Thursday, July 24, 2008

Herbal Infusions

This week’s subject dives into the realm of herbal tisanes. An herbal “tea,” or tisane, is technically anything you steep that does not contain the actual Camelia Sinensis tea plant in it. For experts and tea snoots, an herbal tea is really not tea at all, hence the term “herbal infusion.”
For thousands of years, plants and flowers have been used for their natural healing properties. Many modern pharmaceuticals have been derived from plant sources, and surely many more will crop up in the future. Digitalis, a heart medication, comes from the purple foxglove. Vinchristine, an anti-cancer drug, is an alkaloid taken from vinca plant. Cascara sagrada is the bark of a tree that is used as a natural laxative. Quinine, which has been used to treat malaria among other things, originally came from the bark of the Cinchona tree.

Just as many herbs and plants are beneficial, the opposite is also true. Oleander leaves contain a compound that is toxic to the heart. Philodendron plants contain oxalic acid, which will burn your mouth. Now why you would be munching on a philodendron to begin with is beyond me, but according to my medical source, it does happen.

That being said, there are many herbal infusions that you can blend on your own or purchase that will have numerous and varied benefits. Here are a few of the major players:

Rooibos – This plant is a bush that is native to South Africa, and contains a high amount of minerals and antioxidants. Often called “bush” tea or “red bush” tea, it has a naturally sweet aroma reminiscent of tobacco. Naturally caffeine free, it also contains zinc, potassium, fluoride, and manganese. It is fermented in a way that is very similar to tea, and the result is a fine, red leaf that brews into a deep reddish brown color. The longer you steep rooibos, the better it gets. You can see for yourself by trying our Red Rocks, a blend of rooibos with vanilla and almonds.

Chamomile – Chamomile flowers have a natural fragrance reminiscent of apples, which is the etymology of the word itself (“ground apple”). This herb is most commonly known for its ability to calm stress and soothe nausea and provide relief from aches and cramps. As it relaxes smooth muscle tissues, it is good for digestion and abdominal pain.

Ginger – Ginger root is yet another ancient plant with many beneficial qualities. It stimulates saliva production and digestive enzymes, making it great for weight control and digestion. It is also great for nausea or motion sickness, and increases blood flow throughout your body, making it what is considered a “warm” plant. Ginger is a component in our new blend, Yerba Mate Chai Citron, which will be available on our website soon! But, if you visit our downtown Boulder location, you can try it now!

– This age old classic herb contains menthol, which is great for congestion and colds. We have a tin of this at the store, and whenever I need a pick-me-up I just stick my nose in the tin and take a deep whiff and BAM! I am awake again! Peppermint is also recommended for upset stomachs, as it relaxes the smooth muscles in your stomach and digestive tract. It is also an antiseptic and anesthetic, making it useful for tooth or headaches. It freshens your breath and is a great, cooling drink when iced. It is also a component in our delicious Green Roasted Mint!, my personal favorite.

There are literally hundreds of herbs, plants and flowers out there with healing and healthful properties. The trick is to find the ones that work for you to assist you in a more healthful lifestyle. Most herbalists will not recommend these things in place of medical treatments or cures for diseases. Herbal infusions are meant to complement your health and must be used with a degree of caution and self-directed learning. So whatever your ailments may be, just make sure you do a little research before you go on your herbal infusion quest!

-Anne Vickman

So Long, Farewell!

Well everyone, I am sad to say it, but this will conclude (temporarily, most likely) my blogging for the TeaSpot.

For anyone who missed this month's TeaSpot newsletter (sign up here), I will be moving to Boston, MA to pursue a master's degree in Writing and Publishing at Emerson College. So it shouldn't be too long before I have nasty tea withdrawals and start writing more blogs in return for the junk to support my tea addiction and get me through my intense graduate classes.

I will miss the TeaSpot greatly, and first and foremost would like to point out that I love my job, mostly because of all the people I work with. We have a great team here, in our warehouse as well as the shop, and in a perfect world I would just deftly put it all on a truck and take it with me to Boston! I can only imagine what sort of unpaid internships and admin assistant positions await me in the big city! So I must take an acceptance speech moment and thank the corporate team as well as my amazing store staff for making my time here so memorable. I would also like to introduce and welcome the new store manager, Erin Dula, to the TeaSpot family.

FoolongChoo out (left), Erin Dula in (right)

I would also like to thank all the loyal customers who have come into our store regularly and supported what we do. We know these people by name and more often than not exactly what they are drinking so that it's halfway ready when they get to the register. I think the best part is that you could read me the order and I could tell you who the customer is: 12 ounce Bolder Breakfast latte with whole milk and a shot of vanilla (Aulden), 12 ounce cappucino (Jen), cup of Creme Caramel, decaffeinated (Donna), Fancy Formosa with milk and sugar (Michelle), large Pu-erh (Olga), cup of Lung Ching and a bran muffin (ack! I forgot his name!).

What's more I would even like to thank the (very few) customers that made my life hell, and taught me even more about patience and customer service. Especially the lady who came in one day, sat in a booth, and began trimming her fingernails with a clipper before nonchalantly brushing her nasty nail scraps onto the floor. Who are you, and why did you do that?! Or the girl who added her credit card receipt total incorrectly then demanded her tip money back. Ahh yes, I will never forget you! And don't forget the guy who used our couch as a bed, claiming he had purchased some drip coffee (which we don't sell!) and dropping some F-bombs on another customer about her backpack when we asked him to leave. Ah, the stories are the best part!

This is what angry customers begin to resemble.
Image courtesy of

In any case I am extremely content with the time I spent with the TeaSpot, and after the insanity of moving across the country and being back in school dies down, I certainly hope to continue the blogathon of anything tea-related. Much thanks to all of you who read our little blog, and please continue to check back for weekly additions!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Oh Man, It's Abnormally Hot

Bubble tea: Not Your Grandma's Tea

Today finds me too hot to really think clearly. All I can think about is how rad it would be if we bought one of those big plastic kiddie pools and filled it with iced peppermint tea and went for a swim. Seriously, that might be the best idea I have had all summer. Or maybe a Slip 'n Slide in the back of the warehouse? Anyone? Or maybe just an A/C box installation would do.

As I consider these options, a bank of darkish looking clouds seems to be heading this way. Thank you, universe.

Since this brief respite is allowing me to think semi-clearly, I would like to lay some praise to my latest favorite summertime tea beverage: Boba, aka Bubble, Tea.

For the rookies out there, Boba tea consists of these components: Boba Pearls, an iced tea of some sort, a splash of cream, a squeeze of agave, and a Boba straw. Allow me to digress.

Boba pearls are really nothing more than simple tapioca balls. You remember tapioca, right? It's that white stuff you always had at grandma's house that never really tasted like much of anything. Same goes for Boba. Only these ones are bigger, black, and squish gloriously when you chew on them.

So what is tapioca, exactly? This is certainly not a question that comes up for most people, a) because most people don't eat tapioca, and b) the ones that do probably don't care what it's made from anyways. Well the answer is that it comes from the root of a cassava plant. The root gets processed and the reconstituted product are those tiny (or large, in this case) tapioca balls. It is a starch, so essentially it's like adding bread to your beverage. Mmmmmm, bread.

So, these boba pearls rest on the bottom of your glass. The remaining ingredients are mixed together (I prefer to make mine with Red Rocks iced tea), and the straw allows you to suck up the boba pearls whilst drinking your tea, making for a deliciously iced, textural experience. The cream adds a dash of well, creaminess, while the agave nectar lightly sweetens it without making it overtly so. Unlike those bottled tea drinks that look so delicious in the refrigerated case until you open it up and take a big swig and feel like you just drank a packet of mint-and-tea-flavored Splenda. (Thanks a lot, Tazo).

I can see the Eldorado Spring Water Delivery Truck outside the office. "Judged the Best-Tasting Water in North America," it says. They have an entire swimming pool full of pure, delicious spring water about 20 minutes from here, in Eldorado. That sounds pretty nice right about now.

In any case, Bubble Tea is seeing a new emergence as an extremely popular drink these days, and since many people are still unsure what it's all about, I encourage you to stop by your nearest Bubble Tea vendor (ie, the TeaSpot's downtown retail location) and check it out!

Mmmm so delicious.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tea Tasting: Get Yer Slurp On!

We've been having a blast over here tasting new teas from this spring. It's a process full of precision and personal preference, and the perfect break to the work day!

If you're curious about the tea tasting process, it's comparable to wine tasting. And just as fun to do with friends! It goes something like this... We steep up the
teas according to their type, sip, discuss, sip, and discuss, using all sorts of creative descriptors. We first compare similar teas, finding the best picks within each category. Then we compare the range of our favorites to narrow it down to an exceptional and well-balanced array of teas, and occasionally find a "best in show" that we all fall in love with, despite our individual pallets.

Typically, tasters use a teaspoon to slurp up a sample of tea from each cup, then spit each slurp into a spittoon, never actually swallowing the tea. And when I say slurp, I mean *ssslllurp!*, because the action allows you to coat your mouth with the tea getting the full viscous feel or "mouth coat" and also adds oxygen to the mix which highlights different flavors of the tea. Some teas even are graced with a double slurp, where the second slurp aids in cooling the tea, further embelishing certain flavors.

Here, however, we usually don't spit it out (especially when the tea is a serious crowd pleaser) and we also do a non-conventional variety of sipping, slurping, and gulping of the teas when they're hot and as they cool. The reason for this is that some teas are exceptional while they're hot then fade into boring dishwater as they cool, and we take note of these guys. Let's face it - we all want to enjoy the entire cup of tea, not just the first part. So at the end, after discussing the flavor profiles and taking tasting notes, we divvy up the remaining teas, trying to give people the remaining cup of their personal favorites.

I also want to note the precision with which we steep the teas during tastings, with special care given to the amount of tea leaves used, the temperature of the water, and the steeping time - these variable can dramatically change the flavor profiles of each tea. This is when I seriously get my thermometer out. And bonus points are given to teas that are less sensitive to "precise" steeping conditions - as some are more forgiving than others - making them more foolproof to steeping accidents. For example, our Green Roasted Mint tea is nearly impossible to mess up while steeping, with regards to both water temperature and steeping time.
This tea is more than forgiving to the absentminded and multitaskers, myself included. (fyi, it's discounted 20% this week!) However, other, more sensitive, teas are also given due respect around here and sipped with pleasure after careful steeping, or sometimes tossed with remorse after poor steeping ;)

In any case, let us know your own tea tasting rituals and latest favorites!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Crash Course in Tea Storage

My favorite tins: Kotobuki origami tins, available for purchase at

This might not be the most groundbreaking of blogs, but I think it is important nonetheless, because as my favorite cliché goes, knowledge is power.

Storing your tea correctly is imperative to ensure that it maintains maximum flavor and freshness. We opened a random tin of peach rooibos last week that had a skimming of cobwebs along the interior ceiling of the tin. Barf!

There are several factors that will affect the long-term quality of your teas: light, heat, strong smells, and humidity.

Tea that has constant or even intermittent exposure to light will eventually dry out and lose its flavor. Always store your teas in airtight containers made of stainless steel or non-opaque ceramic. Glass should never be used because, dear genius, it lets in light. And don't forget, the best container is a re-usable one, just like our TeaSpot Loose Leaf tins are.

Heat will have the same effect on your tea, rendering it extra dry and flavorless. That being said, you should always store your tea and tins in a cool, dry place. So, over the stove, microwave, or refrigerator is probably not a good idea seeing as these appliances tend to give off heat. Windowsills are also not a good place. Cool, dark cupboards are usually your best bet.

Strong smells are a pretty obvious thing to avoid. Teas are blotters, which means they pick up the scents of things around them. So your teas should never be stored in the same place as your spices! Nor should they be anywhere near your Cheetos, pickles, mustard, jalapenos, leftover pizza, curries, or dirty socks.

Humidity will also mess up the delightful delicacy of your teas. Teas are dried to begin with, so adding excess moisture unintentionally will cause a mustiness that will probably taste like the underside of an old ice tray. That being said, you should never ever freeze or refrigerate your teas either. Cool and dark does not mean the cold, moist darkness of your frigidaire my friends.

So, there you go. Simple and straightforward. Now go to!

This little guy would royally #$%& up your tea!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Boston Tea Party: The Spark that Lit the Fire of the American Revolution

BANG! Image courtesy of

Happy 4th of July, tea drinkers!

I can't see a better opportunity to point out the connection between the Boston Tea Party in 1773 and the eventual independence of our country from Britain.

I truly stink at remembering anything historical, but the basic facts are as such: in the early 1760's, British Parliament began passing various acts that required taxation on items like stamps and tea. Americans began to reject the notion that Britain should be controlling the taxation of goods and services because they had no representation in Parliament, which basically meant that they had no say in the votes to implement or increase taxes on any given good or service. So, to put it in perspective, it's kind of like when your parents made you give them some of your allowance for no good reason (putting saran wrap over the toilet seat definitely does not qualify as a good reason), and then telling you that there is nothing you can do about it. The only difference is that you usually just put up a big stink and did what you were told. But not the American Patriots!

Since their basic rights to representation were being violated, the colonists took action. Our boy John Hancock, a wealthy shipbuilder and merchant, had discovered that while most merchants paid duties on imports, he could simply bribe officials and evade the whole taxation business altogether. Hancock smuggled sugar, molasses, and God knows what else into the country for little to no taxes whatsoever. Eventually, he fell under suspicion for various smuggling and tax evasion reasons, and his ship, the Liberty, was seized. Not surprisingly, Hancock became a proponent and financier of the growing rebellion against Britain.

As part of the rebellion and unfair taxation, Hancock organized a boycott of tea from the British East India Company, who supplied a large amount of tea to the colonies. Hancock then smuggled tax-free tea in from the Netherlands at the same time. Rather than revise the taxation system, British Parliament instead allowed a tax break for the East India Company. Which basically translated into what could only be construed as the favoring of a corporate empire and the squashing of the Americans and their rights.

After some rabble-rousing, protest meetings, and violent visits to East India warehouses and homes, our founding father and brewmaster Sam Adams addressed an assembly of gathered protesters, and the fit hit the shan. The Sons of Liberty, a secret group of patriots, disguised themselves as Indians and bum-rushed the Boston harbor. 45 tons of East India Company tea were unloaded from the Dartmouth. The tea was dumped quickly and efficiently into the harbor and all of it was toast by dawn. Glorious! Take that, Britain!

The result was the turning of many heads in Britain, the charging of Hancock, Adams, and others with high treason, and essentially the beginning of Us vs. Them. Any positive or friendly political relations that existed between Britain and the colonies pretty much evaporated after the Boston Tea Party.

But it was all for the best, as we did eventually gain our independence in 1776. 232 years later we play with explosives (only where legal, of course...), drink beer, play outside, watch fireworks, and drink tea whenever we like. Hooray!

Victory is ours! If only they had YouTube back then!