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A friend wanted to share some tea that she was given. I said I would host a tea party. In our house, any excuse will work for a tea party. I invited some friends over. They brought snacks: cucumber sandwiches, lemon bars, scones and clotted cream. We never decline snacketto’s. 

In attendance to this soiree was a certified Tea Master, Nicole Armstrong. If you don’t know Nicole, you should. She knows tea, and loves to share that knowledge. We were enchanted by her enthusiastic manner and knowledge of these particular teas.

In Pursuit of Tea is a tea business out of Watertown, MA, with pure, full leaf and organic teas, when possible. I love the way that rolls off the tongue……Watertown. I think there’s a Frank Sinatra song by that name as well. Even Frank liked the sound of Watertown. 

Nothing is needed to brew In Pursuit of Tea, therefore, nothing is added. No flavorings, no inferior quality lots of tea mixed in. We first sampled White Peony, or Bai Mudan, from Fujian, China. It’s a white tea: delicate, subtle, with a nice mouthfeel. The aroma of the initial steeping was sweet, like honey and melon. The taste matched. I love White Peony, which by the way, has nothing to do with the flower. The Chinese just like the sound of peony in a tea name. Maybe they like how it rolls off their tongue. We steeped this tea four times, and each time, the flavor was subtly stronger, and still eminently drinkable. 

Second tea brewed was Tieguanyin 16-Year Aged, also from Fujian, China. Ok, I love Oolongs as well, and this tea had a wonderful roasty smell that was an indication of the taste to come. No disappointment there, but by the third steeping, I was beginning to taste the tannin in the tea. 

Third tea was a Darjeeling First Flush, from the Steinthal Estate, in West Bengal, India. A black tea, it has floral overtones, and the passionfruit taste slurps around in your mouth. Darjeelings are a wonderful introduction to black teas. It spoils you right away.

Experimenting with loose teas is a different adventure than bagged tea, not that there’s anything wrong with bagged tea. I grab a bag of tea when I am running out the door, or in a hurry, or want a particular blend (and there are several that I like) but if I have more time than usual, I choose loose leaf. It’s a signal to my brain to slow down, put my feet up, and take some time to relax.

It is called Honey Orchid Black, and the smell alone of the long dry tea leaves is intoxicating. There is a sweet smell like Summer going into Fall. I imagine that the sweetness is the honey, except that there is no flavor added to the tea leaves. These are pure teas, unadulterated, unadorned with berries, flavors, or anything that would add to the taste. Good tea can stand on it’s own, without masking or adding to the original product. Not that I don’t like flavored teas. I love Jasmine green teas and Coconut Oolongs, and several herbal teas. I just appreciate that this tea stays the same from leaf to pot. It’s that good.

Once brewed, the tea takes on a rich, caramel color, and that honey smell pervades. The taste matches the smell, with sweetness and a background taste of nuttiness, to counter the sweet. 

Who knew that black tea could be so subtle?

Honey Orchid Black comes from the Hunan Province in China, in the south-central section of the country. The province has been producing tea for centuries, and is one of the largest areas in China to produce tea.

You can buy it and other fine teas online at Snow Lotus Teas, a local to Seattle tea purveyor, and participant of the annual NW Tea Festival.

Sometimes tea, like everything else, is purchased because of the packaging. In this case, I wasn’t sure of a “tonic herbal”, but the packaging of Wild Sage Organic Tonic Herbals was creative, so I tried two herbal/tea blends. From the ingredients, it didn’t look like it was going to be too tonic-y, which a lot of healthy teas seem to be. I don’t mind healing teas if the taste is palatable. Otherwise, I am not so inclined. 

In this case, both of the teas I tried were enjoyable. The first tea, TAI CHI, contains peppermint, spearmint, and licorice, mixed among the medicinal herbals. Mint blends nicely with nettles (the herbal), which by itself, is an acquired taste. I have not yet acquired any taste for nettles, healthy as it is. The wet leaves are a beautiful bright green, and the smell is minty with a little earthiness. Probably the nettles. TAI CHI is a rejuvenating tea, a pick-me-up for clarity of thinking. I liked the taste.

The other herbal tea, CELEBRITEA, contains spearmint, lavender, lemongrass, lemon balm, and medicinal herbals. Not so much mint, a little lemon, lavender, and healthy herbals. The taste was a little more medicinal, not quite so minty, but still very drinkable. 

Wild Sage has found a way to blend healthy medicinal herbals with pleasing, aromatic, non-caffeinated herbal teas. If you are looking for teas to address a specific health issue, these teas are just the ticket, and the information on their website is comprehensive. If you are searching for delightful tasting herbal teas incorporating health benefits beyond traditional teas, these teas are perfect. Smelling fragrant both dry and wet, they appeal on a wet, winter day.   

Wild Sage Tea resides in Port Townsend, WA, but you can experience them for yourself at the Kuan Yin Teahouse and the East West Bookshop, both in Seattle. More sites are listed on their website.

Discover new teas. They probably will not hurt you and, in this case, they will definitely help you.

photo courtesy of Wild Sage

At the NW Tea Festival last year, a woman named Shalini Prakash Agarwal arrived representing the Glenburn Tea Estate, which is located in India, local office in Irvine, Ca. Shalini is part of a family of five generations of tea growers who plant tea from the Himalayas in Darjeeling to the plains of Assam. They are one of 87 tea planters that can label tea Darjeeling, having been grown in the Darjeeling region of India. Besides the tea, Glenburn Estate owns a boutique hotel named The Glenburn, in case you are in a mood to visit India and experience for yourself tea plantations. The scenery is spectacular, the backdrop is the Himalayas. Nice place for a cup of tea. Maybe a little pricey!

In the meantime, you can try the tea without going to India. The Glenburn Estate has best growing seasons for tea: Spring, Summer, Monsoon, and Autumn. I decided on something from the Autumn collection, Autumn Oolong, which I purchased from Phoenix Tea, in Burien. Upon opening the package, the tea had a light, floral, glorious smell.

The whole leaf is used in brewing tea, and it stays intact through infusion. This particular tea is made in small batches toward the end of the tea plucking season, making it less available throughout the year. I had not thought about drinking tea in harmony with the seasons of the year, and yet, some teas are like some foods; in-season tea tastes different than out-of-season tea. Strawberries in June and July taste better than strawberries in January or February. Unless you live in Argentina. Which I don’t. 

Following tea seasons can invite a whole host of new teas to try, and another way to increase your tea awareness, plus one-upping your snooty Aunt Angela who thinks that she knows everything there is to know about tea. 

Now for the tea: Autumn Oolong is full flavored with a smooth light taste, like fine wine. Tea in the cup color is a reddish caramel, and there is that wonderful floral bouquet that accompanies the tea. It is easily sipped all day.

Really? Why didn’t I think of this? Tea has infused itself into everything else, why not candy?

…and now it has. 

If you like iced Sweet Tea, from The South, you will love these candies. Sweet Tea, in case you are unfamiliar, is so sweet that it can give you diabetes and add six pounds of fat to your frame as you are swallowing the candy. I believe that there is more sugar than tea in Sweet Tea. But no more, perhaps, than Coca Cola, if you are inclined that way. 

It’s a little too sweet for me, except for going to the theater, where I am prone to coughing during performances. In that case, the small candies are perfect for coughing attacks, keeping my discomfort to a minimum. I am throwing these little snacketto’s in the bottom of my purse, for future theater soirees.

Even though it’s “all natural”, and contains anti-oxidants (according to the packaging), it’s still candy, and loaded with sugar. Not that there is anything wrong with candy……….

But I will take my tea in another form, thanks. 

I don’t know why I thought that Harney & Sons Fine Teas were British, but I did. And I am wrong. John Harney started the company 30 years ago in Salisbury, Connecticut, making the company very American. 

No matter.

The company is now based in Millerton, New York, part of the Hudson Valley. They are a family owned business which sources, blends, and packages over 300 teas.

Thinking that I would try a few, I arbitrarily picked several, and went home to a tea tasting afternoon on a snowy day in Seattle.  

In no particular order, I began with Hot Cinnamon Sunset. The smell was wonderful, the taste familiar. In Seattle we have a local tea similar to this, and it reminded me of that, with it’s cinnamon, cloves, and orange peel. It’s hard to go wrong with this tea, or any tea with cinnamon, cloves, and orange peel, especially in cold weather.

Next I tried a decaf tea. Every so often, I try a decaf, just to make sure that I don’t really care for it. I don’t get what the fuss is about decaf teas when there are so many really nice herbal teas, but I tried once again a decaf: Harney’s Vanilla Comoro. I liked the name and the idea of vanilla in the tea to offset the decaf flavor. However, it leaves a bitter aftertaste that the vanilla doesn’t cover, so once again, I do not like decaf teas. 

That’s just me.

On to Tower of London Blend, which I liked very much. It had a little bergamot and honey added, which made it quite nice. The tea itself was smooth and smelled like something I would want to drink on a snowy afternoon, which is what it was. 

I followed with African Autumn, a rooibos with cranberry and orange, followed by Pumpkin Spice, which smells like the Fall, and both were welcome treats. It’s like dessert without the sugar. 

I finished with the Organic Darjeeling, which was sublime. This was a perfect tea with which to finish my afternoon of tasting. It was light, almost smelling of summer peaches, and tasting clean, light and comforting. 

Snow is starting to melt, and tea time is over.

At the NW Tea Festival which, if you did not attend you missed, I bought several kinds of teas from several different vendors. That is the point, is it not?

This year I tried the Yellow Mudan and the Haiku Peach, from the Jasmine Pearl Tea Company. They venture up from Portland, Oregon, if you need a cup of tea in Portland.  I had experience with yellow tea at the Phoenix Tea Shop, here in Burien, just south of Seattle. On Saturday mornings, the Phoenix does tea tastings, and one Saturday, we tasted some yellow tea. I really liked it, so when I came across it at the NW Tea Festival, I scarfed some to take home. 

Yellow tea is subtle, somewhere between a white tea and a green. It’s almost buttery on the tongue, and is a good sipping tea for all day. Unlike several green teas, it doesn’t taste like grass, an acquired taste. Do I look like a cow, looking for a nice, green, grassy snack? Still, I know, some people love that taste. I prefer the acquired taste of Scotch. 

It’s hard to go wrong with white peach tea, and the Haiku Peach is no exception. It might be my new favorite all-day sipping tea.

While in Portland recently, I visited the Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants. Situated near the Rose Quarter, the parking was easy, the store was bright and easy to navigate, the tea people were helpful, and the tea was fabulous. It was an enjoyable and relaxing afternoon.

A train trip to Portland and an afternoon of tea tasting is rest for the brain.

On a trip to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, my friends stopped for High Tea in the Oak Bay neighborhood at the White Heather Tea Room. I love tea rooms; they seduce you from the street with promises of relaxation and pampering. The tea served was from Special Teas, another Victoria tea room that blends and flavors it’s own teas.

My good fortune in all of this was receiving three black teas to sample, from my friends, the High Tea people. I began with Lemon Spice, which was not at all like orange spice. Lemon is more astringent, and this was so. It smelled spicy with lemon overtones, and had a delicate taste with no bitter aftertaste. 

Next I tried Canadian Breakfast: an unusual black tea blended with Earl Grey and Jasmine. Nice mix. Earl Grey’s like to dominate all other flavors, but this stayed light. The taste was definitely there, and as the tea cooled, the Jasmine appeared while the Earl Grey receded. 

Last to taste, the Vietnam OP (Orange Pekoe) organic. Straight black tea from Vietnam. No flavors, nothing added. We don’t see much tea from Vietnam, so I was interested in how this would fare with better known black teas. Possessing a nice caramel color, it had a nice, clean smell and taste. It wasn’t vastly different from other good quality black teas I tasted. 

Just to be fair, I tried it again in the morning. After all, I sampled it with two flavored teas, and maybe that influenced my view of the tea.


Vietnam OP is a nice, clean, straight black tea, a tea to drink first thing in the morning. It’s a welcome-to-the-new-day tea, which is when I will drink it. 

Should you be spending time in Victoria, BC, Canada, take some time to enjoy either tea room, or explore and find another. Tea is a journey of tastings.

What the heck, we were already here for a class. So after class, we trotted over to the Steven Smith Tea Shop, in the northwest part of Portland, Oregon. Small and intimate, it was a welcoming stop after spending two hours and three million dollars at Powell’s Bookstore, the greatest bookstore in the world for book lovers.  This, of course, is only my opinion, but it is my blog…

We sat at the tea bar, and smelled several teas before deciding on the four that we sampled in a tasting session called “A Flight of Teas”. The four that we chose were  White Petal, Jasmine Pearl, Yunnan, and Big Hibiscus: white, green, black, and an herbal tea. From the subtle and delicate white tea to the big flavor of herbal hibiscus, it was quite the treat. White Petal was soft, whispery, and sweet while the Jasmine Pearl (green) was drier, with a little more astringency. I can drink either all day. The Yunnan (black) seemed uninteresting to me, and the Big Hibiscus was overflowing with flavor. Anything with hibiscus and ginger has my vote. We tasted one more: Bungalow, a first and second flush organic Darjeeling black tea. It was smooth and almost buttery with a nice aftertaste. It’s not your grandmother’s tea.

I appreciated the idea of tasting four teas at once, and the price was right: $8. It was enough tea for the both of us. Steven Smith has a brilliant idea in four-tea tasting, and this is a great way to sample various teas without having to commit to buying quantities of tea you may not like once you get them home. Sometimes tea smells wonderful, and the taste doesn’t match. It’s somehow less; too astringent, cloyingly sweet, overly smoky. 

Other tea establishments might consider a small sampling to educate the public about tea, and encourage novelty in tea tasting. Do you really need to buy the same tea time after time, day in and day out? It’s monotonous, just so you know.

If you are passing through Portland, or have some reason to be there, stop by Steven Smith Tea Shop. It isn’t far from the Pearl District, and there’s parking. I love that. 

Steven Smith Tea, 1626 NW Thurman St, Portland, Oregon, 1-800-624-9531.

It you are in Seattle, you can find Steven Smith Teas at the Perennial Tea Room, 1910 Post Alley, Seattle, Wa, 1-206-448-4054.

Be adventuresome. Life is too short to be boring!

The NW Tea Festival arrived last weekend, with beautiful, blue sky weather. Both days of the Festival were late summer weather. Seattle Center was brimming with people out sunning themselves, playing in the fountain, and attending the Festival. Tea was poured, snacks were eaten, conversation flowed, talks were given, and pottery was fired outdoors. No one froze out there, either. 

It was glorious. I love festivals. 

I drank gallons of tea, one tasting cup at a time. It took me all day. I like to chat up the vendors and fellow tea tasters. I sampled everything. I bought 8 new teas, to go with the 67 tins of tea that I already have at home. 

What is it about tea shops that we want to smell, taste, and take home new teas when we have quite enough already? Ok, I also have enough screwdrivers and flashlights, but I keep seeming to buy more of those as well. If you need a flashlight, a screwdriver, or a cup of tea……………see me.

And maybe I will see you next year at the NW Tea Festival, 2014. It’s never too early to plan for a festival!