Cup of Tea and a Blog

Welcome to my spot for musing about all things tea. Here you'll read reviews of quality teas, click through comments on tea rooms and shops I've visited, and see photos of leaves and cups. You’ll also find things I might talk about over a cup of tea, like philosophy, literature, current events, or fun ways to pass the time.

Location: Pacific Northwest, United States

Please see my current blog at

04 July 2010

Melting Teapot

I no longer maintain this blog, but if you're interested in reading more from me please check out my Melting Teapot blog at It has many posts about adventures of the tastebuds, and you'll find much to read about tea, wine, and food.

20 May 2006

Tea Poetry

I've been reading Drifting, a book of poetry by Dominic Cheung (Chang Ts'o). The book was awarded with Taiwan's prestigious literary award, the National Literature and Arts Prize in 1989. The poems have been translated to English by the author. The work is accessible, beautiful, and and filled with vivid imagery.

Tea is an important image in this book, and I'd like to share one of the more sensual poems with my fellow tea geeks.


Love Poems of Tea

If I, the boiling water,
And you, the tea;
Then your fragrance
Has to depend solely upon my plainness.

Let your dryness inside me
Softly uncoil and stretch;
Let me dissolve
Imperceptibly, your tension.

I have to be hot, even boiled
Before we consume each other;
We have to hide, see and hold
each other in water
to decide
a tea color.

No matter how capriciously
you drift;
Gradually and slowly
(O' gently)
You will into me submerge--

by that moment
the most bitter tear of yours
will become a best sip
of my fragrance.

Cheung, Dominic. Drifting. Green Integer: Los Angelos. 2000. p. 18.

19 April 2006

Recently Clicked, April 19, 2006

I’ve organized this post into three categories: photos, articles, and fun stuff. Enjoy clicking your way through!

Photos & Art

Wellcome Library, out of the UK, “provides insight and information to anyone seeking to understand medicine and its role in society, past and present.” They have some nice photos and art available online, including these images of tea preparation from an Asian exhibit:

The New York Public Library Digital Gallery was “developed to provide free and open online access to thousands of images from the original and rare holdings of The Library.” I did a quick search for “tea” and was given a list of 47 images. You can enjoy these images online, or you can purchase prints. Here are a few of my favorite images:

I’ve posted links to tea photos from TrekEarth before, but here are a few new ones I’ve enjoyed:

Articles & Resources

Tea Glossary, by Most of the tea terms were already familiar, but I did learn at least one new slang term – a “billy.” Click through to the web site to see what it is, if you don’t already know. You can also check out this TrekEarth photo: Billy Tea.

I sampled some Korean tea for the first time at the Tea Expo, and hopefully there will be more in my future. Here’s a nice informational web site for anyone else who’s interested in Korean tea culture: Korean Tea Pages.

The China Window web site has several articles on the culture of tea in China:
  • Chinese Tea, an overall history and look at the culture of tea.
  • Teahouse In Sichuan Province, a brief but interesting description.
  • Chinese Tea Culture, basic information on categories, regions, and cultivation.
  • Drinking Gongfu Tea, with photos.
  • Huangmei Opera, “Bordering on Anhui Province, Huangmei in Hubei is a count famous for its tea and tea-picking songs, from which Huangmei Opera got its original name, "tea-picking tunes" or "tea-picking opera".”

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration web site has an article (previously published in their 1996 consumer magazine) called, “Tea: A Story of Serendipity," by Marian Segal. I’m sure that the percentage of green and oolong tea-drinking has changed somewhat in the last decade, but I was interested to find out about the historical shift described here:

” Tea tastes vary, and one aficionado who squirts lemon in his cup may cringe at the sight of another pouring milk or honey. But no matter how the tea may be doctored, in the United States the odds are overwhelming that it starts out black. Nearly 95 percent of all tea consumed here is black, according to the New York City-based Tea Council of the U.S.A.; 4 percent is green, 1 percent oolong, and 1 percent flavored.

That wasn't always the case, and our proclivity for drinking black tea over green or oolong may have been influenced by events in history. Sixty years ago and more, the amount of black and green tea Americans drank was split fairly evenly--each accounting for about 40 percent of the market--with oolong constituting the rest. During World War II, however, the major sources of green tea--China and Japan--were cut off from the United States, leaving us with tea almost exclusively from British-controlled India, which produces black tea. Americans came out of the war drinking nearly 99 percent black tea.”

I’ve also added a few blogs to my weekly reading list:

Fun Stuff

If you’re a Mac user like me, you may be interested in this free downloadable software: Cuppa, a brewing timer for your computer. It lets you keep track of different times for different teas. I’ve downloaded it to use in hotel rooms when traveling.

I have a great fondness for the claymation antics of tea-and-cheese-loving duoWallace and Gromit.

Orisinal Games are cute, sweet, mini-games that you can play online. One of their most recent is A Daily Cup of Tea, where you control two mice who are stealing sugar cubes.

I’m ending this post with a link to “The evils of tea (and the virtues of beer),” excerpts from William Cobbett's Cottage Economy, published in 1822. It’s a hoot to look back at his arguments, especially now that we know so much about the healthy properties of tea.

30 March 2006

Expo Seminar: Ancient Tea Forests

I’m back home now, writing up the last of my notes from the Tea Expo. Just before catching my flight, I attended:

“A Journey into the Ancient Tea Forests of Xishuangbanna, China”
By Sean O’Leary, photojournalist, Rishi Tea

Wednesday morning’s seminar speaker was a photojournalist who travels with Joshua Kaiser to document Rishi’s organic tea trade and sources. Again, a booklet with small images of the presented slides was provided with plenty of space for notes. This was good because I was writing whenever not looking at the fascinating images. What’s below is an attempt to make sense of the scrawled notes that fill my booklet.

O’Leary started with maps of China’s tea regions, focusing our attention on the Yunnan district. In particular, we were seeing images from old growth tea forests in a mountainous region of Yunnan. I loved seeing the photos of the “King Tea Tree,” a 2700-year-old tree that is protected as a national treasure in China. Lest you think this is a drive-by tourist exhibit, know that it is a four-hour trek up a mountain with no roads and barely visible trails. I was reminded of some trails I’ve been on while geocaching in the Pacific Northwest, but our climate is much cooler making bushwhacking/hiking a bit easier. Of course, tea plants flourish in humid, hot, monsoonal climates.

I don’t want to give away all of the information that was presented in this seminar, but the speaker had an important message that bears repeating.

Old growth tea forests differ from “mono-cultural” gardens in several ways. They have a naturally biodiverse ecosystem, which means more exposure to other pollens and animals/insects. The trees vary in size and age. The younger, shorter tea trees are often shaded by larger trees – anyone who drinks Japanese green tea probably knows that shade-grown tea has a different flavor from tea in the full sun. The varying sizes also provides a natural misting, the bud is supposedly more tender, and all of things combine to make for a different flavor to the tea grown and processed in this region. The forests also do not suffer from the severe erosion problems that many of the monocultural gardens are fighting.

Not all of the old-growth forests are strictly “wild” – they can be cultivated or semi-cultivated. They are in difficult to access regions with village living conditions that are less than ideal. Child labor, inadequate processing, difficult travel, and lack of quality control are problems that need to be overcome before these forests are a viable source of tea for international trade. Longterm investments in sustainable development are needed. It is a lengthy process to build trust and develop new standards and techniques – it’s not a situation that can be improved by simply throwing money at it. However, there are several movements getting underway to create better conditions, a viable business environment, and standards of cleanliness (no animals in the processing rooms, for instance).

O’Leary then went on to show a wonderful series of slides featuring traditional processing of puerh cakes. He gave much information on terminology and talked about issues with aged puerh. One thing I had not considered is that some of the aged tea from the 60s might contain DDT (it has an extremely long shelf-life).

Many of the slides and much of the information from the seminar can be found by clicking through to the first installment of Rishi’s new Travelogue: Jingmai-Mangjing.

28 March 2006

Live from the Expo: Tuesday

Editing note, 3/30/06: I now know that "the korean dress is called a han bok (pronounced with
a long o), kimono is Japanese." I've corrected the information below. Many thanks to my friend Jan for emailing the information! :)

My taste buds were happy when I sampled some Korean tea from Hankook Tea USA, Inc. This was my first time trying Korean tea, and it was quite pleasant. I tried a green and a heavily oxidized oolong that had just been prepared. My experience with greens is limited, but the delicate airy feeling of this was wonderful. The oolong was different from the Taiwanese and Chinese oolongs (for that matter, it was different than Indian oolongs). It’s hard to describe without having a cup in front of me, but it was slightly floral with a very smooth character. The women working at the booth were charming and full of great information. Their manager and resident tea expert was wearing a beautiful han bok. She and another woman explained the different characteristics of the teas they had along, which were displayed in rough-hewn ceramic bowls. They aren’t set up yet for online ordering, but hope to be soon. Korean tea can be tough to find in the U.S., but anyone who is interested can check out their website and order via phone or email.

I picked up a few free copies of the Country Register. This is a free newspaper that is available in regional editions throughout the U.S. and Canada. I wasn’t familiar before with this publication, but my friend Marilyn (aka Marmalady) has an article in the April-May 06 Annual Tea and Food issue of the Arizona edition. If any Arizona readers pick up this issue, look for Marilyn Miller on page 6.

I never was able to get to a Chado Chef demonstration (other than eavesdropping a bit on the outskirts for a few minutes). The recipes were available in a handout, though, and here’s the one I want to try:

Yunnan Dip for Vegetable Crudités
(chef Wm. Jarvie of Johnson & Wales University)

2 cups mayonnaise
1/4 cup buttermilk/sour cream
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp Yunnan tea leaves

It doesn’t say how long to let it sit, or if the leaves need to be chopped/ground (I’m assuming not), just to whisk it all together. I’ll make an attempt soon and report back.

The winners of the iced tea competition were announced, and I noticed that Adagio, Cha Dao, and Rishi Teas all did very well. ITO EN also had quite a presence. If I read the winner’s label correctly, they took overall and won a couple of other categories. I posted about the Adagio bottled tea yesterday, and today I tried the Cha Dao bottled tea – the oolong and sencha teas were my favorite (very pure and clean) but it was their jasmine green tea that took 2nd place. Never got a chance to sample ITO EN’s teas, unfortunately.

I visited another acronym company’s booth, INT Co. Ltd., and was able to watch the Japanese tea master do his thing today, and it was quite interesting. There was a flat heated surface (about 3 or 4 feet across) with a large pile of fresh green leaves that he was gently lifting and sifting through his fingers. I heard someone nearby refer to this loose shaking as the drying and evaporating process.

The Tea & Coffee Trade Journal had a booth reserved that was just for attendees to sit and read (they had free copies of their journal available). I really appreciated having a place to sit, since finding a chair was difficult. It isn’t just the Tea Expo, it’s Las Vegas – if you’re not in front of a slot machine, it can be tough to find a place to rest your tired feet.

Something very new to me was finding out more about packaging and containers. There are companies that specialize in machines to boil large amounts of water, bag teas, or create boxes and tins that are personalized to one’s tea business. I stopped by the FUSO/NASA booth this morning to watch a spiffy tea packaging machine. They asked if I wanted a bag of tea, and I said “sure” thinking that they were going to give me one bag of tea. To my surprise, they handed me a sackful (big bag!) of bagged tea.

For those who’ve asked, I finally figured out a shortcut between my room and the Expo that takes me outside, so I can avoid the smoky casino stroll – yay! Still tough to find food, but I scoped out where the bagels are (breakfast tomorrow) and then had a nice veggie Sulu Stirfry at the Star Trek Experience.

I’ll post more either Wednesday or Thursday about my two favorite events of the day: one tea tasting with the Tea Board of India (a wonderful treat!) and another tea tasting with James Norwood Pratt. My schedule tomorrow is a seminar on Ancient tea forests in China -- then quickly checking out and catching my flight home.

Live from the Expo: “Is There a Book in You?”

This morning I attended a seminar by Elizabeth Knight, tea sommelier at the St. Regis Hotel in NYC and author of three books. She was a well-prepared and thoughtful speaker. A booklet with small images of her slides (and plenty of room for notes) was handed out at the beginning of the session. Knight's talk went through several points, from the demand for tea books to researching competition to writing proposals for publishers.

My own experience with publishing has been mostly in the academic world, and much of my actual writing has been multimedia and/or online, so it was interesting to get a more traditional approach to publishing. Some of what Knight had to say was similar to academic publishing:

  • Locate your niche
  • Research previous texts
  • Define your potential audience
  • Write a proposal

One large difference that I hadn’t thought about, though, is finding agents. That’s definitely a new slant for me.

I didn’t really need any of the writing tips she presented, since I’ve taught writing classes for nearly 20 years, but it was good to view the writing process from a new perspective. Most helpful for me was a series of questions designed to help focus, plan, and to define one’s personal goals. She also gave insights into marketing and promoting both books and yourself.

This was exclusively about the U.S. publishing market, and much of it was focused on very localized or regional marketing. If you are writing a book in the U.S., or even considering writing a book, I’d recommend taking this seminar if she offers it at next year's Tea Expo (in Atlanta instead of Las Vegas). In addition to the great information she provides, you’ll have a chance to meet many business owners who just may be the ones selling your book in their stores.

That’s all for now. If I get a chance tonight, I’ll post a few more notes from the tea tastings I’ll be attending. However, if my exhaustion level isn’t too high, I may just spend the evening at the Star Trek Experience.

Live Long and Prosper (and drink lots of tea!) :)

27 March 2006

Live from the World Tea Expo, Monday

Tuesday, March 28, 11:26: just realized that at some point this post disappeared from my blog. I guess there must have been some weird glitch in the system. Luckily, it was still in my dashboard, so I'm reposting. Apologies to anyone using newsreaders -- sorry you're getting this twice.

I’m in Las Vegas for my first visit to the Tea Expo. My goal here is to find out more about the business of tea as a way to round out my own knowledge. I don’t plan to own a tea business – just want to learn, write, and enjoy.

The Journey

On the plane I met Elizabeth Knottingham, owner of The Teacup in Seattle. I’ve been to the shop many times but hadn’t met Elizabeth before – what a fun and interesting person she is. I’m not sure where she gets so much energy, but I’m jealous! She’s also a vast well of great information about finding, buying, and selling tea, so I’m hoping to spend more time talking with her.

Then, on the shuttle to the hotel I met two more people on their way to the Expo. One was a young woman who worked for a scent/flavoring company and the other a man who managed/owned some sort of supply company.

The Hilton Hotel

I’m up on the 27th floor, which makes for a long elevator ride when people are getting on and off every few floors. On the other hand, I have a pretty incredible view of the Strip and the mountains framing the city.

One of the first things I do in a hotel room is set up my "travel tea set," and this room has the perfect spot:

There are tea people everywhere in the hotel, and it’s fun to find out how far they’ve come for the Expo. There are attendees from China, Taiwan, Japan, India, Kenya, and more. Part of what I love about exploring tea is that it provides a chance to explore a culture and to meet new people from places I may never be able to visit myself.

One thing that’s missing is the bright desert sunshine. It’s been sort of sunny, but mostly overcast, and rain showers are expected for the next 2 days. Darn – I could have used a sun fix after the rainy Seattle winter. Maybe there will be a sunbreak tomorrow, so I can go outside and roast myself just a bit.

As always, it is exceptionally difficult to be vegetarian in Las Vegas. Even getting a salad without meat is tough. I do eat seafood occasionally, but even that isn’t very safe for me here (there’s often broth or gelatin in the sauces and side dishes). Today, I had carrot sticks for lunch and really bad buffet/salad bar food for dinner.

Cough cough cough – I hate having to walk through smoky casinos to get to the expo. At least the Hilton isn’t one of the major strip casinos, so there’s not quite as much of it as you find in some of them.

Exhibit Hall: my first thoughts

Because this is a trade show, no cameras are allowed in the exhibit area. Instead of photos I’ll try to provide links to company web sites. Any images below are things I purchased and photographed in my hotel room.

Attendees get a free gift – I chose the small glass teapot with filter (that's the t-shirt behind it):

Many vendors have samples of tea, tea drinks, and tea snacks. There’s also a small gift shop with t-shirts and signed copies of James Norwood Pratt’s new Tea Dictionary.

I’m hoping to catch a Chado food demonstration tomorrow. These are quite interesting, with celebrity chefs preparing foods made with tea. Recipes are given in the conference program, so I’ll have to try some when I get home.

Most of the vendors are really nice – excited about tea and their products, and eager to talk. Only one snubbed me when she saw I wasn’t a teashop owner (rolled her eyes, sniffed, and turned away). Eh, it wasn’t a real tea product anyway.

Speaking of “real tea” – I think that more than half of the tea companies were selling flavored teas or herbal blends. Even companies that are known for their high quality blacks and oolongs were featuring herbal blends in the booths. I’m not sure if they’re catering to the desires of Expo attendees or if it’s just easier to prepare these in a booth situation.

I tried several samples of different tea-flavored candies and goodies, but none of them actually tasted of tea to me. I’ll have to try a few more tomorrow and will let you know if anything stands out.

The Tiny Tea Pots jewelry booth was a MADHOUSE. They need more space! The jewelry sure is popular – bought myself a necklace, and watched while others loaded up trays with bracelets, watches, beads, and more.

There are many teapot and ceramic companies here. I enjoyed seeing the Bodum exhibit, since my first looseleaf teapot was the Bodum Assam (it’s still the same, but with a metal filter instead of plastic now).

One of my favorite stops was Blue Calico, Ltd., which is owned by two very nice people with a really interesting product. Make sure you click through to the "About" page on their web site to see the historic aspect to the British ceramics, Burleighware, they sell. It was fascinating to see photos and a video of the old 1800s process that is still used today (on the same equipment!). I also spent some time being computer-geeky with one of the owners who has developed an interesting software product for internet tea businesses.

Oolong Tea Square had amazingly beautiful tea sets on display, including one covered with ornate gold.

I was happy to meet the owner of SpecialTeas, Juergen Link, a super nice man. I’ve been ordering from SpecialTeas for. . . gosh. . . maybe 15 years? This is our favorite vendor for assams (we go through a lot of HazelbankFTGFOP1 in our house).

Stopped by the Adagio booth but it was pretty busy, so I didn’t introduce myself. I did try some of their new bottled tea -- the jasmine was very aromatic, and the black was good.

I’m also going to try to get in on the Nilgiri tea tasting area with James Norwood Pratt.

I signed up for a tea tasting tomorrow afternoon with the Tea Board of India. Nearby, an exhibit featured a Japanese tea master doing some interesting leaf roasting. He was taking a break (or perhaps waiting for something?), so I didn’t get to see much. It’s right next to the tea tasting room and I plan to check it out more tomorrow.

Discovered a couple of new online tea vendors, but most of the ones here are known to me (or they’re wholesalers who sell to tea rooms/vendors). I’m beginning to get a sense of how purchasing works, and what tea suppliers and store owners are up against when it comes to providing consistency in tea for their customers.

I have asked everyone possible about golden yunnan and was surprised at how many of them turned faces filled with dread to me. Figures that my favorite tea is one of the most finicky and hard-to-stock teas around. I sampled a few but didn’t find anything in the cocoa-pepper realm.

I’ll post again tomorrow afternoon or evening and let you know how the tea tasting goes, plus I’m actually going to a seminar by Elizabeth Knight in the morning. It should be fun!

23 March 2006

Thai Tea Commercial

I stumbled upon this today while searching for something else. It features a couple of darn cute caterpillars trying to reach the top of a branch. Click the image below to view the free video on YouTube.

Hope you enjoy this as much as I did! :)

Grand Reopening :)

When last you read fresh blog posts here, they were about traveling in Wyoming and Utah, where I:

Saw antelope cavorting in the snow . . .

Was a guest at an extra special tea party . . .

Carefully packed up my grandmother’s chintz china teacup collection and shipped it to myself. . .

Then, took in one last wonderful Wyoming vista before flying home. . .

Since that time much has been going on, and some of it was even tea-related. For instance, I put together an IKEA sideboard to hold my grandmother’s cups (plus all of my own pots and cups and tea).

In one afternoon, it went from this:

To this:

Tea had been spilling out of my kitchen cabinets on to countertop baskets, and with the addition of 25 cups and saucers things had gotten out of control. The new tea cabinet is now in a central living area, and there’s almost always a pot or cup or thermos of tea perched on it. It’s not elegant, but the simplicity and function of the tea cabinet make it a fitting place to keep grandma’s teacups. My mother saved these cups for me after my grandmother’s death a few years ago, and I was excited to finally have them in my own home.

Grandma W. spent most of her life on a farm in southern Minnesota. She didn’t have many fancy or dainty things – a few pieces of crystal, some depression-era glassware, and a bunch of individual cup and saucer sets. Many of these were gifts from her daughter-in-law, my mother, and they rarely came out of that cabinet. However, they did come out during my visits to see her. I was one of the few tea drinkers on my father’s side of the family, so my grandma loved to make a pot of tea for us to share. Bagged Lipton tea was placed in a brown betty pot, covered with cold water, and heated in the microwave until it boiled. Not a great cup of tea, but I’d still give just about anything to be back with Grandma W. in her farm kitchen again.

Later this spring, though, I will get a chance to sip tea with my other grandmother at her 90th birthday party! She is matriarch of the British side of my family and a devout tea drinker (bagged Red Rose from Canada is her favorite). Grandma G. is probably most responsible for my tea-geekiness. I lived with her for a few months as a young adult and soon fell into the habit of brewing tea each morning and afternoon.

Early next week I’ll be heading to Las Vegas for the World Tea Expo. I’ve signed up for a couple of seminars and will be attending the keynote, as well as spending time in the vendor’s area. I’m looking forward to learning more about the business of tea. Check here next week while I post live from the Tea Expo.

Also coming soon: a few thoughts on the perfect tea cup, this year’s search for a cocoa-mocha golden yunnan, tea in Bollywood, and quite a number of links I’ve saved up the past few months.