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.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

October 22nd Cooking with Tea Class

On Saturday October 22nd, we will have a Cooking with Tea class here at siptea. The cookbook author

, teacher and Chef Robert Wemischner will demonstrate four dishes using tea as a main component. The menu is tea smoked mushrooms, tea sauced scallops, tea smoked salmon and tea flavored flan with citrus. Each dish will be accompanied by the tea used to make the dish.
The class is from 5:30 pm - 7 pm. Chef Robert will walk you through each dish and at the end of the class you get to take a gift basket with the recipes and each of the siptea's used home with you.
Come by if you have questions about the class. We are in Santa Monica at 1627 Montana Ave. Or call to sign up #310/395-2626

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cupping Tea

Tea cupping is the sign of a professional tea taster. Cupping is a system that tries to give the same parameters to each type of tea, so any flaws show up to the taster. The cupping set consists of a cup with a lid and a bowl to pour the tea into. The picture shows what the set looks like when the tea is done steeping. You observe the dry leaf, smelling it & recording your observations. A hint learned in class is, if the smell isn't strong, try exhaling then inhaling on the leaves. The heat of your breath will release the oils in the leaf and increase the smell. Try this at home, it really works! The next step is to weigh the tea and place it in the cup, hot water is added, temperature is dependent on type, but some people use boiling water for all teas. It might not be the best taste, but it will tell you if a tea is spoiled or inferior, that the lower temperature might mask. I tend to cup at the temperature that is recommended for the tea type. Then the tea is poured out into the bowl when the steep time is reached. Observations of wet leaf are taken, noting smell and look of the leaf. The color & smell of the liquor in the bowl are noted, and tasted. The professionals slurp the tea off a spoon to get air in the tea and help to identify the different flavor notes in the tea. Cupping is kind of like wine tasting. The more you do it, the more sophisticated your palate gets and the more notes you can pick out of the tea. Having taking all the classes to fulfill the Specialty Tea Institutes Level 3, I am now a Certified Tea Specialist. Tea is one of those things where you keep learning as you go & cupping is the best way to learn about tea. So stop by our location on Montana Ave and sit at the bar, we will cup any of our teas for you.

Monday, July 25, 2011

TeaTuesday and upcoming Classes

We just got the sorapot in! It is the most beautiful way to see and steep your tea. You can watch the agony of the leaf as it unfurls and then enjoy two cups of tea.

#TeaTuesday is a twitter campaign that we are using to have extended hours and give a bit of information about tea. We are open til 7pm on Tuesdays and will have tea to sample and information about tea.
Starting in September we will have classes on how to make the perfect cup of tea, cooking with tea, making kombucha. Stop by the store to sign up for the classes.
Enjoy a short break in your day, by slowing down, making a cup and savoring your tea.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tea Cocktails

Last night siptea made 3 tea cocktails for the Grand Opening Party. The most popular was the Mojito, or Mo-tea-to, then the Pina Chai-lada and a Lapsang Souchong Whiskey Sour.


Day before put green tea (I used organic Gunpowder green tea) in Vodka to infuse, use approx. 6-8 Tbsp. per 1.75L of vodka
Make a pot of double strength Mint tisane (herbal tea)
Add sugar to Mint tea to taste

1 part Green Tea Vodka
3 parts sweetened Organic Mint tisane
1/2 part lime juice
pour in glass with ice
garnish with fresh mint

Pina Chai-lada

Day before put Chai (I used organic Masala Chai black tea) in rum to infuse, use appox. 6-8 Tbsp. per 1.75 L this infuses quickly, so could be done a few hours before.
Make a pot of double strength organic Coconut green tea
Add sugar to Coconut green tea

1 part Chai spiced rum
2 parts Coconut Green tea
1 part fresh pineapple
Blend well
pour over ice
garnish with pineapple slice or umbrella

Lapsang Souchong Sour

Day before put Lapsang Souchong (I used organic Lapsang Souchong) in Marker's Mark, use approx. 6-8 Tbsp. per 1.75 L. This makes a great smoky whiskey, it actually resembles a aged peety, smoky scotch whisky when finished infusing & can be enjoy neat in a glass too.

1 part Lapsang Souchong infused Maker's Mark (or other whiskey)
3 parts sour mix (you can make your own, I used the mix for the party)
pour over ice
garnish with maraschino cherry

Enjoy & let me know if you have any tea infused cocktails you want to share!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Matcha Shortbread Recipe

Thought I should put up the recipe for the Matcha Shortbread Cookies I made. It is my mother's recipe that I modified.

Oven temp 300-325 degrees

Matcha Shortbread
1 pound of salted organic butter, good quality
1/2 pound of very fine organic sugar, (approx. 1 cup heaped)
6 C less 2 Tbsp. of organic flour sifted
2 Tbsp. of organic Matcha powder

If you can't find very fine organic sugar, castor sugar is a non-organic substitution or blend organic sugar in food processor with blade or in blender til fine.

Kneed butter & sugar together. I do use a mixer with the paddle for this. Add sifted Matcha powder & flour. Kneed together in mixer til just starts to come together, then finish by hand. Roll or pat flat. Cut into shapes, squares, wedges, etc. Place on an un-greased cookie sheet. Cookies do not rise or spread, so roll & cut accordingly. Prick surface all over with a fork. Bake 20-25 minutes. Sift very fine sugar over the top when hot if desired.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sign Up on the Window at 1627

We are now officially here on Montana Ave. Our sign was installed! I don't know if it's my imagination, but we seem to have gotten more people in the store, so hey signs do work to tell people what you are doing & let them know where you are. Next have to hang the banner, that should go up in a day or so. Will try to update before heading to Las Vegas for World Tea Expo.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ed Moses Installing Piece

Yesterday started the install of a large work by Ed Moses, Los Angeles painter who has work in museums all over the world. It was really cool seeing him directing the hanging of his work. In July, Montana Ave. has art walk, so we will have Ed Moses up in our space for the event. Montana Ave. Art Walk July 21st, from 5pm to 9m. We will have tea cocktails & snacks for the event. If you are on the Westside for the weekend the 405 is shut down we will be doing a Buy Local event at siptea, so come by for special offers.
And as always, take a break in your day, make a cup and siptea...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Knit in Public Today at siptea

Come by this weekend to knit in public at siptea. We have a nice table set up in the back and even have some treats for you. Get a tea sample and also a matcha green tea shortbread cookie. Plus you get to show off your mad knitting skills! I am wearing the most impressive thing I have ever knitted, a poncho. I have a sweater in the works, but it is still not finished, I think the problem with trying to start a business and still working my old job, makes it hard to fit in knitting a sweater. I did find time to make some organic lapsang souchong infused Marker's Mark for a friends birthday and the matcha shortbread for siptea. The rest of the shortbread are also going to the birthday party, any left will be available for sampling on Sunday at siptea.

Monday, June 6, 2011

New Products Coming In Everyday

Week number two down, and word is starting to spread. We plan on doing evening classes and had a fund raiser in the space for SMASH, Santa Monica Alternative School House. So lots of things going on in the space. The art sale was fun & a great turnout.
We just got in three new products. The Eco Cup, which is a porcelain travel cup with silicone top & grip band. Best way to enjoy your tea on the go, porcelain! The iced version, Eco Cup on Ice, comes with it's own straw. Handy ridge on the straw keeps it from falling out of the top. The last product is the steep, silicone collapsible tea infuser. This is a great way to enjoy real tea on the go!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

siptea is OPEN in Santa Monica

Well we have been open a week. Still trying to get things in order & get more stock in. We are open but the Grand Opening will be in June. We did a soft open for the Montana Ave. Sidewalk Sale. Had a nice turnout & are trying to settle into the space. Things still need to be streamlined & figured out. This week we should get our shipment of Eva Solo tea products. They are very stylish & well designed. Look for more products to be coming in every week. We are also going to expand our 40 teas, to include more flavored teas and blends. Looking forward to having classes where we teach about what you can do with tea. We have redesigned the labels & also are updating the website. Stop by Monday thru Saturday from 10am - 5pm, Sunday 12pm - 5pm. We are located at 1627 Montana Ave in the back. And as always keep sipping tea...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Silver Lake Green Fair

So siptea is helping to put on the 1st Annual Silver Lake Green Fair. It's taking place behind The Kitchen and Akbar in their parking lot. Thanks to PERI, pure eco rag industry, we have the parking lot. So lots of things are falling into place at the last minute and I finally am getting my act together to update my own blog & let people know about what is going on!
Saturday April 23rd from 11am to 4pm there will be a band, DJ, drummers, plus food vendors, drinks, and shopping. Should be fun plus we will be there sampling tea & selling packaged tea.
This is a cash event & please byob (bring your own bag) we know you have one!
"Global starts Local"