US League of Tea Growers Round-up 2015

round-upby Naomi Rosen

Maybe I was in the right place at the right time, or maybe it’s because I’m willing to work for nothing, but I am the very proud Social Media Coordinator for the US League of Tea Growers. I love this passionate group of people and am excited to see where US grown tea goes over the next decade or two.

In another fantastic first for the league, February 19th-22nd marked the first US Tea Growers Round-up and included visits with tea growers in Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The crowd was eclectic and included growers, educators, retailers, and enthusiasts. If you, like me, are fascinated by the birth of a tea growing region, you can catch a summary all of the happenings on the USLTG blog or catch a photo recap on their Facebook page. The first leg of the trip, Texas, is already detailed on the blog, and there are three more installments to come!

I will continue to keep updating you on US Tea as more and more growers join the ranks! Have you tried US grown tea yet? Where was it from and how did you like it?

Fine Words Butter No Parsnips – Ummm, What?

Fine Wordsby Naomi Rosen

I’m a sucker for a good tea blog. Well, I’m a sucker for anything tea related really, but I’ve had the pleasure of forming friendships with a pack of motley tea bloggers. The motliest of us all, Lord Devotea, sent out the Bat Signal via Facebook this week in the form of a status update challenging our group to use the title, “Fine Words Butter No Parsnips”, in a blog post this week. Challenge accepted dear sir!

But seriously, what the hell does that even mean? Turns out, it’s an old English saying that translates to “Nothing is achieved by empty words or flattery”. There’s a really great breakdown of how it came to be at The Phrase Finder. But how does that tie into tea?

I’m not going to point fingers and name names, but there is an awful lot of snake oil being sold with the label “tea” attached to it. And it grates on my every last nerve. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Misleading tea marketing (ie. direct from grower when it’s not, low quality tea being passed off as the good stuff, bogus fair trade and organic claims, etc.).
  • Beverages marketed as tea when they don’t have actual tea in them.
  • Dangerous and irresponsible health claims. (Seriously, one more “skinny tea” claim on my Instagram feed and my head is going to explode!)
  • A lack of transparency in the supply chain.

You know what does butter parsnips? Education. Grab all the information you can get your hands on and educate yourself on tea. Or whatever you are passionate about. Don’t just take one sources word on a subject. Be well rounded. Read all the books. Join the chat boards. Attend the local meetups and presentations. Steep hundreds of cups. Share the passion with your friends and family and steep hundreds of cups for them. Immerse yourself in the culture and you won’t have to worry about the butter or the parsnips anymore.

If you want to read what some of the my fabulous blogger friends wrote on the topic of Fine Words Butter No Parsnips, click on the links below. You won’t regret it, I promise. And browse through their past posts. You will likely find a new favorite blogger!

 

 

Kombucha: is it tea? Is it safe? Is it going to kill me in my sleep?

New batch of #kombucha is just about ready.

A photo posted by @audrea11 on

Recently, I have been making Kombucha; a fermented tea drink. I was told by my naturopath that I should increase my consumption of matcha, herbal tea and kombucha. So, like every other average American, I’m only following through on 1 of the 3 recommendations. As I’ve said before, I think herbal tea & matcha are for the birds, yo.

I don’t know why I thought that if I didn’t like matcha or herbal tea, that I would like fermented tea. I do like the idea of fermentation and adding probiotics to my diet and I am a big fan of other fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, salami, and wine. I am also a huge fan of tea. What could possibly go wrong?!?!

What is Kombucha?

Kombucha is essentially a scoby (mother or mushroom), made up of bacteria and yeast, tea and sugar all hanging out together. You leave them to ferment for about 10-14 days (depending on how long you forget about it). The scoby is pretty gross looking. It’s something that your little brother would’ve loved to rub in your face while holding you down after you tattled on him. Yeah. Tasty.

It consists of an initial fermentation period that can then be followed up with an optional second fermentation period where you add juice or fruit to sweeten it up.

How to Make Kombucha

If you’re looking for a How-To for making this, go look it up on the internet. I purchased a kit and followed instructions from GetKombucha.com. In fact, they have a 7 day introduction to kombucha email session that I highly recommend if you’re interested.

I managed to kill a couple of mothers, or scoby’s, or mushrooms, or whatever you want to call them. I also managed to make a concoction so sour that vinegar seemed sweet. Turns out, forgetting about it is NOT tasty. Set a reminder folks. :)

I haven’t been very adventurous with trying types of tea because I’m still trying to figure out how to make it taste as good as what I can buy at Whole Foods. I would just give up but it’s $4+ at the store and under $.50 if I make it at home.

What I’ve Done So Far

Below are the teas I used and the outcome is listed in order of preference.

  1. Oolong – I used Four Seasons which is one of my very favorite oolongs.
    It was great because it was light but still had some bite. I added some raspberries as the second fermentation and it was AMAZING! Seriously, do this. Try this. Then give it to me. I will take all your raspberry oolong kombucha.
  2. Green – I used a Sencha, which is one of the only green teas I like. I’m not a green tea fan but I liked how mild this one came out.
  3. Black – I used Hu Hong. I used it because most recipes call for black tea and this is my current favorite for black. Black tea makes for the most robust flavor and according to some random folks online, a strong bacterial profile. So if you like your profiles weak or less flavorful, try another type of tea. I went through a lot of black tea trying to get my brew just right. I would recommend using nicer teas after you’ve figured out what you like. You can start with Lipton while you’re figuring out how to get it right. It was sad to throw out a sour gallon of Hu Hong.

Up Next

  • Dark Rose – One of the tips you’ll read is that you should start with an unflavored tea. Flavorings can kill the scoby. However, I’m going to throw caution to the wind and try it with this tea next. I’m such a “buch” rebel.  <—- That’s me using the lingo. Dark rose is a black tea with only rose petals for a little extra flavor so I think it’ll be alright.

If you’ve been thinking about trying kombucha, I highly recommend it. It’s considerably cheaper to brew it yourself and it’s pretty good for you. Plus, even if you forget about it, it can’t outgrow it’s container and kill you in your sleep. You’re safe!

Do you like kombucha? Have you tried making it? Any ‘buch horror stories?

Welcome to Joy’s Teaspoon

That's me. Plucking fake tea. My family is super impressed!

by Naomi Rosen

I’ve been blogging for about 5 years now. Specifically, as the voice of Joy’s Teaspoon; a small, family-run tea company based in Las Vegas. I am always looking for motivation and information about blogging and I decided to start a Blogging 101 series by The Daily Post that began on February 1st. Homework assignment #1: write and publish a “who I am and why I’m here” post. So, I went looking through my blog archives. Certainly, after posting for 5 years, I had something that fell into that category. After reviewing every blog post I’ve ever written, I realized I hadn’t even come close. So here you go, my homework assignment from Day 1, 2 days late.

  • My name is Naomi Rosen and I am the owner of Joy’s Teaspoon; an on-line tea retailer.
  • I am an avid tea drinker and enthusiast who takes down 3-4 cups of tea a day.
  • I am a self-educated tea educator. I have spoken at the college level, as a presenter at World Tea EXPO, as a presenter at the Las Vegas Tea Fest, and as an instructor with the Las Vegas Tea Series. I’ve done special presentations for church groups, retirement homes, and even a veterinarian’s conference.
  • I have a passion for social justice within the tea industry and have been moving my company for a couple of years now towards a fair and just model of sustainability.
  • This blog is a tool with which I teach, question, and start conversations. Mostly about tea. Occasionally about the Spice Girls, Justin Timberlake, and Lady Gaga.

I look forward to continuing on this tea journey with a few new friends!

Tea Bloggers Roundtable 2015

by Naomi Rosen

For those of you that have followed Joy’s Teaspoon and myself for a few years now, you know that late Spring/early Summer is super exciting for me. World Tea Expo comes around and I’m like a kid on Christmas. This year is no exception.

World Tea Expo gives me the opportunity to accomplish an insane amount of work in about 3 days. I make new friends, catch up with the old ones, drink tea, order tea, attend educational seminars and presentations, talk tea, drink tea, brainstorm blog postings, meet with US tea growers…and did I mention I drink tea? As I have in years past, I will be a part of the Tea Bloggers Roundtable panel and I am excited to have an opportunity to speak with fellow tea bloggers. We discuss anything from blogging schedules, to creating topics, to traffic analysis, to partnering with other businesses and bloggers. It’s a fine collection of professionals and I wish that something like this had been around when I first started.

It’s an exciting time to be in the tea industry. Americans are falling in love with the leaf all over again, tea is being grown in the US, tea culture is spreading rapidly, and I have great tea in my cup daily. I’m excited about this years panel and need your help! I would love to bring a list of topics that you, the tea drinker, are interested in reading about! Shoot me a note. Reply to this post. We want to know!

Where Do I Start?

by Naomi Rosen

I have no idea how I have gone almost 5 years of peddling my teas and never written a blog post on where to start in the tea journey. I’m seriously slacking! I got the best email today from a gentleman named Josh who has tried a number of teas from a national retailer. He’s had some homeruns and some strikeouts and wanted to dive deeper into the overwhelming world of loose leaf teas. The problem: where to start? To summarize, he asked if he should start with whites, move to greens, explore oolongs, and then wrap it up with black teas. While this might seem like a logical approach to introducing your palette to the finer nuances of the tea leaves, I prefer a different route.

  • Many might disagree, but I would suggest not using blended or flavored teas. They’re great as an introduction, but the ingredients they are blended with (fruits, herbs, extracts, etc.) all detract from the actual taste of the tea leaves themselves. In fact, in many cases, blends are usually made with slightly lower quality tea leaves. Not bad tea, just not the same flavorful brew you would get from the top leaves of an unblended tea. If you think about it, it makes sense that if you’re going to mask the flavor anyway, why use really great tea?
  • Keep track of what you do/don’t like to try to avoid a distasteful cup. For example, there was an herbal blend Josh had tried that was tart and not his favorite. It had hibiscus in it, which typically adds a tart flavor. Note to self…don’t buy tea with hibiscus as an ingredient.
  • If you try a tea one time, and aren’t really a fan, you might still be able to salvage that tea. Steeping times and temps are a guideline for getting the perfect cup but aren’t always what suits your tastebuds. Try playing with the tea (steep longer/shorter, lower/raise the water temp, decrease/increase the amount of leaf used) and see if you can’t dial in a pleasant taste.

But still….where to start? I’m not really a fan of starting with white teas and working your way up. I think it makes determining your tea preferences tough. In my humble opinion, oolongs are a great place to start. The oxidation range in oolong teas traditionally can be anywhere from 30%-90%. Some are roasted. Some have been grown near orchid gardens. Some are allowed to have bugs eat the leaves. There’s so much variety in oolongs and how they are grown/processed. The flavor variations don’t just bounce around between different oolongs either. Did you know you can traditionally resteep the same oolong leaves (I’ve had oolongs I was able to resteep up to 7 times) and the flavors can drastically vary each time. Oolongs are just a great place to start learning what you like and don’t like. The lighter oxidized oolongs are sweeter, sometimes fruity or floral, and can help define what you might like in green and white teas. The darker oolongs or roasted oolongs, can help you determine what you might like in a black tea since the flavors run from nutty, to malty, to chocolatey…and everywhere in between.

I would also like to just throw in that Meetup.com  is a good place to look to for local tasting events in your area. I got hooked on one such tasting event in Chicago and it changed my whole mugs world!
Any suggestions for Josh, and other new tea drinkers, trying to expand their tea cabinets?

This Just In!

Amba OP1 with tea flowers

by Naomi Rosen

We’ve been slowly swapping out teas that were being sourced through outside blenders and replacing them with teas that are being sourced directly from the growers. It has been an extremely educational process and I am continually learning through every encounter with a new tea garden. The hard work has paid off too! Introducing the newest members to our tea line-up:

Amba OP1 

This black tea from Sri Lanka is incredibly unique, just like the tea garden it is grown in. About a year ago, I came across Amba Estate and shared their wonderful story. I’d encourage you to read about the revoluntionary steps being taken to cross-train employees and their profit sharing initiatives! The tea itself is true to Ceylon – brisk, honey and apple notes with beautiful dried tea flowers to make it so very different from any other tea you’ve tried!

Pucker Up

Also from Amba Estate, this herbal creation is organically cultivated lemongrass that has been hand plucked and processed. The expected citrus notes are simple and refreshing, and this lemongrass serves double duty as it can easily be used for cooking or garnishing a favorite dish or soup!

 

Suprabhat

Suprabhat, translated from Hindi, is “good morning”. This breakfast blend of Darjeeling and Assam teas, grown by the Prakash family, puts the “good” in “good morning”. If you are familiar with teas from either region, you know that each has a unique flavor profile and aroma. When I cupped these teas for the first time, I was ecstatic to find that you can still pick out those characteristics even though the teas have been blended. It takes cream/sugar very well…but I loved it on its own merits.

 

 

Black Pearl

I swear we didn’t name this tea after Johnny Depp, although, as I type, I’m jotting down my idea for a Johnny Depp inspired tea line. This black tea is our first single orthodox/unblended tea from Indonesia and it does not disappoint. The leaves have been rolled into a ball, similar to an oolong, and offer a honey-like sweetness that we fell in love with. Also similar to an oolong, these leaves take awhile to release all of their flavor so we were able to re-steep up to 4 times and were pleasantly surprised with each of those cups.

 

Monsoon Magic

The first loose leaf teas that I ever tried were Chinese (Dragonwell). The first loose leaf tea I ever tried that I became obsessed with was an Indian Assam. In my 4+ years in the tea biz, I have become acquainted with some amazingly passionate people trying to make a difference in the conditions, pay, and benefits for Indian tea workers. It is through these people that we came across Monsoon Magic and Heritage Teas. Having been plucked after the summer rains (thus monsoon), it is malty and brisk but lighter than the first and second flush Assams that would be close relatives.

 

Sencha Ikkyu

I’ve been on the lookout for some great Japanese green teas. This is the first Sencha we’ve carried from Japan (the others have all been Chinese). While both countries can produce beautiful Sencha’s, we fell in love with this one at World Tea EXPO. It’s sweet and the vegetal/grassy characteristics aren’t overwhelming. The steep time is 1 minute at the most and subsequent steepings literally just took a hot water pour over. We’re impressed with this tea and we think you will be too!

 

Genmaicha

Genmaicha has been a part of our tea family since the first 32 teas were launched! We did the old switcheroo on this one and discontinued the old blend and replaced it with this tea from an organic green tea farmer in Japan. We know that there was a bit of a price increase once we switched to this blend, but we think it is worth the increase. The flavor is toasty, nutty, and the green tea base is fresh and the perfect compliment on this tea. Added Bonus: this blend is organic!

 

We offer both Cinco (5) and Ocho (8) sampler packs if you would like to try out the full line of new teas. And we want your feedback! How’d we do?

Adopt-A-Tea-Plant

by Naomi Rosen

In June, my family and I traveled to New Orleans for a much anticipated vacation. One of the highlights of said trip was our adventure 2 hours north to Brookhaven, MS, and the home of The Great Mississippi Tea Company (yes, I sang the song in my head to spell that right!). Jason and Timmy were unbelievable hosts and answered every question my little tea growing noob brain could think of. For proof that I broke a sweat, you can visit the album on our Facebook Page. Our project that day was to assist with the digging/installation of the posts creating the framework for their new tea plant nursery. It was muggy, dirty work and I was ecstatic!

Now, here we are 5 months later. I am so proud of these guys! They’ve put thousands of tea plants in the ground and launched an incredible “Adopt-A-Tea-Plant” program today…just in time for the holidays! This is, without a doubt, one of the coolest gift ideas for the tea drinker in your life!

*A note to the adopters: Once you’ve completed the PayPal process, be sure to click on the “Take me back to the GMSTC page” option and enter your email address! 

Stay tuned for a multi-part series about the work being done down at The Great Mississippi Tea Company. They’ll roll out over the next month or two.

AND…since Joy’s Teaspoon is a very proud sponsor/adoptee of the MS tea plants, we’ll be giving away a couple of adoptable plants over the next few weeks. Pick your poison (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Google+) and we’ll get the details up in the next few days!

Mo Off 2014

DJ...Winner of the Great Mo Off of 2012

by Naomi Rosen

It’s that time again! MOVEMBER! I could have told you it was November without even looking at a calendar. First, it dipped under 90 here in Vegas. Second, all of the college aged men at my gym started looking a little “lumberjacky” around the 3rd.

A couple of years ago, we decided it would be fun to do a Mo Off. We’ve decided to do it again this year too! It’s simple…

  • Post a picture of you and your Mo, drinking your favorite tea, to our Facebook page.
  • Using your favorite social media networks (Twitter, FB, Instagram, Tsu, etc.) encourage your friends and family to “like” both the Joy’s Teaspoon FB page, and your picture. That’s it!

There will be two winners of $50.00 Joy’s Teaspoon gift certificates! 

  • Winner #1 will be awarded to the Mo with the Mostest…votes that is (“likes” only count if they have also “liked” the Joy’s Teaspoon FB page).
  • Winner #2 will be determined by the Joy’s Teaspoon staff and usually involves making us guffaw and snort.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy! So, get to posting!!  Winners will be announced on December 1st!

On a side note…a portion of our profits for the month of November 2014 will be donated to Movember.com. The Movember Foundation supports a multitude of men’s health groups and research and I encourage you to take a look at what they are doing to change the face of men’s health. Also, they’ve got all sorts of events planned for the entire month, including my personal fave, “The Running of the Mo’s”. 

Our 8 Favorite Fall Flavors

Spicy Apple

by Naomi Rosen

Fall is in the air, even here in Vegas. When we dropped into the mid-60’s a few mornings ago, my boys asked me if it was going to be a snow day. Then there’s Trader Joe’s and their pumpkin butter! Since it is the season for some of my favorite flavors and aromas, I figured now was a great time to share 8 of my favorite Autumn teas and some suggested recipes to go with them!

Spicy Apple and Spicy Pear – These two have a lot in common. Both have black tea bases and that spicy cinnamon zing. And both are subtly sweet due to their fruity additions. I’m a fan of pairing these teas with sweets, namely Banana Bread. Mostly because it’s freaking banana bread!

American Chai – This chai is heavy on the cinnamon and to compliment that flavor, it pairs really well with this Beef Chili with Cinnamon and Chocolate. It will help bring out the subtle chili and chocolate additions and, let’s face it, it’s the ultimate fall meal!

Tie Guan Yin – This oolong tea is unique because the leaves have been roasted to add a natural nutty flavor to the cup. Now, I know Thai noodles don’t seem very “Fall-ish”, but in my house, we eat them all year round. One of my favorite recipes is this Chicken Thai Noodle with Peanut Sauce recipe. If you are looking for a meat free option, this recipe is great with tofu as well.

Lapsang Souchong – If you’ve never tried lapsang souchong before, you are in for quite a treat. It’s a black tea that has been smoked over pine and because of that smokiness, it’s one of my favorite things to pair with salmon! In particular, this super simple Almond Salmon. You can even use some of the dried tea in the pesto to give the fish a subtle smoky flavor. Bonus Suggestion: Lapsang souchong paired with an aged cheddar cheese is quite possibly the tastiest thing you will ever put in your mouth.

Apple Cider – The only green tea to make this list, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that this green tea will be mild in flavor. Normally I would pair green teas with chicken and fish, but this flavor is strong enough to hold its own against just about any dish. I’m pairing it with an Apple and Onion Pork Chop recipe that is simple and one of my families hands down favorites!

Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland – Let’s go with the idea, for just a moment, that the perfect accoutrement (said in a my horrid French accent) to a delicious cup of tea is a scone. These Orange and Cranberry Scones are just the ticket! Winter Wonderland has star anise, oranges and cinnamon doing most of the talking and the sweet jab of orange and cranberry in the scone is refreshing without duking it out with those strong flavors.

Masala Chai – Traditionally, masala chai’s are made by steeping the leaves and spices in milk (vs. steeping in water and adding milk). Because of this, chai’s always make me think of sitting in a bakery. They’re rich and creamy and heavenly…and then you add something sugary and floury! Some of my favorite recipes to go with this fall staple include: Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes, Caramel Apple Cheesecakes, and Krispy Kreme’s Original Glaze doughnuts. Stop judging me! I’m sure I could make doughnuts to pair with it, but they would never beat KK!

Now I want to hear from you! What are some of your favorite fall teas and their BFF recipes? Have a better recipe idea to pair with on these teas? Let’s hear it!