Steepster Select

Hey all,

I’ve been a tea lover for just under a decade now and a product I’ve always been happy with has been Steepster (http://steepster.com).  I am also a web developer, so I know how difficult it is to build truthfully useful tea tools for the web.  The folks at Steepster have not only done that, but they’ve also built up a successful monthly tea service (and believe you me, I know how difficult that can be as well!)

So I was sad to see Steepster will be temporarily halting their monthly tea subscriptions.  They are going to be tweaking the model up a bit, most likely offering smaller amount of tea for a lower monthly fee.  At Handmade Tea we’ve found a few folks are also finding themselves with too much tea, so we’re working on a smaller monthly subscription model as well.

In the meantime, I wanted to offer a discount to former Steepster members that would like to try out Handmade Tea while Steepster takes some downtime.  To save 15% on your first month, use coupon code ‘steepster’ at checkout – https://handmadetea.com/subscribe.php

In the tea community I don’t feel that the small companies are ever really in competition with one-another.  Many folks have many different interests and palates, we each serve our own communities.  As always with Handmade Tea, you can cancel anytime.  Once Steepster Select is back up and running, feel free to cancel and switch back to those guys, we love ‘em!  Or feel free to join both services!

If you have any questions at all please contact me

caleb@handmadetea.com / @handmadetea / fb.com/handmadetea

Thanks so much!

Caleb

Tea as a Blend Ingredient

Every month I create a new tea blend for Handmade Tea subscribers.  It’s a great way for folks to always have a new tea as well as learn new flavors every month.  Early on, I found that a 3 ingredient blend often works very well.  It’s simple enough to pick up on all the nuances yet complex enough to enjoy over and over, much like a good movie, you notice something new each time you watch it.

The ratio is usually something like 80/10/10.  80% base tea, 10% accent ingredient #1 and 10% accent ingredient #2.  There are no actual recipes with any Handmade Tea blend.  I experiment on a small scale and once I really like something, I use my ‘teaographic’ memory to recreate it on a much larger scale.  Most blends thus far have had a base tea of either green, black, or oolong and the two accent ingredients were herbs, spices, or fruits.  January’s blend was a little different, and it’s something I’d like to talk about a little more.

January’s blend, Gavati, featured a base of Jade Oolong, complimented by a black tea from the Yunnan Province of China, and lemongrass.  This was Handmade Tea’s first blend that used two totally different styles of tea in one blend.  While I’m certainly not claiming this is a new idea, I know plenty of tea companies that do this, I feel like it’s rarely discussed how interesting this can be.  Because our oolong is the base tea, all other blend ingredients must be treated like the oolong when it comes to water temperature and steep time.  So, if I was to brew that lovely peppery black tea up by itself, I’d use boiling water and steep it for at least 4 minutes, but because it’s part of the blend we’re using water that’s cooler in temp. and only steeping it for about 3 minutes.

Because of this, when exploring teas that might make their way into a blend, you must understand the full spectrum of that tea.  Using cooler water and only steeping it for 3 minutes will only bring out a bit of that what tea would normally bring to the table.  This is perfect for what we’re trying to do, which is keep the base tea (Jade Oolong in this case) the main blend ingredient when it comes to both aroma and especially taste.  Granted, this is the case for herbs, spices, and fruits as well.  If you want to use a fruit with black tea, you has best check it can handle the water temp and steeping time.  However, we as tea drinkers often get so used to brewing certain teas in specific ways that we almost forget you can experiment.

I talk a little about this and the harmony behind the blend ingredients in my most recently tasting video, feel free to check it out:

Handmade Tea 2011 Wrap-Up
As we finish out the last few days of 2011, I wanted to do a quick overview of the first 3 months of Handmade Tea and what’s in-store for 2012.  I’d like to thank everyone that has supported Handmade Tea in any way.  Subscriber or not, if you’re reading this that means a TON to me.  Seeing a product that you create with your bare hands grow in popularity every month is one of the most rewarding feelings I’ve ever experienced.
 

 
In the past 90 days, Handmade Tea has created three blends and I’m tremendously proud of each one.  Here is a summary of our past blends.
 
Bodhi Brew (October)
 

 
Bodhi Brew featured a Chinese green tea from the Fujian Province.  The tea is complimented with Black Mission Figs which introduce a subtle, molasses-like sweetness and Coconut Chips that add a fresh taste and complex mouthfeel.  
 
Pomander (November)
 

 
Pomander’s base tea consisted of a rolled black tea from China’s Fujian Province.  Star anise was added to bring a sweet black licorice taste that refreshed the palate.  Whole cloves were added for an added rich kick.
 
Hark! (December)
 

 
Hark!, our first tisane, had a base of South American Yerba maté which I hand-smoked with whisky barrel oak for over 4 hours.  Saigon Cinnamon bark was added for clove-like notes with hints of citrus.  Lastly, peppermint was added for honey-like sweetness and a cooling wave across the palate.
 
So, Handmade Tea has three successful blends under it’s belt and I’m very optimistic about the future.  I learn something new with every blend and I’m constantly improving the process with the hopes of bringing my customers the absolute best tea blends that they really learn from.

My goal has always been to introduce as many people as I can to new flavors, and for them to take time to appreciate flavors they’re already familiar with.  For example, most folks know what cinnamon tastes like, but the second they take extra time to dissect it and realize cinnamon often has subtle citrus-like notes, I’ve done my job.
I gotta get back to working on January’s blend, I just wanted to take some time to do this 2011 wrap-up and to thank all of you for embarking on this journey with me.
 
Caleb

Some nice folks saying some great things about Handmade tea :)

November’s Blend, Pomander, in the wild!

Bodhi Brew Product Shots

Now that Handmade Tea’s first blend, Bodhi Brew, has shipped and is out in the wild I thought I’d share some product shots.


Photo Credit: Danielle - @voxpoptweets


Photo Credit: Phil - philtoronto.com


Photo Credit: Danielle - @voxpoptweets


Photo Credit: Jon - jonathantroutman.com


Photo Credit: Danielle - @voxpoptweets

There are plenty more blends to come! We do a new one every month at Handmade Tea. Check it out!

Tea on Tap

I wrote a while ago that I expected to see a rise in microbrew iced tea, I wanted to expand on that a bit because I really believe we’re going to start seeing more quality iced teas in our lives.  We’re going to see this become mainstream before quality loose leaf tea because although Americans are taking well to culinary adventure (more of my friends are ‘foodies’ now than ever before) we’re still not doing well in the slowdown and make a cup of tea department.  We like unique and interesting flavors, but many of us still haven’t taken the plunge into slowing down and appreciating things like quality tea.

I think we’ll get there.  I think the coffee generation is slowly shifting, and I think things like unique iced tea, lemonade, and even kombucha are a step in the right direction.  The flavors can come first, the ritual second.  I’m not even comparing iced tea and hot tea, I think both are great and iced tea being easier for beginners to pick up could be a tasty gateway beverage.  Though I hold on to hope, I don’t think we’ll be seeing high quality loose leaf tea offered at most restaurants anytime soon.  I do however think we could start seeing quality iced tea become more popular and be treated on the same level as beer or wine.  Imagine sitting down for a meal and being offered iced tea/cold brew flights and pairings.  Iced tea flights could give folks a general flavor profile of teas and herbs, making them genuinely more interested in tea and more comfortable to explore high quality hot tea. 

I’ve also found that when exploring for unique cold beverage recipes, it’s much more common to find unique lemonade recipes than tea recipes.  This is interesting to me because tea is so much more diverse, yet folks restrict themselves to iced tea made with store-brand black tea bags.  While searching, the most interesting recipe I could find for iced tea was this Sparkling Jasmine Iced Tea.  It sounds great, but while searching for lemonades I found Watermelon Fennel Lemonade, Spiced Lemonade (made with dijon mustard) and tons more. 

Tea blends also make great iced teas, and I’ll be doing tasting notes for Handmade Tea blends both as hot and cold drinks. Let me know in the comments if you have any great recipes, or know of any restaurants doing anything interesting with tea!

Organizing a great teasesh

A few days ago I ordered an amazing Golden Bud Bing Cha puer cake from Chan Teas. I thought it would be a great idea to offer up a teasesh and allow the folks at work to drop by and have a cup or two.  I booked a conference room for the day the puer was to arrive and reminded everyone to stop by at 5PM for tea.

When 5PM came around plenty of folks showed up, so much so that I couldn’t brew up enough tea fast enough for everyone to have a cup. Ideally everyone would have their own gaiwan, but we had to many people.  It was an awesome time and I was very happy so many people showed up, interested and excited to try puer for their first time.  Even though it was a great experience, it certainly wasn’t the smoothest.  People were coming in and out, grabbing a cup and leaving immediately, at times the teasesh got a little loud and disturbed folks in the other meeting rooms.  This wasn’t my intention. I put the teasesh together and shared my tea because I wanted to bring everyone together for something different and share my love of tea with them.

As I’d love to start having tea with my friends and family more often, I’m trying to figure out a way to organize a teasesh for increased success.  I was talking about this to my good pal Shaun so he started working on a super simple web app for allowing folks to start a teasesh, specify a time and place, and put a cap on the amount of people that can join.  If more people sign up than the max limit, the app randomly invites the max amount from the total list of people that signed up.

I was hoping to get some feedback from anyone that has successfully hosted a great teasesh.  In my experience the best ones happen spontaneously, but I do feel sometimes they need to be organized.  I’m also always hesitant of digitizing anything tea-related, but I also think our little teasesh web app might be the best way to organize something like this.

Let me know in the comments or on twitter! @calebrown or @handmadetea and I’ll update with the progress of the teasesh webapp.

I did a quick video about the stigma behind tea blends.  Tea blends have gotten a bad reputation over the last few years due to a lot of the big tea companies creating boring blends.

I’m doing my best to create some interesting blends under the Handmade Tea brand.  I’d love to chat more about this video so feel free to leave a comment, send me an email (caleb@handmadetea.com) or chat with me on twitter: @handmadetea.

A Few Things I’ve Learned

I’m in the process of starting a loose leaf tea company called Handmade Tea. This is a business I’m working on in my night and weekends.  Tea is such a huge love of mine that starting a business around it just felt natural.  Although it felt natural to start a tea business, Handmade Tea is my first official business.  That is to say it’s my first LLC with a credit card and taxes to pay and all of that business-y stuff.  So what I wanted to do was write a little article on my progress thus far, something that would have helped me if I had read this on day 1.  Hopefully it will encourage other folks to get into the tea business.

I should quickly catch anyone unfamiliar with Handmade Tea up to speed. Essentially as a tea lover and a bit of a ‘foodie’ I found myself very disappointed with the selection of tea blends out there.  Many blends were very uninspired and came from faceless companies with bad design and artificial ingredients.  What I’m setting out to create is beautiful, artisan loose leaf tea blends with all natural ingredients and thought put into why the ingredients are being blended together in the first place.

In the last few months of getting Handmade Tea off the ground, I’ve probably worked with over 25 different businesses.  I’ve contacted folks selling tea, herbs, shipping boxes, tins, paper and envelopes, and plenty more.  Of course these businesses are looking to make a profit, but they’re also probably very likely to want to help you out.  By being honest and excited about your new venture, it’s very likely you’ll get some great deals, especially on samples.  I’ve received free samples, free shipping and even had companies make exceptions and send me samples of things they usually don’t give samples of (like larger tea storage tins.)  You should never expect anything for free, but it’s very likely you could be talking directly to the founder of a successful small or medium sized business and they want to see other entrepreneurs succeed.

Another thing I’ve found important to remind myself of while building a business is to never forget that this business is being built from a hobby of mine that I absolutely love.  There are a lot of unavoidable tasks in starting a company that are less than enjoyable. Remaining in love with your hobby and product even though the stresses of starting something like this and not letting that get to you is very important.  For myself I do this by minimizing the amount of digital ‘project management’ tools I use to keep the business on track.  Most of the ideas, to-do lists, and tea notes are written by hand in my notebook.  It makes the entire process feel more grounded and less like an office task.

Never forget that you’re the original customer.  You’re starting the company because no one else is offering exactly the product you’re looking for.  So while looking for inspiration in companies that inspire you in the given field is very helpful, it’s equally important to sit down alone in a quiet room with some pen and paper and sketch out the product that would excite you if showed up on your doorstep.  One of the things I’m doing with Handmade Tea that I’m really proud of is working with artists to create unique artwork for each of the blend labels.  I tell the artist a little about myself, the company, and the individual ingredients in the given blend.  The artist has full artistic freedom of the label.  I did this because I think that good tea is an art and it should be encased in equally beautiful artwork.  That’s something that excites me, something that I want from a tea but other companies aren’t providing for me.

I hope this was helpful; I plan to continue mixing in a few behind the scenes posts.  As always feel free to comment or send me an email: caleb@handmadetea.com and if you’re interested in my tea, it would mean a lot to me if you signed up for more info at http://HandmadeTea.com.