalists would steep it a long time and drink it with milk. I tend to prefer a fairly short steep (around 3 minutes), and I drink it black.

[Update: This is the tea I used in the Hipster Hummus recipe for our Chamber of Commerce mixer in February 2012]

#3: Organic Premium Masala Chai

I suppose this one shouldn’t have surprised me. There are a lot of chai fans out there, and the coffee shops tend to make their chai from mixes instead of brewing it up fresh like we do. I typically make this with milk and locally-produced honey.

#4: Organic Moroccan Mint

The popularity of this tea crosses seasons, as we sell just as much of it iced in the summer as we do hot in the winter. It’s a Chinese green tea with jasmine blossoms and peppermint leaves. I’m doing some experiments now as to the best way to aerate it when we serve it, which is typically accomplished by pouring it into the cup while holding the pot high in the air.

#5: Apricot Honeybush

This one took me by surprise. We have a lot of different rooibos and honeybush blends in the tea bar, and I added this one initially just as something fun and different. Who knew it would end up as our most popular caffeine-free drink?

#6: Peach White

This Chinese Pai Mu Tan white tea with delicate peach flavoring is the most popular iced tea in the tea bar, but it’s also wonderful hot.

#7: Montana Gold

This is a rooibos blend from our friends up at Montana Tea & Spice company in Missoula. They add cinnamon, orange peel,  cloves, and other goodies to produce a spicy caffeine-free concoction that definitely plays in Red Lodge.

#8: Chocolate Maté Chai

Dessert in a mug! This velvety chai is made with yerba maté and pu-erh instead of black tea, and the standard masala chai spices are enhanced with cacao nibs & husks, vanilla, coconut, and long pepper. We usually prepare it with vanilla soy milk and local honey. It was also very popular during the summer as a base for boba tea.

#9: Carnival Maté

This is not your basic yerba maté. This yummy south-Argentina style beverage uses roasted maté with caramel bits, marigold, and Spanish safflower petals. I’ve converted a lot of coffee drinkers using this one!

#10: Jamaica Red Rooibos

This one sounded a little strange to me, but I brought it in to the tea bar on a whim. It’s another organic fair-trade blend. The Jamaica flower (Hibiscus Sabdariffa) is blended with organic red rooibos, along with lemongrass, schizandra berries, rosehips, licorice root, orange peel, natural passion fruit flavor, natural essential oils of orange and tangerine, natural mango flavor and natural essential clove oil. It’s awesome. I don’t just drink it, I cook with it, too.

What will be the big sellers in 2012? I think many of these will stay on the list, but we have some new blends that are selling strong right now (like our Hammer and Cremesickle Red and the aforementioned Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey), and a lot more planned for the coming months. Half of the top ten for 2011 are organic, and I’m curious whether that trend will continue. Even though the organic teas tend to cost a bit more, people are willing to pay the difference.

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