Tea Blog

Leopards, Elephants, Cobras and Tea, Oh My, Elephant Friendly Certification

Bodoland, Assam, India-Heather and I traveled to India during monsoon season. Water from the Himalayas blanket the steamy jungles, rice paddies and tea farms. It takes little exertion to sweat – heat and humidity – perfect growing conditions for tea.

Tea, elephants, and Elephant Friendly certification are the reasons we came to India. Acting at the behest of our friend Lisa Mills, who introduced us to Elephant Friendly certification, Lake Missoula Tea Company wanted to learn more about this certification that comes from the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network. Lisa is an American ambassador for wild Asian Elephants (Elephas Maximus).

Lisa facilitated our trip and introduced us to Tenzing Bodosa, a small tea farmer from Assam, and Sonia Jabbar, owner of Nuxalbari Tea Estate in Darjeeling District. Their commitment to Elephant conservation is evident in all they do. They provide forest corridors essential for elephant survival, use organic practices focused on long-term sustainability and social responsibility, and are true innovators with unique histories and different models that represent a harbinger of positive change in the Indian tea industry.

Tenzing is Bodo. Bodo are an indigenous tribe who inhabit the northern Assam bordering Bhutan. Tenzing’s infectious smile and charisma could fill up a room. Tenzing owns two organic tea gardens bordering Bhutan. He uses permaculture and grows native grasses, plants and trees in his nursery. He also hosts guests and world travelers in his extraordinary tree house in the middle of his tea farm.

The Bodo have waged a campaign for political and social standing since the 1980’s. In this struggle, Tenzing’s father and brother were murdered when he was young and so the political representation and socio-economic equality takes on special meaning.

Tenzing values Elephants and all wildlife-from leopards, wild pigs, tigers, cobras to porcupines — coming from the jungle to eat, drink, and live in his tea garden. Situated at the toe of Bhutan, he keeps his tea garden wild. He tolerates as well as welcomes elephants.

This involves the restoration of Elephant grass and rainforest trees that elephants eat. He encourages local people to accept elephants. Elephant habitat is shrinking and they come into increasing contact with people. One of the big issues for Elephants is the physical and verbal harassment they get from workers when they move through the tea estates and from local farmers.

At Tenzing’s tree house, we witnessed firsthand what Elephants endure. While cooking by the fire, we suddenly heard pops and Tenzing said nearby farmers were using firecrackers to frighten away the Elephants. A little while later we heard their bellows as they moved on. Their cries were mesmerizing as they reverberated through the jungle, transcending time. Though we didn’t see Elephants, we felt their presence.

Through education and the creation of jobs from sustainable forest products and services-bamboo, spices, fruits and nuts, eco-tourism and the myriad of recreational and wildlife-dependent activities-humans can live in the presence of Elephants and the species can thrive, even in an increasingly developed society.

Tenzing believes in the medicinal and recuperative powers of tea but he will not separate the tea from nature. He is fond of saying, “If you respect nature, nature will respect you.” Tenzing Bodosa’s philosophy of ecology intertwines in all that he does.

written by Jake Kreilick

True or False? Making tea is hard work.

It doesn’t take long to figure out the answer to that question when you visit a tea farm.  Aside from the patience and work necessary to grow the tea, it requires manufacturing at the tea factory.  The factory is full of loud, hot, expensive machines designed to do very specific tasks as the tea is processed.

Much of the tea processing is artisanal and needs spur of the moment decisions based on temperature, humidity, tea type, tea condition, and a hosts of other variables.  Machinery is one aspect of what happens in a tea factory to produce the brew that you love in your cup.  Machines require constant maintenance and upgrading.  When a machine goes down, it can impact tea production for an entire day or picking or more.  Many tea farms are far from industrial centers and need very skilled, innovative machinist to solve the problems that arise when working with machines.  It is for this reason you might spy the God of Machines while visiting a tea factory in India.

Talking Tea Taste with the Tea Master

Here we are tasting our Dom Dom Bodo Assam at the organic Elephant Friendly Tea certified farm in Assam, India. Tea plants nestled with native rain forest plants make rich tasting tea.  The diversity of plants add to the taste of the tea.  The Dom Dom Bodo Assam is full bodied and malty, with hints of honey and raisins and layered. We are discussing the layers of flavor, mouthfeel, and consistency. Delivering a consistent, quality product is one of the challenges for a tea farm. It was good to share feedback in an informal setting.

At the Tree House Surrounded by Tea in Assam

Our first day in Assam at the Elephant Friendly Tea farm. We stayed in the tree house for the night, in the middle of the tea farm, at the edge of the jungle, surrounded by tea. We could hear the elephants, peacocks, and zili (like crickets). This is where our Bodo Black and Green and Dom Dom tea come from.

More Matcha, Please!

Matcha provides more antioxidants and caffeine than any other style of tea.  It’s as simple as shaking a teaspoon into a water bottle or using methods from the Japanese tea ceremony.  This video demonstrates how we make our organic Mammoth Matcha at our tea bar in Missoula, Montana!  Be prepared to feel energized after drinking matcha.  We also have a tasty Wild Strawberry Matcha if you like your matcha with a twist!

The Eternal Reality of Jiaogulan, China’s “Immortality” Herb Tea

Did you know? One day, you will die.

Technically, I will, too; but I will be immortalized through blogs.

But, in the immortal words of 5-year-olds everywhere, why must we die? And, in the words of evil magicians everywhere hell-bent on taking over the world, how can we postpone our obsolescence?

Well, tea readers, you’ve come to the right place. For not only do I have a partial answer to the first question, but I also have an equally unsatisfying answer to the second.

For the myriad contributors to aging – cells dying, reduced blood flow, kinks in the complex web of our viscera, etc. – stress is the universal amplifier. Ever resourceful, our bodies have adapted well to handle, with healthy living habits, the every-day stresses of life. But additional stressors like pollution, excessive physical activity, or drugs and alcohol push our bodies further out of equilibrium and beyond our bodies’ natural adaptable range.

A core role of medicine, Western or otherwise, is to help our bodies regain this equilibrium. Herbs that do this naturally are known as adaptogens.

Jiaogulan, like ginseng and ginkgo, is a powerful adaptogen known in its home region in China as the “Immortality Herb” for its uncommon ability to help the body regulate itself in response to all kinds of stressors. In the tea world, the Herb is prized for its mitigating effects (anecdotally and medically) on blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, white blood cell count, heart conditions, liver disorders, and others. And modern medicine is further researching its effects on a wide range of conditions, including obesity.

But jiaogulan also shares some properties with tea as a powerful antioxidant.

You may have heard about free radicals, those pesky byproducts of our metabolism that scavenge electrons from (oxidize) healthy cells, thereby contributing to cancer, diabetes, liver disease, arthritis, and more. More stress means more free radicals.

They are also major players in the aging process: more free radicals mean faster aging.

Our bodies naturally produce the cleverly named anti­oxidants that hunt down free radicals throughout our lives. As we age, we naturally produce fewer antioxidants, while teas like jiaogulan help our bodies to produce more.

So you may not live forever, but a regular cup of jiaogulan tea might help you get just a little bit closer!

And, if nothing else, jiaogulan tea tastes heavenly.

See what I did there? We may not survive, but bad jokes are forever.

Peter McDonough

The Difference Between a Tea Pot and a Gaiwan

This spring Lake Missoula Tea Company looked at the differences between western style brewing with a tea pot versus using a gaiwan, or gong fu style brewing.  The latter can be thought of as eastern style brewing.  I could rehash a comparison, but in our research to describe the differences, we came across a great article.  I highly recommend reading the article Gongfu- (Eastern-) versus Western-Style Tea Brewing — What’s better?  hosted by teasprout.com.

The author makes two two strong points between eastern and western style of tea brewing.

One, if you don’t have a lot of tea or time, use a tea pot (western style).  You will use less tea and time and make more tea.  You can sip and savor your cup of tea.  Or, if don’t have time to sit and sip, take your tea on the go with you if needed.

Two, if you have time and want to experience the changes in tea with subsequent steeps, take the gonfu (eastern style) approach.  You will use more tea and take more time.  You will brew small amounts at a time, adding more time to each additional steeping.  Taking this tea on the go isn’t practical, but is fun to have with friends and is more hands on.

So, if you have time and want a hands on approach to drinking tea, go eastern style.  Or, if you have errands to run and work to do, make a pot of tea and take it with you, the western style way.

Heather Kreilick

Chai is Tea in Pakistan

This spring Lake Missoula Tea Company highlights global tea cultures.  This fits nicely with Zenith Khan’s (with Lake Missoula Tea Company) visit to Pakistan:

Lok Virsa is an establishment within the capital city of Islamabad that focuses on preserving and promoting cultural and traditional folk heritage. It consists of various small shops that carry a variety of artwork, handicrafts, clothing and food. There are a number of small museums, performance stages and gardens throughout the area for people to enjoy. A small outdoor restaurant sits just behind a set of shops which particularly caught my eye. All of the cooking and food preparation is done outside in front of passersby. The seating consists of two charpais (woven bed frames) per table. Charpais are a very traditional type of bed that are still used today, mostly in villages, and are a popular choice because of how cheap and easy to transport they are.

After ordering a hearty meal of flat bread (or roti) and spinach with mustard seed, we ordered two cups of their chai. Our decision was made easy by the fact that this was the only tea they served. This type of chai was a doodh pati chai which is the standard black tea with milk and sugar that’s cooked over a fire. The tea was served in small ceramic bowls (approximately 6oz) alongside two kinds of sugar: granulated white sugar and the cane sugar known as gur (or jaggery). Despite the restaurant being very lowkey and almost rundown, this tea was some of the best I’d had yet. It completely embodied the taste, smell and essence of a traditional Pakistani doodh pati chai. The tea had a very creamy body to it, thanks to the fresh full cream milk they use. It also had the particular taste of just the right amount of cardamom, which adds warmth and a little depth of flavor. To top it all off, a cup of tea cost 25 cents.

Bredemeijer on our Shelves

Bredemeijer on our Shelves

Bredemeijer on our Shelves – we are proud to carry this tried and true Dutch brand on our shelves. Established in 1914, Bredemeijer offers a line of tea ware with exquisite aesthetics and function. We currently carry copper cosy and stainless steel cosy tea pots. Both the copper and stainless steel cosies are removable with a white, ceramic tea pot underneath. We also have grey ceramic and cast iron tea pots from Bredemeijer. Check out this century old line of tea ware at our tea shop in Missoula, Montana!

Bredemeijer in Missoula
Bredemeijer in Missoula

How do you brew – On the road without a tea strainer?

Ah, the wisp of steam from the cup as you strain the last drop of tea from the leaf. You brew with your teapot or brewer at home, and your tea system is undoubtedly perfected to make the perfect cup for you. In your own space….

But how do you get your fix while on the road? or globetrotting for fun and or business? You find yourself 10 or 1,000 miles from home and realize you’ve either forgotten your tea, on the road tea strainer, travelling tea set, or tea to go mug…at home. Many a traveler has overcome this challenge using the environment and resources they find themselves in.

If your travels take you to a culture that drinks tea regularily, then your tea craving is easily met. Popping into caffes, tea shops and even pubs can fulfill your tea fix while enjoying the ambiance designed for the perfect tea drinking experience.

But find yourself in a culture or place that sips coffee, yerba mate, rooibos or some other non-tea beverage, and you need to get creative! If you forgot your tea, you’ll need to resort to bagged tea. If you have your tea but no brewing vessel, the options are as boundless as your imagination. Two paper cups and use the lid to strain your tea. A saucepan, cup, and spaghetti strainer. A saucepan, cup and sieve. Hotel pan and and strainer. Just a cup, no strainer.

How do you brew, on the road without a strainer?

Warning, images may not be aesthetically pleasing!

by Heather Kreilick