Books About Tea

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Dearies it’s been so cold lately, all Kat wants to do is stay home, curl up and read a good book. Can you blame her? I certainly can’t. I always make sure to add a nice warm cup of tea to accompany her reading. The other day I noticed just how many tea books she has on her shelf! It made me wonder, do all of your lovely readers have favorite tea books too? If you are interested in starting a tea book collection, here are a few that Kat and I recommend:

The Art and Craft of Tea by Joseph Wesley Uhl: This is one of Kat’s newest favorites. The book has bold graphics, and gorgeous photos. It gives information on tea from all around the world and even has wonderful tea-centric recipes to make at home. This book has great information on tea growing, processing, and drinking all around the world.

The Ultimate Tea Lover’s Treasury by James Norwood Pratt. Mr. Norwood Pratt is one of the most interesting and important living tea experts. This book combines beautiful prose, tea history, tea facts, and tea drinking culture from around the world. It’s a lovely book to pick up and read something new and interesting each time you open it.

Tea: History, Terroir, Varieties by Kevin Gascoyne, Francois Marchand, Jasmin Desharnais, and Hugo Americi- This has been Kat’s trusty tea handbook for years. This book has detailed explanations about all the tea growing regions. Learn all about how tea is cultivated, and processed. It gets into detail on the importance of terroir- the climate, soil, and unique characteristics of each tea growing region- and how this changes the taste of the tea. This is a perfect book for the tea lover that wants to deepen their knowledge.

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There are also books that specialize in types of tea. For example if you’d like to learn more about Puer, you should try Puer Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic by Jinghong Zhang. Puer is a very different variety of tea, and this book will take you through how it’s processed, where it is grown, and give you lots of interesting historical facts. A must for anyone that wants to learn more about puer!

For something tea related but a fun fiction read, you can try the Tea Shop Mystery series by Laura Childs. This mystery series centers around a charming tea shop in Charleston, South Carolina and the vivacious owner.

Enjoy your book and tea reading, Dearies! It’s the perfect time of year to cozy up

Trying New Teas for the New Year

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Dearies, do you believe in New Year’s resolutions? Kat’s always making a few, and to be honest, she only ends up following through on a few of them. But this year I’ve decided to help her with one of her resolutions: Keeping an open mind to new teas! I think I could be quite helpful with this, especially since I’m the official tea steeper! Are there teas you haven’t tried, or perhaps teas you’ve been hesitant to try? Here are a few that may be new to you, or at least teas that are on your radar, but you haven’t actually tasted:

Gyokuro- Ok dearies, as far as Japanese teas go, I’m sure most of you have tried Sencha, matcha, and possibly genmaicha. But have you tried gyokuro? This tea is a little more expensive than the others, but it has a wonderful flavor that many call ‘umami’. A good gyokuro almost tastes like broth and has a pleasing sweetness. The tea is different from other Japanese greens because it is shaded before harvest. The shading causes the tea plants to reduce their rate of photosynthesis and the result is that special umami taste. Dearies, I’d love to know who discovered this method of cultivating tea, wouldn’t you? If you are interested, you can learn a little more about Japanese green teas in my post here.

White Tea- White teas are very versatile. Young tea buds and leaves are plucked in spring, then withered and dried. They are just barely oxidized as well. White teas have a range in quality, so it’s important to try a few different varities. The various types of white tea have different flavor profiles but they all have a nice freshness since the leaves are so young and fresh. Look for Silver Needles and White Peony white teas. They definitely are unlike any other kids of tea. Learn more about white teas and their flavors in my previous post here.

Puerh- If you’ve had a puerh, you’ll definitely remember it. This is a fermented type of tea from Yunnan that comes in two main categories: ‘sheng’ which is the raw puerh that ages slowly over time, and ‘shou’ which is aged through a more rapid human-controlled process. Since Puerh is an aged tea, you can keep it for years and if stored correctly it should get even better with age. In fact, Kat has a shou puerh that dear Char brought back from Yunnan many years ago. High quality sheng puerh can be very expensive, especially when it’s an older vintage. This is because the aging process is controlled, and requires a skilled artisan to get it just right. A good sheng can be sweet and grassy,if young, and woodsy and slightly leathery if older, and also a bit bitter. Shou puerh is created with just the right conditions of moisture and heat to rapidly ferment the tea. Because it is produced more quickly, it is more affordable. It has a much more pungent flavor with a dark, thick brew. Puerh can be a bit of an acquired taste, but Dearies there are many people that go crazy for it! They collect it, trade it, and drink it daily. Why not give it a try?

Finally, there are so many herbal blends out there that are far different from things like mint and chamomile. Try turmeric, lemon verbena, basil, and tulsi! Herbal teas are all very different, and can even be fun to blend. You can even try them iced, they are quite refreshing any time of year.

Dearies, this is a New Year’s resolution you can stick to! Just pick a few teas and get tasting. How simple is that? Happy steeping!

Tippy’s Tea of the Month: Longjing

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Dearies I know we’ve talked about Green Teas quite a bit, but there is one in particular that is a Chinese staple with an interesting story, Longjing. This tea’s name translates to ‘dragon well’, and is grown only in China’s Zhejiang province. Why is this well-loved tea called Dragon Well? It all goes back to the legend! There are actually a few different versions of the legend, but in my favorite version, a Taoist monk discovered a dragon hiding in an old well. The season had been in drought, and once the villagers learned of the Monk’s discovery they prayed to this dragon to bring the rain and fill the well to capacity. After the prayers, it started to rain! This water flowed from the well and nourished the surrounding tea is grown.

 The tea itself has a flat needle-like shape with a lovely jade green color. This tea is pan-fired which gives it a nutty taste (it often reminds me of chestnuts) with a fresh vegetal aroma. It also has a cooked veggie flavor which we often associate with green beans. The tea is nutty, vegetal and sweet.

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 The quality of longjing depends on when it was harvested. The earlier in the spring, the more expensive the tea will be. For the highest quality, one leaf and one bud is picked. These young leaves and buds create a very gentle, fresh and tender flavor for the tea.

The highest grade leaves are pan fried in small batches in a wok. They  needed to be heated as soon as possible to prevent oxidation. The pan-firing technique creates the lovely nutty flavor you taste in the tea. The leaves are pressed to the sides of the wok to make sure they are properly dried. This also creates the flat needle-like shape of the finished leaves. If your tea leaves have an even color to them, you know they were dried very well, to make sure the heat was even for the whole batch. Lower grades of longjing are also pan heated but usually in large revolving drums. The teas that are machine roasted are still quite delicious and more affordable.

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As with many coveted teas, longjing can be ‘faked’. You may not be getting spring harvested tea, or tea grown in Zhejiang. The best way to tell is use your eyes and mouth. Does it look like a vibrant green tea? Does it smell and taste like early spring? Veggies and chestnut? It is smooth and gentle or is it bitter? If you taste enough good quality longjing you will know what to look for. As always dearies, it’s about tasting, tasting, tasting!

To brew your longjing you can use a gaiwan, or a small teapot. My favorite way is to just add the leaves right in the water using either a bowl style cup or tall glass. Just keep filling up your vessel with hot water as you finish it, re-steeping those beautiful leaves. This is the way it’s commonly consumed in China.  Dearies no matter how you steep it, it’s a beautiful tea. If you try it you’ll understand why it’s so revered in China. Happy Steeping!

Ask Tippy: What is Genmaicha?

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Dearies, it’s time for our next installment of ‘Ask Tippy’! This is where you the readers get to ask me anything you like about tea! Our latest question comes from a reader named Betty.

Q. Tippy, what is genmaicha? I was in a Japanese restaurant over the weekend, and it was on the menu. Is it a green tea?

A. Very good question, Betty! Genmaicha is in fact a Japanese tea blend that includes green tea. The tea is usually bancha or sencha, with roasted and popped brown rice added in. This is a common tea to find in Japanese restaurants, as it’s a mellow, every day drinking tea.

The quality of the genmaicha depends on the green tea used. As I mentioned it is commonly found with bancha or Sencha. Sencha is the most popular Japanese green tea and varies in quality based on the season it is picked. The tea is steamed rather than pan fired, and produces a lovely green hue and deeply vegetal flavor when steeped. Bancha is quite similar but produced from both leaves and stems of the tea plant so the quality is a little lower than Sencha. But both are lovely when blended with the roasted rice. To create the rice for the tea, the rice is soaked, steamed, and then dried and roasted. The rice used can be white or brown, but usually white rice is used. It looks brown from the roasting process.

In Japanese, genmai means roasted rice. Cha means tea. When you first open a bag of genmaicha you may be surprised by the nutty aroma. The roasted rice gives the blend a deliciously earthy, nutty scent that pairs very nicely with the vegetal green tea. The other thing that you may notice is something a bit unique for tea- popcorn? It’s actually popped rice! On occasion the rice will pop while it’s roasted, which makes it look like popcorn!

In some cases it can also have some matcha mixed in. This blend will usually be a bit more expensive than typical genmaicha. If you’re not sure if there is matcha in your genmaicha, you’ll be able to easily tell once you open the bag. The roasted rice will have a greenish hue from the matcha, just like in my above picture.

If this tea sounds interesting to you, definitely seek it out! It’s widely available and is often offered in Japanese restaurants. Enjoy!

Tea For Diwali

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Dearies, I was checking out the kitchen calendar and noticed Diwali is Sunday October 30th. Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights. I remember when Char and I were in Malaysia during the festival. It’s such a joyful time of year! Little twinkling lanterns were everywhere and there were the most beautiful firework displays. The lights create such a magical atmosphere! During Diwali clay lamps are lit to symbolize spiritual inner light. In fact, the word Diwali translates to ‘row of lamps’. The holiday marks the last harvest of the year. There are various cultures that celebrate the holiday, and the central meaning is celebrating good triumphing over evil. When Kat was first learning about Diwali, she noticed that there is a theme of gathering together, and celebrating with friends and family.

I of course have decided Kat and I need to drink as many Indian teas as possible during the 5 day holiday! My motto is, if there is a crowd, tea must be served! Tea is the perfect accompaniment for the various savories and mithai served throughout the Diwali holiday. I’ve rounded up our stock of Darjeeling, Assam, and Nilgiri teas, and will be brewing up a pot of my masala chai. We also have a few new teas to add to our Diwali preparation list!

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Just the other day Kat’s friend Sima introduced her to a line of delicious Tea India teas while they were starting to prepare for Diwali. Sima served Kat a few cups while they were applying beautiful henna designs to their hands. I just love how the henna dries into amazing wearable art! The teas they shared combine rich Assam tea with delicious Indian flavors. Kat’s favorite right now is the ginger chai. This time of year she reaches for warming teas and the spicy ginger is the perfect thing. Add a touch of sweeter and this tea is a lovely way to begin your Diwali festivities. The cardamom chai is also in our heavy rotation. The cardamom flavor is perfect alone, or you could add your own spices to personalize the tea even more. Kat has started enjoying the masala chai when she’s craving that sweet and spicy flavor. Brew up a bag, add milk and sweeter of choice for an easy and authentic masala chai. These teas are a great choice for Diwali, and of course any time! They’ve got strong black tea to add a spring to your step, and spicy flavor to enjoy with every sip. You can find these at your local Indian grocer, and head over to amazon.com to purchase them online!

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While I was learning a little bit about Tea India teas, I noticed they are running a fun contest for Diwali! If you go to the Tea India Facebook page every Friday before Diwali, you can find a beautiful picture to color and submit to win a tea prize pack! I’m heading over there today to see what we can color this week! Kat loves coloring! She has a few different coloring books and often says when she adds in a cup of tea, it’s an incredibly relaxing experience.

We are excited to bring on the festivities, food, and sweets of Diwali! Dearies, you know I’ve got the tea ready and waiting. When you gather for your Diwali celebration, what teas will you serve?

Behind The Leaf: Indian Black Teas

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India is known for some of the most delicious black teas. I’m sure you’ve had many of them in blends and didn’t even know it! They can be bold and brisk, or delicate and nuanced. India is also starting to produce white, green, and oolong teas, but for today we’re going to stick with the black teas that grow all throughout the country.

There are three main growing regions in India: Assam, Nilgiri Hills, and Darjeeling. These three areas make delicious black teas that taste very different from one another. That’s due to terroir. The climate, altitude and soil all have an effect on the flavors. Also the plant cultivars used also change the flavor.

First up, let’s discuss Assam- This region is in Northeast India near Burma. It is a tropical region that has about 900 gardens! The elevation is about sea level, and the weather is mild and can get very hot during monsoon season. Much of the tea grown in this region is processed as CTC (cut, tear, curl) tea. Small cut leaves that create an even stronger brew that steeps up quite quickly. The cultivar that grows here is camellia sinensis var. assamica and was of course named after the region. The tea is brisk and malty. It can commonly be found in English Breakfast and English Afternoon blends. It’s made to steep up strong, as the Brits like to add milk and sweetener to their cups. This is also a tea commonly used for Masala chai.

Nilgiri is a mountainous region of southeast India and the 3rd largest tea growing area. Growing here started in the mid-19th century. The teas are well balanced and quite dark with a bit of fruit and spice. The climate is tropical and ideal for year-round growing. Many of the plants here are of the Assamica variety, and most of the teas are processed using the CTC method. Can you believe there are more than 30,000 gardens in this area?? That’s an immense amount of tea!

Finally the area most tea lovers know, Darjeeling. Teas here are grown in the Indian Himalayas. The first plantation in Darjeeling was started in 1856, and today there are about 86 tea gardens. The gardens are planted on the slopes of the Himalayan foothills, which help the plants drain well from the heavy rains that pass through the region.  There is just the right amount of cloud cover high at this altitude to give the plants the perfect amount of sunlight. The frequently foggy atmosphere creates a beautiful mist that hydrates and protects the plants while keeping them at an ideal temperature. The plant variety here is different from Nilgiri and Assam. It’s mostly comprised of camellia sinensis var sinensis, which is a smaller leaf than Assamica and actually is native to China. The British brought seeds of the plant to the region in 1841 and realized it was a perfect climate for growing. To learn a little more about the picking seasons and flavors of Darjeeling teas, you can check out my previous post here. To really appreciate the beauty of Darjeeling tea, it’s best to find teas grown and processed from just one estate.

Dearies, next time you drink a black tea blend, you can think about all of the beautiful areas of India where your tea is grown. I hope you try as many varieties as you can to learn how they differ.

Camping With Tea

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Here’s the scene: Waking up in the lush green forest listening to birdsong and the smoky comforting smell of a campfire. Summertime is Kat’s favorite time of year to go camping. She loves being out in the forest so close to nature. Hiking, fishing, cooking over a fire, she just loves it all! She even likes sleeping in a tent. There is however one comfort she can’t live without: tea!

Over the years Kat has perfected a way to have tea while camping. It involves a little bit of gear, but can also be done with less. She does have a bit of tea camping gear, she just love collecting tea ware no matter what the occasion! Those enamelware cups are just so cute, Kat has a large vintage collection!

So there are only a few things you really need to enjoy tea while camping: First a heat source (campfire or camping stove), and vessel to boil water (we just use a cooking pot). Then you pick and choose: thermos, enamelware teapot, and enamelware teacups, empty teabags to fill, or just regular teabags. If you are trying to pack light, all you really need is the boiled water and a cup to put your tea in. If you need to pack even lighter, you can put the tea directly in your cup and sip it grandpa style (sipping with the leaves directly in the water). Or you could put the tea in a fillable teabag, steep and remove. Or of course, you can bring along your favorite teabags, and steep those. That’s what Kat often does.

 

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A tea she likes to bring camping is Private Selection Orange Spice black tea. This tea has orange cinnamon and clove flavors that hold up well to that smoky camp fire. Perfect with a hearty breakfast, lunch, or dinner by the campfire. It would also pair nicely with sweet, chocolatey s’mores, which are a must if you are going camping! Kat drinks this tea all year round. It’s soothing in the chilly months and quite refreshing when it’s warmer outside. She even serves it iced! I guess you could say it’s one of her staples. She always has it in the cupboard.

Dearies, will you try my tips for your next camping trip? Do you have any other ideas for taking tea in the great outdoors?

How To: Have Tea On The Beach

beachtea2Dearies, we’ve talked a bit about taking your tea on the go. Kat is never without her tea whether it be on an airplane, at a picnic, or even hiking. But in the summer there is another important place that Kat totes her tea- the beach! She actually does both hot and iced teas for beachy afternoons. I thought it would be helpful to do a little ‘how to’ on taking teas to the beach, so you can always have your favorite beverage by your side (and hopefully your favorite teacup too!).

For hot tea, Kat will do it a few different ways. The thing you must have is a trusty thermos. Kat has them in varying sizes, depending on the group. She has a small one for herself and a larger one for tea with friends. Sometimes Kat will steep her tea right in the thermos and take it with her. Other times, she’ll bring along the hot water and tea separately. This way she can steep up individual cups, or even bring along her gaiwan for gongfu steeping on the beach. It may require a little bit more setup, but this is such a lovely way to enjoy tea all afternoon. The gaiwan setup is sure to draw a little bit of attention, and you’re sure to make some new tea-loving friends!

If you are icing your tea, you have a few options as well. You can put the iced tea in your thermos, and it’ll keep cool for hours. You can also put it in a large container specifically made for iced tea just make sure it’s lightweight and easy to pour. Kat has a little cooler that’s the perfect size for her plastic iced tea jug. Another must is plastic ice cubes. These are a must for iced tea! They don’t melt, so they don’t water down your tea. Leave them in the freezer and then grab when you are ready to go!

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For her iced teas, Kat loves to pack a pitcher filled with Southern Breeze Peach Sweet Tea. She makes the tea the night before her outing and cools it in the fridge. When she wakes up, it’s ready to go! The sweet black tea flavor combined with ripe peach flavor is perfect for sunny beach days. The tea is sweet without any added sugar or calories, so it’s a hit with all of her friends. She likes to bring along freshly sliced peaches for anyone that wants a fresh, delicious garnish. This tea is so easy to make: simply boil 2 quarts of water, add 2 teabags to a large pitcher and pour in the hot water. Steep for 3 minutes, and remove the bags. Pop in the fridge and cool! Easy peasy. Chill it overnight and have your tea ready for your day at the beach. As soon as the weather begins to warm up, Kat places an order on Amazon for this tea.

To enhance your tea experience on the beach, be sure to bring a few teacups! Drinking tea from your thermos or even disposable cups is fine, but when you bring along a few pretty cups, you’ll feel like royalty while listening to those crashing waves. What are your beachy tea-time tips? I’d love to know if you have some secrets to share. Happy summer Dearies!

 

Behind The Leaf: Chinese Black Teas

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Black teas can be grown and processed in many regions all over the world, and some of Kat’s favorite hail from China. I’m sure you’ve had a few Chinese black teas, but how many? I thought it would be helpful to document the most common types of Chinese black teas.

Black tea was first processed in China during the early 17th century. It’s thought that it came about by farmers looking to take their lower quality green teas and create something beautiful. By fully oxidizing the teas, the green leaves became darker and sweeter. Interesting notes of fruit and malt, even chocolate start to appear.

Black tea is called Red Tea in China. So if you find yourself looking at Red Teas that aren’t herbal, they are most likely Chinese black teas. Chinese black teas are found mostly in the south, in Yunnan, Anhui, Fujian. Now that you have a little bit of background, here are a few of the most famous Chinese black teas:

Keemun– This tea is grown in Qimen in Anhui province. It’s actually a favorite among British tea drinkers. This tea can be found in English Breakfast blends, and can be quite extraordinary on its own. The higher grade Keemun teas are velvety smooth, with a rich yet mellow flavor. Other grades have a deep, bold flavor and can often have a hint of smoke. Most Keemun teas work well with milk, but if you have a very high grade, you’ll want to drink it by itself.

Lapsang Souchong– This tea comes from the Wuyi region, in Fujian province.  These leaves are smoked  over a pine wood fire, which of course imparts a deliciously smoky flavor. It reminds me of a crackling campfire. The tea also has wine and fruit notes. It’s quite an interesting tea. A must if you’ve never tried it. Kat says it reminds her of whiskey!

Yunnan Dian Hong- True to its name, this tea is grown in Yunnan province. You may also occasionally see a variety called Yunnan gold. You can have a high quantity of beautiful golden tips in this tea, which are the buds of the tea plant. The tips produce a mellow, gentle, sweet flavor. Strong malty and cocoa notes are also present. It’s a naturally sweet, bright brew. This is one of Kat’s favorites to drink in the morning. The flavor is nuanced but it’s strong and wakes her right up.

Bai Lin gongfu– This black tea hail from Fudan, in Fujian province. It has a sweet and creamy flavor with delightful hints of dried fruit and caramel. This tea also contains golden leaf buds, fuzzy and sweet. There is very little astringency in this tea, yet it has good strength.

Dearies you can travel through China just by drinking these beautiful teas. Chinese black teas have a surprising range of flavors, and you should try as many as you can find. If you have any questions on these teas, please do let me know in the comments!

How To: Have Fresh Tea on an Airplane

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Dearies I’m a jet-setting teacup! Traveling by plane is such a fun adventure, I love the feeling of excitement and anticipation as we fly towards our destination. But it also has a few annoyances. Kat is always complaining about one thing in particular- Finding a way to have a good cup of tea on the airplane. Both Char and now Kat have gone through countless ideas and different ways to get around a paper cup with lukewarm liquid and a stale teabag handed over by the flight attendant.

Char often just asked for hot water and used her own tea bags, but it can be difficult to get water refills, and the water often tasted quite strange. These days Kat has come up with a foolproof method, after much trial and error. She has one important trick that makes a world of difference! The trick for fresh tea on her flight is to bring an empty thermos in her carry-on. Why does she do this? Well, you can’t bring a full thermos through airport security, and you don’t want to risk having your thermos taken away!

Once through security, it’s time to fill up. But not with tea! Just hot water. Just about any of the airport cafes will be happy to fill you up with hot water while you are waiting for your flight. Kat brings a few tea bags in her purse which are ready to use as soon as she gets a cup from the flight attendant. This way she’ll have tea for the entire flight. The hot water on the airplane doesn’t make great tea, it’s not as hot as it should be, and you’d need to charm a flight attendant to fill up your thermos anyway. You are much better off trying to get hot water before you board.

Kat likes to take a variety of teabags with her on the flight. She takes a couple of caffeinated teas to perk her up when close to her destination. But for the most part she uses decaf and herbal teas throughout the flight. It’s important to stay well hydrated while in the air. The air in those planes is so dehydrating! She simply puts a teabag in her cup, and pours water from her thermos. Problem solved.

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One of her current favorite teas to travel with is Cinnamon Hibiscus Herbal Tea by Private Selection. This tea is naturally sweet, comforting, and quite soothing. Kat first encountered this tea while shopping for a girls’ tea party she was preparing for her little niece Camille. She was looking for herbal teas, and something a little bit sweet. She found this tea in Kroger, and knew it would be a great choice. Camille loves cinnamon, as it reminds her of Christmas. The addition of hibiscus, chamomile, and orange peel sealed the deal. Both Kat and Camille instantly loved this tasty cinnamon blend. It is strong on cinnamon, but the hibiscus, chamomile and citrus flavors tame the spice and give it a mellow finish. Camille requests this tea every time she comes to visit! It’s a warming cup, perfect for relaxing on a long flight. If you can get a bit of honey during your flight, it will further enhance the comfort factor in this tea. Kat always looks forward to relaxing in her seat with this soothing cup.

So my tea-loving friends, what do you think of our little trick? When you are getting ready for your next flight, remember your thermos and tea bags! You’ll be so happy you did. Bon Voyage!