May 16, 2013

How to Have Your GERD, and Your Tea, Too (Report from NYC Coffee & Tea Festival)

From Michele Brody's Reflections in Tea

NOTE:  Whoa!   Far too long between posts!   In case you're wondering, I  have not abandoned this blog, far from it -- I've just been side-tracked by a few trips out of town, long work hours, housecleaning projects, and, frankly, the temptation to play outside instead of sitting in front of a screen, now that Spring is here.  Lots of stockpiled GERD/guts/recipes/related topics ahead, so back to it, on a regular schedule, then!

After a few months of increased GERD and far too many TUMS, I am, somehow, feeling better.   Thank goodness, because a few weeks ago, I attended the 2013 NYC Coffee & Tea Festival (a sold-out frenzy that weighs heavily in favor of tea aficionados, with more leaf than bean again this year -- it's one of my annual highlights).  I wondered how my gut would handle more tea than usual, more black tea than usual, and more excitement than usual -- this year's festival coincided with a visit by my parents and an exceptionally hectic work-week.    

I am convinced after much trial and error that you can have your tea and your GERD, too -- you just need to figure out what works for your guts, tea-wise.  It may be drinking only with meals, avoiding strong black teas, or reducing the amount of tea/drinking it every few days, or perhaps going full-on herbal (I never thought I'd drink this much chamomile, but I've found a few varieties that are a delight).  As I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog, oolongs and pu-ehrs give me little to no problems, but YMMV.


I started my festival day by wandering the aisles and found this at one end -- Michele Brody, a performance artist, engaged in Reflections in Tea, an interactive work where people enter a copper-and-teabag-lined structure to share a cup and stories of tea.  (For more on Michele's work and her Tea Reflections piece, see this interview from the Villager.)    The walls were created with tea-stained fillable tea-bags which had been covered with people's handwritten experience with tea.  I entered the structure, Michele's first participant of the day.   There was a calm but palpable energy in the tea-house, making me feel like I had entered a sacred space like a kiva or shaman's tent.   We shared cups of puehr and I was invited to write my own "reflection in tea."  (I wrote about navigating GERD as a tea-aficianado.)  

The tea-house:

Some of the "tea reflections" on used tea bags:



I've been drinking a lot of green tea lately, usually mid-day and the afternoon.   My GERD tolerates "high quality" loose-leaf teas, particularly delicate ones.   One of the draws of the festival for me is buying from merchants I don't usually find in my local stores, like Sara's Tea Caddy, which specializes in fine-grade Japanese tea.   I sampled the Genmai Hojicha and should have purchased it, but splurged on the Fukamushi Sencha instead.  (Next time, I'll get both.)

I can tolerate high quality, delicate green tea.   While all loose-leaf is superior to pulverized tea in a sealed paper bag, I think GERD-wise, for me, it matters even more to seek out loose-leaf green tea, and a source that has been handled well.   I am steeping mine for about 1 minute, for a very light result.  Tip: If you want stronger tea, do not increase the steep time -- increase the amount of tea used.  (This applies to all tea.)


The festival had many opportunities to try and buy my two favorite teas (as you may know from my earlier posts), puehrs and oolongs.   I especially liked the red oolong I sampled at Lotus Leaf Tea.  Here is one of the Lotus Leaf owners preparing a taste:

I bought the red tea and and a very rich puehr (shown below).   I learned some puehrs are artificially fermented with chemicals (!) (source for this pending, but that is what the Lotus Leaf purveyor told me); this one is naturally aged.  Another thing to consider when I buy puehrs!

One of my favorite New York tea suppliers was at the Festival -- Fang Gourmet Tea, a Chinese tea shop based in Flushing, Queens.  Fang's stand is always mobbed!   They have excellent tea in quality and variety, and the wonderful Fang staff gets a shout-out for perfectly matching one's tastes, budget and needs to the right tea.   I was tempted by a few of the costlier rare teas, but one of the tea sellers suggested I wait and come to their store where I can sample them -- make sure I like it before buying it. A trip to Queens is pending.  (Here is a nice article about Fang from Serious Eats.  And Fang's breadth of tea experience is demonstrated in this article about their pestle tea.)

I sampled the Four Season oolong, and decided to take a stronger variety home.   I drink oolong tea almost daily, with little impact on my GERD except in a positive way:  I feel calm, healthy, and happy when I drink it.  

A new Festival favorite, Everlasting Teas, is a company founded by a father-son team, Alan and Sammy Levine.  They stress unflavored teas, including a few rare varieties for the connoisseur (oolongs aged for over 30 years, etc.).  I was thrilled to be part of a small "tea tasting" at the stand, where we heard about each tea and tasted several varieties.   Sam's dad, Alan, had medical issues and drinking tea was one of the life-changes he made for better health.  (For more about Alan and Sam, see this blog entry from Chelsea Market Baskets, which also sells their teas.)

Alan and Sammy Levine at their stand, during a tasting.
Everlasting Teas -- exquisite selection and presentation!
 I picked up a Mountain Oolong and an aged oolong (Note: that is not me in the photo).

Another discovery for me at the Festival was The Tea Merchant, an organic, fair-trade tea company with the full variety of teas.  Full disclosure:  the booth invited bloggers to sample teas (and, one suspects, hopefully write about them) and I received samples of the Wuyi and Biodynamic Darjeeling.  I had GERD issues with the Darjeeling (see section on black teas, below), but enjoyed the Wuyi -- though I was a little underwhelmed, maybe due to my preference for Fang's and Everlasting Teas' varieties.


Well, I think I've had it with black tea.  After sampling several stands at the fest, it was only when I consumed black tea that I started feeling my gut percolate.  Day to day, I avoid black teas except the occasional Tazo "Joy" tea (a blend of Darjeeling, Green and Oolong), and the Charleston plantation tea I picked up on our Southern road trip last year.  And then I drink them only late in the day, after I've had meals.

Still, at the festival, I was charmed by Ajiri Tea, a mother-daughter run company (with their dad/husband helping out at the booth) whose name means "to employ" in Swahili, and provides "a sustainable cycle of community employment and education" for women in Kenya.   (See The Mantle's interview for more about Ajiri's social mission.)  The boxes are works of art, literally, hand-crafted/designed by Kenyan artists and children.   I already had a box at home that I found at the Smithsonian, and was delighted to meet the Ajiri owners.   While I appreciate the high quality of this tea, I am forced to admit it is too harsh for my GERD sensitivity, and I cannot drink much of it.  So, I'll share the tea with friends, and enjoy the colorful boxes.

One of the most popular stands was the Bingley's Teas Limited booth, with its literature theme (teas are named after Victorian characters such as Mr. Knightly's Reserve), dramatic and detailed presentation (check out the photo below for tiny glimpse, and their Pinterest board), and -- unique, quality black teas.   I was tempted (by the self-titled Tea Temptress) by the Jane Austen Sampler, but decided to avoid buying black teas at the Festival (aside from Ajiri) since I am resigned to my inability to really drink them.  (Sigh.)  

My Festival bounty!

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