Teavana debuts new tea bar, but will it work?

Are you a Teavana fan? I’m on the fence with them, especially after Starbucks acquired them about a year ago.teavana logo I think I had expected them to become more a tea-cafe experience rather than just a store. They’ve been doing a decent job of it given that they’ve seem to be expanding at a quick pace, but the experience of purchasing a cup of tea and enjoying it on premise has been greatly lacking. Don’t get me wrong, the people that work there typically know they’re stuff and are helpful. But the shops are rarely designed to accommodate a crowd ordering tea and waiting for it to steep. And sometimes there’s no milk! You’re then ushered out the door by waiting patrons to sip your tea as you stroll the mall. But it sounds like they too were thinking the experience could be improved.

Teavana Fine Teas + Tea Bar on Madison Ave, NYC

Teavana Fine Teas + Tea Bar on Madison Ave, NYC

So, Teavana today previewed it’s first Teavana Fine Teas + Tea Bar in New York City’s stylish Upper East Side. Opening tomorrow (24 Oct 2013), you’ll have the Teavana “Wall of Tea” featuring a wide range of loose leaf teas and tea blends, and the store will have a collection of curated tea merchandise. Additionally, customers will be able to choose from a range of food items, all inspired by and designed to complement tea flavors, including pastries and breakfast items, salads, flatbreads and small plates, and macaroons (is this macaroons or macarons? Someone tell me what they sell?), shortbreads and other desserts . They say the bar will make the ritual of tea more elevated and accessible for customers. Hopefully this means that I won’t leave more agitated than I went in on a busy shopping day. The new tea bar experience will expand to additional stores over the course of the next year. (I hope San Jose is near the top of the list.) I guess us plebeians outside of the Upper East Side will just have to wait to see if this tea bar is as good as it sounds.

Teavana Fine Teas + Teavana Tea Bar is located at 1142 Madison Avenue (cross street: 85th Street).To learn more about store hours and offerings, visit www.teavana.com.

starbucks-logoIn other Starbucks news

I was informed today that they have a Chocolate Chai Tea Latte for autumn. (Dessert in a cup!)  Also, announced today, we’ll begin to see a curated loose leaf tea selection for customers in Starbucks stores. Sounds like this is along the lines of what we see in Peet’s Coffee. And earlier this month Starbucks also changed its rewards program so you can also use your points to buy beverages and loose-leaf teas at Teavana.

Coffee drinkers just might like the new Tea Forte extra dark tea

So from what I understand, coffee drinkers don’t like tea because it’s just too weak – in taste and caffeine. Well Tea Forte has launched what they say will help fix that perception with their new NOIR pan-roasted black teas. The company says that they carefully crafted it using select leaves from the famed Jamguri tea garden in the Assam highlands in Northern India, and that NOIR tea offers a robust concentrated character to delight even the coffee purist.

Tea Forte present the dark, deep steep of NOIR. (PRNewsFoto/Tea Forte)

Tea Forte present the dark, deep steep of NOIR. (PRNewsFoto/Tea Forte)

After reading about this tea, I did some searching on pan roasting black tea. I can’t find much. Mostly what I found had to do with green tea, and Hojicha is roasted to give it a nutty flavour. So if the effect is the same or similar on black tea, it might make for a more coffee-like flavor. I don’t think the process would add any more caffeine, but Assam typically is fairly caffeinated with a FTGFOP Grade getting you about 86mg per 8 oz. That’s on par with a week coffee. But I haven’t found any information about the NOIR tea’s caffeine levels. The most that their site says is that it’s a “Robust” level, which translates to 50-100mg.

Tea Forte describes the NOIR teas as being full-bodied and aromatic, USDA organic, Fair Trade, and offer an invigorating, deep, robust steep, with malty hints and sweet nuances. Given how they’ve blended it, I suspect that it might have a similar bittersweet quality of a dark chocolate.

Here are NOIR blends’ descriptions from Tea Forte:

  • NOIR Black Cherry: A surrendering black tea with the exotic taste of orchid vanilla bean, licorice root and juicy ripe cherries.
  • NOIR Caramel Nougat: A tantalizing tea with the taste of sweet creamy caramel and toasty roasted hazelnut with a buttery finish.
  • NOIR Peach Brulee: A refreshing black tea offering a masterful blend fragrant with floral and fruit.
  • NOIR Blood Orange: An enlivening tea with the distinct, sweet taste of Moro “deep blood orange”.
  • NOIR Chocolate Rose: An indulgent, naturally sweet cup with a deep chocolate taste and pleasing floral finish.

NOIR is available in Tea Forte’s signature pyramid infusers or loose tea canisters. I’m curious to try it. What about you?

Get a Tea Forte Noir Tin Box of 6 Pyramid Infusers on Amazon

Baby it’s cold outside? Have a smoked maple bourbon chai toddy

Smoked maple burbon chai tea toddyHere in California, we’re not really thinking about the cold weather yet. People have started putting on their fireplaces at night when it gets down to about 50F, but having lived in Canada…Californians are wimps! But just because it isn’t freezing here doesn’t mean that you’re not experiencing that lovely crisp Autumn air.

I stumbled across this delicious sounding recipe from The Kitchn via StupidDope. And thought you might like it. And what’s not to like: maple, bourbon, bacon and chai! It might be good to have on hand after trick or treating, a nice hike, Thanksgiving dinner, or caroling,or just because you want one.

What do you think? Will you try it?

Fall Camping Cocktail Recipe: Smoked Maple Bourbon Chai Tea Toddy The 10-Minute Happy Hour | The Kitchn.

The next great steeping travel mug? Would you invest?

So have you ever tried one of those French press tea travel mugs? I have one. And it’s okay. But if I don’t drink the tea right away, then the leaves at the bottom steep for way too long and the tea at the end gets super strong, bitter, or just gross. Plus it’s not an awesome solution if you put milk in your tea either. And it seems like I’m not the only one that feels this way.

Entrepreneur and tea-enthusiast Joey Landford of The Tea Merchant launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of a new type of travel tumbler that he hopes will revolutionize how busy people enjoy their tea. He says it can be used for coffee too, but we don’t care about that around here.

Joey explained the inspiration behind the tumbler, “When I was going to college and working full time, I wanted to still be able to drink my tea. I was too busy for traditional means; I needed something so I could brew on the go. Nothing I saw on the market for travel tumblers solved this. They all would over-brew my tea giving it a bad flavor, or I would have to immediately discard the tea or coffee. That is not an option when driving.”

Frustrated with the current offerings, Joey spent months developing a steeping system that would give him complete control over the brewing of his tea (and coffee, blech). In the end he says he found a design that eliminates the bitter taste created when the leaves brew in the water for too long. Among other features, his Easy Steep tumbler prototype includes a specially designed filter that locks onto the lid to prevent over-steeping as well as a convenient storage area for keeping additional tea, coffee or sugar packets.

At the New York City Tea and Coffee Festival, a consumer-oriented show, Joey debuted his Easy Steep Tumbler prototype, and he says the response was enthusiastic, “Everyone I talked to loved it! Most, in fact were blown away.” So based on that response, Joey created a Kickstarter campaign  to raise funds to bring his design into production.

There are several investment levels with the basic one starting at $30, which gets you Easy Steep tumbler.

I’ve never funded a Kickstarter before, so not sure if I’ll fund this one. What about you? Do you think this is a design that’ll work?

Easy Steep, The To-Go Tumbler by Joey Landford — Kickstarter.

The iKettle – hot or hype

iKettle - available for order from Firebox

iKettle – available for order from Firebox

So the iKettle looks interesting, but I’ll have to play with one to see what it can really do. The iKettle looks like a souped up Breville tea kettle that connects via wi-fi to an app on your phone.  On the app, you can tell it to turn on when you wake up and then keep the water warm after it’s boiled. From what I’ve read, it’s not clear if there’s an option to program the iKettle to come on without you having to press a button. And like the Breville, it has precise temperature control (so you don’t burn your white and green teas), a stainless steel finish and a filtered spout.

I’m not sure if I would opt for the iKettle over the Breville BTM800XL One-Touch Tea Maker. If your main reason for wanting something you can turn on remotely is only so that you can have tea when you wake up, I’d much prefer having it fully brewed without any intervention from me when my morning alarm goes off, which is what the One-Touch does. What would be cool is if you could turn the iKettle on remotely from outside the home, say on your way home from work or after a chilly day/night outside. That would be handy! But it’s sounds like you can’t do that since the product pages says “control the iKettle from anywhere in the house with your smart-phone.” So your phone and the iKettle probably have to be on the same wi-fi network for it to work. Bummer.

Drawback of any remote start/programmable kettle – you have to make sure it’s set up to boil beforehand. Sounds like we just need a Justin the tea making robot in our house.

You can pre-order the iKettle’s now from Firebox, and it should be available in November 2013.

North American Tea Championship awards for hot teas from the 2013 spring harvest

So I’m kinda late on this one since it happened back in August, but it’s still interesting and gives you ideas of what tea to try next. The North American Tea Championship named 17 first-place winners during its Hot Tea evaluation for spring 2013 in categories including Dragonwell, Pan-Fired Green Tea, Matcha and Flavored Fruit Blends, among others. Some of the winning companies will be featured at the upcoming World Tea East , Oct. 20-22, 2013, at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Ga. So if you find yourself in the Atlanta area, you might want to check it out.

According to the organizers, the championship is the only independent competition – evaluated by professional cuppers – to distinguish the highest quality and best tasting teas that are commercially available in the North American marketplace.

NATC’s Spring Tea Class evaluation first place winners include the following:

A complete list of first-, second- and third-place winners can be found on the North American Tea Championship site.

The next North American Tea Championship will be held in November 2013 for an evaluation of packaged single-service tea. Can’t wait to see who wins!