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tea newbie


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#1 anchita

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Posted 02 March 2006 - 01:36 AM

My only flirtation with tea has been in the context of milky, spicy masala chai. Some time ago, I was introduced to green/flavored tea, which I found very light and refreshing by comparison. Now I want to delve further into this fascinating world. Thanks to the informative threads and links here, I now have some idea about the differences between the major types of tea. I also understand that they have to be prepared differently. I live in an area where I might have access to stores (ethnic grocery stores, Central Market etc.) that sell tea. Also, there seems to be a decent number of reputed online vendors to buy from.

But as a complete newbie, my problem is, where do I start? Do I simply order small quantities of random varieties from a store or website (which one?) and try brewing them at home? Or can there be a more structured approach to it? Should I first concentrate on one major type, say green tea, or jump headlong into a variety? I don't possess a tea kettle or a pot; would that be a pre-requisite or can I work with makeshift equipment till I'm more seriously into this exploration?

At this time, I probably don't even know enough to ask all the right questions, but I do want to begin, and am not sure how...

Edited by anchita, 02 March 2006 - 01:41 AM.

"I look around (the Amazon rainforest) and see a green wall. They (the Machiguenga Indians of Peru) look around and see a supermarket." -Austin Stevens

#2 cdh

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Posted 02 March 2006 - 07:44 AM

But as a complete newbie, my problem is, where do I start? Do I simply order small quantities of random varieties from a store or website (which one?) and try brewing them at home? Or can there be a more structured approach to it? Should I first concentrate on one major type, say green tea, or jump headlong into a variety? I don't possess a tea kettle or a pot; would that be a pre-requisite or can I work with makeshift equipment till I'm more seriously into this exploration?

At this time, I probably don't even know enough to ask all the right questions, but I do want to begin, and am not sure how...

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Where to start? I'd advise tasting broadly, and then narrowing in on what you find you like. Adagio Tea used to have a fabulous tea sampler of the month club where they sent along five samples of about an ounce each month, and the teas that got sent were really enlightening about how different teas can be. I don't think they do it any more, sadly, but they do sell sample assortments. Upton Tea does samples, but in my experience years ago, Adagio offered better value in the samples than Upton did.

I'd advise not sticking with just one retailer, but to sample as broadly as you can. However, bricks and mortar tea shops may offer tastings, but I find that even though they know how their teas are supposed to be prepared, they don't have equipment to implement it themselves... hence I've been told to steep green teas at 180, and then offered a sample made with freshly boiled water because that is what the in-store water heating apparatus made. Suboptimal to say the least.

Five years ago, Central Market did not have an impressive tea program... Whole Foods was much better... at least in Austin.

Teapots and kettles are not absolutely required, but a thermometer and a strainer are. Use a mug to brew the tea in at the right temperature, then strain it into another after it is done steeping. Or use a tea ball.

You might also get started exploring black teas with the imported British blends in tea bags, which are usually very hearty Assam blends that can be made with just boiled water and are often available in specialty markets in the US. Furthermore, I'd advise you ignore the directions when trying Darjeelings, as they often tell you to use just boiled water, and I find that to be too hot... I prefer Darjeelings done with 180-185ish water...

Good luck and happy hunting.
Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

----- De Gustibus Non Disputandum Est

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

#3 anchita

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Posted 02 March 2006 - 10:47 AM

Where to start?  I'd advise tasting broadly, and then narrowing in on what you find you like.  Adagio Tea used to have a fabulous tea sampler of the month club where they sent along five samples of about an ounce each month, and the teas that got sent were really enlightening about how different teas can be.  I don't think they do it any more, sadly, but they do sell sample assortments. Upton Tea does samples, but in my experience years ago, Adagio offered better value in the samples than Upton did. 

I'd advise not sticking with just one retailer, but to sample as broadly as you can. However, bricks and mortar tea shops may offer tastings, but I find that even though they know how their teas are supposed to be prepared, they don't have equipment to implement it themselves... hence I've been told to steep green teas at 180, and then offered a sample made with freshly boiled water because that is what the in-store water heating apparatus made.  Suboptimal to say the least. 

Five years ago, Central Market did not have an impressive tea program...  Whole Foods was much better... at least in Austin.

Teapots and kettles are not absolutely required, but a thermometer and a strainer are.  Use a mug to brew the tea in at the right temperature, then strain it into another after it is done steeping. Or use a tea ball.

You might also get started exploring black teas with the imported British blends in tea bags, which are usually very hearty Assam blends that can be made with just boiled water and are often available in specialty markets in the US.  Furthermore, I'd advise you ignore the directions when trying Darjeelings, as they often tell you to use just boiled water, and I find that to be too hot... I prefer Darjeelings done with 180-185ish water...

Good luck and happy hunting.

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Thanks for all the info and guidance, cdh. I was looking at the Adagio website, and they do seem to have a "tea of the month club" type thing and it includes two teas every month. Looking at the prices though, I think I'd rather opt for the sampler.. Also, SpecialTeas seem to offer comparable value in their samplers. I've seen the website mentioned on this forum, so I'll probably keep it in mind as well. If anyone has had good or bad experiences with them, I'd appreciate the info.

On the equipment front, I do have a strainer, but not a thermometer. So I need to get that and then wait for my online purchases to arrive... Meanwhile, I'll also peek into the local Whole Foods. I'm excited about learning more!
"I look around (the Amazon rainforest) and see a green wall. They (the Machiguenga Indians of Peru) look around and see a supermarket." -Austin Stevens

#4 JohnL

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Posted 02 March 2006 - 11:07 AM

My only flirtation with tea has been in the context of milky, spicy masala chai. Some time ago, I was introduced to green/flavored tea, which I found very light and refreshing by comparison. Now I want to delve further into this fascinating world. Thanks to the informative threads and links here, I now have some idea about the differences between the major types of tea. I also understand that they have to be prepared differently. I live in an area where I might have access to stores (ethnic grocery stores, Central Market etc.) that sell tea. Also, there seems to be a decent number of reputed online vendors to buy from.

But as a complete newbie, my problem is, where do I start? Do I simply order small quantities of random varieties from a store or website (which one?) and try brewing them at home? Or can there be a more structured approach to it? Should I first concentrate on one major type, say green tea, or jump headlong into a variety? I don't possess a tea kettle or a pot; would that be a pre-requisite or can I work with makeshift equipment till I'm more seriously into this exploration?

At this time, I probably don't even know enough to ask all the right questions, but I do want to begin, and am not sure how...

View Post

I was a newbie a few years ago.
I was immensely helped by a gem of a book:

The New Tea Companion, A connoisseur's guide"
by Jane Pettigrew (it is available at Amazon).

It is fun to read and provides not only guidance on all manner of tea and tea service but
brewing methods and implements as well as the history of tea and the terminology all in a breezy style (it is a small book packed with great info).

I still refer to it.

also some good sites recommended--I like Adagio though now I use
Upton Tea (uptontea.com) a lot.
Their catalog is great--they also offer samplers..

#5 Cook456

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Posted 02 March 2006 - 01:38 PM

Two great tea sites:
www.harneyandsons.com and www.republicoftea.com

Foe herbal teas, Harney has the best raspberry tea I have ever had. It's addictive. I've also purchased green jasmine tea and use it for iced tea..

At Republic of Tea, try some of the chai's...and their honey ginseng is also quite good.

Everyone has different likes and dislikes. Just buy in small quantities. Republic has what they call traveling tins, which have four bags, which is great for trying out a new type.

Enjoy!

Edited by Cook456, 02 March 2006 - 01:40 PM.


#6 SBonner

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Posted 02 March 2006 - 01:47 PM

Try the wine tasting approach to understanding tea: I'd buy some Chinese/Taiwanese, Indian, Sri Lankan, and some tradional blends. Get some friends together (BYOTP bring you own teapot) and taste some teas side by side.

I'd go with:

Chinese: Green, Chinese Jasmine Green, Taiwanese Oolong or Ron Buddha
Indian: Assam, Darjeeling
Sri Lanka: Uva Highlands
Traditional blends: English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Generic Orange Pekoe

If you taste several side by side you will sell the amazing differences that region, production, and blending has on the colour, aroma, and flavours of tea.

Cheers,

Stephen
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Edited by SBonner, 02 March 2006 - 03:40 PM.

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#7 jpr54_

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Posted 02 March 2006 - 03:00 PM

in addition, to adagio and harney and son ,I would recommend www.upton.com
You can order sample amounts without breaking the bank.
i would also suggest reading posts on yahoo group teamail as well as the
f.a.q.-frequently asked questions from usenet group rec.food.drink.tea-u can reach this site on google

joanne

#8 Macarons&Mozart

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Posted 03 March 2006 - 04:04 AM

I'll echo the other recommendations for Upton. Their tea selection is GREAT and the service is fast and efficient. The catalogue, which is free from their website, gives great descriptions! What I like about them is that any of their teas can be ordered in a "sample" size, which is just enough for one or two pots. Lots of specialty teas, as well as old favorites.

#9 cdh

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Posted 03 March 2006 - 07:00 AM

upton is at www.uptontea.com... upton.com is something else.

Upton catalogs are wonderfully informative and worth the read.
Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

----- De Gustibus Non Disputandum Est

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

#10 srhcb

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Posted 03 March 2006 - 12:35 PM

Republic has what they call traveling tins, which have four bags, which is great for trying out a new type.

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I've just started drinking tea myself, but I always thought tea bags weren't considered a "proper" way to make tea?

They sure are a lot more convenient in a business setting though. Any suggestions?

SB :raz:

#11 Cook456

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Posted 03 March 2006 - 10:25 PM

Republic has what they call traveling tins, which have four bags, which is great for trying out a new type.

View Post


I've just started drinking tea myself, but I always thought tea bags weren't considered a "proper" way to make tea?

They sure are a lot more convenient in a business setting though. Any suggestions?

SB :raz:

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There are several Asians in my Dept at work, and they always drink loose tea. They don't seem to mind, and they are always offering samples for me to taste.

#12 anchita

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Posted 04 March 2006 - 12:34 PM

Thank you so much for all the suggestions! Upton seems to be a favorite, so I'll definitely be ordering some samples from them. I've already signed up for their catalog.

Stephen, I liked the idea of doing a tea-tasting in a group setting. I'll probably use some of your suggestions as a starting point. Thanks!

JohnL, I'll definitely look into the book you suggested. From the reviews, it sounds about perfect for my purposes.

jpr54_, the FAQsFAQs you suggested have a wealth of info. A great resource!

I'm expecting some of the samples in the next few days. I'm looking forward to that, and will be reporting my experiments/expeirences with them. Meanwhile, I'll be reading up on some of the very informative sites you all have suggested. I will probably have more questions as I go along. Thanks for all the guidance, and please keep it coming!
"I look around (the Amazon rainforest) and see a green wall. They (the Machiguenga Indians of Peru) look around and see a supermarket." -Austin Stevens

#13 jpr54_

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Posted 04 March 2006 - 01:22 PM

my favorite tea is oolong
those that are low oxidized/low fermentatiuon
and also floral scented teas

#14 His Nibs

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Posted 05 March 2006 - 05:54 PM

One note on tasting... always do the lapsangs last :p

#15 bleudauvergne

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Posted 06 March 2006 - 03:15 AM

My first great tea experience was when I had a Taiwanese roommate at the University. She used to use a big plunger type french coffee pot to brew her green tea that she brought from home. She insisted that I try it and I'm glad she did. Now that I've grown up and lived in Mainland China, I have expanded my love of tea to fit where I've traveled there. There are so many kinds of tea! By all means try out the major types, and once you find one you like, then you can start finding out where the best example of certain teas are grown.

We get so many different types of tea thrown at us these days, it is confusing. I recently rediscovered a basic bergamot tea through my equitable commerce seller and have been drinking that lately because it takes me back to a certain time when that's what came in the tea bags when you'd fish in the pantry for some to go with cookies in the afternoon.

I've been scolded over and over by British friends for not following certain rules like rinse your cup out with hot water, etc. - the only one I follow is to wash the leaves in one rinse of brewing water before I brew the tea I'm going to drink, that's something I learned in China and it makes sense to me to do it with any tea I drink, especially the 'monkey picked tea'. :raz:

#16 anchita

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Posted 06 March 2006 - 02:12 PM

I've been scolded over and over by British friends for not following certain rules like rinse your cup out with hot water, etc. - the only one I follow is to wash the leaves in one rinse of brewing water before I brew the tea I'm going to drink, that's something I learned in China and it makes sense to me to do it with any tea I drink, especially the 'monkey picked tea'.  :raz:

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Lucy, could you elaborate on washing-the-leaves-in-one-rinse-of-brewing-water part? Does that mean you "wet" the tea leaves with the hot water first or something similar? For how long and in how much water? How does this process (or the lack of it) affect the tea?

Thanks!
"I look around (the Amazon rainforest) and see a green wall. They (the Machiguenga Indians of Peru) look around and see a supermarket." -Austin Stevens

#17 His Nibs

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Posted 06 March 2006 - 04:27 PM

I think she means that you fill the pot with the desired amount of leaves, top the pot with fresh boiling water. Let steep for like 30s to a minute before discarding. Then refill the pot with fresh boiling water and then let steep for the recommended time.

It just to clean and open the tea leaves for the 2nd infusion. It creates a better infusion when the leaves are primed so to speak.

Edited by His Nibs, 06 March 2006 - 04:28 PM.


#18 anchita

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Posted 06 March 2006 - 05:35 PM

I think she means that you fill the pot with the desired amount of leaves, top the pot with fresh boiling water. Let steep for like 30s to a minute before discarding. Then refill the pot with fresh boiling water and then let steep for the recommended time.

It just to clean and open the tea leaves for the 2nd infusion. It creates a better infusion when the leaves are primed so to speak.

View Post



Oh, okay. I get it now. Thanks, His Nibs!
"I look around (the Amazon rainforest) and see a green wall. They (the Machiguenga Indians of Peru) look around and see a supermarket." -Austin Stevens

#19 Ohba

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Posted 06 March 2006 - 10:04 PM

Some simple principles:

First up, no question, you will be able to get better results with tea leaves than with teabags.

Second: You can make tea without a pot, but a teapot is still about the best way to make it, plus you're honouring centuries of tradition.

Third: Don't be browbeaten by Brits, many of us make barely drinkable tea ourselves.

Fourth: A big (or classy) name doesn't count for anything. Therefore, you can skip over Twinings, Jackson and Lipton, as well as Fauchon, Harrod's and Fortnum's. Some of these companies sell tins, not tea, if you get my drift. The teas might be okay, but they're not particularly good, and the price difference between an okay tea and a very good one is frankly not worth quibbling over.

Fifth: You can usually ignore the instructions that come with the tea, in particular "one spoon per person and one for the pot".

Types: here we get into questions of personal preference, but of the teas I've had that are really worth seeking out, estate Darjeelings and teas from Taiwan (and in recent years, China) should be at the top of the list. Among the Taiwan/Chinese fine teas, it's usually the oolongs that get most attention, although Chinese who know their tea won't limit themselves to that. The difficulty with Chinese fine tea is that the method and equipment requirements are a little more demanding, and the whole field's a bit more esoteric anyway.

For Darjeeling, I've found nothing that comes close to the quality offered by Whittard's. They have a range of single-estate whole-leaf Darjeelings that eclipse anything in the mass produced line. My favourite of these has been from the Margaret's Hope estate, though others are excellent too. There may be other specialists who can offer tea as good, but I'd start with Whittard's. It's easy to order internationally online, and I think they have an American website as well, though whether it has the same range, I'm not sure.

#20 His Nibs

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Posted 07 March 2006 - 03:27 AM

Oh, okay. I get it now. Thanks, His Nibs!

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No problem, that incidentally is the 2nd step in the chinese gung-fu tea ceremony setup. First is to get the water to the right temperature. :raz:

#21 twiggles

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Posted 08 March 2006 - 01:00 PM

I think she means that you fill the pot with the desired amount of leaves, top the pot with fresh boiling water. Let steep for like 30s to a minute before discarding. Then refill the pot with fresh boiling water and then let steep for the recommended time.

It just to clean and open the tea leaves for the 2nd infusion. It creates a better infusion when the leaves are primed so to speak.

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This also eliminates much of the caffiene in the tea, which may or may not be a useful tidbit of information :raz:

#22 bleudauvergne

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Posted 09 March 2006 - 07:37 AM

I think she means that you fill the pot with the desired amount of leaves, top the pot with fresh boiling water. Let steep for like 30s to a minute before discarding. Then refill the pot with fresh boiling water and then let steep for the recommended time.

It just to clean and open the tea leaves for the 2nd infusion. It creates a better infusion when the leaves are primed so to speak.

View Post


This also eliminates much of the caffiene in the tea, which may or may not be a useful tidbit of information :raz:

View Post



It does? I didn't know that. I've never felt caffeine deprived after drinking tea that's been rinsed. I always thought it was to wash the leaves and make a smoother tasting brew.

Here's a picture of a kind of tea that I don't rinse - a friend brought me from Shanghai. You drop the ball into the water and it opens up into a flower form. It is actually different kinds of teas tied into a bundle. I had some others and they opened up much better and looked a lot prettier once they opened up because they were symmetrical. But this one was pretty nice, because it looked like a certain kind of wild flower.

Posted Image

#23 His Nibs

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Posted 09 March 2006 - 02:34 PM

That's a pretty looking tea :raz:

#24 twiggles

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Posted 10 March 2006 - 01:04 PM

I think she means that you fill the pot with the desired amount of leaves, top the pot with fresh boiling water. Let steep for like 30s to a minute before discarding. Then refill the pot with fresh boiling water and then let steep for the recommended time.

It just to clean and open the tea leaves for the 2nd infusion. It creates a better infusion when the leaves are primed so to speak.

View Post


This also eliminates much of the caffiene in the tea, which may or may not be a useful tidbit of information :raz:

View Post



It does? I didn't know that. I've never felt caffeine deprived after drinking tea that's been rinsed. I always thought it was to wash the leaves and make a smoother tasting brew.

Here's a picture of a kind of tea that I don't rinse - a friend brought me from Shanghai. You drop the ball into the water and it opens up into a flower form. It is actually different kinds of teas tied into a bundle. I had some others and they opened up much better and looked a lot prettier once they opened up because they were symmetrical. But this one was pretty nice, because it looked like a certain kind of wild flower.

Posted Image

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so pretty!

in case you are interested, this is what Upton tea's website says about decaffinating your own tea:

Decaffeinating Your Own Tea
Caffeine is highly water soluble, and nearly 80% of the total caffeine content of the tea leaves will be extracted within the first 30 seconds of steeping. If you wish to "decaffeinate" your own tea, the process is simple. Pour boiling water over the tea leaves, and allow a maximum of a 30 second rinse. Empty this water off, and pour fresh boiling water over the rinsed leaves to brew for the prescribed time.

#25 memesuze

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Posted 10 March 2006 - 01:11 PM

I think there's a difference between rinsing, especially in gong fu, and decaffinating. The former is generally only a brief rinse, as in pour in and pour out, with the latter being pour in, let set for 30 seconds, pour out. Rinsing happens with greens and oolongs, decaffinating is more often done with blacks, or oolongs.
And since the rinsing is for greens and oolongs, it would NEVER be done with boiling water - 155-170 degrees for greens, and 180-195 degrees for oolongs

#26 Cook456

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Posted 11 March 2006 - 07:36 AM

Don't know how they found me, but I received a catalog from Upton, today! :-) WOW what a selection. So many teas to try...

#27 JohnL

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Posted 11 March 2006 - 08:35 AM

Don't know how they found me, but I received a catalog from Upton, today!  :-)  WOW what a selection.  So many teas to try...

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I just ordered some tea from them--I have been a customer for a couple of years now.
There are a lot of sources of good teas out there --I find Upton to be among the very best.
I order on line--very easy.

#28 JohnL

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Posted 11 March 2006 - 08:48 AM

I think that in order to get one's arms around a fairly daunting world of tea one should most definitely get some guidance--a good book--I recommended Jane Pettigrew's book elsewhere in this thread--the Upton catatlog is good and there are other good resources out there.

Then I would start broad--get small quantities of different kinds of teas--a black tea a green tea, etc and learn the differences.
Then hone in on say different kinds of green teas etc. or blacks--Assam vs Darjeeling for eg. What is probably not the best idea is to start by trying to discern more nuanced attributes ie tasting a number of different darjeelings say.

I also would take a lot of the brewing advice--with a grain of salt. I would learn and try the various methods see if any stand out for you--and always remember--it is important to brew each type of tea in a manner that ensures the best attributes of that tea will shine.
That is amount of tea leaves, brewing times and water temperature are important.
Beyond this--there is often a lot of ceremony involved --some more fun than practical.
I usually have my darjeeling brewed in a single cup infuser using the fine tap water we have here in New York City. Simple --easy--and it works for me!
the main idea is have fun!

#29 wilsonrabbit

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Posted 13 March 2006 - 06:52 PM

Don't forget to consider the type of water you're using. I prefer using at least filtered water, preferably something like spring water. I've found that hard water will give you floaties in your tea...like a thin film. For me, I can taste the difference. Supposedly there is a place in London (I forget where now) where if you bring a sample of your water, they will match the best tea for it. Something like that. London has a serious calcium issue in their water and when I drank the same tea in the States, it was much better tasting and no floaties.

I've also found that drinking tea out of a metal container (stainless steel thermos bottles) ruins the taste of tea while plastic will but the type of plastic determines the extent of damage. I prefer glass or porcelain/ceramic. Am I just weird or what? That's what friends and family tell me...

#30 Ohba

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Posted 17 March 2006 - 05:40 PM

I've also found that drinking tea out of a metal container (stainless steel thermos bottles) ruins the taste of tea while plastic will but the type of plastic determines the extent of damage. I prefer glass or porcelain/ceramic. Am I just weird or what? That's what friends and family tell me...

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Sounds reasonable. Coffee is better out of real cups, too.