Discovering Tea

I have never been much of a tea drinker. Oh, I drank tons of it during my brief trip to London, but to be fair, it was freezing and I poured so much milk and sugar into each cup the actual tea flavor was lost in the process. When I’m sick, I drink tea with honey for my throat. When I go out for sushi, I always get a pot (or two or three) of green tea to accompany my meal. But I’ve never really understood or appreciated tea.

Then two things happened at the same time:

1. My friend Tiffany sent me the most marvelous gift of two loose-leaf teas (and tea chocolates!!) from the amazing place she works: Teance in Berkeley. (Thanks again, Tiffany. I hope you can see how much I loved your gift!)

2. I saw a post on Lifehacker raving about a loose-leaf tea brewing device: the IngenuiTEA from Adagio. (I will have to post pictures of the teapot in action later — the video on their site doesn’t do it justice.)

Since then, I have been in the special heaven of newly discovered beauty.

First off, and I’m sure this won’t be news to many of you, loose-leaf teas are beautiful. As someone who has only experienced tea bags before, this was quite a revelation for me. I loved opening the little sample pack of green teas I got from Adagio: the gunpowder looked like gunpowder, with dark pellets that unfurled into lighter green leaves. The genmai chai has tea leaves mixed with brown rice and popcorn! Each tin is like a little treasure box of sensory wonder. I smelled the leaves, poured some into my palm, and delighted in their texture.

As for flavor, the Teance teas blew me away.

The Yunnan Gold Red/Black tea was so yummy that I could not imagine adding sugar or milk. I had three cups in quick succession, steeped from the same leaves… probably a tea sin, but I didn’t care.

The White Dragon Jasmine Pearls… oh, my. Let me quote the description from the Teance website:

Large, gently plucked, tender green tea leaves rolled with the summer’s most fragrant jasmine blossoms into large white pearls. The jasmine blossoms are picked unopened, then layered over the green tea leaves overnight. During the night, the jasmine flowers bloom, tossing its intense and exquisite aroma into the leaves which absorb the fragrance.The flowers are discarded and fresh ones harvested the next day. This process is repeated 13 times for this particular grade, making it one of the most labour intensive, highest quality jasmine green teas ever. The jasmine flowers are the Arabic variety grown in Fujian and only bloom in the summer. The resultant tea liqueur is smooth, sweet, and viscous with the long lingering fragrance of jasmine flowers.

This isn’t just a beverage, it’s magic. The “Dragon Pearls” are beautiful pellets in their dry form, but inside the Adagio teapot, they unfurl into long slender leaves. The teapot looked like a forest of kelp by the time they had fully steeped! I will take pictures soon — can you believe I’m saying that? Such is the transformational nature of loose-leaf tea.

So here I am, a tea n00b, asking for your brewing tips and favorite leaves. I’m eager to try white tea next, I think, though there are so many greens and blacks and the whole arena of oolong to try, not to mention experiments with iced tea and herbal infusions.

I guess the real question is: How will my bank account survive? Until I know the answer, I’m just going to bide my time and revel.


Comments

Laurel Lyon 8 years ago .

I’m a black tea drinker, and I favour Darjeeling. If you buy from the growers (e.g., http://thunderbolttea.com/) it’s not too expensive.
You need to use water which is fully boiling for black tea. The proper English way to make it is in a china teapot. Just before the water boils, swish some around in the pot to warm it up, then empty it. Add a teaspoonful or so of tea (you soon find out your preferred strength) and pour the water in when it is fully boiling. Bring the teapot to the kettle rather than the other way around so it doesn’t go off the boil. Let stand a minute or two. When the pot is half empty you can add more hot water to keep it going a bit longer, although you won’t have those freshly made aromas.

Rick 8 years ago .

I highly recommend San Francisco's Red Blossom Tea Company (http://redblossomtea.com/).

Try the Silk Oolong Formosa (fa-120). You almost don't need to brew it — just open the package and smell it once in a while! (I think I may have sent you a package with the tiger tea pot a few years ago. Too soon, perhaps! But if you still have it laying around, no time like the present…)

And for aesthetics, take a look at the "blossoming" teas: http://redblossomtea.com/product.php?sec=blossomi… (I haven't tried these, but they look fascinating)!

Interesting to see Laurel's tips on English brewing above. Definitely not the way to treat greens or especially whites (keep temps lower).

I think you'll soon find that while they're both called "tea," the black English style teas are an entirely different beverage. All good, but very different — suiting different moods and settings.

It's no sin to re-use the same leaves, by the way. Just appreciate the subtle differences between each brewing. ;)

Enjoy!

– R

Diana Pharaoh Franci 8 years ago .

Love tea! And I love chai–with all the milk and honey in it. But anyhow, I just got an instant hot water spigot in my kitchen. I'm embarking on a tea-extravaganza!

I get a lot of my tea from Republic of TEa, and you should sign up for their catalogs, because they usually come with a tea sample. http://www.republicoftea.com/query/Default.asp

I really like this one: http://www.republicoftea.com/templates/detail.asp… which has a chocolatey flavor

And this one: http://www.republicoftea.com/templates/detail.asp… which has a really smokey flavor. Seriously smokey.

Tiffany 8 years ago .

Yayyyyy, I'm glad you liked the teas!! Tea drinking really can be magical. Also tea drinking and martial arts have a long, intertwined history. They go together quite well, as demonstrated in one of my favorite movies, Jet Li's Fearless ;) Do you remember the scene where he has tea with the Japanese guy?

For white teas, I would recommend either White Peony, which has a rich floral flavor and lots of body, or a Silver Needle/all bud white tea, which is the most authentic style, and is very light and ethereal.

Happy tea drinking!

Tiff

ps–Your instincts were right-on in resteeping the Yunnan Gold! Pretty much any high-quality Chinese tea can be steeped many times over, since the teas are made to be drunk in a small container (a lidded tea bowl–again refer to Fearless–or a small clay teapot), with hot water continually being refreshed!

Jenn Reese 8 years ago .

These comments and suggestions are AWESOME!! Thank you guys so much! I'm really excited to spend way too much time browsing tea sites and reading up on methods and traditions. Hooray for a new obsession!

Dayle 8 years ago .

I'm something of a tea geek myself, although I don't focus on loose teas per se. My "every day" tea is PG Tipps, which is just your basic supermarket tea in Britain, but it's scads better than anything you can get at Von's or Albertson's here!

For loose teas, I love the Huntington Garden's rose tea (a black tea w/roses), and I also picked up a very nummy Evening Repose tea at Mountain Rose Herbs (www.mountainroseherbs.com), where I also bought their gorgeous Celestial tea strainer

If I'm making a pot of loose tea, I'll use the strainer, but if I'm just making a cup or two, I use empty tea bags (found at Asian supply stores). Fill 'em with loose tea, fold 'em over, and voila!

I must highly second what Laurel said about fully boiling water. (Let it stop bubbling before you actually pour it over the tea.) Whatever you do, don't boil the water in the microwave. The taste is appreciably different. Bleah.

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