We Have Moved!!

We are now here on Wordpress!
Old posts will remain here for now. Thanks for reading!
Text and images © 2009-2015 A.C. Cargill. All Rights Reserved. No content may be reproduced without written permission.
As of 11 March 2014, the focus of this blog is changing and will be writing more general articles as opposed to those about tea, although tea will still figure prominently in them.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Will now be posting on Wordpress location

We have switched to posting on Wordpress instead. Check us out here: The World is a Tea Party

Little Yellow Teapot and his Tea Gang will be posting there, too. Or should I say "TOOOT!"?

Hope to see you there!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Moment for Tea - Barry's Gold Blend

No matter what life throws your way, everything is a bit better when you take a moment out for tea. I'll be presenting various teas here as I am enjoying them and encourage you to join me, setting aside cares of the day for at least a short time.

This is Barry's Gold Blend that we used to be able to buy from World Market but now have to find elsewhere since we moved and they don't have a store near our new location. (I think the nearest is in Wichita, Kansas - quite a drive away, but I guess we could always take the risk of shopping online.) And of course, I always cut open the bags and dump the loose tea in the pot for steeping. Tastes better that way.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Upward Trend in the Quality of Teas from India

Four teas from Doke Tea Garden – truly a cut above!
Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved.
For centuries, many of the teas from India that we Westerners in Europe and North America were used to drinking were of the CTC variety or that dust in teabags. Not anything to write home about, as the saying goes, and in dire need of flavor additives such as milk, sugar, spices, honey, lemon, various fruit flavors, and even flower petals and mint leaves. These days, though, there is a definite upward trend in the quality of teas we are seeing from India.

Some of this trend can be attributed to the tea gardens in the Darjeeling area of West Bengal, India, having achieved a geographical designation for their teas a few years ago. When customers are assured that they are getting true Darjeeling tea, not some inferior tea with a bit of Darjeeling leaves blended in, they are willing to pay more, as some of the record prices now being paid for these teas can attest.

But there are other indicators: more teas from other tea-growing areas of India, such as Assam, Nilgiri, and Bihar, are being sold by tea garden and flush, not just as “black Indian tea” in bags. And the various styles are increasing. I, for one, hadn’t heard of green teas from Assam until quite recently. Now I see them all over. And white teas. Plus I am getting inquiries online from people in India wanting information on how to process oolongs.

What does all this mean? Personally, I see it as a very good sign. From huge plantations churning out nondescript black teas, growers are now beginning a transition to smaller gardens (or huge gardens with smaller sections) growing tea plants for use in making more premium teas. Tea processors from China and elsewhere are being sought out to help in this transition. Tea expert Nigel Melican is now working with the India Tea Board, lending his vast knowledge on processing teas. Yes, indeed, things are looking up for India and for tea drinkers around the world.

A great illustration is the Doke Tea Garden, Bihar, India.

My experiences trying various samples of this garden’s teas have been real eye-openers. I mean, they could have taken the easy route – harvesting the leaves, processing them into those little CTC bits or that dust in a teabag. After all, people drink a lot of that stuff. The Doke teabag brand could have been crowding out all those cheap bagged teas off of the grocery store shelves. So why not? Because there’s more at issue here. That trend upward, for one thing. A slow, tough slog with a substantial learning curve for folks who are used to how those other teas are processed. And hopefully a path that leads to better things for the owners of the tea gardens and for the people who work for them there.

While those bagged teas, those blends that are in the cups of people all across The United Kingdom, Ireland, and even here in Canada and the U.S., still have their place, people there are waking up to this new trend, waking to these more varied and higher quality teas. We’ve learned to stop accepting just “green tea” and “black tea” as our choices, and now we want that Spring Flush, etc., from a certain garden, or an oolong from Taiwan instead of Anxi, or a raw well-aged pu-erh instead of that artificially aged ripe/cooked pu-erh. In other words, we’re getting picky. And that’s a good thing. Having a vendor smother that inferior tea with flower petals and bits of dried fruit will no longer due, at least I hope it won’t. Getting a taste of the “good stuff” can be addictive and mean that you’ll never want to go back. These Doke teas are certainly some of the ones that spoiled me!

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Tea Surprise in Tulsa

We recently shared a tea surprise in Tulsa. A little shop with a rather noticeable presence on Facebook caught my eye soon after hubby and I made the move from the east coast U.S. to the more central part of the country. We had come from an area where we had access to a variety of food products from “across the pond” and various Asian countries to one where we had to search high and low and the nearest possibilities were in the oil town of Tulsa. So finding this little shop online was an irresistible allurance. The problem was the distance needed to check them out, but we finally arranged it. And the trip proved worthwhile. Here are our “fnds” safe back at our home:

The focus of the store’s products seems to be eastern European and Russian. But we found Duerr’s Orange Shred, McVitie’s Digestives, lemon curd, and Fanta orange soda. There were also foods from India, Sri Lanka, and other far corners (from us) of the world. But our internal tea radar zoomed in on the tea selections. There were some typical brands (PG Tips and Typhoo, among others) and some wonderful surprises. We selected a black “Russian tea” and a black Ceylon tea. While selecting these teas, we got to chatting with a woman who turned out to be from Ukraine. She was surprised at meeting someone here in the U.S. who knew something about “Russian tea,” even if only to a limited degree. Considering that tea to most Americans is Lipton, her surprise was understandable. And it was equal to our surprise and delight at discovering these teas available in the small Tulsa shop.

Another delight in the store not to miss is the meats and cheese counter. They will let you sample and then slice off the amount you want (we bought three cheeses – a smoky one from Poland, a more pungent one from Brittany, France, and a mild, creamy one from Russia) and wrap them with paper between each slice. You can also buy fresh-caught fish there. Some books, teawares, lots of international candies, and more are all crowded into this small but very lively space. Hope you can check them out soon!

Euromart on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EuroMart

© 2014 A.C. Cargill photos and text

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tough Challenges for Tea Growers and the Fire at Darjeeling Ambootia Tea Garden Factory

We often think (and bloggers like me write about) the challenges of steeping tea just right. But there are tough challenges behind the scenes, so to speak, and one of the most frightening is the tea garden fire. Tea garden fires are nothing new, and the latest one at the Darjeeling garden of Ambootia is quite a tragedy. See full story here. It doesn’t say if any of the employees were injured. What it does say is how the fire was worse due to the local fire workers not being able to respond to their utmost (one of the fire trucks couldn’t pump water. It also says that their current harvest that had been partially processed was lost. Quite an economic challenge for all involved. (If you want to donate to help them over this hardship, go to the story linked above and write “I will support” in the comments – they are trying to assess whether to start a fund-raising campaign.)

One commenter intimated that the fire might have been purposeful. “Dewasish Gurung there was dispute going on for land some days back at ambotia...i can assure u all there is some evil minds behind this...there should be full fledged investigation on this...at least labours can call for it...same was the case with sonada railway station but nobody is concerned with it at all...btw "i support"...” See a story about the dispute here. [Ambootia map shown here is a still capture from the full map here: Darjeeling Garden Map on Camellia-sinensis.com Blog.]

About Ambootia Tea Garden

The Ambootia tea garden was first planted in 1861, a couple of years after the Makaibari tea garden. A sustained drop in prices forced a decision to let the garden go dormant for several years. The garden, with 370 acres of planted tea shrubs, was rejuvenated as prices rebounded (now at record-setting levels). Low-yield and diseased bushes, some as old as 100 years, have been removed. New plants, cloned from original “mother bushes,” are nurtured is rows until they are ready for transplanting in the fields. A tremendous amount of money was spent to revitalize the estate, including upgrading the entire factory to the latest standards in 2012, and it now supports over 4,000 people (workers and their families). Or it did before the fire.

© 2014 A.C. Cargill photos and text

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tea: The Sideline Business of the 21st Century?

It’s the 21st century, and folks are looking for ways to generate income. As the economy got tougher and/or folks looked to turn their passion for tea into a business (now or after retiring from their career), small tea vendors running their little tea shops as a sideline began springing up like daisies in a clover patch, dotting the landscape with their brilliance and promise. Many of these efforts are good. Some, though, are done by people who are too hard-driving and defensive to win over customers. We have come across both the good and the bad. Most recently, it was the bad.

Armed with a certificate from a group that hands them out, it seems, to anyone willing to pay their fee, a recently entry into this foray of sideline shops set up their site and their social media accounts, and contacted tea reviewers to try the teas they were being sent. I tried some and posted reviews. It quickly became apparent that this was one of those hard-driving, defensive types who pounced on every little thing I said about their teas, probably fearful that someone would not want to buy from them. Their pouncing, however, was the deterrent. My reviews were generally positive. They, like some other vendors I’ve dealt with, looked past those positive remarks and went straight to some little detail that they didn’t like. How would someone like this treat you as a customer?

In all fairness, it’s scary to start a new business, even a sideline. And jumping into tea, which seems pretty innocuous at first but then turns out to be very complicated, can have folks like this flailing around like a novice swimmer in the deep end of the swimming pool and the YMCA. It’s especially unnerving to find that, unlike their long-time career as a programmer or insurance salesman or interior decorator, they have scant knowledge of their products and have to rely heavily on the honesty of their suppliers. They can feel foolish if something bad is posted. Or they take on their typical defensive posture.

Meanwhile, and the thing that really irritates me, they do harm to the tea industry in general. I have been writing about tea for 5 years now. It was something to keep me busy after losing my job in tech writing and GUI design when that big economic bubble burst in 2008. It began as a way to expand appreciation for the kind of tea I knew then. But it has grown into a one-person-army here out to defend the good tea guys out there from those who happen to have a few good teas in stock but lack the real knowledge and experience to promote what they are selling. Add in that hard driving and defensiveness, and you have a real turn-off.

No matter which tea you drink, the enjoyment of it and the appreciation of all the hard work that goes in to bringing it to you need to be uppermost. As you learn and explore more premium teas, deal with those vendors who have that depth of knowledge you need to help you select the best. At this time I deal with two such vendors: Lochan Tea and JAS-eTea. The former is owned by Rajiv Lochan, a veteran pro in the tea industry with over 30 years of experience. The latter is owned by Stephen Shelton who turned his passion for pu-erh and his personal connections in China into his focus after retirement. To them both I give kudos and as much of my time and support as I am able.

To the other vendors – like the woman who blocked me (despite my glowing review of her tea) because of a mistaken impression I had of her site, and the guy who wanted me to pull an article giving some background on him that he didn’t want revealed even though he had it posted publically on various Web sites – all I can say is “Learn from these two.”

© 2014 A.C. Cargill photos and text

Friday, August 1, 2014

Why Coffee Shops and Tea Don’t Mix

Coffee shops and tea don’t mix – I don’t care what some folks with great reputations in the tea world have to say about it – and the reason can be stated in one word: aroma. Here’s what I mean…

Many of us tea drinkers have sensitive noses and palates. These attributes come in very handy when trying some of the more delicate teas, especially white teas and naturally floral oolongs. It’s one reason some of us don’t like all that stuff added to the tea (things like flower petals and dehydrated fruit pieces and other plant matter). It smothers those delicate aromas and flavors and overwhelms our senses. There are even special sniffer (or snifter) cups for appreciating the aromas, especially of fine oolongs. So, walking into a coffee shop is a total anathema for our finely-tuned senses. The aromas are usually overwhelming.

How coffee shops achieve that high aroma

You might wonder why the aromas in coffee shops are so noticeable. How do you achieve this coffee shop aroma? You can’t just have coffee beans sitting out in open barrels absorbing odors and getting stale (just the way tea does). Instead, have a small roaster at the store, roast the beans, put them in open bins (a day won’t do much harm), and fresh grind them as needed for your customers. The strong coffee aroma will hide competing aromas from foods, and displaying the beans in the open will let the aroma waft around. The main reason to do this: the aroma is enticing. They get you to drooling and craving that coffee (unless you’re like me and can’t stand coffee taste even though I like that aroma). It’s like other aroma traps: the smell of fresh baked bread in the grocery store or cookies baking in that open house you attended.

Why high-aroma matters

We respond to aromas quite strongly, and they also have been shown to more readily evoke various memories. An apple pie baking can stir up all kinds of memories for me from childhood (all good). So coffee shops are sure to let those ground coffee aromas waft around in the air to draw you in and get you wanting that overpriced (at least for my budget) cupful. (Starbucks has been experiencing the opposite: missing coffee aroma. It has had a negative impact on sales, according the Chairman Howard Schultz, and is due to their change to Flavor Lock packaging. No coffee aroma – just burnt milk and food odors.)

Far worse than coffee shops are perfume stores, cosmetic counters in big stores like Macy’s where overly made-up women spritz you as you try to scurry safely past (although they don’t do that as much these days, having finally learned from all the decades of folks griping about the practice), restaurants (especially the ones where the cooking area is open to the dining area, and spice shops (although some of these can actually spur the appetite and the interest in tea, or so my experience has been).

Why avoid these high-aroma venues

Sensitive folks should avoid these high-aroma venues for a very good reason. If you’ve every stared at a lightbulb and then looked away, you will have seen that lightbulb shape still before your eyes but in what is on the color wheel the opposite color of yellow, i.e., purple. This happens because of receptor burn-out (how long it lasts depends on how long you stare at that lightbulb). The taste receptors on the tongue and the aroma receptors in the nose will similarly get overwhelmed and dulled with such overstimulation. I can’t have strong foods before a taste test here at home. Things like fried bacon are forbidden. The aroma lasts for hours, and my nose can detect it in even a minute form. (No, I am not going to take on a new career as a truffle hunter. Hee!) The coffee shop aromas slam my nose and put it out of commission for an hour or more. I might as well be drinking hot cocoa instead of hot tea for all the flavor I am able to detect in such an environment.

Bottom Line

Coffee shops gotta sell coffee, so the aroma game goes on. It’s up to me to steer clear, which I do 99.9% of the time (that .1% is when hubby just has to have a cup of coffee and I tag along, being rather fond of his company). I am finding that a scarf over my face helps reduce the impact of the coffee aroma, but it does seem to make the staff and customers a tad nervous. *wink!*

© 2014 A.C. Cargill photos and text

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

When You Get Your Tea News from a Political Web Site

As of the posting of this article I have been writing for The English Tea Store’s Tea Blog for almost five years and have been its editor for about 3.5 years. One thing I have learned in that time, added to my 30+ years in writing, GUI design, etc., is how to size something up and decide if it’s worth the time of day or not. So, when an article got forwarded to me by someone from a very politically biased news Web site, my alarm system had been triggered. Uh oh. This never bodes well. Nevertheless, in the interest of fairness, I took the time to read through the article thoroughly and could tell almost immediately that it was worthless in the annals of tea knowledge. Better to go read a Far Side cartoon – in fact, it would be a much better use of time. In short, I’m saying that not all articles on tea merit your attention.

The article that was brought to my attention was about caffeine-loaded energy drinks versus tea. It was written by someone who “holds a Master's in Mathematical Behavior Sciences.” Makes him quite an authority on caffeine…not! At least this guy in his article actually bothered to link to something sorely lacking when it comes to anything about tea and health: links to true experts. Yes, tea is the better boost. Time to take a look at why.

An Analogy

Many of us were taught that flooring the gas pedals on our cars to do that zero-to-60-in-5-seconds that car dealers like to brag about burns up a lot more gas that easing up to that 60 mph speed. And you don’t get where you’re going any faster. So chugging a beverage laden with extra caffeine, while giving you that extra jolt, will be a short-lived effect and has some negative consequences.

Just like those “jack rabbit” starts, a sudden jolt of caffeine burns you out faster than the lower dose from tea. In fact, those lower amounts are better overall as shown here:

“The most notable behavioral effects of caffeine occur after consumption of low-to-moderate doses (50-300 mg) and include increased alertness, energy, and ability to concentrate. Whereas moderate consumption rarely leads to health risks, higher doses induce negative effects such as anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, and tachycardia.” [source]

How Tea Is Different

Caffeine in tea is different not only due to its lower quantity but also its make-up. Along with the caffeine, tea has L-Theanine. The common perception here is that the L-Theanine in tea has a calming effect. This study shows that it may actually work with caffeine to give you a bit of a cognitive boost. And this study shows that the combo improves alertness. Again, easing up to that 60 mph and being able to stay there longer.

Get your engine revved with tea and go farther! And get your tea news from a tea site and bloggers like me dedicated to tea.

© 2014 A.C. Cargill photos and text

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

4 Hopes for the World of Tea as Another Tea Expo Begins

The latest tea expo – the mother of all tea expos (The World Tea Expo being held this year in Long Beach, California, USA) – is about to begin (May 29-31). Tea professionals are already gathered, some teas have already been tried and awards announced, and booths have been set up and stocked. As this expo gets under full steam, I humbly present my 4 hopes for the world of tea for the year ahead (and beyond).


1 Set Politics Aside – That is, politics in the world in general, not the normal competitiveness between tea professionals that helps make us all better. Too many tea people get online, talk a little about tea, and spend most of the rest of their online time going on about their particular causes, sharing news articles about some issue or other, etc. I’ve done it, too, but try my best not to and am vowing as of the posting of this article on this blog to redouble those efforts. I want my focus to be on tea, and hope other tea pros will follow suit.

2 Focus on Marketing of Higher Quality Teas – Raise the bar on teas promoted in stores. Easy said. Tough to do. We live in a time where more and more emphasis is on the low end of the tea market and when the poor tea farmer is being bombarded by all kinds of restrictions on how to grow and how to get his teas to market. Some are already working to change this and are having a bit of success. Meanwhile, companies promoting dust-in-a-bag teas continue to grow, not to mention the merger of a certain tea company with a certain coffee chain with the promise of making tea awareness higher as they are credited with having done for coffee (the facts and figures don’t support this, though). Make things easier for the smaller growers to get their teas to market and get noticed (they can’t always afford certifications required by many countries, travel to expos, or enter their teas in competitions, yet their tea quality is often excellent).

3 Better Training for Tea Pros – We have organizations like the American Tea Masters Association (ATMA) in the Northeast US and the folks who put on the World Tea Expo, plus others too numerous to list. Yet, walking into a teashop or going online to the latest tea vendor site is an iffy experience. You may or may not end up dealing with someone who knows anything about what he/she is selling. I know it’s hard to find good help (as that old adage goes) and this is especially true for tea. Before I really started paying attention to what I was steeping, I knew about some teas and that black tea and green tea came from the same plant. Some teashop staff don’t even know that much. Honest! In all fairness, we all have to start someone, and ATMA, etc., can only handle so many students at a time. But you cripple your business if you have a staff member in contact with your customers who doesn’t understand the basics (we can’t all be like Thomas Shu of ABCtea.com or Ji Hai of Hai Lang Hao) at the very least.

4 More Emphasis on Tea, Not Gimmicks – Tea suffers from the same malaise as many other products do. Wine is a good example. Do you go for quantity over quality – mass productions versus smaller batches? While companies continue to pop up that emphasize smothering tea’s natural flavors with a bunch of additives, more tea lovers are seeking out the finer teas where those flavors are allowed to come through in all their glory. Celebrity endorsements seem also to be a key gimmick being employed to get people interested in tea. The problem with any gimmick is that its effects are short-term. If you’re the CEO and have a contract that says you need to raise profits by a certain amount in the coming year or else, you resort to gimmicks or hire someone who will. (I have personally witnessed this at more than one software company where I used to work so I understand.) But it doesn’t raise long-term tea sales. And people who get sucked into drinking tea by those overly floral-fruity-spicy concoctions rarely progress on to the teas who have those flavors naturally.

Well, there they are. What’s your list?

A note for the World Tea Expo site designer: Have a way right up front for us to mute the music you have playing when people go to your site. I was streaming a radio program and wanted to refer to something on your site but couldn’t find the mute button.

© 2014 A.C. Cargill photos and text

Monday, May 19, 2014

Thoughts on Our First Year in Our New Home

Pour yourself a hot (or iced) cuppa and sip while you read. It’s the anniversary of our first year in our new home (and new home town). Time to reflect on the year gone by. I hope you will indulge me here – you might just relate to our experiences (or have a friend who will).

Moving is quite an experience. Having to sell a house at one end of the move and buy a house at the other end of the move are probably the most stressful parts. Will the house sell for a good price? Will the agent who has the listing take her/his job seriously and get you the best deal or twist your arm so you agree as the seller to pay buyers’ closing costs, leave expensive items like super nice refrigerators in the house, and pay for repairs that aren’t even there? Will the agent helping you find a new house know enough to guide you safely through the snakepit of homebuying? Or will he/she care more about going to a sports event at their college alma mater? Combine all this with trying to keep up with editing a tea blog for an online tea store, reviewing tea samples that seemed to be coming in faster and faster, and writing articles for a couple of other blogs. It was quite a juggling act. But some how or other I managed to keep my sanity.

First, on the selling side: Our listing agent was busy appearing on HGTV’s House Hunters, and everything we told her we needed to have an agent do for us went in one ear and out the other. She was one of those agents who schmoozed you to get the listing and then didn’t want to take your calls. She is the second such agent we dealt with in the Raleigh, NC, area (both work for ReMax), and her negligence cost us 3 times as much ($7,100) as the first agent did ($2,300). She threatened to walk away from the listing if we didn’t agree to pay $5,000 in buyers’ closing costs (why were these people even making an offer on our house if they couldn’t afford to pay closing costs?) and let the buyers steal a $2,100 refrigerator that she knew we had planned to sell. Guess what? We also ended up paying commission on the $5,000. Sweet deal – for her. And since she was such a prima donna, she couldn’t be bothered to show at the closing, nor did her assistant. We had been assured that one of them would be there to be sure all went well (when we brought it to her attention, she came back at us with “I have so many important deals closing the same day, so you couldn’t expect me to drop them to be at yours”). So much for professionalism. The closing attorney’s assistant had us vacate our home a day early (we had to pay for a night in a motel) so she could attend her brother’s wedding on what should have been our closing date. Why not just have someone else in the office handle things? Why put us through the inconvenience and expense? But we are seeing that such lackadaisical approaches to one’s job are typical these days.

Meanwhile, I was writing 2-3 articles a day, packing at least 3-4 boxes of stuff, and searching online for a place for us to live (hubby was mainly in charge of this, but I was helping as time allowed). Little Yellow Teapot and most of his Tea Gang had to get put away to keep them safe, and we told tea vendors that we would not be able to accept more samples for awhile. This move was important to us, relieving the financial burden of a house we could no longer afford and getting us to somewhere less costly to live. So not getting to try some of the latest teas available was a small thing for us to endure.

As for buying, once we found the town, we located an agent. Sadly, we ended up with one who was – surprise, surprise – less than professional. When a Realtor treats her job like a hobby or something to do between feeding/bathing/etc. her very cute young children, things aren’t always done properly, if at all.

Add to that her inexperience and almost total unawareness of some very basic things about her job (how to confirm square footage, number of bedrooms, and other items in the listing, for example). The results can be less than satisfactory for the house buyers/sellers dealing with her (or him). We certainly found some nasty and expensive surprises with our house due to our agent’s lack of professionalism and experience. In all fairness, we were on the East Coast U.S. and she was in the middle of the U.S. and was willing to work with us from that distance (we didn’t have the time or money for a house hunting trip).

We generally liked our realtor since she was a fairly nice person and was willing to work with us from halfway across the country. But the thing that drove us nuts was her treating the very serious job of helping us with the biggest expense most people have in their lives (buying a house) as more of a hobby. She also has two of the cutest little children you’d ever want to meet (we know because they showed up in almost every photo she took for us of houses we wanted to considered) and said she was doing real estate so she could spend most of her time with them (not a good thing to tell your client).

What became apparent later, though, was that she missed some important issues in the house since she was busy keeping watch over those cute kids (they were very lively and active, getting into various drawers and cupboards – hey, we understand, it can be pretty boring following mom around while she looks over a house for her clients half a continent away). The other annoyance was her taking off without a word to us to go to Tulsa or Oklahoma City for a college football game. We didn’t mind her going – we just minded not being told that she would be out of reach during that time. Our emails and phone calls asking about this or that on the property listings she sent us went unanswered until she got back. Meanwhile, our clock was ticking away, with our house under contract and the closing date for the sale quickly approaching. Tough to deal with when you’re half a continent away (she had assured us she could deal with us not being there). But if that had been the worst of it, we wouldn’t be all that disappointed in her.

The items she messed up:
  • She never confirmed the square footage as requested (we doubt that she even knows how to do this). She thought that the enclosed back porch was supposed to be a part of the house square footage (which is how the listing agent had it) even though it was not connected to the heating system in the rest of the house.
  • She couldn’t even tell that a room had been added onto the back of the house between it and the enclosed porch.
  • She didn’t know the difference between the original house foundation and the area under the enclosed porch and back room addition.
  • She did not seem to know the legal definition of bedrooms and bathrooms in Oklahoma and was not able to confirm if the number in the listing was correct (the house appears to have only one bedroom, not three as the listing stated).
  • She stated that she never noticed that the doorway to the only bedroom in the house was one-third blocked by the walls around the 30-year-old furnace (see photo above). Oddly, she managed to miss photographing this for us. How do you manage to miss this except on purpose?
  • She missed a rust spot in the bottom of the cast iron bathtub that had been poorly disguised with white paint. No one who had been paying attention to her job would have missed it.
  • She missed that a double window in one room was half blocked off by the enclosed porch on the back of the house. Again, her inexperience and unprofessionalism was evident.
  • There is some dispute between her and the inspector on whether she stayed around during the entire inspection as she said she would (she had her children with her and probably left to take care of something they needed – she won’t admit to not being there, but the inspector said she left halfway through and came back just as he was finishing about 3 hours later). Gee, it’s just a house inspection to tell us the condition of the basic components of the house. Nothing important – sigh!
  • She did not notice nor alert us to the numerous mouse bait bowls sitting around and the substantial amount of droppings throughout the house.
  • The inside of the metal cabinet base for the sink unit in the kitchen was all rusted out. She hadn’t even bothered to look in there.
  • She presented to us information that she said was about two different title companies in town so we could exercise our legal right to choose. However, they were actually the same company (they had merged a few months earlier and everyone in her office knew about it, including her). Legally, we were denied our right to make a choice here and ended up dealing with the stuck up title agent who wouldn’t take time to deal with us on the phone instead of the nice person who worked with us on the preliminaries.
The agency was quick to get us to sign something saying that we could not hold the realtor liable for any such oversights, but all it takes is the right lawyer willing to pursue something like this.

The real problem, though, is the state realtor licensing. It gives a false sense that the realtor is competent. Sadly, she is in a profession where approaching her job like a hobby can seriously harm others (financially). She knew how important it was to us to get the right house. We ended up spending twice as much on fixing things as expected, a main one being the furnace (it cost as much as the other items all put together). We couldn’t just replace the one that was there. It had to be removed and a new unit put under the house (this almost doubled our cost), so that the bedroom doorway could be fully open. (The bedroom doorway had only about 20 inches open. We needed more for safe exit in case of a fire.) We also spent 50% more on electrical upgrades since there was far more knob-and-tube wiring than we had been told about (that’s an issue with the house inspector at Gold Star Inspections). And the plumbing upgrade costs just kept climbing. We’re not done and have already spent twice the budget. Knowing these things up front might not have deterred us from buying the house, but they sure would have given us leverage in renegotiating the price – the realtor’s incompetence denied us this leverage.

Bottom line: Avoid agent’s who treat their jobs like a hobby or who are too busy being a star on a house hunting show or who just plain don’t give a damn like the plague and go with someone who treats the real estate profession as just that – a profession, not a hobby or something to do in-between takes!

By the way, a year later, we have made things quite cozy and find that we like the house in spite of all this. We just want to save you and others from going through the same hassles.

© 2014 A.C. Cargill photos and text

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Teavana Dilemma

Teavana is poised to dominate the tea world the way Starbucks dominates the coffee world. Whether this is a good thing or not remains to be seen. I had a virtual ‘chat’ on one of the social media sites with Charles Cain, who was with Adagio at the time but then went to Teavana, about the flavored tea craze and its effect on tea drinking. He said in essence (I can’t find his exact words) that if it got more people to drink tea, then it was good. Which missed the point entirely. If you get more people to drink tea because you’re putting a bunch of flavorings in the tea to smother the tea flavor, then you are not getting them to drink more tea. You are getting them to drink a bunch of flavorings. Why bother including tea in the mix?

This is not to say that I hope the whole Teavana venture fails. Quite the contrary. I wish anyone well who has the guts to go out there and bring new things to consumers, especially where tea is involved. My hope is that when people get tired of the flavored gunk being dispensed that they turn to the tea vendors online specializing in more premium teas. So I hope they fail to inure people’s sensibilities for really good tea, but I hope they succeed in arousing more interest in tea in general.

The future of tea drinking?
Speaking of those other tea vendors, a number of hard-working tea pros out there are doing their best to bring a different kind of approach to tea drinking to a higher level of awareness in the world. Premium teas that are still hand-processed by true tea masters are a key part of this. Thus I am partnering (in a kind of ad-hoc general way, nothing official) with two tea vendors who are knee-deep in this area of tea (there are many others but we wanted to give more time and go deeper with the teas and the companies than a quick try of a their samples would allow, so a limit had to be set). Rajiv Lochan of Lochan Tea is one. He is helping to steer tea production in India away from the low-grade teas ground to a fine powder (or ‘dust’) and then bagged. He along with a son and a daughter are also reviving a tea garden that was left to die. They named it ‘Doke’ (located in the Indian state of Bihar) and have steadily improved the quality of the teas from it over the past few years. They are also working with a start-up called ‘Tealet’ that focuses on getting their teas to markets they might not be able to reach on their own. We have been honored to receive samples from Lochan Tea for awhile now and to experience this improvement in Doke teas first-hand. Very exciting!

Bringing a tea garden back to life!
The other tea vendor is JAS-eTea.com. This is a small business poised to make a name among those who appreciate orthodox style teas from China, Taiwan, Thailand, Darjeeling, and elsewhere. They carry only the best, with most of their teas being pu-erh, a little-known and rather varied style of tea (the debate is still ongoing about whether there are more different oolongs out there or pu-erhs). Their Pu-erh Tea Club group on Facebook is one of the fasting growing tea groups and keeps its focus on pu-erh. Of all the tea vendors out there, large and small, that I have been so honored to try teas from, this is one vendor whose teas have never failed. (Another was Thunderbolt Tea, a small business owned and run by a great guy named Benoy Thapa who rides his motorcycle on sometimes treacherous mountain roads to go from garden to garden in the Darjeeling region of Bengal state in northern India.)

One of many fine pu-erhs they carry. This is 2008 MuYeChun 99801 Premium Ripe Pu erh.
Whether Teavana and others like them succeed or fail, folks like those at Lochan Tea and JAS-eTea will keep soldiering on to bring their fine teas to the rest of us. We wish them a lot of success and hope to contribute to that success in whatever small way we can. Cheers!

© 2014 A.C. Cargill photos and text