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Tuesday, 18 September 2012


I'm happy to say that I finally feel a chill in the air -- chai season has begun. 

Here at Teaism, unlike some global tea & coffee chains who will not be named, our chai (pictured below) is made from scratch and is prepared the traditional Indian way – we cook it in a big pot on the stove. It is a blend of organic ingredients – black tea, cinnamon, black and green cardamom, cloves, ginger, and star anise.  A company in Wisconsin blends and grinds the tea and spices according to our own special recipe and we get fresh shipments every week.

Teaism Chai
According to an article entitled “A LONG WAY HOME: The Chai of Old Enters a New Market” by Michelle D. Williams, Fresh Cup Magazine, 2005:  
     “It is often sold on street corners and at train stations by “chaiwallas,” in India, Nepal, Tibet, and Pakistan, where people grab a terra cotta cupful, drink it standing, then toss the cup into a pile on the ground. People have been consuming it this way for centuries as a daily digestive aid.” 
 The spicy beverage made its way Stateside in the 60s, after natural foods purists and others returned from travels to the Himalayas where they were introduced to the radical idea of spiced tea with milk.  Williams explains that for many, “the very word 'chai,' the worldly spices and exotic tea, all conjure a romantic images of travel, something we crave in the midst of modern life.” Perhaps this explains the explosive popularity of chai in recent years, moving beyond the sphere of hot drinks and into milkshakes, candles, ice-cream and beyond. 

A steaming mug of fresh Chai

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

H2O - The Stuff of Life

Water -- it's on all our minds these days, as late summer temperatures soar and the drought of 2012 worsens across much of the country. Charles Fishman wrote an op-ed for the New York Times last week called "Don't Waste the Drought," on what the general public can do to help conserve water and green our communities for the future. While taking shorter showers does help, there are many other initiatives we could be taking to mitigate the consequences of the drought -- harvesting rain water for public parks, and re-vamping our water distribution systems. 

For more of a global perspective, check out the International Lifeline Fund, an organization devoted to providing rural communities in war-torn Northern Uganda with reliable and affordable sources of clean drinking water, along with vital health and sanitation training. Here at Teaism we are currently selling International Lifeline Fund water bottles, for a more eco-friendly way to drink your daily fill of H2O. 100% of the proceeds from sales of the water bottles go to the International Lifeline Fund, so buying one directly impacts communities in Northern Uganda. 

"Our vision is simple. We are passionate about creating a world in which no one is forced to drink contaminated water or expose themselves, their families and their environment to the harms associated with cooking on an open fire.
Teaism also participates in TapIt DC - a network of local businesses providing tap water refills on the go. We always have a cooler of cold filtered water and cups for your drinking convenience. So grab a Lifeline Fund bottle and fill up for a good cause!

"Thousands have lived without love, not one without water."
W. H. Auden

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Meatless Mondays and other New Developments

Okonomiyaki has finally arrived at Dupont Circle and it's making a splash. We're doing Meatless Mondays at our flagship location, with the deliciously savory Okonomiyaki as the daily special. The cabbage pancake comes with a skewer of grilled veggies, Wasabi mayonnaise and special sauce, and I'm willing to bet you won't miss the Tuna Handroll for long...

To the chagrin of many of our devoted regulars, the Shrimp Rolls have also disappeared. Not to worry though -- we're doing Shrimp Salad instead, made with sustainable Oregon Bay baby shrimp, vermicelli noodles, cabbage, carrots, and a tangy orange vinaigrette. I am happy to report that multiple customers who were initially aghast at the removal of the shrimp rolls from the menu returned to tell me that they really enjoyed the new Shrimp Salad!

And if you're missing the Tofu Noodle salad, give the Shrimp Salad a try -- what could be more refreshing on a muggy August day than a chilled noodle salad? 

Tuesday, 24 July 2012


If you've been in to Teaism lately, you may have noticed a few changes. The tofu noodle salad is gone, as is the tofu scramble, the tofu side, and in fact, all of the tofu on our menu. In its place we are serving seitan and tempeh (a fermented soy product). 

We know that some of you are disappointed by these menu modifications, but as Marcus Aurelius once said: 
"The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it."
In other words, we like to think that these are changes for the better. Let me explain: there are myriad factors behind our decision to cut all unfermented soy products from Teaism's menu. Firstly, our research shows that more than 80% of the soy grown in the USA is genetically modified. Companies selling the products have lobbied against labeling, so it's impossible to know whether or not you are getting GMO foods. 

More importantly, unfermented soy products (such as tofu) have been proven to pose significant health risks. Unfermented soy has high levels of phytic acid which inhibits absorption of iron and other necessary minerals. Soy isoflavones can disrupt hormonal balance in men and women; overindulging in soy products can cause estrogen dominance. A diet high in soy has been linked to thyroid problems, cancer of the brain and breast, kidney stones, and reproductive disorders, among others. 

To be clear, tempeh, soy sauce, and miso are all fermented soy products, and so do not fall into this category. Sadly edamame will be going the way of our other soy dishes, to be replaced by kale chips... In the mean time, we appreciate your patience as we implement these changes! 

Pictured above: the brand new Lemon Maple Grilled Tempeh Burger, our replacement for the tofu-shiitake patty that used to be our veggie burger. It's served on whole grain focaccia with marinated portobello mushrooms, tomato, and a green salad on the side. 

For more information on the soy debate, check out Dr. Mercola's site on the evidence against soy, or Dr. Kaayal Daniel's book entitled The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America's Favorite Health Food. As always, we welcome your feedback at Teaism, so let us know what you think about these changes. 

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Wake Up and Smell the Okonomiyaki!

Between the 4th of July holiday and storm-induced internet connectivity issues, I haven't been quite as diligent as usual about updating the blog, so sorry, dear readers. 

In case you missed it, Tom Sietsema gave our Old Town location a rave review in last week's food section of the Washington Post. He cited our breakfast as "a new reason to get up early in Old Town," explaining that "One of the best breakfasts in Washington -- the cilantro-speckled scrambled eggs with tea-cured salmon offered at three branches of Teaism -- became available in Alexandria in March, when the good-for-you, Asian-inspired restaurant opened in Old Town, its fourth dining room." 

More specifically, he loved the okonomiyaki: "a riff on the savory Japanese pancake called okonomiyaki: shredded cabbage and scallions held together with a light batter and browned to a gentle crisp. The dish comes with an over-easy egg and thick turkey bacon in the morning and a choice of grilled chicken or shrimp later in the day."

Sometimes referred to as the "Japanese version of pizza," the origins of the word "okonomiyaki" actually come from the root okonomi, meaning "what you like" and yaki meaning "grilled." 

Check out the full review here -- or just come on in for a taste of the best breakfast in town! 

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Summatime and the Living is Easy...

Between the mosquitos and the humidity, summer in DC can be less than ideal.  I mean, who decided it was a good idea to build the city on a swamp anyway? That's why we're here to keep you in Ginger Limeade, Sweet Green tea, iced Moroccan Mint, or whatever chilled beverage strikes your fancy. Sometimes even Teaism is closed though (like on the 4th of July), so here are some ideas to try at home! 

Casablanca Cooler
(Adapted from The Book of Green Tea by Diana Rosen)

8 ounces Moroccan Mint tea (brewed)
4 ounces tropical fruit juice of your choice (mango, pineapple or tropical punch work well)
1 ounce passionfruit syrup
4 ounces crushed ice

Shake in a large pitcher or jar until frothy. Makes 2 servings.

Peach-Tea Jam

This jam is delectable on its own, as a dipping sauce for dumplings or spring rolls, to baste chicken, or on toast for breakfast. Or you could put it in small jars and give them to friends... 
The recipe was created by Chef Wemischner to highlight the fruity character of a fine Darjeeling tea. Once prepared, the jam can be kept for at least a month. Fresh summer peaches work best, of course, but canned peaches in fruit syrup (no extra sugar) will do when the season isn't right. 

16 ounces (2 cups) spring water
2 teaspoons loose-leaf Darjeeling tea
4 pounds fresh peaches, peeled, pitted, and roughly chopped
2 pounds granulated sugar
1/2 cup chopped crystalized ginger

1. Bring the water to 180° F and steep the tea for 3 minutes. Drain the liquor to use for the recipe.
2. Place all of the ingredients except for the ginger in a heavy 3-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, skimming frequently during the first few minutes of cooking.
3. Reduce the heat and cook just until the mixture coats the spoon, then flows off slowly.  It should look like a very thing syrup.
4. Add the ginger. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. 
5. Let stand uncovered at room temperature until cool, then refrigerate, well covered.

Makes 3 quarts of jam. 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012


Ochazuke -- how do you pronounce it and what in blazing saddles is this exotic dish? This is one of the most common questions we get here at Teaism, and I could probably recite the answer in my sleep: Ochazuke (or just "Chazuke,"as it is sometimes called) is a Japanese green tea and rice soup. You get a bowl with brown rice, shredded vegetables, and salmon, shrimp, or pickled plums on top. You will also get a pot of sencha, a spinachy green tea, which is meant to be poured over everything else to make the broth. Finally, you will get a little container of what we call "Ochazuke sprinkles" -- a mix of seaweed, salt, and bonito flakes (made in-house) that adds a little savory crunch to the whole concoction. The meal should look something like this when correctly prepared:

(Salmon Ochazuke pictured)

After hearing the above explanation, usually the customer says something along of the lines of "oh, how interesting!" and then orders something a little less adventurous. Not that I'm one to judge -- I've worked at Teaism for more than three months now, and had yet to try an Ochazuke. It was always too hot out for hot soup, or I wasn't in the mood, or something else on the menu was calling to me. Today, though, I decided to take the plunge and see what this dish is all about.

Despite the soaring temperatures I made myself a small salmon Ochazuke, and was pleasantly surprised by the results. The flavors of the salmon, rice, and sencha combine well to form a light tasty soup. This makes sense, since the Japanese often used the dish as a delicious way to combine leftovers, a late-night snack, and even as a hangover cure. The overall effect is refreshing, without being over-bearing -- I can see how Ochazuke could be a nice hangover cure. It's warm and hearty, with a much more delicate flavor balance than I had anticipated. I am ready to admit that I was wrong in avoiding this dish for so long -- it definitely has a lot to offer, and I can see why it has such loyal devotees. So next time you come to Teaism, consider trying something a little different -- you won't regret it!

Oh and the correct pronunciation is something like this: oh-cha-zoo-key, from the Japanese for tea - cha and tsuke - to submerge. 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Tiny Little Boxes

Perhaps it's because I went to private school as a child and never got to pack a lunch, but I've always had some lunchbox envy.  I wished I had a vintage metal carry-all for my pb&j, chips, and oreos, and that my friends and I could trade delicious treats. I wouldn't even have minded an embarrassing post-it or two from Mom, wishing me a nice day at school. Instead we had hot lunches and assigned tables -- over-cooked pasta, sickly-colored green beans, and a teacher telling us we had to try at least a bite of everything! 

Then I switched schools in 7th grade and got to pack a lunch -- but I still didn't have a cool box, just one of those insulated purple satchels, and the olive tapenade and mozzarella sandwiches my mother packed always left lots of gross gunk in my braces. Middle school traumas aside, the discovery of the bento box changed my life. 

We would often head to Penn Quarter after school, where a beautiful lacquered box filled with chicken, sticky rice, sweet potatoes and cucumber ginger salad provided a delicious late afternoon snack. The bento box was exactly what I had been looking for -- a stylish Japanese-style lunch box that made me feel sophisticated and worldly. 

The term "bento" originated from the Southern Song Dynasty slang term 便當 (biàndāng), meaning "convenient" or "convenience." The traditional box can be traced back to  the late Kamakura Period (1185 to 1333) and consisted of a meat or fish, rice, and one or more pickled vegetables. Japanese mothers would send their children to school and their husbands to work with perfectly compartmentalized and balanced meals. 

When Linda Orr and Michelle Brown opened the first Teaism in 1996, they decided to revive the Japanese tradition of the bento box. Whether Salmon, Chicken, Handroll, or Veggie, bentos remain some of our most popular dishes, providing the perfect opportunity to sample a little bit of this and a little bit of that. 

Pictured above: the most sought-after of Teaism's bento boxes, featuring Teriyaki salmon, edamame, cucumber ginger salad, and brown rice with furikake flakes. 

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Orwellian Views on Tea

Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name, George Orwell, was known for his strong opinions on totalitarianism and social manipulation, as you might know if you ever picked up a copy 1984 or Animal Farm. But as a proper Englishman, he also had a thing or two to say about tea and its proper consumption. In the article entitled "A Nice Cup of Tea," Orwell outlines eleven golden rules for making and drinking tea:

  • First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase 'a nice cup of tea' invariably means Indian tea.
  • Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.
  • Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.
  • Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.
(See link for full list). This is not to say that I agree with all of Orwell's rules -- a little honey can temper the bitterness of tea, and provides wonderful relief for sore throats. And I don't know which varieties he was tasting, but I think the Chinese have a lot to offer when it comes to tea. I do think, however, that having your own personal rituals for preparing and consuming tea is part of what makes the beverage so special. Water must be heated to the right temperature, and loose leaf will always be better than store-bought tea-bags. And somehow the perfect mug always seems to enhance the taste of the tea. 

I'll leave you with some video action, since I just watched the new HBO film on Hemingway and Gellhorn -- check out George Orwell talking about the Spanish Civil War and the way to brew a perfect cuppa:

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Beer Tasting in Old Town

If you've been meaning to check out our newest location in Old Town but still haven't made it out there, I've got good news for you: we're holding a beer tasting event on Thursday June 7th, from 5 - 8 pm. So come escape the heat and the office boredom and try some delish brews. We'll be sampling the following Peak Organic Beers:

Peak Espresso Amber Ale
organic, from Maine, robust with locally roasted fair trade espresso with a rich, roasty flavor, America’s first fair trade certified beer
Peak Summer Session Ale
organic, from Maine, complex mouthfeel with citrusy aroma
Peak IPA  Maine  7.50
organic, assertive, hop-forward nose, citrus & floral characteristics
The first two are available on tap, the third is bottled. We'll be serving up sample-sized portions of the beers, paired with free and delicious nibbles from our bar menu. 

At 6:30, Brendan Gangl, our rep from Peak Organic Brewing Company will be speaking and answering questions. So call your friends, come for happy hour and stay for dinner -- you won't get a better chance to check out Teaism Old Town on the cheap! 

Saturday, 26 May 2012


Teaism has now joined the #twitterevolution. Check us out:!/TeaismATeaHouse and mention either twitter OR the blog and get a free Salty Oat this weekend! 

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Legend of the Salty Oat

Once there was a Cookie, a "subtly sweet . . . curiously salty" confection known as the Salty Oat. It's praises were sung up and down the East Coast and many a blogger and baker tried to reproduce the magic of the Cookie, but the recipe remained a fiercely guarded secret. The ingredients are simple -- organic oats, wheat flour, organic raisins, butter, cane sugar, organic eggs, vanilla, kosher salt, baking powder, and baking soda -- but producing the Cookie takes a little more kitchen wizardry.

Salty Oats are the brainchild of Terri Horn, who was working at DC's own Marvelous Market, when the first Cookies appeared. As she tells it, Terri conceived of the cookie while she was kayaking: 
"Paddling off the coast of Maine and needing something hearty to get her back to shore, Terri dreamed of the oat and raisin cookies she had been baking for years, sprinkled with salt to remind her of the sea."
Terri went home and baked, and baked, and baked, perfecting her confection before she shared it. Soon her Cookies were making a splash in the DC artisanal scene, and Terri left Marvelous Market to start her own company, the aptly named Kayak Cookies.  Once Teaism started selling the sweet and salty confections, word of the delicious Cookie began to spread and sales took off. 

Friends and family were soon begging for a sister Cookie, preferably with chocolate. Terri answered with the fabled Chocolate Salty Oat, with Belgian chocolate chunks, just a hint of coconut, and of course, sea salt sprinkled on top. To round out the Salty Oat family, Terri created one more masterful Cookie: the Chocolate Chunk Pecan, my personal favorite.

Terri Horne now resides in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and sells her Cookies all over the northeastern States. Teaism is a licensed producer of the Salty Oat, and Terri visits annually to train our bakers and make sure we maintain the magic of her Cookies. Often described as "maddeningly delicious" and "dangerously addictive," the Cookies can be purchased individually or in packs of six. 

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Bits and Pieces from the World of Tea

  • If you're like me, you love the recent infusion of taco trucks and other mobile food vendors in the urban scene. But what about tea? Two Brits have taken upon themselves to start A Couple of Mugs, serving up high grade teas from a vintage 1970's Citroen H van at weddings, bar mitzvahs, county fairs and other events all over the English country-side. 
  • Tea cocktails? I met a friend for ramen at Toki Underground last week. Don't let the name fool you -- the restaurant is actually located above the Pug in the heart of the Atlas District. With manga table tops and a smattering of local art, this spot really does manage to capture the spirit of Tokyo. The ramen was scrumptious, but my cocktail was even more memorable - an Oolong Hai (oolong, simple syrup, and Kettle 1 vodka) was the perfect companion to my soup. 
  • Or, for a change of pace, head over to Teaism's newest location in Old Town Alexandria. We've got a full bar, including mojitos, ginger limeade cocktails, and our own alcoholic tea creations! Full cocktail list coming soon...
  • Chef Allison Swope has cooked up some delectable new dishes for our youngest sister. If it's gray and rainy, as our Spring has been, try a meal-in-a-bowl hot pot: miso chicken meatballs, cabbage, spring onions, and enoki mushrooms will warm you up from the inside. If it's warm and sunny, go for a Saigon Sub or Kelp Noodle salad with Spicy Almond Butter at the high-top tables in our airy open dining room. 
  • Soon to come: check back on the blog for the Legend of the Salty Oat and learn the history of your favorite cookie! 

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

All about Oolongs - the Black Dragon

oolong [ˈuːˌlɒŋ]
a kind of dark tea, grown in China, that is partly fermented before being dried
[from Chinese wu lung, from wu black + lung dragon]
There's something special about oolongs, and I'm certainly not the first person to notice. Often called the "Champagne of teas," oolongs bridge the divide between green and black teas, with a wide array of flavors and varying degrees of oxidation. Unlike many other varieties of tea, oolongs can actually improve with multiple infusions. 

In The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea, Michael Harney introduces the magic of this variety:
 “A sip from a light oolong can taste like a walk through a garden packed with lilacs, gardenias, and jasmine. A darker oolong can smell like a bakery right after it’s finished a round of peach pies…. Many oolongs are creamy, their liquor litteraly coating your mouth like fresh cream. Others are almost effervescent, practically fizzing like Champagne.”
1. Baozhong: This is the lightest of the oolongs, closer to a green tea than our other selections with only 25% oxidation. Harney describes the Baozhong as having an aroma of gardenia, jasmine and butter, but the perhaps my flavor palate isn't sophisticated enough to distinguish the light floral notes. Mostly I just taste the signature grassy flavor of green teas, with a hint of cream or butter on the finish. 

2. Tai Guanyin: This variety is much more robust than the Baozhong, medium bodied with a 40% oxidation rate. Harney observes floral gardenia and buttered white toast in his Tai Guanyin, but I find it to be more of a woody, toasted flavor. An old Chinese myth relates the story of a poor farmer renovating the temple of a Buddhist deity, Guan Yin. Suddenly the iron statue of the goddess comes to life and tells the man that he will find fortune in the fields by the temple. He begins to cultivate the tea bush he finds there, naming it after Guan Yin, the Iron Goddess of Mercy. 

3. Baihao: At 75% percent oxidation, this oolong is much closer to a black tea, and happens to be my favorite of the Teaism selection. It brews to a rich, red color, smells floral, and tastes lightly of peaches and toast. 

4. Formosa: Also 75% oxidized and therefore close to a black tea, Formosa has a very particular flavor - love it or hate it. It tastes nutty and slightly creamy, with a natural sweetness but a slightly astringent aftertaste. 

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

An Infusion of Life

I've been drinking tea like a maniac lately in an attempt to do battle with the Spring cold that has been plaguing me and everyone I know lately. Today I've been doing Mind & Body, an herbal blend of lemongrass, rooibos, ginger, ginseng and more, purported to have healing properties. I'm on my third cup of the day, and the exploding-head syndrome seems to be abating.

Yesterday I focused on green teas, starting with Moroccan Mint, a perennial favorite of mine. Two cups of that and I found some of my congestion clearing up. Then I switched to Bi Luo Chun, a classic Chinese green tea with hints of hay. By the time I got to Thai Nguyen, a light green grown in Vietnam, I was sweating but definitely feeling some improvements. Perhaps it was all in my head, but I could've sworn my immune ninjas were fighting with a renewed vigor.

In the Book of Tea, Okakura Kakuzo cites Lutong, a Tan poet, on the power of a tea regimen:
"The first cup moistens my lips and throat, the second cup breaks my loneliness, the third cup searches my barren entrails but to find therein some five thousand volumes of odd ideographs. The fourth cup raises a slight perspiration—all the wrong of life passes away through my pores. At the fifth cup I am purified; the sixth cup calls me to the realms of immortals. The seventh cup—ah, but I could take no more! I only feel the breath of cool wind that rises in my sleeves."
And so, perhaps I'll go back to the green teas. A little Dragon Well (another Chinese variety, with more of a grassy flavor) might do the trick -- by the seventh cup I shall feel nothing but the afternoon breeze on my arms. If not, I suppose a trip to the doctor is in order...

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Humanity in a Tea-Cup

In 1906, a Japanese man named Okakura Kakuzo published a treatise tea and aesthetics called The Book of Tea  that  revolutionized the way people looked at the beverage and at  Eastern cultures in general. For Kakuzo, tea was far more than a warm drink -- it embodied a way of life and a spiritual awakening. Teaism, like flower arranging or archery, is fundamentally a form of Taoism and Zennism, a path to the divine. 

So, as I embark on my journey as a blogger for Teaism, what better place to begin than with Okakura? 
“Strangely enough, humanity has so far met in the tea-cup. It is the only Asiatic ceremonial which commands universal esteem. The white man has scoffed at our religion and our morals, but has accepted the brown beverage without hesitation. The afternoon tea is now an important function in Western society.” 
What is it about tea that enables it to bridge cultures with such simplicity and ease? From the ancient Japanese Tea ceremony to a steaming mug of chai in the morning, tea brings us the pleasure of ritual, a quiet moment to stop and smell the aromas, a moment of zen.