Monday, March 27, 2017

Women in Tea: Shiuwen Tai

Shiuwen Tai of Floating Leaves Tea in Pinglin, Taiwan

It is from Shiuwen that I have learned the most about Oolong tea, particularly Taiwanese Oolongs. I am so grateful for her shop - Floating Leaves Tea - her teaching, her generous sharing of knowledge, her sense of humor and her friendship. I had the chance to travel with Shiuwen and a small group of tea lovers in 2015, to tea fields of Taiwan. There I met some of the most beautiful smiling faces I have ever seen.

And so with gratitude I share with you a little more of this tea woman's story. 

Q: Would you please share a childhood memory of tea?
A: When I was a child, I was close to a cousin who lived just across the street. Many times after school I would go in search of her. Whenever my cousin's father was home, he was always brewing tea, and he always asked if I wanted some. I would sit down and have tea with him for short moments. We never talked much. He would explain that we were drinking Oolong. I remembered that I enjoyed drinking tea out of a tiny tea cup. I would look at his Gong Fu tea setup and watched him brew for awhile. Then I would run away to find my cousin. He has already passed away. I wish I could have told him that I now have a tea business.

Q: When did you begin your tea business?
A: I started to do tea tastings at home in 2002. After our first tea tasting at home, friends were amazed with Gong Fu Cha tea service and asked how they could get tea like that. Shortly after, Floating Leaves Tea was born. We opened our teahouse in July 2005.

Q: What does your business offer?

Floating Leaves Tea is known for its Taiwanese Oolong. I travel to Taiwan once or twice a year to learn and source teaI also offer a curated list of quality teas in other varieties, such as Chinese green and Pu-Erh.  I am excited to offer many tea education classes in the shop, every month. Please see the listing of tea classes here.

I am dedicated to learning tea from farmers and producers and pass on what I learn to the tea drinkers coming across my path.

Q: What brings you joy about this tea work?

A: I love learning tea from tea farmers, processors and tea professionals in Taiwan (and I reached out to Yunnan two years ago!). I consider it a privilege to be a bridge to share what I learn directly from the source to the tea drinkers in the States. Each time when I see that someone is excited with the tea I share, I know I have opened a door for him or her to the fun, exciting and fascinating tea world. From the sparkles in their eyes and the smile on their faces, I feel I have done right to connect them to the tea people to whom I am admire and am grateful.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Women in Tea: Jennifer Brenner

Today I would like to introduce you to Jennifer Brenner. She is leading the effort to bring a tea festival to Portland, and I am so excited to see this come to fruition!  Mark you calendars for July 22nd, and check out the website for details.  

Here's my interview with Jenn:

Q: I know that you were a Peace Corps volunteer, and that experience included tea.  Would you please tell us about that?
A: As a young adult, I traveled to Niger in West Africa for 3 years with the Peace Corps. It was there that I met tea. Tuareg people in Niger have a modified Moroccan tea ceremony that included three rounds of gunpowder tea and sugar, a small metal teapot, and a wire frame holding hot coals. The three rounds were for life, for friends, and for love. We would drink tea during the hottest time of the day, when the shade of the Neem tree beckoned.  These afternoons of drinking tea with my friends came to represent the spirit of Africa for me, where time was not to be hurried, laughter was abundant, and friendship and family prized above all.  

Q: You've taken on an exciting project with TeaFestPDX.  What will this be like?

A: TeaFestPDX is Portland's first tea festival, to be held at the World Forestry Center on July 22nd, 2017.  There will be a vendor area outside, selling tea and tea-related merchandise, as well kombucha, boba, and other tea vendors selling prepared tea.  Indoors we will have a variety tea tastings in the outer ring of the building, and the inner area devoted to exploring the larger tea cultures of the world.  Each area will have classes, tastings, and talks related to tea culture in that area of the world.  For example, there might be an area devoted to Chinese tea culture, with a Gong Fu ceremony, a talk on organic tea growing in China, or a tasting of Pu-er teas.  The first festival will be a one-day celebration.  Please check out our websites to sign up as a vendor, a presenter, or to volunteer -

Q: What brings you joy about this work?

A: Tea is interwoven into the fabric of my life and I love drinking tea with strangers, friends and family. Tea brings people together and encourages a pause and a slowing down.  I experience the joy of sharing this pause with others, either through dropping in at my favorite tea shop, or through an event as large as a festival.  

A giant THANK YOU to Jennifer and the core team of volunteers working to make the TeaFestPDX happen.  I am excited to be a part of the event!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Women in Tea: Heather Agosta

For International Women's Month, I am featuring some of the hard-working and cool women who are leading the cause of tea. I'm starting right here in the Pacific Northwest.

Introducing Heather Agosta, the co-founder, CEO and Tea Blend Formulator of Jasmine Pearl Tea Company

Heather Agosta in a tea field, Shizuoka, Japan

Q:  Could you share a childhood memory related to tea?
A: When I was a little girl, my friend and I would have tea parties in her parents' greenhouse. We would make orange spice black tea with lots of sugar and we would eat gingerbread cookies. I am sure we would get really jacked-up on sugar and caffeine. It was a blast!

At a matcha manufacturer, Japan

Q: Tell us about your business.  When did you begin?
A:  I started The Jasmine Pearl in 2004 with my husband, Chuck. We started out blending teas in the basement of our home. We ran the business out of our living room and basement for six years before we moved to a commercial space.

Q: What does your business offer, today? 
A: We offer 100+ loose-leaf teas, all blended on-site using our proprietary recipes. We directly import teas and source ingredients from all over the world. Our teas are sold to cafes, restaurants, spas and natural grocery stores. Retail customers can also purchase our teas online and in our NE Portland tea shop.
Heather and Jasmine Pearl Tea Company co-founder, Chuck Bauman

Q: What brings you joy about this tea work?
A: I really love tea! I particularly enjoy formulating blends for our company and for other companies, as well. Creating new tea blends is a fun and challenging task. It is especially rewarding to teach others how to blend and to see what interesting combinations they can create.

Stephanie's perspective: Whenever I spy the Jasmine Pearl cans on a grocer's shelf or in a restaurant, I smile (and I order that tea!). If you're in Portland and a tea lover, this shop is a must-see. I'm particularly fond of the tasting bar and the line of Japanese green teas. Sign up for one of the classes to enhance your tea knowledge and skill, or get grounded as you quietly sip your tea in the welcoming seating area. 

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Tea for the Muse and Me

Sometimes when I'm drinking tea alone, I will pour a second cup and invite someone special to join me in spirit. This time, I invited my muse. She appreciates flowers and beauty and quiet. She's helping me plan a writing workshop for the spring equinox.

Friday, March 03, 2017

San Diego: Shakespeare's Corner Shoppe

I recently had the chance to spend a lovely hour and a half at  Shakespeare Corner Shoppe & Afternoon Tea in San Diego. You might expect the sunshine photos, but I mostly experienced intense rain throughout the week, so the sunshine was very welcome.  

This British goods shop (tea, puddings, pastries, etc.) offers afternoon tea on its lovely front porch. The team excels at details, from the little flower shown above to the fact that as a solo diner, I was pampered even more vs. being pushed to the side. For example, I was offered two tea choices, one complimentary!

After I freshened my hands with a warm towel, I enjoyed a bowl of carrot and parsnip soup. It was delicious!

Followed on by the finger sandwiches: egg salad, cucumber with mustard pickle, rosemary chicken, roast beef with butter lettuce and horseradish.

Along with scones, double Devon cream and strawberry jam.  The owner is British, and these are the real deal. 

And then dessert... a dark chocolate raspberry tart, toffee cake, shortbread, black forest gateaux and sweet wine syllabub.  I knew of the old-fashioned dessert syllabub (it's like a mousse), but had never tried it. Delicious!

I definitely recommend this experience and hope to go back!