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Rooibos: Herbal Tea for Black Tea Drinkers

February 22nd, 2016 by Eliot Jordan

Eliot Jordan tea-team

New ingredients come in every year in the tea world. If you consider the herbal tea world, there are half a dozen bases for all herbal teas. These include chamomile, mint, hibiscus, and rosehips, which form the flavor foundation for many herbal teas. They’re all many centuries old and used widely. But rooibos has only been a worldwide tea ingredient for 25 years.

In the early 1990s, rooibos began circulating into the United States. For many years, well before colonizers arrived in South Africa, local South African tribes had harvested rooibos leaves and made a beverage out of them. Over 100 years ago, a Russian immigrant with a tea background immigrated to South Africa, tried rooibos, liked it, and started popularizing it in the country. There wasn’t much trade with South Africa until political changes happened through the leadership of Nelson Mandela and the fall of apartheid. Then rooibos first made its way to Europe where there’s a rich herbal tea drinking tradition and later it came to the United States.

I first heard about rooibos from a German company. I had trouble saying the name, just like most people do when they first see it, but I liked the flavor. They said that four out of five people who try it, like it. And, I can concur that it’s a likeable herbal tea. Rooibos is now a common drink. Most people now know how to say it (roy-bus). It’s very much accepted and widely blended as a base in herbal teas. The key to its success lies in the exact reason why I drink it.

I’m not an herbal tea guy – most herbal teas are too… herbal. I can appreciate and cup herbal teas, but when I’m sitting down to a cup of tea, I drink mostly black tea like Darjeeling or Keemun. Rooibos is the perfect herbal tea for black tea drinkers like me. The color of rooibos is similar to black tea and its flavor is herbaceous and neutral. Not all rooibos is the same. A good rooibos will have sturdy body, a little bit of a dry kick to it though not astringent. And I differ with others who describe the flavor as earthy. Instead, a magical combination coalesces into tasting like a combination of vanilla, saffron, and redwood bark. If it’s low quality rooibos, it can taste moldy. When I think of rooibos, I think of red rooibos, but green rooibos also exists. Just like tea, rooibos leaves oxidize. So, when green tea became popular, someone had an idea to make green rooibos. I wouldn’t put green rooibos on the same level as green tea though. To me, green rooibos tastes raw and is missing the red color I enjoy. Only about 5-10% of rooibos leaves get reserved for green rooibos.

What makes rooibos a big deal is that it’s the only wildly consumed base herbal tea that’s recently come onto the market. It seems like it’s available everywhere and yet rooibos comes from one specific place in the world. To this day, it only grows in one mountain range in one country of the world, the Western Cape area of the Cedarburg Mountain range in South Africa. There have been attempts to get the seeds and plant them elsewhere in the world but those attempts have failed. Organic rooibos is available in large part because not much else grows in the dry desert-like climate where it thrives. The small seeds can be hard to propagate. Rooibos harvest happens during the Southern hemisphere summer where the leaves are cut with a hand-scythe from the fields or out in the wild to later be processed in a factory.

Culturally speaking, in South Africa, it has a reputation for being good for your skin and for babies. Apparently, it would help with colicky babies and babies with skin rashes. It became something nursing mothers would drink. That’s probably its biggest reputation as a healthy beverage. In South Africa, you can find shampoo and soaps with rooibos in them too. Recently, some studies have purported that rooibos is also rich in antioxidants.

At one time, a pocket of the population in the U.S. referred to rooibos as red tea, which is a bit confusing. Rooibos doesn’t come from the Camellia Sinensis plant and if you visit China, you will find that the Chinese refer to what we would call black tea as red tea because the term in Mandarin for what we know as black tea is “hong cha” which directly translates to “red tea.”

As a base for herbal teas, rooibos blends best with tastes that would go with black tea, like vanilla. That’s probably one of my favorite flavors to pair with it. Rooibos chai works well too, as our popular Coco Chai loose tea indicates. You don’t see it quite as often blended with chamomile and occasionally it is found in blends with mint like our Chocolate Mint Truffle. It doesn’t play as well with flowers. Rooibos is more on the fruit and spice side and is often the 80 – 90% base of a blend.

Appealing to a lot of people creates a platform to make a lot of intriguing herbal flavors. More Americans drink black tea than any other type of tea. It’s still number one. Rooibos is the only herbal that comes close to how black tea taste. If you think about it, rooibos is like everybody’s best friend. It tastes great hot or iced. It mixes well with other ingredients, making it accessible with a subtle taste for easy drinking.

American Tea Culture

January 28th, 2016 by Eliot Jordan

Eliot Jordan tea-team

China, Japan, Great Britain, and other cultures offer a tea ceremony that is uniquely theirs. In the United States, we are a nation of immigrants and an American tea culture reflects this. As the American traditional approach to food has revolved around producing and consuming large quantities, there is a shift at play, demanding higher quality. With tea, we had a strong cultural bias early on because so many British came and settled here. Paul Revere was a silversmith and made teapots. The New England area was a little England. American colonists emulated the British style of tea-making to a degree up until the American war of Independence. Then, tea went from being the beloved drink of the country to a symbol of oppression. We became a coffee-drinking nation at that point, encouraged by the British-rival French who had already begun coffee cultivation in Martinique. In the 21st century, we are now becoming more well-versed in tea. The cultures of tea around the world are becoming more known and popular here too.

Americans like and want tea for what tea wants to give them: a moment of reflection and quiet. This characteristic of tea is different than that of coffee. There aren’t elaborate cups or pots for coffee. Americans like that element and long for it because we are fundamentally impatient. We want convenience. We love iced tea even though for most of the rest of the world tea is drunk warm. American culture is less ceremonial than many cultures around the world. There’s no such thing as an American tea ceremony. We pick and choose aspects of ceremonies and make them our own. Chai is a great example of this—can we prepare it quickly and with a big machine? We’ve got stuff to do and places to go.

Joane Filler-Varty, our VP of hospitality talks about how American culture impacts the tea programs she sets up for our four and five star hotel clients. “Our whole perspective is to celebrate the tea leaf which is why the tea pouches are important. People can have appreciation of the whole leaf whether through acknowledging the agricultural element to the amazing liquor in the cup that helps you slow down, relax, and enjoy the moment. In the U.S., perhaps not as much time is given as with the British afternoon tea, but if you’re willing to spend more time brewing tea, the experience lasts longer than a cup of coffee. The goal is to reflect, be involved, and watch the tea leaves produce the end product. For my American hotel clients, tea pouches are quite popular, although a growing interest in loose tea has been cropping up too. The teapot size varies quite a bit, but they’re often not quite as large as the British teapots. Tea is often served with dessert or pastry.”

Mighty Leaf Tea has established itself as a modern American tea brand. Much of our success and business have come from our tea pouches because many Americans like to drink tea that way. Our tea line takes influences from different culinary backgrounds. Organic African Nectar is a good example of this, since it includes a South African herb that tea people in the United States didn’t know about 25 years ago. Pull out your best teapot and serve any of our tea pouches for an exceptional experience. The tea pouches envelop high quality tea leaves that can be prepared conveniently. You can drink good tea on the go with them. People feel harried and why not? Email is calling for attention. Texts on the phone ask a person to be in 10 places at once. A cup of tea in hand invites you to stop and taste something from the other side of the world. If you have those moments in the day, you can get through our modern life.

British Tea Ceremony

January 22nd, 2016 by Eliot Jordan

Eliot Jordan tea-team

Britain’s relationship with tea has everything to do with the British empire. The demand for tea made the empire happen. Without the demand for tea, I don’t think it would have gotten as big as it did.* Morning is one part of the ritual as the traditional cuppa breakfast tea is drunk first thing, usually prepared with black loose tea. The ritual of tea continues into the afternoon tea. High tea derived its name from tea set on high tables for maids, cooks, and butlers of the big houses where they had a cup of tea and snacks at around 4 p.m., standing around a high table because there was no time to sit down. Low tea was the name for the tea service presented upstairs to the estate owners at low tables, and among finery.

The tea set and food make up a big part of the British tea ceremony. Upstairs you would find silver or porcelain tea sets, whereas downstairs you would find brown betty teapots. In a British tea service the cups have handles, saucers, and are typically part of a matching set with a pitcher for cream and a server for sugar. Whereas Japan and China use plain cups in their tea rituals, the British love flourish whether that includes floral prints or gold rimmed cups. The teapots used in Great Britain are quite large at 24 – 36 ounces in size and involve a tea strainer set over the tea cup to strain out the tea leaves in the pot. The British diet is heavy and dairy-based, so tea is served with milk and sugar. Scones, clotted cream, jam, crumpets, and finger sandwiches make up an array of afternoon tea foods, which is really a meal. I think this is still true that at 4 p.m. the country comes to a halt for a national teatime.

British tea leans toward black tea all the way, typically teas from India, Sri Lanka or Kenya. Their appreciation for strong tea runs deep. This includes brewing the tea strong by adding a lot of tea to the pot and also selecting dark-liquoring, pungent teas.

Setting up tea programs for our four and five star hotel clients with our distributor in Great Britain, VP of Hospitality, Joane Filler-Varty, adds: “Simpler teas are desired with an emphasis on black teas, a few green teas are added for the health conscious and a few herbal infusions too. Great variation exists between contemporary and traditional set-up, but the British tend to be traditional and the type of teaware used tends to be more formal. Some higher end hotels use loose tea for room service, while others use whole leaf tea pouches for in-room dining.”

While the British tea ritual might be vastly different than the Chinese tea ceremony or the Japanese tea ceremony, there are nuances that articulate how particular details come together in this tea practice that is passed down. Details exist specific to the British tea service such as “backing the pot.” This refers to pulling the teapot back prior to serving guests tea as a way to circulate the liquid before serving it.



*For more on this, check out the book, For All the Tea in China by Sarah Rose.


Chinese Tea Ritual

January 6th, 2016 by Eliot Jordan


If you go to China and partake in a traditional Chinese tea ritual, you will find the Chinese tea ceremony celebrates the tea itself and puts a lot of emphasis on the style and skill of the person brewing it. The ceremony is social and can be very formal or informal. One person takes charge of the brewing and commands the tea. The practice uses a gongfu style of multiple infusions that is done using a wooden tray with a small teapot and cups. The vessel that actually steeps the tea can either be a typical teapot with handle and spout, or it can be a special lidded cup called a gaiwan. The gaiwan cups consist of three parts: the saucer, small cups without handles, and lid. The lid keeps the tea warm inside the cup and acts as a strainer when sipping. With a teapot, hot water gets poured over the pot and is also used to refresh the leaves. The teapot might be a yixing terracotta teapot that is dedicated to brewing just one type of tea, or one simply made of porcelain or glass.

In a Chinese tea ceremony, they use their best teas. Most of the country drinks green tea such as Dragonwell. You might find oolong teas like Ti Kuan Yin and pu erh teas like Ancient Trees Pu Erh used in the Chinese tea ritual because those styles of tea can be manipulated in a small teapot to brew strong tea. Keep note of how the tea changes from infusion to infusion. Perhaps even keep tabs on how many infusions you can get out of one pot of tea. Oolong teas are great for brewing gongfu style.

I asked Joane Filler-Varty, our VP of hospitality to share her insights on how local tea rituals inform how she creates tea programs at four and five-star hotels around the world. Here’s what she had to say about setting up tea menus and service with our Chinese hotel clients:

“In hospitality, you have to consider two different dynamics: what the Chinese clientele want might be different from what the tourists desire and a hotel has to address both. Some properties want to bring in a contemporary universal teapot that is a cross between Chinese-style and British porcelain, while smaller yixing teapots or small glass or porcelain teapots might be used for a more specialty afternoon tea. The actual gongfu tea ceremony doesn’t occur in most hotels on a day-to-day basis. It’s offered at a specific time during afternoon tea. That interplay of style also works its way into the tea offerings themselves as Dragonwell and Ti Kuan Yin warm up to English Breakfast and Earl Grey on the tea menus.”

What strikes me about the Chinese tea ceremony that I love is that it’s not that ceremonial. It’s really about the tea and the social aspect, so it can be enjoyed among tea professionals and laymen. It’s okay to talk about tea and politics—it’s like Chinese culture—there’s a lot of room for interpretation.


Chai: Journey in a Tea Cup

December 5th, 2015 by Eliot Jordan


When the average American thinks of chai, I would venture to say what they envision is what you can purchase at coffee shops or cafes and is expected to be a pretty milky, sweet, and spicy black tea concoction made at the espresso machine with steaming milk.

Now, if you walk into a restaurant in India and ask for chai they will bring you a cup of unsweetened tea. You have to ask for masala chai (masala means a mixture of spices)– we think of chai and mean masala chai. No self-respecting tea seller in India would sell you tea already mixed with spices. They expect you to add the spices at home. Each street vendor in India prides his or herself on their special blend of spices. The term, Masala got dropped as chai came to the U.S.

Indians didn’t grow tea until the British brought it over from China. The Hindi word for tea, chai, is derived from the Northern Chinese term, cha. In Southern China, the word for tea is te (it’s a different pronunciation of the same characters). So, it stands to reason that countries exposed to the Northern half of China reinterpreted the word for tea that way. Other countries use derivations of cha too, like Russian tchai.

Indian Masala Chai literally means ”spiced tea” and reflects how Indian food combines multiple spices and even some dairy for a satisfying flavor. This isn’t the case in China, where the food is not focused on dairy or sweets. The tea reflects the cuisine. In Turkey, milk is not used to make chai, instead, sugar is used and a lot of times they will add fresh ginger and orange peel.

I recall how the Beatles made traveling to India cool in the late 1960’s—perhaps we can thank them for chai’s introduction in the U.S.? So many young Americans went to India and tried chai but couldn’t find it back home in America. In 1981 I first heard of chai while I was a student at UC Santa Cruz. I have sipped chai from street vendors a few times during visits to India over the years. When I travel, I love to drink the local tea.

I remember a chai stall on the road—a 6×6-foot shack with a big aluminum pot that looked 100 years old, boiling 10 gallons of a concoction of tea, sugar, spices, and local unpasteurized milk. When you order chai in India, it’s typically served in 4-6 ounces. The idea is you drink a little bit and then come back later in the day. Their version of recycled cups is pretty interesting because they give you a cup made of clay from a stack. It doesn’t take long to drink the chai and when you’re done, you throw the cup in the road and shatter it. The remnants of your cup turn into dust in a few days. I’m convinced kilns all over India crank out these disposable cups.

If you think of it, the way chai is made in the U.S. now, it has become an American drink, prepared with steamed milk and perhaps foam—we love our foam in the U.S. In India, you boil milk on the stove. You can find Masala Chai as we know it in Europe and other countries. I think the two places where Masala Chai is popular are the United States and India.

We carry several chai offerings at Mighty Leaf Tea because this style of tea is a category unto itself. If I had to come up with 20 tasting chai blends, I could probably do it. You can have so many variations, even with the same chai blends. You can brew chai with 100% milk or 25% milk to water ratio. You can add tons of sugar or no sugar. When looking for chai, consider the spice blend. Which spices and how much of each are used in chai? While turmeric plays an active role in Indian cuisine, it’s not typically used to spice chai. Basil is not used in chai either. Chai will have cinnamon, ginger and cardamom. Maybe there’s some sort of heat—black pepper? You might see clove in a chai blend. A lot of American chai blends use vanilla—you’d never see that in India. Some blends use star anise. Our version of Masala Chai is a Kolkata-style chai with cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, black pepper, and clove. Our Bombay Chai, on the other hand is comprised of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and star anise. The difference between the two blends is noticeable.

The tea itself plays an important role. Most Indian black tea is strong and black and for a good masala chai, you need an assertive tea—small leaf teas give a lot of color and flavor. When we are blending and sourcing tea for chai, we are looking for strong teas. Our Masala Chai uses Assam tea—my favorite origin for milk teas and also has some Nilgiri black tea in the blend. Bombay Chai uses tea from similar regions but overall offers a lighter tea character indicative of South India. Some chai blends use Chinese black tea for its smooth quality. Others might use a straightforward-bodied African tea. There are even some chai blends made from green tea that follows a lesser-known tradition in Northern India with cinnamon, cardamom, and almonds. Kolkata-style chai tends to use local teas (typically Assam and a few others) and the spices tend to be heavier on cardamom, with less pepper for a more sweet, not quite as zesty-hot drink.

Chai has a really broad taste range. Whatever people are exposed to early on will impact what they think of tea. If you ask an average person in China if they drink tea, they will say yes, and probably refer to Chinese green tea. With a masala chai, most people will think of the flavor profile they were exposed to the first time. I would encourage you to embrace the nuances of each blend of chai rather than trying to discover “true chai.” True chai can be whatever you enjoy, so open up your mind. Each chai is an expression of the person who created it, whether it’s being served up at a stall in Kolkata or from a company in the U.S. Every chai recipe has a history to be enjoyed for what it is.

Why Tea is the Most Popular Beverage in the World After Water

June 20th, 2011 by admin

After water tea is the most popular beverage consumed in the world. That may be a surprise for many living in the U.S. who only drink tea when they are sick or looking to chill out or relax. Of course, iced tea is consumed by the gallons here in the South and in refrigerated icy bottles drunk up like soda pop. But, good old fashioned hot tea reigns supreme in many parts of the world when it comes to what people drink on a daily basis.

Why is tea so popular? Tea is an ancient drink with a rich history. Many reasons exist that stem from the intrinsic benefits of the tea plant itself and others from cultural and historical develpoments. Here are some explanations not listed in any particular order of importance.

1. Taste and Variety: It’s plain and simple – tea tastes good and there is a lot of variety to taste. Whether hot or iced, tea refreshes and uplifts with its unique tastes and flavors. Like wine, the terroir or where its grown imparts a distinctive taste profile that can yield memorable and savory moments with a cup. Whether it’s a sencha green tea from Japan, yunan black tea from China or a Darjeeling from India, drinking tea becomes a vehicle for discovery and exploration.

2. Accessibility, Cost and Convenience of Making: Accessibility, cost and the convenience of making has made tea an important part of daily life around the globe. You can find tea in any store or market. Of course, the quality may vary but with tea’s growing popularity premium whole leaf tea is more readily available than in the past.

Although tea may appear to be expensive at first glance, when you factor in the actual cost per serving, it’s one of the world’s most affordable luxuries. The quantity of tea used to make a cup will vary depending upon the tea type, but the industry standard is that on average a pound of tea can yield around 200 cups. This is much higher than a pound of coffee which yields around 40-50 cups. Keep in mind that with some oolong and green teas you can also steep multiple times further impacting the overall cost per serving analysis.

3. The Importance of Ritual and Participatory Culture: The importance of the ritual of tea drinking plays a central role in many cultures around the world. Developed in China, the original tea ceremony focuses on the actual tea itself including the taste, smell and look versus the more predefined Japanese tea ceremony with strict, memorialized rules. In China, the host and those enjoying the tea will drink tea for a number of reasons including honoring guests, showing appreciation, celebrating a life event and much more.

The Japanese tea ceremony (The Way of Tea or Chado) is highly revered for its connection with Zen Buddism and a refined attention to detail. The preparation and serving of matcha tea is elevated to performance art with an emphasis on aesthetics and harmony. Drinking strong black tea from a Samovar is a key component of Russia’s tea culture tradition. In Morroco, drinking mint tea (a mixture of gunpowder green, fresh mint leaves and sugar) is a national pastime. You can find chai wallahs everywhere in India serving up fresh cups of chai tea. Afternoon and high tea in England highlight the importance to the British of tea in society and their culture.

4. Caffeine: Let’s be honest – lots of people like tea because it’s a good alternative to coffee and provides them with a caffeine boost. Waking up or making it through a long afternoon at work can be difficult. A hot cup of tea provides a nice pick-me-up and makes it easier to get through the day.

5. Health Benefits: Many studies have been published that have concluded that tea may have positive health benefits. You can learn more here about the health benefits of tea.

James Norwood Pratt on Tea

May 12th, 2011 by admin

James Norwood Pratt has played a large role in disseminating information on tea in the United States and in 2010 wrote a comprehensive work on tea, James Norwood Pratt’s Tea Dictionary. Enjoy this video where he chats with the viewer about his take on tea.

Finding Romance with Mighty Leaf

December 13th, 2010 by admin

It’s always fun to see how Mighty Leaf Tea fans express themselves and their passion for tea. We found a series of videos on YouTube that a fan produced. As you will see, the videos certainly highlight the emotional connection that a tea drinker shares with their tea. At Mighty Leaf we are happy to continue the ancient tradition of providing people with a beverage and experience that stirs both the creative and contemplative spirit.

New Tea Cocktails that Inspire the Spirit

November 12th, 2010 by admin

Making tea cocktails always provide an opportunity to explore the delicious flavors and nuances of tea blends and infusions. Pilar Gutierrez of Mighty Leaf recently spend some time with the master mixologist at Ozumo Restaurant in San Francisco whipping up some tea cocktails. Ozumo has developed and offers at their restaurant cocktails made with Mighty Leaf that include the Yuzu Mitsu with Organic Sencha Green Tea, the Twist Ginger with Ginger Twist and the Bourbon Nectar with Organic African Nectar.

You can find details on the recipes below. They are all easy and convenient to make. Enjoy!

Yuzu Mitsu

2 oz Mighty Leaf Organic Sencha Green Tea
1.5 oz. Ketel One Vodka
.5 oz. Green Tea Liqueur
Dash of Yuzu juice

Combine all ingredients and ice in a mixing tin and shake to combine. Strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

Twisted Ginger

2 oz. Mighty Leaf Ginger Twist Tea
1.5 oz. Sky Ginger Vodka
.25 oz. Simple Syrup
Juice of 1/2 Lemon

Fill a bucket glass with ice and build drink over it. Stir all ingredients lightly to combine and garnish with a slice of lemon and two small straws.

Bourbon Nectar

2 oz. Mighty Leaf Organic African Nectar Tea
1.5 oz. Bulliet Bourbon
.25 oz. Simple Syrup
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Combine all ingredients in a mixing tin and shake to combine. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a twist of lemon.

Rooibos Renewal in South Africa

Bliss DakeJune 29th, 2010 by Bliss Dake

Soccer fans attending the World Cup 2010 in South African may be introduced for the first time to a comforting cup of Rooibos tea (pronounced ‘roy-bos’ – Afrikans for red bush). Grown only in the Cederberg mountains of South Africa’s Western Cape, a semi-desert like geography, Rooibos is a wild shrub or herb that is naturally green. But after a fermentation process involving oxidation similar to that of black tea, it develops a red color and rich flavor.  (more…)