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.


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.”

What Is Oolong Tea?

Oolong Teas

Black tea, white tea, green tea—they’re all pretty straightforward.

But then there are the oolongs. Where do they fall in the tea spectrum? And just what are they?

dragon-crop-w-frame-webBlack Dragon

Although the exact origin of oolong tea—with its time-consuming production process—is rather a mystery, we do know that it originated somewhere in China quite a few centuries back. And whether the name refers to the tea’s appearance, or was the name of the person who developed this tea, oolong translates as black (oo/wu) dragon (long).

What Is an Oolong?

Oolongs fall between green teas, which are not oxidized, and black teas, which are fully oxidized. And they may be anywhere on this oxidation scale—from lightly (10%) to more highly (85%) oxidized.



The oxidation level:

  1. results from how the oolong is produced, and
  2. determines how you want to make your tea at home:

less oxidized = use a lower brewing temperature (like green tea)
more oxidized = use a higher temperature (like black tea)

Time + Work = Oolong

But it is more than just the degree of oxidation that results in the unique flavor and aroma of an oolong tea. It is the slow and controlled process by which it is oxidized.

After the Camellia sinensis leaves are picked, they are:

 withered on a drying rack to evaporate some of the moisture in the leaves
 bruised by tossing, which releases the oil in the leaves and begins the oxidation process
 hand rolled, which breaks down the leaves a little

brewed-leaves-w-frame-webThese steps can be done in various ways and for various amounts of time, and many of them are repeated.

For example, the leaves are bruised and/or rolled (to allow oxidation) and dried (to slow or stop oxidation) repeatedly, which intensifies and refines the distinct characteristics of oolongs.

The bruised edges may turn reddish, as can be seen in these leaves after brewing.

Why You Should Try Different Oolongs

The techniques used, the drying temperatures, the resting times—every step of the production process contributes to the resulting product.

Hence, every oolong has its own distinct characteristics—nuanced and complex—which makes sampling and comparing them a lot of fun!

Oolongs teas shown here are available at TeaHaus.

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.

The 12 Teas of Christmas: Drumming up some winter magic

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me

drum-webtwelve drummers drumming—and perhaps some holiday fatigue.

According to PNC’s Christmas Price Index, that true love had to cough up a whopping $34,558.65 for all twelve gifts this year ($157,558.00 if you count all the repetitions).

This is a 0.6% increase from last year due to “the cost increases for the Pear Tree, the increased demand for Golden Rings and wage increases for the Lords-a-Leaping” (PNC 2017).

Those drummers alone cost $2,934.10, but they did play a key role during the Twelve Nights’ celebrations:

The drum was used to announce the serving of the next course of the feast. (Nugent 2013)

Well, twelve drummers would certainly ensure that no one missed a single course!

Nor do you want to miss our last Twelve Days’ tea.

In the spirit of festivity, our drummer is heralding in some Winter Magic.

This rooibos blend highlights seasonal favorites:  cinnamon, almonds, and cardamom.

The tiny rooibos and cinnamon slivers—ranging from orange-red to rust to brown in color—are dotted with cardamom husks and seeds along with bits of almond.


The cup is a deep orange with brownish hue, with an aroma that is sweet and cinnamon-spicy. The flavor matches the aroma, with both cardamom and cinnamon contributing.


Rooibos is naturally caffeine free, so this creamy brew can be enjoyed late into the night.

And by the way, keep in mind that the festivities didn’t really end on the Twelfth Night!

As Nugent (2013) explains, the days were still too short and cold to do much work so

the party season continued, . . . through the season of Mardi Gras up until Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

Since Ash Wednesday falls on February 14 in 2018, that’s over seven more weeks of partying!

Time to drum in the new year—and new opportunities—with some Winter Magic!

Winter Magic rooibos blend is available at TeaHaus.

Read more:
On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me . . .
Twelve drummers drumming
Eleven pipers piping
Ten lords a-leaping
Nine ladies dancing

Eight maids a-milking
Seven swans a-swimming
Six geese a-laying
Five golden rings
Four calling birds
Three French hens
Two turtle doves
and a partridge in a pear tree

Nugent, Chuck. “On the twelfth day of Christmas,” Hub Pages, December 26, 2013.
PNC. “The PNC Christmas price index,” PNC Financial Services Group, 2017.