Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Holiday Greetings

Just want to wish you all the best during the holidays and new year! I'll be posting the next member of the tea family shortly; I've been quite busy with the holidays and work.

Best wishes teanions!

Monday, December 17, 2012

The 5 Tea siblings: White Tea

After our brief introduction to the tea family, I'd like to go into more detail regarding each type of tea; starting with the most gentle: white tea.

(don't worry, this post will be written with a more serious tone and (I hope) actually be informative)

White tea primarily comes from the Fujian Province but is also cultivated in Taiwan, Thailand, and certain areas of Nepal. It is a very gentle tea, lightly oxidized, and contains high levels of catechins (which are very good for you health). It is unique, both in it's preparation style and appearance.

Credit to this random site for the beautiful picture

White tea starts with a very strict selection process lasting from early spring to late spring. The chosen leaves are very young and covered with thin, wispy, white hairs. In fact, it is these hairs that give white tea it's name, and not the colour of the 'soup' (brewed tea) as most often believed. Once chosen, the leaves are allowed to bask and whither in the sun where they dry and take their shape. White tea is special as it's preparation process requires no panning, rolling, or shaking but instead, the young leaf is dried naturally. Once brewed, white tea can range from a lint green tint to a yellowish white.

White tea is a very mellow and laid-back tea, often very smooth and delicate. It has a subtle, sweet, and smooth aroma with little after taste and always leaves behind a feeling of warmth and comfort. I must admit that it is my least well-known tea simply due to my lack of exposure but it is a goal of mine to gain experience in the realm of white teas (as shown with my white tea sampler pack).

Two of the most famous white teas are Silver Needle (Bai hao Yin Zhen  ) and White Peony (Bai Mudan 白牡丹). The leaves appear as long, uniform, and thin while being covered in light-white hairs. People often describe the look as a "sparrows-tongue" as it has the same gentle spear-like shape.

Water temperature is very important when steeping white teas (as it is with most other teas). Unlike some of the more sturdy teas (black + pu-er), white tea is easily scorched if the water is too hot. This ruins the subtle hints of the tea and changes the experience entirely which is why it is recommended to use water that is around 160 degrees Fahrenheit or 71 degrees Celsius for a first steeping.

White tea can be steeped several times keeping in mind that a generous amount of leaves should be used because of it's delicate nature (2 teaspoons for buds, 2 tablespoons for leaves). Additionally, the water temperature should be increased by around 5 degrees Fahrenheit, or 3 degrees Celsius with each subsequent steeping. With care and the right amount of leaves, white tea will provide 3 beautiful steepings of increasing complexity. Make sure not to add too much water as the subtleties will be lost.

With all this in mind, I look forward to exploring the world of white teas. Stay tuned for a few white tea reviews and pictures!

The rest of the siblings can be found here

Here is a quick link to each of their pages

Monday, December 10, 2012

The 5 Tea Siblings: Introduction to the Tea Family

Mr. and Mrs. Tea met many years ago. It was a cool summer night, the stars were out, and a gentle breeze rustled the trees. Had you asked them back then if they could imagine where they would end up all these years later, Mrs. Tea would simply blush with a sidelong glance and giggle, and Mr. Tea would grunt affectionately while describing all the other varieties of shrubbery he could have chosen but was happy he didn't.

Despite some of their dry seasons, Mr. and Mrs. Tea stuck through it all and happily worked together to grow five rowdy little youngsters. Although the grew up in the same bush, these four brothers and their one sister could not be more different from each other.

The eldest of the five was a patient, calm, and meditative fellow named Pu-Er. He had been around a long time and knew that with patience and time, everything could be resolved.
Pu-Er Tea (Taken from this interesting blog)

Black Tea was the second son and always liked to joke that he had missed being the eldest by only a matter of weeks. Pu-Er never played along with this as he knew how much the extra years counted. This only agitated Black Tea more and often made him dark and moody.
Black Tea (Sasuke from Naruto)

Oolong was the happy middle child and liked to spend time with both his younger siblings and older counter parts. He learned much from his older brothers but still retained his youth and innocence from his younger years; never shying away from new experiences.
Oolong (Li Da Ren from In Time With You)

White Tea was the only girl out of the bunch and was the second youngest, and as such, she only related to Oolong, and her younger brother. Though she enjoyed the company of her closest brothers, she made sure to retain her unique, gentle, and lady-like characteristics.
White Tea (Belldandy from Oh My Goddess)

Green Tea was not only the youngest of the "Tea Five" but he was also the most rambunctious. This little one was impatient and always had something to say no matter what the conversation was. He often played well with others, but once in a while could be a little rascal.
Green Tea. (Meelo from The Legend of Korra)

Coming up: Meeting the Tea Five one-by-one

Edit: Here is a quick link to each of their pages

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Ottawa 2nd Annual Tea Festival

Hello Teanions!

Last week, while doing a bit of research and reading up on tea, I came across the 2nd Annual Ottawa Tea Festival being hosted at the Ottawa Convention Center. Despite my overwhelming urge to go and frolic with fellow teavers (tea-lovers), I had mixed feelings on going. Ottawa is two hours away from Montreal and at the moment of discovery, I had no one to go with. Not only that, but I had dinner plans back in Montreal which would mean a 4 hour drive for 4 hours in Ottawa....not entirely tempting.

Despite my hesitations, I threw out a public invite on facebook to see if fellow available teavers would surface. I had many bites, but due to exam season, I only had one catch. Good enough! I bought my tickets and started to psych myself up for an amazing, immersive, and bustling experience.


Turns out psyching myself up was a little bit of a mistake. In my head, I managed to put together a massive convention, filled with suppliers, retailers, experts, growers, anybody and everybody related to tea. My dream convention was held in a massive hall with aisles and aisles of tea. The air is filled with the unique smell and aroma of hundreds, no! Thousands of unique teas brewing; their scents all playing and dancing together. Fresh batches of tea are there for sampling and the booth representative is a chatty individual, able to recite an entire adventure behind each cup of tea. Where did the tea come from, who were the farmers, what unique characteristics does it have versus a similar tea; these are all questions that the representative could answer with beautifully weaved imagery and pertinent information. In my ideal tea convention, I would need to set a budget and pick and choose which teas to bring home with painful scrutiny, never one hundred percent sure that I made the right choice and fearful that I would not see such a collection of teas again. There would be unique teas from remote parts of the world, teas unlocked only by a 5 day trek on foot through misty mountains and vast valleys. A day in the convention would be a ticket to every small corner of the tea growing world.

My ideal convention began to take shape the moment I bought my tickets, and began to grow over two days. As I drove to Ottawa and got closer and closer, my convention started to take shape and the list of questions in my head began to grow. Where did they get their tea? What set it apart from it's counterparts? What types of hidden flavours should I focus on? My list grew on and on.

I gave in my ticket, got my hand stamped and walked into a bustling room lined with tea hushed  room slightly bigger than a classroom with a few hurriedly set up booths and a handful of people wondering around. I immediately dismissed my dream convention (putting the idea aside as a future goal) and focused on making the most of what was at hand.

The tea booths did not number very high. There were around 6 different tea retailers who set up booths and the rest of the booths (around 10-15) were all tea related paraphernalia (except for the pork sausage booth...still not sure why they were there). I must admit that I was a bit disappointed at the size of the event, but nonetheless, I gave it a fair chance; I started to wonder up the first aisle and started my quest for new teas (slowly as I had all day for a handful of booths).

I was mainly interested in trying white tea as it still remains a slight mystery to me. It's subtle taste does not linger and as such, neither did it's impression when I tasted it many years ago. It was my main goal for the event; luckily, I was not disappointed in the least as two of the booths carried a small variety of white tea to satisfy my curiosity.

The first booth worthy of mention was Tao's tea leaf, a store known in Ottawa. They had great presentation and a clever concept to sell sample size packets of tea. From them, I picked up 8 different types of tea which I will drink and experience at a later date (and share on this blog):

Silver Needle
High Mountain Green Tea
(Award winning) Golden Needle
(Award winning + personal favourite) Da Hong Pao
An Ji Bai Cha
Jin Ping Gong Fu (an incredible black tea I had the opportunity to taste)
(Award winning) Imperial Pu-Er
Organic Rooibos

A Selection of Pu-Er Teas at Tao's Leaf
They had a good selection of teas to try and sample and an excellent assortment of sample sizes to bring home. I was excited to question them further (and Mr. Tao in person) about his experiences with tea, and to hear about their teas directly from them. I was curious to know about their suppliers and their relationships, how they discovered the tea, and a unique tid-bit. Sadly, when I questioned them about it (and despite the lack of people) they referred me to their website and didn't offer much else. (though I just checked and their website isn't half bad and does contain information about their teas. Still, a personalized story or two would have been nice).

Jin Ping Gong Fu, an incredibly rich and layered black tea

The next booth I visited belonged to the pleasant people at Cha-Yi. Beautiful presentation, numerous samples, and a talkative staff made this my booth of choice. I picked up a sample pack of white teas which included:

Jinggu Theiers sauvage
Baihao Yin Zhen
Bai Cui Mei
Simao Bai Cha

The staff was very helpful and informative. They informed me that they have been opened for 2 years and take a yearly trip to China, Taiwan, and Japan to find new suppliers and develop a lasting relationship with local farmers and producers. The teas I brought home were from the Yunnan province, picked and prepared this year. I can't wait to try and talk to you about the ones I brought home.
Jinggu White Tea being steeped for tasting

All in all, I had a great time despite the small size of the event. The people were quite helpful and friendly, and I squirrelled away a good number of teas to try at a later date. If you are around the Ottawa region next year, I recommend stopping by...chances are, I'll be there!
Jinggu Tea - This was the 8th steeping and still incredibly flavourful

Stay tuned for future posts where I'll talk about the teas I tried and tasted (most of which I brought home)

Martin Out!

P.s. Teanion = Tea + minions

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Winter is Coming

Here is my first post which turned out to be not so-first-post-y

Winter is coming.

It is now mid-November in Montreal and it's starting to get cold. I'm not talking 'put on your hoodie' cold (like the West Coast, Ha!), I'm talking cold cold. Although we still have a few weeks before the  'stay in bed all day with two pairs of socks and a cup of tea' section of the thermometer, it's definitely getting there. While this means my daily commute is about to be extended by %200, I am looking forward to the months ahead as the weather gives me an excuse to brew and taste all sorts of comforting  and worldly teas.

Alright, winter doesn't really provide an excuse per-se to drink tea because, let's face it, I drink tea all year round, but it does make tea buying and drinking more acceptable to the none-tea-drinking horde out there (let's call them teagles).

You see, Teagles think tea is only acceptable on colder days and do not understand the many advantages (in terms of flavour, happiness, and health) to having tea all year round. When I make my tea runs in summer, Teagles will give me sideways glances as I exit a near-empty tear stores. They don't say anything, but they're thinking it.


But I digress. Despite the cold, the snow, the wetness, and general constant shiver, winter is a season that opens up many doors in the world of tea. While many enthusiast, and experts alike, look forward to the arrival of spring for the early pickings and young leaves, I tend to cast a longing eye towards the colder months of the year as it puts me in the mood for the richness and many layers of the darker teas which might have been a bit too full bodied a few weeks prior.

It was winter in mind that I decided to try a very particular Chinese black tea the other day at Chai Lounge in Montreal. The tea in question was called "Lapsang Souchong Butterfly" (shown below) and I must admit that I have never had one like it.
Lapsang Souchong Butterfly
 Image courtesy of TheInternationalTeaExchange

The tea is (very) often described as "A superior leaf, lapsang souchong offers a crisp character with the remarkable and heady aroma of an oak fire." It was unbelievably smokey; almost like someone left the leaves to dry by a campfire for many days. I had prepared myself for a tea rich in smokey undertones and layers, but what I got was a punch to the taste buds. In my opinion, it was overpowering and the smoky flavour was all you could taste and smell. The smell, taste, and after-taste was all the same and while it was interesting for the first few sips, it quickly became a bit much and disappointingly 'constant' in terms of flavour and aroma. That's not to say that I won't try it again, but next time I will know what to expect and can prepare accordingly. It also occurs to me that reducing steeping time would help to soften the teas character and my first impression might not be all attributable to the tea; the pot filled with leaves and water was sitting behind the counter for a good length of time.

Next time, I will be better prepared (and will ask for the leaves on the side). I will know what to expect flavour-wise, and I will have my own camera for pictures!

Is there a particular tea you enjoy during winter?

Mar-Tea Expands To Twitter


The tittle pretty much says it all

Follow me on twitter

Going to be original content! There is always something to say about tea!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tea and your health

Over the past couple of years, my health has been a big area of focus and one of the many things I turned to was (is) tea for its many benefits big and small.

Tea along with its healing properties has been a big area of research and debate, becoming increasingly popular, over the past many years with advocates for both sides. Some people think tea is little more than a pleasant, relaxing, drink while others feel that tea plays a fundamental role to maintaining good health and helping to fight disease and illness.

Different types of tea have differ properties but all tea share the following basic components (warning: complicated words coming up to be explained below): Polyphenols & alkaloids.

I didn't do so well in my organic chemistry class (hence why I went into engineering instead of becoming a veterinarian) but let us take a look into the two main components of tea and how they play a role in our well-being and health.

Polyphenols is a fancy word for organic molecules found throughout numerous plant species. If the word polyphenol does not ring a bell, then how about Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)? No? Don't worry, I only knew this component by its common name: "tannins". It's thanks to tannins that we have the boldness, astringency, and the slight bitterness (or heavy bitterness depending on steeping time) in tea. Tannins are not unique to tea but can also be found in red wines. They are known to be antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-parasitic and help to maintain overall good health

Though the word polyphenol might not have been familiar, I can guarantee you that you've heard of alkaloids, or more commonly known as caffeine. Alright, that is not entirely true since alkaloids are not restricted to caffeine, but caffeine is the main alkaloid found in tea (and is the same as the one found in coffee). Although tea contains caffeine, chances are you will not get the same affect as if you had a cup of coffee. It won't keep you up all night, you won't get the jitters, and you won't have the crash.

Caffeine in tea miraculously bonds and reacts with the natural tannins found in the same cup. This helps to stabilize the caffeine and ensures a slow, constant release into your system as opposed to the one-shot-jolt of coffee. It's interesting to note that because of this effect, the caffeine in tea works with, and stimulates, the central nervous system as opposed to the caffeine in coffee which reacts with your blood circulation. It is not uncommon to have an elevated pulse and higher blood pressure after drinking coffee, however tea will not give you this effect. Because it is released in a timely manner and reacts with your central nervous system, tea will help stimulate your body and mind (as oppose to excite it). This helps you be alert, think better, and concentrate as opposed to having a rumbling stomach and the jitters.

It is important to note that not all tea has the same benefits and this is due to the methods of preparation and age of the leaf when picked. Different teas are known to help in different ways.

Before I get into the different benefits of tea types, it would help if I quickly introduced my five friends. Tea is most popularly divided into the following five groups; green, white, black, pu-er, and oolong (wulong). I won't go into detail about them now, but will reserve that topic for a future post.

Back to the health benefits.

Generally oolong (wulong) are known to be very calming, rich, teas. Some believe that oolongs (as well as green teas) are good for loosing weight as they help to stimulate your metabolism and which boosts energy consumption slightly.

Green teas have been increasingly popular over the years and this is attributed to its high contents of catechins (a type of poluphenal, one of which is EGCG mentioned above). Along its slimming effects, green tea is very high in anti-oxidants (another big source of controversy and studies) and is said to have anti-cancer effects, increase mental performance, and be overall good for the body. It is recommended to have one cup of green tea a day, but you can always have more if you can't get enough. Green tea has a bit of a twist to watch out for however. It is a bad idea to drink green tea on an empty stomach as it is the harshest among it's brothers. Green tea is made from the freshest leaves (and sometimes youngest) and contains many extra components and nutrients due to it's freshness and preparation style. When consumed on an empty stomach, expect a bit of discomfort (or if it is a particularly strong green tea, quite a bit of discomfort...I learned the hard way).

Pu-Er teas (among being my favorite kind of tea) are much more gentle than his green tea counter part. After being allowed to age and think about life, pu-er tea gives up many of the harsher qualities of tea, favouring instead, to keep the calming effects and to aid with digestion. Pu-er teas are great to eat with dinner as they help to digest and dissolve fats and are quite forgiving caffeine wise, before bed.

Black teas decided to lean towards the dark side (ha!) and idolize its coffee counterparts. Rather than releasing caffeine slowly, black teas have an increased rate of release acting closer to coffee than green teas. Though lower than green teas, they still contain anti-oxidants.

White teas have the short end of the stick and are not commonly known to stand out one way or another. They are relaxing and delicious, 'nough said.

Is there a particular tea you drink for health reasons?

For more information about tea and health benefits, check out wikipedia's page about tea and health.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A budding enthusiast

Take two at a first post.

It turns out the first thing I wrote was more suited to a second post than a first post; it's a shame that my inner writer enthusiast pales in comparison to my inner tea enthusiast. Thankfully at the end of the day, this is a blog about tea, not writing.

My 'love' for tea started a few years ago but tea never moved past the casual beverage on a cold rainy day (though love is a very strong word and to be honest I can't say I loved tea as such...). I can actually remember my very first cup of loose-leaf tea (though I am slightly ashamed to call it 'tea' in retrospect). A friend of mine gave me a tin of aromatic loose leaf earl-grey tea from a little shop that opened near my house, and with it, a passport to a whole new world. I must admit that I was slightly less than thrilled when they handed me the tin as I had no prior contact with loose-leaf tea. Before then, I only knew of tea in two varieties; first being mint tea when I had a stomach ache, and second being my moms daily generic breakfast tea. This being my first loose-leaf experience, I did what any sensible person would do: I created a concoction composing of 4 parts sugar, 2 parts milk, and 1 part tea (hence why I am ashamed to call it tea). I wish I could say that I realized the error in my ways after a few cups, but sadly this habit continued for a number of years and many good tins of earl-grey were wasted and somewhere out there, a tea leaf was crying. Thankfully this all changed around three years ago.

November 16th 2009 (just past three years to the day!), when I was twenty-two, my life decided to flip-upside and mix things up a bit. All of a sudden, health became a very important issue for me and the sugar/milk concoction that I called tea just didn't cut it anymore (don't get me wrong, I still enjoy a cup of sugar with a few drops of tea every so often but my views and taste of tea has moved to a more purist perspective). I was looking for something, anything to give me an edge health wise and get better and lo-and-behold, I stumbled across tea. Real tea.