Saturday, July 7, 2012

New Blog Post & Site

Follow us to our new blog.  siptea is revamping our website and one of the changes is our blog is now on wordpress.  Enjoy your summer filled with tea & read our post about Perfect Iced Tea.
Thanks & siptea!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Because so many people in the US drink tea in tea bags they are used to drinking tea one way.  Boil water, bag in cup, add water, dunk tea bag, toss tea bag in trash, drink tea.  Now that they are more interested in tea, they have upgraded the tea bag to a loose leaf sachet, but the process is still the same.  Here is where we come to the learning curve.
All loose leaf tea (again I will say this is tea not tisanes & doesn't apply to CTC teas used in many tea bags) even those in sachets can be used numerous times to make a cup of tea.
Some are actually better for the second steep.  Take Oolongs (or Wulongs) they can have multiple steeps and the later steeps are even more flavorful.
So the next time you are making a pot or a cup of tea, save the leaves or the sachet and resteep.  Let me know what you think.  Is it good, better, the same?
So keep steeping until you can't steep anymore! - enjoy & siptea!

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Perfect Cup of Tea

Recently I was asked to tell how to make the Perfect Cup of Tea on twitter of all places.  I found the constraints of the format a bit daunting.  It is as simple as pouring hot water over tea leaves.  But if you want perfection, rather than dishwater or bitter over-steeped tea, it can also be really complex.  So I am going to try to do a step by step recommendation of how I like to prepare the perfect cup of tea.  There are as many ways of making tea as there are tea masters. So I know some out there will have issues with what I am about to say.
My Perfect Cup of Tea
Step 1: Get some water.  Should be cold/cool water that is filtered but not distilled.  Minerals help enhance the flavors in tea.  Tap water, not so good for making the perfect cup of tea.
Step 2: Boil the water.  If you are lucky enough to have a variable temperature kettle, select 208 degrees (Fahrenheit) for Black, Pu'erh and Tisanes (Herbal, not true teas, but I will include them.).  White and Oolong Teas need a lower temperature water to bring out the best in the teas.  I set the variable temp. kettle to 195 degrees for these types of tea.  You don't need a fancy kettle, so put your kettle on the stove boil the water & let it sit for a couple of minutes.  If you have really good hearing you can listen for the water when it just starts to make noise and bubbles form in the water, this should be the perfect temp. for Oolong & Whites.  Green Teas need the lowest temperature water, 175 on the variable temp. model or boil the water and let set for about 4 minutes.  If you are observant you can start the kettle on the stove and when you see a puff of steam come off the water that should be the right temperature for Green Teas.
Step 3: Measure your tea and put it into your teapot.   We use 3g per 6 oz. of water.  To make consistently great tea you really need to weigh it.  The rule of thumb is half the number of grams for the oz. of water in the pot.  If you can't weigh it, then we give Tablespoon equivalents on our packages.  The problem is that unless you weigh the tea, if you use the old method, one teaspoon for each cup and one for the pot, you will get very different results.  White tea is very light and you need quite a bit of it for a cup.  The least amount needed is rolled Oolongs or pearled teas, then Black Teas, then Green, then more for twisted Oolongs and the most of White Teas.  These are just some of the problems with using a teaspoon.  Once you make lots of tea you can  guess, but I still use a scale and I drink tea everyday, all day!
Step 4: Add the correct temp water to your weighed out tea in a teapot.
Step 5: Steep the tea.  Now here are recommended times for steeping.  White Teas are 2-3 minutes.  Pan Fired Green Teas (Chinese Style) 1-3 minutes.  Steamed Green Teas (Japanese Style) 30 sec. to 1 minute.  Oolong Teas 2-3 minutes.  Black Teas 3-5 minutes.  Pu'erh Teas 45 seconds to 1 minute.  Tisanes are 3-5 minutes.  The steeping times I use are usually the shorter end of the range.  The Pu'erh tea recommendations are different than what I had been doing, but after taking a Pu'erh class through the Specialty Tea Institute, I changed my recommendations.  The old method was the same as Black Teas.  This produces a nice flavor & dense cup, but the subtle notes of the tea are lost.  The shorter steeps, and numerous resteeps give a wider range of flavors in the tea.
(Remember that if you are using a teapot that doesn't have an insert or a way to remove the leaves, you need to pour out all the tea, so you don't over steep the tea.  This will lead to bitter tea.)
Step 6: Drink your perfect cup of tea.  Take a moment to really taste the tea.   Relax and savor it.
Step 7: Resteep.  Here is another area that I will part with the majority of tea experts.  The rule of thumb is add 30 seconds on to the time for your 2nd steep.  I do a shorter second steep.  I feel the leaf has opened up and I judge by color more than time for the second steep.  Using this method it is usually shorter than the 1st steep.  The 3rd steep I also judge by color & it is sometimes longer or the same as the 2nd steep.  I keep resteeping until there is not enough flavor.  That way I am getting all the leaf has to offer and I am limiting the amount of total caffeine I am consuming.
Tea is an amazing drink and I hope this gets you excited to experiment on your own with times, temps and weights.  Remember this is My Perfect Cup.  Yours might be something all together different, just take a moment and siptea...

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Bottled Tea vs. Fresh Brewed

The RTD (ready-to-drink) tea market is going through the roof.  Sales keep increasing.  This is good news for the tea industry, and it introduces people to tea, which is always a good thing.  The only problem is that many of the drinks are high in sugar and low in beneficial antioxidants.  The industry is being helped by all the information on the health benefits of tea, green tea in particular.  The average consumer is buying the bottled tea drink thinking they are doing something good for them, and are really only getting a drink that may be as healthy as drinking soda.  The healthy antioxidant, or polyphenols are present in bottled tea drinks, but at half to 100 times less than the levels of freshly brewed tea.  If you are drinking a decaffeinated version of a bottled tea it is even lower.  To decaffeinate tea in general, the caffeine and many of the antioxidants are stripped out, then the antioxidants are put back.  The studies of the lack of polyphenols in bottled tea are from as early as 2000, when the USDA said that bottled tea had very low levels of polyphenols.  Linus Pauling Institute did a study in 2005 that also showed low levels of polyphenols.   The latest study done in August of 2010 showed the same results. "The six teas... analyzed contained 81, 43, 40, 13, 4, and 3 milligrams of polyphenols per 16-ounce bottle. One average cup of home-brewed green or black tea, which costs only a few cents, contains 50-150 milligrams of polyphenols".  The labels say that green tea is antioxidant rich, but don't actually say the tea contained in the bottle is, so what they say isn't untrue, but it is certainly misleading. If you are going to buy bottled tea, stick to an unsweetened one, but better yet make your own at home.  You will be saving money & getting lots more antioxidants in your cup.  Take a moment in your day to make a cup of tea and sit & siptea...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tea Basics

So as I talk to more and more customers I realize they need some basic information about tea.  I have been studying tea for a quite a few years and consider myself a novice.  Yet I am still miles ahead of the average tea drinker.
All tea, true teas, are made from the same plant, Camellia sinensis.  It is a relative of the flowering Camellia japonica found in many yards.  There are two main varietals, Camellia sinensis sinensis and Camellia sinensis assamica.  The Camellia sinensis sinensis is largely considered the Chinese varietal, and the assamica is the Indian varietal.  Then like most plants there are further varietals that are better adapted to altitude, rocky soil, more moisture, less moisture, etc.  There are tea plantations in Hawaii and in South Carolina.  The plants can grow here, but it is labor intensive, so it hasn't taken off as a cash crop.  Although there are increasing numbers of tea gardens in Hawaii.
There are five major tea groups, I know that I will probably get some arguments on this one, but I am going to include the following as my 5 main groups.
White teas originated in China, some say they still have to come from China to be white tea.  White tea is air dried.  Some consider it to be semi-oxidized because some bruising does happen to the leaf during the drying.
Green teas are pan fired (Chinese style) or steamed (Japanese style) to stop the oxidation & keep the green in the leaf.
Oolong teas are from 5 to 95% oxidized teas.  Mainly found in China & Taiwan.  There are two main leaf styles, long twisted leaves or balled.
Black teas are considered 100% oxidized.  They are produced in India, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, Kenya.
Pu'erh teas (pronounced like pour, some say poo-air) are fermented teas.  Either artificially, shou (pronounced show), or over time, sheng style.  These teas continue to change flavor and are considered enigmatically alive.  These teas come from Yunnan, China.
There are health benefits to all teas, but I hesitate to get too involved in listing the benefits, because some of them are not recognized in the US.  The benefits I will list are that teas contain anti-oxidants and caffeine.  Caffeine can help in weight loss and anti-oxidants are immune boosters.
There are other classes of tea, like yellow, dark and semi-oxidized that don't fall into the oolong group due to differences in production.
Now that you are completely confused.  I'll try to explain a few things.
All of the 5 groups of teas have many variations in them, like wine makers with wine.  They start out with a merlot grape, but two different winemakers will make completely different tasting wine with them.  The same could be said of tea.  Each tea master has his own way of doing things, and they will change slightly with each harvest to get the final taste profile that they are trying to achieve.  So a white tea from one garden will taste different from another gardens white tea. 
Oxidation is what happens when you break the cell wall of the leaf and expose the leaf to air.  Like a bite out of an apple makes the inside turn brown.
Fermentation is the process that moisture and heat cause the leaf to break down.  The Shou Pu'erhs are put into a pile and like compost they heat up and start breaking down through enzyme activity.  Sheng Pu'erhs take years to age and taste like the cooked pu'erhs do after a few months. 
Tea bags usually have smaller pieces of tea, so they can open up faster in the water and make a strong cup of tea.  They don't have the flavor nuances of specialty loose leaf tea.  They also don't re-steep very well.
The more you start to learn about tea, the more you learn that it is just the first step on a delicious and varied journey.  Start exploring!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rain in LA Means Tea Weather

So today is the first real day of weather in Los Angeles.  Yesterday sprinkled a bit but nothing major.  Today it is suppose to rain all day & even get heavy at times.  So this brings up the issues: are certain teas seasonal? or is drinking tea in the US seasonal?
The other day someone asked me "do you drink certain teas at certain times of the year?"  The funny thing is I drink HOT tea all year round.  More iced tea in the summer, but there are certain teas that seem to be winter teas.  Here are the two that come to mind.  Lapsang Souchong.  Cinnamon Almond Flowers.
Lapsang Souchong, or bacon tea as my friend like to call it, always seems like a tea to drink in front of a fire, under a blanket while reading a book.  It has a whole image that comes up in my mind.  Maybe because this is one of the few teas that I add milk and sugar.  It just makes it a cozy cup of tea, that is so relaxing and comforting that it seems to wrap me in warmth as I drink it like a blanket.
Cinnamon Almond Flowers is our Black Tea that has loads of organic fruit, almonds, rose petals and cinnamon.  The Cinnamon is what makes me think of the holidays.  Maybe it's because of the Christmas Tea blends that have cinnamon or maybe it's that my Mom would bake with cinnamon around the holidays and pull out the Constant Comment Tea in the winter.
I just don't see Lapsang Souchong or Cinnamon Almond Flowers as teas to drink when the air conditioning is running.  The heat & maybe even the fire need to be going to drink both of these teas.  White teas, green teas, oolongs & pu'erhs are year round teas for me, but certain black teas are better in cold weather.  I wonder what teas seem season to you? 
I hope as the weather gets colder tea drinking is part of your routine, maybe this is the year to try tea.  I know that lots of people think of hot tea as a winter drink, I am not one of them, but I understand the average tea drinker in the US drinks more iced tea than hot tea.  I had a gentleman come in and tell me he didn't drink tea, I replied, you probably drink iced tea, and he said he did.  For some reason drinking iced tea isn't seen as most people as drinking tea.  I think if you like iced tea, you really need to try a good loose leaf hot cup of tea in the winter, you might become a convert.  The flavor nuances that come out in hot tea are so much more interesting than that same tea iced.  So try an experiment, drink a good cup of tea plain and hot, open your mind, and see what you taste.  Maybe it will bring you in touch with this amazing plant that has a rich history in the world.  Take a moment to savor and siptea...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Caffeine in Tea Myths vs. Facts

I have been asked so many times about caffeine in tea that I thought I should write a short post about some of the myths and hopefully some facts. Let me start out by saying this is a complex subject.

Myth or fact? 
Tea has more caffeine than coffee. 
Fact. Tea by weight has more caffeine than coffee, but per cup it is about 1/3 to 1/2 the amount of a cup of coffee But some teas have more caffeine than some coffee, so not always true.  
White Tea is naturally decaffeinated.  
Myth. White Tea like all tea has caffeine. The caffeine levels decrease as you go farther down the plant. It is thought that caffeine is used by the plant as a natural insecticide, so only the new growth needs this extra protection. So the bud (used to make Silver Needle White Tea) has the most caffeine and the levels drop as you go down.  
White Tea is lower in caffeine than Green or Black Tea.
Myth. White Tea may have some of the highest levels of caffeine. But here comes the complexity. The caffeine levels are dependent on the tea varietal, the growing region, which leaves are picked, amount of sunlight, and I am sure a host of other factors. Shorter steeping time for White Tea & lower water temperature might make it lower than the same plant processed as a Black Tea, but this can't be said across different varietals. So the only thing I say with certainty is that Camellia Sinensis, the name for the tea plant, has caffeine.  
You can decaffeinate tea by washing with hot water for 30 seconds, pouring that liquid off and re-steeping. The tea will now be caffeine free.  
Myth. You are only removing about 10% or less of the caffeine with a 30 sec. steep. About a quarter to a third of the leaf's caffeine is released in a 3 minute steep. Subsequent steeps remove about a quarter to a third of the remaining caffeine in the leaf.

So here are the facts about caffeine and tea, as I know them. Feel free to correct any mistakes I make.
Fact. Tea has caffeine.
Fact. Tea has L-Theanine a calming agent. So the caffeine is balanced by calming agents.  
Fact. Caffeine level isn't determined by how the tea is processed but more by the steeping temperature and steeping time and plant varietals. Caffeine is water soluble and so if you like to over-steep or stew your tea, you are getting more caffeine than someone who does a short steep.  
Fact. Decaffeinated tea still has caffeine.  
Fact. If you want tea with out caffeine you are out of luck.
Fact. Herbal infusions or Tisanes are not made with the tea plant, and many are Caffeine free.
Fact. Yerba Mate has a stimulant in it. Matteine is chemically similar to Caffeine & is a stimulant. Yerba Mate does not contain L-Theanine.  
Fact. If you drink Loose Leaf Tea & re-steep you are ingesting less caffeine than if you use new leaves for each pot.  
Fact. Roasting or baking tea does reduce the level of caffeine in the tea, but again it is not caffeine free & if you start with a really high caffeine tea might only make it the same level as a lower caffeinated tea.  
Fact. Caffeine in tea is complex and there are no hard & fast rules. Like sugar levels in wine grapes, caffeine in tea is weather dependent and varietal dependent.
I think specialty tea is where the wine industry was about 10 years ago. As people become more educated and more sophisticated with their palates, loose leaf tea will be more understood and appreciated. So take a break, make a cup and siptea while you think about how complex tea is and what a gift it is too.