Meet Lisa, Tea Sommelier and Owner of TeaHaus and Eat More Tea

Imagine tasting hundreds to a thousand teas a day!

Find out what it means to be a tea sommelier in this Food Bloggers Association interview with Lisa McDonald, owner of TeaHaus and Eat More Tea in Ann Arbor.

Also learn about teabag vs loose leaf tea, all the many uses of tea, and what makes Lisa’s businesses unique.


Some Cautiously Good News for Darjeeling Tea Gardens?

After months of bad news for Darjeeling tea aficionados (see my October post), some promising headlines:

(1) apparently the months-long closure of the tea gardens—resulting in an extended period of neglect—may be beneficial to the tea plants, and

(2) people who love Darjeeling tea don’t scare away easily!

So How Is Neglect a Good Thing?

tea-leaf_whiter_2015-copyWhen leaves aren’t continually being plucked off, more of a plant’s resources can go into producing new leaves. This is why, in many areas, leaves are plucked from tea plants for only one annual harvest (Bolton 2017).

In Darjeeling, however, leaves and buds are plucked for most of the year, with each harvest season producing its own characteristic tea.

The plants are pruned in December to promote new growth, with those first leaves opening in March. These tender leaves constitute the first harvest of the year, or “first flush.” More mature leaves are plucked for the succeeding harvests, with four total flushes:

  • First flush, early spring, most valued
  • Second flush, June–July, highly regarded
  • Monsoon flush, summer, lower quality
  • Autumn flush, more similar to second-flush tea

In actuality, as World Tea News reports, leaves are plucked from the plants every few days—so with the gardens shut down for most of 2017, this

Resting results in healthier plants that are more resistant to disease and pests—and better-tasting tea (Bolton 2017).

So the (Tea) Glass Is Half Full Then?

Darjeeling FTGFOP1 Avongrove, a second-flush tea

Well, earlier reports opined that the neglected plants would be too stressed to produce good tea in 2018 (see my August post).

And because most of the Darjeeling gardens are organically grown, a year of neglect presumably meant that weeds and pests had a very good year. Meaning stress for the tea plants as they fought for resources and warded off invaders.

It remains to be seen which scenario will win out here.

Half Full or Half Empty, Many Hope That Darjeeling Remains in the Cup!

Some first-flush Darjeeling was still available in 2017, going to “those willing to pay the price,” and demand for premium orthodox teas remains high; in fact, much of the tea that would normally stay in the country is now headed to the United States as well as to Japan, the European Union, and Russia (Bolton 2017).

So, contrary to many expectations, many Darjeeling tea drinkers are remaining loyal to Darjeeling teas, which is encouraging to growers.

To use the cliche, time will tell. Hopefully, that telling will be on the side of Darjeeling.


Source: Bolton, D. “Darjeeling rebounds: What’s next,” World Tea News, December 26, 2017.
Tea pictured is available at TeaHaus.

Nepali Teas Stepping In for Darjeeling

Darjeeling 2nd- and 1st-flush teas

Notice to all Darjeeling fans: this year’s strike means there’s a lot less tea, along with a higher price tag  (see earlier post).

Nepal, however, has been happily stepping in.

And also ushering in a few complications.

The Cons

Darjeeling abuts Nepal’s east border,

  • which means the two areas have pretty much the same climate
  • which means that their teas may be quite similar
  • which means that one tea could conceivably be passed off as the other.

Already in August concerns were raised about Nepali tea being sold as Darjeeling tea. At that time, the supplies of first- and second-flush Darjeeling teas for auction had already been depleted.

Nepali tea crossing into India is nothing new. As World Tea News explained in August,

To reduce the cost of acquiring tea for blending, India has a free trade agreement with Nepal. This means gardens in Nepal (some owned by Indian companies) do not pay an import duty.

And it has been blended with Darjeeling tea in the past, and then sold as Darjeeling, according to the Hindustan Times (November 2017). But the Times also reports traders saying that unblended Nepali tea is sold as Darjeeling.

However, there are myriad reasons why you should enjoy Nepali tea for its own sake.

The Pros


The tea gardens in Darjeeling are well established, which also means that the plants are aging and there is little room for expansion.

Nepal, as a relative newcomer, has younger plants along with a favorable environment.

And due to the strike, they currently have many employees who earlier left the Darjeeling gardens in search of jobs and now have stayed in Nepal (well, this is sort of both a pro, for Nepal, and a con, for Darjeeling).

And the gardens are producing some terrific teas, such as the premium, second-flush Nepal Mystic, shown above on TeaHaus’ tea wall.

This beautiful leaf yields a deep reddish cup:




I love this tea’s amazing aroma and flavor!

I know that delicate and subtle teas have their place but sometimes I just need a tea that holds its own—waking me up with bold and wonderful flavor that matches its intoxicating aroma!

And by the way, Nepali teas don’t need to replace Darjeeling teas; they can stand right alongside Darjeeling teas.

Bolton, D. “Nepali tea growers fill Darjeeling void,” World Tea News, August 28, 2017.
Girl, P. “‘Good quality’ Nepal tea spoils Darjeeling’s party,” Hindustan Times, November 18, 2017.

TEA: From Pallet to Palate

TeaHaus’ eagerly awaited tea shipment arrived today! It shipped from Germany, spent a whole lot of time in customs, and then came to Ann Arbor via truck.


Two pallets of tea to unpack!

Each box is opened and the contents checked against the packing slip.


Some teas need to be renumbered to match TeaHaus numbers.


White teas—delicate and easily crushed—are packed into individual cartons within the boxes.


The tins on the Tea Wall are first filled. Here, Mercedes is transferring our new Vietnam tea from the bag into a tin that protects the tea from light and moisture.

TeaHaus offers around 175 loose leaf teas at all times.


Extra tea is stored in either the TeaHaus storage room or the overflow storage room at our Eat More Tea location.

tea-storage-room  tea-shelvestea-shelves-alt

Tea is bagged for walk-in customers and to fill online orders.

filling-bags  boxing-orders

And, of course, all our teas are brewed, either in-Haus or in your house—completing the process from pallet to palate!

tea-brewedSee to order tea!!!

Darjeeling Tea: Beloved, Prized, and at Risk

Darjeeling teas are among the world’s most prized—and pricy—teas. Imagine if they were in short supply.leaves_4148-web

Oh wait, they are! According to the secretary of the Calcutta Tea Traders Association:

There are no Darjeeling teas for auctions in October. This is an unprecedented situation. . . . there is no tea that can be put up [for] sale. This has never happened.

brew_4154-webWell, it’s happened now!

As I wrote earlier (see Will There Be Darjeeling Tea in the Future?), the tea gardens were shut down during a months-long strike in the region.

Every garden. Shut down.

This was a huge problem because:

  • Darjeeling tea can be produced only in Darjeeling—so now, here they are with no Darjeeling tea for the rest of 2017. Most of the year’s harvest was lost.
  • The tea gardens were the area’s largest employer so the costs to the employees have been immense. Many were forced to seek work elsewhere and they are not returning to the tea gardens.
  • With the tea plants overgrown and the gardens weedy (most of these gardens are organically grown, without pesticides), the forecast for 2018–2019 is pretty bleak.

wet-leaves_4156-webClearly things are never black-and-white, and very real issues precipitated the strike and brought complex problems into the open. But while tea workers did win a bonus, at least one of the foundational issues—that of a separate state for the Gurkhas living in Darjeeling—has not been resolved.

So the social/political/economic issues continue. For tea workers, those problems are compounded with the very serious disruption of the tea industry.

Yes, bringing it to a standstill forced people to confront issues. But the fallout will impact the tea industry—and the lives of the tea workers—for possibly years.

Besides the loss of this year’s tea:

  • The untended gardens will compromise future harvests because the plants are stressed and ill-prepared for the winter’s dormancy. This in turn will impair spring growth (that prized first flush, which, along with the second flush, underwrites the rest of the year).
  • With Darjeeling tea unavailable or too expensive, suppliers and consumers are already turning to other sources, such as tea from Nepal.
  • Tourists too are traveling elsewhere, delivering yet another blow to the region.

Come spring, will there be a first-flush Darjeeling?

It’s anyone’s guess.

Tea pictured is first-flush FTGFOP1 Steinthal, from one of Darjeeling’s oldest gardens. Many of the original plants still grow here, making them some 165 years old! Steinthal, along with other Darjeeling teas, is available at TeaHaus.

Source: “Four months post Gorkhaland agitation, Darjeeling’s tea gardens still reeling from trouble,” by I. Duttagupta, The Economic Times, October 17, 2017.

Olive Tea Anyone?

It was just announced that olive tea will soon be available in the U.K. and Europe. Yep, leaves from the same tree that yields olives and olive oil.

Leaf Branches Plants Leaves Oliva Olive Tree Oval

About ten years ago, Rajasthan, located in northwestern India, began to grow olives, with  technological assistance from Israel.

The climate was suitable, and they devised machinery that processes the leaves in the crush-tear-curl method that is currently used for many black teas.

Billed as an alternate to green tea, olive tea, or tisane, contains antioxidants that may help prevent certain cancers and may help with cardiac disease and mental stress, according to the press release.

In fact, the article promises great things for this tisane:

The olive tea is called a modern day elixir because its health benefits are more than any other tea. Packed with antioxidants, this tea clears the skin of toxins and carcinogens. It energizes even when it has no caffeine. It reduces wrinkles, acne and gives the skin a young glow. It eats away cholesterol and reduces blood pressure. It improves immunity and hence prevents cold and flu.

Yeah, right. I think they are over-reaching a bit here.

Plus, nowhere in this article do they say what the tisane tastes like, and the Olitia Foods website simply says, “With the mild aroma of olive oil, the exotic original olive tea helps you relax.”

That may be true, but I’m still not convinced that the tea tastes good, which is my primary reason for drinking it.

Yet, other leaves, such as the premium Japanese Mulberry Leaves shown here, make superb tea, so maybe in another few months we will all be extolling olive tea!

mulberry tea-web

Source: Olitia Foods Pvt. Ltd. “World’s first processed olive tea from the farms of Rajasthan reaches Europe,” PR Newswire. September 8, 2017.

Elephant-friendly Tea? Yes, It Is a Thing!

You’ve planted the smallest of gardens. But now, to keep it alive. Too much rain, too little, insects, trampling by rambunctious kids or dogs—and of course the bunnies that are ever-so-adorable in someone else’s yard!

So imagine how much damage an elephant could do!

Tea plantations, no matter where they are located, of course displace wildlife. And this isn’t to pick on tea growers: no matter what you plant or where you plant it, you are displacing whatever normally lives in that space.

Sometimes the animals just move on to less-disturbed areas. Other times, they try to remain, generally with bad outcomes.

In India, elephants are endangered, and as they lose their habitat, clashes between them and humans grow more common.

Around tea plantations, elephants:

  • fall into irrigation ditches (especially the babies)
  • may be electrocuted by fences
  • are poisoned by chemicals
  • cannot access their normal corridors
  • trample the tea gardens

Last year in India’s Udalguri district of Assam alone, nearly two dozen people and five elephants died .

Seeking to improve elephant-human relations and establish elephant-friendly standards, the

University of Montana’s Broader Impacts Group has partnered with the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network [WFEN] to launch the world’s first tea certification program designed to protect the endangered Asian elephant. (Erickson 2017)

And a grower in Udalguri—Tenzing Bodosa—became the first in the world to have Elephant Friendly Certified Tea (Mitral 2017)!

According to the WFEN executive director Julie Stein (Mitral 2017):

There is interest in the certification program in Sri Lanka and Kenya, and in fact wherever tea and wild elephants overlap there is potential for tea and coffee plantations to work towards certification as Elephant Friendly.”

Hopefully all tea from these areas will be elephant friendly in the near future!

iced tea

–Erickson, D. “University of Montana partners with local businesses to launch elephant-friendly tea certification program,” Missoulian, July 19, 2017.
–Mitral, N. “Udalguri tea plantation gets jumbo-friendly certification,” The Times of India, July 21, 2017.