Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Moment with Assam 1860

Summertime, and the livin' is...


It's been an exciting few months as both the Man o' the House and I have each been travelling extensively for work engagements. We send each other online calendar invitations to ensure at least one of us is home to carry on family life.

But now, it's time to finally slow down, enjoy the summer, enjoy our family and friends. Enjoy some tea.

I was so happy to receive a gift from Assam 1860 of their Assam Combination Box. One side contained a 80g pouch of loose CTC (Cut, Tear, Curl) tea and 10 tea bags. How perfect for my on-the-go present mode! Some loose tea to be brewed leisurely at home, and individually sealed tea bags to carry in my purse or briefcase for those hotel mornings on the road.

But, of course, with both options, one can't help but ask, "Which is better?"

This morning, as the sunlight was barely filtering through the front window, I brewed a small cup of each. The steeping lasted 2 minutes, and then the fun began.

First, the Assam brewed from the tea bag. The aroma is malty with a hint of sun-ripened berries. The first sip is bold and velvety smooth. There's a light astringency, but not at all unpleasant. This is a tea that can kick you into gear and soothe at the same time. I may be in love.

Next, the Assam brewed from the loose tea. The aroma is malty and earthy. The first sip is so bold, my eyes are opened a little wider. This is a tea that will wake you up and boot you out the door! The mouth feel is a little more raw, not as smooth, and definitely has more astringency than the tea bag. Again, not unpleasant to me, but some tea drinkers may want to add a little milk and sugar to mellow it a bit. 

Loose tea on the left. Tea bag on the right.

I also found the tea bag to brew a clearer tea, while the loose tea was just the slightest bit cloudy (unnoticeable if they had not been side-by-side).

My conclusion: they both win in my book! This is what  I love about Assam teas. They ARE bright. They ARE bold. They feel substantial and sustaining. The color is deep and rich. It's a feast for the eyes as much as my taste buds.

On this pleasant, summer morning, I'm sitting back and enjoying the view, cup of Assam in hand. I think summer vacation has finally arrived.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Moment for Mothers and Daughters

I remember when Edie was just a baby and Gene, "Now you have someone to go to tea with!" And I was so happy at the thought. So, when I had the opportunity to participate in her school's annual Mother Daughter Tea, what could I do but jump at the chance.

When I went to my first committee meeting (a very late comer, as we had just started attending the school a month before) and explained that I was a tea blogger, the long-standing committee at first just sat and blinked at me. Then one got up out of her chair and came over to hug me. I had been accepted!

The theme of the event was, "Springtime in New York," and upon entry, we were greeted with a Times Square sign and a replica of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Each table had been set with Tea Cups loaned by dozens of the mothers. Each table was unique and beautiful!

The annual event incorporates a fashion show with any of the girls from the school as the runway models. Afternoon tea consists of all the right things: finger sandwiches, scones...

.. .and an assortment of teas. That's where I got to have some fun. 

As it was a California-based school, I reached out to a few of my favorite California-based tea companies and asked for their participation. I was overwhelmed with their generosity to help make this day something special. 

A very special thank you to my friends, Diane and Vern, owners of California Tea and Coffee Brewery, who provided my very favorite blend, Irish Breakfast Tea, which was renamed "Breakfast at Tiffany's" for the event. 

Another heartfelt thank you to my friends at The Republic of Tea. They provided our caffeine-free option, Chamomile Lemon, renamed, "Broadway Dreams" for the event (and which the little girls couldn't get enough of!).

An official Thank You in the Program
In addition to the fashion show, there was a raffle, where once again, my tea friends showed off their generous spirits! Thank you to one of my oldest and dearest tea rooms, American Tea Room, for an exquisite Tea Gift Box with a rare tea. This Grandmother with her Granddaughter were thrilled to win it.

And thank you to one of my newest friends on the Tea Scene, Tea Ave, who provided a beautiful Aroma Set along with a collection of beautiful Oolong teas. 

This family, with Grandmother, Mother and Daughter, were the happy winners of this raffle prize!

The crowning glory of it all, for Edie, was the surprise candy bar that was opened up at the end of the event. Candies of all shapes and sizes in Tiffany Blue were laid out in abundance. You can see who liked that idea very much.

My admiration goes to the the committee moms, many of who have been a part of the Mother-Daughter Tea for years. Finding a new venue, organizing the loan of over 170 tea cups from dozens of school moms, coming up with a theme, building a set to be the backdrop of the fashion show, organizing the models, recruiting vendors for the boutique, rounding up raffle prizes, not to mention the basic set up and clean up of the event itself. Their dedication to creating a moment for moms, daughters and friends to build memories together is a beautiful thing. 

This was such a special day for me. My daughter transferred into this school in January, and I've been so pleased with how encouraging and engaging the teachers, administrators and children have been with our entire family. The Mother Daughter Tea was a chance to get to know other moms better, see my daughter giggle with her new friends, and really enjoy the moment. The fact that so many tea friends contributed to the day made it that much more special. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Phoenix Tea Shop Moment

Just outside the city limits of Seattle, in a small town by the name of Burien, there is a little place called The Phoenix Tea Shop. While the shop itself is small and unassuming, the proprietress and her teas are somewhat of a legend.

I've known of The Phoenix Tea Shop and Virginia Wright, a.k.a. Cinnabar, a.k.a. Gongfu Girl since I first started this blog in 2008. She is one of the original tea bloggers (having started her tea blogging journey in 2006) and a co-founder / co-director of the Association of Tea Bloggers.

When I heard I would be going to Seattle for a conference, I asked the Twitter-verse where I needed to go to tea, and the resounding answer from all over the U.S. was :


And so it came to pass that I arrived at the Phoenix Tea Shop, met Virginia, and spent several enjoyable hours chatting and drinking tea Gong Fu Style.

Topics ranged from chamber music (she's the managing director for a group that teaches introduces kids to chamber music), preserving the history and spirit of communities (she's the Executive Director of the Rainier Valley Historical Society), and Tea (she's participating in the World of Tea Series this Saturday, May 23rd,  with a Special TeaAid Tea Tasting to benefit Nepal Earthquake relief efforts.More info here.)

And while we discussed all of these things, she brewed gaiwan after gaiwan of tea. First Alishan, a high mountain oolong, with which I got to use an aroma cup! (My second time ever. The first happened within the last 2 weeks!!)  As the number of infusions progressed, the floral notes literally blossomed, and the tea became mellower with each steeping.

Then a full leaf Kenyan black tea, which had a unique earthy bass note with high lilting sweetness. As the infusions progressed, the maltiness grew in the most delightful way.

It felt like old home week, though this was our first meeting. We talked about the tea community as though we were catching up on news of extended family. And a recurring theme as we talked about them was their collective generosity and support - the most recent example being Elyse of Tealet being able to source teas of Nepal very quickly for this week's benefit.

And in the course of conversation, I uncovered an amazing secret. Virginia, better known as Cinnabar, better known as Gongfu Girl, is not the original Gongfu Girl. It is a name that was bestowed on her years ago. Just as Westley was not the original Dread Pirate Roberts, the original Gongfu Girl most likely 'has been retired fifteen years and living like a king (or queen) in Patagonia.'

Before leaving, I stocked up on some Alishan and their best seller: Burien Breakfast Blend. It was a very good moment, and I thank Virginia for her warmth, conversation and hospitality! I'll be back!

To visit:
Open Tuesday - Saturday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m, Sunday noon - 6 p.m.
903 SW 152nd Street
Burien, WA, 98166
(206) 495-7330

Or order beautiful teas online at: https://www.phoenix-teashop.com/store/

Friday, May 15, 2015

A California Rain Moment

It's raining!

While that may not seem like earth-shattering news, the thing is that it hasn't rained - REALLY rained - in months. For the past 2 days, when I hear the rain reach a fever pitch, I'll just go stand on my front patio and take it all in. Who needs Netflix? For me, this is the best series ever. 

And with rain, it's only fitting that I want a cup of tea. More than just my usual morning cup of bold black, I want something comforting and cozy. 

TeaVivre sent me some beautiful oolongs, and this is just the moment to break them out. I decided on the Superfine Qing Xiang Dong Ding Oolong. This particular oolong comes from the mountains of Taiwan and is a high altitude tea. High altitude teas tend to be richer and smoother than low altitude teas. One thing I appreciate about Teavivre is their instructions on how to brew whatever tea you're drinking. On their website, you'll typically find instructions for brewing the tea in the "Western Way" or the "Gongfu Way." I brewed mine in the Western way and enjoyed the first sip - the floral fragrance and light earthy flavor is truly cozy. Just what I wanted. 

I took my cup of tea outside and enjoyed drinking in the warmth while the cool raindrops continued to fall softly. There's a beautiful calm and quiet during a rainfall. I soaked it all in.


Monday, May 11, 2015

A 2015 Tea Blogger Directory Moment

The update is here! I'm pleased to announce the release of the 2015 Tea Blogger Directory, now available for download!

In this updated directory, discover 45 tea-focused bloggers who have as unique backgrounds and stories as you do. Each blogger has an extensive and focused reach to help grow your potential audience. With bloggers being in the Top 3 Influencers for online shoppers, this is a resource retailers can’t afford to ignore.

Learn the best practices for collaborating with a tea blogger, how many samples might be "too many," the do's and don't's of asking for a review, and how to help a tea blogger showcase your tea or tea-related product in the best possible light. We've also included an Index by Country to help you identify the best fit for your brand. All this for $3. Download your copy HERE.

Thank you to all the Tea Bloggers who participated in this year's directory! 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A World Tea Expo 2015 Moment - Day 2

Today started with running into a couple of my favorite Tea Ladies, Naomi (Joy's Teaspoon) and Rachel (iHeartTeas).

And then it was off to a very special demonstration by Teforia. Teforia is a name you should have on your radar. That. Is. All. 

Next, I stopped by jhentea, a 4th generation of women tea makers in Taiwan. Kuei-Chen Fang's family is one of the very few who know the secrets of making high mountain oolong. They are currently bringing up the 5th generation of women in the art and science of what they do. This is a story I want to explore further.

As I turned a corner, I spotted a table full of bloggers, and of course had to stop and see what all the fuss was about. The Finest Brew was sharing the most wonderful Xi Juan Ya Bao. I learned more about tea in 20 minutes than in the last 20 years!


Then, it was off to the 3rd Annual Tea Blogger Roundtable, this year moderated by Gary Robson of Tea With Gary. Nicole Schwartz (@amazonv) did an amazing job capturing the information shared by the panel. The consensus was that bloggers are most successful when they write about what they take a unique point of view, are passionate about a topic, and include people as a part of the stories. 

The last stop will be the 2015 World Tea Awards held at the Queen Mary. Stay tuned! 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A World Tea Expo 2015 Moment - Day 1

I walk into the Long Beach Convention Center for the 2015 World Tea Expo, and who do I see?

It's like I surprised myself with this photo.
My smile was either coming or going.
I swear I'm happy to see them! #SelfieFail
The men of the tea blogging world: (from left to right) Geoffrey Norman - a.k.a. @Lazy_Literatus, Tony Gebely - a.k.a. +World of Tea, Gary Robson - a.k.a. @TeaWithGary, and @ChrisGiddings!

It didn't take long for Jo Johnson, a.k.a. +scandalous tea to find us too.

Photo by Gary Robson
My first stop was The Healing Power of Tea: Ancient Roots, Scientific Branches, presented by Ken Cohen of Qigong Research and Practice Center. An entertaining presenter, Ken was able to bring the Ben Cao Gang Mu: the Roots and Herbal Compendium (the 16th century Chinese herbal medicine classic) to life, connecting the dots between old world wisdom and modern day medicine.

Ken Cohen
I also stopped in at Design Your Success... Strategic Store Layout, Visual Merchandising and Web Site Advice. I was instantly captivated by the 3 presenters. Ellen Leaf-Moore, owner of Fezziwig's Marketplace, spoke both animatedly and convincingly on the topic of training: ensuring your employees know the products, where they are from, how they are used, other possible uses, etc. Chris Coccagna, owner of T-we, focused on the importance of your own unique spin. Interior designers and website designers are great, but you can easily lose what makes you stand out by becoming just another 'design.' Victoria Boyert, owner of Satori Tea Bar, echoed that sentiment and made the point that it's fine to fail - that's part of growing. It's just important to bounce back quickly. She gave the example of making some major changes in decor and layout when she realized patrons were more drawn to holding parties there. But she also held onto those unique features that she loves and knows sets her apart. One universal lesson learned by all - invest in good lighting! It not only helps with creating the right ambiance, the right light highlights your products, while the wrong lighting can be a headache to even change when a light bulb burns out.

Ellen Leaf-Moore, Victoria Boyert, and Chris Coccagna
Then it was my turn! My first time presenting at the World Tea Expo! Our session: Amplifying Your Business Voice Through Tea Bloggers. I was so proud to sit on this panel with Jo Johnson (Scandalous Tea), Nicole Martin (Tea For Me Please) and Geoffrey Norman (Steep Stories of the Lazy Literatus)! We talked about the 4 R's of working with bloggers (Research, Review, Reach out and Requirements), as well as some Do's and Don't's. Do contact us personally and give us some interesting information about the tea you'd like us to review. Don't call us by the wrong name, bribe us or harass us if we don't write a review fast enough to your liking. We gave information about getting to know the community of Tea Bloggers - including attending tomorrow's (Thursday) 3rd Annual Tea Blogger's Roundtable at 2:30 p.m. We also announced the release of the 2015 Tea Blogger Directory, listing 45 tea bloggers and best practices for collaborating with them.

Nicole, Geoff, Jo, and Me - I remembered to smile this time!
(Photo by Nicole Schwartz)
Next, it was off to the trade show floor, where I was introduced to Charity Chalmers, founder and owner of Chariteas in Sandy, Oregon. While I understand she makes a mean tea sammich, she also provides some amazing teas. I was able to taste her offering of Grey Dragon (which I need to explore further!) and let's just say that I am an insta-fan!

Charity of Chariteas! (Booth 1428)
From there, I bumped into one of my favorite Tea People, Beth of Teas Etc. I always say that Beth is a hub. She knows everyone and loves to connect people. Within 1 minute of being in her booth, I had run into 3 old friends, someone I had met in her booth last year and had been trying to track down since, AND met a couple who is opening a new tea room in South Orange County in less than 2 months! 

Teas Etc. (Booth 901)
World Tea Expo is always a place to discover new up and comers in the Tea World, and I was very happy to meet the guys of SERR Holding Co., who are introducing Teh Bendera from Indonesia to the U.S. The Bendera Basic, a simple black tea, was bold, brisk, with just a hint of vanilla in the finish. I look forward to learning more about their teas!

SERR Holding Co. (Booth 1437)
One of my favorite parts of being at World Tea Expo is seeing old friends and catching up as quickly as possible in 10 minutes or less. I was thrilled to bump into Kim McHugh, of McHugh Tea in Bellaire, Texas! We both talked as fast as we could, asking about business, tea, family, and the pace of life, and then I let her know I would be out there soon! (I've been dreaming about her mom's cucumber sandwiches!)
So great to see you, Kim!
My last stop was at Libre Tea to say hello to Wendy and let her know I was sipping frommy very own Libre Tea mug just yesterday! I was so wonderful to see her new designs on display, since the last time I saw her I remember the design concepts were just being finalized. Seeing my friends succeed in their business just feeds my soul!

Wendy of Libre Tea! (Booth 1419)
On my way out the door, I got to have a nice chat with Phil Holmans of World Tea House based in Halifax, NS, Canada. He just opened his second location, and it was so fun to hear of that growth, not only in business, but in his company's reputation as being a great place to work, to discover tea and to  hang out in an inclusive environment. I missed my photo op with him today, but the moment was a good one.

I look forward to seeing more old friends on Thursday and meeting new ones. Enjoy your night, Tea Enthusiasts! (I expect a full report from the Tealet House in the morning!)