Sunday, February 27, 2011

Green Tea Chocolate - Green Kiss from Life in Teacup

I recently received a bunch of tea samples from one of my favorite tea companies, Life in Teacup, which I am in the process of sampling and writing about. In addition to the samples of tea, I received a sample of Green Kiss green tea chocolate. The chocolate, which is made in Germany, is pictured here:

My Review:

I have not sampled any tea-flavored chocolate before. I am, however, a huge fan of coffee-flavored chocolate, and green tea ice cream, which are the two closest products to which to compare this flavored chocolate. My impressions are:

  • Flavor is much more like white chocolate than any other kind of chocolate; there's no cocoa content, just the cocoa butter and its flavor. My intuition is that you'll be more likely to enjoy this chocolate if you enjoy white chocolate.

  • The green tea presence is also very creamy: there's little bitterness, and not much of the characteristic grassy quality either. Very vegetal, however.

  • Overall, it was much more like Matcha-flavored ice cream than like any other chocolate or flavored white chocolate that I've had.

Did I like it? Honestly, I wasn't crazy about it: it was too sweet and creamy. I like both chocolate and tea for its bold bitterness. Japanese green teas can be quite brisk and fresh tasting, and this was just too weak for me. Also, the texture of the chocolate was too soft for me. I think this reflects too low a cocoa butter content (cocoa butter is very hard) and perhaps too much emulsifier (soy lecithin?). I like the chocolate to melt slowly in my mouth, allowing the strong flavor to release gradually. This one melts too quickly and doesn't have enough flavor, leading to an unsatisfying experience.

Others, however, may love the texture: my own tastes in chocolate are peculiar and I notice that most people complain that my favorite chocolates are too bitter and too hard and chalky-textured for them.

If I were to try making my own green tea chocolate, perhaps by tweaking the recipe for this one, I'd choose a tea with more bitterness, use a higher cocoa butter content and less of the emulsifying agents. And I'd include less sugar. I like my chocolate to be just a notch of sweetness above baking chocolate. Again, my tastes probably differ from most people's, so I'd predict that most people would enjoy this green tea chocolate as-is, much more than I did.

You can buy this green tea chocolate on Life in Teacup's website.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Using The Word "Brew" For Tea

The word brew is a funny word. It is used in the context of beverages with several different meanings. Brew, alone, usually conjures up images of beer or coffee before tea. You can even verify that this is a widespread mainstream phenomenon by typing "brew" into google image search: there are many pictures of beer, a few of coffee, and none of tea.

However, once you're in the context of tea, the word brew is used liberally. As of writing this post, a google search for the phrase "brewing tea" yields 112,000 results, whereas "steeping tea" returns the more moderate 27,000. What is interesting, however, is that the more general "preparing tea" returns 179,000 results.

How do you feel about using the term brew for tea?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Other Places to Find My Tea Writing and Other Writings

Lately I've been seeing a number of bloggers sharing writings in other blogs, so I decided to write my own post on this topic.

Everyone who reads my blog regularly probably already knows about RateTea, but there are a number of other places that I write.

My Writings About Tea:

I have written a large number of articles about tea on EzineArticles. You can find these listed on my EzineArticles author bio. In the past, I had also written a number of tea-related articles on Buzzle, but the nature of that site has changed and my articles are no longer published there. I've also experimented a bit with creating Squidoo lenses about tea, but Squidoo has since closed (see The Rise and Fall of Squidoo). Some of my old Squidoo tea articles I've moved to Wizzley.

Also, before I created RateTea, for a while I was reviewing teas on my opinion website, You can still read my old tea reviews on

Non Tea-related Writings:

A lot of people who read this blog or interact with me in some capacity related to RateTea know me only as a "tea person", but tea is only a small portion of the things I concern myself with, both on the web and in the rest of my life. If you want to get a glimpse of some of the other things I think about and am interested in, I would invite you to read my opinion website and another blog.

My opinion website is This site has writings about many topics, including religion, politics, and other potentially more controversial topics. The main characterizing feature of is its integrated approach to issues: science, politics, religion, and culture are all discussed together, in terms of how they interrelated, rather than separated cleanly and treated as totally unrelated subjects.

Less controversial, but with a stronger activist and political flavor than this blog is my idea blog. Most posts on this blog focus on a specific issue, present my perspective on it, and conclude with concrete points of action that people can do to advance a solution of the problem or some sort of improvement or advancement of society related to the topic of the blog post.

Where else do you write or publish?

Do you have other blogs or websites on which you publish? I would encourage you to publish your own blog post about this topic, or post a comment here if you'd like. I am curious to read others' writings, both about tea and other topics, and I think it's highly likely that there are numerous others would would be curious to do so as well!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tulsi Tea in the SEPTA Station

Recently I had an adventure getting back from Philadelphia in the morning. This drab photograph captures my mood at the time:

My Adventure:

It turned out to be relatively difficult to get back to Newark, Delaware from Philadelphia in the morning. I had missed the last morning train that went the whole way back to Newark, and getting back the whole way turned out to be rather involved and time-consuming. I needed to go to Wilmington, and change to a bus. The SEPTA train was late, but this was irrelevant as it turned out not to connect well with the bus schedule and I had to wait for the bus, which took about an hour for what is a 15-minute train ride. I found this unnecessary and sad.

Public Transportation in the U.S.

I live right on the east-coast corridor, the most densely-populated part of the U.S., and the rail line. The U.S. has the largest economy of any country in the world. Can't we at least have usable rail service, maybe not everywhere, but at least in our densest population corridor? Having been to Europe twice, where there is outstanding rail service even to remote villages, I know that we could have it.

This is one issue I feel passionately about. Honestly? More passionately than anything I feel about tea. Unlike most of what I write about tea, it's not a question of personal taste. It's a question of sustainability, and it's a question of equality of opportunity. Without good public transportation, people have a greater need to own cars and drive cars, and fewer options are available to the people who cannot afford a car or cannot drive a car for other reasons. Even for those like me who can afford a car or own a car, being required to use a car is costly--it uses money and resources and it uses energy and has a negative impact on the environment. It taxes patience and is tiring. Public transportation is liberating: it gives people the option to live or travel without a car. Riding on a train allows one to relax, perhaps sip a cup of tea, which is exactly what I did. But this morning I didn't reach for actual tea, it was a particular herbal tea that was calling to me.

Tulsi hits the spot:

I had a teabag of Organic India's tulsi on me during this adventure. I bought a cup of hot water from a local vendor to brew it, and it really hit the spot. Supposedly, tulsi is good for stress. There is a lot of solid science behind this; actually, RateTea's page on Tulsi or Holy Basil has a lot more discussion in case you're interested -- that's one of the most thorough of the health and medicinal articles on the site currently. But, aside from all the science, I will say that when I am feeling stressed, tulsi generally does make me feel better. I also love the flavor.

I vowed to write about the whole adventure...I've put it off a bit, but I decided to write about it today. And I'd like to urge you: if you're ever in a position to do anything to advance the state of public transportation in the U.S., whether it's contacting a politician and voicing your support, or just riding the existing transportation so they earn more money from fares, please, by all means do it! I think everyone will appreciate it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

One Advantage to Serving Tea in Little Cups

Most Americans drink tea exclusively from either mugs, disposable to-go cups, or smaller western-style tea-cups that are still on the larger size. Except for tea enthusiasts, most Americans only encounter the smaller tea cups in Chinese restaurants or other restaurants from Southeast Asian cultures that use similar cups.

This picture shows the teapot and one of the teacups from which I most commonly serve tea to my guests.

I find that using these small teacups has one compelling advantage, especially when it comes to serving tea to others. The small size of the cup enables your guests to drink exactly as much or as little tea as they want, while avoiding awkwardness such as filling up a cup halfway.

This is good for several reasons:

If someone isn't crazy about the tea, a little cup isn't that big a deal to drink, and they can pass on drinking more. If they are particularly enthusiastic, they can have many cups. This can also allow people to choose exactly how much caffeine they want, which is important because different people have different sensitivities to caffeine. I've found that people I have over for tea who are unfamiliar with these smaller cups often remark on how much they enjoy drinking from them.

So, for myself at least, I've found that little cups tend to work well for drinking tea in groups, whereas a big mug tends to work well when I'm by myself.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

One Advantage to Drinking Tea from a Mug

I recently read a post on J-Tea's Oolong Tea Times about Tea Ware and Brewing Styles which talks about the advantages, in terms of tasting, of drinking from small teacups rather than large mugs. I more or less agree with the points made in this post, which can be summed up as how drinking tea from a mug leads to a different, and often less-than-ideal taste experience.

But I usually drink my morning tea from a mug; these days, it's usually been this mug pictured below. Why?

I love holding a large, warm mug in my hands, especially in winter. It feels good, and I find that the act of holding the drink alone gives me a more positive outlook on life. There's science behind this phenomenon: Hot Drinks Promote Warm Feelings. Among the findings of the study that that article is about are that holding a warm drink makes you more likely to perceive others as being warm people, and makes you more likely to be generous.

I don't know about you, but I really like the idea of feeling more generous and perceiving others more warmly. Although these are ideals I strive towards, I'm not always good at achieving them to the degree I'd like. I tend to be a bit of an inherently skeptical person. Sometimes, especially on days when I'm working alone, and when there's bad news of not-so-warm-and-fuzzy events happening in the world, I find it harder to get into a mindset of warmth and generosity. If drinking tea from a mug helps with this, then I'd gladly settle for a sub-optimal experience of the tasting of the tea.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Tea Blends: Three Types of Blends: Bad, Boring, and Artful

I read a post titled Tea Blends on the Taste of Tea Blog which got me thinking about the distinction between single-origin (single-region or single-estate) and single-harvest teas, and blends. Among die-hard tea enthusiasts there seems to be a general impression that "blends are bad". At least as far as my own opinion is concerned, I think that this is not the most constructive way of looking at things. It's a generalization that glosses over what I think are some of the more true and useful distinctions.

"Generic" And Low-Quality Blends:

Some tea companies seem to bolster their offerings by throwing together a large number of flavored teas, using a low-quality black or green tea, using the same base tea for each blend, and often using essential oils or even artificial flavorings rather than whole ingredients. Suffice it to say, if you're criticizing these sorts of flavored teas, I'm with you on this one. These would be the bad blends.

Blending to Uniformity:

Another type of blending is that which happens in big companies like Unilever, which owns Lipton, PG Tips, and a distressing number of other tea brands. Teas are blended in order to maintain a consistency of flavor. It's the McDonaldsification of tea: it always tastes the same. These would be the boring blends.

Boring is not always bad: some of the teas coming out of the Unilever complex and other big corporate behemoths can be pretty good. But, deep down, there's something artificial about them: tea isn't meant to always taste the same. Weather changes from year to year, and taste changes as you sample tea from different regions. Each batch is different and it takes a lot of effort and energy to make them taste the same. So in principle, I am also not a fan of this type of seems like wasted energy, doing a lot to achieve something which, in my opinion, is not a good thing.

Artfully-Blended Teas:

The final, and in my opinion, best type of blending is when the blending is done as an art. Obviously, these are the good blends These blends often have whole ingredients such as spices, herbs, or dried fruits, and they often involve traditional scenting methods such as the repeated scenting with jasmine blossoms used to produce jasmine tea. Artful blends have carefully chosen base-teas, chosen to mesh well with the other ingredients or flavorings used in the blend. Tea-only blends, if artful, are blended to highlight the unique qualities of the ingredient teas, not blend-out certain characteristics. In short, they're blended to be interesting rather than uniform.

In Conclusion:

There is nothing inherently wrong with blends. I find across-the-board criticism of tea blending to be baseless: what really matters is how and why the blending is carried out. Rather than going around criticizing blends we could be focusing on the companies that are artfully blending teas, especially those that are blending single-origin teas in such a way that highlights their unique characteristics.

I will probably always prefer pure teas and pure herbal teas, as I like to get to the bottom of learning which tastes and aromas are which. But I think blending can be an art and I want to encourage people to think positively about it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Writing About Expectations in a Tea Review

One thing that I like to include in my tea reviews, even if it's only a brief sentence, is discussion of what I expected of the tea, and how my experience with the tea met, exceeded, fell short of, or differed from my expectations. Some of the most common factors that set expectations for me are:

  • My previous experiences with teas of a similar style

  • The commercial description of the tea

  • The aroma and appearance of the dry leaf

  • What I've read about the tea from others

  • Contextual clues -- i.e. a paper tea bag that's been sitting around somewhere, I expect to be stale, or sometimes the visual design on the packaging leads me to expect certain characteristics from a tea.

I want to share two particular teas as examples: one that met my expectations very closely, and another that threw me for a loop.

One tea that met my expectations very closely was a Makaibari Estate Darjeeling First Flush from Arbor Teas. What set my expectations here? I know Makaibari estate, and I know that their teas have a particular character to them; I know that first flush tends to have a particular character, and I had a favorable impression of Arbor Teas at selecting good batches of tea, from what I was reading online. And when I tried it? It was very similar to how I expected it to be, and it was outstanding.

To contrast, a tea that really surprised me, was the Jade Oolong, also from Arbor Teas. This was my fifth review of a Taiwanese jade oolong, and up until this point, the teas I had tried all had a more-or-less similar character. The aroma of this one was much more woody, a characteristic I had only encountered in more-oxidized oolongs, mostly Chinese oolongs, at this point, and the aroma also had elements of spearmint and thyme, something I would not expect at all in this style. It also was much less floral than I was expecting. I also want to note that I don't think it matched the commercial description at all. I picked this example because my experience in this tea was not better or worse than I had expected, just different. There are, of course, numerous teas that I liked much more or less than I had expected, and perhaps I can share some at a future time!

What about you? Do you write about expectations when you write your tea reviews? (From reading other tea blogs, I think most people do.) What are some teas that have most closely met, or most glaringly failed to meet, your expectations?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Do you review teas the first time you drink them?

Do you review teas after the first time you drink them? I rarely do. When I do, it's usually only when I have enough tea only for a single cup or single brewing session, such as as when I have a lone tea bag from a commercial brand, or a very small loose-leaf sample.

Sometimes I feel a bit negligent when I'm taking my time. For example, recently I received a package from Sacred Rose, a company that sells herbal tea blends. I have begun to sample their herbal teas, and I will say that I am impressed. However, the package arrived a couple weeks ago, and I have yet to write a single review.

I also still have not reviewed all the teas I bought from Wegmans. Today I published a review of their Tomo Sencha.

Stay tuned; I will review all these teas and more!

Why wait so long?

I see several benefits in waiting to review a tea:
  • Sampling multiple times allows you to experiment with brewing method, both so that you can say something about how to brew the tea in your review, and so that you can arrive at what you see as the best brewing method to bring out the qualities of the tea you enjoy most.
  • Since mood and environmental factors affect your perception of tea, sampling a tea on different days, at different times of day, and in different contexts helps you to get a sense of what about your experience is really about the tea itself, and what was more a function of your mood or environment.
  • Many teas, especially unfamiliar ones, I do not fully enjoy the first time I try them. Tea is often an acquired taste, and I like to give myself an opportunity to acquire the taste of a new and unfamiliar tea before writing a review. There are some teas that I've outright disliked the first time I tried them, that I came to absolutely love in the end.

For me, this process sometimes works best if I space out my drinking of the teas over a couple oy weeks. How about you? How much do you wait and experiment before writing your tea reviews?