My friend Laura loves wine more than tea so it was a challenge to convince her to drive an hour away from home to visit a small tea shop in Queens. There she sampled teas from China and Taiwan for three hours.
“I want to show you the incredible teas that I’m blabbing about,” I said. She was a good sport and agreed. It might have helped to offer dumplings as a bribe.
We were hunched over small stools, under fluorescent lights, as the tea seller prepared five different teas for us. The first tea left Laura cold, and I watched her say the same “oh that’s…interesting” dismissal I’ve heard so many times before. We then moved on to the high-mountain oolong.
She took a sip, and her eyes widened. I almost heard her yell at me: “How does this taste like riesling?” Is that peach skin?” Black walnut?”
Four different teas made from the same batch tea leaves from the Dachi Tea. Photo by Vicky Wasik
Because she had a similar vocabulary to wine, spirits and coffee, she knew she was hooked. Tannins, fruit undertones, terroir, and tannins are all equally applicable to tea. She realized that tea is more than a hot beverage for cold weather.
Each year, I am left wondering when tea will be given its due. Tea is a ubiquitous, delicious, nutritious, gentle stimulant, rich in history and lore, as well as being a highly-coveted drink. Maybe the problem is writing a trend article on tea , the most beloved beverage in the world after water.
If all you know is that English Breakfast Tea Bags are getting stale in your cupboard, then I want to encourage you to dig deeper to discover why tea deserves our respect and appreciation.
Flavored Tea vs. Flavorful Tea
I will ask you to take another leap of faith. You can skip it altogether.
Many people enjoy Earl Grey tea or a specific chai blend. However, drinking flavored tea by default can be likened to saying that white wine is only worth drinking if it is diluted with ice cubes or that bourbon can only be mixed into Manhattans. It also implies that unflavored Tea lacks flavor. This is not true.
In regards to East Asian teas that are meant to be drunk straight and not with milk, I would argue the contrary. Although the world has a lot of tea, its supply of great-tasting teas is very limited. A $500 bottle of Bordeaux is worth the effort to find an eye-opening cup of tea. It isn’t getting flavored. It’s more likely that a factory or an after-market vendor are adding additional flavors to a tea because it requires a flavor boost.
Making loose leaf tea
A gaiwan. Photograph: Vicky Wasik
There are many options for brewing loose leaf tea. You can try many different methods and buy specialized tools. These include wire mesh tea balls and elaborate metal and glass infusers.
You don’t have to be fancy. For instance, in China, the most popular brewing method is to use a small cup or a glass. Instructions: Place a few tea leaves in a glass and then add hot water. Allow the tea to steep for one minute before you take a sip. You can add more water to the pot, then re-steep. Continue this process for as many times as you like. There is no fuss, no fuss, and no need to worry about water temperature or steeping time.