Books. Tea. Cats. Scribbling.

Category: Teaware

Tea Filters from For Tea’s Sake

One of the funny things about my life is that I’m the only person in my family who is crazy for tea. Oh, a few come close, like my aunt, but she isn’t as adventurous about finding new varieties online as I am (which makes her the perfect recipient for tea that I’ve tried and reviewed, but haven’t fallen in love with).

What’s particularly ironic is that my in-laws are not Tea People at all — to the extent that they don’t even own a kettle. When I visit them, I usually bring my own teas and tea filters from David’s Tea as a result. I ration my filters, though, since I can’t be sure I’ll have enough to last the whole trip.

Thus, it was with great surprise that I walked down the main drag of the smallish city where my in-laws live and noticed a bakery with a tea display near the door. Mr. BooksandTea and I walked in and were greeted with a display of teas and teaware for a company called For Tea’s Sake.

I have to admit that the majority of items and blends the store had available weren’t that new to me, but one thing did catch my eye: these disposable tea filters. Having a backup supply of tea filters while travelling? Score!

So here’s what they look like:

For_Teas_Sake_filters_box

At this point I’ve primarily used the ones from David’s Tea, so it was interesting to compare them to these tea filters from For Tea’s Sake. So here are the main differences I’ve noticed about the For Tea’s Sake filters:

  • The fabric/material of these filters is white, rather than the taupe of the David’s Tea ones.
  • While both filters have drawstrings to keep them cinched up, the drawstrings of these filters are left to hang separately — there’s no little tag/label at the end of the drawstring like there is with the David’s Tea filters.
  • These filters are also boxier/more rectangular.
  • The material of these filters also feels finer/softer/more durable to the touch. Almost, but not quite, like fabric.

There are pros and cons to the way these filters are designed. One pro is that when you’ve finished steeping the tea, the filter material becomes nearly transparent, so you can see the tea inside the filter — even as it’s still sitting there, steeping in the mug.

For_Teas_Sake_filters_mug

It’s quite pretty! You get to see how the leaves have unfurled/expanded.

For_Teas_Sake_filters_used

However, because these filters are rectangular, when the drawstring is pulled shut, the dry filter looks rather awkward and boxy.

For_Teas_Sake_filters_filled

I suspect that this is why the David’s Tea filters are shaped the way they are to flare up at the top —when you close the drawstring tight, it makes the filter itself look a little cleaner. Plus, the wider opening makes it much easier to spoon tea in.

The other issue I have with the For Tea’s Sake filters is that the drawstrings don’t have any sort of closure/loop/tab at the end. This makes it a bit harder to ensure that the drawstring doesn’t fall into the brewing tea. With the David’s Tea filters, I can tie the drawstring around the mug handle, and the little label at the end is large enough to ensure that the tie doesn’t come loose — no such feature here.

In the end, I’m glad I found out that these filters exist — I can use them as back-ups whenever I visit my in-laws.

Teabook: A Tea Subscription With a Free Tumbler

Teabook is a new player in the monthly tea subscription game. However, they offer a twist when it comes to your monthly tea fix: the first box comes with loose-leaf tea and a tumbler to drink it from. Each subsequent box comes with tea only.

I’m a sucker for teaware as much as tea itself and had read this review from fellow tea blogger Marzipan; I thought this combined set would be perfect for a morning commute. So I was flattered when Teabook contacted me directly and offered to send me a free introductory kit in exchange for a review. (They sent me a second tumbler as well, the circumstances surrounding which I’ll talk about below.)

Plus, let’s face it: Teabook? Books and Tea? It seems like this company and I have a few things in common.

How Does Teabook’s Subscription Work?

Teabook’s subscription costs $24.99 USD a month. You pay for your first month when you sign up, and then pay afterwards on the 15th of every month. Boxes ship out from Seattle on the 5th and take 5-7 days to arrive, based on your location.

Your first box comes with a glass tumbler and a boxed set of teas. I have to admit, their packaging is on point. This is what I got in the mail:

Teabook_mailed_box

And this is what the whole thing looked like when I opened it up.

Teabook_unboxing

The boxes are sleek and precisely fitted, and come with quotes printed directly on them about the importance of tea. The company’s website also stresses the “purity” of their tea. This “purity” talk signals to me that Teabook is targeting the kind of person who is curious about switching to loose leaf after a lifetime of the bagged stuff — someone who wants to know what this talk of “real” tea is all about.

I think their branding is also meant to attract potential customers who are interested in tea for its health benefits. And I must admit, it’s spot-on. I haven’t been this impressed by a company’s aesthetic since Tea Leaf Co earlier this summer.

Once you get your set, it’s time to go to town.

The Teas

Each box from Teabook comes with a set of pre-wrapped sachets filled with loose leaf. You open a sachet, pour the leaf into the tumbler, and let the whole thing sit — the tumbler’s filter is supposed work as you sip. Each box comes with 19 sachets:  2 varieties of tea with 9 sachets each and a third, special variety in a single sachet.

Teabook_opened_tea_box

My box contained 9 Yunnan Dian Hongs (a black tea that generally has malty, sweet-potato notes), 9 Long Jings (dragonwell, a green tea), and a special sachet of what it called “Honey Sweet Green/Xiang Ming.”

Now, I’m leery of the idea of just putting the tea leaf into the tumbler and letting it sit there indefinitely, but this isn’t a completely new phenomenon. I’ve heard several people in the tea community call this “grandpa style brewing.” I’m curious about how Teabook will find new teas every month that don’t get astringent despite long steep times.

The Tumbler

The tumbler is made of glass — both the outer and inner surface are glass, with a hollow section in the middle to retain heat. It also comes with a filter made of metal embedded into a circular bit of plastic that you can then screw over the mouth, a lid you can screw over the filter so nothing sloshes around, and three silicon washers to make sure that there are no leaks between the glass and the filter — you need two for the tumbler, but they’re smart enough to include a third, just in case.

Finally, the filter piece itself comes with a wristband made of glossy, tough fabric.

Teabook_tumbler

The tumbler feels sturdy and it’s easy to hold in my tiny hands. The fabric strap feels tough. However, I’m surprised by the capacity: according to the packaging, it can hold only 9.5 oz of liquid. Considering I like to have a jumbo mug (at least 12 oz) every morning before I go to work, this feels like a lot of effort for less tea.

But I can’t verify that until I test things out. See, this thing is tailor-made for a commute. The strap? The single-serving teabags? Tea designed for grandpa brewing? This thing is begging for a road test, baby.

The Road Test

Right now I’m freelancing on-site for a company in downtown Toronto. So I walk to the GO station, take the commuter train to Union Station, transfer to the subway, and then get off at Bloor/Yonge. From there, it’s a 10-minute walk to the building I’m working at. The entire front-door-to-desk trip takes 90 minutes.

This is the perfect amount of time to brew these teas into oblivion!

For my first test, I took one packet of the Long Jing and poured 80°C water into the tumbler a few minutes before I headed out the door. As I walked to the GO station, I could feel the heat from the water gently radiating into my hand. It was warm, but nowhere close to burning.

I tried a sip on the GO train but it was bitter. However, I couldn’t tell if I was reacting to the leaf itself or to the smell of the plastic since this was the first time I was using the tumbler. On the train, the glass surface cooled to room temperature but I could still feel some warmth from the part of the plastic connected to the filter.

By the time I got to work, I took an experimental sip but the tea had turned lukewarm. Bah. I ended up tossing this first experiment down the drain.

However, I do keep some oolong at work — and if there’s any tea that looks amazing when it unfurls, it’s oolong. So I tried again in the afternoon at my desk. It was a similar deal: the leaves unfurled, I could feel the heat radiating from the tumbler, and the tea stayed warm enough to drink. However, the tea also became very strong! A second steep was much more floral and tolerable.

The Unexpected Setback

Then came the big guns: I took this the tumbler with me to Ottawa to Can-Con. A full weekend of carting this thing around the VIA train system, to hotels, to other shops, to panels, to breakfast — the whole shebang.

And lo, that is when I ran into problems. For there was very little hot water around with which to steep tea. And no hot water means no resteeping, which means wet leaves sitting in the bottom of the tumbler forever.

And what happens if you want to get rid of the wet leaves sticking to the sides of the tumbler? Well, if you’re a genius like me, you smack the bottom of the tumbler like it’s a ketchup bottle, hoping that the impact will help get the leaves out.

Unfortunately, that slapping action? Not a good idea. Because then the bottom of the tumbler completely shatters into pieces in the hotel sink.

Like so.

Teabook_tumbler_broke1
And so.

Teabook_tumbler_broke2

And so.

Teabook_tumbler_broke3

After I cleaned things up, I emailed Teabook — I had no idea what to do:

Hi there,

I was emptying out my tumbler this morning and I was smacking the bottom to help dislodge some stuck leaves. The bottom of the tumbler shattered. I’ve included some photos.

This tumbler was sent to me for review. Can you advise? Has anyone else reported such an issue?

Thankfully, they got back to me in a few hours — not bad, considering it happened on a Sunday:

Hello Christina,

Sorry to see this, We can send you out another tumbler asap, Could you send your address again.

This is the third case, but the other two were dropped. So it is not too common, either way we are very sorry for the inconves and should have you a new one out tomorrow.

Hope you are enjoying the tea in the meanwhile.

Let us know where to ship.

I sent my mailing address out right away. Ultimately, the replacement tumbler took a month to arrive — I smacked the bejeezus out of the first tumbler on November 1st, and the replacement arrived in the mail on December 2nd.

The Verdict

I have to say that while Teabook looks great, I’m still not 100% sold on the central concept. One, because I’ve seen just how fragile the glass tumbler can be, and two, because the tea can get oversteeped quickly if you’re not careful.

However, I am impressed with their customer service and with how quickly they responded to my note saying that I broke the tumbler. The replacement took a month to arrive, which makes sense if they send all of their shipments out every month — they’re following the system they already have in place. I will also say that the tea itself appears to be of good quality; their Dian Hong is malty and sweet potato-y, while their Long Jing is nutty. But I will need to fiddle around with this whole system some more to see where it really shines. Steeping some oolong turned out to be a great idea, so I can’t wait to try that again.

In the meantime: if you’re new to the world of loose-leaf tea, this curated selection of teas from Teabook may be just the right way to start.

Thrift Store Finds!

I don’t visit thrift stores a lot, but I really should, because you can find all sorts of neat stuff if you know where to look. In early August, my husband and I went to the local Salvation Army together; I wasn’t expecting to find anything, but there happened to be quite a lot of ceramic teaware.

Which I then promptly bought. Because teapots!

First, this little fella caught my eye, although I resisted because I saw it as soon as I came in.

thrift-store-tiny-teapot

But then there was this tray, lying forlornly on a shelf atop a clothing rack. That’s just the right size for serving tea, I thought.

thrift-store-tray

And finally, on a similar shelf, I saw this little pitcher. That would also be perfect for a gongfu session, I thought.

thrift-store-pitcher

And of course, once I had those two things in hand, I went back to the entrance of the thrift store to find that tiny teapot, heart-in-mouth, as I hoped that no one else had coincidentally made off with it. And no one had!

So now I have the makings of what could be a perfect little tea service for future brews. And thus I have learned that thrift stores are pretty awesome places to find teaware. Don’t they all look happy together?

thrift-store-set

Teaware Review: Pu’erh Knife from eBay

Pu'erh knife with ebony handle from eBayOnce you start getting really hooked into tea, investing in good teaware is an obvious next step. I’ve got a few gaiwans and tiny cups in my cupboard, as well as the requisite filters, measuring spoons, and so forth, but one of the things that was conspicuously absent from my setup was a pu’erh knife, also called a tea knife.

Pu’erh knives are used to break apart tightly-packed cakes and bricks of dry tea. You can do the same thing with your fingers, of course, but it takes longer and you risk breaking up the large leaves into tiny bits, thus risking bitter tea when you start steeping. A pu’erh knife (which has a flat blade) or pick (which has a thin spike) allows you to do so without destroying the integrity of the tea leaves themselves.

I bought a lovely-looking tea knife off of eBay about 3 weeks ago, and it came in the mail last Friday. (I got it from a vendor called vin_enjoy, but there are a lot of others out there.) When I opened the heavily taped-up package, I was a bit nervous, since my anticipation had been pretty high. But honestly, I shouldn’t have worried. I mean, look at this thing: it’s gorgeous!

puerh_knife_2It’s about 6 inches long and one half of the wooden casing unscrews to reveal the blade. The blade itself is 1-2 inches long and ends in a dovetail point that’s thin enough to cut through tea cakes, but not thin enough to risk cutting through skin — or at least, I haven’t been clumsy enough to experience such misfortune yet. The handle feels heavy and comfortable in my hand, with a good weight to it.

But does it actually work?

It looks like it does. Here’s a cake from my cupboard:

puerh_knife_3

When I tried making tea from this cake in the past, I got a few whole leaves, but it was difficult to find a weak spot and really dig in with my fingers. However, with the pu’erh knife, I was able to pry apart huge chunks of leaves fairly easily. I’ll probably need a bit more practice, but so far I’m pretty happy with my first attempt to pry the leaves off with the knife:

puerh_knife_4

 

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