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Trick or Treat: Is Expensive Tea Worth It?

October 29th, 2015 by Eliot Jordan


Scour a store for tea and you will probably find that the prices for the teas offered can vary wildly. The best comparison for this kind of variance can be found in the world of wine, where a bottle of two buck Chuck can be procured as well as bottles that run in the range of several thousand dollars. Caviar is expensive. Fish sticks are cheap. Let’s explore expensive whole leaf tea to consider the cost.

To start off, expensive teas equate to better tea. But that’s also like saying a Rembrandt painting is better than a Japanese wood block. The flavor characteristics and quality of one kind of tea- say a first flush Indian Darjeeling black tea differ dramatically from that of a Japanese Gyokuro green tea. The attributes and what is highly desired in one fluctuates from the other. This also leaves room for the matter of personal taste. That question of quality and cost comes fully into view though when the origin is consistent. Pair a first pick Darjeeling to be tasted alongside one that is subpar. What you would find is that you can pick up that one is better from the other. A low quality tea is bitter, harsh, looks ugly, and has no aroma or sweetness. When you come across a high quality tea, it can surprise you with its interesting flavor, aroma, sweetness, and color.

In mulling the cost of expensive tea, Darjeeling black tea provides a good foundation from which to illustrate the idea. You can look at tea books from the 1920’s that mention Darjeeling. It has developed a reputation as the “champagne” of the tea world. Darjeeling black tea is three percent of India’s total tea output. First flush Darjeeling is produced only once a year and is prized as the first growth with unique character. Why is it expensive—because it’s rare. A lot of work goes into making a tea at that level versus a tea that is sold at $1 per pound. Let’s say there are 10 estates out of 72 which produce top grade first flush Darjeeling. We receive samples from the 10 that we taste to winnow the pool down to three, finally ordering our top selection. Darjeeling lots are very small (about 100 to 200 pounds), which might sound like a lot of tea. One hundred pounds equates to 400 4-ounce tins of loose tea. You could argue that the first flush Darjeeling selected is the best in the world and only 400 people get to drink it.

Down the road from the estate where we have bought that exquisite first flush Darjeeling, perhaps there is a factory where tea leaves plucked with hand shears are processed in a CTC machine to produce a strong cup of tea at a low price of $1 per pound. Where the first flush facility is wary of damaging the bush, the factory aims to pull as many leaves as possible that accounts for a disparity of 2 pounds plucked at the first flush estate versus 20 pounds plucked at the factory. First flush Darjeeling is weather specific: knowing when to pluck the leaves is contingent on climate. It can’t rain too much. It can’t be dry. It can’t hail. The leaves have to be plucked in the morning before it gets too hot, which in the spring yields smaller leaves because it’s cold. Tea estate managers know the first flush leaves can go for a good price, but there are eight or nine things that can go wrong and mess up the batch, making it drop to a lower grade tea. So much skill is involved in ensuring the natural changes in the leaves are manipulated well. This also speaks to why some estates consistently produce better teas; it’s like dining at a restaurant where you enjoy the steak. So much of that enjoyment stems from the skill of the chef.

Now, think about the cost of tea offerings at a store by the cup. Let’s say you walk into a market and see a box of 100 tea bags that costs $6. Each cup of tea costs six cents per serving. That’s amazing. When you taste a cup of the tea, it’s not horrible, but it’s ordinary. Perhaps instead you eye a 4-ounce tin of first flush Darjeeling loose tea for $24.50. Each cup of the champagne of tea will cost you 61 cents. You can’t even get a glass of wine for that price. Tea is one of the last great food deals anywhere. The math is compelling and if you consider the per cup cost, you can drink the best tea in the world for not very much. Life is too short to drink six-cent cups of tea. So, go ahead and treat yourself. 

How to Taste Tea

October 1st, 2015 by Eliot Jordan


Tasting teas calls to mind a shift in mindset. There is a difference between sitting down and enjoying a cup of tea compared to tasting tea. To taste tea is to evaluate it critically. At work, I taste teas everyday whether sampling teas that are newly produced and blended or ingredients we’ve purchased to see how they taste as they’re aging. As I’m tasting, I’m judging whatever tea I’m sampling against my recollection of my gold standard, the best version of that tea I’ve tried. After 30 years of tasting teas, I’ve developed a flavor bank upon which I can compare teas. If you’re a tea drinker and want to conduct your own tastings at home, there are several things you will want to consider as you get started.

First, treat every tea exactly the same. To conduct a tea tasting at home of say, seven Earl Grey black teas, use seven identical cups so you will have the same thickness of ceramic, color, etc. Then, display the tea leaves in front of each cup if using loose tea, or if using tea bags, cut them open to display the leaves inside—this allows you to see the leaf cut size (whole leaves / broken / fannings / CTC / other ingredients) and begin comparing them. Brew each tea correctly using the same water, temperature and length of time. These consistencies cup-to-cup allow the differences in the teas themselves come through.

Next, balance between keeping an open mind and thinking critically about each cup of tea. It can be easy to select your favorite from the bunch, but just as important is to consider the choices each tea blender made in composing each blend. Using Earl Grey black tea as an example, the Russian-style is pungent with bergamot. The British-style, to my palate can taste medicinal.The Persian-style of Earl Grey tastes lighter, cleaner and more delicate—you don’t know it’s Earl Grey until you stop and think about it. The American-style tends to be light and more citrusy. When tasting teas at home with an open mind, questions might arise as to why these differences exist. Elements to consider include what culture the tea blend is coming from. Is it from a new tea brand or an old one? It might also trigger questions about what flavor profiles and aspects of flavor are most appealing in different cultures.

While learning how to taste tea years ago with my mentor, Jim Reynolds, he taught me a valuable lesson. Aside from qualifying if I liked a tea or not, he challenged me to ask of the tea we sampled, “is it a good representation of what this tea is supposed to be?” Tea is like wine. A California Chardonnay will taste different from a French Chardonnay.

When tasting teas, pay attention to the taste and the after-taste. Some teas can start out sharp and mellow over time in your mouth to something sweet and pleasant. Other times a sharp tea might stay sharp to the end. I also like to think about the long after-taste that happens 10-15 minutes after tasting a tea. What lingers on and does it make your mouth feel better? As you taste, it’s important to focus on the cup in front of you and not the last or next cup.

In the office, we conduct our tea tastings quietly. We don’t talk until everyone has a chance to taste. Part of the fascination in tasting teas is the associations that can leap into your mind as you taste tea. Tea flavors can be subtle and those associations are fleeting. Tasting tea might transport you to the living room of your grandmother’s house with memories of being eight years-old. Maybe you haven’t thought about your grandmother in weeks but the aroma or flavor takes you back. Our sense of smell is connected to our memories and it’s no accident. Every aroma and taste is composed of chemical compounds. Maybe it’s the lavender ingredient that brought you suddenly back to grandma’s house?  I call that the surprise in the cup. You never know when the associations will happen. So as you set out to start tasting teas at home, prepare yourself for fun. You never know where tasting teas will take you.

Eye Pillows that Pamper with Tea

February 8th, 2012 by admin

We love tea for many reasons. It tastes great and can energize or calm. Tea is one of nature’s most versatile products – not only can you drink it but you can use it to help heal, refresh and pamper the body. One unique way to take advantage of tea’s natural soothing qualities is to use tea bags as eye pillows – this can help reduce tired and puffy eyes. You can either use a tea bag or make your own eye pillow from loose tea and a paper tea filter. This may sound a bit alternative, but once you try it you might be hooked. It’s like a mini spa in a bag.

How to Make Eye Pillow out of Tea Bags

Steep a tea bag in warm water for 3-4 minutes to release the tea’s natural oils and aromas. Squeeze out as much moisture as possible and cool down in the refrigerator for a half hour or so. Find a comfortable position and place the chilled bags on your eyes (eyelids closed) for 20 minutes. Of course, if your eyes are feeling great, relax with tea bags even longer.

How to Make Eye Pillows with Loose Tea

Fill two paper tea filters or muslin tea bags with 2 tablespoons of tea. Soak the bags in warm water for 3-4 minutes again to activate the tea. Wring any excess water out of the bags and chill in the refrigerator for a half hour or so. Relax with bags on your closed eyelids as instructed above.



Valentine’s Day Tea Tips: 5 Ways to Express Your Affection

February 7th, 2011 by admin

Valentine’s Day conjures up images of chocolate and flowers, but what about tea? Herbal potions, balms and other assorted plants and flowers have been used for centuries in connection with the pursuit of romance. So why not go old school and spice up your Valentine’s Day with some tea. Of course, you can always complement the gift with flowers and chocolate if necessary. We have 5 Valentine’s Day tips to share.

#1 Throw a Tea Party

Create your own tea party for two by pairing tea with fun and playful teaware. Our Matryoshka Tea Set for Two with stackable Russian doll tea cups is the perfect place to start. The teapot will put a smile on their face everytime they see it in the kitchen. If you make some sweets or sandwhiches to accompany the tea party, it will be an event to remember.

#2 Morning Tea in Bed

Start the special day off by preparing your loved one with morning tea in bed. Wake them up with our Organic Earl Grey, Vanilla Bean or Orange Dulce. Add some pastries, some sweets, fruit and, of course, lighting some candles can never hurt. Throw in the morning paper and the surprise is complete.

#3 Spa Treatment

Be good to someone you love and pamper them with a spa tea gift designed to soothe, restore and delight mind and body. Choose from our unique selection including our Matcha Clay Mask , a Spa Tea Book or our Oasia TeaFusion Spa Bath Pouches. For a unique twist, instead of using cucumbers on the eyes to reduce stress and tension, try using our tea pouches.

#4 Chocolate Truffle Tea

Satisfy their urge for chocolate with a healthy and flavorful chocolate truffle tea alternative. Made from the finest tea, chocolate, fruits and spices, our truffle teas make an indulgent and memorable gift.

#5 Tea Cocktails

Shake it up on Valentine’s Day with a new tea twist on cocktails. Serve up their favorite champagne, gin, vodka, sake or other spirits blended with our versatile tea infused Aperi-Tea mixers. Awaken and refresh with Chamomile Citrus Berry, Green Tea Tropical and Orange Jasmine Mango.

Of course, you can also make cocktails using our tea pouches or loose tea infusions as mixers for your favorite celebratory beverage. Check out this video on how to brew tea cocktails along with some tasty new recipes.

Happy Valentines Day All!

Tea Making Tips from 1941

Bliss DakeFebruary 4th, 2010 by Bliss Dake

“Tea Making Tips” is a short film released in 1941 and sponsored by the Empire Tea Bureau of England. A classic video that demonstrates in detail methods of storing and preparing tea, it imparts that one should not waste a drop of tea because of carelessness. Watch and get your fill of crisp white tea cups, tea pots, classic tea chests and more. The Empire Tea Bureau also published a booklet during the war titled “Tea Will Help”(more…)

Boiling Water for Tea: Bubbles and Steam

Bliss DakeOctober 13th, 2009 by Bliss Dake
Boiling Water - Tea Kettle A

Traditional methods and new technologies alike provide unique ways for tea fans to determine the correct temperature when boiling water for tea. From the shape and size of bubbles to electric tea kettles with built-in precision gauges, we will explore the nuances of measuring water temperature.   This includes a cooling your water down technique for green tea, thermometers, electric tea kettles, hot water dispensers and the traditional Chinese method of examining water bubble size.  Let’s get ready to boil! (more…)

Sangria Tea Recipes for Summer

Bliss DakeJune 30th, 2009 by Bliss Dake

Sweet summer is here with bountiful heat.  Iced tea is always perfect for chilling out.  But we also invite you to explore other ways of incorporating tea into summer thirst quenchers.  A renaissance is occurring in the culinary world where tea is showing up for summer in unexpected places like on restaurant menus in cocktails or food .  We decided to put a spin on sangria for summer and developed a  Sangria Tea Collection with a variety of recipes to please any palate. (more…)

Brewing Methods: Loose Tea Made Easy

Bliss DakeApril 13th, 2009 by Bliss Dake

We often hear from customers who are first time tea drinkers that they are intimidated by the thought of preparing loose tea.  Making loose tea does not have to be challenging or time consuming.  With a wide variety of tea accessories now available you can enjoy loose tea whenever, whether a full pot or single-serving with minimal preparation and effort. (more…)