Guide to Tea in Chicago

The Chicago tea scene is blowing up. If you are visiting Chicago and are super into tea, please make it a point to visit these Chicago tea shops: Todd and Holland (Forest Park) This family-run shop in Forest Park (easy to get there from Downtown via blue or green line El trains) is the gem of the Chicago tea scene. Stop in and talk tea with the very knowledgeable Bill Todd and peruse their selection of single-origin teas that he has curated. Visit their website. Adagio (State Street, Naperville, Skokie) Chicagoans are lucky to have three Adagio shops in close proximity. The [...]

Guide to Tea in Chicago 2018-05-15T08:40:37+00:00

Anxi Tie Guan Yin Oolong

Etymology: “Tieguanyin” translates to “Iron Guanyin,” Guanyin being the “Goddess of Mercy” Other Names: Iron Goddess of Mercy, Ti Kuan Yin, Ti Kwan Yin Origin: China, Fujian Province, Anxi County Taste: Overwhelmingly floral and slightly vegetal. Behind the Leaf: This tea is named after the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara ("Guan Yin" in Mandarin), also known as the "Iron Goddess of Mercy." Tie Guan Yin was first used only as a tribute tea to the Royal Court. The tea leaves from Anxi County are known for their overwhelming floral fragrance and are harvested from a Camellia Sinensis cultivar named Tie Guan Yin. They are [...]

Anxi Tie Guan Yin Oolong 2018-05-15T08:40:37+00:00

Describing Muscatel

Muscatel is an elusive taste found in some Darjeeling teas, most likely second flush teas. It is very hard to describe the taste in words, but it is easy to recognize the taste once you are familiar with it. James Norwood Pratt goes as far as saying that in tea, muscatel "denotes a unique muscat-like fruitiness in aroma and flavour." Rajiv Lochan, owner of several tea gardens in India and CEO of Lochan Tea Ltd remarked that muscatel is "very difficult to describe but it is something extraordinary and rare." I asked my tea friends how they would describe this elusive taste [...]

Describing Muscatel 2018-05-15T08:40:37+00:00

How to Start an Online Tea Business

I get questions from people that are in the early stages of launching an online tea business several times each week. Many of the questions are the same, surrounding the topics of technology, marketing, sourcing, law, and overall strategy. Thus, I’ve put together my best thinking on these topics in ebook form. Best of all, it’s available for free below. Download "How to Start an Online Tea Business (PDF) Who am I? I’ve been working in the tea industry for over 10 years now. For three of those years, I ran my own online tea company, Chicago Tea Garden. Since then, [...]

How to Start an Online Tea Business 2018-10-05T09:16:39+00:00

An Homage to Chicago Tea Garden

This is more of a bit of disconnected ramblings that I needed to get out since deciding to close down my company, Chicago Tea Garden. Hopefully you find what I've learned useful. Seven years ago I left the United States to spend a month abroad in China. While in China, I learned about the rich tea culture there as I traveled from city to city. This was when my interest for tea began. Upon my return home, I purchased a cubic-meter crate full of Yixing pots and sold them through the coffee shop I was working at during college. I studied the Gong [...]

An Homage to Chicago Tea Garden 2018-05-15T08:40:37+00:00

Kill-Green in Tea Production

Have you ever wondered why Japanese green teas are so green? And why Chinese green teas are not as bright green, but are typically yellower? The reason lies in the processing steps for each tea and in particular the "kill-green" step of the processing some tea types.  The term kill-green is derived from the Mandarin shaqing (杀青), which means "killing the green." Kill-green is also referred to as “de-enzyming” or “fixing” and is a process of tea manufacture used to halt the oxidative browning of tea leaves by denaturing the enzymes responsible for oxidation--  polyphenol oxidase and peroxidase. Think of an [...]

Kill-Green in Tea Production 2018-05-15T08:40:37+00:00

What is Green Tea?

The definition of green tea in it's simplest and most generalized form is a tea that is made up of leaves that were prevented from oxidizing, shaped and then dried. However, green teas are not unoxidized. No tea is truly unoxidized because tea leaves begin to slowly wither and oxidize the moment they are plucked, something that is unavoidable since hours may elapse from the time of picking to the time of processing. So let's draw a line here and speak only of controlled processes.  The most prevalent form of green tea production involves heating the leaves shortly after plucking (some green [...]

What is Green Tea? 2018-05-15T08:40:37+00:00

What is Oxidation?

Oxidation refers to a series of chemical reactions that result in the browning of tea leaves and the production of flavor and aroma compounds in finished teas. Depending on the type of tea being made, oxidation is prevented altogether, or deliberately initiated, controlled then stopped. Much of the oxidation process revolves around polyphenols and the enzymes polyphenol oxidase and peroxidase. When the cells inside tea leaves are damaged and the components inside are exposed to oxygen and mix, specifically when polyphenols in the cell’s vacuoles and the peroxidase in the cell’s peroxisomes mix with polyphenol oxidase in the cell’s cytoplasm1 a chemical [...]

What is Oxidation? 2018-05-15T08:40:37+00:00

What is Withering?

The moment a tea leaf is plucked from the tea plant, it begins to wilt naturally, a process we call withering. But once the tea leaves reach the processing facility, this process is controlled by the tea producer. The purpose of a controlled wither is to prepare the leaves for further processing by reducing their moisture content and to allow for the development of aroma and flavor compounds in the leaves. Controlling the withering process means closely monitoring humidity, temperature and air-flow over time. A controlled wither can occur outside with tea leaves laid out gently on bamboo mats or tarps, [...]

What is Withering? 2018-05-15T08:40:37+00:00

Chicago Tea Tasting

Had a great tea tasting for my company, Chicago Tea Garden in January. If you live in the Chicago area and would like to attend a tasting, please signup here. Thanks to Flickr user faraocious for taking these awesome photos! view the whole set by foraocious here.

Chicago Tea Tasting 2018-05-15T08:40:37+00:00

Wild Orange Pu’er

These tiny oranges, known as clementines in the United States, are typically hollowed out and filled with tea, then aged. I have several that were obtained in Guandong, China, in 2005 and have since been aged in man-made pu-erh caves in the United States. The leaves, when steeped, have a zesty orange smell; the tea is smooth and malty, with hints of orange, especially if you use part of the rind while steeping. I was surprised that the orange notes were not more pronounced, but overall these make for a very interesting conversation piece and a very tasty tea. Here are [...]

Wild Orange Pu’er 2018-05-15T08:40:37+00:00

Golden Bi Luo

Yunnan black teas come from China's Yunnan province and can be found in many different forms, this particular tea is comprised of twisted leaves similar to those found in Bi Luo Chun. Golden Bi Luo and other Yunnan black teas are best steeped for 1min at 195 in my opinion as it keeps the astringency at bay and the sweet notes in the forefront. Other Names: Hong Bi Luo, Yunnan Bi Luo, Golden Yunnan, Yunnan Golden Curls Origin: China, Yunnan Province Harvest: Spring 2011 Taste: Creamy with sweet, malty notes of vanilla. Behind the Leaf: Golden Bi Luo is a high-grade [...]

Golden Bi Luo 2018-05-15T08:40:37+00:00

No Bullshit Tea Companies

Someone recently asked me how many tea companies exist right now that have made a commitment to only sell pure tea. I didn't have an answer, so I started searching, and with the help of my friends on Twitter and Reddit, I came up with the following list. The criteria for the list: the tea company must sell tea in loose or compressed form only, no tea bags or sachets all tea sold by the company must be unflavored, unscented, and free of inclusions with the following traditional exceptions being made: Black tea flavored / scented with bergamot White or green [...]

No Bullshit Tea Companies 2018-05-15T08:40:37+00:00

Multiple Infusions: About Re-Steeping Tea

Why re-steep? Why not? Re-steeping tea really brings out the value of a tea, you can get many servings of tea from just one serving of leaves. More bang for your buck, and you get to taste the tea as it develops from steep to steep. Before you re-steep: If you are going to be re-steeping your tea, you don't want to oversteep it. Re-steeping your tea means that you are going to be steeping the leaves multiple times which means that each time you steep it, you must remove the leaves from your tea and set them aside until you [...]

Multiple Infusions: About Re-Steeping Tea 2018-05-15T08:40:37+00:00

What is Tuocha?

Tuocha or "dome-shaped bowl tea" is a compressed tea, usually made of pu-erh. The shape resembles a bird's nest and tuocha range in weight from 3g to 3kg or more. Tuocha are convex in order to help the tea dry out after processing. "The name for tuocha is believed to have originated from the round, top-like shape of the pressed tea or from the old tea shipping and trading route of the Tuojiang River [Wikipedia]." While mini tuocha can be steeped whole, most large tuocha are broken into pieces and only small amounts are steeped at a time.  

What is Tuocha? 2018-05-15T08:40:37+00:00

What is Yerba Mate?

Yerba mate is a tree. Not a tall one, but a moderately tall tree. In the farms they are not that big because they are pruned to make it easier to harvest, a similar method is used with the camellia sinensis plant for harvesting tea. The natives of this area, the Guaranies, discovered that they could make a drink with the plant, but they had to dried the leaves first. Yerba mate is poisonous if not dried. Not so poisonous that you will die, but you will wish to. It will give you stomach cramps, inflamation, diarrhea, intestinal cramps, incontinence and fever. [...]

What is Yerba Mate? 2018-05-15T08:40:50+00:00

Nuo Mi Xiang “Sticky Rice” Pu-erh

There exists an herb in China's Yunnan Province who's aroma closely resembles that of sticky glutinous rice. "Nuo Mi Xiang Nen Ye" translates to "Sweet Rice Tender Leaves." This tea in maocha form, is left for months in close contact with Nuo Mi Xiang Nen Ye leaves until the tea leaves take on the scent of the herb. The leaves are pressed into tiny tuochas, which means "dome-shaped bowl tea." The shape resembles tiny birds-nests, and they are individually wrapped in rice paper. The paper must be removed before steeping. Once steeped, the tea emits a sweet aroma identical to that [...]

Nuo Mi Xiang “Sticky Rice” Pu-erh 2018-05-15T08:40:50+00:00

The Importance of Doing Research for Your Customers

So many times I meet people that have been told erroneous information about tea. I have met countless people searching for certain teas that will cure certain disorders, from sleep apnea to arthritis. I drink tea because it tastes good, tea is not a medicine to me, and I don't believe in selling tea as a "medicine." I believe it is a deceptive practice, and one that many are susceptible to, If you knew nothing about tea and someone told you that it would help you lose weight, you would probably believe them, right? Examples of Bad Information [blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/TeaBenefitsCom/status/42229795894988800"] [blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/CraigBaylor/status/44505534375788544"] [blackbirdpie [...]

The Importance of Doing Research for Your Customers 2018-05-15T08:40:50+00:00

Theanine: a 4000 Year Old Mind-Hack

Monks have been drinking tea for thousands of years to maintain a state of "mindful alertness" during long periods of meditation. But only in the last few years have studies shed light on why tea has this effect on the mind. The two elements responsible for this are caffeine and L-theanine, and it is the combination of the two that makes tea unique from any other drink. Spare Me the Science: What L-theanine and Caffeine can do for the Mind Promote a mindful state of relaxation Increase our ability to multi-task, and multi-task well Increase speed of perception Increase performance under [...]

Theanine: a 4000 Year Old Mind-Hack 2018-05-15T08:40:50+00:00

Pu-erh Flower Beencha

I'm not even sure what to call this. This is a beencha of pressed camellia sinensis flowers! Opening the wrapper I was greeted by an amazingly fresh, flowery fragrance. When steeped, the flowers basically re-blossom and release a sweet, slightly pungent and nutty liquor. Not sure how to steep this tea, I did a 1:30 infusion @ 195F and it was delicious.

Pu-erh Flower Beencha 2018-05-15T08:40:50+00:00

Tea from Brazil

I recently received a sample of shincha green tea from Stash Tea from Brazil. This is my first contact with Brazilian tea. Stash's website says: "The Yamamotoyama Brazilian tea gardens are in two highland areas in the central part of the country at an elevation of 2,000-2,500 feet. The climate here is comparable to Japan and optimal for growing superlative green tea. In fact, tea bushes from Japan were carefully selected and transported to Brazil to plant in these gardens." The leaves, like many Japanese teas are steamed and chopped and they emit a sweet, vegetal smell. I infused [...]

Tea from Brazil 2018-05-15T08:40:50+00:00

Hacker’s Guide to Tea

TL;DR: All tea comes from the camellia sinensis plant. If you are drinking something that did not come from this plant (chamomile, mint, tulsi, rooibos, etc.) it is not tea. White, Green, Oolong, Yellow, Black and Pu-erh teas all come from the varieties and cultivars of the camellia sinensis plant and the type and style of tea is determined by the processing methods used on the plucked leaves. Tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid that promotes mental acuity. The combination of L-theanine and caffeine creates a sense of “mindful awareness.” Tea can be prepared in any vessel by steeping the leaves [...]

Hacker’s Guide to Tea 2018-05-15T08:40:50+00:00

Lead Testing a Cheap Yixing Pot

It is believed that some tea-ware coming from China may contain lead. Especially pots supposedly made of Zisha clay from Yixing, China. A few years back there was a thread in TeaChat about this, no one found any lead when using home test kits. I tried it with the cheapest "yixing" pot I could find (more about why this probably isn't even a yixing pot in another post) online -- $5.00. I smashed the pot with a hammer and then ground up the pieces until the pot was reduced to a pile of bits. I wanted to test the greatest surface [...]

Lead Testing a Cheap Yixing Pot 2018-05-15T08:40:50+00:00

Pu-erh Tea and Tobacco: A trip to Iwan Ries

Much has been written on tobacco notes in young pu-erh teas. Because of this, some local Chicago tea friends and I decided to take this idea for a spin and spend a day at Iwan Ries with Certified Tobacconist Ron Carroll. Ron wanted to learn more about pu-erh and we wanted to compare the subtle complexities of pipe-tobacco with the nuances of pu-erh tea. Instead of immersing ourselves in not-taking and in-depth comparisons, we just enjoyed ourselves and let the conversation flow. Thomas Conner of TeaSquared elaborated on the day: http://teasquared.blogspot.com/2010/05/tea-and-tobacco-smokin.html

Pu-erh Tea and Tobacco: A trip to Iwan Ries 2018-05-15T08:40:50+00:00

Why is There Oil in My Tea?

Sometimes when steeping a tea - you may notice a small oil slick floating on the surface of the tea liquor. This is likely to occur when steeping teas that have been pan-fired. The oil comes from the tea-seeds, and is applied to the pan to help the leaves slide around as they are handled as well as to keep the leaves from burning. In Heiss' "The Story of Tea," they explain that "the solidified oil is the simple oil expelled from the leaves of tea bushes that are periodically left to grow, flower, and seed. Tea-seed oil is solid at [...]

Why is There Oil in My Tea? 2018-05-15T08:40:50+00:00

An Introduction to James Norwood Pratt’s Tea Dictionary

James Norwood Pratt is best known for his book, New Tea Lover’s Treasury. Considered an authority on tea and tea lore, he has spent much of his life disseminating the way of tea to America and the West. His latest book, the Tea Dictionary includes terminology for the cultivation, manufacture, tasting, trading, marketing, and classification of tea: some of which has not been translated to the English language until now. Pratt collaborated with Dr. Chen Zhongmao (now Honorary Chairman of China's Tea Research Institute), Devan Shah and Ravi Sutodiya to create this 370-page book. The dictionary also includes a  timeline of tea [...]

An Introduction to James Norwood Pratt’s Tea Dictionary 2018-05-15T08:40:50+00:00

Pu-erh Ice Cream Float

Alright, I know I'm not into ridiculous flavored teas -- the kind where the taste of the tea is lost. But I am a fan of using teas in recipes where tea compliments another food, or another food compliments a tea. So while drinking some of my Green Elephant Pu-erh, I was thinking that it would go great with vanilla ice cream. So I filled a mason jar with a nice chunk of my beencha and filled the jar with boiling water, I sealed the jar and left it in the refrigerator for 12 hours. The resulting tea was completely black, like coffee [...]

Pu-erh Ice Cream Float 2018-05-15T08:40:50+00:00

Tea 4:20 Edition: Smoking Tea

Smoking tea. There has been some information circulating the internet about a growing trend of smoking tea from tea-bags. Chances are someone has mentioned this to you at some point, or talked about smoking other herbs and spices in your kitchen (especially if you’ve ever been a teenager). After all, clove cigarettes are a thing right? Doing a quick search will show you that there is a bit of information online about the healthful effects of smoking tea leaves. I do not condone this, I would not try this if I were you, I’m not telling you to try this — smoking anything is harmful to your health. But… [...]

Tea 4:20 Edition: Smoking Tea 2018-05-15T08:40:51+00:00

A First Taste of New Zealand Oolong

There is a certain scent that I often smell when in the wilderness, the freshness of the open air coming down from the mountains, the cool feeling of the wind carrying this scent through the trees -- the smell of New Zealand. I have traveled to both the North and South islands of this beautiful country twice and every so often I'll get a wiff of that scent here in the states when I'm out in nature and it puts me right back to New Zealand. I smelled this scent when I opened my pack of Aromatic Oolong from New Zealand. [...]

A First Taste of New Zealand Oolong 2018-05-15T08:40:51+00:00

The Gong Fu Cha Institute at Penn State

I had a chance to speak with Jason Cohen, president of Penn State's new "Gong Fu Cha" institute. The institute aims to: "build a tea library in order to document the vintages of tea and to propagate through instruction the art of GongFu Cha." If you go to Penn State, you can join the institute every Wednesday from 6-9 in the HUB-Robeson Center. I asked Jason a series of questions... here we go: What got you started in tea? I got started in tea in the summer of 2007. I was in China for about 2 months, during which I lived [...]

The Gong Fu Cha Institute at Penn State 2018-05-15T08:40:51+00:00

What is a HOB? And how does it keep my tea warm?

I received a curious package in the mail last week. It contained "hobs" from Thistledown.com. What is a "hob" you ask? Their site defines hobs as: "a shelf in the back of a fireplace on which to place things to keep warm"; and "hob" is a British colloquialism for a stove top." Thistledow's hobs are not shelves in the back of fireplaces, rather -- they are cozies for your tea. Not one of those old-lady Victorian style cozies either. It looks cool. They have all sorts of designs on the site. But, the big question... do they work, and if so, [...]

What is a HOB? And how does it keep my tea warm? 2018-05-15T08:40:51+00:00

DIY: Moroccan Mint Tea

The everyday tea served in Morocco consists of gunpowder green tea, fresh mint, and copious amounts of sugar. The mint growing in my yard in Chicago: Giving the mint a rinse: The pot is stuffed with mint and about 2 teaspoons of gunpowder green tea, now I'm adding 1/4 cup of raw sugar. You can find cheap gunpowder green tea at most Asian grocers. It usually comes in dark green boxes:    

DIY: Moroccan Mint Tea 2018-05-15T08:40:51+00:00

An Authentic Milk Oolong

Nai Xiang, literally "milk fragrance" is a characteristic of a Taiwanese high-mountain oolong made with the Jin Xuan cultivar of camellia sinensis. Jin Xuan is known not only for it's milk-like mouth-feel, but also for it's cream like flavor and aroma. Many so-called "milk oolongs" have popped up on the market having been artificially flavored. In 2010, Roy Fong, owner of the Imperial Tea Court traveled to Taiwan and  discovered several variants of it's production. From what he discovered, I am seeing three different things all being called "milk oolong" in order of legitimacy: True Jin Xuan oolong with natural creamy mouth-feel. Jin Xuan [...]

An Authentic Milk Oolong 2018-05-15T08:40:51+00:00

How to Use Bamboo Charcoal

Bamboo charcoal, you've heard of it, you've heard of the great things it can do. But really, does it work? I think so. I'm not 100% sure, but I allowed several people to try my "bamboo water" and tea brewed with it alongside normal Chicago tap water and the results were positive. I have no scientific evidence, and I don't need any - I like it, it tastes good, and I'm going to use it -- and that's enough for me (want technical? read this). If you are interested in making bamboo charcoal, Pyro Energen has put together this pretty neat [...]

How to Use Bamboo Charcoal 2018-05-15T08:40:51+00:00

Interview: Yunnan Sourcing’s Scott Wilson

Scott Wilson is an American who settled in Kunming China and founded the tea export company Yunnan Sourcing. He spends his days working on the floor of one of the largest Pu-erh trading centers of the world. How did you come to love tea? It all started with Yunnan. I traveled for about 5 months in Yunnan province in 1998-1999. At that time I started to drink Pu-erh and other Yunnan teas. I had this idea that I would try and introduce it people in the USA. I purchased and shipped back more than 80 kilograms of Pu-erh tea at that [...]

Interview: Yunnan Sourcing’s Scott Wilson 2018-05-15T08:40:51+00:00

The redundancy of "Chai Tea" (Masala Chai)

We've all said it, "chai tea" -- the greatest redundancy in the world of tea. In the Hindi language, "chai" means "tea", so saying "chai tea" is the same as saying "tea tea." Just think about that the next time you are in a coffeeshop and hear someone order a "chai tea latte" -- whatever that is. Granted the popularized form of "chai tea" in America is syrup or powder based anyway - so calling what most drink in America "masala chai" would be a bastardization.  Masala refers to a mixture of spices; in masala chai, usually cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star [...]

The redundancy of "Chai Tea" (Masala Chai) 2018-05-15T08:40:51+00:00

Easy Steeping for Busy Folks

Let's examine the steeping of tea in its simplest form for a moment: when we steep tea, we are making a drink from the leaves of a plant. We take into account the type of tea leaves we are using and the way they were processed along with the water temperature and steeping time. Too many times we end up drinking what Heidi Kyser from TChing [http://www.tching.com/index.php/2009/03/12/down-with-brew-waste/] calls "brew-waste." This is "when a server ruins a perfectly good tea by brewing it at the wrong temperature, for the wrong amount of time, and/or using the wrong kind of equipment." And if [...]

Easy Steeping for Busy Folks 2018-05-15T08:40:51+00:00

Why tea-bags and tea-infusers are bad

Tea bags are a product of convenience; they are easy, cheap, and clean. But if you've only ever drank tea that was a product of a tea-bag, you are missing out. Tea-bags used to only be filled with dust and fannings which are all the little pieces leftover from different processing methods. Through the years, tea companies have been putting higher and higher quality tea in bags. But no matter how nice the tea, or how innovative the bag is (see nylon bag below), they fail for one fundamental reason: tea leaves must be allowed to flow freely within the brewing [...]

Why tea-bags and tea-infusers are bad 2018-05-15T08:40:51+00:00

A Visit to the BOH Tea Plantation in Malaysia

In July 2008, I was backpacking through Malaysia and was able to visit the largest tea plantation in Southeast Asia-the BOH tea plantation. It was a great experience. If you find yourself in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia, be sure to visit a tea plantation. There were rows and rows of tea plants as far as the eye could see. I took a tour of the processing plant and was able to see their process. Their process was described to us as we walked through the factory; they broke it down into each stage: plucking, withering, rolling, fermentation (oxidation), drying and [...]

A Visit to the BOH Tea Plantation in Malaysia 2018-05-15T08:40:51+00:00
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