For our second week of our Random Acts of (Tea) Kindness, we’re featuring Black Vanilla Bean. That old cliche about vanilla being boring is simply, not true.
• Did you know that Vanilla is actually a member of the orchid family? • That it’s origins are native to the Caribbean, and South and Central America? • And that it’s only second to saffron as most expensive spice in the world?
Check out this fabulous and fascinating article written by Nat Geo about the History of Vanilla.
For those of you who lean towards the vanilla/dessert on the tea spectrum, this is your cup of tea. The base is a black tea from Vietnam that is balance, smooth and without smoke. The vanilla bean flavor is rich, real, and righteous. The aroma reminds me of a homemade vanilla cake without the sugary sweetness. Brewed correctly it requires no sugar. Should you desire sugar, a literal dot is the right amount.
Flavored black tea blends can be tricky to balance. Not this one. You won’t find a nicer Vanilla Bean Black Tea anywhere.
To take advantage of our Random Acts of (Tea) Kindness Holiday Sale, enter code: RATKVAN at Checkout on our website to enjoy 20% OFF Black Vanilla Bean Tea!
• Did you know that iced tea was first “officially discovered” in 1904 at the World’s Fair, St. Louis? • Or that prohibition and home refrigeration in the 1920s and 1930s helped increase the popularity of tea? • And that approximately 84% of the tea consumed in America is iced?
Welcome to National Iced Tea Month!
The most popular story goes something like this: In 1904 at the World’s Fair, Richard Blechynden, a tea plantation owner was planning to give away free samples of hot tea to visitors. It was so hot in St. Louis that year and no one was interested in hot tea – so he dumped cubes of ice into the drink. The rest is tea history. That said, there is also some information and a story about a Mrs. Tyree and her recipe for iced tea that was published in 1877 (well before the World’s Fair) in Housekeeping in Old Virginia – which is pretty darn cool. (Pun intended.)
In fact, many Americans were already familiar with and drinking iced tea in alcohol based punches as far back as the Colonial days. There is reference to the Philadelphia Fish House Punch from the early 1700s which was diluted with tea. David Wondrich, a liquor historian wrote that the recipe for Regent’s Punch (1815) “…also packed quite the potent wallop: Not only did it call for green tea and arrack, a rum-like liquor from South Asia, it also threw in citrus juice, sugar, champagne, brandy and rum.” That’s a significant difference from how we drink iced tea today.
When Prohibition rolled around and took effect in 1920, nonalcoholic iced teas took off. In 1921, The Spice Mill (a book on coffee and tea industry) wrote: “Since Prohibition has gone into effect, tea has been drunk in places not heretofore thought of.” In order for social clubs, hotels and bars to survive, they looked for substitutes for (hard) liquor sales. Enter the birth of virgin fruit punches and strongly brewed iced teas – both packed with flavor and perfectly legal. The real tipping point arrived with the availability of home refrigeration and freezers which meant that people didn’t have to leave their homes to attend a social club for an iced cold drink.
This brings us to America and its 84%. We stand almost entirely alone (American, Canada, Thailand) in terms of tea culture worldwide in that we are prefer our tea over ice – while the rest of the tea drinking world drinks its tea hot. In countries like China, India, Sri Lanka and Japan, tea is almost always served hot regardless of the season.
Is it because of our early access to ice? Or that Americans were “forced” to drink a strong nonalcoholic beverages during Prohibition? Perhaps! Regardless of the answer, iced tea isn’t going anywhere.
One of the best ways to enjoy real iced tea is to brew it yourself using loose-leaf tea. The quality and taste are far superior than anything you will make from packaged teabags. What I find most interesting and also surprising is how many people ask me HOW to make iced tea. I get this question almost weekly at markets. It’s really quite easy and takes little effort.
There are 2 ways to make iced tea: traditional hot brew method and cold brew. I’ve made both. My personal preference is to hot brew black teas and cold brew green teas.
For Hot Brew: The proportion I use is roughly 1 oz of loose-leaf tea to 1 gallon of water. I use boiling water for black teas, herbal and rooibos. With any herbal infusion or rooibos you can brew the leaves as long as you like without risking bitterness because there is no Camellia Sinensis (tea) in herbal infusions. You could walk away from rooibos (or herbals) for hours and return to perfectly brewed tea. It’s not the same for black teas. Time matters or you end up with a very strong, sometimes bitter brew. Most iced teas in restaurants are often brewed too long, and I believe it’s why so many people resort to sugar in their tea. Quality tea made correctly requires no sugar!
For Cold Brew: As mentioned I like greens (and oolongs) brewed cold. The ratio is slightly different in that you need more leaf to water. My preference is 1.5 oz of tea leaves to 1 gallon of ice/water placed in the fridge over night. When you wake up: Iced Tea! Depending on the tea, I might even use 2 oz of tea leaves to 1 gallon of water. What’s great about this method particularly for green tea, is that there is little to no astringency or bitterness. Some research even suggests that the caffeine level is lower and the anti-oxidants are higher with this method.
Our summer iced tea menu at our local farmer’s markets rotates between these 6 flavors:
For those of you that follow Pearl Fine Teas around the DC Metro area, or are one of our online customers, I’m offering 15% OFF these 6 teas for the rest of June during National Iced Tea Month.Enter code: ICE15at checkout to receive your discount!
Only blog readers will have access to this code which expires at midnight on June 30th! Grab some leaves and brew over ice!
TGIF! You made it through another week and the final Friday before Christmas!
How about something fruity, energizing and fun? Welcome Lovely Lauren. A black tea blended with mighty chunks of dried apricot. It’s a wonderful hot tea, and a superior iced tea. It’s another one of our most popular brews at our weekly farmersmarkets in Spring/Summer. This blend has caffeine, so if you a need boost to navigate the day, start with this cuppa, and you will have a nice even burst of energy to sustain you through the day of last minute work deadlines, shopping, socializing and wrapping gifts.
Named after my eldest niece Lauren when she was about 7 years old because she loved having teatime with me, doing tea reviews and videos and because she loves anything fruity and sweet. Lauren was allowed to have small amounts of caffeine and she loved this flavored tea. Shes now 16 years old, drives herself to a job she loves: working in a pet store and rescue shelter to help find homes for many, many abandoned dogs. She still loves sweet things and a touch of sugar in her tea. I believe that’s in part due to her sweet nature. Try this delightful blend. You won’t be disappointed. Here are some notes on thisfruity flavored tea:
• Overview: Near and dear to our hearts and named after one of our most favorite people. Wonderfully fruity. • Dry Leaf: Smallish dark twisted leaves, medium brown, golden chunks of dried apricot • Liquor (liquid): Dark medium-reddish brown • Aroma: Upfront aroma of apricot • Flavor notes: Distinctly fruity – specifically apricot. Lingers on the palate. Strong yet smooth and easy going. • Brewing recommendation: Rolling boil / 212° Fº / 3-5 minutes. • Caffeine: Yes
Did you know that one of the the oldest written references to tea dates back to 59BC? And that the oldest physical evidence/remains of tea date back to the Song Dynasty: AD960-AD1,127? There is a study that concluded that tea was consumed by the Han Dynasty as early as 2,100 BP (before present). Tea has been a loyal companion to human beings for a very, very long time.
We’ll fast-forward to “modern” times (18th Century) and the Ancient Tea and Horse Road, where caravans made their way from central China, through Tibet and eventually into Russia–bridging the East and West–sharing and trading goods. The greatest treasure/commodity taken along that route? TEA.
The humble beginnings of Russian Caravan begin with romantic stories of mile-long caravans of camels loaded with tea leaves. The journey sometimes took as long at 16 months to endure. According to China Highlights: “The Ancient Tea Horse Road rivaled the Silk Road trade routes for importance, and as the longest ancient trade road in the world, at more than 10,000 kilometers in length, but was certainly toughest to travel. Few people in ancient times could finish the whole journey.”
Evidently, the Siberian route offered a “kinder” option for travel, preserving the integrity of the tea due to a drier, colder climate. As the caravans stopped along the frigid, snowy roads they would build campfires to to warm the weary bodies of themselves and their camel companions. With the tea close by the fire, the leaves took on the aroma and taste of the smoke bellowing from the burning wood. By the time they arrived at their Russian destination, the tea had transformed into a heavy, smokey, tobacco-like flavored brew. Though many came to associate this tea with the comfort of warmth from those glowing fires that saved them along the road, others (mainly purists) considered this tea to be “ruined.” Little did those tea-snobs realize at the time that this route and those campfires were creating a new style of tea.
The proper “Russian” way to drink this tea is to use a samovar to create a strong brew – almost like a concentrate – and then pour into cups and adding water lesson the brew. This way creates one of the strongest brews you will ever experience. It’s no wonder the Russians add fruit (often jam) to their teas to lighten the load. If you are looking for a caffeine fueled day, try Russian Caravan made in a samovar. Some of you will take that as a challenge and want to give it a try, others will run away as fast as the wind blows on the Old Silk Road. Here are some tasting notes on this Imperial blend:
• Overview: Famous for its distinct smokey flavor and history dating back to the 18th Century. • Dry Leaf: Medium, dark brown leaves • Liquor (liquid): Medium dark color • Aroma: Immediate aroma of smoke • Flavor notes: Smokey, but more mild then Lapsang Souchong. Notes of bergamot citrus and bits of chocolate/tobacco • Brewing recommendation: 212˚F for 1-2 minutes. • Caffeine: Yes
Mention Earl Grey and most people (even non-tea loving people) will know about this – its one of the most recognizable blends in the world. I’ve noticed there are 2 very distinct camps when it comes to this flavored tea and not much middle ground: people either love it or don’t. I’ve not yet met a person was was ambivalent about Earl Grey. I’m often asked questions about where this tea comes from, what makes it “Earl Grey” and who is Mr. Earl Grey. Good questions. What I found particularly interesting and learned something new when reading up about Earl Grey. The timeliness of it seemed so odd, that I had to include it and post it specifically today: Dec 19, 2016 – when the United States Electors have to cast their final votes for President. Read below to see why this is so interesting.
WHERE: Earl Grey tea doesn’t come from a particular country or region. The black tea that makes up the base for this flavored tea can be made with black tea from India, Sri Lanka, China etc… Often it is a blend of a few black teas to create a specific flavor profile. Earl Grey can also be made with Green tea and Rooibos.
WHAT: It is a tea flavored with oil of bergamot, a type of orange primarily grown in Italy, that makes Earl Grey… Earl Grey.
WHO: Charles Grey, an English aristocrat and 2nd Prime Minister of the UK in the 1800’s inherited the title “Earl” after his father passed away in 1807. He was known for 4 important achievements in his life:
• The Reform Act of 1832 which set in train a gradual process of electoral change, sowing the seeds of the system we recognise today.
• Reform of restrictions on children employment
• The abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1833
• The inspiration for Earl Grey Tea
You’re in for a special treat as we hop over to Sri Lanka (a small tropical island off Southern India) to explore a black tea called Ceylon. It gets its name from its country of origin before it changed in 1948.
When I first started studying tea seriously in 2007, one of the first single estate black teas that I became smitten with was ceylon.I didn’t know at the time that I would travel to Sri Lanka and stay on a tea plantation and attend the famous tea auction. What a beautiful, rich country with a gorgeous export. A noteworthy distinction and something most people may not know is that ceylon tea is certified ozone friendly. Here is an excerpt from the Sri Lankan Tea Board to properly explain what that means:
“All tea grown in Sri Lanka is now one hundred percent ozone-friendly. This is a distinction of which no other tea-producing nation can boast. Plans are now being drawn up to impose a total ban on methyl bromide use in applications like export packaging and shipping. As of May 2011, all Ceylon Tea is entitled to bear the new ‘Ozone Friendly Pure Ceylon Tea’ logo, certifying that it has been produced without the use of any ozone-depleting substances. The Tea Board plans to register the logo in thirty tea-importing countries by the end of 2012. When you reach for a cup of Ceylon Tea, you’re not just refreshing yourself; you’re also helping refresh and renew an environmental resource critically important to all life on Earth.”
You can read even more about this on the Sri Lanka Tea Board Website. A few months back, I was invited to dinner at the residence of the Ambassador of Sri Lanka where I sat next to a colleague who owns of a very small organic tea estate in Ella. We had run into each other a several times over the years, but this particular meeting proved fateful because we were able to really discuss the teas his estate is producing. A few samples later and we now carry this very unusual, very special OP1 Ceylon Black Teawith addition of dried tea flowers(camellia sinensis). It was a bit of a wait (months actually) but the end result was worth it. When the few precious kilos arrived, I squealed with delight.
When you see letters after a black tea (like OP), its referring to the grade of tea. OP stands for Orange Pekoe (pronounced PECK-O) referring to the highest grade of leaves. OP1 means it’s a slightly delicate, long, wiry leaf with the light colored liquor. Here are some notes on this island gem:
• Overview: A special, medium bodied black tea that’s also a visual delight. • Dry Leaf: Long, delicate, wiry leaves with gorgeous pale yellow dried flowers. • Liquor (liquid): Medium golden brown • Aroma: Fresh rain, honeysuckle • Flavor notes: Strong notes of honey and light notes of citrus fruit on the finish. Crisp and bright. A longer steep yields a healthy substantial brew. • Brewing recommendation: 212° Fº – steep for 2-4 minutes • Caffeine: Yes
New England isn’t what you would normally expect for a tea blend, but boy is it good. The black tea base is complimented by bits of cacao, red and black peppercorn and dried maple bits. Sounds like a cavity in the making, however, even though the aroma is strongly sweet maple, the brew is not. The maple mixes with the cacao and pepper and it all comes together for a balanced cup of tea that is seriously rich and as comforting as a big bear hug. We have found that many people interested in transitioning over to tea from coffee, find this blend a good first cuppa. I believe its because its similar to the “weight” that coffee seems to offer. It is also caffeinated (as all black teas are), but does not give the caffeine rush that most people seem to experience with coffee.
We unleash this rich, satisfying and warming blend each fall and winter. It’s got a cult following by some of our beloved tea customers and there’s typically a line waiting for it’s re-entry. Here are some notes on this limited edition/seasonal blend:
• Overview: A very rich, weighty cup of tea that pays respect to the beautiful New England region of the United States. • Dry Leaf: Small twisted leaves and stems, peppercorn, maple, cacao nibs • Liquor (liquid): Dark reddish-brown • Aroma: Strong sweet maple • Flavor notes: Balanced, rich and full of flavor. Maple upfront but not overly sweet. Cacao sits in the background as does the pepper and it all comes together on the palate. Long finish. • Brewing recommendation: 212° Fº / 2-5 minutes. • Caffeine: Yes
Im pausing and digressing for a moment instead of posting Day 4 of my Taiwan/Japan tea adventure. Here is why…
There seems to be a lot of misinformation out there on white tea and its caffeine content. Most people, it seems, believe that it has the lowest. This is simply not true. It can be quite a challenge as a Tea Purveyor to tell people that white tea does, in fact, have a very high amount of caffeine. But because we can do a quick Google search and find information to the contrary, people believe it. Here is an example: http://www.whiteteacentral.com/caffeinewhitetea.html
My first encounter with the “white tea – caffeine” debate was a few years back while I was at an expo. A gentleman had come up to my booth and asked to buy some white tea because he only drank teas without caffeine and herbals because of his religion. He was a Mormon. I tried to explain to him that it did have a lot and that he should stick to herbals. He insisted he was right and went home to look it up on the web, came back the next day and said I was wrong. What could I do? Argue with a Mormon and force him to buy herbals?
My next experience was recently at a local shopping mall. I stepped into a tea store to grab some hot tea. It was around 7pm and I needed something hot and herbal. I tried a couple of samples and decided on one but asked them not to include the white tea that it was blended with. I only wanted the Rooibos blend. Here is how this played out:
The salesgirl, who had extensive training in tea (she said a week) said: “Why not have the white tea? It will relax you.”
I said, “If its white tea, it has a lot of caffeine. I doubt Ill be relaxed.”
She said, “No white tea has the lowest caffeine of all the teas because of how its made. The steaming takes the caffeine out.”
I seriously just blinked in disbelief.
I said, “I’ll just take the herbal infusion.” She said, “Are you sure about that? You wont get any health benefits from just herbal tea.”
I said, “Why is that?” She said, “Because herbal teas only have vitamin C.”
I felt like Daffy Duck, looking at the camera with that stare of disbelief. I said, “I think Im fine with just having Vitamin C tonight.” I glanced up at the wall of tea and asked her what the most expensive one was. She said that it was a Monkey Picked tea and brought it over for me to smell.
I said, “Ah yes, Monkey Picked…” She said, “Yes the reason its called that is because Monkey Picked means that its won championships.”
The Monkey Picked comment I’ll just skip for another blog post and just keep on track with the White Tea – Caffeine Debate. I decided to go the one man I knew would have the correct information: Nigel Melican of TeaCraft. My question to him was:
“Nigel, what is the latest word on the caffeine levels in white tea? Im getting bombarded with questions and conflicting information about this. So many are saying its the lowest. I remember you saying its quite high. Can you help?”
His response is below. Take heed people. Nigel knows his stuff.
“No, despite those who would prefer otherwise, white tea is the highest in caffeine content – the younger and smaller and fresher the bud and the less processing – the higher the caffeine, whatever the color of the tea. It’s facts. It’s sci…ence. It’s indisputable!
Richard Enticott (President & CEO of Martin Bauer US, Inc.) spoke at World Tea Expo 2010 and presented data for caffeine content based on 30 years of caffeine analyses of tea (tens of thousands of actual analyses on actual tea). He says caffeine in China white needles tea is typically over 7% – and this matches my own findings.For another treatment of caffeine with some typical amounts in black tea see:
For a comparison of black, green and white tea caffeine – the best single reference I know is “Characterization of White Tea – Comparison to green and black tea” Y Hilal and U Engelhardt. J. Verbr. Lebensm. 2 (2007) 414-421. The authors are in the Dept. Food Chem, University of Braunshweig, Germany. Around 160 tea brands were sampled from across the German retail market They show for caffeine:
Black tea (50 teas) average 3.5% (range 2.0 – 5.4%)
Green tea set 1 (50 teas) average 3.4% (range 1.5 – 5.2%)
Green tea set 2 (30 teas) average 2.9% (range 1.7 – 2.9%)
White tea (30 teas) average 4.9% (range 3.4 – 5.7%)
Its been a month since I blogged. Bad me. I’ve been focusing on new ventures that are coming up this fall. Like teaching a tea class at Open Kitchen and attending expos and events (more on that later). I have been loyal to my morning cup of Jade Oolong and Im about to cup a few more this afternoon. Yeah me!
I was sifting through some old emails and came across this interesting bit from my Peep over in England, Nigel Melican. He is an expert on many many tea related issues especially caffeine. So Id like to share with you what he said recently. A question was asked:
Q. “First, I was wondering which tea had the greatest caffeine content White,Green,or Black?…“
A.“A 2007 study in Germany (Hilal & Engelhardt) looked at 30 Black teas, 2 sets of 30 Green teas & 30 White teas. This is the most comprehensive study I know. They found a range of caffeine:
Black tea 2.0 to 5.4% – average 3.5%
Green tea (1) 1.5 to 5.2% – average 3.4%
Green tea (2) 1.7 to 3.9% – average 2.9%
White tea 3.4 to 5.7% – average 4.9%
My conclusion from this is that to drink any particular color of tea for its low or high level is to fool yourself. Despite what many misguided (or unscrupulous) vendors may tell you, your black could be as low as 2.0% and your green as high as 5.2% – and even on average (if you could ever find an average tea) a black will be the same caffeine level as a green – from sample set 1 at least.
White tea scores higher on average than black or green, though a ‘high’ black or green could still beat a ‘low’ white.
Steeping practice will modify caffeine intake more than your choice of tea type. Halve the tea you use = 50% less caffeine in your cup. Treble steep your green or white teas and you will have significantly less caffeine per oz of water consumed than in a single steep of black.
Finally, don’t worry so much about caffeine in tea. Nature provided tea polyphenols to complex it – so you do not get the coffee jitters from tea – and the unique relaxing L-theanine to balance caffeine’s energizing effects. New research (in mice only, so far) points to caffeine having a protecting and reversing affect on Alzheimer dementia at a dose of 500mg per day – around 14 cups! That has to be an argument for increased tea drinking.
Analysis shows that the African cultivars are consistently high for caffeine content. Some can be up to 6% in parts of the year and the CTC manufactured types are the highest. Teas from Kenya and Rwanda are particularly good for combination of taste, high caffeine and high L-theanine (the stress busting amino acid unique to tea). In USA though it’s difficult to find these teas as straight origins. I suggest you seek out a supplier of Taylors Yorkshire Gold – their blend incorporates a lot of the best African teas – good and strong and my favorite for the morning wake up cuppa.
Q. “I know this has been addressed in the past, but once again….Which if any tea has the most caffine? I am a loose tea drinker, but also love my coffee. Coffee isnt agreeing with me anymore, but Ive gotta have that “buzz” in the morning to get me going. I have a job where I sit all day and look at a computer, and need to stay awake!…[I’d] appreciate anything you can advise me on.”
A. “Analysis shows that the African cultivars are consistently high for caffeine content. Some can be up to 6% in parts of the year and the CTC manufactured types are the highest. Teas from Kenya and Rwanda are particularly good for combination of taste, high caffeine and high L-theanine (the stress busting amino acid unique to tea). In USA though it’s difficult to find these teas as straight origins. I suggest you seek out a supplier of Taylors Yorkshire Gold – their blend incorporates a lot of the best African teas – good and strong and my favorite for the morning wake up cuppa.”
This is my third year attending the World Tea Expo so I was able to prioritize and work the show floor in a day which left more time to relax, mingle with my teapeeps and attend a few choice classes. The one at the top of list was given by Jane Pettigrew on Rare Teas. If you haven’t been exposed to Jane, you surely are missing out. She is simply fabulous. Her love, knowledge and passion for tea fills the room.
I tweeted about each tea during the tasting. I found them interesting and was pleased to be able to sip something out of the ordinary. I will say that my expectation for what I considered RARE was different then what WTE thought. To me a rare tea for example, might be… an aged puerh that was produced in limited quantity 11 years ago and only a 10 people in the world have access to it. This seminar was more about UNUSUAL Teas. That said, I still loved it and was grateful to have atteneded.
Here is a brief recap:
Tea 1: Malawi White Tea (Antlers)
This was the biggest surprise of the 6 for me. While I like white tea well enough its not a “go to” tea for me. It took just one sip and I was, well, in TeaLove. The liquor was sparkly, clear and sweet. There were light notes of fruit. No leaves were used to produce this tea which we all found interesting. A leafless tea made only with the stems. This was my top pick and favorite. 8 grams, Steeped at 176˚ for 5min.
Tea 2: South Korean Spring-Picked Green Tea
Very unusual for a green tea. The immediate smell is nutty which I wouldnt have expected from a green. It was more like a tie kwan yin. The wet leaf had a beautiful aroma that was slightly vegetal and nutty. The color: a bright, vibrant green. Very light colored liquor and taste. This teas is handmade. 8 grams steeped at 14o˚ for 2 min. (The steep should have been longer to bring out the flavor)
Tea 3: Ancient Lotus Green (Vietnam Flavored Green)
An immediate burst of anise both in aroma and taste! Quite unexpected. Dry leaf was dark and long but also rolled. Liquor was light gold. Wet leaf was long and curly. This tea is handmade and infused with Lotus blossoms. Steep time and temp wasn’t given.
Tea 4: Thai High Mountain oolong (Chang Mai) Most of you know my deep, unwavering love for oolongs, so I was excited to try one from Thailand. The dry leaves were very large, rolled balls. The liquor was golden and had hardly any aroma. But perhaps the paper cups smell was getting in the way. I likened this oolong to an extremely light Jade Oolong. Its a 2 day production for this one as opposed to the usual 1 day for oolongs. 8 grams, Steep time 180˚ for 4 min.
Tea 5: Bolivian Organic Black Did you know Bolivia produced black tea? I didn’t. This tea endures 18 hours of withering, has a very large leaf that is rolled. The color of the liquor was a lovely medium redish brown. The taste reminded me of a ceylon but with more complexity. It was slight fruity or plumy and very smooth. 8 grams, Steep time 212˚ for 4 min.
Tea 6: Tregothnan Classic Black (Cornwall, UK)
Tregothnan means “house at the top of the hill.” Not a true tregothnan, but a blend. Made locally. The dry leaves are small and cut like a CTC process yet this was all handmade. Impressive. Wet leaf fluffed up and turned brown. The liquor was a lovely shade of deep red. The taste was immediately astringent and made my lips pucker.Steep time and temp wasn’t given.
Today is the last day of the Expo and I’ll be attending Lisa Richardson’s class on pairing tea and chocolate! More posts to come later!