Tea Together Tuesday: Three Easy Steps to Tea Love!

IMG_0099

Do you like my attempt at a clickbait title? Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share your top three tips for new tea drinkers or people who are just discovering tea. Now, I’ve actually written a multi-part series on approaching tea from various points in your journey, but I like the idea of distilling my tea philosophy down into three top tips, particularly since my own philosophy and attitudes have changed in the nearly two years since I published my Tea Primer.

Step One: Be Very, Very Wary of Anyone Claiming to Be Teaching the “One True Way”

Like with anything, there will always be evangelists who want to convince you that the tea they sell or the way they brew tea is the best way or even the only way to brew tea to truly enjoy it. Or they will claim some ancient, unbroken lineage for their methods or traditions. No, we do not brew tea the way that Lu Yu, the “Sage of Tea,” author of the earliest known written work exclusively devoted to tea, did. Maybe some people do, and of course more people might try it once as a curiosity or an historical exercise, but for the most part, the Tang Dynasty method of tea is not the same as modern gongfucha or even very similar to the way most of us drink our daily tea, even without the salt.

One thing that studying the history of tea culture around the world has taught me is that tea is not monolithic, even within China, its birthplace (although that is up for debate, as there is evidence that tea plants evolved independently in other parts of south and southeast Asia). Tea was originally used as a medicinal plant; that’s why the most common story of its origins as a beverage involve the legendary founder of traditional Chinese medicine and its mention is traced to medical texts. While it eventually developed into a pleasure beverage and aesthetic pursuit, tea has always been considered for its health benefits, and it has always been drunk blended and flavored by many of those who use it. Flavoring teas is not a new phenomenon. Drinking tea for the benefits is not a new phenomenon. And what is now popularized as gongfucha is not an ancient secret, nor is it the only way tea is drunk by those who really appreciate it.

Step 2: Drink What You Like, How You Like It

Do you prefer your tea unsweetened and un-lightened so you can really taste the intricate flavor notes of the particular cultivar or processing style you’re enjoying? Great! Do you like a brew so strong you can stand the spoon up in it, sweetened within an inch of its life, and with enough milk to keep your mouth from turning inside out at the tannin? Also great!

Again, historically, the British did not invent putting milk in tea. Even the supposed tale of the British learning it from the French is likely not true. The truth is that the Qing Emperor who reigned during the early heyday of Western tea trade was a Manchurian who drank milk tea (much to the supposed dismay of the Han Chinese, who preferred their delicate green teas). Was this emperor a literal barbarian? Well, that term has all sorts of uncomfortable racial connotations, so perhaps it’s best to just let him have his milk tea, and let the rest of us add milk or not as we like.

Sugar is also a common ingredient in traditional Chinese medicinal concoctions, with different sorts of sugars having different supposedly benefits for the body. Traditionally-prepared brown or unrefined sugar is supposed to have all sorts of lovely benefits for women, at least according to one of my favorite Chinese YouTubers. So, again, it is entirely possible that it was the Chinese who taught Westerners that sugar was a good thing to add to tea. So there is no historical basis for the tea purism that sometimes permeates modern tea communities and discourages new people from coming in and trying the tea, since they sometimes need a spoonful of sugar, at least at first.

(Please note, I am not going to get into it about anything to do with the healthfulness or unhealthfulness of sugar. Carbohydrates are a necessary macronutrient and that’s where this post ends on the matter. Ableist or fatphobic comments will not be entertained or approved.)

And I’ve already talked about how tea was originally blended. In my video on the earliest archaeological evidence of tea, I talked about how it seems likely from the chemical signatures found that the tea was blended with barley and other botanicals, possibly even the citrus peel, ginger, and scallions mentioned by Lu Yu (who was actually a bit of a tea snob, it seems). I’ve actually found that the combination of green tea, ginger, and orange peel (pictured above) has quickly become one of my favorite blends personally. Does it obscure some of the flavor notes in the tea that might come forward without the additions? Yes. But does it “ruin” it? Absolutely not. And, no, just because I don’t personally prefer most added artificial flavors doesn’t mean you should feel anything but enjoyment at your own favorite mocha-blueberry-s’mores-rooibos-puerh blend.

Step Three: Experiment and Explore

Now, that said, while you’re drinking what you like, you should never feel afraid to experiment. Yes, it can be scary to think about “ruining” a cup of tea by steeping it too hot or too long or with the wrong teaware, especially when you start getting into the realm of 20-year-old oolongs or puerhs from the year you were born that you can only afford 10g of at a time. But ultimately, it’s just tea. It’s an ephemeral pleasure, no matter how long you want to store and age it, it is ultimately meant to be consumed. Try to pay attention more to what you do enjoy and merely make a note of what you don’t like to try to avoid it in the future.

Once again returning to the blend in my photo, did I added citrus peel and ginger to the very last of my 2020 fresh all-bud expensive green tea from white2tea? Yes. Was it awesome? Also yes. No regrets.

If you’re 100% brand-new to tea, yes, it’s a good idea to look up some general guidelines or read the packet to get an idea of how to brew this tea. But “brewing instructions” are like the Pirate Code — they’re really more like guidelines. Don’t fully enjoy that tea made the way the instructions say to make it? Try something different with it! Try brewing at a different temperature or with a different amount of leaves or for a different amount of time. I’ve written in the past about how I “troubleshoot” a difficult tea, and that is a good place to start, but I also love Rie’s experiments at Tea Curious. If you have the time, try to catch one of her tea practice Live sessions on Instagram where she often performs experiments to see how different parameters really affect tea. I’ve even tried my hand at these experiments, by testing out whether a bamboo whisk is really the best way to make matcha, and I have more tests planned in the future.

So there you have it — my top three tips for new tea drinkers. We were all new to this once, and honestly, the best thing I’ve brought to my tea practice is the concept of “beginner’s mind.” Always be learning, never consider yourself finished or an expert. There is always something new to explore and always someone who can teach you. Happy sipping!

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you’re interested in collaborating with me, please read my contact and collaboration information.

Adventures in Portable Tea with Tea Drops

IMG_1297

Recently, Tea Drops* offered to send me some of their flavors after I was accepted into their affiliate program, so I’ve been trying their Classic Tea Drops Assortment* over the last couple of weeks. As I mentioned in my post on Pique Tea’s offerings, I’m a fan of finding ways to take tea with me on the go that is less complicated even than bringing a high-quality tea bag. Add to that recent concerns with microplastics in silky tea bags, and I’m always in the market for a way to take tea along with me that doesn’t immediately reveal me as a high-maintenance tea snob.

Tea Drops are a different direction of portable tea because they focus on flavors. Tea Drops are sweetened because the form is a compressed tea nugget, almost like a tea-flavored sugar cube, rather than a packet of powder. It’s worth noting that if you have to avoid all sugar, they do have some unsweetened types, but I went for their classic flavors: Rose Earl Grey*, Sweet Peppermint*, Citrus Ginger*, and Matcha Green Tea*. They come in a wooden gift box with two of each flavor. But the sweetened original Tea Drops have between 1-2 teaspoons of sugar each, so it’s not a huge amount of sugar. Just enough to give a pleasantly sweet cup of tea.

Now, I don’t drink a lot of sweetened tea, so these fit into a specific part of my life: namely lattes and after-dinner drinks. In the mornings, I will often have a lightly-sweetened tea latte instead of a solid breakfast. Sadly, the Rose Earl Grey Tea Drop didn’t have quite the right balance of sweetness, rose, and Earl Grey flavor for me. I had hoped that it would be a quick and easy way to recreate my favorite Rose Earl Grey latte from the local coffee shop. Plus, the tea is actually finely powdered tea leaves, not dehydrated brewed tea like the Pique Tea crystals. So there was a fair amount of sediment in the cup.

But the Matcha Green Tea Drop was made from a good blend of sugar and matcha powder. It wasn’t the best quality matcha powder, but it was certainly comparable to what you’d get at a Starbucks. In fact, a Matcha Tea Drop mixed into a cup of hot milk with my electric frother is probably the easiest dupe of a Starbucks green tea latte (I get mine “unsweetened” — that is, without the additional syrup on top of the sugar in their green tea powder). And the matcha mixes into the latte with little to no sediment.

The two caffeine-free flavors I tried were good for the other time I drink tea with sugar: when I want something sweet after dinner, but don’t want to eat a full dessert. Since Elliot started on solids, I’ve been watching how often I eat sweets, and we’ve largely stopped eating dessert most nights of the week. But once in a while I want a little something sweet, and while I love a hot chocolate, I don’t always want the dairy right before bed. So I’ve started having one of the caffeine-free Tea Drops as an after-dinner treat. It’s the perfect level of sweetness for me. The Citrus Ginger is a little heavier on the citrus and a little lighter on the ginger than I prefer (although I do drink straight sliced ginger in hot water, so I like it spicy). The Sweet Peppermint one is my favorite. It’s the perfect mix of peppermint tea and sweetness. These also have a sediment problem, but it’s fine enough not to be unpleasant, and it doesn’t detract from the experience.

Tea Drops also makes some other flavors that look interesting, such as their Cardamom Spice and their Dessert Collection, so perhaps I will keep exploring. All in all, I enjoyed this foray into sweetened, portable tea. If you like your tea a little sweet and want something that you could toss in your purse and take with you for when you have hot water or milk, these are definitely worth a look.

NB: These were sent to me free of charge in exchange for my honest thoughts. Links may be affiliate links, which are marked with an asterisk. If you’re interested in my other affiliate links, you can find them here. If you’re interested in contacting me for a collaboration, please read this page.

Tuesday Tasting: Two Black Teas from Georgian Tea Limited

IMG_1157

Recently, I saw a new company launch on Instagram, Georgian Tea Limited, which offers tea grown in the country of Georgia. I was first intrigued by Georgian teas when I saw Northern Teaist review some a little while ago, so I commented letting them know that I would be interested in trying some of their teas and they offered to send me “a few free samples.” What arrived was three 100-g bags of tea, one of each tea they offer, the Black Classic Tea, the Black Premium Tea, and the Green Premium Tea. Since it went back to feeling like winter this weekend, I decided to do a tasting of the Black Classic Tea, but as I was sipping it, I was really curious how it compared to the Black Premium Tea, so I decided to try that one, too.

Black Classic Tea

IMG_1155

I used 2g of leaf in a 120-ml gaiwan to taste this one, with 95C water. I steeped it once for three minutes and a second time for five minutes. The warm dry leaf had light aromas of dry hay. After the first steeping, the wet leaf smelled mildly tannic, with some malt and dark chocolate. Oddly enough, the first time I smelled this wet leaf, I thought that it smelled like the fancy version of Lipton’s tea, and my husband thought it smelled of lemon. The first steeping yielded a medium rosy-amber liquor that smelled similar to the wet leaf. The liquor has a bright citrusy flavor right up front, with a pleasantly light body and no astringent dryness. The website states that this tea has very mild tannins, and they’re not wrong. The aftertaste is lightly caramel-y and fruity, and it’s a very smooth cup of tea. I had tried this previously with milk and sugar, and I see now that that was a mistake. This is very much a straight-cup-of-tea daily drinker. There is a slight hint of sweetness to it.

The second infusion was similar in color with similar flavors and aromas, just slightly lighter. I decided to stop after two steepings. The wet leaf is interesting. These leaves are obviously much less broken than the Premium tea, and when they unfurl, they are narrow leaves with a shallow serration on the edges. I would be curious to learn more about the cultivars they use.

Black Premium Tea

IMG_1158

I know that among US tea aficionados, “premium” is synonymous with bigger, unbroken leaves, so I was surprised when I received my tea samples to feel through the packaging that the Premium tea seemed to be a smaller leaf size than the Classic. So I was curious how this translated to the flavor. I also used 2g of tea to a 120-ml gaiwan with 95C water, with two steepings, one for 3 minutes and one for five minutes. The leaf didn’t really smell like much, dry or wet, but the liquor it yielded was definitively darker, with a dark ruby-amber color. It had the same smooth and balanced flavor as the Classic, but with a burnt sugar sweetness and a fruitiness that was bolder on the tongue.

The second steeping brought forward the lemony flavor I got from the Classic, with a smooth, non-bitter, and slightly sweet taste. I didn’t take a picture of the wet leaves, but they didn’t really look much different from the dry leaf, just, well, wet.

I found these two teas extremely interesting and am likely to turn to them again as morning teas, as they are uncomplicated and invigorating, without needing much help from fussy brewing parameters or additives, making them perfect for rushed mornings and travel flasks on the train.

NB: These teas were sent to me free of charge in exchange for sharing my honest thoughts about them. To read my reasons for changing from tea reviews to tea tastings, read this post. For more information about collaborating with me, click here.