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STeaP: The Tea Vodcast

Tea Company Spotlight – Tea Frog

This is the first interview in a series of interviews called Tea Company Spotlight that I’d like to do with tea owners from all the tea companies around the world. If you’re interested in being interviewed for this series, please contact me!

My first interview is with Mike Morton, the owner and founder of TeaFrog, founded in 2006 and based online out of Oakville, Ontario with distributors throughout Canada. I’ve spoken with Mike through reviewing many of his teas for the STeaP podcast since late 2007, and he was all too happy to answer a few questions about his company. Enjoy!

Tell us a bit about starting your company.

I have been a tea drinker for all of my life, and until about 4 years ago, the only tea I knew was Orange Pekoe Tetley Teabags. :) My daughter visited Japan in 2004 and the family that she stayed with sent back a gift package of good green tea. At the time I had no idea how to brew it, taste it, etc, and we could not even read the packaging because it was all in Japanese! We figured out how to make it eventually, and were surprised at how amazing it was compared to the teabag store bought that we had been drinking.

As I started to research and explore tea, I grew a passion for finding good tea, and sharing what I knew with friends and family. As I grew evermore – lets say, *obsessed* with it, I started to notice that tea was getting more popular, but the outlets for different varieties and flavors for experimenting with were limited. I just naturally took what I knew about business from previous experience, paired it with a passion, and lo and behold, TeaFrog was born! :)

What are your company’s specialties?

While we offer a wide variety of blends and single source teas, I think that most of my customers would say that we are best known for our friendly natures and willingness to educate! So many people are just not familiar with tea, but want to get into it from what they have heard of. They do not have a frame of reference or a starting point, and lets be honest, it CAN be a bit intimidating! So we provide education through tastings, and through talking to individuals one by one, be it on the phone, at craft shows, or online. So I would say that our ability to teach people how to explore and enjoy tea is what we are known for.

Oh, and our Rooibos Love blend – customers just cannot get enough of that! :)

What do you sell the most of?

Rooibos Love, by far and away is our most popular, tho our flavored white tea blends are quickly gaining popularity and nipping at the heels of our Rooibos blends! In particular the Blueberry White and Coconut Vanilla White teas are almost always out of, or close to out of stock!

What tea would you recommend to a novice tea drinker, and why?

I never recommend only one tea. We offer small, 10g sample packs, and if someone truly does not know where to start, I build them a pack of China Moon Palace, Kiyoto Lemon, Assam Banaspaty (when in stock…;0 ), 1001 Nights, Rooibos Love, Rooibos Caramel Cream, Stress Reliever, Hawaii Cocktail and Blueberry White to get them started. Inevitably they find a type of tea that they enjoy, and from there I can start recommending the direction that they take to grow their love for tea. There are so many different teas, and different experiences to be had, that there is never enough time for one person to explore them all!

What is your process? How does your company work?

We are always exploring all different avenues for different teas, and different blends, whether it is making our own blends, or sourcing and sampling blends and single estate teas from around the world. As a tea company we are always approached by different wholesalers to purchase their products. As such much of my day is spent tasting these samples, and evaluating quality for my customers.

Once we have found a tea or a blend that we think our customers will enjoy, we carefully scrutinize the source of these products to ensure that we can consistently get a high quality product, at a low price and that the company is a responsible business that is environmentally aware and works to preserve and protect through accepted methods of production. Whether this means they use only food grade blending materials, or that they follow standard and/or above standard fiscal practice for their region, we ensure that all aspects of that product are safe for our customers before we even consider selling it.

What is YOUR favorite tea?

Ahh, so many to choose from and so little time….

Let me see, in the mornings, I have been enjoying a brand new estate that is not even on the website yet (gimme about a week or so) – the Rani estate that will be listed as an Assam Organic/Biodynamic SFTGFOP – it is so tasty and complex that it challenges my tastebuds to get active for the day!

With lunch it is inevitably a white tea, specially in the summer, something light such as a Pai Mu Tan or a Coconut Vanilla. Dinner is green – Genmaicha most usually or maybe a Sencha.

This past summer, I have made a great deal of iced tea, it has been so darn HOT! The most refreshing recipe that I make is our Canadian Berry tea, brewed at double strength, then cooled, and blended 1/2 and 1/2 with a good lemonade – unbelievable.

Uhhhh, you just wanted one right?

Do you offer purchasable samples of your teas?

Yes. Each bag is 10g of tea, enough for between 3 and 4 cups of tea. The price for any sample is the same – $2 CDN.

Do you have anything new that you’re currently offering?

We always have tea on sale, anywhere from 25 – 50% off. We also offer promotions all the time to enthusiast sites or productions that never expire, and are always valid! Everyday customers can get free shipping in our local area (hand delivered by me, with a smile!!!!) and for all orders to anywhere in North America over $75 shipping is always free.

Oh, and we are now offering a similar product to the ingenuiTEA – the BrewT – similar in operation with an improvement in execution – higher quality body and filter that do not discolor as the ingenuiTEA does (very quickly with my rooibos consumption I may add ;) )

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

STeaP ROCKS! ;) I faithfully tune in every Monday, whether STeaP is reviewing a TeaFrog tea or not, and if you are, I even enjoy the not-so-positive reactions as much as the positive ones.

Thanks to Mike for a great interview and for the passion and enthusiasm he clearly brings to his tea company. Keep an eye out for more Tea Company Spotlight interviews in the future!

More Plants to Make Tea Out Of

I just ran across a great post at Get Rich Slowly that talks about making tea out of Raspberry leaves. There’s also a nice list of other edible “weeds” that can be eaten or steeped.

I simply tug up the young raspberry sprouts (under one foot tall) and let them dry between two window screens, laying flat on the sidewalk for a few days in the sun. (I bought my screens at garage sales.)

That’s probably a better way to do it than in the microwave. :)

How To: Dandelion Tea & Sassafras Tea

On May 12, Joe and Brandice will be trying two homemade teas: dandelion tea and sassafras tea. Here are the directions for making your own if you’d like to try it with them:

Dandelion tea

(Note: This is how we did it for the show, sure there are probably other ways to go about it.)

Go out and pick a handful of young dandelion leaves, preferably leaves from plants that don’t yet have flowers and that have not been exposed to herbicides or pesticides. The older and larger the leaves, the more bitter they will be. And as far as avoiding herbicides and pesticides, well that just makes sense.

Wash and dry the leaves. Joe and Amy used a commercially available veggie wash with water and then placed the leaves between two paper towels to dry. Once the leaves are no longer wet, to finish drying them, place the sandwiched leaves and paper towels in the microwave. Run the microwave for about 8 seconds (depending on microwave strength), making sure not too scorch the leaves. If you hear anything pop or sizzle, stop the microwave immediately. The leaves should now be dried and crispy, the paper towel having absorbed moisture from the leaves. If not fully dried, flip the leaves over and run the microwave again.

Use 1-2 heaping teaspoons per cup of water, treating it like a white tea, steeping it in boiling water for 7 minutes.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to do it yourself, there are tea companies that sell dandelion tea (eg. Dragonwater)

A health benefit of dandelion leaf tea: It lowers cholesterol.

Sassafras tea

(Note: Again, this is how we did it, but there are alternate ways of preparing sassafras tea)

Find a young sassafras tree, about 4 feet tall. Pull up the tree and cut off a portion of the thick roots. Wash the root and cut it into 2-3 inch pieces. Let the root dry for about a week in a cool dry place (the cool dry place in essential to avoid mold growth). Strip the bark off of the root, keeping the bark and discarding the inside part of the root. Chop up the bark into small sections. (A little involved, we know.)

Use 1 teaspoon of root bark per cup of water. Steep in boiling water for 5 minutes.

There have been concerns that sassafras tea is not healthy because it contains safrole which has been found to be carcinogenic in mice/rats, but it has also been shown that an occasionally cup of sassafras tea is not harmful, just don’t drink it every day.

Some trivia about sassafras:

  • In the 1800’s sassafras was a main ingredient in the original “root beer”.
  • Native Americans sometimes used it to help bring down a fever.
  • The tea has been used as a “blood purifier” and will promote perspiration and urination. It has been used to treat gout and arthritis.
  • Modern herbalists claim that sassafras tea is a good liver detoxer and general stimulant.

Tip: Proper Use of Your TriniTEA

As you probably already know, I received a TriniTEA this past Christmas from my fiance, which was by far my best gift of the season. Automated tea is pretty much the coolest thing ever concocted, but that doesn’t mean that this fancy tea maker doesn’t come with its own set of downfalls. The advantages seriously outweigh any criticisms I have of the product, but there are still things that a first time TriniTEA user might like to know.

1. The water reservoir doesn’t seem to hold a whole pot of water. For me, it holds a little over 3 cups. Keep this in mind before hastily dumping in a whole pot of water and flooding your tea maker and your kitchen counter. Start with three cups worth of water and see what your water reservoir will hold.

2. The bottom tea pot, which holds the tea when the tea making is complete, dribbles down the side if you don’t pour correctly. I made many a mess when first using my TriniTEA because of the constant tendency of the spout to dribble water all over the place. The key to avoiding this mishap is to pour VERY slowly at first, to allow a small controlled stream of tea. Since mastering this slow pour, I have had nearly zero mishaps.

3. Tea leaves invariably get jammed in the infuser (little cup you put the tea in), and I mean jammed. This is my biggest pet peeve about the machine, but it has also turned out to be a peeve with any easy fix. When the tea maker has finished making the tea, I take the infuser out and dump out as many of the wet leaves as I can, and then let the infuser sit upside down on a paper towel. Within a few hours, the leaves shrink as they dry and they fall easily from the holes in the infuser. Thanks to Chris for this extremely handy tip!

Hopefully these tips will help new TriniTEA users to best enjoy their fancy new toy without the temporary frustration that I experienced. I also want to assure anyone considering the purchase of a TriniTEA that even with these minor complaints, this tea maker is still definitely worth it, especially considering that two of these complaints are successfully addressed with a simple modification to how I use the product. I would still like a larger water reservoir, but ultimately, I’ve been overwhelmingly happy with my TriniTEA. :)