Shiny surfaces, bright lighting, and basic materials seem to be hallmarks of the tea bar – the latest frenzy (it’s too fast-paced and seemingly long-lasting to be called a “fad”) in the world of tea. The high-tech yet minimalist design at one end and a warm and welcoming Asian motif at the other. They have one thing in common: great tea!

Tea Bar in the Mission district of San Francisco (Screen capture from site)

Tea Bar in the Mission district of San Francisco (Screen capture from site)

San Fran Tea Bar

The décor features lots of straight lines, stone surfaces, underlighting, large windows, and a service area that prepares teas one of two ways (as far as I can tell from the photos): in large copper pots on some type of heating element, and in glass steepers with a sleek high-tech appearance (no idea how properly they steep but I haven’t heard of any complaints so far). The color scheme is overall light and mostly muted with the focus being on the tea.

Their minimalism extends to the menu. The teas are limited to some very basic ones: English Breakfast, a green tea called “Green Ecstacy” [sic], an herbal called “Spearmint Sage,” a traditional Masala Chai and a vegan (unexplained – probably uses that “soy milk” stuff) Masala Chai, Matcha served as either a shot or a shake, an iced Plum Pu-erh (they don’t say if it’s sheng or shu), and something called “Rosie Palmer.” They also have an extremely limited selection of scones: sweet (lemon and tart cherry) or savory (scallion and dry jack).

Zhongshan Port, China

The tea bar in China is more of a store, but over there taking time to infuse a bit of the tea and discuss it with the tea shop experts is fairly common. This one specializes in a particular brand of pu-erh tea. There are lots of shiny surfaces (mainly that gorgeous flooring), plenty of direct and indirect lighting, plenty of touches of red (the color of good fortune in Chinese culture), and wonderful carved and very sturdy-looking tables and chairs. The emphasis is on trying and learning about the teas.

New Dayi flasgship store in Zhongshan Port, China (From Yahoo! Images)

New Dayi flasgship store in Zhongshan Port, China (From Yahoo! Images)

A Far Cry from Chintz and Lace

We often think of tea as being served in those tea rooms decorated with floral patterns, pastel shades of blue, yellow, green, and pink, and lacy curtains on the windows. Plenty of these cozy and inviting establishments are around, but the above two shops indicate that a change is in the works. Something for everybody and every taste – that’s the standard in the world of tea.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

When I was a younger feller I was not particularly aware of tea. But I knew enough to know that “tea” and black tea were one and the same. I’m sure there must have been a few people here in the United States – even in those unenlightened days – who drank other types of tea. But in this part of the world the recent fad for green tea and less popular types like oolong, puerh, white, and yellow has only come around in recent years.

China Tea Sampler (ETS image)

China Tea Sampler (ETS image)

Of course, in the greater scheme of things, green tea is hardly a flash in the pan. It’s likely that something like it has been around as long as there’s been tea. But I thought it might be interesting to try to look at some of its origins. In an old tea book that I wrote about for this site recently, a book that was published in 1868, the author noted that “Green Tea” began to be used in Great Britain around 1715.

Of course, given that green tea is closest to tea in its natural state, it stands to reason that it has been around longer than the other more processed types of tea like black, oolong, and puerh. In The True History of Tea, authors Victor Mair and Erling Hoh, write that loose leaf green tea had become the most popular type in China in the late Song dynasty, which ended in the latter years of the thirteenth century. Among the other types of tea that were popular at the time were powdered tea and wax tea. The latter was made by shaping tea leaves into a cake – as is often done with puerh – and then sealing it with camphor or some other type of aromatic oil.

Of course, when you talk about green tea you have to mention Japan, where they produce some of the best green teas and where black tea is something of a curiosity that’s only been produced in small amounts for the last century and a half. Tea is thought to have come to Japan from China during the Tang dynasty, sometime during the eighth century. But the sencha variety of green tea, which is one of the green teas that are so closely associated with Japan, actually came about during the early Ming dynasty in China, thanks to some changes in how green tea was processed.

In Europe, contrary to the aforementioned date of 1715, it’s likely that green tea was present from the very beginning, about a century earlier. In 1702, as Mair and Hoh relate, a cargo of tea shipped in from China consisted primarily of various types of green tea. But, as a harbinger of things to come, particularly in Britain, a portion of the cargo was given over to black tea.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Gyokuro Japanese Green Tea (ETS image)

Gyokuro Japanese Green Tea (ETS image)

Once upon a time the best teas were reserved for the aristocrats, monarchs, emperors, etc., and were presented as “tribute teas.” It was at first voluntary and then mandated. That meant that the rest of the tea drinkers around got the leftovers, which were often quite passable, just not of premium quality. The tribute tea system has long since gone by the wayside, in part due to demand from other parts of the world for that level of quality and in part due to a rise in demand for cheaper teas to satiate a seemingly insatiable public. Tea cultivation spread to more and more countries with the focus on quantity and speedier production (meaning big shiny machines). After a couple of centuries of this, the pendulum in tea production and enjoyment seems to be swinging back toward those premium teas. Does that mean they are becoming more mainstream? I sure hope so!

Some Key Factors in Premium Teas

Premium teas aren’t just a tea that someone slaps a label on bearing the word “premium.” Such teas need to meet certain key standards. I’ve listed a few I look for:

  • Hand-harvested – this goes for teas like Silver Needle, Bi Luo Chun, or a nice tippy Assam.
  • Hand-processed – the teas named above are usually hand-processed, and this is preferred for a tea to be considered premium, but other teas such as matcha can be machine-harvested and –processed or hand-processed and still claim that honor.
  • Overall exceptionalism – that is where the matcha figures in here, along with top-grade gyokuro, and many private label pu-erhs put together by true tea masters.
  • General form – with the exception of matcha (and possibly some others), premium teas will generally not be in that “ground to dust” form filling those millions of teabags out there; in fact, they will usually not be in teabags but will be packed loose in a sealed pouch or tea tin.

Some Signs that Availability Is Increasing

You know how you can tell when your pristine, golfcourse-looking lawn has a dandelion problem? Yep, those bright yellow flowers dotting the landscape. Well, tea is a bit like that. Smaller vendors have been popping up like those sunny weedy flowers. I’m talking about the ones that focus on those premium teas, not the ones that focus on flavored teas (with lots of stuff added in among the tea leaves), and have them as 90% or more of their total tea line-up. Another sign of those premium teas becoming more mainstream is when you see big vendors start to carry them. I received several samples like that recently. The vendor generally carries only bagged teas in those tall, round tins. But they have brought out several more premium teas such as a first flush Darjeeling and a Milk Oolong. Still another sign for me was a photo of a guy in London… yes, that’s London, England! …who was demonstrating the gongfu style of preparing tea. Boy, things have sure changed in Merry Olde England! Yippee!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

With the heat of the summer beating down, tea has taken a turn to the cold varieties. Tea parties can be done with both hot and cold tea. Just imagine close friends, the sun shining, a slight summer breeze and a cup of sweet tea to embrace the conversation. Accompanied of course by wonderful finger sandwiches and chocolate covered strawberries.

Recipes for Sweet Tea Food Pairings (photo by Janet Sanchez, all rights reserved)

Recipes for Sweet Tea Food Pairings (photo by Janet Sanchez, all rights reserved)

Shopping list:

2 loaves soft white bread
½ lb sliced ham
½ lb sliced turkey
7 oz bag Arugula
2-3 tomatoes sliced thin
4 oz mascarpone cheese
4 oz cream cheese
3 oz goat cheese
1 bottle Balsamic glaze
1 jar honey
1 can tart cherries (sub: cranberries)
16 oz strawberries
6 oz bittersweet chocolate (50-70% cocoa)
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Sandwich spreads:

Combine 4 oz mascarpone with 2 tbsp honey
Combine 3 oz goat cheese with 4 tsp balsamic glaze
Combine 4 oz cream cheese with ¼ cup of tart cherries in a food processor or with a mixer

Sandwiches:

Thinly spread mascarpone and honey mixture on 2 pieces of bread. Place a few slices of ham between the slices of bread. Cut off the crusts then cut into thirds.

Thinly spread goat cheese mixture on 2 pieces of bread. Place about ¼ cup of arugula and a few tomato slices between the bread slices. Cut off crusts then cut into thirds.

Thinly spread cream cheese and cherry mixture on 2 pieces of bread. Place a few slices of turkey between the slices of bread. Cut off the crusts then cut into thirds.

Do this for all of the bread making as many of each as you and your guests would prefer.

Chocolate dipped strawberries:

Fill a small sauce pot with water about 1 inch up the side of the pot over medium low heat. Place a metal bowl on top. Choose a metal bowl that does not touch the water when placed on top. Put the chocolate pieces in the bowl. Allow the chocolate to melt then add in 1/3 cup of the sweetened condensed milk. If the mixture is too thick thin it out with 1-2 teaspoons of milk. Once combined, leave the pot over the water but turn off the heat. Take each strawberry by the stem and swirl it around until almost completely covered. Place onto a greased baking sheet or a flexible cutting board. Place into the fridge for at least 10 minutes but not more than 4 hours.

Recipe serves 12-14 people generously.

Serve the above with the teas of your choice!

See more of Janet Sanchez’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Braving the outdoors for tea time! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Braving the outdoors for tea time! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

It’s Summer. You are probably spending a lot more time outdoors than you do in Winter. Hiking, boating, riding bikes, swimming… and enjoying tea! I have here a few do’s and don’ts that will help you enjoy that tea outdoors a bit better. At least, I hope they will.

1 Do Beware of Insects

Summer is sweet tea time for many folks. And for others, sweet tea is a year-round event but in Summer they get to enjoy it outdoors. The “sweet” in sweet tea usually comes from sugar. And that makes it attractive to certain critters, including bees and wasps. So a covered cup is a good thing.

2 Don’t Worry About Spills

A great thing about eating and drinking outdoors never seems to get mentioned: you don’t have to worry about spills! Well, not most of the time. And this is especially true of tea. You can certainly shed a tear over spilt tea, but you won’t need to worry about carpet stains, tablecloths ruined, etc. Your deck or patio are another matter.

3 Do Bring Enough to Share

Tea tends to draw a crowd. The sight of you swigging (and hopefully not spilling) your iced tea, sweet or not, will naturally attract attention. Be ready with a bit extra. Having some to share is always a friendly gesture.

4 Don’t Overstay the Tea

When the tea is gone, your time outdoors should be done. You need to go back inside the house or a store or a tea shop and get some more tea. It makes the great outdoors, with it myriad trials and tribulations (biting critters, rocks that trip you, sun that burns you, etc.) much more bearable.

5 Do Come Back Outside

When you have more tea, head back out and be ready for more outdoor enjoyment!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

It’s likely that most of the robots actually in use these days are being put to work in less than glamorous situations, such as being employed in some type of industry. But it’s the more or less human type robots that we see in science fiction that tend to capture people’s imagination. Robots that tend to act in ways that real humans might. Including robots that serve tea.

Yes, that’s right. Something I’ve noticed over the years that I’ve been writing about tea is that for some reason robot designers like to give their creations the ability to serve tea. Depending on your definition of what a robot is, this sort of thing goes back several hundred years to the Karakuri of Japan. The Wikipedia entry for them describes Karakuri as “mechanized puppets or automata” that perform one or more activities.

As this article from Smithsonian magazine notes, these activities might include shooting arrows or serving tea, to name a few. If you’re feeling ambitious, that article links to another one that provides instructions to actually make a Gakken Tea Serving Robot, which is modeled after a Karakuri. It’s not for the faint of heart but there it is. For some quite technical background on how a more modern version of a tea serving robot operates, take a look at this research paper from a team of Japanese scientists.

Here’s an article from several years ago about a tea-serving robot of a more recent vintage. It also originated in Japan, thanks to the efforts of the automaker, Honda. The robot, named Asimo, has a section at Honda’s web site, where you can keep up with the latest news, watch videos and even download a related desktop widget.

As of a few years ago, Popular Mechanics reported that Asimo’s services could be rented for a mere $100,000, a price tag that’s obviously out of most people’s range. If this is too pricey for you but you absolutely have to have a tea robot you might be able to console yourself with this relatively affordable robot tea infuser.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

These days most of the teas in my pantry are not only loose leaf teas but come in a pouch, not a tea tin. You can squeeze excess air out of a pouch and keep your teas fresher longer (not that ours last that long around here for it to matter that much). However, tea tins are missed. Why? Because they can be reused for so many things once the tea has been steeped and enjoyed and the tea leaves used in the garden to enrich the soil.

A Few Typical Tea Tin Reuses

A favorite tea tin is the classic design from Twinings. It seems to show up just about everywhere, but a very typical use is as a planter for your window sill. The Harney & Sons tins (those very special looking ones) showed up as a wall organizer. Candle holders, storage of things like pushpins, pencil holders (especially good in the tall, round tea tins), flower vases (be sure the tin is water tight), and even jewelry storage are other typical ways these tins get reused.

A Few Typical Tea Tin Reuses: 1 – candleholders, 2 & 3 – planters, 4 – pen/pencil holders (From Yahoo! Images)

A Few Typical Tea Tin Reuses: 1 – candleholders, 2 & 3 – planters, 4 – pen/pencil holders (From Yahoo! Images)

A Few Very A-Typical Tea Tin Reuses

A ceiling light fixture where the lightshades are made of tea tins is one unusual use I’ve seen. Another is a tea tin refitted as a pin cushion. Another possibility: A windchime ensemble – poke holes in the botton of several tea tins of various sizes, put a string through the hole and knot one end to hold in it place, tie the other end around a stick. Still another possibility: As a cookie tin – bake some cookies just the right size to stack in one of those tall, round tins and then decorate the outside with your own label (for example, “Susie’s Cookies Baked Just for Your Birthday”).

A Few Very A-Typical Tea Tin Reuses: 1 – ceiling light fixture, 2 – pincushion (From Yahoo! Images)

A Few Very A-Typical Tea Tin Reuses: 1 – ceiling light fixture, 2 – pincushion (From Yahoo! Images)

Getting fancy with that tea tin redo. (Screen capture from site)

Getting fancy with that tea tin redo. (Screen capture from site)

Getting Fancy with Your Reused Tea Tin

Let your imagination be your guide. Go fancy with that reused tea tin. I found an example on this blog, but there are plenty more ideas out there. That tea tin can be a work of total splendor.

Time to dig that tea tin out of the trash and see what you can do with it!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Dripping Teapot Solved (screen capture from site)

Dripping Teapot Solved (screen capture from site)

Pouring tea is how we get the tea from the pot to the cup, and that’s about all there is to it. Right? Well, perhaps not so much, now that you mention it. There’s actually a little more to it than that. As previous articles in these pages have noted, you can learn how to pour tea in the proper British style and the mechanics of the teapot spout might have an effect on the tea itself.

Or you can pour tea like a Moroccan waiter, which is to say holding the teapot far from the cup and performing a death defying feat that supposedly almost never sees a drop of tea go astray. According to various sources, this is done throughout northern Africa, where the preferred tea is gunpowder green served with a healthy dose of mint and sugar. All of which is done to aerate the tea and thus improve the flavor, to give it a head like beer, or to cool it down – or perhaps a combination of all of these.

Which is an activity that’s not confined to Morocco, mind you. In Malaysia, a similar process is used to make teh tarik, a sweet black tea that’s made with condensed milk. Or you can do a cursory search of the web and can find a number of videos of intrepid Chinese tea pouring acrobats. Who perform amazing feats using special teapots with long thin spouts. Here’s an example. According to one Chinese tea blogger, high pouring (though presumably not of such an acrobatic variety) when pouring water to steep the leaves helps produce a better cup of tea as it agitates the leaves which then achieve more contact with the water.

Of course, I would probably be remiss if I wrote about tea pouring and didn’t discuss that pesky problem of why the teapot always drips when you’re finished pouring your tea. The problem was apparently solved by a team of scientists a few years back but whether teapot makers got the memo or not is up in the air – pardon the expression.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Thai Milk Tea (From Yahoo! Images)

Thai Milk Tea (From Yahoo! Images)

Look up “thai tea” online and you end up with page after page of search results about Thai Milk Tea. So I wanted to highlight five things for you to know about this cool tea treat.

1 This Is NOT the British Style of Tea with Milk

The British are famous for enjoying their tea black, strong, and with milk and sugar (a lump or two). Thai Milk Tea involves strong black tea and milk and sugar, but the similarity ends there.

2 Ice Is Part of the Recipe

Something you will never see in British style tea with milk is ice. No way. No how. Yet, it is essential to Thai Milk Tea, at least as how us Westerners make it. This style of tea is meant to be a Summer time chiller, and how do you chill without ice? (Well, okay, there’s the refrigerator, but you get my drift here.)

3 Typical Ingredients

While the recipe is fairly simple, each ingredient plays its part. Start with black tea, of course, preferrably one from Thailand, but a good Assam is a great option, and loose leaf if possible. Use about 3 ounces. Fresh water (about 6 cups) heated to a rolling boil is best. Milk is essential (duh!) and is usually both condensed and either whole, half & half, or (for the true afficionados) the stuff called “coconut milk” (actually, nothing chemically like milk, so if you’re lactose intolerant, this should be a good option). Thai spices are to be expected, with star anise, ground tamarind, and cardamom being the most commonly used.

4 Typical Preparation

Steep up the tea leaves and spices in the boiling water for at least 5 minutes (you could go to 7 or 8 minutes to get it extra strong and add a bit of extra sugar to cover any bitterness). You’re going to be diluting the tea with the milk and ice, so an extra strong tea is needed here. Strain out the tea leaves and spices. Stir the sugar into the hot tea and stir until thoroughly dissolved. Add the condensed milk, if used, and stir to mix. Cool the liquid to room temperature. Put ice in tall glasses, pour in tea to about 3/4 full, and top off with cold milk or coconut “milk.”

5 Don’t Stir!

A key feature of Thai Milk Tea is that layer of milk at the top of the glass, so whatever you do, don’t stir! You’ll be tempted, but that would totally spoil the experience. Just grab a straw and enjoy!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Iced tea weather is upon us, but for some folks that ice poses a problem: dilution. As ice cubes melt in your glass on a hot day they can water down your tea, weakening it to the point where it’s barely more than water. That can cause many tea drinkers to say “Tea, please…and hold the ice!” But there are solutions.

Ice cubes in your tea? The choice is yours. (From Yahoo! Images)

Ice cubes in your tea? The choice is yours. (From Yahoo! Images)

Several helpful people online have pointed out on numerous occasions their little secret to enjoying an iced tea without that dilution factor. They make ice cubes from some of the tea. Clever! And one of those things that as soon as you hear or read it you say, “Of course!” It seems so obvious. And so easy to do. Just steep up the tea, fill your cube trays, and pop them in the freezer (some folks advise letting the tea cool to room temperature first – your choice here). Then, when they’re nice and frozen, steep up more of the same tea (or if you want to get a bit funky, use a different tea and mix things up a bit), and add the tea-flavored ice cubes in. They will melt and blend in with the other tea.

Those of us who avoid iced tea at all costs (and even chilled tea) will find another meaning in this article’s title: we stick to our hot tea no matter what the season (just as there are those who stick with their iced tea even in the most frigid of weather). There is a real difference in the tea’s flavor when the temperature of the liquid changes. Even a small drop from piping hot will alter things. Actually, for me a slightly cooled tea is best since it will be able to sit on my tongue a little so I can more fully appreciate the various flavors. Tea is not a beverage that should be swilled by those who want to experience those flavors and their attendant aromas. Chugging a bottled tea that has been chilled or a tall glass of iced tea will certainly quench your thirst but have little real tea flavor in it.

Thus, this time of year I and many others say, “Tea, please…and hold the ice!”

Whether you stick with hot tea or go for that iced tea (with those tea-flavored cubes of ice), enjoy the flavors and have a great Summer!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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