ADDENDUM morning of 8/20: After sharing with our lead tea curator/ buyer that we had come up with this list she said, “Well none of that matters unless you start with good tea”! We implore you to take her advice and then heed the list below.
Most of us have been drinking tea for a good portion of our lives. The ubiquitous teabag, often used once and discarded or post-dip hanging out on a small plate waiting for that second cup of hot water that typically results in a pallid version of the first. Now, there’s nothing wrong per se with tea bags, as they do hold a certain cultural (and emotional) story for us within the Western world. Our aunts, uncles, grandmothers, and grandfathers typically drank tea and sitting down for a large hot pot of dark and creamy black tea with plenty of sugar does hit a certain spot. Still, just as a new version of coffee has settled into the mainstream with slow drip, single origin, one pull, two pulls, light roasted espresso, notes of citrus, etc; so too has tea.
Tea is intended to come from one origin. Unblended. With no oils added. It is like anything else – good wine, excellent olive oil, great coffee beans, deep dark chocolate, we expect all of those items to stand on their own quality, pure and free from additives, flavorings, or colorings. Good tea is also that; pure and free. The leaves are loose and predominately whole (though there are some exceptions), you should know when the tea was picked, where it came from, who produced it, who is sourcing it, and most importantly it should look, feel, and smell fresh (not like perfume). Finding a reputable place to purchase can be challenging (and we will definitely cover that in another article). For now let’s start with the 5 things to never ever do to your tea.
- Boiling Water is out. It’s too hot. Any whole leaf tea whether is white, green, or black will be burned by water past the boiling point. If you simply must let it boil, then wait a few minutes and allow it to cool about 10 degrees before pouring it into your tea vessel.
- Don’t walk away. Oversteeping is the number one cause of bitter tea. Tea should be soft, smooth, and delightful to drink. Not leave your mouth dry because it was steeped for 10 minutes. Please, for the love of the tea, steep it per the directions given – often 1 1/2 minutes.
- Big portions are a no no. While those big teapots we all grew up with do warm the heart, they don’t actually keep the tea very warm and often you are left with a big pot of cold tea. A smaller tea making vessel is preferred. Steep as much as one cup at time if you are solo, or as many cups as you are sharing. This takes a bit to get the hang of it, but there’s good reason – see #4.
- Don’t throw it out! Whole leaf teas are meant to be steeped from 3 – 10 times depending on the tea. Whites can go 5 or more, greens typically 3, oolongs last for 5 – 8, reds and blacks keep it going for 3 – 8, and an aged pu-erh can easily be enjoyed for 10 -15 steeping or more. This is no longer your one steep teabag.
- Be willing to explore. Well, this isn’t exactly a don’t. But we felt it made the top 5 anyway. The world of tea awaits you; crisp whites, grassy greens, honeyed floral oolongs, luscious reds, bright blacks, and earthy pu-erhs. Enjoy!
Also, without some good tea to start with it doesn’t matter whether you steep it perfectly or not. Here’s some of our top favorite whole leaf teas of this harvest season:
1. Baochong Premium Oolong SP ’16, an exceptional harvest from an award winning producer, notes of mango and gardenia.
2. Lu Shan Clouds & Mist Green SP ’16 one of our most popular teas, silky smooth, with notes of marine and grass.
3. Bai Lin Gongfu Premium Red SP ’16 heart notes of chocolate and nutmeg, a deep red tea perfect for the afternoon.
4. White Down SP ’16, a light and refreshing morning tea, notes of rose and green apple.
5. Honey Jia Long Oolong SP’16, our most recent arrival has proved to be our absolute favorite of the season. Deep honey and ripe pear notes with an amazing long finish. Divine!