Does Your Teacup Matter?

In matters of your teacup, COLOR matters.

If it didn’t, marketers wouldn’t be investing research dollars to optimize the color of that kid’s cereal box or the upscale restaurant menu.

Mug by Delores Fortuna (photo used with the artist’s permission)

We are easily swayed by our own perceptions, with a 2014 study showing that a cup’s color influences how people rate the flavor of coffee and hot chocolate.

This is nothing new, however!

Already in the 8th century, Chinese scholar and tea expert Lu Yu had definite opinions about the color of his teacup.

A white vessel? It made green tea appear an undesirable red. Yellow or brown? Made the tea look purple, even worse.

green-gunpwd-webGreen, however, was considered by Yu to be the best option, with its hue “enhanc[ing] the color of the tea in just the way required” (Faulkner 2003).

Color of the vessel is not the only parameter, however. Lighting obviously plays a role, as does the size of the cup.

Using Temple of Heaven China Gunpowder (a green tea), a few different cups, and identical lighting (on my counter next to a window on a cloudy day), the difference is easy to see.

I brewed in a glass beaker, in which the tea color changes slightly depending on if you view the beaker from the side or the top:


Tea hue changed according to the size and depth, as well as color, of the teacup:


So just what color IS my tea?

And more importantly, what expectations do I bring to the cup—before I even taste it—based on what I perceive?

–Faulkner, R. Tea: East and West, V&A Publications, London, 2003.
–Van Doorn, G. H., D. Wuillemin, and C. Spence. “Does the colour of the mug influence the taste of the coffee?” Flavour 3:10, 2014.

Temple of Heaven China Gunpowder is available at


A Teapot to Counteract Gray Skies

When you wake up to this:

it’s like, seriously?-I’m-so-done-with-winter! I mean really, it’s mid-April.

Even the snowdrops—which are supposed to be blooming in the snow—seem to have given up all hope.


Perhaps a cheery cup of tea to brighten the gray, gray, endlessly and persistently gray skies. . . .


Dreaming of sunny tulips and blue skies perhaps?

This vintage Dutch Girl teapot was from Lefton, a porcelain import company that was founded in the U.S. by George Zoltan Lefton in 1941, three years after fleeing Nazi Hungary. The company eventually employed over 400 people and had eighteen showrooms. According to his obituary, George was

known as “The China King” for his work in porcelain imports. . . . [and] developed current practices in the porcelain giftware industry.

A few years after George’s death in 1996, the company was sold.

How my grandmother came to have this teapot I have no clue. She was neither Dutch nor, to my knowledge, a tea drinker.

However, she—like Lefton, an immigrant to the U.S.—may have found this kitschy teapot beguiling with the girl’s slightly wistful, slightly sad, faraway expression.

And perhaps dreaming of something more profound, more significant. That which remains hidden. . . .


Source: Chicago Tribune, “George Zoltan Lefton,” June 2, 1996.

Make Your Own Sparkling Teas

ceylon_crop-webSparkling Teas . . .

are coming soon to your local grocery store, if they haven’t already shown up.

But you can make sparkling tea today—

  • by yourself,
  • with your favorite tea, and
  • with total control of just how much, if any, sugar they contain.

To compare, the new Sanpellegrino + Tea (by Nestlé Waters) contains organic tea extract, real fruit juice, and cane sugar; there are 50 calories per serving (Dobos 2018).

Another sparkling tea called SoMATCHAAH! by Matchaah is also pending. According to its website, the new beverage will contain matcha tea, carbonated water, cane sugar, citric acid, and natural flavors. Although it touts the antioxidant benefits of matcha, again, there’s the cane sugar.

While these teas are undeniably convenient, it’s too bad they contain sugar.

Back in 2015 a study found that:

Consumption of SSB [sugar-sweetened beverages] such as soft drinks . . . was associated with higher type 2 diabetes risk independently of socio-demographic, lifestyle and dietary factors. . . . Our findings suggest that reducing consumption of sweet beverages, in particular soft drinks and sweetened-milk beverages, and promoting drinking water and unsweetened tea or coffee as alternatives may help curb the escalating diabetes epidemic. (O’Connor et al. 2015) [emphasis added]

Further, the study suggests that if water or unsweetened tea or coffee is substituted for just one sugar-sweetened beverage on a daily basis, the diabetes risk evidently decreases by 14–25%, which seems decently significant!


So why not enjoy tea’s health benefits without the added sugar?

TeaHaus suggests a couple of ways to make amazingly refreshing sparkling tea. And depending on the tea used (fruit teas really shine here), you can come up with something similar to lightly flavored sparkling water or a concoction more like a soft drink.

Note: You can add carbonation to any tea. Simply start with concentrated tea and add carbonated water and ice, adjusting the ratios to your personal preference.

Method One

Measure out three times the amount of tea you would normally use. For example, if you are making a 20-ounce glass of iced carbonated tea, use triple the amount of tea and add 6 oz of hot water (use temperature and brew time specified for that particular tea).

Fill a 20-ounce glass about half full with ice.

Pour in the brewed tea and add carbonated water to fill the glass (you can either make your own carbonated water with a carbonation machine or use bottled sparkling water).

Top off with ice.

Note:  If you prefer, add agave or honey while the tea is brewing.

lade_final-webMethod Two

Make a tea-infused syrup and add to any sparkling water (or sparkling wine!—though I suppose that may negate some of the health benefits you are going for, depending on which side of the “wine is good/bad for you” debate you support).

Syrup:  Add 12 grams (about ½ ounce) of tea to 16 ounces of boiling water; allow to infuse for 15 minutes to overnight. Strain and cool completely.

And Enjoy . . .

–Dobos, E. “Budding products: new carbonated teas,” World Tea News, April 9, 2018.
–O’Connor, L. et al. “Prospective associations and population impact of sweet beverage intake and type 2 diabetes, and effects of substitutions,” Diabetologia, March 6, 2015.

Assam Tea Workers and Industry Still Beleaguered

Would you be willing to pay 15% more for your cup of tea so that a tea worker could receive a 25% wage increase?

assam 155
Assam Mokalbari


Well, if you’ve heard how many workers in the tea industry struggle to subsist on low wages, it’s a no-brainer.

Consider Assam, where strikes are possibilities (Bolton 2018) and salary negotiations are ongoing (Ghosal 2018)—and tea producers are weighing the balance between wages and profits.

The vice president of Corporate Sector Ratings notes that if wages go up 25% in Assam:

organized bulk tea players based in North India would witness a considerable deterioration in operating margins, unless there is a commensurate rise in prices of tea on a sustainable basis. . . . a minimum price increase of around 15% would be required to cushion the impact of higher wages. (Ghosal 2018)
Important decisions, with consequential results.
150 montage-rev
Assam Mangalam
 According to an in-depth analysis of Assam’s tea industry (Arya 2013):
  • tea is “the most important crop in Assam”
  • Assam tea ranks among the world’s best
  • over half of the tea produced in India is from Assam
  • one-sixth of the world’s tea is from Assam
  • the largest CTC tea auction center, and the “second largest in terms of total tea,” in the world is in Assam
  • 17% of Assam’s work force works in the tea industry
  • Assam has more than 2500 tea gardens and 850 tea estates
160 leaves
Assam Marangi tea leaves before and after brewing

So it seems an easy fix to simply raise wages and tea prices, but we all know that things are never ever that simple.

Assam, in northeast India, is bisected by the Brahmaputra River. The unique environment—humid and hot—contributes to the malty flavor that is characteristic of Assam teas.

This unique environment also means that:

  • the lowland grown-tea is on the boundary of tea-growing regions, making it quickly affected by any temperature increase (Kahn 2015),
  • the river has too much silt, so is susceptible to erosion—and flooding—during heavy rains, and
  • because tea is sensitive to precipitation levels, vacillations in rainfall are devastating—and in the past several years, Assam has been beset with periods of drought alternating with heavy rains.

There are many factors to weigh when calculating wages vs profits. The entire enterprise must be sustainable in the face of climate change, which will directly impact the tea industry.

And the problems that plague the industry of course directly impact the lives of millions of people in Assam.

Something to keep in mind if the price of your favorite Assam does indeed go up. . . .

989 all three crop copy

–Arya, N. “Growth and development of tea industry in Assam,” International Journal of Scientific & Engineering Research 4(7):226–73. 2013.
–Bolton, D. “Assam tea workers consider strike for higher minimum wage,” World Tea News, March 27, 2018.
–Ghosal, S. “Profit margins of tea producers to improve: ICRA,” The Economic Times, April 3, 2018.
–Kahn, B. “Global warming changes the future for tea leaves,” Scientific American, June 4, 2015.

Springtime Buds include Darjeeling First-Flush Tea

Every spring bud holds a promise.

And this is true of tea plants as well, for the tea-budfirst buds that begin to open in spring constitute the first flush or “spring” harvest—especially vital in places like Darjeeling, where the first-flush teas command the highest prices.

Tea plucking in Darjeeling began a couple weeks ago with “only reluctant support from workers” (Bolton 2018).

Many had not yet received the 19.75% bonus for 2016–2017 that they had been promised back in September (Gazmer 2018), following a months-long strike that shut down the tea gardens. The Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labourers’ Union, which had been threatening to stop the harvest, eventually said that plucking could take place in those gardens “that will give written assurance to pay the remaining bonus within a time frame” (Gazmer 2018).

leaves-webThis is not trivial—to the workers whose livelihood this is, or to the tea industry in Darjeeling, as this first plucking brings in 35% of the year’s profits; last year’s strike meant a loss of around $61.6 million (Bolton 2018).

Plus, Nepal growers are only too ready to step in, offering comparable tea at a far lower cost (see my earlier post on Nepali teas).

The first harvest runs through April, with generally over 18 million pounds of tea produced! Two to three weeks after the first-flush harvest has ended, the second-flush plucking will begin.
Shown above is first-flush Steinthal, with dark green and brownish leaves. (Steinthal is one of the oldest tea gardens in Darjeeling.)leaves-in-basket-web

While black teas are usually brewed for several minutes, a first-flush Darjeeling is brewed for a shorter time because its leaves are more delicate, being the bud and tender new leaves.

The green of the leaves becomes more pronounced during brewing, with the brewed leaves ranging from celery to dark green, and definitely looking more like green tea than black.

With a crisp and slightly grassy aroma, the liquor of Steinthal Darjeeling is a bit nutty but more astringent—as any good first flush should be. spring-montage-web

Springtime buds . . .
the promise of blossoms,
the promise of beauty,
the promise of harvest. 

–Bolton, D. “Darjeeling first flush experiencing jittery start,” World Tea News, March 13, 2018.
–Gazmer, D. “Union threatens to stop Darjeeling tea first flush pluck,” The Times of India, March 13, 2018.
Darjeeling Steinthal is available at

Cambodia’s Lotus Tea

Magnificent temple complexes, some nearly engulfed by huge trees, captivate.

tea-pkg-webThis is Cambodia, once part of the China-India-Southeast Asia trade route.

It is also home to a Cambodian subspecies of tea, Camellia assamica subspecies lasiocalyx, although an article published in 2016 maintains it is more accurately a variety and not a subspecies.

Either way, lasiocalyx grows as a tree, around 15 feet high, as opposed to Camellia sinensis, which is considered a bush, although it too can reach 15 feet high. (C. sinensis is native to China whereas C. assamica is native to India.)

Also found in Cambodia is lotus tea.

The lotus “symbolizes purity, beauty, majesty, grace, fertility, wealth, richness, knowledge and serenity” (The Flower Expert) and is entwined in the artwork, culture, and religions of Asia.

All parts of the lotus plant are edible, and the light pink petals interspersed with tea leaves make a pretty composition.

Although the package of this lotus tea (Product of Cambodia for Artisans Angkor by Senteurs d’Angkor), brought back from Cambodia by my daughter and son-in-law, says it is a “black tea delicately flavored with lotus from Cambodia,” the loosely rolled leaves look far more like green, or a green oolong, tea.


The brewed cup is an antique gold color, with an aroma lightly floral, reminiscent of jasmine.tea-teapot-4-web

With a subtle floral flavor—more on the vegetal bright side than oxidized—this tea agrees with its aroma and reminds of jasmine green tea. It is not sweet, and is overall a very delicate (and delightful) tea.

Sipping lotus tea conjures up images of Cambodia for my daughter and her husband:

seeing lotus flowers across from the rice fields while traveling a red dirt road on a tuk tuk,


strolling through a temple with the pleasant wafting of incense.

Tea can take you across the world. . . .


–Das, A. P. and C. Ghosh. “New combination name for the Cambod variety of tea,” Pleione 10(1):167–68. 2016.
–The Flower Expert. “Lotus flowers,”
–Pettigrew, J. The Tea Companion, Running Press, Philadelphia, 2004.

“Storm in a Teacup”?

Yeah, yeah, “don’t judge a book by its cover”—but in reality, that cover and that title are exactly what make us pick up and open said book!

So when confronted with the Irish tea blend “Storm in a Teacup,” well of course I had to pick it up and buy it.


I expected a rather rousing brew, especially as the package promises “a stormy, spicy herbal blend with a breeze of anise taste.”

The tea itself, a Special House Blend by Cupán Tae in Galway, is a very pretty blend of blackberry leaves, fennel, mullein flowers, balm, aniseed, ribwort leaves, apple bits, rosehip peels, marigold petals, elder flowers, elderberries, peony petals, and peppermint.


The brew is a dark brick color, with an herbal aroma of fennel and mint.

And the flavor? Mild, muted, definitely not what I’d consider “stormy spicy.” It’s pleasant, with a flavor less fennel-y than the aroma suggests. A bit floral but not like flowers. It’s herbal sweet.

This would be a great tea at bedtime, soothing and calming. But storm? Not so much.

However, storm in a teacup? Well, that’s a different thing.

So What Is a Storm in a Teacup?

This idiom—meaning something that has been exaggerated out of proportion—goes back centuries. Around 52 BC, Roman statesman Cicero wrote Excitabat fluctus in simpulo meaning “He was stirring up billows in a ladle” (The Phrase Finder) or Excitabat enim fluctus in simpulo ut dicitur Gratidius, translated as “For Gratidius raised a tempest in a ladle, as the saying is” (Wikipedia).

Various sources offer differing timelines of the sentiment as used in English. According to The Phrase Finder, the first English version is found in a 1678 letter from the Duke of Ormond to the Earl of Arlington:

“Our skirmish . . .  is but a storm in a cream bowl,”

and the first English “tempest in a teapot” in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, in 1825:

What is the ‘tempest raging o’er the realms of ice’? A tempest in a teapot!

followed a few years later by Catherine Sinclair writing:

“As for your father’s good-humoured jests being ever taken up as a serious affair, it really is like raising a storm in a teacup.” (Modern Accomplishments 1838)

Wikipedia, however, says that Lord Chancellor Thurlow of England used “tempest in a teapot” in the late 1700s, and that the Prime Minister

is credited for popularizing this phrase as characterizing the outbreak of American colonists against the tax on tea.

Irish landscapeAlthough Thurlow was quite wrong about those colonists, this phrase could actually fit the Irish tea blend—trumpeting “storm,” but actually brewing up into a soothing and understated balm.

–Martin, G. “The meaning and origin of the expression: tempest in a teapot,” The Phrase Finder, 2018.
–Wikipedia. “Tempest in a teapot,” October 21, 2017.