If there is anything I have learned in my 23 years of life, it is this: Once you start drinking high-quality tea, you will never go back.
I love tea. I have at least one cup a day, and in the fall and winter, at least two or three. I think my love affair with tea was started by my friendship with Emily, who lived in Ireland and drank strong tea on a daily basis. She introduced me to the joy of a daily cup of black tea and the incomparable usefulness of an electric kettle. There were many days during which we would console each other in our dorm room with our cups of tea.
Living in Japan for a summer also reinforced my love of good tea. As you probably already know, tea is a way of life in Japan. Knowing how to perform a proper tea ceremony is a serious art (in Japanese, the ceremony is called “the way of tea,” which is awesome). I lived in Japan during the hottest and muggiest months of the summer, but after my sweaty hour-long commute home from school, my host mom would have a piping hot cup of matcha waiting for me. It sounds really unappealing to drink hot tea on a 102-degree day in a house without air conditioning, but I came to enjoy that daily habit of unwinding with a perfect cup of matcha.
I think that’s one of the things that I love most about tea. To me, tea has always been associated with peace, calmness, and winding down. In my mind, coffee is commonly associated with busyness, the Starbucks empire, caffeine addiction, and drinking enough to stay awake. Tea can also serve these purposes, but I do believe that it has a very different gravitas than coffee. Tea is calming, centering. It always reminds me to slow down.
I used to drink whatever tea was cheapest at the grocery store, but those days are long gone. I don’t drink any coffee and so I have learned to justify my expensive tea habits. I’m not a tea expert at all, and true tea aficionados would look down their noses at me, but here’s what I really like lately:
The Republic of Tea, Earl Grey
Earl Grey makes my heart happy, and I’ve finally found a relatively inexpensive brand that I really like. I drink it almost daily. I found it at our local World Market, but I think it’s also available at higher-end grocery stores like Whole Foods or Fresh Market. $10.50 for 50 bags.
Harney & Sons, Paris
We finally got our Whole Foods back in Charlottesville and I was primarily excited about it so I could buy some Harney & Sons Paris tea. I was first introduced to this tea when someone gave it to our family as a gift and I fell in love. I don’t like fruity or herbal teas, but this a delicate black tea with a distinct fruity and vanilla aroma, with some lemon in there too. I feel like I’m on vacation when I drink it. Our Whole Foods doesn’t carry this tea, but Guion was a dear and ordered me their new boxed Paris set, which is $10 for 50 bags (and apparently just sold out!). You can also buy it in fancy silk sachets, $8 for 20 sachets in a beautiful tin.
I’m told this tea is standard fare in the United Kingdom. Once you try PG Tips, all other black teas will taste like water. This is the real deal. Tastes great with milk or cream. Grocery stores in the southeast like Harris Teeter and Kroger will carry it. Usually sold for something like $6 for 40 bags.
Loose leaf or powdered green tea (Chinese or Japanese)
Since I can’t go to Japan to get my green tea anymore, I now rely on the local Asian markets and Angela. (Angela sent me home with a delightful tin of loose leaf Chinese green tea after my visit to D.C.) We have several varieties of loose leaf green tea in our pantry and need to remember to drink them more frequently. The tea pictured above is from Harney & Sons and sold for $9 for a tin.
Darjeeling loose leaf tea
Grace brought back many wonderful presents for all of us from her half-year abroad, including genuine loose-leaf darjeeling tea from the Darjeeling, India, region itself. It would be an understatement to say that I was very excited. Darjeeling is a black tea, but very different from your standard European black teas. Brisk and refreshing. If you’re not as fortunate as I am to have someone bring you back some legit tea from India, Harney & Sons has several varieties of loose leaf darjeeling for sale. The tin shown above sells for $7.25.
I am very lucky to have a husband who is also very fond of tea and also does not drink coffee. We agree on most teas–except for lapsang souchong, which he loves and I can’t stand (it tastes like the smoke of a bonfire in your mouth). Last week, we went to a laidback Chinese tea ceremony at the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar, one of our favorite places downtown. We walked away with an expensive but unbelievably wonderful bag of oolong (picked in some remote mountain region of China).
Do you drink tea? If so, what are some of your favorites? And if any of you are more seasoned tea experts, how can you tell when a loose leaf tea has “gone bad” (or when it’s no longer worth drinking)? I don’t know this and I think I should.
Here’s to many happy and peaceful cups of tea!