November 26th, 2014
I’ve had some requests for a tea post, and this cold rainy day is perfect for it! I didn’t always love tea, it was an acquired taste for me. The calming ritual of brewing it, the scents, colors, and my mug fetish kept me coming back for more until the flavors grew on me.
Lately I get most of my teas from Tin Roof Teas. They offer monthly tea tastings, and the walls of the shop are covered in every tea you can imagine. Lucky for you guys they now accept online orders, so if you aren’t in the Raleigh area you can still shop. I’ve also worked my way through a bunch of teas from DavidsTea over the years, and they have some great ones too.
If you don’t know much about preparing tea, the most important thing is not to brew it in water that’s too hot and not to brew it for too long—otherwise you can end up with some foul tasting concoctions. Any loose tea worth its salt will be labeled with the amount of tea to use per cup, the brewing temperature, and time. I’m a little lazy and don’t use a thermometer—I just put the kettle on and listen for that hissing noise the water makes when it’s hot but not boiling. You’ll need a good infuser with super tiny holes to make sure the leaves don’t escape into your mug. Basket infusers like this work great and give the tea room to expand. This is how I store my tea collection.
I’m going to recommend some teas, but for the record I’m pretty terrible at describing the flavor nuances and scents beyond “yum” or “it smells good”. If you really want to geek out, head over to steepster.com and read some wonderfully eloquent tea reviews. Sometimes I don’t even realize what flavors I’m tasting until I read someone else’s description.
I started out drinking herbal and fruit teas. Tin Roof’s Blackberry Royale and Roasted Almond are winners. You won’t believe the vibrant colors that come out of them! Peppermint tea is a safe bet too. I like this one from Stash.
Rooibos teas are also great for beginners. They’re caffeine free and never get bitter (even if you accidentally steep them too long or in water that is too hot). There are tons of rooibos flavors and combinations out there. Tin Roof’s Rooibos Cream Caramel and DavidsTea’s Jessie’s Tea are both excellent.
White teas are really subtle and a good choice for tea novices too. Sometimes the color and taste are so subtle that I’m like, “Wait, am I just drinking hot water?” They’re not all like that though—Tin Roof’s China Fancy White Peony and DavidsTea’s Gold Rush are truly scrumptious.
At first I hated green teas, because I thought they were always bitter. It turned out I was brewing them for too long and in water that was too hot. Green teas are usually brewed at around 165 degrees F and only for a minute or two. Then you’ll end up with a cup of sweet deliciousness (that’s good for you too!). I’m particularly fond of Tin Roof’s Sencha Fuka-midori and DavidsTea’s Gyokuro Yamashiro. (Just don’t ask me how to pronounce those names.)
Oolongs are yum. They’re a happy middle ground between a green and black tea. Milk oolongs (like this one) are my very favorite. You won’t believe how creamy they taste—and the scent! There’s nothing like it. Ginseng oolongs (like this one) are another excellent choice—the sweet ginseng hits you after you take a sip.
I don’t love straight black teas, but maybe I’ll come around some day. I love black tea in chai with milk and sugar though! This is how I make Masala chai from scratch, but it’s a little time consuming. Tin Roof’s Tiger Eye Chai and DavidsTea’s Saigon Chai are both delicious. You know, Earl Grey is pretty good too as far as black teas go. I just haven’t found my ultimate favorite yet.
In case anyone else is wondering, two of the three tea plants I planted last year are still alive, but they haven’t grown at all. Bugs really seem to like to eat them, and I think the climate just isn’t ideal for them here.
If you have any tea questions feel free to ask. I’ll try to answer or make something up that sounds feasible! ;)