Amateurs guide to Tea

Tea has many important benefits, such as the ability to grant superpowers and correct the mistakes you make in your daily diet. Speaking seriously, I drink 4-10 cups of tea each day. I keep a stash of tea at work and a smaller stash at home, since I don’t want to drink too much at night. I have no interest in being a snob about tea, first because I could get schooled by someone who really knows their stuff and second because that’s useless. I want more people drinking tea for their enjoyment, not less.

For those of you who think “I don’t like tea”, I can think of two reasons why. One, you simply never will like tea and that’s ok. Two, the tea you’ve had to date is bagged. There’s nothing inherently wrong with bagged tea except that so much of it contains little tea, mostly twigs and leaves, and is usually too black if its black tea and a total lie if it claims to be green or white tea. I’m going to try to organize this post by your familiarity level with tea.

1. Tea Equipment (the boring part)

If you’re at home, a boiling pot will do just fine. You can buy a metal infuser at most grocery stores, near the tea and coffee, or in any shop selling tea.

For work purposes, I microwave a cup of water. You’ll have to do a bit of experimentation since all microwaves differ. If you have bottled water, use that, otherwise try to use filtered water. If you have to use tap water, use cold water and simply microwave it longer at lower power. For most tea, you don’t want the water boiling anyway, if its letting off steam it’s fine.

2. Beginner: You’ve had the occasional cup of tea, but you don’t like it much. I can fix that.  Let me try to guess what you might like:

Iced Tea: Since summer is approaching, this is a great idea.  Use a Lipton bagged tea, and buy a lemon or two.  If Lipton has some new brand specially made for iced tea then use that, otherwise normal bagged Lipton is from Sri Lanka, the stuff they use is usually sold loose as Orange Pekoe or Ceylon Orange Pekoe or something similar.  It’s not orange flavored or anything like that, the name refers to the color.  The term “pekoe” describes the two-leaves-and-a-bud pick from the tea plant.  Put enough ice in a pitcher to make yourself happy, some sliced lemons, and use two bags for every 8 oz cup of brewed tea you use.  If you prefer sweetener, add it to the iced tea hours later.  If you prefer sugar, put about 8 oz of water in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons of sugar, stir that up and get it boiling to make a nice syrup for the iced tea.  Let it cool a bit and dump it in the pitcher.

Hot tea, something to wake you up:  If you’d like to try loose, I recommend an oolong.  Go to a place where you can see the tea leaves, you want a green looking oolong. If it smells like grass, fantastic.  If you’re using bagged tea, the important part of oolong (and anything green or black) is to take the bag out after the steeping time on the bag.  If you leave it in you’ve got a bitter-tastic cup of fail.

Hot tea, something at night to calm you down:  I highly recommend rooibos.  If you’re getting bagged rooibos, try to find one that isn’t too expensive (it’s generally not) and isn’t flavored.  Regular rooibos is just great, the trick is to use a lot.  Use twice as many bags as the box recommends, more rooibos is always always better.  Plus when you make it stronger (no caffeine at all, relax) you can add cream and sugar and you’ve got yourself what they call in South Africa a “red latte”.

2.  Intermediate:  You drink tea a few times a week, and you’d to try some more.

Iced Tea:  You might be ready to try something a little fancy.  Flavored green teas make great iced tea.  If you can go to a place with loose tea then try to get something that looks green and smells nice, if you can’t, go online or go to the store and get a green flavored with a citrus, or a regular green and add plenty of lemon.  If you’re going to the store, Rishi makes some good loose teas, if you’re going online, try Teavana or Adagio or Stash Tea, all are great.  Follow the same directions as above, except this time try to steep something loose or a good bagged green with orange flavoring.

Hot tea, something to wake you up:  Some good black teas are Keemum, anything with the word “Imperial” (trust me, its a form of black) or an oolong.  If you’d like to use an english or irish breakfast tea, or anything with the word “breakfast” or “grey”, keep in mind that these teas are designed to be swamped with cream and sugar or sweetener.  They are teas blended to be very, very strong and bitter by themselves.  They can be great with a hearty breakfast with milk and sugar.

Hot tea, something for the afternoon:  Again, an oolong is great in the afternoon.  If you’re using bagged tea, another thing to remember is that cloudiness is bad.  It either means something is in your water or more likely, something is in your tea, like twigs and bits of non-tea that got in there.  Switch to another brand.  If you get to smell the oolong, fresh and grassy smelling means its nice and green and mellow, otherwise it should have a clear reddish color.

Hot tea, something to relax with:  You can try some lightly flavored rooibos if you like, I also recommend a cup of white tea.  Two or three cups of white tea and you’re back up again, but one cup doesn’t have enough caffeine.  White tea is nice in that you can let it steep as long as you want.   It should be a clear yellow color.

3.  Advanced: You have a few cups of tea per week, you’ve tried a few different teas and you generally like tea:

Hot tea, something to wake you up:  You’re used enough to tea to try the subsitution of 3-4 cups of green instead of your morning coffee/caffeine drink.  A few cups of green tea doesn’t give you the instant jolt coffee does, it ramps up and keeps you perked for a couple hours.  It’s great.  You also don’t get jittery, like you can from coffee/espresso.  I recommend trying some loose, unflavored green teas until you find something you like.  A favorite of mine is Dragon Well, aka liongjin (spelling may differ).  The risk with unflavored green tea is that you may find you want to change the brand/store you buy green from.  A lot of brands and stores will use lower quality green (or black/oolong) teas and mask the quality change with extra heavy flavorings.  Again, the key here is fresh and grassy.  When you finally open the package, it should smell like nature.  It should have a clear yellow to orange/reddish color.  You may need to buy a few small samples until you find the thing you like, but when you do, you won’t switch from it.  I buy dragon well by the pound now.

You may have noticed a few things from reading this.  For one, I don’t recommend any “decaffeinated” teas.  This is because unfortunately in tea, they still haven’t found a way to remove caffeine from tea without also removing much of the flavor.  You may also have noticed I specify a clear color to any tea.  This is because many bagged teas are in fact leftovers from the loose tea.  This isn’t bad in itself, but sometimes bagged tea brands will allow twigs and other bits into the tea, and you’ll get cloudiness when you steep the bag.  You shouldn’t settle for that.
If you’d like a nice breakfast tea and don’t like english breakfast, irish breakfast, or earl grey (or lady grey or any other “grey”), try a darjeeling.  They can be quite nice.  Again, english teas, darjeelings, and chais are meant for cream and sugar, not by themselves.  They’ll either be bitter or spicy.

And if you find yourself with leftover steeped tea in a pot or cup, get in the habit of keeping a pitcher or bottle around you can throw the remaining tea water into.  You’ll find it makes a nice iced tea, this “leftover pitcher”.  I keep one in my fridge and dump all sorts of leftover tea pots in there, I get some interesting blends.

If you have specific questions I’d love to address them further!

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