Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Spotlight on Sri Lanka, Part I

Recently my dad & step-mom were able to have a holiday in...Sri Lanka!  How neat is that?!  As a tea-lover, this kind of trip would have me swooning.  Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) is the 3rd largest tea-producing country, and the tea sector is a huge component of Sri Lanka's economy.  For more than a century people have been enjoying famous Ceylon tea all over the world.  One of the first teas I tried as a new tea-fiend was a Ceylon which I had bought in bulk at my local health food store.

There are three main broad types of tea grown in Sri Lanka:  High, Medium, and Low Grown depending on their elevation; reputedly the higher the elevation, the higher the quality of tea.  The Sri Lanka Tea Board sets high standards of quality on all their products, and you know that you are getting a good tea if it has the Lion Logo on it:

Anyway, needless to say I was delightfully envious of my parents for taking this trip, and was very excited when they sent me a slide show of their trip to the Geragama Tea Factory, near Kandy...

Dress Code (English, Tamil & Sinhalese)

Fresh tea leaves and a mouse trap

Rolling the leaves

Beginning the sorting


Drying machines

Into the grading area

Grading by size

Sorting by colour

Types & tips

Finished product

"Exotically Aromatic"  Dad enjoying a cup.


 I'm also very excited, of course, to sample some of the tea they purchased! I am a lucky, lucky girl indeed! One day I'll perhaps get the chance to go there too...wouldn't it be nice to go on a Tea Trek across the globe?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas, Tea Lovers!

Ho, ho, ho!!!
You know what?  I just came back from my local tea shop to purchase a butt-load of teas to give away to family and friends.  The gift of tea!  How perfect is that?!  I'm even more excited to give it away than I am to get it for myself (although I did have to get some for me too, because, well, because.)

For some people I got the tried and true with a boost, Cream Earl Grey.  It's a great standard, but with an added hint of sweetness not unlike a Campino candy.  Not for everybody, and it's not my very favorite either. But it's good for those who don't drink a lot of tea, and who would enjoy something a bit different from the usual Tetley tea bag.

For others, I got some Chocolate Mint (a black tea flavored with real mint, and the smell of the dry tea leaves reminds me a lot of those Girl Guide minty-chocolaty cookies) - it's a nice treat when you want to indulge in sweetness without the guilt.  Some Cochin Masala Chai, and a new flavour to this tea shop, Almond Black, round off the list.

For myself (I only got myself 2 samplers because I couldn't seriously justify getting any more tea with such a big stash at home already) a Coconut Black - a flavour that seems to be extremely popular these days, although usually in a coconut pouchong (somewhere between a green and an oolong), which I need to find.  But you know, now that I've figured out the art of tea flavoring (my god, I feel so dumb), I probably could get the exact same effect by adding dried coconut shreds to my cup.  I also got a Chocolate Cream, because I can't get enough of that chocolaty goodness!  I plan on sipping some while wrapping presents tonight.  Actually maybe I should have some right now, because my sweet daughter is having a meltdown (I'm blaming the candy canes), and I want to remain in my Christmassy, happy frame of mind!

To further the topic of chocolate and Christmas and tea, I thought I'd share this link which was sent to me by my good friend April (bless her socks!) - it's a thing of beauty:

Merry Christmas, Everyone!  *Mwah*  *Mwah*

photo courtesy of tripp-e on

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Ultimate Tea Diet - The Book

The book arrived a couple of days ago (thanks, Chapters!) and I've read it.  It didn't take me long, because I skipped over a lot of it.  It's not the worst book I've read.  For $5.99, I'm happy.

Basically, the book can be summed up like this:

1.  Drink tea that you love, and lots of it, all day.
2.  Believe in yourself.
3.  Engage in a healthy lifestyle and diet.
4.  Drink more tea.  And if you can't drink any more, cook with it.  Recipes included.

So that's fine.  All good stuff.  Not necessarily life-altering or anything, but a good, basic outline for how one should live their life.  Hey, I can't argue with the drinking tea stuff.

I was a little put off at how the author, Mark "Dr.Tea" Ukra (not an actual doctor), considers himself a pioneer in the booming tea industry,

Although tea has been around for thousands of years, there has never been a face and voice of tea until tea found me and I found dr.tea's.

Also, he didn't exactly conduct any scientific experiments himself...he surveyed 18 TEAmmates and gets "hundreds of tesTEAmonials" (how annoying is that?), although he does cite many sources at the end of the book to support the majority of his claims.

Also, he writes that white tea has the least amount of caffeine.  I read the opposite in Harney & Sons Guide.  Who to believe?  (Actually, I really don't know who to believe.  I've heard both elsewhere, and need to get to the bottom of this.  More later.)

Also, a lot of it seems to be geared toward reforming coffee addicts.  I've never been addicted to coffee my whole life, so that doesn't interest me in the least.

I can't say that this is all bad.  After all, The Ultimate Tea Diet is renewing my interest in drinking tea for health's sake.  It has given me some new ideas - such as mixing my teas with different ingredients, or different teas for that matter.  And, it has made me steep my leaves many times over (so that you still get the "good stuff" without too much caffeine with the added benefit of getting more bang for your buck. There is also a decent section of recipes which use tea as an important ingredient.  I plan on trying low-fat yogurt with green matcha, and perhaps an oolong chicken and steak rub.  These are fun and healthy meals to try, so if you wouldn't be losing out on much money if you bought the book just for that section.

You'd think, with all the not-so-good stuff I've written about The Ultimate Tea Diet, that I wasn't recommending it.  Not true.  Go get the book if you are actively trying to lose weight and want another tool by your side.  Certainly no harm can come of it, and maybe it will help you.  For such a low price, I'm glad to have this book on my shelf.  I want to lose weight, and I'll be overjoyed if tea plays a part of that.

Good night!  I'm off to brew another pot (re-steeped) for the evening.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Ultimate Tea Diet (Now We're Cooking with Tea)

Ehm, so I've gained weight again.  It is quite depressing to think that just a few short months ago I was thirty pounds lighter (and looking fairly decent, I might add).  Although I needed to lose another, say, 20 lbs to be at an "ideal" weight, I went the other direction and pigged out with a passion.  I don't know why, really.  Because I was feeling really good, I was in shape - exercising daily, eating anti-oxidant packed nutritious foods - and I loved the way I was looking.  But anyway, here I am.  And it's time to get that scale needle to budge downwards again.

What better way than to get my beloved beverage on board?  I have no idea if tea can help someone lose weight, although there are many who believe that it can.  I'm not talking about swallowing "green tea extract" pills (I think that might be dangerous, actually).  Besides, that just takes out all the enjoyment of drinking it, n'est-ce-pas?

I do believe that tea can play an important role in a healthy lifestyle, however, so I'm going to ramp up my use of Camellia Sinensis leaves in my day-to-day diet.  I'm going to drink more cups during the day, and I'm going to start cooking with it as well.  I've already started, in fact!  Today I made my newest and neatest culinary experience - Chai Oatmeal.  I prepare the masala brew minus the milk, and add quick-cooking oatmeal to the pot for 5 minutes.  It's really, really good.  And good for you.

I've also ordered a really cheap book from Chapters.  It's called The Ultimate Tea Diet, and although I have some misgivings (I'm hoping that this book doesn't condone tea fasting or anything), I've heard that this book contains recipes that include tea.  That makes me excited.  I'll let you know what I think when I receive it in 4-8 days.

So while this is not a weight-loss blog, I'll be chiming in from time to time about my progress and what I find works when it comes to tea.  Who knows, maybe I'll start a project a la Julie Powell, testing out tea recipes.  We'll see. 

In the mean time, I'm open to suggestion - if you have any favorite tea recipes or ideas of how to incorporate tea into a weight-loss diet that you'd like to share, please let me know!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Some Like It Hot

My apologies for the delay in writing.  My computer has succumbed to a virus or viruses, and therefore I am now writing this blog while in "Safe Mode"!  Too bad there's not a tea for that.  There is a tea to soothe my nerves and lower my blood-pressure while I try not to punch my computer screen however...and tonight I've settled on Bangkok White Rose, by Shanghai T Merchant.  A perfect digestif, it is a refreshing brew after a big, bloating supper.  I've also just had the brilliant idea to turn it into iced tea, because I think it would kick-ass.

Speaking of iced - how's this for a segway? - I'd like to talk a bit about temperature.  Not the temperature at which you infuse your tea, but rather the temperature at which you drink it.

When I was 20 years old (almost 14 years ago), I spent the summer working as a waitress at a hotel & country club restaurant in the U.K.  It was a fun job, even though we were run off our feet most of the time.  The staff was really grateful for the tea break we'd get on the evening shift.  We would take turns getting tea for each other; it was pretty easy, because we'd just pour it out of the large urn that had been prepared for the restaurant.  It was always Earl Grey (there was no other kind offered), we always had milk and sugar in it, and it was BOILING.  I always marvelled at my friends who seemed to be able to down it right away.  I always had to wait at least a couple of minutes for it to cool down just a little, even though our time was limited.  Scalding my palette and throat never seemed pleasant, but many of my fellow waiters didn't seem bothered by it.

Is this a cultural thing?  It seemed that most of the British people I hung around with, including some relatives (I'm half British) liked their tea HOT.  I've also heard that in many countries where black tea is heavily consumed, it is usually done so at very high temperatures.  Unfortunately, I've just read that doing so can be bad for your health.  As in, esophageal cancer bad.  Apparently some studies were done in Iran, where it was shown that drinking such hot tea can weaken the lining of the esophagus, and therefore contribute to cancer rates, even in those who did not consume alcohol or cigarettes (the usual culprits of esophageal cancer).  So the advice was to wait, about 4 minutes, before drinking your tea.  Makes sense to me - I'd rather taste my tea than feel it.  It'll still be nice and warm at that point, so why not?  You can add the extra waiting time to your tea-making ritual by meditating or by anticipating the taste and non-scorching sensation of your favorite cup of tea.  And if you're truly worried about losing heat, knit yourself a tea cozy for your teapot.

Note: This shouldn't be an issue for drinkers of white and green tea.  It is often recommended to wait a minute or two before even pouring the water on or around the tea leaves, so that you don't "bruise" them.  Bruising can lead to a bitter cup, and I believe it can affect the amount of times you can re-infuse. If you want, you can purchase a thermometer to use in your kettle, so that you can get an idea of your perfect brewing temperature.

Friday, November 13, 2009

For all the Sickies Out There

I fully believe that tea (with additions) can help you when you're sick. Tea isn't a medicine, and I'm not a doctor, naturopath or a practitioner of Ayurveda. But these are some of my recommendations:

For those suffering from H1N1, stomach flu, dysentery, Montezuma's Revenge, Delhi Belly, or basic indigestion: Add ginger to your tea. Lots of it. As much as you can stomach. I found this wonderful recipe at the Chai Pilgrimage website and tried it today. Not because I'm having any tummy problems, but rather because I had a large chunk of ginger waiting for something fabulous to happen to it. Good call. It was so gingery that it gave the impression the tea was hot even when the liquid was tepid. Very tasty, and I'm sure my stomach will love me for it.

For those with sinus colds, congestion: White tea with lemon and honey. Drink it all day long. The caffeine will keep you going too. A nice thing about loose leaf tea is that you can usually infuse it many times. Good bang for your buck, and it'll shorten your cold. Yay!

Also for your sinuses (colds, allergies, sinusitis) - this doesn't have anything to do with tea, except that the apparatus looks like a teapot, and that can only be a good thing in my books - use a Neti Pot.

For sore throats, I like Honeybush, or a green tea with lemon and honey.

I also like the "usual" tisanes, like echinacea, chamomile or mint for soothing purposes.

For general good health (I believe this will rejuvenate your arteries, and possibly fight cancer too!): Mix some turmeric, black pepper and sweetener (I like black molasses) into your black tea. It's not for everyone. My friend Rebecca said it was like a curry broth. Admittedly, it's an acquired taste. But there are good stories coming out of the scientific community about the excellent effects of turmeric, and I'm going to take that to heart.

Like I said, I don't really think these will cure you of anything, but they certainly can't hurt to drink (well, except the Neti Pot. Don't drink from that. Snort it up your nose instead!) And besides, a cup of something warm usually makes you feel better anyway. So if you're feeling a little something coming on, don't panic. Just put the kettle on, get your favorite blanket and hot- water bottle and sip something wonderful.

And get better soon, 'cause personally I'm getting sick of toting the Purell around. :)

Photo courtesy of Auzigog @

Monday, November 9, 2009


This past weekend I was really happy to visit a tea house in Ottawa with my special friends, Rebecca and April. I was excited to be there because I hadn't been to a tea house in a long time, and it was nice to share the experience. Do people ever visit tea houses alone? It seems to me that this is something you would do with friends most of the time.

Nectar Fine Teas (no website yet) is located on Wellington Street across from Thyme & Again Catering (another place you must visit, if anything to get an amazing lemon cake with white chocolate icing). Nectar is a little shop, divided - people actually line up to purchase loose leaf teas or tea ware on one side, and on the other side you can sit down to tea. It's a lovely place, minimally decorated and quite laid back.

Highlights of Nectar Fine Teas: The tables actually showcased different tea leaves under (plexi?) glass, so it was kind of neat trying to identify them. The waitress was friendly and helpful. She brought us each a digital timer to let us know how long to steep our tea - something I had never seen before, which was kind of neat. The owner was knowledgeable and busy - her place is obviously popular. She also gave us a sample of an apple cider tea, perfect for colder weather.

There is a small but nice selection of tea ware and books at this shop. I purchased a beautiful little covered cup that is small, but perfect for multiple infusions - I just wish I had asked where she got these cups, as there is no potter's signature or manufacturer marking on mine. But I've already tried it with the three teas I purchased there: Jasmine Pearls, Ti Quan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) Oolong, and Thiashola Estate Nilgiri (2nd Flush SFTGFOP). Mmm Mmm Good! More thoughts on these particular teas to come.

I plan on visiting more tea houses in the near future. Although I might not have the selection there is in Ottawa, I'm looking forward to some time at Tea at the Whitehouse, which is in Waterdown, about 5-10 minutes' drive from my house. Who wants to join me?