“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.


Misty Morning Dew, an Irish Herbal Tea

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, Ireland may well be on our minds. Or beer. But it’s still morning so I’m going with tea.

Like this quintessentially Irish tea (at least by name), Misty Morning Dew, blended by an Irish tea shop.

misty-cliffsWhile the poetic name evokes softness, the tea itself is actually quite bright.
Purchased at Cupán Tae in Galway, the package describes this Special House Blend simply as a “naturally flavored blend of herbs and fruit melange,” forcing me to go to their website for more complete information.

The ingredient list: lemon grass, hibiscus, peppermint, and natural flavor.

Not sure where the “fruit” is, but this caffeine-free blend consists of sage-green lemon grass  interspersed with green peppermint leaves and bright hibiscus.


The tisane is a strong red color with a hint of brown, and yields an aroma that is dominated by lemon grass.mmd-brew-2-webThe flavor, as expected, was also strongly lemon grass, but in a pleasant way. A slight citrusy fruity note peeks through. There was also a feeling of mint—a sort of cooling in the back of your throat—more than a flavor of mint.k-w-mmd-web

This light and refreshing tea doesn’t really say misty morning dew to either my daughter (shown here) or me.


Rather, its brightness more clears the mist, which is, after all, a very pleasant way to greet the day.

(And although we didn’t intend it, our choice of a “bright eyed and bushy tailed” mug was entirely fitting!)

Misty Morning Dew is available for purchase at cupantae.eu.

To read a bit about why the Irish are known for their teas, see my March 2017 blog: Tea in Ireland: Mainstay—to Moral Decay—to Mainstay

Pairing Tea with Chocolate: A Heavenly Match!

Chocolate and tea. They form the base of my food pyramid—hey, they both arguably offer health benefits!

And paired? Well, that’s just another name for perfection.

Orange Blossom oolong & Pure 67% Chocolate

Because the right pairing of chocolate and tea will bring out incredibly delicious nuances of both.

But you do want to use high-quality loose leaf tea and high-quality chocolate because only then will you have the complexities and layering of flavors that make pairing so wonderful.

Here’s an example of how this can work:

lts_webLast night Lisa, of TeaHaus (Ann Arbor, MI, shown here), and Dana, of Mindo Chocolate Makers (Dexter, MI, and Mindo, Ecuador), teamed up for a tasting.

Mindo was one of the U.S.’s first bean-to-bar chocolate makers. They buy organically grown heirloom Arriba Nacional cacao beans (which have a chocolaty–nutty flavor) directly from the growers in Ecuador, and then oversee the fermentation and drying stages.

They complete the process themselves, with no part of the cocoa pod going to waste. The pods themselves are used as compost under the cocoa trees, also conveniently housing the midges that pollinate the trees.

upper left: roasted cocoa bean; lower left: nibs; right: Vanilla Rustic chocolate

The shells of the roasted beans are used to flavor other products—including tea! TeaHaus adds cocoa shells and nibs (the part of the bean used to make chocolate) to several teas to impart a wonderful chocolate flavor.

The pulpy fruit of the pod is made into Miel de Cacao, which is a bit like balsamic vinegar. And the nibs themselves are stone ground, and the chocolate then tempered and molded.

With Pure 67% Chocolate, Lisa paired Orange Blossom oolong tea (pictured at the beginning of this post). The tea’s light floral liquor balances well with the chocolate’s tanginess. With a higher content of cocoa, 70% or more, you could go instead with a full-out orange tea.

The Vanilla Rustic chocolate, shown above, is crunchy rather than smooth. Rustic chocolate is ground for less time than smooth chocolate, and the organic sugar crystals are stirred in afterward rather than being ground with the cocoa beans. In this case, the chocolate was paired with Nepal Mystic tea, which is similar to a first-flush Darjeeling. It has a smooth finish, and, due to when it is harvested, has a slight bite, which makes it ideal with the bourbon vanilla of the chocolate.

Andrew’s Blend tea & Candied Orange Zest Chocolate

Candied Orange Zest on 77% chocolate is one of my favorites, and it pairs beautifully with Andrew’s Blend tea, whose chai and dark chocolate flavors meld with the orange.

Lisa noted that if cream is added to the tea, the fat will bring out the chocolate flavor even more. (BTW, Mindo shells and nibs are ingredients in this Haus blend.)

Assam Mokalbari tea, malty and complex, complements Cinnamon Rustic chocolate.

White Peony tea & Michigan Cherry Chocolate

For the 77% Michigan Cherry, Lisa balanced the boldness of the cherry with White Peony tea, which has a 60:40 silver needle-to-leaf composition. (A full silver needle tea would be too delicate, so you want a new style white tea, which contains young leaves in addition to the silvery buds.)

And for the darkest chocolates, place the chocolate on your tongue and let hot tea wash over it. In this case, Lisa used South Korean Seogwang Sencha with its sweet grassiness luscious against the complexity of the Pure 77% chocolate.

Korean Sencha & Pure 77% Chocolate

Pairing chocolate and tea encompasses more than just a cup of tea and a square of chocolate, however.

A parmesan-cheese-sprinkled-with-cocoa crisp, served with a lettuce salad—whose dressing combines Miel de Cacao, chocolate rooibos tea, pressed garlic juice, and olive oil—for example!

Or how about handmade marshmallows melted onto grahams and dipped into a warm, rich chocolate milk-Baileys-lapsang souchong tea-Mindo chocolate drink?!


Think outside the teacup and chocolate bar!


And thank you to Dana of Mindo Chocolate and to Lisa of TeaHaus!


NOTE: Chocolate may be ordered at mindochocolate.com and tea at teahaus.com.


Eating Tea

EAT tea? As opposed to drinking it?

Why not? We eat other leaves.
EMT facade_crop_2306But first off, why tea?

Well there’s that whole fantastic flavor and huge variety thing that tea has going for it. But on top of that, brewed tea is loaded with micronutrients called polyphenols, which are found in plants.

Of the polyphenols, tea is high specifically in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory flavonoids. In fact,

since nearly 95 percent of tea’s polyphenol compounds are flavonoids, tea ranks among plants with the highest total flavonoid content (Bliss 2003).

And according to the George Mateljan Foundation, “in the U.S. the largest single source of flavonoids is black and green tea.”

So are the health benefits the same if you EAT rather than drink tea?

tea leaves growing
Tea leaves

Short answer: it’s complicated.

Brewing tea leaves in hot water pulls out nutrients differently than when the leaves are simply eaten.

However, researchers have shown that compared to other green teas, matcha—tea leaves in powder form—has a much higher level of at least one type of flavonoid (Weiss and Anderson 2003).

On the other hand, heavy metal and pesticide residue may be more of an issue when eating entire leaves, so you want to ensure your leaves have been tested for these contaminants.

And why bother EATING tea when brewed tea is so delicious?

Because tea leaves can add flavor to just about anything! (Consider any health benefits from the tea itself a bonus.)

If you listened to the recent Food Bloggers Association interview with Lisa, a tea sommelier, in my last post, you heard about her businesses and learned that she is passionate about both drinking (TeaHaus) and eating tea (Eat More Tea).

spice-blend-5-webTea-infused gelato, caramel, marshmallows, hard candy, French macarons. Spice blends, from savory to sweet, with tea as the primary ingredient. Endless possibilities.

For example, I wouldn’t have ever thought of sprinkling black currant and orange blossom tea on chicken or veggies, but Lisa’s Tea Thyme Spice Blend No. 5—which includes these teas—elevates the whole over the parts.

Tea Thyme Spice Blend No. 5

High-quality loose leaf tea serves as the base; citrus peel along with thyme and other savory spices complete the blend. The promise of the potent aroma doesn’t disappoint—I find this flavorful combination absolutely terrific.

So the next time you want to jazz up that vanilla cake or roasted veggies, reach for the tea tins and explore the culinary diversity of tea for yourself!

–Bliss, R. M. “Brewing up the latest tea research,” AgResearch Magazine, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 2003.
–”Flavonoids,” The World’s Healthiest Foods, George Mateljan Foundation.
–Weiss, D. J. and C. R. Anderton, “Determination of catechins in matcha green tea by micellar electrokinetic chromatography,” Journal of Chromatography 1011(1–2):173-80. Sept. 5, 2003

A Cup of Sunshine: Pear Mango White Tea

Another cold sullen day. Spring flowers? Months away.brewed-tea-web

Truly, a cup of tea—a simple pleasure—can be just enough.

A whiff of summer.

And so, Pear Mango white tea is my choice today.

This light tea brings summery fruitiness to my morning. A touch of sunshine.

Why This Tea Works

While many white teas consist of only the buds, the white tea base (China Pai Mu Tan) of this blend is “new style,” which includes young and immature leaves along with the buds. Of all the teas, white teas are the least oxidized, so the buds and leaves are carefully plucked and handled to ensure they aren’t bruised. (Any damage causes oxidation.)

You can see that white tea leaves take up a lot of space in a container, and you want to be careful to not break the large leaves.

leaves-web copy

Because these leaves are so fluffy, many people measure them by weight rather than by teaspoon.

Colors run the spectrum from light brown to light green to olive and jade greens. Young leaves are interspersed with buds and very immature leaves that retain minute hairs, which make them appear silver in color.


This white tea from TeaHaus also includes apple pieces, freeze-dried mango cubes, marigold blossoms, and natural flavor.

As the leaves brew, they are mostly bright green, and you can see the fruit plump up.

Like other whole leaf teas, this tea is best brewed with plenty of room for the leaves. Here I use a Finum brew basket to strain out the leaves.

White teas also call for lower brewing temperatures, so I used filtered water at 158°F for 3 minutes.

And the result?

The full, fruity, aroma matches the fresh flavors of pear and mango that meld with the classic white tea base. The fruit lends sweetness that is balanced by the tea leaves, which offer woody tones.

There is no hint of bitterness in this cup, while the sweetness is never cloying but derives from the fruit and tea leaves.

And the pleasantly lingering fruitiness sweetly inspires daydreams of summer’s warmth and sunshine.


Milk Oolong Tea, Deliciously Creamy

Continuing the oolong theme here for a bit, let’s take a look at a tea that is both an oolong and a specialty tea. Unique to China, it is also unique among teas.

Milk Oolong: How It’s Made

Camillia senensis

This exquisite tea is produced in mountainous Fujian Province—the birthplace of oolong tea—located on mainland China’s southeast coast.

This was the starting point of the ancient maritime Silk Road developed during the Qin (221–206 BC) and Han (206 BC–AD 220) dynasties. Its Wuyi Mountain region and Anxi County have been producing oolongs for centuries.

Plucked tea leaves are first withered or just lightly oxidized. Note that China also produces other specialty, or “scented teas.” Think jasmine, rose, lychee. For these, the leaves may be fully oxidized.

After withering—and while they are still pliable and moist—tea leaves can easily absorb fragrances and flavors. Tea masters skillfully regulate how much flavor the tea leaves pick up. Placing the leaves over a steam bath that contains flower petals or fruit juice gives us rose tea and lychee tea. Layering tea leaves with jasmine blossoms results in jasmine tea.

For milk oolong, the tea leaves are placed over a gentle steam bath of milk and water. This process retains the emerald to olive green color of the leaves while giving them their unique and deliciously creamy aroma and flavor.

The leaves are then rolled by hand and dried.

Milk Oolong: How It’s Enjoyed

The milk oolong shown here is China Milky Jade from TeaHaus. I used one heaping teaspoon of tea for eight ounces of filtered, boiling water, with a two-minute brew time. Alternately, water that has been boiled and cooled to 194°F can be used.

With brewing, the rolled balls begin to open, yielding mostly intact leaves and a green-gold cup.


Oolongs are meant to be rebrewed. Although some people do a quick first “rinse” of the tea leaves and then toss that brew, there is no reason to do this. The first cup of any high-quality oolong will be delicious, with successive infusions imparting flavor variances..

As oolongs are re-infused, the leaves continue to open up (as you can see below), releasing more flavor.


Sweet and creamy, with a subtle floral note, this tea is like no other! 

See earlier posts for more on oolongs:
What Is Oolong Tea?
How to Brew Oolong Teas

How to Brew Oolong Teas

Early in China’s Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), Fujian tea producers began a new tea process, resulting in wulong—or oolong—teas. For these, three to four tea leaves are plucked along with the buds. These more mature leaves are able to stand up to the extensive processing steps that they undergo (see previous post).dry-&-brewed-webDuring this processing, the leaves are kept intact and are twisted (into curls) or rolled (into small balls, as shown above). Therefore, there must be ample room for the tight curls or balls to fully unfurl as they brew—you can clearly see why in the above photo of Sumatra Barisan, from Indonesia.

During the Ming period (1368–1644), tea was brewed in stoneware cups or bowls with a lid. Somewhere in the 1500s, Yixing red clay pots began to be used. These were ideal for green—and then oolong—tea. The tea was simply put into the pots, giving the leaves plenty of room to open up and release their full flavor.

The porosity of the clay conferred even more advantages—the clay absorbed the tea’s flavor and aroma. In 1685, Phillippe Dufour wrote that

the Chinese use for their infusion teapots made of a red clay . . . which they claim are better than any others (Mueller 2005).

When China began exporting tea to the West, they also sent their clay teapots—which were often embellished by the Europeans, as in this example.


But Europeans were soon clamoring for Chinese porcelain. With China only too happy to accommodate Western taste, porcelain teapots became all the rage in Europe, replacing the clay pot favored by the Chinese.

But, of course, the Chinese knew their tea!

As published in this month’s Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture, Liao et al. found that compared to ceramic, stainless steel, glass, and plastic teapots, Yixing clay teapots

produce tea infusions that are presumably less bitter and more fragrant and tend to contain more healthful compounds than tea infusions from other pots.

But with or without a Yixing pot, terrific oolong tea can be easily made. Just leave plenty of room for those leaves to open up.

Here I used a porcelain pot that has a web to hold back the tea leaves.


I added tightly rolled Sumatra Barisan leaves, which are a beautiful gold-green to jade green in color. They are, in fact, greener than more oolongs, just lightly oxidized. Therefore, I brewed them at around 194°F for 2 minutes. For a more oxidized oolong, you need boiling water.


The leaves soon began to fill the teapot.


You can see why a tea ball would be a really bad idea for this tea.


The brew is a lovely soft yellow color, with an amazing fragrance, and an incredible flavor. Oolongs are meant to be rebrewed—quite a few times! Each infusion will have its own particular flavor, and many prefer the second or third brews. There is a lot of room for experimentation.

Lisa, owner of TeaHaus, notes that for Sumatra Barisan, there is a “light grassiness in the first infusion, with a slightly floral note that is stronger in the second infusion, along with vegetal notes.” (Sumatra Barisan is available from TeaHaus.)


Already in 1880, a trade advertisement for oolong claimed that it was “an especial favourite with the tea-drinking public in America” (OED). Rightly so!

–Liao, Z-H, et al. “Effect of teapot materials on the chemical composition of oolong tea infusions,” Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture 90(2):751–757. January 2018.
–Mueller, S. M. “17th century Chinese export teapots: Imagination and diversity,” Orientations 36(7). 2005.
–Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. “Oolong.”