Vital Tea – Seattle, WA

September 9, 2011

Last month, Chris and I took our first trip to Seattle, WA. We did all the touristy things you can think of – visiting the space needle, going to the Music Experience Project, Pacific Science Center, Aquarium, Bay boat ride, first ever Starbucks, Pike’s Place, etc, etc. And of course, Seattle is known for its coffee and increasingly gaining popularity for its tea establishments, so we had to try both. For my tea choice, went to Vital Tea near Pike’s Place (they have multiple stores). It has a very similar feel to Aroma Tea (in San Francisco). They give free tea tastings and have a very inviting area to sit and taste. The Asian ladies there are the sweetest and invite you to taste from their hundreds of tea barrels placed on their shelves.

When I arrived, I knew exactly what I wanted to try: Milk Oolong Green Tea. This was my favorite tea from Aroma, that I ran out of months back. A green tea that surprisingly DOES taste milky – great for an afternoon coffee replacement. When I made my first cup, it’s amazing to see how wide the leaves unfold and how green (fresh) the leaves are.  However, there is a cost for such beauty and taste – 4oz cost me $40 bucks.

It’s definitely worth it to me – It’s my daily tea.

Image from seattle-shop.com


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Speaking of Mariage Freres – my visiting French friends must have read my mind, because upon their arrival yesterday they presented me with a gift that truly rocked my world.

They said they didn’t know what to get me, but they knew I liked tea, so they stopped by the Mariage Freres Tea Shop in Paris and picked me up a selection of teas. I was not only taken aback that they bought me Mariage Freres teas (that they knew my newfound love for this brand), but also how impeccable the packaging/wrapping was of the tea itself. It’s like the Apple package design of teas. But then I think, what else should I expect from the most exquisite French tea shop in the world?!

It was so special to me, I didn’t even want to open the package  – as I knew I would never have that moment of glorified wrapping back. So I decided to take a picture of each phase of the unwrapping process (my friends and brother were cheering me on each step of the way… or rather nudging me to hurry the hell up).

Step 1: Flawless Wrapping

Step 2: Protective Sleeve - simply a "French" touch 🙂

Step 3.1: Beautiful Box

Step 3.2: Beautiful Box

Step 4: The Treasure - French Breakfast Tea, The 'A L'Opera, & Nil Rouge

Treasure Contents: 

French Breakfast (remember, my work favorite!): “Elegant & refined full bodied Blend”

The ‘A L’Opera:” Green Tea with a taste of red fruits & vanilla”

Nil Rouge: “Theine-free Red Tea, fruit and lemony”

I’m in heaven. I have literally taken my treasure box everywhere since I’ve unwrapped it. I brought it to work today just so I could admire it while sitting at my desk. Then I took it in my car on a 6 hour drive to LA. I just was able to brew a pot of The ‘A L’ Opera for my brother and our lovely French visitor, Mathieu. I LOVE IT – amazing combination of green and fruit that doesn’t strengthen the longer you steep. A great dessert tea.

Tea Care Package

June 2, 2011

When I was at the Kulov Tea Fest in LA last month, I signed up to be a sponsor of the festival. Nothing grand, but just my little way to show that I support this movement and the promotion of tea education/festivities.  I signed up as a Teaconomist, pledging $75 for the year. I went about the rest of the festival and then flew home.

Just days after, I received an email from Kulov himself not only thanking me for the donation, but asking for my address so he could send my membership card, some tea samples and gift bag. After my reply – not more than two days passed when I received this delightful package in the mail. It definitely made my day. It contained everything a tea enthusiast could want – a variety of teas from different sponsors so carefully packaged & with personalized notes regarding the contents. It added a very nice touch.

This makes me realize how much care packages are under-utilized these days, but what a profound impact they have. I vow to share the tea love by paying it forward.

Morgan had raved to me about Mariage Freres teas and scoffed at me like I was a naive fool for not being familiar with them , so I had to give this tea a try. The next day after she reminded me about the tea (she had given me some for my Birthday one year, but she didn’t label it, so I had no idea!), I went up to Napa with some friends and visited Dean & Deluca where they carried a line of Marige Freres teas. After smelling each tin carefully, I selected a black tea – French Breakfast. It was less daring than the other blends – but it had the perfect mix of a black tea (Earl) with floral hints, so I thought it would be the perfect daily afternoon tea I could brew at work.

I have to admit, it took me a few cups to get used to it  (because it is a rather odd blend),  but now I LOVE IT. It is such a smooth black tea and goes super well with a little cream and sugar. More than an afternoon, it has become my morning, in between morning and noon, and late afternoon tea 🙂 It has the perfect blend of black tea boldness with floral gentleness. To me, it’s lovely and it also makes me feel so regal when I’m drinking it. I’ve kept the black box and  packaging tin on my work days – which whisks me away to Paris day dreams every now and then.

Mariage Freres French Breakfast. My new love.

Last Tuesday, a co-worker sent me a link to the Kulov Tea Festival and I was overly excited with joy that something like this existed. Even though it was in LA (and I’m in Northern CA), I knew I had to be there. The festival took place over this past weekend (5/13-5/15) at Royal T in Culver City, Los Angeles. I bought my flight on Friday AM and flew in Saturday morning for the first official day of festivities at 10AM.

It felt wonderful to be among other tea enthusiasts who share my love and interest in this miracle drink. The festival consisted participating local tea companies who displayed their varietals and knowledge, tea labs (tea tastings), and educational tea classes. I attended Diane Hubbin’s Tea Meet-up session on how to meet other local tea enthusiasts and Tanya William’s “Everything you wanted to know about green tea, but were too afraid to ask.” It was awesome to hear about the differences in Chinese and Japanese green tea production, technique, and culture. Even though Dragonwell green tea is the most “economical” and tame in quality, it is still the best tasting to me 🙂

Some cool facts:

  • The best harvest period for green tea is from April – May (1st Flush)
  • Green tea was considered high society in China (reserved for the dynasty) and was not passed to commoners until the 1500s.
  • Best temperature for green tea is between 170-180 degrees Fahrenheit
Some other local tea companies that have me saying “yay!”:
I’m testing out some oolongs from Naivetea (very cute Korean entrepreneur couple)…and Algabar sample mix. Will let you know which ones I like the best.
Oh, and the World Tea Expo is in Las Vegas in June 24-26th. I’m so bummed I can’t go, but for all you tea lovers out there I’m sure this is the largest show with other tea enthusiasts, producers, manufacturers from all over the world.

If you would like to learn more about the history and pleasures of tea , this site provides an extensive list of  people and organizations that schedule  tea classes, lectures, tastings, fees, and reservations.

http://www.holymtn.com/tea/teaclass.htm

Enjoy!

Looking for Tea Classes

February 9, 2010

I relocated to northern California and am looking for some tea classes/seminars in the area (South Bay…etc). If anyone knows of one, let me know.

In the meantime, I found a Tea Roster that has a list of tea shops/rooms that host tea classes/tea tastings around the United States. It might be of use to some of you!

Mount of Olives: Jersusalem Mint

Mount of Olives: Jersusalem Mint

Lately, I’ve been really into finding new and unique teas at specialty food discount stores (i.e. Marshalls, Tuesday Morning, etc). I’ve found that because consumers are typically not willing to pay premium prices for tea (especially in this economy), a lot of good teas often go to discounted retailers pretty quickly. Yes, the risk is always that the tea leaves are not their freshest – but I use these as an opportunity to give something new a try (at a low cost of entry). I’m usually pleasantly surprised at the teas I find…and if I’m not, then it’s not a big loss.

Last week while I was supposed to be furniture shopping at Marshalls, I of course got side tracked and not only unexpectedly indulged in buying a new purse, but also came across Mount of Olives Treasures Tea: Jerusalem Mint with Pomegranate. Being the mint tea lover that I am combined with a name like that, I had to give it a go. I’ve been pretty obsessed with this tea lately. I’ll be honest, I can’t really taste of the pomegranate (which I frankly don’t mind since I’m not much into fruity teas). But, it has a nice cool mint taste that is soothing and not overpowering.

Quick Description:

“From ancient days to modern times, mint tea has been a beverage enjoyed throughout Jerusalem. Feel refreshed and revitalized with this unique, lively combination of cool mint and soothing lime tree blossoms. The perfect way to regain perspective and inner peace, our modern blend of ancient ingredients is specially designed to relieve tension.” (Side note: Do I detect BS? Why yes, yes I do)

Directions:

Use one bag per cup. Pour boiling water over tea bag and steep 3-5 minutes. If desired, serve with honey or other sweetener. Also delicious when iced.

EVALUATION

Presentation: Pretty generic package. Comes boxed with 20 tea bags – pretty standard.
Content: Each bag contains the perfect amount of tea for one cup – a nice blend of peppermint spearmint, little mint with lime tree. I do not see any pomegranate though. The ingredient list states: peppermint, spearmint, lime tree, little mint, olive leaves, lemon grass, grape leaves, pomegranate leaves, hyssop. Ohhh, pomegranate leaves….that’s why I’m not seeing the pomegranate, nor tasting it for that matter….

Taste: I’ve tried this tea several times and really like the taste. The mint is definitely present but not overpowering. The primary leaves I can taste is the spearmint, peppermint, and olive. What I also appreciate is that you can keep the tea bag in the cup without the taste becoming overwhelming. I like to sweeten the tea with either Agave, honey, or raw sugar. While I don’t know the age of the leaves – the “best before” date states 07/2012, so I am fairly confident in it’s freshness.

FINAL VERDICT:
I’d give the Mount of Olives Treasures Tea: Jerusalem Mint with Pomegranate  a 3.5 stars out of 5. For a simple tea to enjoy any time of the day, this is a great pick. Sure it’s not the top of the line, but it is refreshing and soothing.  I purchased this tea for about $2.00 (a pretty good steal), but would be willing to pay a premium in the future.

Tea Forest, Culver City, CA

Tea Forest, Culver City, CA

Last Friday after the History of Tea Exhibit at Fowler, my friend Morgan and I went to pay our first visit at Tea Forest in Culver City which was simply excellent. They have a whole wall that lists the various teas they carry from green, black, oolong, boba, even ice fraps. They even have really unusual kinds of teas I’ve never heard of. This time, we regretfully did not try any of their tea drinks. Morgan got the Hazelnut Mocha Ice Frappe and I the Honey Vanilla Latte. Both were AMAZING…I’ve read a lot of reviews on their teas and from the 20 or so I’ve come across – their teas seem to be incredible as well. I can’t wait to go back!

I let Morgan do the honors for the video review:

Naturalis Inka

Naturalis Inka

First, I know this is a tea blog but Inka can equally be enjoyed by tea and coffee drinkers (as well as recovering coffee addicts).

I like coffee beverages a lot too. Specifically café au laits and lattes but I’ve been thinking for a while now that I slowly want to ween off them since my level of consumption of these beverages cannot be good for me. I’ve tried decaf and it’s just not the same. I’ve tried a few coffee alternatives and some just taste nastified while others are just lacking that creamy coffee taste. But alas, I have discovered Inka!

I was very skeptical when my friend first presented Inka to me. It comes in a round can and looks similar to instant coffee – a little deceiving. As it turns out, Inka is a Polish beverage made of very simple/natural ingredients – roasted barely and rye among the main ones.

DESCRIPTION

” Naturalis Inka is a rich, flavorful instant grain beverage enjoyed by Polish families for generations. Rye, barley, beets, and chicory root are simply roasted,ground and combined to make Naturalis Inka the perfect substitute for coffee and a great tasting drink in its own right. The toasted beets lend a subtle sweetness that is naturally satisfying. There are no chemical processes, additives, preservatives and added sugars used in making this flavorful and relaxing natural beverage.

Naturalis Inka is quick and easy to prepare. Just place a rounded teaspoon in a cup and add boiling water or milk. Then sit back and enjoy a richly satisfying cup of Naturalis Inka.

Ingredients: 45% Roasted Barley, 27% Rye, 25% Chicory, and 3% Beet Roots.”

EVALUATION

Presentation: To make the inka beverage, you add one heaping teaspoon of the powder, mixed with boiling water or milk. I add 3/4 water and 1/4 hot milk. When the water is first added, it remains black with a little brown foam at the top. The addition of milk makes it a really creamy beverage which I like a lot. Instead of sugar, I go with Agave Nectar (another new love of mine). What I really like about the final result is that the beverage does not feel watered down like it typically does with instant coffee/coffee alternatives.

Taste: I must admit, the “coffee taste” is pretty mild but I happen to like it that way. Sure this won’t give you that kick  – since it’s both caffeine free and milder but the coffee taste is still very present. What I really like about this beverage is that it doesn’t taste watered down, I can add milk and it remains creamy. Usually with instants and alternatives I end up having to add a majority of milk in the beverage to subdue the watered down taste but not here. Overall, Inka is awesooome.

FINAL VERDICT:

If we’re going with a star rating, I’d give Inka a 4.5/5. It’s one of the best coffee alternatives I’ve seen available on the market. Think about it, a healthy beverage alternative that actually tastes like what it’s “replicating” is a rare thing. I also feel that because the coffee taste isn’t in your face, it can be enjoyed by both coffee and non-coffee drinkers. Take advantage!


You can find Inka at select Whole Foods at around $4.50/ 5.25oz where the coffee is located.