Read ‘Em and Steep: Tea Tasting 101

Read ‘Em and Steep: Tea Tasting 101

One of my favorite past times is doing research (I’m a self-proclaimed information junkie; always have been, always will be). Lately I’ve been indulging in two of my favorite hobbies; tea AND research! In preparation for our next Little London Tea Society event I’ve been studying the black teas popular in the UK. Doing lots of reading about the growing regions, processing, and taste. Focusing on the quintessential British breakfast blends, Earl Grey, and the teas created specifically for the soft water of Scotland, etc…

Tea is complex, maybe even more so than wine. In fact, James Norwood Pratt (a.k.a the world’s “tea sage”) was a well-respected wine critic in San Francisco. After realizing the unhealthy relationship he’d developed with wine, he gave it up and fell in love with tea. In his book, The Ultimate Tea Lover’s Treasury  he states tea, like wine, “are agricultural products which can be works of art. We love them both for how they make us feel”. Like wine there are international sommelier certification programs. These experts are trained in many aspects related to tea – from the environment where its grown, to tea blending, pairing tea with food, tea cultures, and so much more.

Tea tasting, also called tea cupping, focuses on several components: appearance of the leaves and its liquor, aroma, flavor, and mouth feel. If you attend a proper tea cupping you might be surprised by a couple things, namely – the sniffing and the slurping. Let’s start with the sniffing…there are deep inhalations where you hold the tea close to your nose and take deep breaths. Then there are the “dog action” breaths – rapid, shallow inhalations through the nose, like a panting dog.

Next comes the slurping, this is where you do the following:
● Scoop up some of the liquor in a spoon

● Take a deep breath

● Pucker up like you’re going to kiss someone

● Slurp the liquid into your mouth (the louder the better)

● Breath through your nose while keeping your mouth closed, then swallow.

The slurping causes oxygen to mix with the tea and brings the flavors to life. ​During the cupping you identify the tail notes (after taste), these are the ones that linger with you after the liquid has passed from your mouth. This final stage often indicates the complexity and, in some cases, the quality.

We hope you will join us at a future Little London Tea Society to learn more about tea, culture, and tradition. Don’t be afraid to sniff and slurp with us, we understand.


The Heart of Tea

How do you take your tea?  One lump or two; with milk;  plain? What do you think of when you’re asked to join someone for a cup of tea – etiquette, hats, high-society?  Or maybe you just think of drinking tea when you’re sick.

Drinking tea has been a part of my life since I was a child, instilled by my maternal grandmother.  It was a pleasant respite from the chaotic life of my youth. Whenever I was with Grandma Alfa, we’d take a break in the afternoon for a cuppa.  

tea sugar milk

I loved the methodical process:

  • Selecting a china mug or cup (not a heavy coffee cup but something more delicate)
  • Waiting for the water to boil
  • Chatting as our tea steeped
  • Then preparing it just the way we liked.

The tea we drank wasn’t exotic or flavored, usually black (probably Lipton).  We’d sometimes nibble on Scottish shortbread we’d baked according to an old family recipe, however an ordinary store-bought cookie would do too. The tea ritual was exactly what I needed to relax and regroup before carrying on with the rest of the day.  

There are many reasons that making and drinking tea has continued as a tradition around the world for centuries; one of which is its effect on the human body.  At the same time “true” tea (that which comes from the Camellia Sinensis plant) energizes, it relaxes you. Tea contains caffeine but it also has an amino acid, called L-Theanine, which promotes relaxation among other benefits.  (You can learn more here,  Undoubtedly, the health benefits of tea have helped make it the second most drunk beverage around the world (water being the first), but I’m sure the rituals and traditions associated with tea have contributed to its historical longevity.  


As an adult, I was fortunate to live in two of the biggest tea-drinking countries; Japan and England. Each had its distinct tea culture and my appreciation for the beverage and its traditions grew. The more I learned, the more I realized I didn’t know.  What I appreciate about both styles is the common, underlying intention: showing honor and respect, being present, enjoying the small, simple things in life, and taking time to connect with others.

I encourage you to plan a daily tea break, enjoy it in solitude or with friends.  Take that time to be mindful – use your senses to feel the warmth of the tea; watch the “agony of the leaves” (if using loose leaf tea); observe the liquor change color during the steeping process; savor the tea’s flavor; and connect with those around you.  


Tea in Morocco

One of the things I love about tea is the rich culture that goes along with it.  In most parts of the world you will find some type of tea ritual intended to foster hospitality; encourage wellness; or celebrate a special occasion.  There’s something unique about the experience of making, serving, and sipping tea compared to other beverages, like coffee.  It feels more intimate and sacred – the deliberate, unrushed pace of its preparation; the unique glasses, cups, and steeping vessels (each one telling a story); and the mindfulness one must practice to properly make tea.


I’ve been learning about how the Moroccans prepare and serve their tea, it’s quite distinct; you can read about it in these two articles.   Cheers!


No – I didn’t have a baby :-)


Well, hello there…

I decided to take a break from blogging about 9 months ago (hence the baby reference 😉 to focus on other things, and time got away from me.  Before returning I wanted to get more clarity on the purpose of this blog during my non-maternitea leave (ha!), and I think it’s finally sorted out.  You can expect to see postings (“Read”) related to tea, its’ culture and traditions while considering (“Steep”) the ways our lives can benefit from this knowledge.  All while enjoying a cuppa (more “Steep”).

My hope is that this will become a forum; feel free to comment.  Thanks for being here!

Cheers, Margooriginal_tea-is-liquid-wisdom-print

P.S. Picture, from almost 18 years ago, of my baby ❤

JRW baby pic cropped

From the ashes…

My heart weeps for the residents of Northern California, especially Santa Rosa where I spent much of my childhood and youth.  As I’ve watched this tragedy unfold from my home in Colorado, I felt shocked and useless.  The beauty of the human spirit has been so inspiring – strangers opening their homes; businesses giving away food, clothing, water, shelter; firefighters working 24/7 without sleep or sustenance.  I will do what I can to help while continuing to pray and think positively for my brothers and sisters in NorCal.  With much love!!  Margo

Teacups salvaged from the SR fire