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Beyond the Leaf

Tea Geek

  • Afternoon Tea

    tea party 1_web

    Spring feels like the perfect time of year to host afternoon tea. The temperatures have risen, the sun shines brighter, gardens and flowers are in bloom, and homes have undergone their yearly spring cleaning.  People are out and about, ready to converse and connect again.

    A few of us at TeaSource had the pleasure of spending a day together planning an afternoon tea of our own! We enjoyed preparing food, drinking tea, taking photos, and of course, eating!  We wanted to share our recipes and ideas with you so that you could host a party of your own, be it for Mother’s Day, a birthday party, or just because!

    Jess Jellings, a former TeaSource employee and cook extraordinaire, is the mastermind behind all of the recipes you see here. THEY ARE DELICIOUS. There isn’t enough space here to gush about her creativity and skills in the kitchen. Gretchen Pruett, our fabulous photographer, captured the beauty and simplicity of the finished products before they disappeared into our mouths. Bon appétit!

    Menutea party 2_web

    Finger Sandwiches… cucumber, radish, and sriracha butter smoked turkey, pesto, and goat cheese

    Salad… grilled shrimp in endive with ham and cheddar scones

    Desserts… bread pudding bites with matcha glaze

    Petit Fours… spiced chocolate PB & J roasted chestnut with cinnamon

    Beverages... Scottish breakfast, organic Minnesota N’Ice iced tea Jasmine & Champagne cocktails





    tea party 3_web

    Cucumber, Radish and Sriracha Butter Finger Sandwiches
    Makes 1 dozen

    6 slices bread
    1 english cucumber, sliced
    3 radishes, thinly sliced
    Sriracha butter (see below)

    Spread a thin layer of butter on each slice of bread. Layer cucumbers and radishes on three slices of bread, top with remaining three slices. Cut the crusts off each sandwich and cut into four finger sandwiches.

    For the Sriracha Butter:
    1 stick butter, softened
    2-3 tablespoons sriracha (depends on your taste)

    Using a fork or beater, mix the butter and sriracha until well combined. If you have any left over, try it on popcorn, it’s fabulous. tea party 4_web tea party 5_web

    Mini Bread Puddings with Matcha Glaze
    Makes 2 dozen minis (or one 9x9 baking dish)

    1 cup milk
    2 eggs
    1/3 cup sugar
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    3 tablespoons melted butter
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    ¼ teaspoon salt
    4 cups bread, cubed

    ¼ cup powdered sugar
    1 tablespoon powdered matcha
    1-2 tablespoons milk

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    Prepare a 24-mini muffin tin (or 9x9 baking dish) by greasing with butter or non-stick spray. Combine milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, butter, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Pour the egg mixture into the mini muffin pan, until each well is about half full (no need to be crazy here, just make sure the egg mixture is evenly distributed). If using a baking dish, add egg mixture to prepared dish. Divide the bread cubes between each well and push down slightly to soak up the egg mixture. Let sit about 30 minutes, pressing occasionally.

    If using a baking dish, add the bread and let sit about 30 minutes.

    Bake for 15-20 minutes until set and golden. Combine the powdered sugar, matcha and 1 tablespoon of milk in a small bowl and stir to combine. You want the glaze to fall in a thick ribbon, add the additional milk, if needed. Drizzle over the bread puddings and serve warm.
    tea party 6_web

    Roasted Chestnut Petit Fours
    Makes 4 dozen (or one 9x13 cake, depending on how you wish to serve)
    1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
    2 cups sugar
    ¾ cup malted milk powder
    1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
    1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
    2 teaspoons Roasted Chestnut Tea, ground fine
    2 eggs
    1 cup milk
    ½ cup vegetable oil
    2 teaspoons vanilla
    1 cup hot Roasted Chestnut  Tea, brewed double strength
    ½ cup roasted walnuts, for garnish
    Frosting (recipe below)

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients and whisk well to combine. Stir in the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Whisk for two minutes until all ingredients are well incorporated. Using a spoon, slowly stir in the hot tea. DO NOT OVERMIX, batter should appear very thin. Pour into an ungreased 9x13 baking dish and bake for 30-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

    If you wanted to make a cake, let cool completely before adding frosting and walnuts. If you want to make petit fours, let the cake cool completely and freeze for 1-2 hours to make it easier to cut into 1x1 squares.  Pipe a small floret onto each petit four and top with a walnut half. Chill until ready to serve.

    1 stick softened butter
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    1 cup powdered sugar

    Mix in a large bowl using an electric mixer, about 2 minutes until fluffy. tea party 7_web


    Jasmine & Champagne cocktails

    1 part cold brewed Jasmine, chilled
    1 part Champagne, chilled

    Fill a champagne flute halfway with Jasmine, then top off the glass with champagne.  Adjust to your personal taste. Cheers! Cold brew iced tea instructions here.         tea party 8_web

    We paired Scottish Breakfast, Organic and Minnesota N’Ice with our afternoon tea.  However, a floral green like Cherry Blossom Green, a straight green like Huang Shan Mao Feng, or an herbal such as Scarlet O'Peara would also compliment this spread nicely.

    More recipes can also be found here. Enjoy!

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  • “I’ve never heard of that kind of tea before.” Bill Waddington

    Milk tea being made at the Rohini Estate, Darjeeling, India.

    Milk tea being made at the Rohini Estate, Darjeeling, India.

    It’s not very often that I say those words. But it happened while I was in India last month. Almost every tea place I stopped in - street stalls, tea broker’s offices, tea gardens - I would be asked if I wanted tea. Of course I would say “yes.”   I would be asked if I wanted “black tea” or “milk tea.” And this gave me pause. Milk tea being served at the Rohini Estate, Darjeeling.

    Milk tea being served at the Rohini Estate, Darjeeling.

    At first I thought they just meant a black tea served with milk on the side. But it became clear this was not what they meant. “Milk Tea” was a completely different/unique concoction: not black tea, not tea with milk, not “Royal Milk Tea,” not boba or bubble tea, not chai tea (or masala chai). I already knew all of those.   Milk tea is its own thing. So of course I asked for it. Then asked for it at the next place, and the next place ...   It’s reaalllly good.   It is strong, sweet, smooth, milky (duh), and the method of preparation totally took me by surprise.   In the interest of full disclosure my wife did not like it, but EVERYONE at TeaSource did.

    This is one of the things I most love about tea: almost every culture in the world drinks tea-and almost all of them do something different with it.  Tea snobs be damned.

    On Thursday, April 17 at Noon (CST) I will be doing a Livestream broadcast, demonstrating how to make Indian Milk Tea. To participate, just click here, log in, then sit back and enjoy!

    FYI, we try to do Livestream broadcasts approximately once a month. All are welcome to watch and participate. We announce these on Twitter and Facebook, as well as our monthly email newsletter.

    Thanks, -Bill

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  • The Lumbini Tea Factory

    The Lumbini Tea Factory

    The tea profession is old.  Not the oldest (we all know what that is), but still old.  It has been a part of global trade before any of us knew we were “global”.  It’s still mostly transported by large boats over vast oceans.  And the main preparation method of steeping leaves in boiled water has gone almost unchanged for hundreds of years.  It finds its way to market any way it can, and because of this, sometimes you just have to go to the growers directly, even if they’re in Sri Lanka. 

    For example, here’s a fictionalized email exchange of us buying Ceylon (Sri Lankan) tea: "Hi Chaminda, it’s Bill from TeaSource.  We’d like to buy 500 kilograms of the Lumbini Estate FBOP.  Do you have it available?" "Hi Bill, it’s Chaminda from the Lumbini Estate.  We do have that available for you.  We’ll ship it out right away."

    Chaminda Jayawardane doing a tea evaluation
    Chaminda Jayawardana doing a tea evaluation

    And as simple as that, a truck shows up around 10-12 weeks later (remember, most of its journey is by boat) with a pallet of tea in wooden chests with the words “Lumbini Tea” stenciled on them.  One wire transfer to the Lumbini Estate later and we’ve successfully done business.  That is exactly how it happens (with the addition of a lot of unpleasant bureaucracy when crossing international boarders, but let’s keep the story positive).

    Leaves from the Lumbini tea fields
    Leaves from the Lumbini tea fields

    1st Place Winner Ceylon Lumbini Estate “Burning Sun” FBOPFTeaSource has been buying tea from Lumbini estate for the last 14 years and they’ve been wonderful partners to work with.  It started in 2000 when Bill was on a trip to Sri Lanka and visited their factory. 

    Chaminda had presented an experiment of Ceylon “Silver Needles” to the visitors (a white tea from Sri Lanka is rather controversial to most tea purists) and Bill could not help but discretely make an offer on the spot (Bill said he had to buy extra luggage just to get it home). 

    Since then, we’ve been regularly buying their FBOP (Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe), and now expanded to their OPA (Orange Pekoe A: a long twisted leaf style), and their “Burning Sun” FBOPF (Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings: very small leaf style – which TeaSource recently submitted and won 1st place in the North American Tea Championships in their “Breakfast Blend” category).

    The founder of the Lumbini Estate, Mr. Dayapala Jayawardane.
    The founder of the Lumbini Estate, Mr. Dayapala Jayawardane.

    The Lumbini Estate and factory was started by Mr. Dayapala Jayawardane in 1984.  It is located in the mountainous village of Pallegama in southern Sri Lanka. Because of his faith, Mr. Jayawardane named it “Lumbini” in honor of the birthplace of The Buddha.  The factory produces almost exclusively black tea – the exception being their Ceylon Silver Needles – approximately 600,000 kg per year!  They pride themselves on their skill as both a grower and manufacturer, employing 80 machine operators and 30 tea pluckers.  His son, Chaminda Jayawardane, is now the CEO and generously gives his time to his international customers, like TeaSource.  It’s a privilege to work so close with someone so far away, and this month we’ll proudly be featuring all our Lumbini teas.

    Team Lumbini
    Team Lumbini


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  • Did someone say "Ceylon"?

    Tea pluckers in Sri Lanka

    Tea pluckers in Sri Lanka


    Green leaf quality checkTea from Sri Lanka is immediately identifiable – bright, brisk, quenching, fruity - except for the fact that after gaining independence from the British, Sri Lanka still sells their teas under the old colonial name “Ceylon.”  It proves that the idea of “brand management” goes back a lot further than modern management theory, but for the story of Ceylon tea we don’t have to go that far.

    Up until the late nineteenth century, Ceylon was producing coffee, not tea.  But the conversion began in 1869 when a parasitic fungus that attacked the coffee plants started spreading across the island.  The former Dutch and now British occupiers had been experimenting with tea plants they brought to the island and the coffee blight prompted them to convert land to commercial tea production in place of coffee.  British demand was so high for these new teas that by 1900 there were over 300,000 acres of tea planted on the tiny island.

    Leaf grading processCeylon teas are noted for their “fruity” and brisk flavors, though this is not why you will often see the words “Orange Pekoe” on a package of Ceylon tea (the name has nothing to do with  oranges – even more curious is that no one exactly knows how it got the name “Orange Pekoe”, though there are theories).  Orange Pekoe or “OP” is in reference to the leaf grading system used in Ceylon teas (and other countries).  In the most simple of definitions (and therefore not without inaccuracies) OP is the longer, whole leaf grade, and BOP – or “Broken Orange Pekoe” - is the broken or smaller leaf grade.

    We could get very long-winded and annoyingly academic if we wanted to start listing all the nuances and exceptions within that definition, but it’s more important to note that the grading system is not necessarily a judgment on quality, but rather a categorization of size and appearance.

    Though it is tiny in size (approximately the size of West Virginia), Sri Lanka is the fourth largest tea producer in the world, at over 325,000 metric tons per year.  Part of this is attributable to its warm, lush, tropical environment that prevents the bushes from going into dormancy.  This allows the plants to be picked year round, with some areas experiencing fairly dramatic seasonal variation.  Because of the year-round growth, Ceylon teas are not grouped into 1st or 2nd flushes like Indian teas nor have anything similar to the spring tea distinction in China.  However, the plants are rested periodically by heavily pruning them back to maintain quality and longevity (the plants can stay productive for approximately 40 years, give or take depending on the region).

    Quality control during the withering process. Quality control during the withering process.


    Though its tea history is relatively short, Sri Lanka is always singled out for its commitment to quality.  In the 90’s and early 2000’s, Africa and even a significant portion of India focused on producing more tea instead of great tea.  Sri Lanka resisted this trend.  Ceylon black teas are consistently some of the finest in world and deserve the attention of anyone with even a casual interest tea.

    Beautiful map of Southern India and the island of Sri Lanka, still labeled as “Ceylon”. Beautiful map of Southern India and the island of Sri Lanka, still labeled as “Ceylon."


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  • "I'm Dealing Darjeeling"

    Goomtee Tea Estate in Darjeeling


    Darjeeling is one of the best known “brands” in tea. Even those who don’t drink or care about tea have at least heard the name. But what is “Darjeeling” tea and why is the name so famous?

    For starters, Darjeeling is actually a town/district located at the edge of the Himalayan mountain range in northeast India. It’s not Darjeeling tea if it doesn’t come from this district. But the tea plant is not native to this area. The only reason it grows here goes all the way back to the early 1800’s when the British were trying to figure out how to circumvent the Chinese monopoly on tea. The early growing experiments failed, and a native Indian tea plant was later discovered in Assam (Camellia sinensis var. assamica). But these Chinese teas plants brought to the mountains of Darjeeling eventually took root and thrived. The Chinese plants fared better in the higher elevations and cooler temperatures of Darjeeling and stood out for their unique fragrance and complex flavors (most Darjeeling teas are grown between 2,000 and 7,000 feet). Over time the region has developed an international reputation, which has boosted demand and prices.

    The reputation is well deserved and came from a number of carefully managed factors. The Darjeeling Tea Association has protected and promoted the Darjeeling “brand” with a French-like zeal (think Champagne), highlighting their unique terroir (the total of environmental factors), beautiful estates, and seasonal variations. Three seasonal variations define the inherent character and flavor of Darjeeling tea.

    First Flush 

    These teas are produced from the first plucking of the new shoots that appear in the spring (March through mid-April) after the plant has come out of its winter dormancy. Like many spring teas around the world, first flush Darjeeling teas are highly sought after and produce a cup that is light, fresh, aromatic, and possess a fair amount of astringency. The dry leaf will often contain a lot of green color, which comes from a long withering process that removes enough moisture to inhibit oxidation, but makes the tea more fragrant.

    Second Flush

    This is the summer production of teas from the shoots that follow the first flush.  In some respects this is more of a “classic” Darjeeling since it tends to bring out those “muscatel” flavors Darjeelings are famous for. The cup tends to be richer, and more full-bodied. It is usually less astringent than the first flush teas and can come off as almost “fruity.”

    Autumnal Flush

    This last picking of the season doesn’t always get the same attention as the first two flushes, but great teas can still be produced and sometimes purchased at an excellent value. The autumnal flush teas are typically the most full-bodied of the Darjeelings with a more balanced and less astringent cup.

    Unblended Darjeeling teas should (in our opinion) clearly identify which estate it came from, which flush, and the leaf grade (a series of letter that notes leaf sizes and quality of pluck).  We find most of the fine, orthodox teas coming out of Darjeeling will be graded “TGFOP” or “TGFOP1” (Tippy, Golden, Flowery Orange Pekoe – with the “1” denoting exceptional quality). This has always sounded like a bit of “artistic license” to me, but it’s hard to blame them for wanting to present the tea in the best way possible. Ultimately, the leaf and cup will say what needs to be said.

    There’s much more that can be said about these wonderful teas from an exotic location. Much of this was a gross simplification, but it’s easy to get long-winded and off track. For the uninitiated, I hope it gives a basic understanding of what these teas are like, where they come from, and how to identify them. 

    Check out our Darjeeling infographic!

    Shop Darjeeling Teas


    -Michael Lannier
    TeaSource manager

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  • New Teas for a New Year

    Two days before New Year’s Day we received our annual big shipment from China by sea.  Two days after New Years we received our annual big shipment from India, also by sea.  (For reference, we also receive numerous smaller air shipments from China, India, etc. throughout the year).
    Jungpana Estate, 2nd Flush, Organic


    So, it’s been busy around here and we’ve got some new teas and decided to shine a spotlight on them during our Web Party.  All of these teas will be offered at 20% off regular price, both on the web and in-store.  Prices below reflect this 20% discount.

    India, Darjeeling, Jungpana Estate 2nd Flush FTGFOP1, Organic 
    Special price $9.51 per 4 oz.
    I got lucky; this black tea is a steal.  Full-bodied (for a Darjeeling), smooth, flavorful, a little fruity (muscatel grapes), and a lingering tingle on the tongue instead of astringency.  Excellent black tea at an incredible price.

    Wuling MountainWuling Mountain Black 
    Special price $7.59 per 4 oz.
    Roasted cocoa, that's the aroma of this gorgeous, wiry, twisted leaf.  The steeped cup is deep, rich, toasty, slightly sweet, and completely satisfying.  This unique black tea is only available in limited quantities.  This lovely black tea is grown in northern Hunan province of China.  This tea is also referred to as Xiang Cha, roughly translated this mean ‘fragrant tea.’  When steeped, this tea has an almost Keemun like character, i.e. wine-y thickness to it. I strongly suspect this black tea has some of the chemical compound myrcenal (a totally naturally occurring chemical compound found in some Anhui tea bushes) that is generally considered responsible for the classic Keemun winey/sweet taste and aromatic characteristics.

    Golden Mao FengGolden Mao Feng 
    Special price of $7.18 per 4 oz.
    If there was such a thing as cocoa-honey, this tea is what it would taste like.  Large, golden, wiry, twisted leaves with a sweet, dark aroma produce a liquor that is very thick, velvety, sweet, almost cocooay. This black tea is from Guangxi province in southern China (just east of Yunnan), so it sorts of tastes like a cross between a Yunnan tea and a Keemun tea.

    Rare Orchid Oolong Rare Orchid Oolong  S
    pecial price $14.78

    This rare regional oolong, from Wuyi Mtn, Fujian, yields a light liquor, but with great aroma, taste, and texture.  You'll experience: sweet nutty, fruity, honey, and silky over many steepings.  These long large twisted bronze/brown leaves are produced at more than 1000 feet elevation from the Qi Lan cultivar.


    Silver Bud White Tea (Ya Bao)Silver Bud White tea (aka Ya Bao)
    Special price $7.19
    This rare white tea from Yunnan is a winter-pluck tea with huge downy buds and leaves from wild growing tea trees and produces a liquor that is mellow, sweet, slightly fruity (ripe plums?), and lingers with a soft floral  finish.  Can also be aged, as a puer. This tea is from the wild growing tea trees in the mountains around Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province, China.  It is all hand-plucked and processed and rarely seen outside of China.  It is processed as a white tea, but is also meant to be aged as a puer.  So, in one sense, it is similar to a sheng puer.  But, as with many Sheng puers, it is also marvelous to drink as is immediately, without waiting the aging process.

    2007 Guangxi Dark Tea Cake2007 Guangxi Dark Tea Cake 
    Special price of $34.39 per cake
    This tea will be shipped in a special presentation gift box, including a stainless steel puer knife at no extra cost. This 357 gram dark tea cake from the Baise district of Guangxi province is very similar to an aged sheng puer.  The liquor is very fresh, vibrant, crisp, invigorating, and smooth with a hint of a toasty note.  The leaves (local Guangxi tea cultivar Lingyun White Downy tea) for this tea were grown in 2005, then aged and made into this cake in 2007.  An exceptional and very unusual dark tea.    

    Up & Coming
    Our annual big shipment from Sri Lanka (Ceylon) is due any week now and we have two new very cool teas coming in.  We’ll get these on the web as soon as they arrive.

    Ceylon Burning Sun
    This tea from the Lumbini Estate, grade of FBOPF, is a perfect blend of strength and complexity-which is pretty rare.  The Lumbini Estate has blended many broken golden tips into this tea, giving it a thick/weighty mouth feel, with multiple dark fruit notes, a clarity and brightness as you sip, and a lingering finish with just a hint of briskness.

    Ceylon Oodooware Estate BOP
    This is a wonderfully aromatic tea from the southern regions of Ceylon.  The large wiry leaves produce a liquor that is very smooth, mellow, with a hint of a melony sweetness, in a cup that is very balanced and full-bodied.

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