My passionate journey to become a dual water and tea sommelier

When I started my studies with the World Tea Academy my teacher, Donna Fellmann, noted in one of her first comments to me: “I wonder what your niche will be…”. That question stuck with me throughout my studies. Once I graduated as a tea sommelier in 2016, I was on cloud nine, sharing my knowledge on my newly created tea blog ManwithaMug and life was good. Over the years, that question however came back, what value do I provide to the tea industry? What makes me unique compared to the hundreds of other tea blogs out there? I don’t just want to review countless teas and write about them, I want to create something new and special. So I went back to the drawing board and look at what my biggest passions during my tea studies have been. I remembered with a smile the segments about tea and water. I poured my heart into that month, as I find it fascinating how good quality (and the bad and ugly) water affects the taste of the final tea.

Fine Water Academy

When Martin Riese and Michael Mascha announced the opening of the Fine Water Academy a light bulb went off. I was following them since years as they stand for high quality and standards in the water industry in an informative, innovative and entertaining way. Learning more about water would mean more value for my contribution as a tea sommelier. I plunged into the journey and signed up to take the water sommelier course. What started has been an eye opening and liberating process to take my understanding of water to the highest level. Not only did I became more aware of my understanding of the capacity of the water industry in Myanmar, it opened up new avenues to explore amazing and talented staff in restaurants and driven owners of water brands who want to make a difference. I started to learn more about the use of social media to present and explore different aspects of the water industry. In the back of my mind has always been how this will help the tea industry. As I blogged about here many times, we spend a lot of time focusing on good quality tea but not on the other 95 percent of which tea is made of.

Fine Water journey

The number of water brands is quite limited in Myanmar and can be counted on one hand. It is still challenging to get clean drinking water and access is still limited. In order to accomplish the challenging assignments for the water sommelier course, I had to bring in suitcases of water from Bangkok! (Ms. Tea declared me officially insane!) 

I started engaging with Addy, the owner of Birmanie, the only spring water in Myanmar and his brand has so much potential for the international market. My journey with the fine water academy created something I did not expected in this journey: a sincere appreciation for the complexity and challenges of the water industry. To this day I get blank stares from some people when I tell them that I am a water sommelier. Many of them have not heard of this term. Yet more then 60 percent of our body is water. Water can be an culinary and elevating experience in a restaurant besides just the jug of water we “wash” our food down with.

I did it!

Not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined, that I became the first graduate of the Fine Water Academy (Certificate 001!) and I am aware of the responsibility this comes with. I will support Martin and Michael in amplifying the message, that water is not just water and that there is place for fine water as a culinary experience and as an affordable luxury. I want to become a bridge ambassador between the water and tea industry to benefit them both.

I feel I regained new motivation and energy to take this blog (now a water and tea blog) to the next level and inspire and entertain you with my insights into both worlds. Please let me know your feedback what you would like me to focus on and what you would like to learn more about. In the meantime please check out my final project, where I explore the opportunities between water and tea

The power of water in tea

Those who follow me regularly know, that I am a big advocate of high quality water in tea. 95 percent of tea is water and it is the most overlooked component when making tea.

We humans consists 60 percent of water, it is the largest part of our body. Since I am now a health nut, I pay close attention to my hydration and drink water all day long. I am still amazed to see many of my colleagues during meetings and workshops simply ignoring their water intake or start taking water during breaks or when they get thirsty.

Most people do not know, that by simply drinking water regularly and about 80 oz (2.2 liters) per day we will help our body to digest the food and to better support our metabolism. You can loose weight by simply drinking enough water.

The water in tea will count towards this daily goal. The quality of water can have an impact on your taste experience. Good tea water should have a ph level of slightly above 7 and a low TDS, ideally below 30. You will find this information on the label of the water bottle. 

I often image the power of adding water quality as a new way of enhancing your tea drinking experience. Just imagine to read this on a tea menu in a restaurant: “Organic Darjeeling tea brewed with fresh spring water”. Doesn’t this sound amazing?

For me the ideal water is when it is close were the tea has been processed. I read that you can get Long jing green tea in Westlake, China brewed with the water from the tea source. It we think about it deeper, it makes sense. When the tea plant is growing it is taking in the water through the soil. Once tea is being processed, water level in the tea is reduced and comes back into the picture once we add water when brewing tea.

I pay close attention how I use the water during the brewing process. Never reuse or reheat water from a previous brew, as during the

heating oxygen will leave the water and the tea might taste flat when using the water. Most times it will be sufficient to use filtered or good quality tab water for the day to day use.

I truly enjoy the role of water in the traditional tea ceremony. Ms. Tea and myself sometimes enjoy a quiet evening, brewing high quality tea using the Yixing tea pot and the bamboo tray. Water is not only used for cleansing during the ceremony but also acts as a purifier and healer when pouring it over the tea cups and the tea pets. See my previous post on my take on the traditional Chinese tea ceremony (https://manwithamug.com/?s=tea+ceremony ). Quite relaxing!

In the future I intend to learn much more about water as I think it will enhance my understanding as a tea sommerlier and my ability to brew better tea.

Watch this space!

Ice tea anybody?

With summertime around the corner, ice tea will become a popular beverage for many people. All year around it is loved and enjoyed by many people in the US, although I have my reservation about the benefit of the run of the mill ice tea you get served in a normal restaurant. I have seen some positive exception about good quality ice tea and the trend is fortunately growing.

What is wrong with this ice tea? Sugar. Many regular diners in the US serve regular black tea (some are based on tea bags brewed quick and on the fly) and then add lots of sugar. So a non-calorie drink is now becoming a soda like calorie bomb filled with the white stuff.

But there is hope. You don’t have to desert to unsweetened ice tea (which is still the same cheap black tea bag infusion), but can have a zero-calorie sweet beverage which tastes fresh and healthy. How?

The secret is to use high quality loose leaf tea which comes with natural sweetness and does not add any calories to the drink. Try a popular Oolong tea called ‘Oriental Beauty’ (more specifically  Dongfang Meiren or Baihao) and you will get a wonderful fresh tea.

There are different avenues of making ice tea:

Cold brew

My favorite method as it brings out the essence of ice tea, however you should be patient as this brewing takes some time. It is a good candidate for overnight brewing with a fresh ice tea in the morning. Simply add tea to a glass container and put in the fridge and you should have a good mellow fresh tea in the morning. You will need to experiment a bit around, some teas take longer and some shorter to brew, but 4-6 hours should do the trick. I like the glass container as you can see the progress in the brewing process better based on the color of the tea. Try a couple batches and taste until you find the right fit for you. Cold brew takes out the edges in tea which you would get when hot brewing the tea.

 

Hot brew and cool down

Another method would be to brew the tea normal with hot water and then cool it down. Most interesting is the ‘glacier’ method by taking a

cup of ice cubes and pouring the hot tea over it. In terms of convenience and speed this is the best method and with a high quality loose leaf tea you get a fresh and vibrant ice tea. Make sure you use high quality water to brew the tea but also the ice cubes as they otherwise might influence the quality of the overall tea.

You can also let the tea stand after you brewed and add ice cubes later, that is up to you. It depends how much time you have.

Many retail and online companies are selling high quality loose leaf tea made for ice teas. These are special blends which will come with flowers or fruits and make for a perfect ice tea for your next party. Try them and you will not be disappointed. If you live in Europe, Mariage Freres has amazing Ice teas, if you are fortunate to live in Asia – TWG has a whole range of ice tea blends perfect for the summer. You can also try to make your own composition: try loose leaf green tea and add some fruit and herbs to make a taste that fits perfect for you. In summer time lemons and oranges are perfect to add to tea.

I hope these tips inspire you to try high quality loose leaf tea, even from the supermarket and try to make your own ice tea. Your taste buds and your guests will thank you.

Please feel free to reach out to me in case you have any questions.

 

 

 

 

Restarting the Man With a Mug Blog -80 Pounds Lighter!

It has been a while since my last blog post, which has mainly to do with my emergency response job at the World Food Programme here in Myanmar. Our response to battling hunger in this country is complex and requires dedicated effort and lots of time in remote locations.

In the back of my mind I continued to think about the blog and how it can add value to the tea community. And when I saw an article in a local paper, that a German tea company has placed a large order for Myanmar tea… I knew I had to start sharing my stories about this wonderful tea country again.

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30 Minutes of Tea Liberation

I often reflect back to the beginning of my tea studies.

Here I was in my kitchen in Rome, Italy, holding a thermometer in one hand and a tea timer in the other hand, nervously anticipating the right mix to get the optimal brew.

Fast forward now to my kitchen in Yangon, Myanmar, were I grab some tea leaves and throw it into hot water to get a wonderful cup of tea.

In a way the past year has liberated me from following the instructions on the box and use scientific instruments to make tea.

However the one area where I never felt liberated is how I always experienced buying tea.

In most shops a nice tea salesperson would carefully open a tin box based on my request and would allow me to have a careful glimpse into the box. In good stores they might let me smell the tea from a safe distance.

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How to Let Go of Your Tea Bag

(and explore a new dimension…)

Many people around the world who love tea every day engage in the same ritual.

Grab a tea bag from a box, drop it into a cup and pour hot water over it. Wait until there is some uniform color appearing in the cup and pour some more ingredients into it like sugar, milk or a slice of lemon. Then take a sip and hope that this mixture will not be terrible.

Or sit in a plane and after the meal service the flight attendant will come around announcing the arrival of the tea (or coffee) to be poured into your little plastic cup.

And many of us who are attending a conference or workshop, grab a teabag from a ‘selection’ box and hope for the best.

This is the daily reality, mostly in the western world, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is a beverage you made for yourself, you like it, it comforts you, and so of course that’s good for you.

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My new favorite tea companies – the present (Part 2/2)

In the last blog post I shared my favorite tea companies from my European life when I lived in Rome, Italy.

Of course, I still enjoy visiting these stores whenever I have the chance to travel to Europe.

Asian tea culture is very different however. On top of that, Myanmar has it’s own specific quirks and environment which makes buying tea very different than in Europe.

 

tea

 

For starters, online purchases are much more complicated, but also not needed as much in Myanmar because good quality tea is everywhere. Continue reading

My New Favorite Tea Companies – The Past (Part 1/2)

As I started my tea education and my more structured engagement in the tea community in Italy, I had a set of tea companies which I was very passionate about. This blog post will walk down memory lane and at the same time will show the dramatic transition I underwent over the past 12 months moving from the European tea world to the Asian Tea world.

The past

Tea life in Italy always has been a mix for me between tea salons, tea shops, local finds and the online tea world. My favorite local tea place in Rome has been Babbington’s, a wonderful place to relax and enjoy a high quality cup of tea or buy some nice loose leaf to take home. To this day I appreciate how patiently the staff at this tea room answered my questions and played along with my role play I did for my tea studies. Continue reading

A Family Trip Full of Tea Surprises (Hanoi, Vietnam)

One of the big advantages of living in Myanmar is the ability to visit different countries in the region. Flights are relatively inexpensive and more and more carriers connect directly to Yangon. Every country in the region has their own tea culture and traditions full of tea surprises. Normally I just enjoy being with my family and somehow tea will find me. That was the case most surprisingly on our family trip to Hanoi, Vietnam.

My wife, Ms. Tea put together an amazing long weekend trip. I have been a fan of the Vietnam tea culture for a long time, most importantly for its famous Lotus flavored tea. The lotus flower gives the tea a unique taste. I was fascinated by the story of how high end lotus tea is made. Workers would carefully place tea wrapped in rice paper in the lotus flower in the afternoon. The lotus flower would close its pedals overnight and would flavor the tea. In the morning the workers would pick up the flavored tea. I had the privilege to taste such a lotus green tea and it has a very special and delicate taste.  Continue reading

5 Ways Myanmar’s Tea Culture is Unique and Exciting

My Tea Life in Myanmar – One Year In

It is hard to believe that I have now been living almost one year in Myanmar. Time is really flying by! While my life at the moment is mostly focused on my mission with the World Food Programme and the well being of my family, I did experience pockets of tea life over the past year.

I know my blog has not been very active this past year, but that is about to change. Seeing the World Tea Expo happening in Las Vegas I felt a renewed commitment to be a more active part of the tea community. My passion for tea is as strong as ever and I need to share some of my observations more frequently.

Here are my Top 5 observations one year into my tea life in Myanmar:

green tea
1.) Tea is everywhere and a big part of life. I started taking it for granted that with every corner you turn, tea is part of the culture in so many aspects.This goes beyond the tea as a classic drink, but tea as part of food, cosmetics and sweets. I slowly built a life where tea is an essential part of it. I wake up in the morning and shower with green tea shower gel. I make it a special moment of my morning to pick a special tea for the day, which I will sip at work over and over. (More on this in a separate blog post.) I eat a wonderful pickled tea leaf salad and munch on green tea chocolate sticks and have a green tea desert for dinner. So many choices and little moments of  tea joy in the day.

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