Tea in Croatia: Kuća Čaja

Just outside the ancient walls of Diocletian’s Palace (built in 305 AD) on Ulica kralja Tomislava in Split, Croatia is the charming loose leaf tea shop, Kuća Čaja (House of Tea). Stop inside, and you’ll be amazed at all of the fine loose-leaf teas housed in the cozy shop. With over 100 teas stored in aluminum tins behind the counter, Kuća Čaja also has other specialty blends with flavors like, “New York Cheesecake” and “Angel’s Tongue.”  Glass shelves in the customer area are stocked with beautiful, delicate porcelain tea pots and cups, matcha wares, whisks, gift items, tea timers, and other tea accessories.


Siniša Kaliterna, Mila Skoko, Kimberly Orlić and Ivan Orlić outside Kuća Čaja Split.

Siniša Kaliterna, the sales manager, and Mila Skoko were more than happy to speak with us about their growth in a place where coffee prevails. Siniša and the staff have been supplying Split, its tourists and the locals from the surrounding towns, with premium quality loose-leaf tea for the past four years.  When I asked Siniša why he decided to open a tea shop he explained that there was nothing like it in Split and he understood that it was a huge gamble.  He explained, “Here, our culture is very focused on cafés and wine. Friends meet for coffee or a drink; people would often associate tea with something you drink when you don’t feel well.”  The staff at Kuća Čaja have noticed a change since they opened.  There is a growing interest in tea and the many heath benefits from drinking tea.  “Also, people are beginning to explore the many favors of tea while appreciating their subtle differences.”

While strong tourism brings in people from across the globe, while I was there, a local Croatian mother came in from Trogir, a town about 30 km away, because she heard of one of their teas which helped with a particular ailment she was experiencing.

The selection of teas at Kuća Čaja are selected from around the globe and include many masterful blends. There is also have a growing selection of local tisanes which include chamomile, lavender and sage.

Recognizing the enthusiasm for sharing her knowledge and love for the Camellia sinensis plant with her customers, Mila was happy to open container after container of tea for this Long Island, New York tea shop owner.  From fine Silver Needle white tea, a common Irish breakfast and a less common green Assam to distinct aromatic blends containing healthful ingredients such as sage, nettle, lavender, and calendula flower this duo certainly knew their teas.

Of course, I had the overwhelming urge to purchase 50g of every tea Kuća Čaja sold, but settled on a handful to bring back to New York:

  • Oasis of Senses: a Sencha (green tea) leaf with apple pieces, almond slices, lemon peel, coriander, pistachio, pink peppercorn and calendula petals.
  • Angel’s Tongue:a Pai Mu Tan (white tea) leaf with calendula petals, scented with bergamot and vanilla essence.
  • White Dragon: a blend of two exceptional white teas: Silver Needle and Mao Feng.
  • King of Pu-erh: a fermented dark tea produced in China with may health benefits, purportedly including cholesterol reduction, weight loss, and many antimicrobial properties.

It was certainly a pleasure to meet two individuals as enthusiastic about tea as me, and to learn about the growth of a startup to a comfortable place in the Croatian small business world. I’m already excited to go back next summer!

Be sure to visit Kuća Čaja‘s web page and like them on Facebook!


Hello from Croatia

While the heat is on back home in New York,  A New Leaf is in the wonderful hands of our staff.  We are on the Adriatic coast of Croatia visiting family and getting some rest and relaxation.

1014407_10201738019919083_1758831216_nThere’s no rest from tea! Vinisce is a tiny village not too far from Split, a beautiful city with a rich history. We took a trip into Split for a quick visit for tea. Kuča Čaja (translated to “tea house”) is a very quaint shop in the city center. I briefly spoke to the owner and was able to get some great King Pu-erh (dark tea) and a white blend of Silver Needle and Mao Feng, called White Dragon. We talked about how tea took some time to catch on in Croatia, and how they are getting the word out about the health benefits of tea. I’ll be headed back there early next week — look for an interview that I’ll publish here.

camomileBack to Vinisce. My husband’s teta (aunt) grows and dries her own camomile. Teta Franka was quite happy to send me home with some dried flowers, which I’m told to scatter the seeds in March to seed for early summer bloom. I’m very excited about that. Camomile is great for calming an upset stomach, promoting restful sleep, and relieving anxiety. It has sedative properties, so a small amount should be taken for anxiety, and larger amounts help promote sleep. Camomile has also been shown to relax muscles. Hence, camomile tea is often consumed to relieve abdominal and menstrual cramps. Pregnant women should avoid camomile as it can cause uterine contractions that potentially could result in a miscarriage.

21397_10201778298286017_2017147399_nOn our evening walk about town, lavender grows wild, poking through stone walls of the locals’ homes. What a pleasant aroma. Lavender is a great tea component, found in our Provence blend at A New Leaf. Lavender can also be steeped alone and is good for stress relief, headaches and insomnia.

Check back next week for more updates from Croatia.

Your Tea Questions Answered

Bulk loose leaf tea is certainly at the starting gate here in the U.S. for home consumption, and many people have stopped in and asked some really great questions.

How should I store my tea?

Store your tea in an airtight container, away from heat, cold, light and moisture. Also, keep your teas away from other strong-scented items, which can be absorbed by fine teas. Don’t store your tea above your microwave or oven, in your garage, or in your refrigerator.

How long can I keep my loose tea leaves?

If you properly store your tea, it will never turn bad. However, the tea will turn “stale” over the course of time. Generally, you should clear out your tea cabinets in anywhere from six months to one year. Typically, larger leaf (think Pai Mu Tan), and more tightly rolled (think gunpowder) teas stay fresher longer.

How much tea do I use? How long do I steep my tea? What temperature water do I use?

When we sell our loose-leaf teas to our customers, we provide them with all of the instructions they will need to steep the perfect cup of tea. As a guide, here’s a great chart for your use.


Does green tea have half the caffeine of black tea?

I had the pleasure of attending World Tea East in 2012 in Philadelphia and attended a discussion hosted by Kevin Gascoyne, author of Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties. I encourage serious tea folk to pick up this book. It’s widely (falsely) believed that green tea has less caffeine than black tea. Kevin has published results from his experiments which proves this false. Although Camellia sinensis overall has, generally, half the caffeine of coffee, there cannot be a blanket statement to this fact. In fact, seasonal differences account for massive differences in caffeine content as well. Camellia sinensis will have more caffeine concentrated in the new growth. Kevin Gascoyne, at the 2012 World Tea Expo showed a 300% increase in caffeine between two pickings at different times of year in the same plantation.

Can I decaffeinate tea by steeping it twice?

No. If you follow Tea With Gary, he shows that by steeping tea leaves for three minutes, you can remove about 42% of the caffeine in each cup (34 mg per cup). Steep leaves for two minutes, the extraction level drops to about 33% (total of 106 mg). A second infusion removes approximately  63% of the caffeine, but using a total of half as many leaves (total of 101 mg).

Rain, the Belmont Stakes and Mint Juleps

It was unfortunate to hear this morning that Garden City’s Belmont Festival on Seventh Street (where A New Leaf has its brick and mortar home) was postponed until Friday, June 28 due to the remnants of TS Andrea. However, with the running of the Belmont Stakes tomorrow in nearby Elmont, A New Leaf is happy to share its unique Mint Julep Sweet Tea recipe with the community.

The mint julep is typically associated with the running of the Kentucky Derby, and has been since 1938. Each year almost 120,000 juleps are served at Churchill Downs over the two-day period of the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby.

A New Leaf has taken a classic drink and given it a new look. A high-quality rooibos and organic mint leaves steeped to perfection provide a great base to our very own recipe. We’ll be promoting our Mint Julep Sweet Tea all weekend long (June 7 through 9) and providing free samples.


What Is Tea?


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Tea is the second-most consumed beverage in the entire world, second only to water. Black, green, white, oolong and pu-erh tea all comes form the same plant: Camellia sinensis and a variety known as Camellia assamica. Camellia sinensis is used for most Chinese, Formosan and Japanese teas (but not Pu-erh); and the clonal Camellia assamica is used in most Indian and other teas (but not Darjeeling). Camellia sinensis and Camellia assamica are now found in many regions throughout the world. Many people (mistakenly) call herbal blends of fruits, herbs and spices “tea,” but if there’s no camellia sinensis or Camellia assamica found in it, then it is actually a tisane.

A New Leaf carries many different tisanes, include Egyptian camomile, flavored rooibos and fruit blends such as Seventh Street Colada and Garden City Blend.

How Are Teas Grown?

Tea plants are propagated from both seed and cuttings; it can take anywhere from four to 12 years for a tea plant to bear seed, and about three years before a new plant is ready for harvesting. Temperate climates (zone 8 or warmer) are required, as is at least 50 inches of rainfall a year and acidic soil.

Only the top one to two inches of the mature plant are picked. These buds and leaves are called flushes. Tea plants typically  grow a new flush every seven to 15 days during the growing season, and leaves that are slow in development tend to produce better-flavored teas. A tea plant can grow up to 52 feet tall  if left undisturbed, but cultivated plants are pruned to waist height for ease of harvesting.

Camellia sinensis and Camellia assamica are grown in small family gardens to large estates that can be thousands of acres large. Many fine teas are grown at high elevations and on steep slopes. Great teas are often plucked by hand by skilled workers. Teas which are processed in the traditional fashion are called Orthodox teas and typically contain only the top two tender leaves and an unopened leaf bud, and blended to make the thousands of varieties of tea we know and love today.

Another production process is known as CTC (crush-tear-curl). These teas may or may not be plucked by hand, but are typically processed by machine (unorthodox production). CTC production uses a leaf shredder which grinds the leaves (crushing, tearing and curling) into fine pieces, then rolls them into little balls. The result can resemble large coffee grinds. These CTC teas will brew very quickly and produce and a bold, powerful cup of tea. CTC is used primarily in the tea bag industry and  in India to create Masala Chai blends.

Coming Up: Tea Production – How Leaves Become Precious Teas

Green Tea-tasting Event


A personal tea-tasting event is great event for a night out, reminiscent of wine tastings.

At our May tasting event, A New Leaf guests tasted six green teas: Jasmine Pearls, Lucky Dragon Hyson, Hojicha, Sencha Kakagawa, Formosa Gunpowder and Liquid Jade (green and white tea blend). We provided tea-tasting sheets with a history of each tea as well a chart to note ideas about the dry leaf, the infused leaf, and the liquor. We discussed the history of tea in general, and got a feel for our guests’ tea knowledge.  Tea sandwiches and pastries/snacks were provided to accentuate the flavor of the particular type of teas we tasted. 

There is a complete food science behind taste and tea; there are certain foods that muddle the taste of certain teas, so careful attention is used when selecting pairing foods. I had the pleasure of attending a workshop with Dr. Virginia Utermohlen and Chef Renèe Senne from Pairteas.com at the World Tea East event last fall and got a taste of the science behind pairing teas.

Our tasters used professional tea-tasting cups (pictured above). We examined the dry, loose leaves and felt and smelled them prior to steeping. Water at the proper temperature for green tea was poured onto the tea leaves and the leaves were steeped for three minutes. During this steep time, we discussed our thoughts on the dry leaf scent and appearance.

Once the agony of the leaf was complete, the tea was poured into the tasting cups. Before the lid was removed, we got an idea for the scent of the infused leaves and noted our thoughts once again. It can sometimes be very surprising to new tea tasters that the scent of the tea can change drastically once the leaf is steeped! The infused leaves were set on the lid, and examined before the tasting itself took place.

We then sipped the tea and were encouraged to move the tea over our entire palates and mouths for smooth and consistent tasting. Once again, all of our impressions of the taste of the teas were noted for later comparison.

Professional tea tasting is done without any additives such as sugar, milk or other. The purpose of the tasting is to distinguish the elements of taste and smell.

Throughout the event, we snacked on salty, savory foods and conducted our own experiment of what happened to green tea with the addition of a fat (butter cookie). The results surprised some, and easily explained away the reason why milk is typically not added to green tea.

Our range of words used to describe the dry leaf, wet leaf, and liquor ran the gamut, from, “vegetal,” “woody,” “tobacco-like,” “musty,” “grassy,” “bourbon,” “acidic,” “smooth,” “perfumey,” and many others.

Events such as these encourage discussion, and allow us to relax with friends (and make new ones!) while enjoying some high-quality teas and carefully paired foods.

Look for an upcoming oolong tasting from A New Leaf in June!




Why Loose Tea?

ImageLoose-leaf teas are typically whole, unbroken leaves. The tea that is found inside many retail bulk teabags are lower-grade teas, such as dust and fannings. Tea dust and fannings are the smallest pieces of broken tea leaves that fall to the bottom of the sifting pile, so they have a larger surface area than whole leaves. A larger surface area means more opportunities for the essential oils (what makes tea flavorful and aromatic) to evaporate, leaving the tea dull and stale. Whole loose-leaf tea leaves retain the essential oils, aroma, and flavors and are eager to share them upon steeping.

Some teabags are made with whole-leaf tea. However, whole-leaf teabags are the exception rather than the rule.

Whole tea leaves love room for expansion, and have plenty of room to absorb water and expand as they infuse. This allows the water to flow through the leaves and extract a wide range of vitamins, minerals, flavors and aromas from the leaves.

Loose-leaf tea is great for the environment and is more sustainable than bagged tea; when using an infuser, or allowing the leaves to steep loose in a pot, there are essentially no paper products or other materials wasted in preparing a loose-leaf tea.

Additionally, the cost per serving of loose-leaf tea is better than bagged tea. With loose leaf tea comes a higher value product with low cost. Loose-leaf tea can be re-steeped more times than a single tea bag, and can hold flavor longer.

Many people think that loose-leaf tea is overwhelming at first, but with the help of A New Leaf staff, we can show you that minimal extra steps in steeping loose-leaf tea is certainly worth it when you experience the difference in taste and reap the health benefits.What most people don’t realize is that the set up time is actually the same as bagged tea. With just about the same amount of time, you can enjoy an even better cup of tea.