Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Phoenix Tea Shop Moment

Just outside the city limits of Seattle, in a small town by the name of Burien, there is a little place called The Phoenix Tea Shop. While the shop itself is small and unassuming, the proprietress and her teas are somewhat of a legend.

I've known of The Phoenix Tea Shop and Virginia Wright, a.k.a. Cinnabar, a.k.a. Gongfu Girl since I first started this blog in 2008. She is one of the original tea bloggers (having started her tea blogging journey in 2006) and a co-founder / co-director of the Association of Tea Bloggers.

When I heard I would be going to Seattle for a conference, I asked the Twitter-verse where I needed to go to tea, and the resounding answer from all over the U.S. was :


And so it came to pass that I arrived at the Phoenix Tea Shop, met Virginia, and spent several enjoyable hours chatting and drinking tea Gong Fu Style.

Topics ranged from chamber music (she's the managing director for a group that teaches introduces kids to chamber music), preserving the history and spirit of communities (she's the Executive Director of the Rainier Valley Historical Society), and Tea (she's participating in the World of Tea Series this Saturday, May 23rd,  with a Special TeaAid Tea Tasting to benefit Nepal Earthquake relief efforts.More info here.)

And while we discussed all of these things, she brewed gaiwan after gaiwan of tea. First Alishan, a high mountain oolong, with which I got to use an aroma cup! (My second time ever. The first happened within the last 2 weeks!!)  As the number of infusions progressed, the floral notes literally blossomed, and the tea became mellower with each steeping.

Then a full leaf Kenyan black tea, which had a unique earthy bass note with high lilting sweetness. As the infusions progressed, the maltiness grew in the most delightful way.

It felt like old home week, though this was our first meeting. We talked about the tea community as though we were catching up on news of extended family. And a recurring theme as we talked about them was their collective generosity and support - the most recent example being Elyse of Tealet being able to source teas of Nepal very quickly for this week's benefit.

And in the course of conversation, I uncovered an amazing secret. Virginia, better known as Cinnabar, better known as Gongfu Girl, is not the original Gongfu Girl. It is a name that was bestowed on her years ago. Just as Westley was not the original Dread Pirate Roberts, the original Gongfu Girl most likely 'has been retired fifteen years and living like a king (or queen) in Patagonia.'

Before leaving, I stocked up on some Alishan and their best seller: Burien Breakfast Blend. It was a very good moment, and I thank Virginia for her warmth, conversation and hospitality! I'll be back!

To visit:
Open Tuesday - Saturday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m, Sunday noon - 6 p.m.
903 SW 152nd Street
Burien, WA, 98166
(206) 495-7330

Or order beautiful teas online at:

Friday, May 15, 2015

A California Rain Moment

It's raining!

While that may not seem like earth-shattering news, the thing is that it hasn't rained - REALLY rained - in months. For the past 2 days, when I hear the rain reach a fever pitch, I'll just go stand on my front patio and take it all in. Who needs Netflix? For me, this is the best series ever. 

And with rain, it's only fitting that I want a cup of tea. More than just my usual morning cup of bold black, I want something comforting and cozy. 

TeaVivre sent me some beautiful oolongs, and this is just the moment to break them out. I decided on the Superfine Qing Xiang Dong Ding Oolong. This particular oolong comes from the mountains of Taiwan and is a high altitude tea. High altitude teas tend to be richer and smoother than low altitude teas. One thing I appreciate about Teavivre is their instructions on how to brew whatever tea you're drinking. On their website, you'll typically find instructions for brewing the tea in the "Western Way" or the "Gongfu Way." I brewed mine in the Western way and enjoyed the first sip - the floral fragrance and light earthy flavor is truly cozy. Just what I wanted. 

I took my cup of tea outside and enjoyed drinking in the warmth while the cool raindrops continued to fall softly. There's a beautiful calm and quiet during a rainfall. I soaked it all in.


Monday, May 11, 2015

A 2015 Tea Blogger Directory Moment

The update is here! I'm pleased to announce the release of the 2015 Tea Blogger Directory, now available for download!

In this updated directory, discover 45 tea-focused bloggers who have as unique backgrounds and stories as you do. Each blogger has an extensive and focused reach to help grow your potential audience. With bloggers being in the Top 3 Influencers for online shoppers, this is a resource retailers can’t afford to ignore.

Learn the best practices for collaborating with a tea blogger, how many samples might be "too many," the do's and don't's of asking for a review, and how to help a tea blogger showcase your tea or tea-related product in the best possible light. We've also included an Index by Country to help you identify the best fit for your brand. All this for $3. Download your copy HERE.

Thank you to all the Tea Bloggers who participated in this year's directory! 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A World Tea Expo 2015 Moment - Day 2

Today started with running into a couple of my favorite Tea Ladies, Naomi (Joy's Teaspoon) and Rachel (iHeartTeas).

And then it was off to a very special demonstration by Teforia. Teforia is a name you should have on your radar. That. Is. All. 

Next, I stopped by jhentea, a 4th generation of women tea makers in Taiwan. Kuei-Chen Fang's family is one of the very few who know the secrets of making high mountain oolong. They are currently bringing up the 5th generation of women in the art and science of what they do. This is a story I want to explore further.

As I turned a corner, I spotted a table full of bloggers, and of course had to stop and see what all the fuss was about. The Finest Brew was sharing the most wonderful Xi Juan Ya Bao. I learned more about tea in 20 minutes than in the last 20 years!


Then, it was off to the 3rd Annual Tea Blogger Roundtable, this year moderated by Gary Robson of Tea With Gary. Nicole Schwartz (@amazonv) did an amazing job capturing the information shared by the panel. The consensus was that bloggers are most successful when they write about what they take a unique point of view, are passionate about a topic, and include people as a part of the stories. 

The last stop will be the 2015 World Tea Awards held at the Queen Mary. Stay tuned! 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A World Tea Expo 2015 Moment - Day 1

I walk into the Long Beach Convention Center for the 2015 World Tea Expo, and who do I see?

It's like I surprised myself with this photo.
My smile was either coming or going.
I swear I'm happy to see them! #SelfieFail
The men of the tea blogging world: (from left to right) Geoffrey Norman - a.k.a. @Lazy_Literatus, Tony Gebely - a.k.a. +World of Tea, Gary Robson - a.k.a. @TeaWithGary, and @ChrisGiddings!

It didn't take long for Jo Johnson, a.k.a. +scandalous tea to find us too.

Photo by Gary Robson
My first stop was The Healing Power of Tea: Ancient Roots, Scientific Branches, presented by Ken Cohen of Qigong Research and Practice Center. An entertaining presenter, Ken was able to bring the Ben Cao Gang Mu: the Roots and Herbal Compendium (the 16th century Chinese herbal medicine classic) to life, connecting the dots between old world wisdom and modern day medicine.

Ken Cohen
I also stopped in at Design Your Success... Strategic Store Layout, Visual Merchandising and Web Site Advice. I was instantly captivated by the 3 presenters. Ellen Leaf-Moore, owner of Fezziwig's Marketplace, spoke both animatedly and convincingly on the topic of training: ensuring your employees know the products, where they are from, how they are used, other possible uses, etc. Chris Coccagna, owner of T-we, focused on the importance of your own unique spin. Interior designers and website designers are great, but you can easily lose what makes you stand out by becoming just another 'design.' Victoria Boyert, owner of Satori Tea Bar, echoed that sentiment and made the point that it's fine to fail - that's part of growing. It's just important to bounce back quickly. She gave the example of making some major changes in decor and layout when she realized patrons were more drawn to holding parties there. But she also held onto those unique features that she loves and knows sets her apart. One universal lesson learned by all - invest in good lighting! It not only helps with creating the right ambiance, the right light highlights your products, while the wrong lighting can be a headache to even change when a light bulb burns out.

Ellen Leaf-Moore, Victoria Boyert, and Chris Coccagna
Then it was my turn! My first time presenting at the World Tea Expo! Our session: Amplifying Your Business Voice Through Tea Bloggers. I was so proud to sit on this panel with Jo Johnson (Scandalous Tea), Nicole Martin (Tea For Me Please) and Geoffrey Norman (Steep Stories of the Lazy Literatus)! We talked about the 4 R's of working with bloggers (Research, Review, Reach out and Requirements), as well as some Do's and Don't's. Do contact us personally and give us some interesting information about the tea you'd like us to review. Don't call us by the wrong name, bribe us or harass us if we don't write a review fast enough to your liking. We gave information about getting to know the community of Tea Bloggers - including attending tomorrow's (Thursday) 3rd Annual Tea Blogger's Roundtable at 2:30 p.m. We also announced the release of the 2015 Tea Blogger Directory, listing 45 tea bloggers and best practices for collaborating with them.

Nicole, Geoff, Jo, and Me - I remembered to smile this time!
(Photo by Nicole Schwartz)
Next, it was off to the trade show floor, where I was introduced to Charity Chalmers, founder and owner of Chariteas in Sandy, Oregon. While I understand she makes a mean tea sammich, she also provides some amazing teas. I was able to taste her offering of Grey Dragon (which I need to explore further!) and let's just say that I am an insta-fan!

Charity of Chariteas! (Booth 1428)
From there, I bumped into one of my favorite Tea People, Beth of Teas Etc. I always say that Beth is a hub. She knows everyone and loves to connect people. Within 1 minute of being in her booth, I had run into 3 old friends, someone I had met in her booth last year and had been trying to track down since, AND met a couple who is opening a new tea room in South Orange County in less than 2 months! 

Teas Etc. (Booth 901)
World Tea Expo is always a place to discover new up and comers in the Tea World, and I was very happy to meet the guys of SERR Holding Co., who are introducing Teh Bendera from Indonesia to the U.S. The Bendera Basic, a simple black tea, was bold, brisk, with just a hint of vanilla in the finish. I look forward to learning more about their teas!

SERR Holding Co. (Booth 1437)
One of my favorite parts of being at World Tea Expo is seeing old friends and catching up as quickly as possible in 10 minutes or less. I was thrilled to bump into Kim McHugh, of McHugh Tea in Bellaire, Texas! We both talked as fast as we could, asking about business, tea, family, and the pace of life, and then I let her know I would be out there soon! (I've been dreaming about her mom's cucumber sandwiches!)
So great to see you, Kim!
My last stop was at Libre Tea to say hello to Wendy and let her know I was sipping frommy very own Libre Tea mug just yesterday! I was so wonderful to see her new designs on display, since the last time I saw her I remember the design concepts were just being finalized. Seeing my friends succeed in their business just feeds my soul!

Wendy of Libre Tea! (Booth 1419)
On my way out the door, I got to have a nice chat with Phil Holmans of World Tea House based in Halifax, NS, Canada. He just opened his second location, and it was so fun to hear of that growth, not only in business, but in his company's reputation as being a great place to work, to discover tea and to  hang out in an inclusive environment. I missed my photo op with him today, but the moment was a good one.

I look forward to seeing more old friends on Thursday and meeting new ones. Enjoy your night, Tea Enthusiasts! (I expect a full report from the Tealet House in the morning!)

A Moment Down Tea Ave

It's been a week of meetings, conferences and catching up with old friends. Worlds are colliding, as one of my favorite conferences in my jobby-job world is overlapping my favorite conference of the tea world. Yesterday I was moderating a panel on how property management companies can actually gain traction on Pinterest and Instagram, and today I'm moderating a panel on how Tea Retailers can Amplify their Business Through Tea Bloggers.

There have been a lot of phone calls, emails, PowerPoint revisions, Google hangouts and late nights of figuring out where I need to be and when, in addition to figuring out carpools and childcare for the kids while I'm running between Huntington Beach and Long Beach.

I was anticipating this month of mayhem, so it was with great joy and anticipation that I opened a package that I've been saving. An aroma set and beautiful Oolongs from the new tea company, Tea Ave.

Just setting up the beautiful pieces was a calming process. As the kettle heated up, I selected the Rose Oolong to be my morning companion.

One minute of steeping and the light yellow brew was poured into the tall aroma cup. Then the tasting cup was set over the top, and with a (not terribly) graceful movement, the set was inverted and the tea was released into the tasting bowl.

As I learned from Nicole Martin, of Tea For Me Please, I rolled the aroma cup between my hands as I inhaled the delicate scent. The hint of rose against the faintly earthy and floral oolong, helped erase a little of the stress that has been building between my shoulder blades.

The first sip. I was surprised at the immediate sweetness in the tea that mellowed as it hit the back of my palate. The lightness of the tea made me think "Spring," and I finished off my first cup probably more quickly that would be considered polite.

This Oolong is able to be steeped multiple times, so it was a relaxing moment to steep, smell, sip, and then do it again. Exactly what I needed before I jump into the wonderful world that is the World Tea Expo. (Think "Comic Con" for the tea enthusiast). I can't wait to see my fellow bloggers, catch up with some of my favorite tea providers, and discover new teas and tea people along the way.

Thank you, Tea Ave, for hitting my reset button this morning. The beauty, the savor, the sweetness and the moment were just the thing today.