I’m cutting out most of my Diet Coke drinking, I don’t drink coffee at all, and I’m finding myself interested in drinking tea. I have been drinking some basic Earl Grey and green tea, but I figure there must be some really interesting and great quality ones out there. Can anyone point me to some really good ones for me to try, particularly ones with complexity and nuance that would appeal to a wine lover?
My main criteria: (1) available in regular stores or on line without excessive hassle, (2) in somewhat convenient packets that don’t involve brewing a whole pot or anything, and (3) probably prefer ones that have caffeine.
Chris, there are a lot of chinese tea shops out there with incredible loose green tea leaves. Even your basic Ten Ren/Tea Station sells really good lose green tea leaves. If you’re ever up in Los Angeles, Wing Hop Fung has hundreds of types of oolong/green at great pricing.
Most if not all come in resealable bags to keep the leaves fresh.
Chris, here’s the ugly reality. Most teas in pre-packaged bags are at best average and often far worse. Yes, some brands are better than others, but the selection of tea at most supermarkets, like wines, is generally fairly insipid. You’re best bet is to find a decent tea retailer (Asian grocers are a good place to start as Charlie pointed out) and buy a few loose teas. There are lots of “brew in a cup” type of devices and it’s worth getting one so you don’t have to brew entire pots of tea. They make brewing tea, even at work, pretty simple and the results are far better than anything from a bag. Tea is as complex as wine and it’s worth stepping up somewhat for good loose teas and a means of brewing them. Yes, pre-bagged tea is convenient, but so is buying wine at the grocery store. A good retailer is worth tracking down.
As to what kinds of tea, that’s a huge question and largely a matter of taste. Black teas will have more caffeine but they range from very brisk Assam teas (think English breakfast) to more refined ones from China that aren’t as tannic and don’t have as much bite. To me, oolong teas are the most complex of all, and have a wide range of styles. But again, you will need a good tea shop to find good ones. Ones marked just as oolong in bags are almost universally awful and won’t show you why they’re so sought after. Avoid pre-bagged supermarket oolongs at all costs. Oolong is also good for work since it’s meant to be steeped multiple times with subtle changes in flavor (just add more water without getting rid of spent leaves, etc). There are also multiple grades of green teas which vary from place to place.
Around here, price start around $6/per 2 oz, which is 40 cups of tea, but they go up pretty quickly. It’s not unusual to get oolongs in the $12-25 range, but you can find great quality in the $6-10 range in pretty much any style (white, green, oolong, black, etc). Get a few to start to see what you like.
I guess I should add some places as well. I normally buy from either Tea Zone (http://www.teazone.com) or Tao of Tea (http://www.taooftea.com/teas.php). Because they’re local I can’t vouch for their shipping, but their customer service and knowledge have always been impressive.
I tend toward Oolongs, but really, I pretty much like most of the major types in their own way. Find a quality supplier and start experimenting, but one thing is VERY important. You really have to brew it properly. The right amount of tea and the proper quantity and temperature of water are vital. Most people either under or over infuse, and what you get is either watery or very strong/tannic/bitter. It sounds like a lot of trouble, but it is very important to get the most enjoyment out of your tea.
I retired my tea ball about 15 years ago, but no tea snob should be without one. This is like the one I have. Not as fancy as the new mesh ones:
I stopped drinking hot tea, (except when eating at Chinese or Japanese restaurants), but continue to drink iced tea daily. I found the green teas are definitely better hot. Earl Grey isn’t bad iced and fluff teas like Constant Comment are good iced, but after going full circle, I’m back to black pekoe for ice tea.
Actually, if you put loose tea in the cup and then a plate on the top (after putting in the hot water) the tea usually sinks to the bottom. Of course this doesn’t reach Linda’s standard, since the tea leaves are there all along.
A scale is definitely key, and you should have a thermometer unless you use an electric warmer/boiler where you can set the temp as in Linda’s picture. I have a Bodum glass pot with a center infuser, but I really like this basket for by the glass tea.
Even though most people think black tea has the most caffeine, the truth is that they all do.
The main difference in caffeine content is tea “terroir” I guess you could say. Some will have slightly most or less than others due to soil, climate, etc. But the main difference in greens and blacks and whites is how they are processed (roasting/fermentation/oxidation), not really the raw product. So the truth is, they are all relatively the same. The best way to get rid of caffeine is to do a long rinse of your tea, or just dump your first infusion altogether, since that is the one which will contain the most caffeine.