Monday, June 30, 2014

A Moment to Rise and Shine

When talking to my friends who are moms, I have come to the realization that I’m pretty lucky that my girls are pretty good sleepers. My oldest almost always falls asleep within 5-10 minutes of laying down and then sleeps soundly through the night. My youngest takes a little longer, but once asleep, she does pretty well. 

The tradeoff, however, is that they both wake up at the crack of dawn. At the latest. For the past 6 years, I have been awakened between 5:30 and 6 a.m. every morning. (And no, it doesn't matter what time they go to bed at night. They could go to bed at 7 p.m. or midnight and they'll still be up with the farm hands.)

Now, for many of you, you see this as a benefit. The early bird gets the worm, and all that. Here’s the thing. I’ve spent nearly 40 years on this earth waking up between 7 and 8 a.m. Usually later. When we first moved to California nearly 15 years ago, my boss finally gave up trying to enforce an 8 a.m. start time. Try as I might, I couldn’t get in before 8:20. And it’s not because I’m a night owl. I’ve always gone to bed between 10 and 11 p.m. at the latest. My peak hours are between 10 am. and 1 p.m. What kind of bird does that make me? 

In any case, the bottom line is that it has been a rough adjustment. Every morning is a rude awakening. And this is perhaps why I like my morning cup of tea bold and brash. Take no prisoners. A brew that kicks you in the teeth. Rise. And. Shine.

It is for this reason that I love what 3 Teas has delivered into my cup this morning. Organic Assam, pure and simple. Dark and malty. Mornin’ Sunshine!

And while I am dragged into each day, mentally kicking and screaming, the truth is that I am more productive, I get to start my work day earlier, which means I get to end my work day earlier, which means I get to spend more daylight hours with my girls.

I get it now. They’ve been conspiring all along. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

A Queen Mary Moment

It was last minute. It was hastily planned. But in the middle of a jam-packed schedule, three fellow tea enthusiasts hopped in my car with me and indulged in an afternoon tea service aboard the Queen Mary. This particular group of gal pals chats in some form or other nearly every day. Our day jobs are as varied as our home towns.  I’ve known these ladies for 3, 4, 5 years or so. And yet, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen any of them in person.

Nicole Martin, Tegan Woo, Me and Nicole Schwartz
Super Secret Underground Tea Syndicate Conclave
Nicole Martin, of Tea For Me Please and I started blogging around the same time in 2008. She was one of my first introductions on Twitter. Nicole Schwartz of The Devotea USA fame, my Persian Princess supplier. And Tegan Woo, Amoda Tea founder, a tea entrepreneur from Canada who we basically kidnapped for an afternoon tea last year in Las Vegas at our last World Tea Expo and have not let go.

This is the beautiful thing about what I call the Underground Tea Syndicate.  Whether on Twitter, Facebook, blog posts or Google+, there are ongoing conversations, discussions, trading of information or recommendations about a subject we all find interesting. Tea.

The opportunity to sit face to face and exchange these conversations is a rare treat, and strangely... natural. We’ve skipped the back story. We’re all vaguely aware of each others,’ but it has little bearing on the subject at hand. These relationships that have flourished online have allowed us to live truly in the moment and hear what’s happening right now. The "right now," happily, was aboard the Queen Mary, right next door to the Princess Di exhibit. #Winning

Conversation in this lovely venue that allowed us to gaze out over the harbor, drifted from workplace quirks - to convention kinks - to tea venues we wanted to visit - to other members of The Syndicate who could offer advice on certain conundrums - to brainstorming a tea business expansion. A lot of ground was covered in an hour and a half. Time very well spent.

I’m afraid I can’t tell you about the tea sandwiches they served, the scones or the sweets. I can’t even tell you what tea I drank, though I’ll bet it was the English Breakfast. They were a beautiful backdrop to the moment we were in. Because that’s really the thing.  The Moment. The best ones are those that are shared. 

Enjoying the Moment

Hours: open daily 11AM – 4PM
Parking: $7 with Tea Room validation (up to 3 hours)
Dress code: casual attire
Reservations: recommended (call 562-499-1682) 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Tea Punk Moment

It struck me recently that in the specialty tea world, it's easy to focus solely on all the amazing boutique tea brands and retailers in the marketplace and turn up our noses at anything that could resemble the "commercial." It reminds me of the underground punk rock scene of the late 90's and early 2000's where music venues like 924 Gilman Street wouldn't allow bands who had a record label contract perform. Case in point, when their prize pupil, Green Day, "sold out" and could suddenly be heard on the radio, they were no longer allowed to darken the doorway of their home music venue.

The tea "scene" right now is a little bit like that. The purchase of Teavana by Starbucks has divided the nation. It's the equivalent of an indie band getting signed to a major record label. Now everyone knows and recognizes them, but their original fans feel a little bit betrayed. Kind of like having your secret fishing hole be discovered by the Travel network.

The thing is, however, that we can't have it both ways. As tea enthusiasts, the more people who discover and enjoy the wide variety of teas (which is what most of us strive for), the more tea behemoths will appear. And more unique, boutique ones as well. What we're having a hard time embracing is that big and well-known does not equate to "bad."

One of the questions that I am often asked is, "What kind of tea would you recommend? I really like (enter descriptive word here) kinds of tea."

And I'll offer my opinion and suggestions. And then they'll ask, "Where can I find that?" And most often, the answer is, "Well, if you go online to..."

Not long ago, I was reminded of one of those breakthrough, major record label tea companies that I, too, have easily dismissed as having "sold out." The Republic of Tea had sent me some of their new Hi-Caf teas, and it effectively snapped me out of my elitist state of mind that I had unwittingly acquired. The Republic of Tea displays are everywhere - from my local grocery store to my local donut shop. One of my mom's and my go-to teas forever was their Ginger Peach tea. For the simple reason that they are easy to find and (in my mind) are primarily a tea bag producer, I somehow conveniently forgot them. The teas they sent me were excellent, however, and I loved learning more about their vision. In my correspondence with them, the subject of loose leaf teas came up and I was informed that they have an extensive collection of them.

Shortly thereafter I received  a package that basically made it feel like Christmas.

Three tins of loose leaf Breakfast Blends from The Republic of Tea: Lucky Irish Breakfast, British Breakfast and Organic Assam Breakfast! Be still my beating heart!! I could hardly wait to dive in. And when I did, I was even happier than when I first opened the package. Full bodied, robust, wake-me-up-in-the-morning goodness. Irish has the deepest, strongest constitution, British coming in 2nd in full-bodied strength, and Assam as the smoothest that still packs the wallop I look for in a Breakfast blend. Bottom line is that nearly every morning for the past 8 weeks, my first cup of tea in the morning is one of these. It alternates. I love them all excessively.

So, more recently when I am asked that question, "What kind of tea would you recommend? I really like (enter descriptive word here) kinds of tea," I now provide two answers. The first begins with, "Well, if you're looking for something you can pick up at the grocery store, The Republic of Tea has a great ___ tea that I bet you'd enjoy. Or, you can find ____ online at this URL."

The thing is, there were reasons certain punk rock bands were signed to major record labels back in the day. They were just that good. And there's a reason The Republic of Tea is so easily and readily available. They've worked hard to build their Republic, Sip by Sip, as they say. They're just that good.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Deja Tea Moment

Little known fact - I dabbled in tea blending. In fact, I have a little black book that has tea blending trial and errors dating from April 18, 2002. My April 29, 2002 herbal infusion attempt #4 is one I like to think of my secret weapon. It's the blend that will allow me to retire early. Then there is Earl Grey attempt #2.2. (Don't ask me what the .2 signified. I simply can't remember.) This little wonder is probably one of my favorite attempts. It is my idea of the perfect twist on Earl Grey. I had never tasted anything quite like it.

Until yesterday.

It was a complete "Déjà thé" moment. The perfect Earl Grey. My Earl Grey! And yet, not mine.

I knew I liked Nelson's Tea, and here is tangible proof that they are my kind of people! Here in their blend, A Portrait of Earl Grey, they have captured my ideal Earl Grey profile. And while their ingredients and ratios (I'm sure) are slightly different (theirs has cornflower, mine has, well, mine has something else), the flavor is nearly identical. I've been drinking it non stop for the past two days and my sample is now gone. All I have is a memory. And a happy one at that.

A Portrait of Earl Grey, the perfect blend.
Nelson's Tea provides an extensive array of teas and tea blends. I've enjoyed their Outrageous Oolong, which has a roasted, nutty flavor and is pleasantly bold. And their Rockin' Raspberry is a black tea blend that does fruit blends credit! No overly sweet aftertaste, just a happy blend of strong black tea with a strain of raspberry that will be an excellent iced tea for the summer!

And this is not just a place where you can order beautiful teas with fun and fanciful names! You can explore their Knowledge Center and learn the health benefits of each kind of tea, herb and spice they offer. As our society reaches back to an understanding of the healing powers of Mother Nature, Nelson's Tea has anticipated the questions and provides the answers.

Thank you to the husband and wife duo behind Nelson's Tea! This is the stuff dreams are made of!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Tea and Tempest Moment

One of the first Shakespeare plays that caught my imagination as a teenager was The Tempest, where in 1991 I was a volunteer usher for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. I was amazed at the portrayal of the elements and touched by the story of losing, finding and understanding family. And so I was so happy to learn that this year at our Ashland reunion, we would be seeing The Tempest at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival.

The Ashland reunion is the treasured biennial gathering of my mother, her sisters and their daughters and daughters-in-law. (Sometime I want to figure out how many years this reunion has been going on, but I will guess it is close to 20.) My aunt, D, is the one who organizes the lot of us, finding and renting a house in the small Oregon hamlet. Each reunion it seems the house she finds is more beautiful and more amazing, and this year was no exception: a 3-level, log-hewn home, more chalet than cabin, nestled in the wooded foothills above Lithia Park, the epicenter of the town.

For the past few reunions, I've been a part of the afternoon tea planning, and this year it was my pleasure to introduce my new obsession, Forsman Tea from Finland. Together with my Mom, Sister-In-Law, Cousin and 2 Nieces, we assembled sandwiches, pastry cups, fruit platters, salads, petit fours, and scones. I brewed a pot of Emperor's Choice Black Tea, a pot of LingonberryVanilla White/Green Tea, and a pot of Mao Hunan (a Chinese Green Tea that happened to be served to the Mayor of Shanghai when he visited Finland last August!).

Setting the table was an unexpected treat. Mom brought her own tea cups, tea pots and table cloths, so it felt more like home than ever! There's a story behind each tea cup, and the table cloth was a gift from Aunt Jane, my Mom's sister who was a big part of my discovery of tea. She passed away a few years ago. It was so nice to have that tangible reminder of her as we all enjoyed time together.

While I expected Emperor's Choice to be the runaway hit, I was pleasantly surprised to see my adventurous rellies try all of them!

Emperor's Choice was perfect for dressing with milk and sugar. (It has been a classic of Forsman Tea for nearly 20 years, and Finlands neighbor, Russia, is one of its biggest fans.) With hints of quince, lychee, orange and pineapple, the scent makes you happy even before the wonderful taste hits your taste buds.

Lingonberry Vanilla was an exploration into flavors none of us had experienced before. Lingonberries are the Scandinavian distant cousin to the cranberry. It lends a sweetness and almost an umami flavor to this beautifully balanced green and white tea blend.

And finally, Mao Hunan, a spiral green tea. A mellow green, it does not turn bitter very easily, which can be a challenge with a green tea if you're in the mood for slow-sipping. I was very happy to see many family members testing this one out and going back for seconds!

It makes me very happy to share these moments with some of the people I love the most. When friends hear about this particular reunion they have one of two reactions:
1. They wish they could come along too
2. They look at me in disbelief that I would actually choose to hang out with my extended family for multiple days.

We're a part of the same family, and there are tempests that each of us have weathered to get to where we are today, or even to this reunion, but in the end, this family time makes it more than worth it. Board games, a leisurely run on the forest trail, rocking on the porch swing, lying in the hammock, singing around the piano, a night out at the theatre - all rather like summer camp but with the best camp counselors you could ever
wish for.

Mom, Aunt S and Aunt D
I can't speak for the rest of the gals, but for now, my cup runneth over. I'm already looking forward to the next Ashland reunion. Two years and counting!

Enjoying another morning cup of Mokalbari Estate Assam
Thank you, Forsman Tea!
You can win a gift package of the 4 Forsman Teas we enjoyed in Ashland! To enter, simply "Follow" @ForsmanTea on Twitter or RT a post that includes @ForsmanTea between now and 11:59 p.m. on Monday, June 23rd. The winner will be randomly selected on June 24th. Drawing winner must have a U.S. mailing address to receive prize.

Friday, June 6, 2014

World Tea Expo Day 2 Eventful Moments

The afternoon of Day 2 of the World Tea Expo started with the annual meeting of the United States League of Tea Growers. Similar in feel to the Hall of Justice, it felt a little bit like being among a set of superheroes. Superhero tea growers, that is. We heard from the leadership on the status of the League, and was asked to get the word out that U.S. Tea Growers are being sought. So, tell your friends, tell your neighbors, spread the word! If you or anyone you know is currently growing any amount of tea, be it a small garden plot or multiple acres, please contact Naomi at and let them know. An exciting foundation of data and best practices is being laid, and your participation in laying that foundation is a history-making opportunity!

Next stop: the lovely Garden Party hosted by Teas Etc. It’s no secret that Teas Etc. is a premier tea retailer whose extensive line of teas is unique and unforgettable.  But what you might not know is that Beth and Newman, the husband and wife duo who built this beautiful tea empire, are what is commonly known as a “hub.” Hang out with either one of these two, and you’ll suddenly find yourself introduced to another person, and another, and another. And it’s not the usual, “Jen, this is Wendy,” kind of introduction. It’s, “Jen, this is Amy of Wonderful Teas, Incorporated. She’s someone you need to know. She’s shares your obsession of Assams.”

Not only do you meet the person, you find out a key connection you already share with the person, and a friendship is born. At a Teas Etc. Party, 1+1 never equals 2. Networks grow exponentially.

Manelle of Capital Teas, Lisa of Chambre de Sucre, Me and Nicole of The Devotea USA

After making 5 new best friends, I made my way to the Tea Bloggers Roundtable. As with every aspect of the World Tea Expo, here was the prime opportunity to experience such a wide variety and approaches to the same endeavor: tea blogging.  My esteemed fellow tea bloggers included: (from left to right) Roundtable moderator Naomi Rosen of Joy's Teaspoon, Nicole Martin of Tea For Me Please, Linda Gaylard of The Tea Stylist, Jason Walker of Walker Tea Review (Finalist for 2014 World Tea Awards Best Tea Blog), Chris Giddings of Tea-Guy, Me, and Gary Robson of Tea With Gary.

The audience represented a wide variety of business and recreation as well. Questions about how to best showcase teas, to the best platform to promote blog posts, to whether or not we recommend promoting the health benefits of tea to how to deal with reviewing teas we don’t like. The approaches were as varied as the bloggers, which the audience appreciated. While there is no absolute one right way to go about tea blogging, there are many lessons learned that benefit the greater blogging community, and that is what this exchange was all about.

And the final event of the night – The World Tea Awards Dinner aboard the Queen Mary.  There were so many fun and fabulous moments, it would be impossible to cover every aspect, so I’ll content myself with highlighting my favorites.  

Upon arriving at the Queen Mary, my husband and I ran were directed to a lovely event on the 2nd floor where we were handed a glass of champagne, parking validation and were entertained by a Groucho Marx impersonator. Another WTE couple was with us - Chris from a tea company outside of Phoenix (help - I lost your information! Comment on this post so I can track you down! We'll always have Groucho) - and we quickly discovered that we were not on the guest list. In fact, we were at the wrong event altogether! So we found or way to the correct floor at the correct event and walked the red carpet into the event. 

Me and my better half, Gene

Once inside, we sat at our table with Josephie Dean Jackson, (who is growing tea in Texas as the founder of The East Texas Tea Company), and the fine folks of Bigelow Tea, The Martin Bauer Group, The Tea Association of Canada, and Shabnum Weber of The Tea Emporium (I think we had the funnest table).

Addi, Shabnum and Louise - Canada is in the HOUSE!

I FINALLY got my photo with Rajiv Lochan and also Elyse Petersen (who was nominated for 2 World Tea Awards this year).

And was lucky enough to snap a great shot (though slightly blurry) of Elyse of Tealet Tea winning award for Best Social Media Reach!

It was a fun evening of recognition and awards hosted by Gail Gastelu, publisher of The Tea House Times and George Jage, president of World Tea Media. The conversation, the exchanging of stories, the celebration of an industry that brings people together made it a night to be remembered. 

When the time came for Best Tea Blog to be announced, I admit I sat there holding my breath in anticipation. And then the announcement, "And the winner of Best Tea Blog is..... World of Tea by Tony Gebely!"

The room erupted in applause, and I wholeheartedly joined in. Tony is a well-known and well-respected self-proclaimed tea-nerd whose mission is to develop a rich Tea Culture in the United States. Every time I read an entry on his blog, I feel smarter. He's an educator at heart, and his passion for tea culture is infectious. 

He was not able to attend the awards dinner, but with good reason. He was away on his honeymoon! So, congratulations, Tony, as you begin your new married life, and congratulations on receiving this special recognition for what you share on your tea blog!

All the winners of the evening:

Best Tea Spirit: James Norwood Pratt, tea author and expert, San Francisco, Calif.

Best Tea Educator: Jane Pettigrew, tea author and consultant, United Kingdom

Best Tea Publication: TeaTime Magazine, Birmingham, Ala.

Best Social Media Reach: Elyse Petersen, founder and CEO of Tealet, Honolulu, Hawaii

Best Tea Room Website: The St. James Tearoom, Albuquerque, N.M.

Best Tea Room Menu: Samovar, San Francisco, Calif.

Best Tea Retail WebsiteAdagio, Clifton, N.J.

Best Tea Blog: World of Tea, Chicago, Ill.

Best Tea Short / Commercial: The Tea Song by Yorkshire Tea, United Kingdom

The final recognition was that of Devan Shah, the creator and owner of International Tea Importers (ITI) and Chado Tea Rooms, who was presented the Cha Jing Lifetime Achievement Award for his significant contributions to the tea industry. 

What a fun day and an exciting evening! This was the first year of the World Tea Awards, and I can tell this is just the start of a new and enduring institution.

As we made our way off of the Queen Mary, I paused for a photo op with "King George" (sans paper crown) who had presided over the evening. 

And with that, the World Tea Expo came to a close - for me, at least. I headed off to a wedding the next day as all my tea friends, old and new, continued the festivities. 

With any luck, I'll see you all again at World Tea Expo 2015!