Category Archives: Articles

SCG Rewards!

We have a very exciting announcement this morning: The launch of SCG Rewards!

Sure, shopping for caffeine-inducing coffee products is fun in and of itself, but wouldn’t it be better if doing so earned you a discount on future orders? That’s where SCG Rewards come in. We think our customers (that’s you!) are pretty much the bees knees and we want to give you a big ol’ hug. Given our inability to do so, we’ve decided to thank you with every purchase!

How Do You Earn Rewards?

If you’re signed up for SCG Rewards (get the deets below), then you simply shop as you normally would!

Here are the basics: Earn 1 point for every dollar you spend, with 50 points equaling $1 to be used on a future purchase. Each product, and your cart, tell you what you’ll earn with the purchase.

product-rewards

Each product shows what you can earn on the purchase!

Your cart let's you know how many points you'll earn and how to redeem them!

Your cart let’s you know how many points you’ll earn and how to redeem them!

Note: Commercial products and customers are excluded from earning reward points – sorry! 

For more details on how the program works, check out this page that’s completely dedicated to the nitty-gritty details!

How Do You Sign Up?

We don’t want anyone to miss out on an opportunity to earn reward points, so customers that created an account prior to today are automatically enrolled in SCG Rewards!

If you’re new to shopping at Seattle Coffee Gear, you can sign up while you’re creating an account. Just leave the “I’d like to start earning rewards – sign me up!” box checked and you’ll be up and running!

Sign me up, please!

Just leave the box checked to become a part of SCG Rewards!

How Do You Redeem Rewards?

You’ll need a minimum of $5 to redeem on an order, at which point you’ll be able to apply them as a payment during checkout. If you’re logged in, your cart will let you know how many points you currently have and will remind you how to apply them if you’ve reached the minimum.

If you're logged in, your cart keeps you in-the-loop on your reward points!

If you’re logged in, your cart keeps you in-the-loop on your reward points!

You can also check your balance, see a full history of earning/redeeming reward points and change your notification subscriptions at any time by logging into your account!

How Excited Are We?

We’re going to be really honest here: We squeal a little bit every time SCG Rewards get brought up around the office. We’ve wanted to implement something like this for awhile and we’ve put a lot of thought into the earning and redemption process. Our sincerest hope is that you like the program and that it provides value to you. After all, this is our ‘thank you hug’ substitute!

To get started today, just start shopping! If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact us via phone or email – we’re here for you!

A Tea Lover in a Coffee World: Savrika Tea Review

IMG_1795After a year of writing tea reviews, I have visited quite a few different tea shops and houses in the greater Seattle area. While none of the other tea shops I visited were bad, in fact all of them served great tea and food, it was apparent that the owners of some tea shops hadn’t invested the same amount of knowledge or time into learning about the products they sell. Or if they have, they haven’t quite figured out how to share that information with their customers. However, when I recently stumbled upon Savrika Tea in downtown Kirkland, I realized I had discovered something really special.

You can tell that the owner, Rupa D. Gadre, is passionate about tea. This love for tea is evident from the second you step into Savrika Tea. This is not only because the numerous tea certifications she has earned, Rupa has been taking specialized courses since 2011 and officially became a Certified Tea Specialist in the Fall of 2013, but also due to the tea wall focal point and huge variety of tea with something to suit every taste.

IMG_1821Rupa’s entry to the tea world and entrepreneurship was somewhat unexpected. She originally worked as a Web Analyst for Cisco Systems, but took a hiatus from work to have children. As a mom, Rupa often visited the mall for her kid’s play dates and stopped at Teavana while there. Yet, while the store introduced her to a variety of wonderful loose leaf teas, she soon realized there were major drawbacks with the experience. One, there was no place to actually sit and enjoy the tea she purchased, so Rupa was forced to take the tea home and drink it by herself. Two, Rupa explains that she had a lot of questions about tea that the store staff couldn’t answer. Thus, disappointed in the lack of the social aspect and wanting people to be able to learn more about the tea they were drinking, Savrika Tea was born.

When it was clear that the store was going to be a reality, Rupa told me that she lucked into meeting an architect, who also happened to be an ex-Starbucks employee, through a fellow parent. Rupa explained that, while not a designer, she knew she wanted “a modern and clean look and feel.  That is evident also in the tea wall focal point, the furnishings I chose, the concrete design on the floor, and the bathrooms.” Rupa adds that “because I’m the one making the final decisions, there was no committee to restrict my colors or themes,” which was nice since it allowed her to make the space truly her own.

IMG_1818The appearance of the store definitely accomplishes Rupa’s goal. The shop is a modern oasis, with shiny granite tables and a cozy nook to one side of the space that is excellent for curling up with a good book. The clean lines of the shelving put the tea ware and tea that is sold on display. Aside from the giant wall of tea, my favorite part of the store was the tea sampling station that is set up in the center of the room.  Here, all 200 varieties of tea the shop sells are stored in small, color-coded tins (black tins for black teas, green tins for green teas and so on). Customers are able to open these tins in order to smell and examine the teas inside to find one or more that they would like to drink. There is a directory of all the teas that the store offers, which lists the ingredients and a description of each tea to help you get a better idea of what each one contains. If you still aren’t sure what tea you would like to try, Savrika’s knowledgeable staff can help you find a tea that is a good fit for you based on what flavors you enjoy. To ensure her staff remains knowledgeable about tea, Rupa says that, “after every training [I go to], I bring back my coursework and notes and educate my staff. That way they have more information at hand when speaking with customers.” In addition, Rupa states, “ I encourage my staff to try a new tea on each shift; that way they can give personal recommendations as well make their way through all 200 varieties.”

After exploring a number of the different teas on offer, I ended up deciding upon a black-green tea blend called “Roxie’s Passion” at the recommendation of a staff member. This blend includes black tea, green tea, papaya cubes, rosehip peel, flavoring and sunflower blossoms. Since it is summer, and has been hot out, I opted to have Roxie’s Passion brewed iced.  The tea arrived at my table in a to-go cup and was a pretty golden peach color. The flavor was even better. The tea tastes of a nice, smooth traditional black tea, except slightly lighter, perhaps because of the green tea that was also in the brew. There were fruity notes, such as peach and passion fruit, in the tea that made it even more delicious. In addition, the tea shop sells quite a few desserts and tea sandwiches, which can be hard to find nowadays. I didn’t sample any of these goodies myself, but they looked pretty tasty.

IMG_1812While Savrika Tea is Rupa’s first foray into selling tea on her own, it is not her first experience with tea. According to Rupa:

As far back as I can remember, tea was always around and part of my life.  When we had guests, my Mom would bring out the nicer teapots.  At parties, chai was always the last item served.  When we’d go on vacations, my parents would stop the car for afternoon tea time. It didn’t matter where we were, but the tea break came to be expected. It was the tradition that followed from India to their new country, from their parents’ houses to our home, and now to my home and business.

Since tea has long been a part of Rupa’s life, she decided she would combine another important aspect of her background, her Indian heritage, into the store. As such, “the base of the [store’s] name is ‘Sarika,’ which is a Sanskrit woman’s name meaning beauty in nature. I added the ‘v’ to make it Savrika – wholly mine and unique, but with an Indian base. “

IMG_1823Savrika Tea is rapidly approaching its second birthday; the store opened its doors in September of 2012, and shows no signs of slowing down. Even on a Wednesday afternoon, when I visited, there were quite a few people in the shop sipping tea while reading or working on their computers. Besides selling tea, Rupa offers frequent tea tastings and classes so customers interested in learning more about tea have the opportunity to do so. It seems the abundance of knowledge Rupa provides her customers is likely what makes Savirka Tea so successful. Rupa said it best when she stated, “I have no agenda except to provide high-quality tea and perhaps educate customers along the way.”

A Tea Lover in a Coffee World: Review of High Tea on an Alaskan Cruise

premium teaThe end of May and the beginning of June are not only the beginning of the camping and backpacking season for many people, but they are also the start of the summer vacation season. While many people in the greater Seattle area travel to warmer climes, another popular vacation destination is Alaska. After all, Alaska is considered part of the Pacific Northwest, albeit a very far northern part of it. In fact, a few of our other crew members have already made the trek, so I decided it was my turn and booked myself on a cruise. Besides, in addition to getting to explore the beautiful scenery, I thought it would be a great chance to check out the coffee and tea scene up north.

Before I left on my trip, a few of my co-workers gave me some advice on things to do while traveling. One of the most important pieces being to make sure to see if my cruise ship offered high tea on of the days during the trip. Once I was onboard, I glanced at the schedule and was excited to find that there indeed was a high tea planned for the next day and made a note to attend.

tea treatsTo my surprise and delight, the tea was far fancier than I expected. Arrayed on at least two-dozen, if not more, platters were hundreds of sweet and savory teatime goodies. These treats included sandwiches made with smoked salmon, cucumber, prosciutto, turkey and roast beef combined with either cream cheese or mayonnaise. In addition, there were a variety of muffins, breads, éclairs, brownies, cookies, cakes, tarts and fruit. There was even a snack that was new to me for teatime – biscuits and gravy! Behind this gigantic spread of food were six beautifully hand-carved watermelons and an ice sculpture of a windmill. In short, the display was stunning.

With so many different snacks available, it was difficult to take them all in, let alone decide which ones to sample. After much deliberation, I ended up picking up a salmon sandwich, cucumber sandwich, éclair, fruit tart and a chocolate covered strawberry. All of which were very tasty. The tea served, although good, wasn’t quite as impressive as the food. The tea was a pretty common brand that you could likely find at your local grocery store. However, I did pick up a little secret for others that also prefer to have premium teas at teatime. You can bring your own tea and brew it at your table. Hot water is readily available at every table, so all you need is your loose leaf tea and an infuser. The beauty of this approach is that you can use whatever travel brewer you prefer, be it a tea filter, a small tea infuser or travel tumbler. Even without this remedy, the high teas were definitely worth revisiting. There was one held at the same time each day of the cruise and some even had different themes, such as a cupcake tea.

Alaska Wild TeasWhile I wasn’t able to go to high tea every day, I did get a chance to check out some local Alaskan teas while I was on land. The brand of teas I stumbled upon is, not surprisingly, called “Alaska Wild Teas.” These teas are not “true teas” but are rather tisanes made out of a blend of wild Alaskan herbs, fruit and berries. Even though they aren’t true teas, they sure are tasty! The teas come in flavors like blackberry, blueberry, cranberry, raspberry, wild rose and strawberry, and can be served hot or cold. I even brought some back home with me to continue to enjoy and share with friends and family.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and it was interesting to sample and learn about teas from another part of the country. Will you be traveling somewhere exotic this summer that will also allow you to partake in local coffee or teas? Let us know about your experience in the comments.

A Tea Lover in a Coffee World: Panama Hotel Tea and Coffee House Review

Panama Hotel Tea and Coffee HouseWhen it comes to the oldest teahouses, the historical Panama Hotel Tea and Coffee House probably has most other locations in the greater Seattle area beat. Built in 1910, the Panama Hotel is over 100 years old. However, the Panama Hotel wasn’t always a tea and coffee house, that particular feature was only added on in the past 15 years, around 1999. As the building’s name states, it was originally a hotel.

According to the historical information found on the website for the Panama Hotel, it was originally built by Sabro Ozasa, a Japanese Architect and graduate of the University of Washington. The hotel was built as a “workingman’s” hotel and has served as a home for generations of Japanese immigrants, fisherman and international travelers. One of the most notable features of the Panama Hotel is the bathhouse found in the basement that was a huge part of the Japanese community before World War II. In fact, it was this bathhouse that attracted many of the hotel’s visitors in the early 1990s, as it was a place to relax after work with their friends. Interestingly, the bathhouse is now the only remaining Japanese bathhouse left intact in the United States, which you can arrange to tour when you visit the Panama Hotel or Tea and Coffee House.

The Panama Hotel itself is still in existence, and unlike the bathhouse, the hotel rooms are still serviceable, so you can stay in one the next time you visit. However, while the Panama Hotel has interesting background, part of the building’s history is bittersweet. Just 31 years into the hotel’s lifespan, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, sending thousands of people of Japanese decent to internment camps in 1942. These families were only allowed to bring what they could carry with them to these camps, so a lot was left behind. However, many people also turned to friends they knew that had a lot of space, and asked if they could store their belongings with them. This is how the former owner of the Panama Hotel, Takashi Hori and his family, came to have the possessions from a number of Japanese families stored in his basement. Sadly, many of the belongings were never claimed after the war ended in 1945.

Peach teaAs a result, many of these belongings now decorate the Panama Hotel Tea and Coffee House, providing a look back at the first couple of decades in the 1900s. In keeping with the historical feel of the hotel, the cafe has an old and unique design. There is a lot of exposed wood and brick, black and white pictures of Japantown prior to WWII cover the walls and there is even a window in the floor that allows you to look into the basement where the possessions were stored.

Despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to talk to the current owner of the Panama Hotel, Jan Johnson, to find out how she came to own the hotel or what inspired her to add a tea house to the building. However, I did take advantage of the opportunity to sample their tea. I stuck with my usual white tea for this review, and tried one called Peach Blossom. My tea arrived in a glass mug with a net-like infuser full of nearly whole tea leaves. I immediately fell in love with the smell wafting from the cup; it smelled very sweet, like peach nectar or juice – perfect for spring! After the tea had steeped for about three to four minutes, I decided to go ahead and try it out. The flavor was very light, I tasted mostly peach (much like the smell) but the tea had a few floral notes as well. This tea is definitely one of the best ones I have tasted by far, and will definitely have to return for another cup in the future.

I couldn’t let my tea go unaccompanied, so I sampled the Panini Panama. This Panini is made with cheese, tomatoes, artichokes, roasted red peppers, olive tapenade and seasoned with basil and other spices. Just the smell alone made my mouth start to water all over again. Of course, it was excellent, and tasted like a veggie pizza but in sandwich form. Besides tea and Paninis, the shop serves pastries and traditional Japanese desserts like mochi and manju. If you come between 6-8 pm you can also get a tea based cocktail. While the focus of the café is primarily on tea, the café also serves Lavazza coffee and espresso based drinks for all you coffee lovers out there.

SandwichPerhaps it is the old-timey feel of this café, but time simply seems to slow down at the Panama Hotel Tea and Coffee House. The slower pace and laid back atmosphere makes this a great place to relax and soak in some Seattle history. The latter of which makes this café a nice spot to take visitors, since it is one of the few places in the area where you can get a history lesson along with your cup of tea.

A Tea Lover in a Coffee World: Baicha Tea Room Review

Baicha Tea RoomOn a recent quest to find teahouses outside of Seattle proper, and explore lesser-known opportunities for delicious tea, I stumbled upon Baicha Tea Room in Edmonds. This city, which is north of Seattle, has always been full of coffee shops, but actual teahouses have been few and far between. As such, I was excited to discover that there now was one in the area and to get a chance to visit one of our “neighbors.”

Located a few blocks down from the heart of Edmonds, Baicha may be slightly challenging to find if you haven’t heard of it before. However, this hidden gem is definitely worth the trek. According to Ann Budharaksa, who owns the store with her husband Joe, Baicha sells 90 different teas, which include white, green, oolong, black, blooming and flavored and scented teas. Ann and Joe have also concocted some tasty sounding tea lattes and smoothies, the latter of which I’ll have to come back and try once it starts to get warmer. However, Ann says the shop’s most popular teas are their specialty wellness blends that have been created to help alleviate colds, stomach aches, joint pain, hangovers and even skin problems. In fact, Ann and the rest of the staff are more than happy to help recommend a tea to help cure what ails you.

IMG_1314I had the opportunity to talk to Ann further, and she explained that they opened Baicha, which means tea leaf in their native Thai, because her husband was interested in tea and wanted to get into the business. It is not only Joe that enjoys tea though; Ann says she drinks tea every day, varying the type depending on what her mood is. The tea room has been open for a little over three years, as it had its grand opening on the auspicious day of 11/11/2011.  The day must have been lucky indeed, since they have been doing well ever since, with people frequently coming in to study, work just to meet a friend for breakfast or lunch. According to Ann, the store is busiest on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with the peak times being from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. This makes sense since the shop serves breakfast and brunch all day as well as soups, salads, paninis and traditional tea sandwiches.

Tea sandwiches can be surprisingly hard to find at even some tea houses, so I tried a plate of the cucumber parsley cream cheese ones. They were delicious, and came with seasonal fruit (in this case a bowl of strawberries) and chips. I had tea too, of course, and sampled the Pai Mu Tan or “white peony,” which is a white tea. The tea was served in a Bodum glass and infuser, and came with a sand timer so I knew how long to let the tea steep before drinking. When the tea was done steeping, it was a light yellow color and had sweet, floral flavor with a hint of peach.

IMG_1321After snacking on the sandwiches and tea, I decided to check out the rest of the shop at Ann’s urging. The main entrance, and upstairs, of the tea house is where you’ll find the counter for ordering tea and food, as well as a long bar that runs nearly the length of it, where you can sit and sip some tea. Although the upstairs is fairly small, there is also plenty of seating along the windows as well. However, as Ann pointed out, the downstairs area of the store is really what makes the tea shop unique. The space is surprisingly large, especially when compared with the upstairs, and is somewhat unexpected. In fact, the downstairs is large enough to house three rooms; a large room with a long table that would be great for meetings or studying, medium-sized room with cozy couches and a fireplace and a small side room with a fish tank and love seat. The décor in the rooms is modern, with an Asian feel. There are also canvases with pictures of tea or tea kettles hanging on the lightly colored walls that lend a calming vibe to the space. Every room looked so inviting, I actually had a hard time choosing where to sit. With so many options for seating, tea and food, it is no wonder so many people have made this tea room their secret spot for relaxing and hanging out. I just may have to make Baicha Tea Room my secret hideaway as well.

Brew Tips: How to Store Your Coffee Beans

Coffee BeansYou’ve found the perfect espresso machine or coffee maker for you and gotten some tasty coffee beans to brew with. However, now you’ve started to use your beans, you may be wondering how to store them so that they retain their flavor and stay in the best shape possible. This subject can be quite confusing, as there almost as many ideologies on the best way to store coffee beans as there are roasts. In the hope of clearing things up, we completed a variety of tests to determine the best way to keep your coffee fresher longer.

The Freshness Factor

You may have heard that coffee has a short shelf life, which is mostly true. After the beans have been roasted, they outgas carbon dioxide for about 72 hours. As such, many local roasters will package their beans in bags that feature one-way valves that allow the carbon dioxide to escape while protecting them from contact with oxygen, which can make the beans go stale. While this allows you to experience the coffee’s peak flavor, but it will start to lose its freshness once its bag has been opened. Thus, as a general rule, we have found that it’s best to consume your coffee within one or two weeks after opening the bag.

If coffee wasn’t already complicated enough, it is important to keep in mind that every coffee has it’s own sweet spot for when it tastes the best after it has been roasted. Thus, if you ask a number of different roasters when you should drink your coffee beans by, you will get a variety of different answers. Since everyone has different tastes, so we highly recommend that you experiment with your coffee and find your own sweet spot for your roasts.

Storing Your Coffee

Due to the reasons mentioned above, we have found that is best buy your coffee in small quantities, as you need it. Likewise, if you are using whole bean coffee, you should only grind your beans as you make your coffee or espresso, instead of grinding the whole bag all at once. This will ensure the coffee keeps more of its flavor.

However, if you buy your coffee in bulk or need to store it for some other reason, you do have options.  For starters, you may want to divide your coffee supply into a small container for daily use, and a larger container for the bulk of the coffee (which will only be opened to refill the small container). This will allow you to reduce the amount of air the larger container of coffee is exposed to, enabling you to keep it longer. Another thing to keep in mind is generally whole beans will have a longer shelf life than ground beans, which go stale at a faster rate since they have more surface area. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t store ground coffee, you may just not be able to keep it quite as long, depending on how sensitive your taste buds are.

In fact, this same rule applies to how long you can store your coffee in general. In short, it depends on you and how you like your coffee to taste. Some people will notice a change in the flavor of the coffee after a week and want to replace it, while others won’t notice a difference in the coffee until it has lost most of its flavor.

When it comes to storing your coffee, the best environment to keep it in is an airtight container, in a cool, dry place. Why is how you store your coffee so critical?  If you don’t store your coffee in this manner, you risk exposing your coffee to the five “coffee killers” listed below, which decrease the lifespan of your coffee and cause it to go stale.

  • Air: When roasted beans are exposed to air, the flavors in them are oxidized, causing the coffee to go stale.
  • Moisture:  One of the worst things for coffee, moisture taints the oils in the beans, causing off flavors or even making the beans deteriorate.
  • Heat: Exposing the beans to heat before they are brewed will cause them to lose flavor.
  • Light: Direct light can cause the beans to go stale and lose flavor.
  • Odor: Coffee is porous, which means if coffee is near other fragrant items, like fish, it can absorb these flavors. As a result, your coffee could end up tasting like seafood instead of coffee.

Luckily, there are some pretty nifty containers on the market that you can use to store your coffee in and keep it out of harm’s way. We have found that the best options are metal, ceramic or even darkly colored plastic canisters. In addition, it is important to use coffee containers that are airtight, which will keep out air and can prevent moisture and odor from contaminating your beans as well. One of our favorites is the Airscape Coffee Bean Canister, which has a specially designed lid that you push down to remove air from inside the can.

What about glass or clear plastic containers? While these options do look pretty on your counter and let you to see the contents inside, they also allow in one of the biggest coffee killers – light. If you really want to keep your beans in a clear container, make sure to store it in a pantry or drawer where it won’t be exposed to sunlight. Another alternative is to use a polarized canister that will allow you to see its contents while keeping light out.

Is it Ever Okay to Freeze Your Beans?

Freezing beans is a contentious topic in the coffee world. Some people adamantly oppose ever freezing your beans, while some claim it’s okay in certain circumstances. According to the National Coffee Association (NCA), “It is important not to refrigerate or freeze your daily supply of coffee because contact with moisture will cause it to deteriorate.” This is a valid point, since every time you open the bag of coffee, which is likely at least once a day; you will be exposing the beans to oxygen and whatever humidity is in the air. Neither of these things is good for coffee and can impact the coffee’s flavor. This effect is even worse when open bags of coffee are stored in the freezer. The humidity forms ice crystals, which essentially freezer burns the beans and causes them to go stale even faster.

However, when it comes to storing unopened coffee, the NCA states it okay to keep it in the freezer as long as it is in an airtight bag. However, once you remove this bag from the freezer and thaw the coffee, do not put the bag back in the freezer. If you do, you will encounter the issue mentioned above, and will likely have freezer burned coffee. Instead of returning the coffee to the freezer, the NCA suggests that you “move [it] to an airtight and store in a cool, dry place.”

While we like the NCA, we couldn’t just take their word for it, so we decided to conduct a couple of tests ourselves. While we did notice a slight difference in the taste of the beans and did have to tweak our grind for the beans a bit, overall we found that coffee beans can be frozen, as long as the package is tightly sealed and unopened the entire time.

Through our research and quasi-scientific experiments, we have discovered a few tips and tricks to keep in mind when storing your beans. While we prefer to use our coffee sooner rather than later, we have found it is possible to prolong the life of your coffee if you take the time to store it properly.

 

A Tea Lover in a Coffee World: Miro Tea Review

Miro TeaMy tea tasting travels recently led me back to the city of Ballard, to explore Miro Tea, which has set out to revolutionize the tea drinking experience in our coffee soaked city. Considered to be one of the trendy and up-and-coming parts of town, Ballard is home to many tasty restaurants and cute cafes. In fact, the maker of the delicious chocolate covered espresso beans we carry, Hot Cakes, is located just down the street.

Luckily, Miro Tea’s cozy atmosphere allows the shop to fit right in. In keeping with the area’s hipster vibe, the entire store is made out of recycled materials. The piece de resistance is the tea tasting bar. This beautiful lacquered table is made out of a tree stump that provides the space with a Northwest feel. The wall behind the bar is covered in bamboo, which is fitting since the name “Miro” has Buddhist origins. However, the best part about the tasting bar is the tea! There are always four teas available at the bar to sample, and they are changed out every day so that people in the neighborhood can try something different.

While I was in the shop, I got a chance to chat with Miro’s assistant manager, Emi Horiuchi, who has been with the company for about four years, to learn a little bit about the company’s history and mission. According to Emi, Miro Tea’s founder, Jeannie Liu, opened the café in August 2007, with the idea of creating a tea bar that was different from the old fashioned-style tea houses. Thus, Jeannie created a modern yet casual environment, where customer’s don’t have to worry about being told “you’re doing it wrong,” when it comes to selecting, brewing and drinking their tea. Emi also explained that they try to be fairly approachable, and one of her favorite aspects about working in the store is that she “get[s] to offer people things that they like, rather than telling them what they should like.”

TeaBarWhen it comes to finding something they like, customers shouldn’t have any trouble. At Miro Tea there is a giant menu at the counter that features about 200 blended and non-blended loose leaf teas and herbals. This selection of teas changes depending on the season and what is in stock, as Jeannie travels all over the world to try and buy different teas. You can also purchase tea beverages such as tea lattes (tea brewed with steamed milk), chai and iced tea fusions (iced tea hand shaken with seasonal fruits, herbs and fresh squeezed juices). If you do happen to get stuck trying to decide on a tea, just ask the knowledgeable staff who are happy to offer their recommendations.

Of course, that is just their tea menu, which doesn’t even begin to cover the wide selection of food that is available at Miro Tea. You can choose from a variety of pastries, sandwiches, soups and salads. However, the most popular snack is the crepes, which come in both sweet and savory options. Emi claims Miro is most well-known for the Christy (fresh spinach and goat cheese, and topped with Spanish Serrano ham and an over easy fried egg) and the Harvest (roasted yellow squash, eggplant, zucchini, red onion, kale, green & red peppers with goat cheese & house made fire roasted tomato sauce) crepes, but all of them sound equally delicious.

Tea and CrepeAfter hearing about all of the scrumptious sounding teas and treats available, I decided to test them out for myself. I went with the Coconut Oolong, a Baozhong oolong flavored with coconut. This tea happens to be one of the shop’s more popular teas, along with the Chill (a peppermint and licorice herbal blend) and the Bourbon St Red (rooibos flavored with vanilla and bourbon). For a snack I tried the sweet Chocolate Haze crepe, which was filled with Nutella, banana toasted hazelnuts and topped with whipped cream. My tea arrived in a Bodum Bistro Mug that showed off the tea’s pretty, light yellow color. It tasted amazing – very light and sweet with slight nutty and coconut flavor. The crepe was much bigger than I expected, but was very tasty as well, which was evident in my ability to eat the entire thing in one sitting despite its size and richness.

Before I left, Emi added that Jeannie is into supporting the neighborhood; so opening the store was “all about building the community, and not about the money.” The goal was to have a tea shop where people could come in and relax and meet others. From the looks of things, it appears Jeannie and the folks at Miro Tea have certainly accomplished this goal. When I visited, the shop was full of people, who were either quietly typing away on their computers or hanging out with friends. There is even a corner filled with books and games that people can use to pass the time while they sip their tea. This shop, and neighborhood, is certainly my cup of tea and I will definitely be back for more.

A Tea Lover in a Coffee World: Teahouse Kuan Yin Review

teahouse kuan yin outsideOne of the older teahouses in the Seattle area, Teahouse Kuan Yin in Wallingford has been around for 24 years (the shop opened it’s doors in 1990). The shop’s longevity has made it into sort of a landmark and has also attracted many loyal customers. However, the store’s visitors are not just limited to tea connoisseurs, as its cozy atmosphere and friendly staff make teahouse Kuan Yin an inviting place to everyone, from tea newbies to coffee drinkers.

One of the first things you will notice when you enter the shop is the strong smell of spices and tea. The smell is not unpleasant, and is reminiscent of a spice shop or an Eastern marketplace. The teahouse is decorated in an Asian theme, with rice-paper panels to one side of the building, and woodcarvings, pottery, scrolls of calligraphy and local art mounted on the walls. There is also an impressive amount of pretty tea ware and accessories around the shop that customers can buy. The store’s relative quietness (only light music is played in the background) and abundance of tables and comfy leather chairs make this a great place to study, work or curl up with some tea and just relax. In fact, during my visit, I saw several people quietly typing away on their computers.

Let’s not forget about the tea. Teahouse Kuan Yin has a wide selection of teas, which are displayed in tins, containers and on shelving through the store. One of the members of the staff estimated that there are about 110 or more in their catalog, all of which are available for purchase at the store, or to be brewed hot or iced. I decided to sample their famous Kashmiri Pink Chai, which is made from green tea, almonds, spices, milk and sugar simmered together. The tea gets its pinkish-brown color, and its name, from the tea turning pink during the brewing process from oxidation.

I was interested in what a green tea based chai would taste like, since all of the other chais I’ve had have been brewed with black tea. Using almonds in chai was new to me as well, which, I learned from the store’s blog, is a northern Indian variant in making chai. The generously large cup of chai I received did indeed have a pink tone, and a smooth, almost floral flavor. The tea was much more mild than others I have tasted, and the spiciness that is often present in chai barely came through. Despite being different than what I am accustomed to, the chai was tasty and would be a good option for people who don’t usually like spicy flavors.

The food menu is almost as varied as the teahouse’s tea selection and contains pastries, cakes, breads, samosas, soups and even curries. The ham and cheese stuffed pastries and samosas looked inviting, but I limited my splurging to tea, and went with a simple snicker doodle cookie. The cookie was perfectly baked, with just the right amount of moistness, and tasted delicious! Overall, I really enjoyed the environment and offerings at Teahouse Kuan Yin. The teahouse is definitely a place I would take friends to grab a snack and chat or revisit on my own to try to learn more about the shop’s history, and drink more tea of course.

The Reluctant Barista: Milk Frothing Madness

Milk Frothing TechniqueHow many how-to-froth-milk videos have you watched? They make it look so easy! While my espresso shots are really improving, I still have a hard time getting milk to the right consistency for a perfect latte. My lack of consistent consistency makes me a little grumpy…even mad. If frothing milk makes you grumpy too, then follow along as I try to de-mystify microfoam. It is time for FROTHING MADNESS!

First things first, while you can use the words froth and foam interchangeably, what we are after is the ever elusive microfoam. The manner in which milk is heated produces different results. Microfoam is smooth and velvety with a texture almost like wet paint because very tiny bubbles are incorporated evenly throughout the liquid. The foam I most often produce is heated milk with a bubbly volcano of erupted meringue dolloped on top. This is not microfoam.

The more you practice on one home espresso machine, the more you get to know the timing involved. This is one of my problems. I froth milk on different machines. Teri in customer service tried to console me. She said, “just when you thought you had steaming down on one machine, you try another machine and it steams totally different! …or someone changes your steam tip from a two-hole to a four-hole!” (Which totally happens around here but probably doesn’t happen at your house.)

You are probably familiar with the basics of milk frothing:

  • Start with a chilled stainless steel milk frothing pitcher and cold milk.
  • Submerge the steam wand, start to froth, then lower the pitcher until just the steam tip is submerged. The milk should move in a circular pattern.
  • Plunge the wand lower into the pitcher and continue to roll the milk.
  • Stop at your desired temperature.

While this sounds well and good, let’s explore how this works in real-life situations with three very different home espresso machines. Armed with some additional tricks from my barista friends, we can learn together!

Rocket EvoluzioneRocket Giotto EvoluzioneA heat exchanger espresso machine with a large 60oz boiler

Espresso machine repair tech, Bryan, gave me some great advice. First, whole milk froths best. Second, on a larger espresso machine like this one, plunge the wand a few seconds sooner than you think it will take. It only took 35 seconds to froth 6 ounces of milk to 165F. I found this out the hard way because at 40 seconds it was up to 170F and the milk smelled scalded. Because it happens so fast, it is hard to make adjustments. I grabbed a gallon of milk and kept trying until I got it just right.

Breville InfuserBreville InfuserA home espresso machine with a thermoblock

Matthew Hodson, a Seattle-area professional barista, shared this via Twitter “Experiment to find the spot where the milk and foam spin in a whirlpool and integrate. Only aerate briefly (count 1,2,3 quickly) and then spend the rest of the time integrating with the whirlpool.” It took 1:15 to get 6 ounces of milk to 165F. This was enough time to experiment with different adjustments. With some extra time and careful attention spent tilting and pivoting the frothing pitcher around the steam wand, this technique produced good results.

Saeco Via VeneziaSaeco Via VeneziaA single boiler with less than 8oz capacity

To get quality milk frothing from a smaller espresso machine requires every trick in the book. Make sure the espresso machine is on and pre-heated. Clear the steam wand (or in this case the panarello) into the drip tray until it is all steam with no water. Note where the air intake hole is on the panarello sleeve and keep it even with the level of the milk in the pitcher, not above or below. Froth one drink at a time, in this case 6 ounces took 1 minute to steam but was still very bubbly.

Lastly, Miranda in customer service told me you can try to “fix” milk frothing madness by softly tapping the frothing pitcher on the counter and swirling it in a circle repeatedly to try to eliminate big bubbles and incorporate the little bubbles back into the mix. Don’t try to re-heat or re-froth the milk. When all else fails keep these two important adages in mind,
1) Don’t cry over spilt milk
2) Tis a lesson you should heed, If at first you don’t succeed, Try try again.

Rocket Espresso Steam Tips

A Tea Lover in a Coffee World: Queen Mary Tea Room Review

After having our first snow last week and with the holiday spirit in the air, you can’t help but want to pop in a cozy tea room and warm up with a cup of cheer (aka tea).  With its sophisticated decor, the charming English-style Queen Mary Tea Room, owned by “Queen” Mary Greengo, makes for the perfect locale. I recently stopped by the University District-area store and, in an effort to slowly convert the rest of the crew into tea lovers, brought Kaylie along for the ride.Holiday Harvest Tea

Upon entering the Queen Mary Tea Room, we were seated next to the home of Princess, the tea room’s resident dove, who enjoys watching guests from her perch (I later found out her counterpart, Earl, a five-year-old pied dove, makes his home at the Queen Mary Tea Emporium down the street). I was curious to learn more about these feathered friends, so I asked Queen Mary’s Brand Ambassador, Michael Zaborowski, to tell me about their story. According to Michael, “Mary has always been a great lover of birds. She even has a Macaw and a Lovebird at home! They add to the elegance of the environment here, just as anywhere.” Both doves used to live at the tea room, but when Mary opened the Tea Emporium three years ago Earl was relocated there so he can greet guests with a coo as they enter the store.

Our table was decorated for the season, with miniature Christmas trees, a bowl of sparkling green, red and white sugar and beautiful floral bone china. After pouring over the menu of over 80 different teas from all over the world, Kaylie and I decided to select one of the special holiday teas. With six teas to choose from, we had a hard decision to make. However, in the end we decided upon Holiday Harvest, a flavored black tea described on the menu as being “infused with orange slices, cardamom pods, pink peppercorn, clove, cinnamon, coriander and apple pieces.” According to our server, this tea is a perennial favorite, so while the other holiday teas change every year, the Holiday Harvest is always featured.

The tea came in a pretty silver teapot and our server told us to steep the tea for three to four minutes.  So we flipped over the hourglass timer on our table and waited anxiously for the last grains of sand to trickle through the timer so we could try our tea.  The tea had a mild orange flavor, with a hint of spiciness and smelled like cloves, cinnamon and citrus. Kaylie described it best when she exclaimed, “This smells like Christmas! Like what Santa’s house at the North Pole would smell like.” We also got to sample the Roasted Chestnut tea (also flavored black tea), which had a very sweet smell (like a cinnamon roll) but a smoky, nutty taste.

Though the Holiday Harvest and Roasted Chestnut tea were very different, both of the teas were quite tasty. If you aren’t able to make to it Queen Mary Tea in time to try one of the limited-time Christmas teas, never fear, the shop does feature teas for different holidays as well. According to Michael, “Last February saw the ‘Romeo’s Raspberry Rose’ and March featured ‘Luck of the Irish Vanilla Cream’.”

sugar for teaAlthough I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Mary in person, I did get the opportunity to chat with her and Michael via email. Launched in 1988, Mary proudly admits that Queen Mary Tea Room is the oldest independently owned tea room in the United States.

Mary came up with the idea to create the tea room during one fateful lunch with friends. While all of Mary’s friends ordered coffee, she ordered tea, which Mary claims arrived “weak, watery and flavorless.” Thus, Mary adds, “The idea for the Queen Mary Tea Room was born. I want[ed] a place where guests fe[lt] warm and welcome to sit and enjoy the traditional tea experience with the best cup of tea they have ever had.”

While this incredible idea may have just been a passing fancy for some, Mary had the necessary skills to turn her dream into a reality. Prior to opening the tea room, Mary spent years as a banquet chef at a five-star hotel (she has a degree in culinary arts) and always had the desire to run her own business. Tea also comes naturally to Mary. A native of Seattle, which might as well be the coffee capitol of America, she has never had a cup of coffee in her life (neither had her mother and grandmother). But Mary’s background wasn’t the only sign the store was meant to be. Mary explains that she and her brother came up with the store name at the same time, on the same day. Mary says coming up with a layout for the store was equally painless, “The design just popped into my head and the vision came together in all of two minutes. I bought all of my kitchen equipment at auction and it all fit with only ¼ inch to spare.”

Whether you believe in things being kismet or not, one thing is for certain – Mary has created a unique and wonderful atmosphere. With tea and food designed to please everyone who enters, you certainly won’t find another tea room like Queen Mary (although Mary says customers keep requesting that she open another tea room elsewhere). Mary isn’t afraid to share her royal status either. If you ask, she or her staff will happily offer up tiaras for kids (and adults too!) to wear during birthday parties or other special occasions, allowing everyone a chance to be “queen” for the day.