Tea Shop Chargebacks and Return Policies

Let’s say you own a small online tea business. You buy bulk teas, mix unique combinations, and sell them at boutique prices. You have a good holiday season, bringing in enough profit to start thinking about expanding in the new year … that is, until you open your bank statement for February and realize that a huge chunk of money is simply … gone.

At first you think there must be some kind of mistake. An hour on the phone with your bank, however, and you realize that everything is according to Hoyle. The bank itself actually took the money out of your account to cover chargebacks.

Chargeba-who-what now?

A chargeback is when a customer asks their credit card issuer (the bank whose name is on their credit card) to reverse a transaction that has already cleared—sometimes months earlier. This is different from a refund in that the credits are returned to customers regardless of whether the cardholder returned a purchase … and sometimes, regardless of whether the reason for the return is legitimate.

Also, there’s usually a time limit on returns; most merchants want returns to happen in 15 to 60 days. There are time limits on chargebacks, too, but they are often much more flexible: banks are primarily concerned with keeping their customers happy, so they’re likely to work around their own rules. That makes chargebacks even more insidious, since you as a merchant can’t count on them to be consistent

While having the same percentage of returns would certainly not be welcome, merchants pay far more for chargebacks. As we mentioned, in a chargeback situation, the customer keeps the merchandise and the refund, including any shipping costs: those come straight from the merchant’s till. And to add insult to injury, the bank also charges the merchant certain fees to cover the administration costs of a chargeback.

So why would a customer call the bank instead of calling the merchant? Well, chargebacks happen for a variety of reasons. Some of them are valid customer concerns, such as an item not matching the description, errors in processing the transaction, the buyer never receiving the item paid for, or an unauthorized payment made with the buyer’s card (identity theft).

In these types of situations, it’s highly possible that the cardholder is innocent of intent; sometimes, they mistakenly think of a chargeback as being synonymous with a return. In other cases, they may’ve simply called the bank because they didn’t recognize a charge on a statement, and the bank took it from there.

Of course, there is also an increasing number of people who engage in what is known as “friendly fraud,” where consumers request chargebacks without legitimate reason … or in some cases, make a purchase with the specific intent of initiating a chargeback. Think of it as “cyber shoplifting.” There’s not much merchants can do to combat that until the chargeback is actually filed (by which point you’re stuck with the fees, regardless). While they can be challenged by the merchant, such cases are complicated and hard to win: again, banks are more likely to side with consumers.

In the case of consumer misinformation, however, it’s far better for the merchant to work to prevent chargebacks from happening by engaging customers. One of the best ways to do this, believe it or not, is to have an easy, effective return policy.

For example, check out the return policy of global retailer illy:

We offer a 30-day satisfaction guarantee. If for any reason you are not happy with your purchase, you may return the products(s) within 30 days of receiving the order for a full refund of the merchandise cost.

Immediately below that, you’ll find simple, step-by-step instructions on how to claim your refund. This type of clear, concise, no-nonsense policy on returns can go a long ways toward mitigating the risk of chargebacks: if customers feel you are ready to work with them, they may not be as quick to turn to the bank for satisfaction.

Here’s another example, from teacollection.com:

You can return any Tea product purchased on TeaCollection.com at any time for any reason. Sale items, too.

Not much to misunderstand there.

Having a no-hassle return policy increases customer confidence. But simply having the policy is hardly effective if no one knows it exists. Make sure your policy is easy to find on your website, on brochures, in emails and invoices, and even on your packaging, if possible. The more customers see it, the more they’ll remember it. And the more likely the are to work with you, the fewer chargebacks you’re likely to see in the future.

A Look at Tea Subscription Services

Not so very long ago, the word “subscription” referred almost exclusively to some form of communication media: you signed up for a magazine or newsletter, or you joined a book or record club, and automatically received some item on a regular basis. Accounts were settled at regular intervals, and the process started all over again.

Today, subscription services can bring a wide range of diverse products to your door, from intangibles like access to internet or software…to razors, pet supplies, and even wine. So it makes perfect sense that a number of companies now allow you to subscribe to receive tea. Is one of them right for you?

What Am I Subscribing to?

Subscription services have come a long way, to the point where it’s considered a legitimate business model. In the case of more tangible consumables like tea, subscribers are signing up for a recurring delivery of actual product. Accounts are still settled regularly–almost always on a monthly basis–but now involves a credit card: the card is charged every month for the product shipment, which offers convenience to the customer and a steady cash flow for the merchant. Nothing wrong with that, but it can cause problems, as we’ll see.

Tea for Me

Tea subscription services send hand-picked, high-quality brews to tea lovers every month. Instead of making trek to your local grocery or café, you’ll enjoy high quality teas in the relaxing atmosphere of your home.

What kind of tea? Well, most services give you plenty of options. The prices for these services start under $10, and go as high as $40 or more monthly. What you get for that money varies, of course, but most boxes will include a sampling of teas and some sort of extras. Shipping is often but not always free; be sure to check.

Subscription Tea Options

Some services, such as Teabox, offer a tiered price plan where you can get anywhere from 12 to 150 cups worth of tea every month. They work closely with farms across India and Nepal, so you’re assured of the best and freshest teas. You don’t have a lot of say-so in what you receive, however: new subscribers take a short online quiz, then Teabox creates a set of teas for your particular tastes.

Teas-selected-by-quiz is also the model of Sips By, an Austin-based company founded by a small group of tea lovers who “want discovering tea to be fun, personalized, and affordable.” You’ll create a free tea profile, including a quiz that will help them determine the types of teas you’re interested in.

Simple Loose Leaf, as the name implies, brings you a nice selection of loose leaf teas from around the globe each month. As one of the more cost-effective services, this company will typically send a box filled with a tea from different categories (black, green, etc.). This is a good option for subscription novices…as long as you’re ok with loose leaf!

If cost is a serious consideration, take a look at Hello Tea Club, which actually lets you subscribe for free. Each month’s box will include teas, prices, and samplers. You’ll have 10 days to try the sampler for each tea; if you don’t love it, simply send back that tea. Naturally, you’ll only charged for the teas you keep.

A Great Idea…but…

Overall, tea subscription boxes are a wondrous idea for tea lovers. There are a few things to watch out for, however.

For one thing, make sure you read the fine print before you sign up for the service. Pay special attention to policies concerning shipping and returning, including the cost and who covers it.

Also, you need to keep in mind that the subscription service will go on indefinitely, automatically renewing until you cancel it. If you’re out of town one month, the shipment still comes. If you forgot to return a box, you still get billed. And if you decide to cancel on the day after the automatic payments went out, you’ll most likely still see the charge on your credit card statement.

The good news here is that any company that has been around at least a couple of years with good reviews is NOT trying to scam you. You can almost always get a refund for that first honest mistake. Merchants don’t want you calling your credit card to complain: if the credit card decides to credit you directly, the merchant will still be out the money, plus they’ll be hit with hefty chargeback fees. If you do encounter any push-back from the merchant, usually just threatening to call the bank and demand a chargeback will get you results.

Ready, Set, TEA!

In our fast-paced, non-stop world, it can sometimes seem impossible to squeeze in enough “me-time” to read a book, hit the gym, or take a nap. But a 10-minute tea break could be just what the doctor ordered…and signing up for a tea subscription box is a simple way to sneak a little self-care into your daily routine.

A Beginner’s Guide to Appreciating Tea

OK, coffee, you’ve had your day: now it’s tea’s turn. More and more, even diehard coffee aficionados are finding themselves talking and learning about high-end teas. We’re talking straight loose-leaf tea: none of those little paper bags or premixed concoctions that smell more like potpourri than anything you would want to drink. These are folks who take their tea as seriously as they took their coffee.

It makes a certain amount of sense: tea, after all, has been enjoyed the world over for thousands of years in the making: that’s long time to learn how to get it right. It offers its own culture and history matched only by wine. And just like wine, there are people who live and breathe tea in a way that borders on obsession.

You think coffee can get complex? Tea is all that and then some. We’re not throwing shade at coffee–seriously, we understand that it can be an art form–but tea offers a vast range of flavors, aromas, and characteristics that makes the magic bean look like a one-trick pony. Not to mention the fact that the caffeine in tea is absorbed more slowly, so the kick is much smoother.

And have you ever heard of being coffee-drunk? “Tea-drunk” is an actual thing.

We’re not saying there’s anything wrong with coffee. Only that it seems unfair that here in the US, you mention tea and people start thinking of the Nestea Plunge. Anywhere else in the world, if someone asks what type of tea you want, they’re asking if you want it hot or cold. People in America asking that question want to know if you want sweet or unsweet.

In an effort to level the coffee/tea playing field, we’re here to offer a quick rundown on appreciating all that tea has to offer.

  • Skip the Prepackaged Stuff. You grind your own coffee beans? Same logic applies here. Buying loose-leaf teas generally means you’ll get a higher quality product. In addition, bigger leaves tend to have a fuller body and more balanced flavor, if properly prepared.
  • Flavored vs. Flavorful. To serious tea-drinkers, flavored teas are a little like barely-alcoholic drinks with cute paper umbrellas. Nothing wrong with trying out flavored tea, but it’s not the best place to start: drinking flavored tea by default is like trying to appreciate coffee by drinking white chocolate mochas. Tea doesn’t need a flavor; tea IS a flavor.
  • Understand What You’re Getting. Tea grows all over, from sunny lowlands to rocky crags to misty mountaintops. And just like coffee, a tea’s soil, environment, and growing conditions impact its ultimate taste. The minute the leaf is plucked, it starts to oxidize–a process which impacts the tea’s flavor more than where or how it’s grown. To a large extent, this can be controlled by applying heat; green and white teas, for example, are barely oxidized, while Oolong and black teas are allowed more time.
  • OK, the Brewing. When it comes time to brew your loose leaf tea, there are all sorts of detailed methods to try and specialized tools you can buy. Our advice: skip all that for now. Novice tea drinkers make the mistake of focusing too much on whether they’re brewing the “correct” way; go too far down that road, and start wondering if it’s worth making at all. On the other hand, truly good tea can give you different subtleties with different styles of brewing–all of them delicious. Instead of fretting technique at this stage, just start drinking. There’s always time to experiment later.
  • It takes some time to train your palate to pick up on a tea’s peculiarities. That’s why–like wine–you don’t guzzle fine tea. Take time to sniff. Appreciate the bouquet. Take a sip and let it sit in your mouth. As you keep tasting, you’ll start to differentiate between fruity and woodsy tinges, between a light taste on the tongue and a creamy robust body.

The bottom line is, you can’t pick up a bottle of green tea from a convenience store and really say you’ve experienced tea drinking. Schedule a little time in your hectic schedule (experts say that’s a good idea, just on general principle) to educate yourself and experiment. Like any fine food, it takes time and patience to learn to pick out all the nuances of tea. But the end result is worth the effort.

Starting Your Own Mobile Tea Business, Part 3: Equipment

You’ve done your research, made your decision, figured out financing, and all your paperwork is in place. In the last post of our 3-part series, we’re going to look at how to equip your “mobile command center” and get it on the road.

Step One: What’s on the Menu?

What equipment you need is going to depend on what you offer on your menu. Menus are dynamic–they may need to change based on season, or locale, or just the evolution of customer preferences–but you’ve got to start somewhere. By creating a sample menu, you’ll have a better idea of what you actually need: ingredients you’ll use, which side items (sweeteners, creamers) you’ll offer, what sorts of serving products (cups, napkins, spoons) you’ll require–and yes, what equipment you’ll be using. Your local health department will likely want to see a menu, as well, so you need to get it down on paper.

Step Two: Product Prep and Serving

You know there are certain things you’ll offer–coffees, teas, packaged drinks–so we can start there. Even if you focus on tea, plain, black coffee will account for as much as 30 percent of your store’s sales, so you’ll need a high-quality automatic drip coffee maker–more than one if you intend to serve different blends. A coffee grinder will help, too.

You’ll also need a hard-working espresso machine for specialty drinks. This one isn’t quite as obvious a choice as the coffee maker, since there are so many machines available across a wide range of types and price points. Research will be required, but to get you started, check out this guide on selecting the best espresso machine for your needs.

The equipment for actual tea preparation is more standard: stove of some type, cooler/freezer, sink (and ideally, dishwasher), and hot water dispenser. The beauty here is that these items will also help in preparing tea sandwiches, bagels, scones, and other sorts of ancillary products. Also helpful would be a microwave oven, toaster or toaster oven, and mixer/blender (or food processor). Finally, you’ll need customary kitchen utensils and things like knives, pots, pans, baking sheets, and mixing bowls.

We’ve already established that you’ll need plates, cups, plastic flatware, and such; you’ll also need some way to offer these and other items: bins or baskets for sugar and sweeteners, thermos cream dispensers, tea baskets, honey dispensers, teapots, saucers, and strainers. Napkin dispensers and some type of rack for flatware and stirrers are also must-haves, as is a trash receptacle: if there is not an obvious place for trash, it will end up on the ground or some other place where YOU will be responsible for cleaning it up.

Step Three: Supplies

OK, it goes without saying that you’ll need tea: an assortment of blacks, greens, oolongs, flavors, blends, chai, and tisanes–plus containers for them. An assortment of tea bags should be available, as well as containers to dispense them, such as tea boxes. You’ll have to stock coffee in various blends, including decaf, plus bottled water, canned juices or sodas, and the like, plus whatever foodstuffs you plan to offer.

Then there are the serving supplies. Remember those bins, racks, and baskets from Step Two? Now you’ll need to fill them with paper cups, bags, paper hot cups and lids, to-go boxes, plastic utensils, paper napkins or towels, and other disposable items that customers may need. Don’t underestimate these items: outside of product cost, those lids, straws, napkins, plates, and cups will be among your biggest month-to-month costs.

Step Four: Everything Else

This category is mostly for start-up equipment, costs that won’t continue month-over-month. You’ll need a cash register or Point of Sale (POS) machine, as well as a way to safely take credit cards (as an aside, you might also want to consider getting a credit card for your business, too). You’ll probably require some sort of shelving. Then there are the upkeep supplies such as cleaners, brooms or mops, buckets, trash bags, sponges, and other basic necessities. Depending on your size and where you intend to set up, portable tables and chairs may be an option, as well.

Finally, don’t neglect security. Restaurant security systems and safety procedures are essential to making sure you–and your customers stay safe. This restaurant security guide wasn’t written for mobile shops, but it’s a good place to start researching what you may need.

Conclusion: Ready Set GO!

Obviously, we’re only hitting the high points, but hopefully this series gives you a bit of an idea of what is involved in starting your own mobile coffee/tea business. Once you’ve got a great business plan, legal and health ascents, and the necessary equipment and supplies, you can start rolling … and bringing in profits. Good Luck!

Starting Your Own Mobile Tea Business, Part 2: Pre-flight

In our last post, we talked about some of the advantages and disadvantages of owning and operating a mobile tea/coffee business. Today we’ll go over some of the things you’ll need to take care of before you get going.

How Mobile Do You Want to Be?

Even within the label “mobile,” there is a lot of room for interpretation. A “mobile home,” for example, isn’t as easy to move as an RV. So the first thing you need to decide is what type of unit you’d like to operate from. For example:

  1. Pushcart The most mobile of set-ups would probably be a food cart, one that is small enough to be pushed and maneuvered by a single person. It can operate out of just about anywhere, but your offerings will have to be limited by necessity. Weather is a consideration, as well.
  2. Booth Another option would be an easily assembled tent, stall, or gazebo that you could operate at a local street fair or flea market. This can allow you more shelter from the elements, more counter space, and a wider variety of products. On the flip side, setting up will take longer, and you may have to lug your stuff from a vehicle to your station.
  3. Trailer Having your business in a towable trailer opens up a lot of options in terms of storage space and room to operate. Depending on the size of the trailer, you can stock a wide variety of teas and coffees and perhaps even some food items. You can even have head and air conditioning. The downside is that you’ll need a truck to pull it … and you’ll need to learn how to drive with a trailer (including backing it into spaces). Depending on your location and the type/weight of the trailer, you may even need a special license.
  4. Truck A drivable vehicle seems to offer the best of all worlds: comfort, space, ease of set-up, and more. Set out some folding chairs and small tables, and you’ve got an open-air café. Quitting time? Throw everything in the back and drive home. It’s perfect … but perfection will cost you: purchasing even a used vehicle is your most expensive option, as far as startup costs.

Legal and Protected

So you have your operating unit. Now all you need is the actual product, and you’re in business, right?

Well, not quite. There are a few other things you’ll need to acquire before you actually start serving.

  1. License When you provide food for others there are rules to follow, and one of the first is getting a license to operate. Every state, every county, every town–each will probably share at least some of the same licensing requirements, but specifics can differ based on any number of variables. You’ll need to register your company. (Hint: if you’re the sole owner you’ll pay less in registration fees by setting up a sole proprietorship instead of an LLC.) And as we mentioned, every location could be different, so you might need to apply for local business licenses, as well.
  1. Insurance Don’t even THINK about trying to get by without insurance. In many places, it’s illegal, but in any situation it may be your most important expense. First off, you’ll need liability insurance. Our society has gone lawsuit-crazy, so be sure that you (and any employees) are covered if someone gets injured in your space. With the right liability insurance policies in place, you’ll be covered for the costs of damage correction, medical fees for injuries, legal representation, and other related expenses. Beyond that, you’ll need to insure your unit or vehicle–plus all the equipment–against loss, theft, or accidental damage, including acts of God. This is typically straight-forward, but there are some policies specifically designed to insure caterers. 
  1. Other stuff You’ll need a separate bank account, of course, and a separate credit card that you use just for the business is a good idea. If you’re going to take credit cards and/or mobile payments, you’ll need to set up with a processor–your bank can probably help there, as well.

It’s a hassle and an expense, but trying to skip the necessary paperwork will cause way more trouble than it’s worth. Short cuts in this area could put you out of business–and worst case scenarios, land you in serious legal trouble.

In part 3, we’ll start looking at the equipment you’ll need.

Starting Your Own Mobile Tea Business, Part 1: Why Not?

Selling tea. It sounds like a wonderful idea: would could be better than making a living doing what you love? But opening a tea room is a risky business venture, with a lot of upfront costs. OK, fine … so what about just selling tea online, right from your own kitchen? It could work, but … well, face it: working from home has its perks, but it’s a pretty lonely existence. For most of us, much of the appeal of opening a tea room is being able to share with other tea lovers.

If you were thinking of opening a tea or coffee shop but are scared by the commitment and the set up costs, here’s an alternative idea: why not open a mobile tea room? A mobile coffee/tea business sells the same types of products sold by storefront shops; the big difference is, you’re working from a vehicle fitted with equipment for brewing and steeping. You’ll be able to mingle with your customers, like you would in a static tea room, but you’ll have a fraction of the investment.

In the first post of this multiple-part series, we’ll be looking at the advantages–and disadvantages–of operating your own mobile tea room business.

Advantages

As we’ve already mentioned, one of the main advantages of going mobile is the low start-up costs. You can go into the mobile coffee/tea business with very little upfront. There are plug-and-play packages that can be had for as little as $10,000, or franchises that include monthly support payments. Other advantage include:

  1. High Profits – The tea and coffee business is growing. Specialty stores like Starbucks have conditioned customers to demand higher quality products, and teas can offer gross profit margins over 75%. Having a mobile shop means you control the location, and that location can change based on conditions.
  2. Non-seasonal Products – Some products–Halloween supplies, or plant nurseries, for example–are very seasonal; the demand for coffee and tea goes year-round. If you operate in an area with dramatic season changes, you may need to change your offerings from time to time, but the market will still be there.
  3. Flexibility – Many people choose to run a mobile business, because it can fit around their lifestyle. You can have a daily route or a specific location on days of the week, or only open at flea markets, concerts, or other events. The minimal investment makes it easier to operate part time, if that’s what you need.

Disadvantages

The big disadvantage here is that this is not a new idea. While more people are willing to spend more money on tea or coffee, there’s also a good deal of competition for that business. Your product will either have to be competitively priced, of a higher quality, or operate in an under-served location. Even at exclusive events, you could see issues: you may have the sole coffee concession at a show, but that doesn’t stop the burger van next to you from selling instant coffee or generic teabags at half your price. A few other disadvantages:

  1. Skill Level – It takes skill to make a consistently good cup of coffee or brew an excellent tea. And if you’re running the concession, YOU are the barista. You’ll need to do a lot of research and get in a lot of practice before you open. Your level of skill and understanding of your products are key to ensuring that your business is successful.
  2. Limited Sales Times – Even in our coffee-crazy world, the vast majority of coffee and tea sales take place in the mornings. Sure, there’s a growing acceptance of “afternoon tea,” but there is still an element of formality to those occasions–something not easily supplied by a mobile unit. This means to be profitable, you’ll need to start early and keep regular morning house so your customers can get their morning fix on their way into work or shortly thereafter.
  3. Many Hats to Wear – Not only will you need to be a top-notch barista, you’ll also be the driver AND the sales rep AND the buyer AND the bookkeeper … you get the idea. That means you’re in charge of acquiring licenses, purchasing supplies, and doing all the financial work, from applying for loans to dealing with customer chargebacks. It’s a lot to consider.

Owning and running a mobile tea shop business can be great, but it can also be very difficult. Our job here is to make sure you don’t go into it blind. In our next post, we’ll take a look at the various components you’ll need to get started.

They Drank Tea for 6 Weeks–Here’s What Happened

A recent post from thewiredshopper.com compiled a list of the hottest and most relevant trends in the Internet of Things by talking to 60 different industry thought leaders. While most of the responses demonstrated an understandable excitement for the future, many also seemed uncomfortable about how easily we allowed outside forces to take over our lives. One response in particular summed up this caution:

“As IoT becomes increasingly commonplace, there will be vast networks of hackers, fraudsters and cyber-shoplifters who will try to profit from it. We must be diligent. Your security network is only as strong as its weakest link, and the IoT adds multitudes of new links to your networks.”

Because, yeah, we really didn’t have ENOUGH to worry about …

The more technology seems to take over our lives, the more we here at Jasmine Tea appreciate the delicious, soothing, and decidedly low-tech power of a regular cup of tea. And we’re not alone: increasing amounts of research are demonstrating how tea can reduce the harmful effects of stress.

One study, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, found that people who drank tea were able to de-stress more quickly than those drinking a placebo. Participants were given a black tea mixture four times daily for roughly 6 weeks, during which time they also gave up regular tea, coffee and decaffeinated drinks. One group had a fruit-flavored, caffeinated, tea-colored beverage containing all the same elements of black tea. The others drank a placebo, identical in taste but with no tea properties.

Compared to the control group who drank the placebo, those drinking tea were found to have lower levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in their blood after a stressful event (one created and controlled by the researchers). In fact, stress hormone levels fell by nearly twice as much in tea drinkers compared with those given a tea-like drink.

After being confronted with the stress-inducing situation, all participants were required to prepare a verbal response and argue their case in front of a camera. While both groups exhibited significant levels of stress (measured by increased levels of cortisol, increased heart rate, and raised blood pressure), within fifty minutes of their presentation, cortisol levels in the tea group had fallen by 47 per cent compared with 27 per cent in the control group.

Researchers also noted that thee tea group showed less platelet activity and reported a “greater degree of relaxation” after their presentation. Platelets are related to blood clotting and can contribute to heart attacks.

None of the researchers or participants knew who was drinking real or fake tea. The variances between participants could only be explained by effects of biological ingredients of tea. In other words, it was the tea itself, not the relaxing situations in which people might drink tea, whether they liked the taste, and so forth.

While it may not be able to reduce the actual levels of stress we experience, one researcher noted, tea does seem to have a greater effect in bringing stress hormone levels back to normal.

We could have told them that.

Science Says Green Tea Rocks!

A lot has been written lately about the benefits of coffee, with research indicating that caffeinated drinks in the morning can help protect one from everything from type 2 diabetes to cancer. That’s almost a 180-degree turnaround from what doctors were saying in the 1980. If you’re a coffee drinker, that’s great. But don’t get cocky.

Green tea has been one of the most popular beverages in China, Japan, and other Asian cultures for over 4,000 years. Ancient Asian medical practices taught that consuming green tea could heal wounds and cure diseases, and more recent scientific research is beginning to corroborate that by homing in on the potential health benefits of drinking green tea in areas such as weight loss and cancer prevention.

Take that, coffee.

Now, researchers from the American Academy of Periodontology have uncovered yet another benefit of regularly drinking green: A study published in the Journal of Periodontology reported that routine green tea consumption may also help drinkers maintain healthy teeth and gums.

And if that’s not enough, another study from the British Journal of Nutrition suggests green tea might even help lower blood pressure. Frustrated by the inconclusive link in similar previous studies, researchers analyzed 25 randomized controlled trials and made some concrete discoveries: After 12 weeks of regular tea consumption, blood pressure was consistently lower.

The report also noted that while these tests failed to identify the most beneficial daily tea intake, other studies have shown protective results with 3-4 cups per day. And while green tea had a higher rate than black tea, the authors noticed no difference between caffeinated and decaf teas.

Go Green

Green tea’s health benefits may stem in part from the presence of the antioxidant catechin, since prior research has established antioxidants’ ability to reduce inflammation in the body. Other plant chemicals known as flavonoids help explain why tea drinkers seem less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease. Short-term studies have demonstrated a link between drinking tea and an improvement in how well blood vessel respond to stress (a measurement known as vascular reactivity). There’s also research that suggests that drinking green tea may lower LDL cholesterol levels.

While most teas offer a certain amount of benefit, green tea is the mother lode. Both black and green teas come from the same plant; the difference occurs after the leaves have been harvested. To make black tea, the leaves are crushed and allowed to oxidize before they are dried; the leaves that go into green tea are not. This oxidation process decreases those flavonoids we just mentioned, although not to a huge degree.

Drink up

Doctors recommend drinking tea … if you enjoy it. While there are no currently-known downsides to drinking one or two cups of tea a day, it isn’t really medicinal, per se. That means those green-tea-extract supplements promising a concentrated dose of flavonoids have little to no value. And since drinking too much of certain teas can cause kidney damage (like kidney stones), downing seven or eight cups a day strictly for health reasons is long shot, at best.

Of course, all scientific studies are not created equal: one recent report suggests that listeners may literally “hear” you smile over the phone, and that seems kinda iffy. But it’s still good to know that science is finding more and more reasons to indulge your love of tea.

Not that we needed any.

The Beauty of Pu-erh

A recent blog post on Lifehack.org detailed a variety of hobbies that allegedly help make one a better boss. “Drinking tea” wasn’t on the list — I’m not sure it qualifies as a hobby, per se. On the other hand, exercise, yoga, and meditation — all ways to better care for your mind and body — were all suggested … and from that perspective, drinking tea certainly fits the bill.

Tea has long been recognized for its health benefits, and none more so than Pu-erh tea. Grown exclusively in specified areas of China, Pu-erh tea leaves go through a drying and fermentation process. The result is both a dark, rich flavorful tea … and the creation of micro-organisms known to be beneficial to the human body.

Of the five main types of tea (including white, green, oolong and black), Pu-erh’s fermentation process makes it unique in its contributions to overall health. There are multiple varieties of Pu’er tea, but they mostly all fit into a couple of common categories: Ripe and Raw. Instead of natural aging, ripe, or “cooked,” Pu’er has been fermented through a man-made process. Raw (unaged) Pu’er generally tastes more like green tea.

Here are five specific health benefits of drinking Pu-erh. Please note, however, that I’m not a medical professional, and in no way am I suggesting you attempt to use Pu-erh instead of following your doctor’s advice and guidelines.

Pu-erh Can Help Lower Cholesterol

Long-term studies have shown that over time, drinking appropriate amounts of Pu-erh tea has the potential to lower LDL cholesterol (that’s the bad one) and increase levels of HDL (the good one). The microbial aging of Pu-erh tea produces lovastatin; the longer the tea is aged, the more it benefits. Lovastatin is a natural statin, but a synthesized version is commonly prescribed for the treatment of high cholesterol. Extensive use of Pu-erh has seen cholesterol levels drop as much as 90 points or more in some cases.

Pu-erh Can Aid in Digestion and Cleansing

In traditional Chinese herbalism, Pu-erh tea is considered an aid to blood cleansing and digestion. How so? Well, many of the things we consume — even healthy foods — contain acids and other free radicals. Over time, these things can build up in the body, but drinking Pu-erh tea can help cleanse these toxins from the blood. Pu-erh can also increase the levels of healthy bacteria in the stomach and intestines, making it easier to digest foods (especially after a heavy meal.)

Pu-erh Can Contribute to Weight Loss

While not a fad diet or miracle cure, Pu-erh tea has been shown to significantly suppresses fatty acid synthesis (FAS), which is the body’s fat production. In other words, it can actually retard your liver’s fat-creating process, effectively blocking your body from producing more fat. At the same time, it’s been clinically proven to boost enzymes your body uses to “unlock” the content of fat cell. The body burns more fat because Pu-erh helps it access and mobilize the fatty acids in fat cells.

Pu-erh Can Help Reduce Stress and Promotes Sleep

Most people wouldn’t even consider a hot cup of Pu-erh as a sleep aid due to the caffeine common to all teas. Nevertheless, Pu-erh can help with sleep due to specific elements in the tea that reduce stress levels and increase production of melatonin. The result is less restlessness, stabilized mood, and deeper, more consistent sleep cycles.

Pu-erh Can Help Prevent Illness

Like most teas, Pu-erh contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Antioxidants help the body fight off free radical molecules and prevent disease. Pu-erh teas often have a higher concentration of these antioxidants than other teas, largely because of the fermentation process that the tea undergoes.

Pu-erh tea has been harvested for over 1,700 years; the medicinal and health benefits have been touted for centuries, but modern science is just now starting to prove those benefits through clinical studies. I’m a big fan of Pu-erh, and think it’s worth your while to explore the many varieties of this healthy and rewarding tea.

5 Different Teas and How to Pair Them with Food

Most people understand that wine enhances taste of food, and that different wines go better with different cuisine. There are some people who treat wine pairing like an unbreakable fiat, but that isn’t the point: you can drink whatever you want with whatever you eat, but get the right food with the right wine and you’ll have the flavors of food simply exploding in your mouth.

There are those who believe in beer pairing, as well, but since this is my tea blog … well, you can see where this is going right?

Just like wine, the flavor of a tea is dependent on where it is grown and how it is processed. All types of tea come from the same basic plant (Camellia Sinensis) but the most common tea served in the U.S., black tea, is allowed to ferment before being it is dried. This process results in a strong, oxidized product with a tannic taste. Certain other types of tea are only lightly oxidized, and some have no oxidation at all. This in part accounts for the variety of flavors, and can alter how teas interact with foods.

Artfully pairing tea with food can bring a completely new aspect to both the food being served and the tea itself. So what goes with what? At one time, you could simply ask your barista, but since more traditional shops ” … are being quickly replaced by a fast-growing internet marketplace,” you might find that difficult. Luckily, I’m here to help.

There are too many different combinations to pack into one post, but I thought I’d go over some basics.

Green Teas: Overall, most green teas tend to be subtle, with flavor and aroma that are more vegetative than anything else. That makes them well-suited to mild dishes like seafood, rice, salads, or chicken. Keep in mind that highly spicy foods can easily overwhelm the understated flavor of green teas.

Black Tea: As we’ve already mentioned, black teas typically offer heartier flavors and aromas, as well as the most pronounced tannins. That stronger presence is why black teas pair best with robust foods such as beef and other meats, as well as spicy dishes.

White Tea: Unblended white tea has such a mild presence that it can be overwhelmed by anything save the lightest flavors. A white tea could accentuate basic undressed salad, for example, but the natural

Oolong Tea: Typically, the flavor of oolong (wulong) teas is less robust than blacks and more subtle than greens. At the same time, it can offer fragrant tones that are at once recognizable yet exotic. Lighter oolongs work well as a snack accompaniment, adding a sweet accent to salted crackers or baked chips. Darker oolongs go nicely with smoked meats, lightly cooked meats and meat-based appetizers; it also pairs well with seafood and even some desserts.

Pu-erh Tea: Strong with a smooth yet deep and rich flavor, Pu-erh teas are known for their digestive benefits. That makes them perfect to pair with red meats, stir-fry and oily foods … but with the holidays coming up, it’s also good to know they’ll help settle your stomach after large, multi-course meals.

Obviously, this is a very basic guide, offering broad guidelines based on the typical flavor and strength of the tea versus that of foods. Which tea matches which meal becomes more and more of a personal choice as you experiment and become more familiar with specific teas. The only real rule is that one element should accentuate the other: as with wine, the perfect pairing makes both the food and the tea taste better.