“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.


Herbal Japanese Mulberry Leaves Tea, an Antidote to a Lousy Morning

The weather sucks with the lousy rain turning into heavy wet snow and I have a migraine and my car is making a loud scraping sound whenever I turn left.


I totally get that these are very minor complaints in light of, well, pretty much everything else that’s happening pretty much all around us pretty much every day these days.

Still. Sometimes you just need small pleasures to mitigate the irritations.


Therefore, I pull out my Japanese Mulberry Leaves.

This herbal tea consists of small pieces of very dark green flat leaves that have lime-colored veins.


The tisane’s aroma is slightly sweet, subtly grassy, and the infusion is a clear bright lemon color that has a touch of lime.


The flavor matches the aroma, with unique earthy/grassy and herbal notes. It’s soft and smooth, reminding me of all that’s right with the world.

The Japanese Mulberry and Silk

Growing as a small tree or shrub, the Japanese Mulberry (Moraceae family) is native to Japan’s mountainous areas. For centuries it has been cultivated for its leaves, which are fed to silk worms.

Silk production originated in China, coming to Japan around BC 28. By the Heian period (794–1185 AD), the upper classes wore silk while the rest of the population was relegated to hemp and ramie (JRB Silk Fabrics).

The kimono was the most important Japanese garment. It was worn by fashionable ladies, sometimes as many as twenty kimonos at a time, all made of the thinnest, finest, most transparent silk, giving a rainbow appearance as the coloring of each layer melted into those above and below. (JRB Silk Fabrics)

The hardy mulberry tree handily supported the silk industry, even with repeated harvesting of its leaves.

The Japanese Mulberry and Possible Health Benefits

Further, the mulberry tree’s bark, fruit, leaves, and roots proved useful for more than silk worm food—so much so that “ancient Japanese society held the tree sacred” (Dr. Schar). Its medicinal applications included drinking the tisane made from the leaves.

A famous Japanese medical text oddly entitled, “How to take care of yourself by drinking tea” written by the Japanese Buddist monk Eisai, in 1211 AD, . . . states that mulberry is excellent for the people suffering from thirst. In the contemporary world we know he was referring to the thirst associated with diabetes. (Dr. Schar)

A lot of research on diabetes is currently being conducted with mulberry leaves. For example, one recent study  indicated that 1-Deoxynojirimycin from mulberry leaves lowered blood glucose, triglyceride, and total cholesterol levels of diabetic mice (Diabetes Week 2017).

My Cup of Japanese Mulberry Tea

Regardless whether this tisane has an effect on diabetes, it does have an effect on my mood.

Yes, the weather still is dreary and my car still makes that disconcerting noise, but my migraine is clearing and the tea is delicious.

–”The history of silk,” JRB Silk Fabrics, accessed March 1, 2018. http://www.jrbsilks.com/history-of-silk
–”Japanese mulberry,” Dr. Schar, accessed March 1, 2018. http://doctorschar.com/japanese-mulberry-morus-bomcycis
–”Researchers from Hefei University of Technology report new studies and findings in the area of type 2 diabetes (metabolic effect of 1-deoxynojirimycin from mulberry leaves on db/db diabetic mice using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry . . . ),” Diabetes Week, July 17, 2017, p. 84.

Japanese Mulberry Leaves available at TeaHaus.com.

Love-ly Teas for Valentine’s Day

Chili Chocolate tea, a TeaHaus blend
Poem Launches a New Holiday

Cupids, roses, and chocolate—surprisingly, they have long been associated with Valentine’s Day. Chaucer evidently first linked romance and St. Valentine’s Day—in, fittingly, a poem—back in 1382.

every bird cometh to choose his mate. . . . on seynt Voantynes day

Centuries of romantic words followed, with the Victorians sending gifts and cards adorned with cupids.

chili-brew_1_0366-webChocolate Arrives on the Scene!

Chocolate as a luxury item reached Spain in the 1500s. The Industrial Revolution heralded the way for mass production, finally making chocolate affordable—and encouraging innovators such as Lindt, Nestlé, and Cadbury.

Along with Hearts and Kisses

Cadbury not only came up with “eating chocolates,” but in 1861, inspiration struck and he adorned heart-shaped boxes with cupids and rosebud motifs.

Valentine’s Day as we know it had begun!

Here in the States, Hershey started mass producing his immensely popular chocolate kisses in 1907, and soon afterward the Stovers began marketing chocolates in heart-shaped boxes.


And Dessert Teas!
o'connor-brew_0382-webToday is the day to indulge in rich chocolate and sweet strawberries—so savor a decadent dessert tea.

After all, what can be better than chocolate and strawberries and tea? (Maybe more chocolate?)

A perfect ending to a meal or for sipping on a chilly winter’s evening, lovely with a friend

Teas pictured, available at TeaHaus:
top, Chili Chocolate, a TeaHaus blend of black tea, cocoa beans and powder, and chili pepper pieces
Smooth Strawberry Dream, a blend of honeybush, caramel pieces, and strawberry pieces and leaves
O’Connor’s Cream, a blend of black tea and cocoa pieces

The Cinnamon of Autumn Teas

Cinnamon may well be autumn’s quintessential spice. Where would pumpkin and apple pie be without it?! Or your favorite chai on these chilly evenings?cinnamon-3-web

Culinary Spice Extraordinaire

Although the Western world tends to reach for cinnamon as part of dessert, this versatile spice is capable of so much more.

Native to Asia, the bark of the Cinnamomum evergreen tree has been used for centuries in Asian and African cuisines.

Cinnamon is harvested during the rainy season when the bark is more pliable; the bark is then rolled into the familiar sticks. The word “cinnamon” derives from Greek kinnamōmon, which itself came from the Hebrew qinnāmōn.

From the Middle Bronze Age

Gløgg, glüwein, mulled wine anyone? Cinnamon is an essential ingredient, but these beverages are actually latecomers to the mulled wine world.


Much earlier, ancient Egyptians were imbibing spiced medicinal wine, and in 1700 BC, revelers in a Canaanite palace were quaffing red and white wine that contained honey, mint, juniper berries—and cinnamon.

To the Middle Ages

Cinnamon eventually reached Europe, signaling wealth and prestige during the Middle Ages. It was used in baked goods, beverages, and meat-based dishes—and the more extravagant the use, the higher your social status.

The 1475 wedding of George, Duke of Bavaria, and Jadwiga of Poland required a staggering

386 pounds of pepper, 286 pounds of ginger, 257 pounds of saffron, 205 pounds of cinnamon, pounds of cloves, and 85 pounds of nutmeg (Freedman 2003).

Incidentally, cinnamon may have masked the taste of meat spoiling, with meat being another of those upper-class perks.

To Today—A Spice for Health?

This aromatic spice has been used medicinally for millennia, and today we know that cinnamon indeed has many health benefits.

The caveat is that much more research needs to be done. Like tea, the properties of cinnamon depend upon many factors such as where and how it is grown, the concentration used in the study, and the cinnamon variety.

Cassia cinnamon is the variety most likely to be found in our kitchens because it is more flavorful and less expensive, but Ceylon cinnamon seems to offer more health benefits. In high doses, cassia cinnamon is actually toxic.

Even with all the ambiguity, research does suggest that cinnamon may improve the function of insulin.

Like tea, cinnamon has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. In fact, when heated, its antibacterial benefits evidently increase.

Recent studies suggest that cinnamon also helps protect against cognitive problems, including Alzheimer’s disease.


So what’s not to like about cinnamon? Especially when blended with tea! 

Flavours and Fragrances of Plant Origin, FAO–Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy. 1995.
–Freedman, P. “Spices: how the search for flavors influenced our world,” YaleGlobal Online. 2003.
–LaMotte, S. “Cinnamon: Pantry staple—and medical powerhouse?” CNN. August 29, 2017.
–Seema, J. et al. “Effect of Cinnamomum zeylanicum extract on scopolamine-induced cognitive impairment and oxidative stress in rats,” Nutritional Neuroscience 18(5). 2015.
–”Spice pages,” Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages. http://gernot-katzers-spice-pages.com.
–Wilford, J. N. “Wine cellar, well aged, is revealed in Israel,” The New York Times. November 23, 2013.

Why Great Loose Leaf Tea Comes via Germany

From One Perspective, as Tourist

There is something special between kids and their grandparents. A bond, a pact, between them that tacitly circumvents the parents.

So as a teenager back in the early 1970s, I was lucky enough to travel several times with my grandmother, visiting her brother in Kassel, Germany, and seeing the country through her eyes.

We did a lot of walking around the city and through parks.


Including a bit of touristy stuff.


And we ate and drank around my great-uncle’s coffee table, a new experience for me. There was wine of course, along with orange juice with seltzer. Coffee too, plus a whole lot of tea, which we sipped from delicate glass teacups.

But what I learned only this morning is that Kassel has its own little claim to fame in the tea world!

To Another, Rooted in History

Which takes us back to World War I. Which was truly awful.

Humanity, however, perseveres. Compassionate innovators in the medical field, for example, sought to mitigate horrific injuries. And on another plane, people worked to ensure that tea would remain available.

Now this isn’t totally trivial. Although economic factors undoubtedly were involved, tea and coffee are embedded into our social fabric, and numerous studies have shown how the actual beverages and the ceremony around them can positively impact our mental and emotional well-being.

So when the British navy interrupted the tea trade during the war, the Germans—anticipating life after the war—established the German Tea Association in the centrally located city of Kassel on April 21, 1917.

The tea companies, however, were mainly in Germany’s north end, so the Association soon relocated to the port city of Hamburg, located along the Elbe River in northern Germany.

Elbe River, Hamburg (undated photo; probably early 1970s)

To Today, and Looking Forward

Over the past century, global tea production has increased tenfold, and with tea being as popular as ever, it seems likely that this trend will continue. Last year, 200,000 tons of tea came into Hamburg! (From what I calculate from 2016 statistics, this is about 11–12% of the world’s total that is exported from the countries of origin.)

Germany has emerged as a leader in tea processing, upholding strict standards in tea quality—both for flavor and to ensure no pesticides or heavy metals are present. To meet these requirements, the tea is rigorously tested for contaminants, and tea tasters do the rest.

And lest you think tasting tea all day would be a dream job, consider this:

a tea taster samples 400 types of tea every day and has mere seconds to decide whether to purchase,

according to Maximilian Wittig, the Association’s current managing director.

Tea that passes all testing is either packaged for distribution throughout the world, or is first blended (mixtures of different teas, such as breakfast teas) or flavored (e.g., with herbs, spices, dried fruit, flower blossoms, or oils like bergamot).


And here I am, looking at Kassel and my early experiences there with yet another perspective. And Happy 100th to the German Tea Association!

East Frisian tea with rock sugar and heavy cream. In this region of Germany, 300 liters of tea per person are consumed (in England, it’s only 200 liters/person).

Source: “German tea association celebrating 100th anniversary in Hamburg,” Hamburg News. September 4, 2017.

What Is Yerba Mate Tea?


Want a nice evening herbal tea that helps you sleep? Yerba mate is not it!

Yes, it is an herbal, being the dried leaves and twigs from a variety of holly that grows in South American rainforests. And yes, legend says it is a gift from the gods.

But, it promises to keep you alert to any rainforest predators with its three naturally occurring stimulants—the same as found in tea, coffee, and chocolate!

Mate: Its Brew

A cup of mate contains caffeine, theophylline and theobromine—all of which readily cross our body’s blood-brain barrier, giving us that energy boost.

mate-leaves-webHowever, it’s complicated. Scientists try to tease out what causes what, but each of these elements work differently. And sometimes they work together.

For example, caffeine keeps us awake and theobromine seems to help us sleep. But together, they may work as a stimulant! Go figure!

There are other pluses to this brew. Mate is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. Because it is low in tannins, a strong brew will not be bitter—which means you can let the leaves remain in the liquid.

But then, how do you drink it with all those bits of leaves floating around?

Mate: Its Gear

Well, if you want to be really traditional about mate, you need a chia and bombilla. That is, a hollow gourd to hold the mate, and a strainer straw to filter out the bits of leaf.



Mate: Its Heritage

gaucho_no-border-webPeople have taken advantage of mate’s effects for centuries, although there was a blip in 1616 when a disgusted governor of the Spanish province in Argentina attempted to stem its growing popularity by banning it.

Economics often win out, however, and the Jesuits were soon cultivating—and profiting from—the plant (touting the fact that it wasn’t alcoholic, whatever else its perceived vices).

By the mid-1700s, the larger-than-life gauchos came onto the scene, becoming folk heroes in Argentina and Uruguay lore.

Prizing their independence as they roamed the South American pampas, gauchos subsisted on game and wild cattle.

Unparalleled horsemen, they traveled lightly—with bola and knife as weapon and tool, and woolen poncho as coat, blanket, and protection.

And they drank yerba mate.

Mate: Its Own Day

On Argentina’s calendar, November 30 is National Yerba Mate Day!

But why wait until then to see what South Americans have been enjoying for centuries?

Brew it in any cup for 5–10 minutes, strain out the leaves, and decide for yourself if it is indeed a gift from the gods.

–”Health benefits of methylxanthines in cacao and chocolate,” by R. Franco et al., Nutrients 5(10):4159–4173. October 2013.
–Garsd, J. “Tea Tuesdays: Gift of the moon, bane of the Spanish—The story of yerba mate,” NPR, The Salt, March 17, 2015.
–Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Gaucho South American History,” Encyclopædia Britannica, n.d.
Note: Gourds, metal straws, and mate available at TeaHaus.com.

Loose Leaf Tea in an Art Museum Exhibit

Loose leaf tea in an art museum? Unexpected perhaps, but tea—along with its ware and ceremony—has been integral to Western culture for hundreds of years and to Asian culture for thousands!

Currently, TeaHaus loose leaf tea is part of an ongoing exhibit, Elegance from the East: New Insights into Old Porcelain, at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, providing visitors the opportunity to  see and smell teas that are similar to what 17th-century Europeans would have been drinking.

Here, curator and scholar Shirley M. Mueller pulls together seemingly disparate strands—the porcelain trade, the neuroscience of collecting beautiful items, miscommunications between cultures, art, and tea—into a compelling narrative!


(Video provided by Shirley M. Mueller)

Teas shown in video are available at teahaus.com.

For more on Shirley’s exhibit, see my previous blogs:
Tea, Porcelain, and Our Brains—yes, there IS a connection here!
Women and Tea: Making It Their Own
Miscommunication and Mistakes, Fired into 18th-century Teapots and Plates
How Old Is That Teapot? Using Art to Date and Interpret Art  
A 1644 Shipwreck and Its Teapots
“Modern” Teapots in a 1700s’ Shipwreck    
The Valuable Tea Protected the Porcelain after This Ship Sank in 1752