Monday, March 25, 2013

Mar-Tea on Facebook

We've expanded to facebook!

The goal of the little step forward is to be closer to our readers. Not everyone logs in to Blogger, but everyone logs into Facebook and we'd love to hear from you.

You can look forward to announcements, discussions, and events; so make sure to 'like' us.

In the meantime, here is my current tea wallpaper (click for full size).

Happy Steepings

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tea Review: U Green Tea

New pop-up on the Montreal Tea scene: U-green-tea!

I was passing through the alleyway between Les Cours Montreal and Place Montreal Trust with my cousin Janet and we happened upon this new joint. "U-Green-Tea". Minimalistic and clean in design, the concept is simple-- serving tea like coffee.

U-Green-Tea has 2 main tea bases: Japanese Matcha or Black Tea. The matcha is prepared in a large bowl and frothed in the traditional way with a Chasen (whisk). You can have the tea as-is, or in the form of a latte. The way the black tea is prepared is quite interesting as well as it is ground up like espresso beans and run through an espresso maker! You can have it like a shot in a latte or allongé or simply like a large tea.

Jim whisking the matcha
Jim pouring the 'espresso-style' black tea
into a cup for a black-tea latte.

I opted for a plain matcha the first time, and a matcha latte the second time. Janet got a black tea latte, as did Martin, during my second visit. How did I like it?

Well enough! The other day I was sitting with some friends and though to myself, "Man. I could really use a matcha latte from U-Green-Tea right now!" The flavour was clear but not too strong, and I appreciated the process and natural ingredients used. Martin preferred the green-tea latte while Janet preferred her black-tea latte. Their most popular flavour right now is their vanilla matcha green-tea latte. The price was also reasonable. I think my large latte came in a little under $4.00. They're also doing a opening '2-for-1' after you buy your first cup, only 2,000 available with no expiry. I picked up a few and have promised to share them, so let me know if you want one.

If you happen to go, you might see Jim or his sister behind the counter. I asked them what made them decide on doing tea this way-- Jim explained that this method of drinking tea is currently very popular in Japan and they decided to bring it here. They also have a bunch of delicious looking treats behind the counter, though I forget if they are tea-related.

A cute selection of treats behind the counter.

The only thing I think might cause an issue for them is the speed-- preparation is careful and precise (which I really do appreciate), though in this case also meant slow. The first time we went, there was no-one so we were served right away. The second time there were 2 couples before us and we waited a bit. If we were rushed for time we probably would have bounced. The place is very new so we'll see how they do!

We definitely wish them well, as they bring something new to the Montreal-tea scene.
Have you passed by and tried U-Green-Tea? How was your experience?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Loose Leaf Tea vs. Tea Bags

Some of the strongest resistance I've encountered from people trying loose leaf teas surprisingly doesn't come from avid coffee drinkers (they know the value of quality), but instead comes from people who drink tea... ~gets on my high horse~ or should I say: drink tea made from tea bags.

Now I'm not saying that tea bags don't have their uses, they have lots of practical applications:
  •  Get rid of eye dark circles
  • Used to dye paper and make it look really old
  •  Twirling it around your head and competing who can throw it the furthest
  •  Tea bag nunchucks
  • Quick steep on the go

 I digress, I won't get into bashing tea bag drinkers (heck, I do it too once in a while), but instead will present the facts plain and simple and let you decide.

Loose Leaf Vs. Tea Bags

Round 1: Steeping

Multiple steeps (value): Consumers now a days are quite concerned with getting the most for their penny and saving where it counts. With the higher price tag on loose leaf teas, one would be inclined to save a bit and pick up bagged tea but in fact, I would like to propose that you would be loosing money!
Tea bags do not provide great multiple steepings and are at most a 2-3 time use (3 is pushing it  but I guess it depends how strong/weak you like your tea). On the flip side: some loose leaf teas can be steeped up to 6 or 7 times and, if you're really in it for value, the leaves can even be munched on after! Talk about value.

Steep Control: A selling point for many products is presenting personal choice and having it "your way". Tea is no exception to this rule and loose leaf tea offers a great amount of customization in your cup. Being able to control the amount of leaves in your cup lets you control the flavour and intricate aromas. While you could argue against this and say that you have just as much control over aroma and flavour by playing with steeping time, I would have to disagree. Increasing steeping time increases the risks of releasing the bitter undertones, while keeping the steeping time the constant and increasing the quantity of leaves will simply increase the concentration of flavour without risks of ruining the brew.

~ding ding ding~ Round 1 goes to Loose Leaf

Round 2: Qualitea (sorry, I had to)

Knowing what you're getting: While the ingredient list on the box of bags can provide some insight to what is contained in them, ultimately knowing what's inside a tea bag relies heavily on faith. Tea bags contain a blend of leaves (and anything that might be included) and even if you open the bag and look inside, you won't be able to ascertain much more. Sadly aside from leaves, tea bags also contain a high proportion of stems (which do not contribute greatly to the taste) and I would dare say any unlucky little bug that made it's way through the cleaning process (don't spit out your tea, I'm sure it's very very minimal).
Loose leaf, on the other hand, is fully transparent and exposed. You can smell and see the tea before committing to a cup. There is no hiding any stems or extras as it would be revealed upon initial inspection, steeping, or the after drink scrutiny. Before steeping, you can examine the leaves and determine the general quality off the bat (future post!). Once finished, you can examine the unfurled leaves for markings, rips, and consistency. You know what you are getting, and more importantly, what you're drinking.

Closer to nature: Loose leaf teas are more natural and truly offer what I like to refer to as "The leaf, water, and you" experience. A quality loose leaf tea will have no added essential oils (you can determine this by looking for little oil pools floating on top) and will be prepared straight from the tea bush to your cup (some new tea chains popping up add essential oils to their leaves. watch out!). Tea bags are more synthetic and go through a longer process between being picked and being steeped. Being chopped up into little pieces exposed the leaves to oxidation and alters their original intended flavours.

~ DING~ Round 2: Loose Leaf

Round 3: Elitism

A Cooler Collection: I've never seen someone be proud of their tea bag collection...just saying.


~Dismounts high horse~

 Don't get me wrong, bagged tea can be quite good and practical when in a bind. It is easier to grab on the way out the door in the morning, and less of a hassle to deal with (though you can always bag your own tea). Some of the 'classier' brands offer quite passable and pleasant tea experiences, but I still prefer a loose leaf to a bag any day. If you haven't already tried loose leaf, send me an email to and I'll be more than happy to send a little sample your way along with a little how-to guide.

Any thoughts?

(also...I've never heard of loose-leafing someone!)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tea Teasers

A quick thought occurred to me!

If ever you would like to sample the teas we talk about on the blog, send a quick email with your name and address to and we'll send over a little sample so you can taste the experience with us!

Tea's meant for sharing

Monday, March 4, 2013

The 5 Tea Siblings: Green Tea

Hello Tea Readers!

So here it is, finally the last post of the tea family. After two months (whoa!), we are going to get to know the youngest of the tea siblings: green tea.

If you're looking for the pure and clean "leaf & water" experience, then green tea is where you should start. Ignoring it's numerous and abundant health benefits (full of antioxidants!), green tea is also unique since it is the purest form of a tea leaf, one that is the least altered in the creation process. It's oxidation process is very tightly regulated and restricted which gives, both the leaf and the resulting brew, the green colour associated with the name. As green teas are mostly unoxidized, long term storage of green tea can lead to a change of flavour and colour as the leaves will oxidize over time. This is why I recommended to not be stingy and enjoy your green teas to their fullest by having them within a respectable time frame after purchase (also make sure that they have not been sitting on the store shelf for very long)

Unlike some other types of teas, greens teas are produced in many countries and with a variety of techniques and conditions, giving each cup a personality and unique aspect. Green teas are known to come from China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan and though the basic 'no fermentation rule' is shared, teas from each country can vary greatly. A future post will explore the different techniques used by these countries in picking and preparing green teas.

As green tea comes from a large variety of climates, it is produced year round (though temperate zones can only produce certain months of the year). Though this might sound like good news to green tea lovers, it is a double edged sword as the quality of green tea is influenced by the number of times the plant was harvested in a given year as well as the time of year of the harvest. Surprisingly, some bushes can be plucked (harvested) as often as every three weeks, depending on the region and climate of course. Though this yields high amounts of tea, the best quality often comes from plants that have fewer pickings. The most sought after harvest is the early spring harvest when the buds are still young, soft, and bursting with gentles aromas and wholesome nutrients. The first teas of the new season are greatly anticipated and stores are known to clear their inventory to make room for the first arrivals of spring, followed then by the mid-spring harvests. Unfortunately, these teas can be quite expensive back home as there is a high demand, and limited supply (like most things...)

The style of green teas varies greatly depending on its region of source so do not be surprised when you see a variety of shapes and sizes, some even resembling other types of teas. Green teas can share the sparrow-tongue shape common to white teas, be spiralled + compressed + crimped, or even rolled into little pearls (such as Jasmine tea discussed in Als' post).

Not only do the styles vary greatly, but quality does too and knowing what you are looking for when buying a green tea is critical to enjoying a perfect cup. This applies not only to green tea, so expect a Buyer's Guide post to be out soon, full of little tips about buying teas, questions to ask, and the quality scale of each type.

How does one enjoy the perfect cup of green tea? Let's say that you are lucky enough to get your hands on a first spring pluck, pay extra close attention not to ruin the tea during steeping! Since green teas are young and delicate, they like their baths to be a comfortable temperature (unlike the scalding baths of black tea). It is recommended to use water that is brought down from a boil and allowed to cool before steeping the leaves, but I will take this advice one further. Use water that is just under a boil and allowed to cool as I feel that boiling the water can change it's tastes and how it interacts with the leaves. I found an incredibly interesting guide to visually tell the temperature of water and I will make sure to post it up. If the water is too hot, the leaves will be burned and bitter as opposed to the hidden sweet qualities that green tea will shyly reveal.

Depending on the country of origin, green teas require different temperatures and different amounts.
  • China: 1-2 teapoons for buds, 1-2 tablespoons for leaves @ 71-81c (160-190F) depending on age of leaves
  • Korea: 1-2 tablespoons 76-81c (170-180F)
  • Japan: 1-2 teaspoons 71-76c (160-170F)
Green teas offer 1 to 3 steepings with a steeping time ranging from 90 seconds to 2 minutes. You can arguably try for more steepings and I promise that the tea police will not knock on your door. I will admit that with particularly young and soft leaves, I've been known to eat a few leaves after I finished my brews. In fact, it is for this reason that my tea teacher in Taiwan nicknamed me the Canadian Cow (Jianada niu) might laugh, but it is a habit that quickly caught on with both my fellow students and the teacher as it is a surprisingly good way to tell the quality of the leaves!

So that wraps up our tea family introductions. As I mentioned, I'll be bringing future posts about buying and quality tips! If you did miss the other tea siblings, make sure to check them out: