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19 Feb '16

Origins of Totem Tea, what's in the name?

Posted by Dan Pappas

When we were trying to come up with a name for our soon to be tea venture we looked for a name that contained much about how we felt about tea and tea sharing. For us we were particularly interested in teas that had a story to tell.

This story could be related to the individual tea's particular history, production, travel experiences with finding the tea, or the unique qualities of the tea and much much more.

Tea has a very long history reaching into the unknown depths of human history and existence on earth.  Due to its historical reach the stories that accompany tea are just as broad. These tea stories are not just ancient but modern and continually unfolding as tea production and crafting is an art with continual innovation.

Being an Pacific Northwest born company we wanted to pick a name and symbol that also represented a gathering and welcoming place which told a story by itself as in the imagery of a totem pole and represented a place where stories continued to be told.  We also like that the crafting of both a totem pole and tea both involve human artistry and the artistry of nature.

For us sharing tea is way to connect and tell stories. All of our teas have a story to tell. In honor of our place of origin and the legacy of the welcoming nature that Totem poles traditionally displayed we happily chose the name Totem Tea.

Totem Pole




15 Feb '16

Sourcing the Perfect Teapot...

Posted by Dan Pappas in kyusu, teapots, teaware

This elusive quest has been one of great interest for us at Totem Tea.  We include multiple criteria for such a vessel.  Tea is greatly enhanced with proper teaware as well as detracted from with lesser brewing devices.

For us the perfect teapot is a mix of aesthetics and function leaning a bit heavier on function than artistic appeal but not too far off.

We look for pots that have lids with no jiggle and spouts with not dribble. We want to see high quality craftsmanship and a tight seal on the lid that fits just right.  When it comes to the spout a clean, smooth pour is unbeatable.  We don't take lightly to a dribbling pour.

In addition to these two essentials we look for ease of cleaning out the pot from the loose leaf tea.  A wide lid opening assists this process greatly. Another essential component of a great teapot is the filter inside the pot.  Is there enough holes to allow water to flow out timely and smoothly? How wide the the filter opening?  How much of the leaves can come through?

The answer to all these questions have been happily met by the two kyusu listed on our teaware page. We are pleased to share them with you.

Happy steeping!

 Kyusu Sesame Filter

Mogake Kyusu Sesame Filter Kyusus




20 Nov '15

Totem Tea Review in Willamette Week

Posted by Phillip Sauerbeck

It was so great to meet and share tea with some of the Willamette Week team after my interview with Michael.  Big thanks to WW for helping to bring interesting teas into the spotlight.  Here's what they wrote about Totem:

Totem owner Phil Sauerbeck's business card says, humbly, "tea researcher." But after 15 years of tea obsession, he's more like the Alan Lomax of tea, hunting out the rare and untasted from family-run farms and little merchants in Taiwan and bringing them here to you. Almost all of the small-batch teas he sells are unavailable elsewhere nearby, and every one we've tried has been exceptional. Sauerbeck doesn't feel the need to buy and sell a tea he doesn't think is really special, he says. A red-tinted snow honey chrysanthemum from China's Kunlun Mountain is the rare herbal tea that reveals its true depth only on the second steeping, while a gui fei gets its natural sweetness because it's been fed on by leafhoppers, and his mulberry tea is prepared in the style of a Japanese sencha. All are worth not only drinking, but talking about. Right now you can get them only at Coquine and Noraneko restaurants, or online through his website. We suggest, strongly, that you do so.


26 Jan '15

Taiwanese Oolongs, Oxidation and Roasting Chart

Posted by Phillip Sauerbeck

While I was traveling in Taiwan last year I came across an interesting chart via Wang's Tea in Taipei that illustrated the relationship between Oxidation and Roasting, which can sometimes be confusing to those new to the tea world. I decided to create my own rendition.

Of course there are many other factors that can contribute to the unique flavors present in Taiwanese oolongs that are not included in this chart such as bruising, aging, rolling, twisting, cicadas, etc... 

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