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I need to try to care more about tea


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#1 Fat Guy

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 05:40 AM

It's not that I don't care about tea at all. But my standards are pathetically low. The teas in my cabinets are old, having just come out of a year in storage in the Bronx. I took a tea-appreciation class in Singapore but didn't appreciate it enough. Richard Kilgore has given me some of his tea and it has been great, but I've quickly reverted to crummy tea. Ditto for when White Lotus and Dance bring tea to the Heartland gathering. What can I do to claw my way toward tea respectability? I need a program.

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#2 Mjx

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 06:45 AM

What if you ditch all the old stuff, and keep only have a small quantity of [a] good quality tea on hand?

That's what I do with all things alcoholic, since I really don't care much about booze, but realize that I really do need to have a basic grasp of the stuff.

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#3 TheTInCook

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 07:03 AM

Funny you should mention it. I consider myself a tea loving guy, but I usually drink Lipton yellow box and 'Chinese restaurant' green tea (though I think my current box of tea is of Japanese manufacture).

#4 weinoo

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 07:49 AM

Why do you think you need to try to care more about tea? Is it because you love tea or you think tea is good for you or is there some other philosophical reason?

i tried the whole caring more about tea thing; even got some teas from Richard as well. And I have probably 5 or 6 kinds of tea in my cupboard. A couple of tea pots even. But mostly, I drink coffee.
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#5 hathor

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 07:50 AM

Saying you want to care about tea is like caring about soup. There's a million billion teas, so experiment. Live life on the edge.

If you are ever in Soho in NYC, try Harney & Sons, 433 Broome St, between Crosby & Bway.
Beautiful shop, fair prices & tastes of the teas.

#6 Fat Guy

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 07:53 AM

Why do you think you need to try to care more about tea?


Because so many people whose tastes I respect care so deeply about it.

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#7 Jenni

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 08:12 AM

^^
Why not ask those people what they would reccomend you to try?

I think the key thing is to find some good tea that you genuinely like. Then you'll start caring!

#8 weinoo

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 08:21 AM


Why do you think you need to try to care more about tea?


Because so many people whose tastes I respect care so deeply about it.


But I'll bet there are a lot of people whose tastes you respect who don't. Nothing wrong with not giving a darn about it. It's obvious you've given it a try; maybe it's just not...your cup of tea :wink: .
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#9 cdh

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 08:38 AM

Keep trying them... maybe you'll find something that resonates... maybe not.

Since you wander the world some, take a few with with you next time you're away and try them with the new location's water... water chemistry makes an amazing difference in how some teas behave.

And sample broadly. Assam black teas are night and day different from any Japanese green... and even amongst those, there is an incredible breadth of flavor. Just because one sencha tasted of lawn clippings does not mean that you won't find completely different flavors in teas made just down the road.

If you find a style you like, then go for some depth and experiment with the different variations that are made...

A good start is to go into a well run tea shop and ask for an ounce or two of something that will blow your mind. Be prepared to pay. But it should give you an idea of what tea can be. For me, that moment was an ounce of Jade Oolong that cost me like $20... but wow... just wow.

Edited by cdh, 26 April 2011 - 08:38 AM.

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#10 weinoo

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 08:53 AM

What can I do to claw my way toward tea respectability? I need a program.

I think everyone's advice so far is wonderful. But I don't think you're looking for advice about tea; I think it's advice about the "program." So, set a goal, say, to have 5 different teas in your cupboard by the end of September, along with 2 or 3 different methodologies to brew said tea.

If you can do that, fine; if not, move on to something you actually care more about.
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#11 heidih

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 09:10 AM

Funny you should mention it. I consider myself a tea loving guy, but I usually drink Lipton yellow box and 'Chinese restaurant' green tea (though I think my current box of tea is of Japanese manufacture).


That is me in a nutshell. My constant beverage throughout the day is homemade iced tea. I also feel I should care more or at least give it a try. Coffee is not a passion for me at all. Perhaps what pushes my thinking is that I lack taste subtlety. I am continually layering strong, bold flavors in my food. I think spending some time learning the nuances of tea would broaden my ability to appreciate more delicate flavors.

#12 Mjx

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 11:30 AM


Why do you think you need to try to care more about tea?


Because so many people whose tastes I respect care so deeply about it.


But... that just doesn't seem like it is enough to do the trick. You can't make yourself care [more] about something, anymore than you can make yourself fall in love with someone, or believe in god, if you actually don't.

I'd stay small: If you have more than one or two on hand at any given time, you may just find yourself avoiding them. If there are a couple around that you like, even if they are never the same twice, you'll probably enjoy them much more.

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#13 jsmeeker

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 12:04 PM

Do you actually LIKE tea?


If you do, I don't think you really need a whole program. Just find one or two teas you really lile. Good quality teas. And just keep buying that.

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#14 Will

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 12:12 PM

I agree that there's no need to intentionally develop an interest into something you're not that interested in or particular about. If the teas you have make you happy, no problem. If you don't like tea, just drink something else.

One more recommendation in NYC, since it looks like you're there - check out Tea Gallery and The Mandarin's Tearoom - in the same location, both appointment only (Tea Gallery used to have a shop in Soho).

My suggestion is to try some (good) representative examples of various types and subtypes of tea, then explore the ones you seem to enjoy the most in more detail. I think oolong teas have a lot to offer - they occupy such a wide swath of taste possibilities (basically everything between green tea and red ("black") tea), both in terms of roasting and oxidation. Seek out some vendors and samples that people you respect really enjoy. Experiment with brewing technique - don't make it too scientific -- just have fun and see what tastes good to you. Every tea is different, and everyone's taste is different, so once-size-fits-all brewing instructions are pretty much useless.

#15 mkayahara

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 12:48 PM

Geez, don't any of you believe in the concept of acquired tastes? If I hadn't deliberately set out to learn how to make and appreciate good cocktails, I wouldn't be the person I am today.

That said, I'm not a tea person (and frankly, the mineral content of my local water prevents me from becoming one), so I can't really help Fat Guy with his original post.
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#16 llc45

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 12:56 PM

Tea is pretty much my beverage of choice and when I have a really good tea (made by someone else), I love it. But rarely was I taking the time to brew a pot of tea for myself because I feel that it's too much of a hassle. Noone else drinks it but me, then I have to get out the pot, clean it, etc. Ditto with teaballs for indivicual teas, even though it's easy, I manage to fall back to bags (although generally something better than Lipton). Basically, I love and aprecicate good tea but am lazy. What finally got me to pretty much convert full time to loose leaf teas (of which I have many that were rarely getting used) was to buy empty bags than can be filled. Now I prefill some for work weekly.

While a love to brew a pot when I have company besides me that appreciates tea, the bags have been my program to start enjoying better tea on a daily basis.

#17 andiesenji

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 01:18 PM

Appreciating tea should be an individual experience, as much as appreciating a particular genre of literature.

I like tea. I was raised in a house where tea was an institution but so was coffee.

I have a friend who was born and raised in Ireland, drank tea almost exclusively for the first half of his life but since living in California since the '80s, he rarely drinks tea as he has found he prefers coffee.

Another friend, a neighbor, raised in the south, never had much appreciation for tea, except for the occasional glass of iced sweet tea. Then she discovered TEA in its various interpretations, about ten years ago and has become wildly enthusiastic, so much as to take a trip to India two years ago to visit several tea-growing districts.

She had read some novels from the late Victorian and Edwardian era, when afternoon tea was a significant break in the day and she began her tea "journey" by setting aside an hour, after getting home from work, to prepare and enjoy tea, along with the tea sandwiches, cakes, scones and etc., about which she had read.
I know because I did some baking for her until she got the knack of it.

We have a little tea shop here in Lancaster, where she began purchasing different teas and then went further afield to the more fully stocked tea vendors in Pasadena, the Valley and in L.A.
She only recently got a computer and is online and is now retired, so she orders some of the more exotic teas that pique her interest.
I have a lot of teas, I use them up rapidly because I have a lot of visitors who like tea, but my "collection" of teas pales beside hers. She has a very large French armoire in which she stores her tea and tea things.
I always feel a bit plebeian when she is visiting and I brew tea in one of my "gadgets" and serve it in a mug instead of a cup and saucer. But, that's my preference.

You just have to do what works for you.

I usually advise people who are starting to learn about tea to buy a few teas that are distinct varieties
such as a malty Assam, a Nilgiri, a Darjeeling and one of the Sri Lankan teas and these can be drunk alone or blended to get just the taste your prefer.

One green tea - a China Keemun or a Yunnan is a good start, add a gunpowder if you feel adventurous.
One Oolong - a Ti Kwan Yin

And those are all you really need to begin.
You don't need a fancy tea pot. I recommend starting with the Ingenuitea because it can brew one to 6 cups of tea (depending on cup size) and is relatively inexpensive - and fun to use.

The 16 ounce is really too small unless for travel.


I'm not a huge fan of tea bags unless there is a tea that is not available loose. When you are starting out and learning about tea, get the loose tea, which is always of much better quality than the stuff that goes into tea bags.

That being said, if there is a particular flavored tea that floats your boat and is only available in bags, such as the Stash teas, go for it. You won't know the difference unless you try both.

My everyday teas are all loose teas and I adjust the amount I use by either using a tea caddy spoon if broken tea or if big, whole leaves, I weigh it.

Edited by andiesenji, 26 April 2011 - 01:26 PM.

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#18 Moopheus

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 03:26 PM

Geez, don't any of you believe in the concept of acquired tastes?


Not really, no. Gee, I don't really like this, but I'll keep eating it anyway until I can convince myself I actually do like it. Sorry, no motivation for that. Also, not really into appreciating food, more into enjoying it.
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#19 PetersCreek

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 03:35 PM

I wouldn't call myself a tea guy. I'm not particularly knowledgeable about tea but I enjoy it and keep a few varieties on hand, such as:

Lapsang Souchong — so smoky, The Wife® calls it "campfire in a cup"
Smoky Russian Caravan — a smoky blend that contains the above
Irish Breakfast — Just a nice, dark, stout tea
Hong Kong Milk Tea — without the traditional evaporated milk, I usually just enjoy it as a rich, strong tea.
Earl Grey de la Creme — I enjoy traditional Earl Grey (a lot) but this one is a bit richer and rounder.

#20 DanM

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 04:12 PM

I'm sure one of your contacts at the culinary schools in the area can set you up with the chef who teaches about tea. A crash course would make a very interesting article on your blog.
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#21 Will

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 05:08 PM

I'm sure one of your contacts at the culinary schools in the area can set you up with the chef who teaches about tea. A crash course would make a very interesting article on your blog.

Ugh. The people who cook with tea are a huge irritation; this is not a route I would go to learn about tea (and I don't think chefs tend to be interested in tea for non-culinary uses).

Learn about tea from people who enjoy drinking tea.

Edited by Will, 26 April 2011 - 05:16 PM.


#22 Will

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 05:16 PM

That said, I'm not a tea person (and frankly, the mineral content of my local water prevents me from becoming one), so I can't really help Fat Guy with his original post.

Do they not sell bottled water (or decent water filters) where you live? I don't think the mineral content of your local water is the main limiting factor.

This does bring up another point worth mentioning specifically, though: water is, as the Chinese say, the "mother of tea". If you don't use good water (preferably bottled spring with some mineral content, though not too much), you may not realize a good tea's full potential. And while some types of tea do need to be babied a bit as far as water temperature, not using hot enough water (for a given tea) may also limit how good a tea can get.

Pre-heating your brewing vessel, tasting cup(s) etc. is another step that some people might skip, which may help improve your tea brewing. With many types of tea, a rinse before the first infusion is also a good idea (whether it's to rinse off dust / pesticide residue / etc, or to "awaken the leaves", or just a silly habit.) Take some time to enjoy the aroma of the moistened tea leaves, empty cup after drinking, etc.

#23 mkayahara

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 05:26 PM


Geez, don't any of you believe in the concept of acquired tastes?


Not really, no. Gee, I don't really like this, but I'll keep eating it anyway until I can convince myself I actually do like it. Sorry, no motivation for that. Also, not really into appreciating food, more into enjoying it.

I understand that perspective, although it is how I learned to like blue cheese. At first I couldn't stand it, but knowing that many people in many places found something to like about it, I figured the problem was me, not the cheese. So I began to seek out examples that I sort-of enjoyed, and gradually developed a taste for it over time. But it certainly can be a lot of work.

In any case, I think we're talking about a different process here, because I assume Steven does not dislike tea to begin with; he's simply seeking to learn more about it, about the various styles, processes and variables that give it variety and nuance, to the extent that some people can immerse themselves in it full time. The same thing can apply to coffee, or wine, or beer, or spirits. (I imagine there are foods it can apply to as well, but it seems to be more prevalent with beverages.) This, too, is a lot of work, but it's more about deepening your knowledge than learning to like something at a basic level. It certainly is a case of appreciating food, rather than just enjoying it, though.

I can relate to Steven's view on this, because I know that my own appreciation for tea, such as it is, is abysmal. I know that there are myriad more facets to understand about tea, both intellectually and in terms of educating my palate. But I just haven't been able to make the commitment to do anything about it. (Yet?)
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#24 mkayahara

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 05:30 PM


That said, I'm not a tea person (and frankly, the mineral content of my local water prevents me from becoming one), so I can't really help Fat Guy with his original post.

Do they not sell bottled water (or decent water filters) where you live? I don't think the mineral content of your local water is the main limiting factor.

Not only do they sell bottled water where I live, Nestle bottles my local tap water, because all those dissolved minerals taste so good. They also react with all sorts of things. I can and do buy bottled water for some preparations (especially modernist preparations where ion concentration is a really big deal, like sodium alginate or gellan), but I feel guilty for the energy consumption and waste factor every time I use it. A filter doesn't help with dissolved minerals, unfortunately. A water softener would, and that's on the list of things to look into. It's right up there next to "kitchen renovation." :wink:
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#25 Moopheus

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 06:41 PM

I'm sure one of your contacts at the culinary schools in the area can set you up with the chef who teaches about tea.


Like the one FG works for. At least a few years ago, they had the Harney tea guys in on a semi-regular basis to gives talks in the demo kitchen. If you (Steven) go to the library they may still have the demos on DVD.
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#26 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 11:46 PM

The biggest obstacle I had to overcome to consistently enjoy good tea was the confidence to try something more than the two teas I was first introduced to: once I realized that I liked tea, I tried occasional bagged teas here and there when dining out, and generally was so disappointed that I gave up and stuck to the ones I knew well.

Eventually I started to buy a little here and a little there of some different teas, found forums like this one, read a couple of books about tea, and then the tea mania took over.

I'm not sure if you're stuck at quite the same point, but you clearly like tea, know that there are some better teas out there than what you're routinely drinking, but are puzzled at how to consistently buy & brew better tea.

One excellent program that's easily available is outlined in the "Harney & Sons Guide to Teas". They walk you through a series of tastings comparing various teas in different styles, and while it may be impossible to procure exactly the teas they discuss, I found it a very useful thing to read and reread as I was exploring teas. And one of the most useful things I got out of it was the idea of comparative tastings, setting about it like wine. That, plus a good digital thermometer and a scale, were what I needed to gain the confidence to shop for and brew better teas.

Are you looking for a more specific program, or is that a good start?

#27 hathor

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Posted 27 April 2011 - 09:46 AM

If Shola is hosting a Tea Dinner, I'd at least think about it.

#28 Chris Amirault

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Posted 27 April 2011 - 12:47 PM

I've been drinking more tea in the last few years than I ever did before, and for one reason: I needed caffeine at work and, because I'm in a very public setting, I can't have things like coffee grinders buzzing or espresso machines hissing. I'm also more like Matt Kayahara than Moopheus, happy to try new things and see if I can acquire a taste for those that are challenging, and so I took it as a learning opportunity.

It's been very rewarding, though I don't have a lot to add to what's been written here. I think cdh hit the nail on the head.

Keep trying them... maybe you'll find something that resonates... maybe not. ...

And sample broadly. Assam black teas are night and day different from any Japanese green... and even amongst those, there is an incredible breadth of flavor. Just because one sencha tasted of lawn clippings does not mean that you won't find completely different flavors in teas made just down the road.


I'll add that Greg at Norbu and the folks at TeaSource are very generous about sending samples, working with you to identify styles you like, and so on.

One last thing. Like any enterprise to which people dedicate themselves, tea-making can get pretty particular. I have an electric kettle, a cheap glass pot with a removable strainer, and a standard issue white mug that are my main go-to tools. Now and then, I'll weigh out the tea in grams and take the temperature of the water, and I always time it (I start at 5 minutes and work from there). But I confess not to having the seriousness of purpose and method that others around here have.

Now cocktails....
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#29 Moopheus

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Posted 27 April 2011 - 01:35 PM

I'm also more like Matt Kayahara than Moopheus, happy to try new things and see if I can acquire a taste for those that are challenging, and so I took it as a learning opportunity.


I should clarify that I am not adverse to trying new things. I'm just not motivated to keep trying them over and over again. A few weeks ago I happened to have something I'd never had before--raw oysters on the shell. There were a few different varieties on the platter, I tried more than one. My response was, meh. Sure, I know other people really like them, but I couldn't really see any point to going any further with that for myself.
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#30 Chris Amirault

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Posted 27 April 2011 - 02:30 PM

I think tea is a very good place to consider this issue of acquired tastes. One of the things that happened with tea -- and has happened with rum, oysters, and other items as well -- is that my first few encounters were often "meh." Then, as I tried new ones, different varieties, and, honestly, better product, I realized that I didn't like the bad stuff but was very interested in certain types. And, the more I learned about different oolong varieties, say, the better I understood my own tastes. That is to say, I acquired a better understanding of the tastes I have.
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