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My sister teaches 5th grade. Those children are about 10 years old, and they have a lot of imagination, energy, and the attention span of a gnat. Every year, she teaches about the American Revolution, and she begins with a challenge to the hyper-active kids about uses for tea bags. She arrives with English Breakfast tea bags (this is a hint of what’s coming) and the kids work in groups to come up with novel and interesting uses for the bag of tea. They may include the packaging in which the the tea comes. They are not allowed to use the obvious, which is, making a hot or cold drink, with or without honey and lemon.

Ok children…….ready?


Here is the 5th graders uses for tea bags:

  1. a pillow for your pet mouse
  2. use the inside aluminum packaging to signal when you are stuck in the mountains taking your 92 year old grandma on a hike, and you have lost your way. Oh, where are those boy scouts?
  3. yo-yo replacement string
  4. cat litter. You will need more than one bag of tea unless it is large.
  5. cleaning windows. Once again, you may need more than one bag, unless you are really efficient. 
  6. air freshener. Really????
  7. a lasso for a mouse. Is the mouse being lassoed or is the mouse the perpetrator, lassoing his fellow mice?
  8. half a pair of earrings
  9. toothpaste, or is that teeth-paste? That’s a sister joke. 
  10. use the tea bag string to floss your teeth.

Then my sister announces one last use for bags of tea: overthrowing a government, and with that, she begins her chapter on the American Revolution and the Boston Tea Party.

Tea and tea bags are so versatile, like Duct Tape, WD-40, and staples, for hems that sag. History is pretty versatile as well.

Not a straight water fan (no taste), I drink cold tea. Especially in the summer. As I have an East facing kitchen window, I make sun tea: cold water, tea, and time. The tea sits overnight, the flavor is absorbed by the water, and in the morning, voila! cold, all-day-sipping tea. No heating water, no timers, no mess. 

But I was interested to know, taste wise, if there is a difference between sun tea, and hot tea with added ice cubes. Turns out, there is a huge difference.

Starting with Assam black tea, and any tea will work, I poured some into a glass container, filled it with cold water, replaced the lid, and wandered off until the next morning. Black sun tea has a beautiful color, and smells strongly of flavor. The taste is subtle, with no aftertaste, no bitterness, no astringency. 

Anticipating the comparison, I brewed the tea hot, then added ice cubes. The taste test was a no-brainer. The ice cube tea didn’t smell as flavorful, and the taste was mildly flat and diluted, like ice cubes had been added to it. 

Because I thought that this might happen, I also brewed hot tea, and allowed it to cool to room temperature. It fared only moderately better than the iced tea. 

Chemistry changes the taste between hot and cold water brewing methods, and for my taste, I prefer the easy-peasy-lemon-squeezie version of cold water, tea, patience, and wonderfulness.

The great thing about Steven Smith’s teas are how subtle they are. Smooth doesn’t begin to describe them. White Petal #72 is no exception. It is a white tea, full leaf, with osmanthus flowers from China, and chamomile petals from Egypt, though it doesn’t taste at all like chamomile. Enough with put-me-to-sleep chamomile teas. The tea leaves of #72 hail from the Fujian Province of China, one of the most productive areas for tea growing in China. The number 72 refers to the number of chamomile petals in each ounce of White Petal tea.

White teas are high in antioxidants, having exceptional health benefits. Who doesn’t want to live well for all of their life?

And white teas don’t need such hot water. Although any tea can be drunk at any temperature, including the standard 212 degrees, this tea is better served at 190. It brings out the full subtle, sweetness when it isn’t scalding your mouth at the usual 212.

For this and other interesting teas and tea facts, come to the NW Tea Festival, Oct 4th & 5th at the Fischer Pavilion at Seattle Center.

Mango SunshineThe smell alone is heavenly. I don’t even care that there is no real tea in it. It’s a tisane with mango, orange, strawberry, tangerine, and pineapple pieces. It is definitely an iced tea summertime drink. Hot, it’s nice; cold, it’s unbeatable.

Run to the Perennial Tea Room on Post Alley, near the Pike Place Market and check this out. They have real teas, too.

And visit them at the NW Tea Festival, Oct 4th & 5th, at Fischer Pavilion at the Seattle Center.

Perennial Tea Room

Jasmine Silver NeedleIf you visit the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, in San Francisco, there is a Tea House. You can spend an afternoon gazing at the koi ponds, the cherry blossoms, and the landscape of the Garden while sipping Jasmine Green Tea. Surprise to me, not all jasmine tea is green tea. As in everything, there is variation.

I purchased some Jasmine Silver Needle tea, from Silk Road Teas. This is a white tea, harvested in Fujian Province of China, in the early spring. The buds are marginally oxidized to better absorb the delicate jasmine scent. Both dry and wet, the leaves are pungent with the smell of delicate flowers. As a perfume, jasmine is sickeningly sticky sweet, and should not be worn by anyone older than eleven, but as a tea, it is subtle and soothing. This is another one of those Emperor’s Teas, those which were not available to the common man until the world of the Emperor was gone. Now, anyone can drink any of the teas, as there is no one to tell them that they cannot. I have a new understanding of the Boston Tea Party.

I was interested to taste the difference between Jasmine White Tea, and Jasmine Green Tea, so I purchased Jasmine Pearls, also from Silk Road. Pearls are created by rolling the tea leaves into small balls, or pearls. While steeping, the pearls uncurl, leaving a fresh scent and a pleasant taste. While the green leaves are picked earlier, the jasmine scenting doesn’t happen until later in the summer. Flower petals are introduced into the tea, then removed. This is a hand process that can happen up to seven times: introduction of jasmine, removal of jasmine. I wonder if that works with kids and spinach.

Silk Road Teas has a wonderful selection, and you can purchase much of it at the Perennial Tea Room, on Post Alley, up the street from the Pike Place Market. 

Both the Perennial Tea Room and Silk Road Teas will be represented at the NW Tea Festival, Oct 4th & 5th, at Fischer Pavilion, at the Seattle Center. You can make your own discovery.

Originating in St Petersburg, Russia, but now based in France, Kusmi Tea has been blending tea since 1867. They now sell 65 different teas. I decided to try three that had bergamot added because well, why not? I wanted three, and they were right there on the shelf, calling my name. I was interested to see how other flavors would influence the bergomot.

The first I sampled was Paris, or Bouquet of Flowers #108. Were there 107 previous blendings? Or do they just arbitrarily pick numbers? I always wonder… The tin displays both names, so which is it? Paris? Or Bouquet of Flowers #108? The website says nothing about Paris, but there it is on the tin. 

Oh those Russians………………

Aside from that, the tea was a China, Ceylon, and India tea mix, with scents of bergamot, citrus, and flowers. The bergamot was strong, but the citrus and flowers toned it down nicely.

The other tea similar to that was the Troika, also a China, Ceylon, and India tea mix with a stronger citrus overtone.

For those who like Earl Grey, and bergamot, these teas fit the bill. They are traditional, with a subtle twist.

The third tea, Prince Vladimir, was a straight China tea with, once again, scents of bergamot, citrus, vanilla, and spices. The vanilla was a nice surprise, and this, I felt, was the most even blend. The tea was strong, like a breakfast tea, but no one taste dominated. 

Next time you are at a tea shop, pick up something new. Put down that English Breakfast, and try something else. Don’t keep buying the same, same tea. There are thousands of teas, and tea companies. Get around, brighten up your day, scare your taste buds. Experiment. 

And come to the NW Tea Festival, Oct 4th & 5th at Fischer Pavilion at Seattle Center. 

Wanting a black tea that was smooth and not too strong, I bought some Golden Monkey. It smells slightly sweet, and tastes a little like chocolate and malt. The color is rich, the flavor subtle. Even the second and third steeping was mellow, with beautiful color. The taste lingers on the tongue long after the tea is consumed. 

As to the name, I always wonder where someone came up with Golden Monkey. Was Happy Hippo already taken? Makes no sense to me, even when I am told that the leaves resemble the feet of monkeys. Does the photograph look like monkey feet to you?

Most tea drinkers are aware that black tea is the most consumed tea in the world, and yet, there are vast taste differences in black tea. Teas coming from India and Sri Lanka (Assam and Earl Grey) are strong, sometimes harboring an astringent taste. This is where milk and maybe sugar help. 

Golden Monkey was a Chinese tribute tea, meaning, it was paid in tribute to China’s Emperor. And only the Emperor drank it. However, there is no longer any Emperor, so everyone drinks Golden Monkey. Lucky us.

Black tea goes through a process of withering, rolling, roll-breaking, sifting, oxidation, and grading to become the finished product.  That is a lot of steps, and opportunities, to get it either delightful or tedious. Which may explain why some teas are more expensive and complex than others. You can literally taste the difference. 

You have an opportunity to taste scads of tea Oct 4th and 5th at the NW Tea Festival, at Fischer Pavilion at Seattle Center, in Seattle. Mark the date, enjoy the experience.

The past week has been surprising warm. Hot, even. These are the days that iced tea is most appealing, and I have been brewing batch after batch. I don’t like drinking plain water, so I make iced tea the old fashioned way, using cold water, a window sill, and time. This dispenses any bitterness, and insures that I drink the required amount of fluid each day. An adequate amount of fluid reduces the threat of wrinkles, or so I have been told. I don’t even care if it’s true or not. It could be. I am not taking any chances. 

The obvious teas that ice well are the black teas, and the herbals. So I am avoiding them. Instead, I am making iced green teas, and whites, with some refreshing and light flavors. 

Japanese green tea produces a tangy iced tea. I use Sen Cha, from Sugimoto Tea, which is sold at Uwajimaya, an Asian specialty supermarket in Seattle. The taste is refreshing, the same sort of feeling I get from something citrusy. It perks up the mouth, and your brain says, “hey, what’s this?” Doesn’t it?

Iced Sen Cha is very different from hot Sen Cha, like two entirely different teas. The other tea that surprises me, cold, is Chado Tea Room’s White Champagne Raspberry. Delicate when hot, it seems to pick up flavor when cold. It smells like summer, and a trip to the lake. 

Now we are having a cold, miserable, rainy day, and I am opting for Snow Lotus’s Honey Orchid Black tea. Dry, the huge, dark leaves smell like, well, honey, and brewed, it has a sweet and almost nutty taste. It’s a tea that can be steeped many times, and still retain a smooth taste and mouthfeel as I wait for the rest of summer.  

You can sample these teas at the NorthWest Tea Festival, Oct 4th & 5th, at Fischer Pavilion at Seattle Center. Or anytime before, for that matter. 

Come, taste and experiment with teas you know, and some you don’t.

How tea spread to the world, from China, is an interesting story. Originally, tea was used to pay taxes (a tribute) to the Emperor. The last dynasties of the Chinese Empire: the Tang, Song, Qing, and Ming, choose the best of their products to offer to the Emperor, and to win his favor.

The Emperor, of course, liked some teas, and didn’t like others, leading to favorites of the Emperor, called tribute teas. Once the tea growers established which were the Emperor’s favorites (Yellow tea is an example), the competition began to produce the very best of his favorites. Production methods improved, and better teas for the Emperor were the result. 

As we know in all countries, dynasties, and empires, favorites of those in power have an easier life than those not so favored. It behooved the growers to curry the favor of the Emperor. China was a harsh environment. 

The Emperor kept the best teas, and his favorites, for himself (no big surprise there), and shared the not-so-stellar, and common teas, with visiting dignitaries, who grew to appreciate them. They didn’t know the difference. Ignorance really is bliss. The dignitaries, and some court officials as well, took them home and this is how tea spread across the globe: second rate tea sent out to the world to popularize it. That’s ok: in 1911, the Chinese Empire was toppled, and since then, we can all drink the Emperor’s tribute teas. So much for not sharing.   

The farmer’s market in San Francisco has the usual fruits and vegetables, and something extra: a tea vendor. The Loose Leaf Tea Company proclaims “tea with a purpose.” You can mix your own for your own ailment or taste, change any of the blends, or buy pre-made, which is what I did.  

I tried the Organic Earl Grey and the Ginger Rush. The Earl Grey was what you would expect, but the Ginger Rush was the interesting tea. Assam black tea and ginger. Two ingredients, that’s it. Easy peasy. Ginger is an acquired taste for most people, and apparently, I have acquired the taste. It’s fascinating what can be added to tea. Almost anything.

There’s an earthy taste to Ginger Rush, and all that ginger, which is helpful for digestion and cholesterol. Does that mean that this would be a good tea to drink with donuts? That’s a future experiment………..

Tea companies are springing up everywhere, which means, people are drinking enough tea to support all these companies. For awhile, anyway. 

It’s nice to see more support for the tea industry, and if you are in Seattle in the Fall, you can find local (to the West Coast) vendors at the Northwest Tea Festival, Oct 4th & 5th, at Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center.

Some fabulous tea tasting will be going on……….