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!

Did you get your free iced tea today?

Iced Tea

Photo: TheCulinaryGeek on Flickr

So it turns out today is National Iced Tea day! Well it’s National Iced Tea Month as well, so don’t feel like you’ve missed it. We won’t start the argument whether or not it should come sweet or not. Or should we? Here are some places where you can take advantage of the iced tea giveaways that are happening this week.

  • Teavana– Print the coupon – good June 10 only
  • 7-Eleven – Download the app to get a coupon for a free Snapple – good ALL WEEK
  • QuikTrip – Sign up for coupon good until June 13
  • Sunoco – Free Arizona iced tea with coupon – good June 10 only

There are also lots of local freebies out there – so keep your eyes peeled this month.

Teatanic infuser – tasteful or tasteless?

A tea infuser in the shape of the Titanic. Tasteful or tasteless?

A tea infuser in the shape of the Titanic?

A friend pointed me toward this Teatanic tea infuser over at perpetual kid. I guess if you’re a big fan of the Titanic and tea you have a must have tribute to both. Personally, I don’t quite understand the obsession with the Titanic (I have watched the movie with Leo and Kate several times though), but I’m not sure how suitable it is to essentially poke fun at a tragedy. Or maybe I’m too sensitive. What do you think – tasteful or tasteless?

 

 

Do you raise your pinky when you drink tea?

pinky ettiquetteYou’ve probably seen it plenty of times in movies or done it yourself when playing at being prim and proper – raising your pinky in the air while drinking your afternoon tea. But according to Miss Manners, raising your pinky went out of fashion a long time ago.

According to Miss Manners:

Even that perennially easy target, the pinkie in the air, has provocative implications having to do with international commerce and class strife.

The gesture dates from the 17th century, when tea began to be imported to England from China. It was so expensive that those who could afford it kept it locked up in so-called tea caddies. They drank it from Chinese teacups, which do not have handles but are held in the fingers. Because the thin cups transmitted heat from the tea, it was sensible to put as few fingers on them as necessary — hence the escaping little finger, and sometimes the ring and middle fingers as well.

This habit became a symbol of wealth, when few people could afford tea, let alone imported cups. It quickly progressed, along a path you will recognize, to becoming a symbol of pretentiousness. At that point, the pinkie in the air — no longer necessary because the West had developed teacups with handles — became bad manners.

Miss Manners is amazed that it is still cited, now that tea is one of the least expensive possible drinks available. She would be surprised if you had ever actually seen this gesture in real life.
Full article

I’m not sure why Miss Manners has never seen anyone raise their pinky. A simple search on Flickr shows many people raising their pinky, even though it’s most likely in jest. But why does the pinky in the air continue to be seen as something wealthy people do when we’ve obviously have had tea cups with handles for hundreds of years now and tea is readily available in every grocery store? You’d think that the practice would have been forgotten over time. What do you think, is it really a faux pas to raise your pinky? Or is it all part of enjoying your afternoon tea?

Gift idea: Holiday / Advent Calendar of Tea

Okay, so this is not an original idea. I was in David’s Tea today and picked up one of their 24 Days of Tea Advent Calendar. It’s a great idea for an early Christmas gift for the tea lover in your life. They also had an 8 Days of Tea for Hanukka. Unfortunately both are no longer available online, and the 24 Days isn’t even listed anymore. BUT you can easily create your own, and one that you can use over and over again each year.

Here’s How:

  1. Find either a tea storage box or small wooden storage drawers in the appropriate number of days. For example, this 8 section bamboo tea storage box or this 25 drawer box.
  2. Decorate your calendar in the appropriate theme using paint, paper and stickers. For the tea caddy, you can cover each section with felt or foam that gets removed on the day. Make sure to number each section or drawer.
  3. Fill each drawer or section with a different tea. You can buy a tea sampler or, if you’re like me, you could fill it with tea from your own cabinet.
  4. Voilà! You have a holiday tea calendar that you can use every year.

Sweet Dissolve

Sweet DissolveWe all grab a cuppa tea on the go at some point. And a lot of us add sugar to it, mostly from little packets sitting on counters and tables in cafes. Did you know that just one major coffee chain creates 8 million pounds of sugar packet waste each year in the United States? I hate to think what the amount is worldwide for all sugar packets. This made me think about just how much do I create with my little tea with milk and sugar addiction. (We’ll ignore the tea bag problem for now.)

Hayley Hoverter, inventor of Sweet Dissolve

Well, a brilliant and poised 16-year-old young woman, Hayley Hoverter, from East Los Angeles saw this when she was 6 years old and decided to come up with a solution – Sweet Dissolve. I was watching The Nerdist tonight on BBC America, and they had Hayley on as part of a segment highlighting projects from the LA Science Fair. I wish she had a website already to talk about her patented invention, but a simple search lead me to some videos of her talking about Sweet Dissolve. Basically they’re little triangle shaped organic sugar “packets” wrapped in an organic dissolvable starch. The “wrapper” disappears as you stir in your sugar, and the the wrapper doesn’t add any calories or flavor. And she plans to sell it in dispensers and packaging made of bamboo (a highly renewable resource) that also acts as a natural desiccate. Sweet!

I instantly wanted to try them out, but they’re not on the market yet! They’re currently in a pilot project in South California (6 hours from me – a tad too far just for a cup of tea).

Here’s Haley on CBS LA talking about Sweet Dissolve, and you can see what one of the packets looks like.



Here’s Hayley Hoverter presenting her business plan at the finals of the National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. She’s currently in talks with the CEO of FUBU, Daymond John,  (seen in the video) about investing in her company and taking it out of pilot stage.




Check out Haley’s bio on the NFTE competition site.

TeaVivre review

I’ve tasted my first tea direct from China, and it seems to make a difference. Back in December, before moving countries and a series of technological catastrophes, the good people at TeaVivre sent me free samples of their tea. After a few emails and reading information about their company, I found them to be a rather refeshing take on the online tea shop. TeaVivre is a group of tea lovers and aficionados from China, Canada and France, who all share a passion for drinking great tea. The name of the company plays on the French phrase, “Joie de vivre”, which means “joy of living”or “enjoyment of life”, and with TeaVivre their aim is to  spread the joy of tea online.

TeaVivre packaging of tea

TeaVivre packaging

This group of friends frequently travel through the country visiting China’s tea plantations so they can track down only truly exceptional teas for themselves. They follow a business ethic of honesty and trust, where the relationship and satisfaction of both customers and suppliers is a central focus. And wherever possible, they source 100% organically grown and produced tea. Because they actually visit the tea plantations, they can build relations with their suppliers and verify their growing and production methods and techniques. I find this approach something that is rare to find outside of China. I would think that not many boutique tea vendors outside of China can make the trip more than once a year. Perhaps that’s the difference that I’m tasting in the tea.

Shipment of TeaVivre

What the TeaVivre shipment looks like

You can buy directly from TeaVivre at www.teavivre.com. Each tea on their website includes a detailed description and reviews from customers. They offer several shipping options to the U.S. The USPS one seems a bit pricey to me if you’re only buying a small amount. My free sample was sent via China Air and it arrived ok, only a slight ding in the box’s corner that didn’t effect the tea itself, but the USPS option is faster.

TeaVivre Black Tea Brewed

TeaVivre's black tea brewing

On to the tea itself. I invited my friend over to help me sample the Yun Nan Dian Hong Black Tea – Golden Tip. According to their website, “Dian Hong black tea, also known as Yunnan black tea, is one of China’s most famous black teas.  This is the highest grade Dian Hong generally available in China – called Golden Tip Dian Hong. [I haven’t verified that, but I’ll take it at face value.]  It has lots of orange pekoe in the dried tea, and brews into an absolutely great tasting, golden coloured tea, with a very rich taste and aroma.” Each bag is vacuumed sealed and I would think helps keep it seem as fresh as the day it was packed. My sample was produced in May (it was December when I brewed it). How do I know? Well, I was surprised to see that their labelling is more detailed than most teas you’ll see in your average tea shop. The label has everything you need to fully appreciate the tea: the place of origin, manufacturer, production date, storage instructions, shelf live and brewing guide.

TeaVivre loose tea leaves

A closeup of the dry tealeaves

The tea leaves themselves are whole. Amazingly there was little to no breakage of the long golden leaves even though it was shipped in a small box across the Pacific (good packing!). The moment I opened the package a sweet hay smell escaped that I attribute to a recently dried green leaf. I brewed it following the brewing instructions and in a glass teapot to get a better sense of its color. Very quickly the water turned golden and then to deep amber – for me a sign of a good pekoe. If it weren’t for the tea press in the pot it would have gotten too strong for my tastes sitting in there while drinking a cup, so you might want to brew it in smaller batches if you’re only pouring a cup or two at a time. It’s a strong black tea, but it’s smooth with a malty sweetness to it that help to not be overpowering. Also, I felt like my taste buds were tricking me as there was a hint of pepperiness to it. My friends, a tea appreciator but not necessarily a connoisseur, liked it and said it was a good pairing with our scones, raspberry jam and Devonshire cream. I agreed. Overall, I highly recommend buying this as your first black tea from TeaVivre.

*I was not financially compensated for this post. I received a sample for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.*

Alice’s Tea Cup

Given that we’re in New York for a wedding with a 10 month old in tow, we haven’t had a lot of time to explore tea houses as I would have wanted (excuse for another visit). But we did make it to Alice’s Tea Cup yesterday.

20111110-195430.jpgAlice’s has been recommended to me by many people, probably because I’m a huge Alice in Wonderland fan. It’s a cozy yet roomy tea house – as only a Lewis Carroll inspired restaurant could be. We went to ‘chapter ii’ on E 64th. There’s another location on the upper east side and one on the upper west. don’t expect it to be full on Alice a la Disney. It’s tastefully whimsical with a Victorian flare and quotes from the story on the walls.

The staff were incredibly welcoming and accommodating. We had our small umbrella stroller and left it downstairs at the tiny entrance, while baby was with us in a high chair upstairs. I got the impression that while they appreciate smaller strollers they would do their best to accommodated the SUV-esque ones that are popular. But there is very little room-you’re warned!

We arrived fairly early and breakfast was still being served. And guess what! They have a Mad Hatter breakfast tea – 3 tiers of breakfast favorites: a scone, eggs (mostly eaten in picture), and homemade granola with yogurt. Where else can you get a proper morning tea?
20111110-195559.jpg

It was more delicious than expected. I had the buttermilk scone and hubby had the vegan coconut lemon scone – both were moist and yummy. Eggs were scrambled to perfection. The granola was slightly more browned than I’m used to but was flaky and nutty (how apropos for a Mad Hatter tea). All in all I give it an A.

Now for the tea. Their tea menu is a book. So when you sit down decide what kind of tea you want ( black, green, red, flavored, scented, decaf, etc.) and go from there. Since it was my first time I went with the house blend – Alice’s tea. It’s a black blend with a bit of green in it. I thought it was slighty floral, but maybe that was the jet lag. Either way, it was a nice compliment to the breakfast. Hubby had a vanilla caramel blend and it satisfied his sweet tooth. Baby is still too little for tea.

Will I go back? Yes. And I may make it a tradition for my daughter and me. Afterward we strolled over to the park for photos in front of the Alice in Wonderland sculpture.

What are the best tea places in NYC?

Tomorrow we head out to NY for week or so. I haven’t lived in the NY area for over 10 years now, so there are loads of great new tea houses and cafes that I’ve never been to. I have a couple in mind to visit while I’m there, but if you have any suggestions – let me know!

I love my cup from we are happy to serve you