Sri Lanka Tea

IMG_1972“Good tea is not made in the factory.  Good tea is made in the fields.  If you do not get good leaf you cannot get good tea.” — Lalith, a good friend in the tea business while visiting his homeland of Sri Lanka with Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom of Compassion Tea Company

We love tea. It’s true. Learning about this fabulous drink makes us a little bit giddy. And there are few things in life that bring us more happiness than a tea tasting! (Of course, this is second to serving God and His people in need!) Several members of our team have now been to Sri Lanka to learn about the tea process from plant to your cup. We’d love to share some of our knowledge with you.IMG_1667

The complicated process of making tea is thousands of years old. And among the superior quality teas such as the ones we carry, a vast majority of the process remains done by human hands. Let’s look at the process as it is done in Sri Lanka.

Currently, in the world tea market, there are 70 different tea growing areas around the world.China produces 39% of the world’s tea. India produces 23.5% and Kenya produces 8%. Sri Lanka follows with 6% of the tea market production. Teas from Sri Lanka are called Ceylon teas. About 400 tea plantations operate in Sri Lanka and roughly 20% of the land in Sri Lanka is under tea cultivation. There are about  650 tea factories. About 340 million kilograms of tea are produced in Sri Lanka each year.

Despite the statistics that say tea is one of the fastest growing beverages in the United States, the US imports a modest 2% of Ceylon tea. Turkey and Russia import the majority of the Ceylon tea.

All tea comes from the Camellia Sinensis plant. How the leaves of the plant are processed creates the different types of tea such as black, white, green, and oolong. Herbal teas are a misnomer in that they do not come from the Camellia Sinesis plant but are based on flowers, fruits, the shavings of the rooibos plant, and other leaves.

The Camellia Sinesis plant grows naturally into a tree, but in order to cultivate it effectively, plants are maintained as shrubs. This also makes the harvesting more comfortable for the tea pluckers. Climate, soil, and elevation play an important role in the quality and quantity of the tea produced. The plant grows best in tropical climates that see a lot of rain and at higher elevations.

When the tea is harvested, workers enter the fields to hand-pluck the top youngest leaves and buds. A typical “pluck” is to pull two leaves and a furled bud from the top of the plant. It takes about 4.5 lb. of fresh tea leaves to produce 1 lb. of the tea you brew for your cuppa.

Typically, men oversee the work of the tea pluckers as they are called. The tea pluckers, who are women, begin their days in the fields around 8:30. They have a morning break and a two-hour lunch break. They then pick in the afternoon until about 4:30. The women carry a special basket on their backs. This lightweight basket makes it easier for them to use both hands for plucking. They then toss the leaves in the basket. Measuring sticks keep the plucking to a consistent level. Once an area of the field is plucked, it won’t be picked again until at least 8 days have passed.c84d8bcf-f64a-43e3-8e7d-9cec8b5a23d28617342c-c9b1-4a90-bfe3-af425635f51a

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On the Pedro estate where Ed and Wendy visited this past January, the pluckers make 680 rupees ($4.50) per day minimum and get free housing and medical care, child care and maternity as well as 21 days holiday pay. They are compensated for extra leaves picked and are given free food for their children and free burial. A health care clinic on the plantation provides the majority of their medical needs. The workers are well cared for and make a good living by Sri Lankan standards. Sadly many of the workers who stay on the plantations  for free do not even work on the tea plantations, but prefer to work elsewhere (like farming) where they make more money. But they cannot be kicked off the plantation. Out of the 7,500 people who live on the Pedro tea estate, only 1,500 work in tea plucking or processing, yet all 7,500 get free housing and benefits! This poses a real challenge for the plantation owners and may lead to problems in the future as world demand for Ceylon tea lessens and as costs rise.unnamedunnamed-3unnamed-2

Once the tea is plucked it is carried to be weighed. Because extra bits of leaves and twigs accidentally get in the baskets, the tea pluckers sort through their baskets before they take them for weighing. The tea pluckers are given bonuses for extra tea plucked. Once the tea is sorted and weighed, it is ready to head to the processing plant. Three times a day, trucks carry the tea from the fields to the processing factories. Because Ceylon is a black tea, it will undergo a fair amount of wilting and oxidizing in order to give the tea the rich black taste we know and love.

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Our Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Decaf English Breakfast,  Black Lemon, Cinnamon Orange Spice, and Black Chai teas all contain at least 90% Ceylon tea from Sri Lanka.

Green and white teas are minimally processed from here. Black teas, like the Ceylon in Sri Lanka, undergo 10 steps to provide the proper oxidation of the leaf to achieve the black color and flavor that makes Sri Lankan Ceylon so delicious. Here is a pictorial guide from the Lover’s Leap Tea Factory at the Pedro Estate of Sri Lanka where Ed and Wendy visited last January.

IMG_1683IMG_1716Step 1: Withering Process- Air comes up from the bottom of the withering bins, and the leaves will wither for 12 hours. These leaves begin the withering as soon as they come in from the fields. After withering, the leaves go through a tunnel to the rolling room.

IMG_1708IMG_1714Step 2: Rolling – The leaves are placed in the roller for 20 minutes. Oxidation is taking place. Rolling bruises the leaf and makes the juices come to the surface. Left: The leaves on the left are rolled, and the leaves on the right are withered only.

IMG_1739IMG_1759Step 3 – Rotor Vane – After the tea goes through this “mincemeat grinder” it will be much finer, like wet grass. Tea can go through up to 4 turns on the rotor vane. Above: The leaves on the top are ready to go to dryer, but the leaves on the bottom must go through the rotor vane again.

IMG_1736Step 4: Shaker – The tea leaves that are ready to go to the dryer will fall through while the larger leaves go through another rotor vane.

IMG_1817Step 5: Drying step – The tea will go through a drying oven at 125 F for 21 minutes. A wood fired boiler is used to heat the ovens.

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Step 6: Electrostatic separators are used to pull out fibers and stems from the tea. After separating, it drops into the yellow buckets. At this point the tea is finally stable. You can see that it is really starting to look like black tea by now.

IMG_1832IMG_1834Step 7: Grading – Tea is graded by size using the Chota sifter. There are 4 sizes: 10, 12, 14, 16. Number 16 (BPOF) will be the smallest and the strongest tea.

Step 8: The Color Separator is another way to remove more stems and fibers. It also separates the tea into different grades.

IMG_1870Step 9: Bulking – The tea goes through the hole for the bulking step. This is where they blend several harvests together.

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Step 10: Bagging. The teas are put into bags which each hold 33 kilos. Then, the tea is sent off to the auction house or other tea blenders to make specialty teas. 

This tea factory in Colombo, Sri Lanka, gets tea from the tea estates and makes their own blends for shipping to countries like Japan. Below is a series of photos showing a huge blending machine from top to bottom.

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Many tea factories also make their own tea bags. These teabags are going to New Zealand. Much of the work here is done by hand.

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Here is a worker gluing the tea bag boxes shut.

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This tea factory in Colombo ships 40 foot containers of tea to Japan, England, and the Middle East. The Middle Eastern countries buy much of the Ceylon tea; however, due to conflicts and wars in this region, tea exports were down for Sri Lanka this past year. 056c1a09-f10a-4dcd-bdbf-6c92ea289849

It’s all ready to go somewhere around the world!

Did you know how much time and labor and care went into your cuppa? Enjoy!IMG_1986

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Summery Tea Drinks

School is out around the country and the daily temps are hitting some high notes. Phew! It’s officially summer! At my house, that means (in the ideal world anyway) afternoons in the pool, friends coming over for barbecues, and late nights staring at the stars. Oh! And ICED TEA! Here are two variations created by Compassion Tea staffers that are super easy, super kid/barbecue/pool-hopping/star-gazing friendly, and super yummy!

If you are a Compassion Tea Company member, check your June newsletter for more recipes!

IMG_2161Compassion Tea’s Jasmine Iced Tea Lemonade – from director Wendy Bjurstrom

8 cups water
1/3 cup to 1/2 cup honey or natural sweetener
1/3 cup Compassion Tea’s Jasmine Dragon Tears
1/3 Cup Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice

Boil water with honey or natural sweetener. Let cool for 5 minutes. Put 1/3 c Jasmine Dragon Tears Tea in Compassion Tea’s Iced Tea Maker Infuser. Pour boiling water over tea and steep for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove infuser and add fresh squeezed lemon juice. Stir. Cool in refrigerator until cold. Delightfully refreshing!

Cranberry Compassion Spice – from director Chris Faherty Here’s a super easy summer tea idea! We had made some Compassion Spice for something and had some left over but not enough for both of us to have a glass. I topped it off with some cranberry juice and had a whole new drink! It was 3 parts Compassion Spice and 1 part cranberry juice. Simply delightful!

I’ve also discovered that adding Lavender Sage Rooibos to any fruity tea (like Black Currant or Peach Apricot) adds a lovely, calming note to the tea. It is super easy to fix in our iced tea maker. Simply add 3 tsp. of each flavor in the infuser, pour in the water, put in the refrigerator overnight, and pour a tall, refreshing glass the next day! Ooo La La!

What ideas do you have for your tea this summer?IMG_2147

My Compassion Tea and Your Chocolate

A few weeks ago, one of our directors found a recipe in Better Homes and Gardens for a chocolate bark that incorporates tea. Of course, we were interested! But which tea should we use? The recipe indicated green tea leaves work the best. So, that’s where our testing kitchen began.

IMG_1357Jasmine with Flowers, Sencha Cherry Rose, and Hermes Orange all seemed like winning combinations to be mixed with chocolate. Indeed! However, Sencha Cherry Rose added the most flavoring to the chocolate. Subtle notes of rose floated over the chocolate in a truly enchanting way. Hermes Orange was a bit overpowered by the chocolate. “Ah, but what about Coconut Oolong?” we thought. That proved to be remarkably delightful as the flavor of coconut blended with the chocolate and the lovely curled leaves gave a delightfully subtle crunch to the bark. IMG_1375Feeling bolder now, we went back to our tea supply and looked again. The entire herbal and rooibos line looked interesting. What would happen with Lemon Mint Rooibos, Jasmine Vanilla Rooibos, Provence, Caramel Rooibos or Lemon Ginger Rooibos? Delightful flavors! But, go light because the actual rooibos bark can become a bit chewy. It’s fine for a panda bear but you might not enjoy it as much. The last flavor we gave a try was Lemon Black. IMG_1381Lemon and chocolate are so lovely together! The bites that had a smallish piece of lemon rind in them were delectable! The black tea itself added a heavy richness that counteracted the lemon in an interesting way. Again, remove the larger pieces of fruit from the chocolate as they tend to get rather chewy.

But don’t take our word for it. Try it yourself! Here’s what you need!

Ingredients:
8 oz good quality semisweet chocolate*
8 oz good quality bittersweet chocolate
¼ cup tea leaves
½ tsp sea salt flakes

* Dark chocolate is too heavy for the lighter, floral notes of the tea. We recommend sticking with a regular chocolate.

IMG_1353Directions:
1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.
2. Line a half-sheet pan (13×18) with parchment. Pour melted chocolate into pan, spreading to the edges.
3. Sprinkle tea over chocolate and follow with sea salt.
4. Set aside in a cool place until firm (about 2 hours). Cut bark with a chef’s knife and enjoy! (Bark stays best if kept cool.)
(adapted from Better Homes and Gardens recipe, April 2013)IMG_1367

Package up the bark in a sweet little bag and give as a gift to Mom, graduates, or someone who needs a little pick-me-up. And if you discover another Compassion Tea flavor that works well, please pass it on!

Compassion Tea Twist on the Easter Egg

image006This week, I have been faced with an awful conundrum. It centers around eggs. You see, we have 4 chickie ladies who produce the most subtly beautiful eggs daily. Chip lays blue eggs; Raindrop and Ziggy produce brown eggs; and Clarabelle produces pink eggs. What fun to see them all nestled in an egg carton! They are the perfect Easter egg collection.

That being said, it is Easter, and I have two little ones who are positive we should color (as in dye) Easter eggs this year. Do I go to the store and buy MORE eggs? White, mass produced, not so organic, not so fresh eggs? Alas and alack, I did. Such a first world problem.

But! This week, Compassion Tea artistic director, Jon Larson, shared this recipe for Chinese Tea eggs featuring our Lapsang Souchong Butterfly Smokey China Black tea. Something fun to try with our already beautiful eggs! Perhaps you would like to try too! (A big thank you to Jon for the recipe and the photos! You can see more of his work at www.compassiontea.com and at www.larsonimages.com.)

image002Ingredients:
6-8 eggs hard-boiled and cooled
2 tbsp loose tea leaves (Lapsang Souchong Butterfly Smokey China Black tea)
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp salt
¾ tbsp. Chinese fivespice
1 star Anise
2” strip of orange zest

Directions:
Hard boil eggs. I place the eggs in a saucepan then fill with cold water, one inch above the eggs. Bring the water to boil. After one minute at a boil, turn off the heat and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 10 minutes. Then, cool.

When cool, using a spoon or the back of a knife, crack the egg. Make the cracks deep enough that the tea mixture can penetrate the shell to give the egg the desired flavor and look. Just be careful not to let the shell fall apart.

Place eggs in a medium pot and fill pot with water to one inch above the eggs. Add tea, soy sauce, salt, and spices. Bring to a boil.

Cover, reduce heat, and simmer the eggs and tea mixture for about 2 hours. Add water as necessary to image003keep them covered.

Remove from heat and leave the eggs submerged in the tea mixture overnight (about 8 hours) to allow the eggs to absorb the flavors.

Enjoy!

(Store eggs with shell on in the original egg carton in the refrigerator for up to a week.)image004

What’s In Your Tea?

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Camomile Tea… no grass or ferns here!

I received a letter from a friend the other day – a true, bona fide, handwritten-on-stationary letter via snail mail. What a great treat that was. My friend’s letter was thanking me for some tea I had gifted him and his wife at Christmas. He mentioned that he was grateful for the quality loose tea that he was assured had no fillers in it. I was puzzled. Fillers? What kind of fillers? Who would do such a thing?

Turns out ABC News recently did an exposé on fillers in food found in our grocery stores and tea is one of most frequently abused products. Turns out tea makers, in an effort to bring you highly affordable tea, will fill their little tea bags with things like fern and lawn grass clippings. Now, I realize that some teas, some very high-quality teas for that matter, have a grassy aroma which comes through during an official cupping. But that shouldn’t be because it IS grass! If you are paying for tea, you don’t want grass!

Here is the article and the corresponding video from the report. Better check your pomegranate juice and your lemon juice, too.

But with Compassion Tea, you don’t have to worry about fillers! Our teas are hand-picked, processed with the highest quality standards, and delivered to you in ways that make it easy to see what you’re drinking. I remember the first time I ripped open a Compassion Tea pouch of camomile tea. The plump, cheery heads of the camomile flowers filled the bag. They weren’t crushed beyond recognition. They were whole and so happy to look at… happy tea! And what a difference that made in the taste!

Fact: The more whole the tea leaves, the better the flavor extracted from the steeping. It also means you can steep the tea more than once and still have a delightful cup of tea. Our pyramid tea bags are shaped in this unique way so that the tea inside doesn’t get crushed beyond recognition. And of course, our loose teas are hand-rolled or hand-cut in ways that make them works of art in and of themselves. Have you ever really looked at the fineness of our Silver Needle Jasmine tea or our Jade Cloud tea, to name a few? As you steep the tea, the leaves change, grow, unfurl in graceful beauty. No fillers here.

Which leads me to think of that old beer commercial. What was it? Great Taste, Less Filling? Something like that. Well, with Compassion Tea, you have “Great Taste, No Fillers, and a Healthy Helping of Compassion for the World’s Least Served!” What could be better than that?

Pumpkin, pumpkin!

The week before Halloween, the weather turned fast. In the span of a weekend, I turned off the pool and the sprinklers and turned on the fireplace! I had to laugh at the response I heard around me; I can’t begin to tell you how many people told me about their new-change-of-season night-time apparel. It is cozy flannel and comfort food season and even though the summer wasn’t terribly oppressive or long, there was a sense of excitement at the rejuvenation that the rain brings to the sun-baked hills of the East Bay. The earth and the people seemed to be sighing collectively in relief.

I’ve been drinking West Cape Chai like it is water. Nothing warms my insides better! I love the creamy milk and the spices make my mouth sing. My son, Joseph, thought I was drinking hot chocolate on the way to school one morning this week and feeling left out grabbed my mug. Instead of being upset to discover it wasn’t hot chocolate, he was elated. “This is so good, Mommy!” he repeated over and over as he consumed my chai. I nearly had to resort to fisticuffs to get my mug back before it was all gone!

Do you know what else I love about this time of year? It just screams pumpkin! Adding pumpkin to pancakes or making pumpkin muffins or bread or cookies or pie or lattes… it is the rule of the day. I can’t get enough of pumpkin! I just stumbled across a recipe for Pumpkin Swirled-Cream Cheese Brownies that looks decadent (I’ll let you know if it is as good as it looks!) and another for Pumpkin Risotto Bites (which combines two of my favorite foods in one… hooray!). Recipes forthwith pending the tasting board of approval.

I have to confess something. I have been dying to somehow combine West Cape Chai (the organic, fair trade rooibos-based chai that Compassion Tea recently added to its line-up) and pumpkin into something. BUT WHAT!

A walk through the Halloween candy aisle at the local grocery looking for candy corn led me to the solution! Pumpkin Spice Hershey Kisses! I tweaked the thumbprint recipe a bit using chai instead of peanut butter and this is what I got!

Ingredients:
• 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature (next time, I might try browning the butter first to add that nutty flavor)
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1/4 cup West Cape chai prepared (I made 1 cup milk, 1 cup water, 2 tbsp. of chai, simmered on the stovetop for 5 minutes. That way, I could have my chai and drink it, too!)
• 1 large egg
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/2 tsp baking soda
• 1/8 tsp salt
• 1/2 tsp West Cape chai ground with mortar and pestle
• approximately 24 Pumpkin Spice Hershey’s Kisses
Preparation:
Cream the butter and sugar for about 2-3 minutes. Add the egg, prepared chai, and vanilla. Mix until combined. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt, scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl as necessary. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Using your hands, roll the dough into approximately 24 1 inch round balls. Place the dough balls on parchment paper lined baking sheets and sprinkle ground chai lightly over cookies.
Bake the cookies for 12-14 minutes.
Remove the cookies from the oven and immediately place pumpkin kisses in the center of each cookie. Don’t press too hard or the kisses will melt into pools of orange. Cool completely. Enjoy!

As you can see, they are festive and fun and très delicious. I really like how light they are, almost like a shortbread.

Do you have a favorite pumpkin recipe? Please share!

Friends!

Made by friends. Given to friends. Helping friends.


You may recall that Compassion Tea got started when a group of friends met with the purpose of discussing a better way to raise funds for their work with CompassioNow. This group of 3 couples had been friends from church and already had a long history of connection and community including group trips to Africa where certain members acquired the nickname “Lovey” (these people shall remain anonymous to protect the innocent – HA!) and the rigors of large bugs, shady food, and third world living were shared together. This was a group who was already in prayer for each other. By creating Compassion Tea, Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom, Jack and Chris Faherty, and Lee and Anne Kennedy further ensured their friendship; now, even though they are scattered around California, the meeting schedule, prayer schedule, and work schedule guarantees time together either through amazing modern communication or face-to-face time.

This past weekend was one of those face-to-face times. The kids and I traveled to Clovis via train (which has its own blog topic just waiting) in order to meet, work, and share in the community that is Compassion Tea. The beauty of the weekend was that we were working on assembling our holiday gifts. Boxes needed to be assembled, foam cut, pouches stuffed, tins shrink-wrapped, stickers applied, bows tied. None of this was particularly taxing – except perhaps for the foam cutting which required Ed’s engineering expertise to extract the most foam supports for the gift boxes as possible, and except for the heat of a hand-dryer on a hand while shrink-wrapping. On the contrary, our tasks allowed us to chitchat. As a relative newcomer to the friendship, this was great fun for me! At a certain point in the day, as Chris and I were finishing up a lively discussion about schools and teachers and expectations (oh and yes, we were labeling pouches), Anne and Wendy popped in to say, “Let’s switch partners when we start the next task!” While I worked with Wendy, I had the opportunity to hear about her experiences volunteering at the Care Harbor event recently held in LA. (Another blog in the making!) We finished the day off with a meal and fond reminiscing over our year together.

Oh, I’m sorry. Did I lose you somewhere? Were you distracted by the comments about putting together holiday gifts? Was your holiday shopping radar going off? Would you like to know more? WELLLLLLL! Yes, we’ve got holiday gifts and yes they are on sale and ready to go out. (So, really, now is a great time to order… www.compassiontea.com/gifts.)

The holiday gift boxes are full of great things… a silver teaspoon for measuring the 4 loose teas tucked into reusable tins. The teas included in this gift are Monk’s Blend (flavored black tea), Bourbon Street Vanilla (flavored rooibos), Jade Cloud (green tea extraordinaire), and Iron Goddess Oolong (exceptional oolong). This is the kind of gift the tea-lover in your life would go nuts over!

Back in July, we were trying to discern the best way to package our next gift. It was a several hour conversation that wove its way through our entire meeting that weekend. This past weekend, we saw the fruition of that process! A satin red pouch filled with two round tins of Monk’s Blend and Bourbon Street Vanilla loose teas. There’s just something about those round tins all stacked up and waiting to ship out that is elegant, orderly, and compelling. The two tins collectively hold approximately 50 cups of tea, which makes this a lovely gift for just about anyone! I’m thinking friends, family, co-workers, colleagues, staff, employees, vendors, administrators, teachers, assistants, service providers, my kids (who ask for these two teas by name)….

The other really great gift for the above-mentioned folks is our black teabag caddy filled with pyramid tea bags. You can choose which tea you want in the caddy and the choices are as follows: Green Peach Apricot (flavored green), Caramel Rooibos (flavored rooibos), Egyptian Camomile (herbal), Earl Grey (black tea), and Provence (herbal rooibos).

Of course, we have our gift memberships for the gift that truly keeps on giving. I remember several years ago (like, decades ago) I was struggling with what to get that “someone who has everything” and I discovered a mail-order flower service that would send flowers on a monthly basis. How fun it was for my mother-in-law to receive bulbs and fresh flowers every month! I don’t remember how many months it ran but I loved the concept. This is what our gift memberships do; instead, we send 2 pouches of tea each month. You choose 6 months or 12 months of tea delivery, the variety changes every month, and every month your friend, spouse, family member is reminded of you and your loving gift. Ahhhh! Isn’t that great!

So, I’ve covered the “Made by Friends” part and the “Given to Friends” part. But what about this “Helping Friends” part? I saved the most important part for last. Remember, the mission behind Compassion Tea is to share tea and SAVE LIVES! We do that by donating 100% of our profits to our parent organization, CompassioNow. CompassioNow uses those funds to purchase medical supplies, to ship pharmaceuticals and medical supplies to Africa, to pay staff salaries at some of the clinics in Africa, to support projects such as buying a new engine for an airplane so people in the far away parts of the bush may receive medical care or such as digging a new well and providing the piping to supply a clinic with a fresh supply of water so that people don’t have to walk several hundred yards to a dirty river to procure water for the clinic. Through our sale of tea, we are helping to give grandmothers eyeglasses, which help them to see and better provide for their families. We are helping to provide antibiotics to treat infections that could become life threatening otherwise. We are supplying wound dressings for a man hit by a car and who was turned away from the government–run hospital because he couldn’t pay for his treatment. We are supplying vitamins for children growing up malnourished. We are helping a woman who for 20+ years was considered a drag on the community because she is crippled and we are giving hope to young children with cerebral palsy, HIV/AIDS, orphaned and malnourished.

I know that the economy is a hot topic these days. I’m not sure one can get away from the topic, actually! By most reports, it isn’t where it was four years ago. Could it be worse? Is it not good enough? Those are questions for the politicians to debate, and debate they are! What counts is what is in your pocketbook/budget for this year’s holiday spending. While I want to emphasize that our gifts are reasonably priced, I more so want you to think about the power of your spending. You will buy gifts for certain people, right? And I think we all know at least one consumer of fine tea. You could go to a certain local tea store or a coffee stand that sells tea too. They’re on every corner. You could buy your tea there. You could. OR you could make your purchase matter. Your purchase could make a difference for someone else… a friend in Africa.

What was that website again? www.compassiontea.com/gifts Make your holiday gift-giving count.

To Sugar or Not to Sugar

Not long ago, I made the Saturday morning trek to the Farmer’s Market downtown. I love the Farmer’s Market… all the fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers, organic breads, and even the balloon man. Usually, I stop to chat with a local olive oil producer whose olive oils are amazing. (Olivina if you are interested!)  This day, I mentioned my work with Compassion Tea to Charles and his ears literally perked up. “I drink way too much soda,” he shared. “I’m looking for a new beverage that doesn’t have as much sugar in it.” Well, you can imagine the next 30 minutes! Duh! ICED TEA!

I’m not sure what sparked Charles’ decision to alter his drinking habits, but it seems to be a trending topic.

You may have noticed on September 14 that New York City’s Board of Health approved Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on 16 oz. soda and/or sweetened drinks. Effective March 12, 2013, this ban will prohibit any beverage with more than 25 calories per eight ounces from being sold in a container larger than 16 ounces. So, basically, in 6 months’ time, when you take in your weekly movie or swing through Jack-in-the-Box in New York City, you won’t be able to buy the mega beverage of your choice. You can, however, drop into the grocery or 7-Eleven and purchase a 2 liter or a Big Gulp. And at the restaurants, you may have as many refills in your smaller cup as the restaurant will allow. The reason behind the ban? According to Mayor Bloomberg, banning these drinks will “curb obesity” and “save lives.” To read more about this, click here and here.

Okay, so don’t travel to NYC if you plan on consuming large amounts of Pepsi. Maybe stay in Trenton instead.

This week, the New York Times ran an article in the opinion section of the paper titled, “Is Alzheimer’s Type 3 Diabetes?” In the article, Mark Bittman explains the scientific advances that are suggesting a link between the body’s reaction to too much sugar over long periods of time, the development of type-2 diabetes, and the similarities between type-2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s. In fact, studies with rats have shown that, when the insulin in the brains of the rats is limited, the brains of the rats “show all the signs of Alzheimer’s.” (Bio refresher: Insulin is released by the pancreas and goes knocking on the doors of cells telling them to open up and grab the glucose, which is what the body turns sugar into, coursing past in the blood. When insulin becomes a constant, persistent, and annoying knocker, which is what happens when we consume large amounts of sugar regularly, the cells become “insulin resistant;” they stop listening and refuse to open the door. This is damaging to blood vessels, the heart, and other organs, and causes the kind of damage to the brain noted in the article.) The article goes on to discuss the implications of this study from a health perspective and from a “cost-to-society” perspective. It also adds the caveat that while sugary drinks and foods are instrumental in increasing the rate of type-2 diabetes in Americans, sugar may not be the only culprit. Heavily processed foods certainly have their place in the decline of American health, too, according to the article.

Interestingly enough, I was recently reading an update from Karero Medical Clinic in Kenya… yes, as in Africa. A team of doctors and dentists from the States had recently visited the clinic and had provided dental services to “dozens of people.” Rev. Jeff Spainhour, from North Carolina, was among the delegation of professionals who traveled to Karero. After watching the extraction of countless teeth among the Kenyans, Rev. Spainhour commented, “It was obvious that sugar has had a great negative impact on the health of the people seen.” Even in Africa, sugar is becoming the boogie man. It starts with the teeth, spreads to diabetes, and may even lead to the most mind-debilitating disease we know.

As our pastor always says, “So what.” As in, “What should we glean from these campaigns, comments, and studies?” I see the answer as very simple. Put down your 16 oz. Coca-Cola and pick up your tea cup! (Or maybe moderation?)

There has been lots of talk throughout time about the medicinal properties and health benefits of tea consumption. Ironically, when you look for conclusive evidence to support tea as the healthier alternative, what you find is lots of “suggestions.” “This study suggests,” “studies on this are not conclusive,” and “not enough research has been done” are the constant caveats. I’ve turned to my favorite stand-by, WebMD, for a little help here. According to a compilation of studies put together by Julie Edgar, here’s “what some studies have found about the potential health benefits of tea:
• Green tea: Made with steamed tea leaves, it has a high concentration of EGCG and has been widely studied. Green tea’s antioxidants may interfere with the growth of bladder, breast, lung, stomach, pancreatic, and colorectal cancers; prevent clogging of the arteries, burn fat, counteract oxidative stress on the brain, reduce risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, reduce risk of stroke, and improve cholesterol levels.
• Black tea: Made with fermented tea leaves, black tea has the highest caffeine content and forms the basis for flavored teas like chai, along with some instant teas. Studies have shown that black tea may protect lungs from damage caused by exposure to cigarette smoke. It also may reduce the risk of stroke.
• White tea: Uncured and unfermented. One study showed that white tea has the most potent anticancer properties compared to more processed teas.
• Oolong tea: In an animal study, those given antioxidants from oolong tea were found to have lower bad cholesterol levels. One variety of oolong, Wuyi, is heavily marketed as a weight loss supplement, but science hasn’t backed the claims.
• Pu-erh tea: Made from fermented and aged leaves. Considered a black tea, its leaves are pressed into cakes. One animal study showed that animals given pu-erh had less weight gain and reduced LDL cholesterol.”

The article has little to say about the health benefits of different herbal, rooibos, and chai teas even though so many claim benefits such as weight loss, digestive aid, cold prevention, and stress reduction. Again, the issue is lack of study. (Click here for the whole article.)

What the article does point out is that bottled iced teas are often laced with sugars and/or artificial sweeteners and should therefore be avoided. Edgars includes a quote from Diane L. McKay, PhD, a Tufts University scientist who studies antioxidants as saying, “You want to incorporate healthy beverages in your diet on a more regular basis to benefit from these health-promoting properties. It’s not just about the foods; it’s about what you drink, as well, that can contribute to your health.”

So what? I realize people like soda. I grew up drinking it and I haven’t grown two heads or sprouted wings or anything too bizarre. But when it comes to health and making healthy choices for me and my family, I’m inclined to avoid things that contribute to obesity (goodness gracious, I have enough trouble keeping off the pounds!), tooth decay, and now possibly Alzheimer’s. Yes, soda offers variety and flavor and caffeine and a cool, refreshing pick-me-up or get-me-going boost. But, I have to argue that tea is even better.

As a Compassion Tea drinker, I find plenty of flavor and variety in our offerings, enough to keep my changing palette intrigued and satisfied. And because of the intense and robust flavors, I don’t need to add sweeteners to the teas to improve flavor. If I want sweet, there’s Provence or Bourbon Street Vanilla or Almond Rocker or Jasmine Vanilla Rooibos or our new flavor Caramel Rooibos in the pyramid bags. If I want fruity, well, that selection is endless. From blueberry to mango, we’ve got fruit! For a spicy mood, there’s West Cape Chai, Cochin Masala Chai, or Spicy Rooibos. If I’m looking for something gentle and delicate, there’s Sencha Cherry Rose or Peony White Needle or Silver Needle or even Coconut Oolong or Jade Cloud. And of course, there’s always the oolong, pu’ erh, and black teas, which offer that robust cup, the get-me-up-and-going cup of tea. Tea is varied and as long as we don’t pour in a pint of sugar it is healthier than soda.

Why not make it your beverage of choice!

Campaign Promises

Every morning, I run the same drill. Feet hit the floor and the ankles and heels start screaming. I stumble toward the bathroom to grab something warm and my phone and then head outside with the dog to mincingly make my way down the driveway to get the newspaper. I check emails as I go and then glance at the day’s headlines on the way back up the driveway. This morning, I laughed out loud when I opened my inbox.

To Drink More Tea!

There, thanks to Princess Cruises, was the single most clever ad campaign I have ever seen. Concerned that I might be “tired of all the negative news,” Princess Cruises is offering “The Campaign to Escape Completely!” From now until Election Day, the cruise-line is giving away free cruises where you can really and truly escape from the media for a few days. Floating on a big boat, with food readily available, pools aplenty, and no TV or newspapers? Right on! Sign me up!

It doesn’t matter which way you lean politically, there is enough fuel to flame the fires of distrust, self-righteousness, and dare I say even hatred for the other side. When we were visiting Ohio this past August, the Olympics were wrapping up and there were events we wanted to watch, but every other commercial was political in nature. First, one would blame the present administration for not solving our country’s economic problems. Next, the present administration would scare women and seniors into believing that should there be a change in the presidential watch they can kiss their current benefits good-bye. It was emotional; it was fluff; it was ugly. I feel for the swing states these days. You are in the heart of a bitter, media-driven, war of words where no one seems to be 100% truthful, 100% genuine, or 100% tuned into reality. (And right now I may need to wrap my tongue in gauze I’m biting it so hard.)

So, what does this have to do with tea? Not a whole lot, truth be told! I can offer you the chance to relax and unwind with a cup of tea… maybe one of our new flavors? Have you tried Jade Cloud or Bai Hao or Coconut Oolong or West Cape Chai yet? Or the Lavender Sage Rooibos or Lemon Mint Rooibos are fantastic for centering and grounding… as long as you leave your media outlets turned off. Tea is very relaxing. Waiting for the water to boil, watching the leaves steep, pouring a cup, taking the first slurp… all are steps in patience, settling down, calming, breathing more deeply, creating a mood for contemplation. Take some time.

A few days ago, I was reading through one of my favorite chapters of the Bible – Isaiah 40. For us, the weary-worn electorate, this chapter holds great comfort. I’m going to quote from The Message translation because it is just so fun and accessible:

12 – 17: Who has scooped up the ocean
in his two hands, or measured the sky between his thumb and little finger?
Who has put all the earth’s dirt in one of his baskets,
weighed each mountain and hill?
Who could ever have told God what to do
or taught him his business?
What expert would he have gone to for advice,
what school would he attend to learn justice?
What god do you suppose might have taught him what he knows, showed him how things work?
Why, the nations are but a drop in a bucket,  a mere smudge on a window.
Watch him sweep up the islands
like so much dust off the floor!
There aren’t enough trees in Lebanon
nor enough animals in those vast forests to furnish adequate fuel and offerings for his worship.
All the nations add up to simply nothing before him— less than nothing is more like it. A minus.

21 – 24: Have you not been paying attention? Have you not been listening?
Haven’t you heard these stories all your life?
Don’t you understand the foundation of all things?
God sits high above the round ball of earth. The people look like mere ants. He stretches out the skies like a canvas—
 yes, like a tent canvas to live under.
He ignores what all the princes say and do.
 The rulers of the earth count for nothing.
Princes and rulers don’t amount to much.
 Like seeds barely rooted, just sprouted,
they shrivel when God blows on them.
 Like flecks of chaff, they’re gone with the wind.

Did you catch that? Nations are like a drop in the bucket. The rulers of the earth count for nothing. In the grand scheme of things, as we like to say, this election process really doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. It is much ado about nothing. Chaff in the wind, blown away on the slightest breeze. Our nation is struggling to maintain a way of life. We are trying to maintain a life we believe is built on free-enterprise, hard-work, and freedom. Some of us want it to be more so while some others of us believe in the power of the government to help us reach our goals. But in the end, who is in ultimate control?

During her speech at the Global Leadership Summit, Condoleeza Rice shared that while she was Secretary of State, she would often ask the leaders around the table whether they were more concerned about today’s headlines or tomorrow’s history.  Boiled down, her question is this: Are we shooting for the popular decision or the right decision? Over the course of the next 7 weeks we are going to be treated to a continuing barrage of ire and political mayhem. Then, we will know the leadership for the next four years. What will that tell us? Will it really tell us our future individually or collectively? Probably not. Whichever way the election goes, those grand and glorious campaign promises are going to be promptly broken whether because the promise was just a line to get the vote or whether “the other side” gridlocked the process. Decisions will be made both for the popular reasons and for the right reasons. And one person’s “right reason” is another’s “stupid reason.” That’s the way it is.

Ultimately, it will all work out… because God is on His throne. In the meantime, I suggest a cup of tea and maybe a free cruise.

Nuts About Coconut!

On one of our weekly paths to and fro, the kids and I drive past a sign that advertises “Cherries, Coconuts, Fruts.” No, that is not a typo on my part. The hand-painted-on-cardboard sign is wrong. Yet, it has provided the kids and I a steady topic of conversation from “what is a frut, mommy?” to “why don’t they change it?” I love to hear my kids giggle and passing that sign always inspires a giggle.

Then, there comes the inevitable, “Can’t we stop to buy a coconut?” I wish I could pinpoint the moment when coconut became the flavor-of-the-day for my kids. Coconut spread on toast, coconut milk, coconut in cookies or granola bars… they love coconut. The only time they weren’t thrilled with coconut was at the bagel shop when they picked up tetra-paks of coconut water. I managed to drink it for them (because I can’t stand waste), but I really couldn’t blame them. Blech!

Imagine the excitement then when I announced that Compassion Tea would soon be carrying a new tea… Coconut Oolong! Although this oolong, like all other oolongs, has caffeine, this has become an early-in-the-day-only treat for the kids. As we would say if we were still in the Netherlands… LEKKER!

I first tried the coconut oolong at Ed and Wendy’s house when we were all gathered for a Compassion Tea director’s meeting. Chris and Anne were taking us through the intricacies of cupping. Think wine tasting only with tea. First, you inspect the leaves, notice their color, smell, are they curled or cut, rolled or shaped. Then the tea is steeped for the proper amount of time. In a flick of the wrist, the leaves are left on the cup lid and the third step is to inspect the infused leaves asking yourself what has happened to them in the steeping process. How much have they uncurled? If the curl or roll is still fairly tight, you can probably get another couple of infusions out of them. Having done that, it’s time to look at the liquor, the tea itself. Cupping your hands over the cup, take a deep breath. Note the nose. My favorite part comes next! Remember your mom telling you not to slurp? Well, in tea tasting, slurping is necessary! Breathing in, slurp up some tea, let it roll around on your tongue before you exhale and swallow. The full flavor of the tea should hit and linger. Like wine, you can then assess whether the tea has tannins, how it finishes, and eventually what it takes like cooled off.

When Chris and Anne announced the coconut oolong, there was an audible collection of breath, one of those oooooooo moments you might hear from a crowd expecting an amazing magic trick. The excitement filled the air. As we cupped our way through this tasting, the excitement grew. My notes indicated that the leaves had “beautiful curls” and were “consistent in color.” Both dry and steeped, the leaves gave off a rich, chestnutty aroma with a hint of a floral bouquet too subtle to completely identify. But, it is the lingering notes of coconut that make this tea truly marvelous. All of the Compassion Tea directors were making notes and rating the teas we tasted over the weekend. Wendy steered us to a quick way of marking the teas we wanted to carry… smiley faces. How funny it was to watch all 8 of us furiously scribbling smiley faces with hearts and extra smiles in our notes!

I didn’t know much about oolong tea going into this experience. Here is a little of what I’ve learned. Oolong is primarily produced in China and Taiwan, although India and other tea producing regions are beginning to produce it too. Like green, black and white teas, oolong comes from the camellia sinensis plant; the difference is in the oxidation process.

The Coconut Oolong is a tea blend. It’s base is a Taiwanese tea called Bao Zhong flavored with a creamy and smooth coconut flavoring. The Bao Zhong teas are known for their floral character, which comes from a unique natural process. Any time a tea leaf is bruised or cut in any way, it exposes the enzymes in the leaf to oxygen thereby beginning the oxidation process which gives the different teas their unique qualities. In the case of oolong tea, there is a green leaf hopper bug that visits the camellia sinensis plants and nibbles on the tea leaves. Those little nibbles begin the oxidation process before the leaves are even harvested. Once the bugs have left the tea garden, heading for another, the tea leafs, usually a bud and two leafs, are plucked, withered and dried, sometimes steamed, sometimes roasted, often rolled or shaped into pearls, and then finished off before heading to your tea pot.

I should note that we also tasted and are adding Jade Cloud – an organic Fair Trade green tea, West Cape Chai – an organic Fair Trade rooibos that includes ginger, star anise, clove, fennel, cinnamon, cardamom, peppermint, black pepper, and ramon nut (a coffee-like flavor) to create a warm and spicy happiness, and the Bai Hao oolong without the coconut flavoring. Stay tuned! I intend to mix the West Cape Chai with some half-and-half and a splash of rum. I’ll tell you how it goes!