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The Uncommon Life

It’s Teatime: 10 Uncommon Facts About Tea

September 22, 2015

PicMonkey Collage

We’re saying “So long, Summer,” which means it’s almost time to trade in those nice, cold pitchers of iced tea for steamy cups of the hot stuff. For centuries tea has been one of the world’s favorite drinks, and for millennia it has had a central place in the daily lives and culture of people throughout the world. With the hot, relaxing brew in mind, we’ve put together 10 uncommon facts you didn’t know about tea. Enjoy!


Tea is perhaps the single best traveled beverage in the world. It was allegedly discovered in about 2737 BC by the second emperor of China after tea leaves blew into his boiling water. It since spread West by way of Turkish traders and East to Japan, and was a major catalyst for the development of trade relations between East and West. Today, tea is the most widely consumed beverage worldwide, after water, and is cultivated in 42 countries, mainly in in Asia, Africa, South America, and around the Black and Caspian Seas – all well represented in the Tea from Around the World Set.



You might think that the need to travel with tea in a rush would be a uniquely 21st Century phenomenon, but it turns out that the scramble to bring tea to market way back in the way back was even more intense than your morning rush. After the British East India Company lost its monopoly on the tea trade with China in 1834 following adjustments to its charter, the tea trade suddenly became a free-for-all. Where there was once no rush, British Company merchants now had to compete with American merchants. Favoring newly designed, swift Tea Clippers, merchants in the 1860s would face off on an ultimate race around the world – beginning in China, ships would set out together and cross the Indian Ocean, round the Cape of Good Hope, and up the Atlantic to be pulled by tugboat up the River Thames. First to unload their cargo ashore wins! | Tea to Go


It seems that accidents played a major part in tea-related innovation over the years. The tea bag was originally “invented” by New York coffee merchant Thomas Sullivan in 1904. Though he originally intended them to be single-serving samples of tea, his customers found it easier to brew the tea while still sealed in the small, porous bags. The idea clearly took off – in the US today, the vast majority of tea is brewed using tea bags. The Tea Bag Holding Mug has you covered.



Despite thousands of varieties across regions and cultures, tea all comes from the same plant, and there are really only four varieties – black, oolong, white, and green – as determined by oxidation time after harvesting. Though black has historically been the most popular, the popularity of green tea is growing much faster, likely due to its widely revered health properties. Green tea can benefit weight loss, longevity, skin care, heart disease, cholesterol, tooth decay, depression … you get the idea. | Green Herbal Tea Kit 



Tea leaf reading, or Tasseomancy (cup reading), is thought to have originally originated in China, and began to grow in popularity in Europe when it was adopted by nomadic Romany people in the 18th century, to whom it is regarded as an art form. Unlike some other “mancies,” even those who are not gifted with clairvoyance – like you – are able to read the symbols. Pro tip: use loose leaf tea rather than tea cut from tea bags – the coarser cut “reads” better. And if you see a black cat in the bottom of your cup, don’t take it personally. | Tea Leaf Reading Kit



Despite being mostly water, tea is actually one of the least water-intensive drinks, requiring less water per liter than coffee, beer, wine, or most fruit juices. To put things in perspective, 1,120 liters of water go into producing a single liter of coffee, whereas only 120 liters go into one liter of tea. The Tea Towel is still there for you during those rare spills mid-brew, packing more tea facts to boot.



It’s easy to think of iced tea as an auxiliary form of the beverage, but in the United States it’s actually the main attraction – approximately 85% of tea served in the US is iced! Cookbooks dating back to the 19th century indicate that Americans have been drinking the refreshing, iced beverage for a long time. But no American loves iced tea as much as Georgia state representative John Noel, who introduced legislation on April Fool’s Day in 2003 mandating that all restaurants serve sweet tea in “an attempt to bring a little humor to the Legislature.” Seeing as the bill didn’t pass, the Iced Tea Gift Set would make a great consolation present for poor ol’ John.


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The relaxing, versatile aroma of tea makes it a natural additive to soaps – but did you know that you can use it to clean your house as well? Less harsh than cleaning chemicals, the tanic acid in tea can be used to clean and add a luster to weathered hardwood floors. | Tea Party Soap Set 



It’s easy to imagine why tea appears so frequently in 18th and 19th century English literature – from T.S. Eliot to C.S. Lewis and Charles Dikens to Jane Austen, tea came forth as a vital expression of the times and a familiar, daily act that characters engage in. Yet in novels by famous female writers like Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell, tea becomes something more: a symbol of female power – and appropriately so. When it was first available in England, tea was only available in coffee houses, which only men were allowed to enter, as the smoke and noise was not fit for a lady. Finally, in 1717, the Twining family opened a tea shop that allowed women – a notable step in the social advancement of English women at the time. | Novel Teas


Which came first: the teacup or the teapot? The teacup. Though tea has been consumed for thousands of years, the teapot has only had a spot on the table for about 500 years – largely due to changes in the way tea is served. Instead of infusing the leaves, Chinese tea-drinkers originally ground the leaves into a paste that was then dried and made into cakes. The cakes were boiled with salt, rice, ginger, orange peel, and spices, making a kind of tea soup foreign to what we’re familiar with today. As tea brewing became a more refined process, the first “official” teapot appeared in about 1500 in Jiangsu, China. | Glass Teapot with Stand

See the Collection | UncommonGoods Tea Gifts

Maker Stories

Max’s Mug: Nothing But Net

September 23, 2014

Max and the Mug with a Hoop | UncommonGoods

Max is a budding entrepreneur who created a slam-dunk design: The Mug With a Hoop™. It’s no surprise that he’s a fan of playing with his food—after all, he was just 8 years old when he stepped out on the court to get in the design game!

The young inventor presented his product at the Babson College Center for Entrepreneurship, and in the Product Pitch at Fenway contest—so he could then tell his friends he had “pitched” at Fenway Park! Max’s mug was named one of the ten finalists in the contest, encouraging him to stay in the game.

Great publicity soon followed, including stories in the Boston Herald and Boston Business Journal. Max and his team (mom, dad and brother) then mounted a successful crowd-funding campaign, and their full court press put the mug into production.

The Mug With A Hoop™ isn’t just an addictively fun product; it also serves as a model success story and celebrates the creative focus found on the upside of dyslexia, a learning disability that’s affected Max from an early age.

Max (chief creator for MAX’IS Creations, now 10 years old), his brother Sam (13 years old and VP of product testing), and their mom, Jen (chief creator’s creator) took some time out from juggling school, entrepreneurship, and sports fandom to give us more detail on their uncommon venture, insight into the inspiration for the mug, and a glimpse of what’s next.

Mug with a Hoop | UncommonGoods

Q.) What was it like starting a business at a young age?

It was hard but I got it done. I like that I get to make money by doing my job. Other kids make money by doing chores, but I sell mugs. It’s more fun than doing chores, but it’s hard because I have to do a lot of work. And I’m proud to be donating 5 percent of the profits from MAX’IS Creations to charities that support learning disabilities like dyslexia because I’m dyslexic.

I made my original mug in art class at school. But then to turn it into a product to market, I had to work with design people to turn it into a prototype for a mug we could manufacture. I had to decide on what it would look like, what shape it should be, what color, and how big it should be. Then I had to decide where to make them. We had to talk to lots of factories until we found the right one. And now I do a lot of work going places to sell my mugs.

I’m very happy for Max and his business. He’s very entrepreneurial, and our whole family is helping him succeed. I like seeing the reaction of the people buying the mugs. Everyone seems to really like it. And it’s great to see places like UncommonGoods wanting to carry it.

Painting Mugs

Q.) Your company motto is “The world would be better if we could play with our food.” Did you get in a little trouble?

Sometimes…I like playing around but this is a good way to have fun at the table! I really like to play with my iPad at the table. But my parents don’t like me to do that because then I’m not part of the conversation. The Mug With a Hoop™ is a way for kids to play and be part of the conversation. It’s something you can do as a family. And the world is better if you can play with your food because it’s more fun!

Play with Your Food | UncommonGoods

Sam (left) and Max (right) play with their food.

Q.) What came first, the motto or the mug?

The mug came first. As our family connected with other entrepreneurs, we quickly learned the adage that successful products solve a problem. Looking at Max’s invention, we asked ourselves what problem it solved, and realized that Max’s value proposition in his own words was rather simple but true: “it makes eating fun.” And for many families, the dinner table is not seen as a place for fun. So we came up with the tagline “the world would be better if we could play with our food” to address the problem Max’s product solved and how his way of looking at things could make a difference in the world.

Q.) Now that The Mug With a Hoop™ is doing so well, do you have something new in the works?

Yes, my baseball mug—The Mug With a Glove™—is in production and should be available next spring! I 3D printed a prototype this spring at Fenway Park. The Mug With a Glove™ has baseball colors: the bowl is white in the shape of a baseball, with red baseball stitching with a brown glove attached that you throw the marshmallows into. It’s fun because you can throw marshmallows into the glove. It’s going to be great for small kids and big kids—any kind of kid, because it’s easier to get it in than The Mug With a Hoop™, which may be harder for little kids. I also have mugs coming out for football, hockey and soccer!

Q.) It must have been cool to visit Fenway a couple of times related to promote and develop your products.

I’m a Red Sox fan and love going to Fenway Park! I was excited to be able to go to Fenway to pitch my Mug With a Hoop™. And then they invited me back and I got to 3D print my baseball mug. It was fun to be on the Jumbotron. My favorite player is Dustin Pedroia, because he’s really good in the field.

Max "Pitching" His Design

Max at Fenway Park with
The Mug With a Hoop ™ and The Mug With a Glove ™.

Q.) Do you have any advice for other young entrepreneurs?

Don’t go too big at first because you may not sell that many. Keep it simple. And then if it’s good keep doing it. Also, you should get other people to help you. If you’re a kid, you don’t really know what to do, so get someone to help you. My mom and dad are helping me, and my brother Sam and his friends Bobby and Marc also helped me a lot.

Starting a business takes time and effort. If you put in time and effort you’ll have a good product and will be able to sell more and more until you make enough money to create another product and you keep building up.

You don’t really need to be an expert. If you want to be successful you just need to put time and effort in.

When Max made his first product, we chose to take a lot of time out of our regular activities as a family to try to make this product successful. And if you put in enough work and effort you will have a great product and it will be able to sell well.

Max and his team have every reason to be proud of their record so far. You can become a fan by picking up a Mug With a Hoop™ for yourself or for your favorite sports fan.

Maker Stories

Donna Rollins’ Handmade Mugs with a Healing Touch

March 15, 2013

“I’ve had an attraction to collecting stones for what seems like eternity,” says Donna Rollins, the artist behind Healing Stone Mugs and Birth Stone Mugs. Her creative cups incorporate layers of minerals, non-toxic glazes, and, of course, the signature stones that make them truly uncommon.

Healing Touch Pottery, Photo by Stephanie Minion Photography

Donna started creating pottery about 5 years ago, but says that she’s always been attracted to the medium. The self-taught potter credits her youngest daughter with inspiring her to give clay a try. She purchased her first wheel and kiln so they could create pottery together. Now all three of her daughters work for the company she and her husband, Randall, run in New Hampshire–Healing Touch Pottery.

When she got the notion of marrying natural stones with handmade ceramics Donna knew she was ready to start her business. “The idea of placing the stone on the thumb rest of a mug came to me in a dear friend’s home. I was admiring her stone collection and thought, How can I incorporate the healing benefits of crystals and minerals with my love for pottery?

Donna and Randall Rollins, photo by Stephanie Minion Photography

Today Healing Touch Pottery has 9 staff members who create 700 to 1000 mugs each week. “Each artist has their own style and that style comes through in the creation, but collectively we create what becomes an individual’s new favorite mug,” says Donna.

Healing Touch Potter Liz Johnson

Healing Touch Staff: Mandi Ouellette, Samantha Mistich, and Liz Johnson

“Each of our signature mugs begin with a pound of clay in our hands,” Donna explains. “We shape the square clay into a ball, we then throw it into the center of a potter’s wheel, hence the term throwing pottery. From there, we pull, push and gently caress the clay forming the various shapes of the cylinder of a mug.”

But the potter’s wheel is just the beginning. “The potter’s assistant takes the cylinder off the potter’s wheel and places it on a board. Depending on the day of the week, there could be anywhere from 120 to 220 cylinders thrown that day,” says Donna.”After a day of sitting and drying to leather-hard, the cylinders are handled by our other talented artists. Once the mugs have dried enough to be wiped and signed, they are then placed in the kilns for their first firing to bisque. After the bisque firing, the mugs are transported to the glazing room where another group of artists dip each mug in our handcrafted glazes. From this point, the mugs are loaded into the glazing kilns for their final firing at 2200 degrees. Once the mugs are cool enough to unload they are transported to another room where the stones are attached and Reiki-charged.”

Reviewer submitted image by By SouthernMama from Sweet Home Alabama

While a great deal of time and work go into each mug, Donna and her team don’t mind putting in the hours, care, and attention to detail it takes to create each piece. “There is a common thought and goal for each of us who work here at Healing Touch Pottery and we believe that is why our pottery is enjoyed by so many,” she tells us. “Quartz is a conductor of energy and it is in our clay and glazes and most of the stones we use are quartz-based. We believe our energy permeates our products, so it’s crucial we be in positive space and thoughts so our wares are enjoyed not just for their beauty, but also for their energy.”

The alluring stones also provide comfort, giving the person who holds the mug a gently-raised place to rest their thumb, and since skin slides easily against the smooth surface of the rocks, these creations are the perfect “worry stones” to help your troubles melt away as you enjoy a calming cup of tea or morning coffee as you start a new day.


Uncommon New Designs: Stylishly Rugged

December 29, 2011

Beards have been in style for some time now, and from beard art to facial hair championships, we’re pretty sure they’re here to stay.

We’re celebrating this hairy phenomenon with the Men’s Shaving Kit in our community voting app, which is actually more for keeping a fuzzy face looking good than actually shaving.

This rugged-chic set got us thinking about other great products that mix a natural, outdoorsy feel with high design.

Also in our voting app, lovely light blue Antler Mugs are sweet and simple, with big game appeal.

Another solid new design, the Quadro Bottle Opener, incorporates natural agate. The rugged, volcanic rock looks harsh when collected, but when carved and polished it’s colorful, rich, and sleek.

Of course, many ladies are outdoorsy, nature types as well. Another new design, Tasha McKelvey’s Mushroom Ring Dish may not feature a fungi specimen recognized by naturalists, but it is made from stoneware clay pressed against a piece of wood from a 100-year-old barn, giving it a weathered, textured look and feel.

Would you stash your ring in this little dish next time you want to work with your hands? Know a bearded fellow who could use a break from being burly to pamper his cheeks and chin? What’s your favorite outdoorsy trend?

Gift Guides

How to find a gift for your best friend

November 23, 2011

When Twitter Giveaway Winner Jodie Evans received her $500 gift certificate, she knew just what to get her best friend. And that’s how best friends are. When you know someone so closely, it’s easy to find that perfect gift.

So rather than let me tell you what you should get your best friend, let me call out 8 of our favorite gifts that symbolize what a great friendship is all about.

face Mug— for the friend you can talk to anytime

birth month flower necklaces— for the friend who doesn’t need Facebook to remember your birthday

7 deadly sins glasses— for the friend who forgives you all your flaws and shortcomings

attitude vase– and the friend who doesn’t let you get away

corkcicle– for the friend who’s always ready to celebrate

level necklace– for the friend who keeps you level headed

fortune keeper chain– for the friend who shares your dreams

sari scarf– for the friend who lets your true colors fly

What makes your best friend the greatest?

P.S. I know you’re probably crushed you missed our Twitter Giveaway, but you can still tweet at us or leave a comment below for personal shopping recommendations. We’re happy to help!


This or That? Unstoppable Stoppers & Cute Cups

June 23, 2011

Our City Harvest Design Challenge is going strong, and there’s still time to vote for your favorite Harvest Plate designs. While we’re waiting to find out which design is the next Plate with a Purpose ™ our buyers are tallying up your votes and contemplating your comments on last week’s Community Voting App goods.

From kids activities to cuteness for the kitchen, here are a few of the new goods you loved!

This or That? Activity Book

This or That?

Mel said:  “Another way creative idea that will have my 2nd grader really thinking outside the box and journaling as well! Just to show you how much I like it, I’ll buy it for my son!”

Jessie said:  “Why weren’t companies this smart back when I was a kid. I’m jealous of the future generations that will be so much smarter and more creative and more comfortable expressing themselves as a result of crazy, out-of-the-box-thinking companies like whoever came up with this idea. No fair…. p.s. love it.”

This imaginative book features 50 interactive pairs of illustrations prompting kids to choose “this” or “that.” Playful choices such as “Would you rather be a pirate or a ninja?” prompt kids to get creative in activities including writing poems and stories, drawing and collaging. The community agreed that this kids’ activity book is uncommonly clever.

Cartoon Door Stops

Cartoon Door Stops

Charlene said: “Would definitely buy. I am already making my list of people who would love it.”

Andrea said: “This is great! And a great price! Really cute for gifts. Affordable to give as a birthday gift.”

These delightful door stops hold the door while making a statement! You loved that they are fun, creative and affordable.

Animal Mug with Spoon

Animal Mug With Spoon

Blah said: “These are precious! The spoons are adorable.”

Valerie said: “Super cute! Great for grown ups and kids! Would make a kid drink all their milk, no problem!”

An adorable way to stir sugar in your coffee or chocolate syrup in your milk, you loved that these mug and spoon combos are not only practical, but also pretty darn cute!

Do you love these new goods? Leave a comment and let us know what you think! Each week, we’ll post roundup featuring fresh community approved items. Want to read more comments from voters like you? Check out last week’s roundup and check back soon for more This Just In!