"Tea Talk" with Writer Lu Ann Pannunzio

Tea blogger and writer Lu Ann Pannunzio knows a thing or two about enjoying the tea experience. In fact, she's written a whole book on the subject! I have long admired her appreciation for tea and her gorgeous pictures on social media. Lu Ann is also the curator of our April box, which will include her book, Tea-spiration, and four more special items she has chosen. Lu Ann was nice enough to chat with me about her blog, her book, and her tips for exploring the world of tea.

Source: teaaholic Instagram

I love your Instagram name, teaaholic. How did you become a “teaaholic?”

I think I have been labelling myself that since I was in high school, haha. I’ve thought about changing my Instagram handle to brand it with my blog and other social media accounts, but I can’t let it go. I discovered tea at a young age because I remember my mom and older sister used to always enjoy it together. One day my sister brought home a wooden box that contained strawberry flavoured black tea bags and I was finally allowed to have my first sip of tea at the age of 7. I didn’t know much about tea back then but I started to fall in love with it because of the connection it brought me with my mom and sister. The best part of my day would be when I had the chance to be “so adult” and sit and sip tea with them. Since then my love for tea has slowly been growing and I have been slowly learning more and more about it.

You have a beautiful blog, The Cup of Life. What kinds of things do you discuss over in your corner of the internet?

Thanks so much! I want The Cup of Life to be a spot on the Internet that tea lovers can visit and slow down with their own cup of tea. The blog is filled with some tea infused recipes, crafts, reviews, and anything else I learn during my tea journey that I wish to share. My most favourite part about tea blogging is the wonderful tea community online! I have connected with so many awesome tea lovers around the world and I hope to continue to!

Writing a book is a big project! Can you tell me more about your book and what inspired you to write it?

I have always wanted a book that didn’t teach me about tea and how to properly make it, but instead celebrated all the moments we experience with tea since that’s the reason why I fell in love with it in the first place. There is a quote I love that goes something like, if you can’t find a book you want, write it yourself and that’s just what I did with Tea-spiration. My thoughts for Tea-spiration were to take readers back to when they first started to drink tea and why they loved it then. In Tea-spiration I highlight all the great tea moments us tea drinkers can experience — big or small. For instance, that moment when you first open a freshly sealed package of tea and take in that aroma, or even the moment when your tea leaves begin to unfurl.

This book was written with all tea lovers in mind, too. It doesn’t matter if you’re a tea enthusiast or a casual tea drinker, every tea drinker should be able slow down and relate to some of the book. The size of the book should be noted too because it’s meant to be the perfect book to have during your tea time, fitting easily on your tea table or packing up with your tea ware. 

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Source: teaaholic Instagram

What can you recommend to someone who is just beginning to explore the world of tea?

Drink all the tea! AND drink it however you like it. I think one of the best advice is to not be afraid to explore tea your own way. You can follow the instructions on a package of tea that tells you how to prepare it properly, but after that you should experiment with your own ways of making it and see what you like best. There have been a lot of teas in the past that I thought were the worst things ever, until I started to “break the rules” by steeping them another way and notice the difference that made. This little bit of advice is also discussed in my book. 

How many cups of tea do you drink each day?

I usually have 2 mugs of tea and then several tasting cups of tea each day. My first mug of tea is usually right in the morning and a bold black tea such as Assam, sometimes I will also whisk a bowl of matcha later in the morning. Later in the afternoon I’ll try to actually sit down and have tea with my gaiwan and sip from tasting cup sizes. The last mug of tea is usually before bed and it could be any kind (caffeine doesn’t really bother me at night!).

You have an hour free from responsibilities and chores. Can you describe your perfect “tea break?”

No responsibilities and chores? Ahhh…that already sounds so perfect already but, of course, tea can still make it better. A perfect “tea break” for me would consist of a tray of fresh baked scones (I really like my scones, haha), a fancy tea cup, big pot of tea to keep refilling, jazz music playing softly in the background (sometimes I’ll even have my boyfriend play live jazz music for me, haha), all technology far away (!!!) and Tea-spiration by my side for whenever I need to flip open a page and connect with my tea a little bit more :) 

Thanks Lu Ann! I strongly recommend visiting her at The Cup of Life blog and on Instagram as teaaholic. You won't be disappointed!

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Brand Spotlight: Nepal Tea LLC

The March "St. Patrick's Day" tea box included a unique pot of gold: gold tea! Kumari Gold is a special black tea from Nepal Tea LLC, a social business venture that imports tea directly from its own tea estate while providing farmers with a sustainable income and free housing. Nishchal Banskota shares more about his company, including its background, tea, and farmer first approach.

How did Nepal Tea get started?

My father started a tea estate in 1984, which was Nepal’s First Certified Organic Tea Garden. The factory works on a co-operative model, which means the farmers are the owners themselves too. Eventually the tea was exported globally. Fast forward three decades, and here I am graduating with a liberal arts degree from New Hampshire. I soon realized that the Nepali tea we get in the US were brought through Germany, who bought their teas from middlemen. The supply chain was inefficient. The farmers have no choice but to agree to the price demands of these middlemen – if they pulled out, the estate and the farmers would have no revenue at all. Secondly, most teas from Nepal get mixed with Darjeeling teas due to their similarity, and we often lose our identity in the process. I started Nepal Tea with the vision of getting fair prices to both consumers and farmers, creating a simple and lean supply chain and creating an identity for the teas from Nepal.

Source: Nepal Tea Instagram

Tell us more about tea from Nepal. What is special about tea from that part of the world?

Nepali teas are produced in mountainous regions at an elevation of 3,000 – 7,000 feet above the sea level. People are familiar with Darjeeling teas. They are called the champagne of teas, and rightfully. Well, the only thing separating the teas from Nepal and Darjeeling is an imaginary national border – the tea farms are next to each other. The climate, elevation and growing conditions are pretty much the same. However, we have received feedback that Nepali teas taste fresh and are more aromatic since the crops of Nepali teas are newer, while tea plants from Darjeeling are centuries old. Our teas tend to be more floral as well. Another major distinction with our teas is the cultivation style, which features sustaining and complementing the natural cycle of the plants with various other complementary plants. You will need to visit the garden to see what I am talking about :)

Furthermore, we and many other tea farmers are experimenting with various different kinds of tea as well and in the coming days you might even expect some sophisticated oolongs and pu-erh teas. 

Can you tell us more about the ingredients you use and your commitment to avoiding artificial flavors?

We mostly specialize in orthodox teas produced through Camillia Sinensis and are specifically hand-plucked for this purpose. For our blends, we use organic spices grown in our garden itself such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger turmeric, rose petals, lemongrass and so on. We're not experts on herbal teas but we do know which tea blends well with the organic spices that we grow and hence have been very successful with our blends such as Buddha's Blend (White Tea base + Spices) and Mystique Melange (Green Tea base + Spices). We have not in the past and will not in the future use any form of artificial chemicals and or flavors to make our teas. Our commitment to being organic since inception can be traced back to all of the certifying bodies. 

Source: Nepal Tea LLC

Nepal Tea works hard to be socially responsible! Can you tell us more about those initiatives?

We operate on a farmer’s first approach. The farmers should get the most benefits, but most in Nepal still live in poverty. The teas they produce are excellent. Tea has such a profound economic impact, and we aim to direct that economy and give power to the farmers themselves. Our social models try to improve the lives of the farmers and their families, which creates a better community. Here are some highlights of our social impact:

1) Free Housing and Daily Necessities to the full-time farmers. 

2) Educational scholarship to all of the children of our full-time farmers. More than 2300 children have received education till date and have increased the number by 96 students last year. You can read more about the project and sponsor a child here.

3) Cow-Bank Project: We distribute cows to our farmers and  they earn extra income from them by selling dairy products from them. We only have one condition that the first calf it gives birth to is returned to the factory itself; not for our purpose but to distribute it to other farmers. We started with 36 cows and now we have more than 176 cows in total. You can read more about the project and even donate a cow to a farmer here.

4) We have many other projects in the pipeline such as thrift shop, rice mill and so on that will impact the farmers in a sustainable way. You can discuss them directly with me. Also, if you have any projects that you would like to initiate at our factory, please contact me. 

Source: Nepal Tea LLC

Which tea from Nepal Tea is your favorite?

My favorite tea is Kumari Gold. Not only does the taste take me back directly to the factory in Nepal but the name itself is very dear to my heart. I named the tea after my mother. Her middle name is Kumari and it means "Living Goddess" in Nepali. She was the first person who believed in the vision of my father in creating this organic tea garden and she planted the first tea bush in her backyard. The same garden has extended to hundreds of acres today and has provided employment to more than 600 farmers and educated more than 2300 children. Indeed, to me and all the farmers and their children she is a true living goddess. 

Thanks Nishchal! You can learn more and tea shop at nepalteallc.com.

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P.S. Nepal Tea just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign! See their story here: