Tea Business Owners, Be Not Afraid of Teavana, Part One

The opening of the new Teavana Tea Bar in New York City has caused plenty of buzz in the U.S. tea market, and understandably so. The photos of the new Tea Bar look great. The design is modern, upscale, and lacks the excessive and flamboyant bright and loud colors that made many men afraid of walking into a Teavana store for fear of being labeled that which they are not by mall passer-bys. There are not many times when I wish that I was in New York City, but the opening of the Teavana Tea Bar had me interested enough to wish just that.

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It is simple to comprehend why many smaller tea business owners are frightened of the corporate machine giant that aspires to take a seat next to them in the neighborhood as soon as possible. They are afraid that the same fate awaits them as many of the smaller retail and grocery stores that have been wiped out by Wal-Mart, Target, and other large corporate chains. That is the nature of capitalism, like it or not. In this economic environment, just like in the jungle or desert, it is adapt or die. Sadly, there certainly will be some smaller businesses that will have to close their doors sooner than they would have to if Teavana never decides to move in.

However, I am suggesting that not every small tea business owner needs to fear the giant. In fact, those who are dynamic and flexible may find that Teavana will help in developing the market, and in a short time actually help the small businesses to find new customers. Yes, they will see huge amounts of clients enter the beautiful new belly of the beast, and this will cause some anxiety, and maybe even the loss of a customer or two at first. My advice may seem counter-intuitive at this point, but in the end it will help immensely. Walk into Teavana, allow their employees to waft some of their teas in your face, maybe even try one or two of the their teas. Get to know the new neighbor. Get to know their products, their marketing, their displays. Learn from them. There is much to learn from the success of others.

Some of you may notice that the term “neighbor” is being used, when the better known phrase is “know your enemy.” If the smaller tea business owners are able to adapt, and some may not even need to do much if anything to adapt, then Teavana is not going to be an enemy. Teavana is going to spend vast amounts of money in marketing and trying to expand the tea market. They will spark the curiosity of some consumers who otherwise may never experience the light of tea in the current market. They will be the lion that brings the meat, and the small tea businesses must be the crafty hyenas. In some areas, the small businesses will be able to grab large chunks of the meal, while the lion will maintain their dominance in other areas.

The fact of the matter is that smaller businesses will not be able to defeat Teavana, nor should they be interested in trying to do so. Teavana indeed has quite the selection of tea and tisane blends, but anyone who is remotely familiar with tea knows that even having one hundred options available is a drop in the bucket of the ever expanding types of tea and the endless number of tastes and blends that can be created. Whether the consumer simply gets tired of Teavana’s blends, or becomes more adventurous and seeks out more artisanal and specialty types of tea, or simply wants to see if the same money can buy better teas elsewhere, there will be plenty of consumers to pull away from the giant.

Watch for opportunities. Watch for weaknesses. They are there. I have found them. I do not see Teavana as a threat, but an exciting opportunity to launch the U.S. tea market to new heights.

Check back for the next installment of this blog series. There is much ground to cover, and much hope to spread.

Photos are courtesy of Nicole Martin of the TeaForMePlease Blog. See her review of the new Teavana Tea Bar by clicking here. Thank you very much, Nicole, for letting me use your photos.

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My Guest Post on the TeaForMePlease Blog

I recently submitted a guest post for Nicole Martin, the administrator of the TeaForMePlease Blog. Check out the post here: http://goo.gl/tFS2Td . It is a short post regarding my studies of the Taiwan Research and Extension Station (TRES). Nicole always has something interesting to read about, so be sure to follow her blog at http://www.teaformeplease.com .

Thank you for taking your time to read this review. Please leave a comment and start a discussion.

Tea, It’s More Than Just a Drink

Occasionally, one must take a a different path from the daily routine, and attempt diligently to view things in a new and different light. Like putting on a pair of infrared goggles, and looking at your living room, bedroom, or office, stepping back and looking at your work and interests through a different spectrum is necessary in obtaining the fullest scope of understanding of that subject, and benefiting from all that it may have to offer. Doing so may even turn out to be the skill that enables you to continue pursuing that career or interest for years to come. No matter how much you believe you know on a subject, be assured that there is always more to learn on some level. Sometimes, it can come as simply as picking up a new book.

After a year of reading educational books about tea, taking multiple certification courses, and doing almost daily sampling and analysis, I took an evening to just sit and casually enjoy a pot of my favorite Ti Kwan Yin oolong. While sipping the tea, the thought struck me that for thousands of years, the focus of studying tea was not on the scientific aspects, but on the spiritual and metaphysical aspects. These ancient people knew nothing of the chemistry, nothing of the antioxidant or caffeine content. They did know three things: one, they could drink it and not die; two, it grew from the Earth; and three, it had noticeable psychological and physical effects. This is an oversimplification of their knowledge and understanding, obviously. However, these people had an appreciation for tea that even the most knowledgeable person in tea science may never be able to feel.

With this thought in mind, I decided to buy a new book. This book was not like my other purchases, since much of the preview material is based on the author’s spiritual beliefs and practices, and less on the scientific and categorical aspects of tea. The name of the book is ‘The Way of Tea : Reflections on a Life With Tea”, but Aaron Fisher. The cover is shown below.

The Way of Tea by Aaron Fisher
The Way of Tea by Aaron Fisher

I just received this book last Friday. I have read the first fifty pages to this point. I must say, despite my skepticism on how interested I would be in the material, I have been pleasantly surprised by my level of interest so far. This book has reminded me that tea is much more than just another beverage to choose from.

Tea has an energy that no other beverage on the planet can imitate. It is not meant to be chugged down as you drive to work, or as you type emails to clients, business partners, etc. Tea always has been, and always will be about taking a step back and feeling the moment. Taking the time to sit in silence, watch the leaves slowly unfurl in the water, appreciate the clean color of the infusion, feel the warmth of the liquid, and enjoy the fresh taste. Finally, carefully observing your body, and feeling the physical and psychological effects of the tea. Each tea whispers it’s own story and wisdom, and learning to hear that message should be the true tea enthusiasts top priority. Anyone can learn the scientific facts of tea, but few know how to truly feel the energy flow through them with each sip.

That being said, it is certainly helpful to know the science and history of tea. As the world tends to side more with the scientific world and less with the metaphysical world, it would be foolish to ignore that which people are most likely to understand. In the outside world, and in the tea marketplace, the scientific and experiential languages are what allows the tea professional to thrive. In the spiritual world, and in one’s own dwelling, it is the metaphysical and spiritual languages that guide the true tea sage to find some form of peace.

I am, by no means, inferring that I am a tea sage. However, I do like to think that I am the metaphorical white belt in this art. I have found peace in tea. I feel that there is more than just an abundance of antioxidants and other physical components to this elixir. Now, with a new book to help shape my awareness, I am ready to take another step. Of course, I will continue learning the science and history of tea, but I will also begin an inner study. Through a balanced curriculum of studying the internal and external worlds of tea, I am confident that I will succeed in finding peace and success through the way of tea.

I am looking forward to finishing this book, and absorbing the wisdom which it has to offer. If you have any suggestions on other tea related books of this nature, please feel free to leave a comment, or email me directly. I thirst for tea, wisdom, and peace.

Be mindful.

Keemun Mao Feng Black Tea from Changsha Nutrahealth

On October 18th of 2013, my journey through the world of tea tasting carried me to the Anhui Province of China. This sample of Keemun Mao Feng tea was provided by Changsha Nutrahealth Biotech Co.

The leaves used in this tea are the same leaves used in the well known and delicious Huang Shan Mao Feng green tea. Generally, these tea bushes are grown in the Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain) region of the Anhui Province. There are some awe inspiring photos of these tea plantations that can be found with a simple Google search of “Huang Shan Tea Farm photo.”

The sample pack has been opened, and a sweet smell of dried fruit and licorice is nicely complimenting the brilliant looking black and gold leaves. Let the journey begin…

Keemun Mao Feng Black Tea Dry Leaves
Keemun Mao Feng Black Tea Dry Leaves

The dry leaves of this Keemun Mao Feng black tea are either a uniform black or gold in color, with a slight edge to the gold leaves in overall number. The leaves are nicely twisted, with a fairly uniform size and shape. The pluck is very evident, being one leaf and the bud. The aroma is sweet, like dried fruit, there is also another slightly sweet and spicy scent, I am going to classify it as licorice, for lack of a better term. There is minimal breakage and no crumbs.

The standard method of preparation was used for this sample. Purified spring water was heated to 200°F (96°C). Seven and a half grams of dry tea leaves were placed in a 21 ounce (600 ml) cast iron tetsubin teapot. The leaves were infused for two minutes.

Keemun Mao Feng Black Tea 1st Infusion
Keemun Mao Feng Black Tea 1st Infusion

The first infusion produced a liquor with a lively deep amber color, clear and transparent. The aroma is sweet like malt, and slightly woodsy. The body is full, with a smooth texture. The taste is sweet (malt), with a very light and pleasant bitterness. The aftertaste is mild and lightly malty.

Keemun Mao Feng Black Tea 2nd Infusion
Keemun Mao Feng Black Tea 2nd Infusion

The second infusion produced a lively deep amber color, very slightly lighter than the first infusion. The aroma remains malty and woodsy. The body remains full and smooth, very slightly lighter than the first infusion. The taste remains sweet (malt), with the bitterness lightening slightly. Aftertaste remains mild and malty. This was a very tasteful second infusion, almost at the same level as the first.

Keemun Mao Feng Black Tea 3rd Infusion
Keemun Mao Feng Black Tea 3rd Infusion

The third infusion produced a brighter shade of amber color. The aroma lightened some, but remains malty, with the woodsy quality having diminished. The body remains surprisingly full and smooth. The taste remains malty, although lighter than the second infusion, with the very light bitterness remaining. Aftertaste is lighter. Overall, still a tasteful third infusion for a black tea. I believe a fourth infusion could provide an acceptable flavor.

Keemun Mao Feng Black Tea Infused Leaves
Keemun Mao Feng Black Tea Infused Leaves

The dry leaves are a perfectly uniform lighter brown color. Pluck is one fine leaf and a bud. Plenty of buds are present, as well as plenty of fully intact leaves, some still attached to the stem. There are also some leaf fragments, but even so are larger fragments. The aroma is sweet and malty. The leaves are somewhat durable, suggesting that a fourth infusion may have some taste to offer.

Having sampled many Darjeeling and Ceylon black teas recently, this Keemun Mao Feng was a nice way to return to the realm of Chinese black tea. This is a nicely balanced, full bodied black tea that anyone can enjoy. Although I found no need for additives to enjoy this tea, it would certainly take milk or cream well. All three infusions had a high quality taste and beautiful color. This tea is ideal for beginning the day. It is easy to understand why teas of this style are popular in breakfast blends.

Margaret’s Hope Golden Delight 2nd Flush 2013 from Lochan Tea Limited

On the morning of October 15th, my journey through the world of tea tasting took me to Margaret’s Hope Tea Estate, located in the Darjeeling area of India. This sample was provided by the Lochan Tea Limited company.

As I learned from the Lochan Tea website, this world famous tea estate was not always known as Margaret’s Hope. The original estate name was Bara Ringtong. The estate kept this name from the year of it’s founding in 1830 until 1927. The owner of the Bara Ringtong Tea Estate in 1927 was Mr. Cruikshank, who’s daughter, Margaret, loved the beautiful landscapes of the Bara Ringtong Tea Estate. After beginning a journey from India to her home in England, Margaret died suddenly, never being able to return to the estate that she adored. In Margaret’s memory, Mr. Cruikshank changed the name of the estate to Margaret’s Hope Tea Estate. Now, this estate is known as one of the premier Darjeeling tea estates.

The sample pack has been opened, and along with the sweet smell I see some larger fully intact leaves, and an abundance of color. Let the journey begin…

Margarets Hope Golden Delight 2nd Flush Dry Leaves
Margarets Hope Golden Delight 2nd Flush Dry Leaves

The dry leaves of this Margaret’s Hope Golden Delight 2nd Flush 2013 have a wide range of color from bright lively green to dark brown, and a generous amount of silver tips. The leaves are gently rolled and curled. There appears to be some fully intact, larger leaves, but the majority are leaf fragments, and some nice buds. A few bare stalks are present. The aroma is fruity and sweet.

The standard preparation method was used for this sample. As directed by Lochan Tea, purified spring water was heated to a boil. Nine grams of dry tea leaves were placed in a 21 ounce (600 ml) cast iron Tetsubin. The tea leaves were infused for 3 minutes.

Margarets Hope Golden Delight 2nd Flush 1st Infusion
Margarets Hope Golden Delight 2nd Flush 1st Infusion

The first infusion produced a liquor with a bright orange-red color, clear and transparent. The aroma is delicate, yet sweet (honey) and floral. The body is medium-full, with a mouthfilling texture and taste. The taste is floral (jasmine), with an aftertaste that is floral with touches of vegetal notes. I don’t know if I have ever had a tea with such a pure floral taste as this. I am interested to see how this tea can maintain this flavor, or mature into other flavors.

Margarets Hope Golden Delight 2nd Flush 2nd Infusion
Margarets Hope Golden Delight 2nd Flush 2nd Infusion

The second infusion produced a liquor with a slightly lighter shade of bright orange-red color. The aroma remains delicately sweet and floral. The taste and body lightened some, but maintains a mouthfilling taste of jasmine flowers with a lightly vegetal finish. I expect the third infusion to be quite light, but still provide an acceptable flavor.

Margarets Hope Golden Delight 2nd Flush 3rd Infusion
Margarets Hope Golden Delight 2nd Flush 3rd Infusion

The third infusion produced a liquor with a lighter shade of orange, much lighter color than the first and second infusions. The aroma is lighter, but still sweet and slightly floral. The body and taste have lightened significantly. The taste is very lightly floral, with a very light vegetal aftertaste. The taste is borderline acceptable, but getting an acceptable taste out of a fourth infusion is doubtful.

Margarets Hope Golden Delight 2nd Flush Infused Leaves
Margarets Hope Golden Delight 2nd Flush Infused Leaves

The infused leaves of this tea are mostly uniform copper-brown, with an occasional green or red leaf mixed in. The majority of the leaves are fragments, with an occasional fully intact leaf and occasional bud being found. The aroma is lightly sweet and lightly floral. The leaves appear nearly exhausted of flavor.

As I mentioned earlier, this tea was very unique in the purity of the floral flavor. Aside from the lightly vegetal finish, all I could taste was a mouthful of delicate jasmine flowers. It is easy to understand why this tea is sought after by tea aficionados the world over. The first infusion was incredible in the aroma and flavor, with both trailing off with additional infusions. This tea would be an excellent choice for those who prefer a tea with more body and a gentle flavor. It has the body of a black tea, with the flavor that only a Darjeeling tea can provide. This tea has been etched in my memory as the tea that tastes like pure natural jasmine. There is no need whatsoever for any blending or additives to make this tea a pleasure to experience.

 

Silver Tips White Tea from Eranga’s Farm

On the evening of October 14th, my journey through the world of tea tasting returned me to the Uva region of Sri Lanka. Though this time it is not the famous black teas of the region that bring me here, it is a Silver Tips white tea from the farm of a man that is both a business contact and what I consider to be my friend.

I am waiting for additional information on the farm and location. Once I have that information, I will update this post.

The sample pack has been opened, and the look of this tea screams high quality. Silver buds, silver buds, and more silver buds. Let the journey begin…

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The dry leaves of this Silver Tips white tea are not leaves at all, it is 100% silver buds. Perfectly uniform size of about 1 inch (25 mm) and needle shape. Almost zero breakage and no crumbs whatsoever. Buds are covered with downy-like hairs. The aroma of these buds is sweet, delicate, and honey like. These buds are honestly pristine.

The standard method of preparation was used for this sampling. Filtered tap water was heated to 175ºF (80ºC). Fifteen grams of dry tea was placed in a 32 ounce (950 ml) glass teapot. The tea buds were infused for 2 minutes. The liquor was strained into a separate decantor.

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The first infusion produced a liquor that was a brilliant, perfectly clean and transparent, pale light yellow in color. The aroma is delicate and lightly floral (honeysuckle?). The body is light and delicate, with a very unique texture. The taste is delicate, with notes of floral (honeysuckle) honeydew melon. The aftertaste is also delicate and floral, and within a few seconds develops a slight honeydew taste. This tea is how white tea should be. Very impressive.

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The second infusion produced a liquor that was slightly darker than the first infusion, maintaining a brilliant, bright, clean, pale light yellow in color. The aroma is slightly stronger than the first infusion, having a delicate floral scent. The taste and body are nearly identical to the first infusion, remaining delicate with floral and honeydew notes. Aftertaste remains light and floral. No diminishment in quality whatsoever.

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The third infusion produced a liquor that was slightly darker than the second infusion, maintaining a bright, clean, pale light yellow color. The aroma is slightly lighter than the second infusion, but remains delicate and floral. The taste is very slightly lighter than the second infusion, but still full of taste. The taste remains delicate, floral, and slightly fruity (honeydew). The aftertaste remains light and floral. Very good quality liquor for a third infusion of a white tea. I expect a fourth and maybe even a fifth infusion to produce an acceptable flavor.

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The infused buds of this Silver Tips white tea are dull green turning to brown in color. The buds are fairly uniform in size and length, averaging just over one inch (25 mm) in length. There is very little breakage, and 99% of the tea is fully intact buds. The smell of the buds is sweet (honey), and very pleasant. The buds feel quite durable, suggesting that an additional infusion or two is possible. Based on the taste of the third infusion, I can see a fifth infusion as a real possibility.

All things considered, this is a truly phenomenal white tea. Much care and effort was put into this tea’s production, and it shows in each sip. As I believe I said earlier, this tea is everything that a white tea should be. Delicate, clean, revitalizing. The production of this tea is very limited due to the size of the tea farm that it is grown on. I am very fortunate for having been given the chance to taste this exquisite tea. Many thanks to my friend, Eranga, for providing me with this sample. This tea is an instant favorite of mine.

Thank you for taking your time to read this review. Please leave a comment and start a discussion.

Makaibari Green Wonder 2nd Flush from Lochan Tea Limited

On October 14th of 2013, my journey through the world of tea tasting took me to the Makaibari Estate, in the Darjeeling area of India. This sample was provided by Lochan Tea Limited.

The Makaibari Tea Estates are located in Kurseong, West Bengal, India. The owner of the Makaibari Tea Estates, Rajah Banerjee, is proud of the biodynamic and sustainable practices, and dedication to natural harmony that his estates employ. Read more about Makaibari Tea Estates at their homepage by clicking here.

The sample pack has been opened, and an interesting blend of Darjeeling tea and Chinese green tea scents have filled my office. Let the journey begin…

Makaibari Wonder Green Dry Leaves
Makaibari Wonder Green Dry Leaves

The dry tea leaves have a bright to dark green color, with some silver tips. The size and shape of the leaves are fairly uniform. The leaves appear to be leaf fragments, with an occasional almost fully intact leaf. Unlike many other Darjeeling teas, this appears to be a “true” green tea, not showing any signs of oxidation during production. The aroma is sweet, like dried fruit and cocoa. There are no vegetal or nutty scents that I can determine.

The standard preparation method was used with this sample. Purified spring water was heated to 175°F (80°C). Seven and a half grams of dry tea leaves were placed in a 20 ounce (600 ml) cast iron tetsubin teapot. The tea leaves were infused for 1 minute and 30 seconds.

Makaibari Wonder Green 1st Infusion
Makaibari Wonder Green 1st Infusion

The first infusion produced a liquor that had a bright, pale yellow color, clear and transparent. The aroma is light, floral and slightly vegetal. The body of the liquor is light to medium, with a clean, refreshing texture. The taste is floral (orchid), vegetal, and a slight astringency that provides a nice balance of flavors. The aftertaste is light and floral.

Makaibari Wonder Green 2nd Infusion
Makaibari Wonder Green 2nd Infusion

The second infusion produced a liquor that was slightly darker than the first infusion, but remains a bright pale yellow color. The aroma remains light, floral, and vegetal. The body of the liquor remains light to medium, very slightly heavier than the first infusion. The taste has taken on stronger floral (orchid) notes, the astringency is slightly more noticeable, and the vegetal notes remain but not as strong. The aftertaste remains floral.

Makaibari Wonder Green 3rd Infusion
Makaibari Wonder Green 3rd Infusion

The third infusion produced a liquor that was darker than the first infusion but lighter than the second infusion. The color remains a bright, pale yellow. The aroma is very light, floral and vegetal. The body is light. The taste has lightened from the second infusion, but is certainly acceptable. The floral notes have lightened, the astringency remains mild, and the vegetal taste is more noticeable than in the second infusion. The aftertaste is floral, and lingers in the sinuses.

Makaibari Wonder Green Infused Leaves
Makaibari Wonder Green Infused Leaves

The infused leaves are light to dark green with an occasional brown leaf. Some other leaves have brown spots. It appears as though some oxidation did occur during processing. There are more fully intact leaves than I initially expected. The leaves are smaller, and the percentage of fragments is higher than the percentage of fully intact leaves. There are a few bare stems, and an occasional bud. The leaves are quite delicate. I would not expect much flavor out of the fourth infusion. The aroma of the leaves is very slightly floral, but mostly a fresh wet leaf smell.

This Darjeeling green tea was a pleasant break from the normal Chinese, Japanese, and Korean green teas. The floral taste was very pleasant, with the vegetal notes and mild astringency providing a nice balance. The texture was very clean, and overall the tea was very refreshing. This tea had a special feel to it that could not be described as a flavor. It gave a sense of relaxation. Some teas have that ability, and when one is found, appreciate it. This Makaibari Green Wonder 2nd Flush tea from Lochan Tea Limited was perfect for this busy Monday morning. Light, refreshing, and relaxing. Thank you, Lochan family, for giving me an opportunity to try this tea.

As I Turn 30 Years Old … A Reflection on my 20’s

This is a non-tea related post in most ways. However, I feel this day and tomorrow are life changing days. My ability to clearly communicate thoughts and ideas through writing is superior to my verbal skills (in my opinion), so I intend to use this blog this one time for personal reflection on the past decade of my life.

Tonight is the last night of my third decade on this planet. Tomorrow, I will be thirty years old. It is amazing to look back at the last ten years, and amazing to see how dreams and goals change over that time. Ten years ago, I was a typical soon to be twenty year old, somewhat confused in what I wanted to do with my life. I was in between colleges, in between relationships, constantly trying to find the path to fulfillment. In those days, I looked in all of the wrong places for fulfillment. Luckily for me, out of all of the bad decisions I made, I was able to find a path out of that life.

While completing my bachelor degree in Accounting, I constantly followed the advice of the published salary outlooks for soon to be college grads. With accounting being on the higher end of the salary outlooks, and math and analysis being my strengths, I decided to go with that, just wanting to make as much money as possible as quickly as I could. I look back at what a foolish decision that was, to chase the idea of quick money, and not chase a dream of personal fulfillment through loving what I do, even if I do not get rich doing it.

I graduated college with decent grades, moved back and forth from home searching for new and exciting opportunities that never lived up to the expectations. In January and February of 2008, I was completely lost. I was sitting at a desk doing nothing fulfilling. I was out drinking way too much with friends. My relationship had fallen apart, ending an engagement. I felt like I had nothing.

My older brother then came to me, asking for my help in starting a business with him in Asheville, North Carolina. I jumped on the opportunity, despite being offered another job in Pittsburgh that had some promise for upward movement in the future. I worked 60 to 70 hours a week for months with my brother, just to have the chance to somewhat control my own fate and move away from Pittsburgh. Then we opened a second location in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Things were getting exciting again.

Well, the excitement for the business did not last long. The economy had bottomed out right at this time, and Myrtle Beach had it’s lowest number of vacationers in years. The business was not doing well. However, all that time, effort, and stress was about to pay off in non-monetary ways.

I had hired two great people from Moldova, who had come to the U.S. as part of a summer work program. While training the one person, I saw a beautiful young woman walk past my space in the mall. My worker saw that I had noticed this woman, and asked if I wanted to meet her. Thinking he meant at a later time, I excitedly said yes. Well, he ran down the hallway of the mall after this girl. Feeling a bit caught off guard, I did my best to be personable and respectful to her. My employee and this woman spoke Romanian to one another, which I knew nothing of. I just looked at them, smiled, shook my head as if I had some idea of what was going on, and tried to be polite.

This moment is the single moment that began me on the path that I currently am following. After only a month and a half of knowing this woman, we decided to take a huge risk with one another. Two weeks later, I married my wife, Alina, in the Horry County courthouse in South Carolina. We knew each other for two months before getting married. We just celebrated our five year anniversary one month ago today.

Wow, has Alina helped me over these years, and not without pain in doing so. Over these five years, my alcohol bar in my gameroom has been fully converted to a tea bar, and all by my choice, not any demand of my wife. Aside from helping me overcome many bad habits, Alina introduced me to loose leaf tea. Since that time, she has remained a rational tea drinker, while I have become a complete tea enthusiast. She has also remained a loyal companion, despite my many flaws.

As I look back on my 20’s, I see much time that was wasted on foolish activities and meaningless endeavors. I also see that pivotal moment in 2008, when my life took an entirely different and unexpected path. With the birth of my son, Alex, in 2011, my life has taken on even more meaning. As I watch him develop in every way, including becoming a tea drinker himself (he loves oolong), I cannot imagine ever going back to those selfish days that dominated the first twenty seven years of my life.

Now, I am approaching the age of thirty. I am only hours away, and yet I feel more confident and more excited for the next ten years. I have a beautiful family. I am becoming an expert of a topic that I have a true passion for (tea), and the founder and soon to be official co-owner of a tea company, Hē Chá Tea. I am highly confident that this company will be successful, but even if it is not, it has been a wonderful experience in learning the tea industry. I am confident that I am walking the path to be a part of an industry that I want to be a part of. I am confident that the next ten years with my family will be better than the first five. I am prepared to be the better person that everyone, including myself, needs me to be.

What a feeling this is, to look ahead and see the clouds of confusion thinning, and the light of fulfillment shining through. Not the fulfillment through tangible possessions, but the fulfillment through the intangible. Family, passion, wisdom, and tea.

May the next ten years allow me to reach my fullest potential. May they give me the wisdom and patience and love to be the best husband and father that I may be. May they give me the intelligence, humility, respect, and opportunities to succeed through my passion. May they give me the willpower to always continue my self-improvement. Finally, may they give me the ability to always find the time to be at peace, and be grateful for all of the blessings that have guided me to where I am today.

If you gotten this far, then thank you for reading my personal reflection on the past ten years. This post has been my official turning of the page from my 20’s to my 30’s. And now … back to TEA!

Arya Ruby 1st Flush 2013 Darjeeling from Lochan Tea Limited

On October 10th of 2013, my journey through the world of tea tasting delivered me to the Arya Estate, in the Darjeeling area of India. This sample was provided by Lochan Tea Limited. For more information on Lochan Tea Limited, please click here.

According to the Lochan Tea website, the Arya Estate has an altitude that ranges from 900 meters (2,700 feet) to 1,820 meters (5,460 feet) above sea level. Since I began my goal of starting a tea wholesale/retail business, I have tried quite a few Darjeeling teas. Up until recently, I always wondered what was different in the processing of Darjeeling teas that allowed them to be so colorful, yet still be considered a “black” tea. The difference, as I now know, is in the process used to wither the leaves. In the Darjeeling area, they use what is called a “very hard wither” prior to the oxidation process. This “very hard wither” causes the tea leaves to lose over 50% of the moisture content, in contrast to the black teas of Assam and Sri Lanka, where the “medium wither” causes the leaves to lose about 35% of the moisture content. Once the leaves are rolled, crushed, or otherwise prepared for oxidation to begin, there is less moisture in the leaves, thus less substance for oxygen to interact with during oxidation. This is the main difference in the processing of Darjeeling black teas which makes it appear so much differently than the black teas of other regions.

The sample packet has been opened, and a sweet smell of dried fruits, caramel, and cocoa are filling my office. Let the journey begin…

Arya Ruby 1st Flush Dry
Arya Ruby 1st Flush Dry

The dry leaves have the typical wide array of colors characteristic of Darjeeling black teas, ranging from green to dark brown, and every color in between, with an abundance of silver tips. The silver tips have a downy like fuzz covering them. The leaves are all fragments, and there is a moderate amount of crumbs. Considering that this is a sample packet, however, some crumbs are to be expected. There are a few bare stems as well. The leaves have a variety of sizes, and most appear lightly twisted and curled. The aroma is very sweet, with scents of dried fruit, caramel, and cocoa.

The standard method of preparation was used for this sampling. Eighteen ounces (550 ml) of purified spring water were heated to 195°F (90°C). Nine grams of dry tea were placed in a cast-iron tetsubin. The tea was infused for 2 minutes.

Arya Ruby 1st Flush 1st Infusion
Arya Ruby 1st Flush 1st Infusion

The first infusion produced a liquor that was a bright orange-red in color, clear and transparent. There was a moderate amount of particles (tea dust). The aroma was floral and spicy (nutmeg). The body is medium to full, with a mouth filling feel. The taste is floral (jasmine/hyacinth?) and spicy (nutmeg). The finish is sweet, with notes of caramel in the aftertaste.

Arya Ruby 1st Flush 2nd Infusion
Arya Ruby 1st Flush 2nd Infusion

The second infusion produced a considerably lighter colored brew, leaning more to the orange color. The aroma remains floral and spicy, but lighter. The body is also lighter. The taste remains mostly floral (jasmine), and spicy (nutmeg). The finish is less sweet, and more floral. I am not certain that the third infusion will have an acceptable taste.

Arya Ruby 1st Flush 3rd Infusion
Arya Ruby 1st Flush 3rd Infusion

The third infusion produced a considerably lighter colored liquor than the second infusion, leaning more to the yellow color with orange tint. The aroma is lighter, but remains floral and spicy. The body and taste are both lighter. The taste is lightly floral and spicy. The aftertaste is very light and floral. Although significantly lighter, I finished the pot. I am not sure if all tea drinkers would find this third infusion to be acceptable, but it got me through the last hour of work.

Arya Ruby 1st Flush Infused Leaves
Arya Ruby 1st Flush Infused Leaves

The infused leaves of this Darjeeling tea range in color from a dull light green to a reddish brown. There is little consistency in the size or shape of the leaves. There are some almost fully intact leaves, but the majority are fragments of various sizes. The smell is floral, and a little sweet. The leaves have the shape and size of the typical Chinese tea bush, which is the common type of tea that thrives in the Darjeeling area.

This Arya Ruby 1st Flush Darjeeling black tea was high quality and unique. The smell of the dry leaves was very enticing. The bright color, floral aroma, and spicy taste of the tea were very enjoyable, and separated it from other Darjeelings that I have had. The aftertaste of caramel was also different from other Darjeelings that many times have more of a honey taste. This tea was a nice “welcome back” to the world of Darjeelings, as I have spent the past month or so focusing on teas from China and Taiwan. By the time I am finished with these samples, I will be very much reacquainted with the Darjeeling area, and I am looking forward to it. Thank you for the opportunity, Lochan family.

Mt. Chilai Traditional Roasted Oolong Tea by Easy Tea Hard Choice Co. Ltd.

On October 9th of 2013, my journey through the world of tea tasting took me to Mount Chilai in Hualien County, Taiwan. This sample of Mt. Chilai Traditional Roasted Oolong was purchased from Easy Tea Hard Choice Co. Ltd. To order a 25 gram sample of your own, please visit http://www.eztea-tw.com.

The tea leaves used to produce this tea are hand-plucked, then hand-processed by tea artisan Mr. Lee Ming Zheng. The tea is grown at an elevation of about 6,000 feet (2,000 meters) above sea level. This is a true high mountain oolong tea.

The sample pack has been opened, and a very complex aroma is hitting my nose. Let the journey begin…

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The dry leaves of this Mount Chilai Traditional Roasted Oolong are brown to dark brown in color. They are tightly rolled into semi-ball shape. These semi-ball leaves have an average size of a pea. Many of the leaves have the stem still attached. There is minimal breakage, and no crumbs whatsoever. Now, on to the best part, the aroma. To be honest, the aroma is usually the difficult part of the analysis and description for me, as I find my sense of smell to be rather weak. This tea, however, had the most complex and layered aroma of dry leaves that I can remember smelling. I would like to note that I had not been eating or smelling anything within 30 minutes of doing this review, so I do not believe my smell was masked by non-tea influences. The smell began as a typical roasty and woody smell. After a few deep inhales, nice scents of cocoa and mint started to break through the roasty and woody scents. Once I was able to put all of the scents together, the full aroma was bewildering. It was among the best smells I have ever experienced. Truly outstanding.

The standard preparation method was used to perform this sampling. Filtered tap water was heated to 195ºF (90ºC). Twelve grams of dry leaves were placed in a 32 ounce (950 ml) glass teapot. The leaves were infused for 2 minutes, then strained into a separate decantor.

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The first infusion produced a liquor that was a bright golden-yellow in color, clear and transparent. The aroma is roasted nuts, woody, and lightly floral. The liquor is medium to full bodied, with a smooth texture. The taste has notes of flowers, roasted nuts, wood, and mineral. The aftertaste lingers with a mostly floral, slightly mineral taste. The taste of this tea is very nicely layered. I am excited to see how this tea will mature in the second infusion.

Another quick note, while the water was heating for the second infusion, I smelled the wet leaves in the pot. Again, these leaves have an aroma that is simply amazing. A scent of strong flowers (hyacinth?), cocoa, mint, and wood. I almost don’t trust my nose right now, that is how interesting and unique these leaves smell.

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For this second infusion, I increased the temperature 10ºF to 205ºF (96ºC), and kept the infusion time to 2 minutes.

The second infusion produced a liquor that was darker than the first infusion, with a golden yellow color. The aroma maintains the roasted nut scent, with wood and lightly floral. The taste has changed significantly. The body feels heavier, with a more mouth filling texture. The taste has become woody and floral, but the floral is different than the first infusion. It is more pronounced and bold. There is also a more pronounced mineral flavor. The aftertaste remains lingering and floral. This second infusion had a stronger, more bold character, and it was simply amazing. This second infusion lived up to any expectation that the dry leaf aroma created. It is very interesting how the slightly hotter water temperature changed the entire dynamic of the tea.

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The change in color between the photos of the second and third infusions is due to the fact that my iPhone died mid-sampling, and I had to use the camera on my tablet for this third infusion. The true color difference between the second and third infusion is minimal. The color of the third infusion remains bright golden yellow. The aroma has lightened on the roasted nuts and wood smell, but those two scents remain the strongest, with the floral scents being slightly more noticeable than in the second infusion. The body and taste has lightened considerably, with notes of floral, wood, mineral, and roasted nuts. The aftertaste remains strong and floral. Lighter than the second infusion, but still incredibly tasteful. There is nothing to be ashamed of in this third infusion. I am confident that a fourth and maybe a fifth would produce highly acceptable flavors.

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The infused leaves of this oolong are a uniform dark green color. The pluck is mostly two leaves and a bud, with the occasional three and a bud pluck. Almost all of the leaves are fully intact, many still attached to the stem. There are very few fragments. The leaves have retained a considerable amount of structural durability after three infusions, suggesting that one or two additional infusions are possible. The aroma is roasty, with light floral and woody scents.

Easy Tea Hard Choice has surprised me yet again with another great oolong tea. The aroma of the dry leaves got me extremely excited, and the taste of all three infusions kept me interested. I have nothing but positive things to say about every aspect of this tea. This tea is difficult to compare to other oolongs, as the aroma and taste were very unique. My suggestion to you reading this, go to the website referenced at the top of this review, order this 25 gram sample packet, as well as a 25 gram sample of the Red Rhythm Black Tea, or any of the samples for that matter, wait excitedly for the package to arrive, then sit back and prepare yourself for a great pot of tea.

Thank you for taking your time to read this review. Please leave a comment and start a discussion.