Sunday, January 24, 2010

If I Had Creamers, I Could Make Sugar Shooters

I'm back at school again, and I've got a few writing-heavy courses, so I likely won't be blogging as much as I once was, or at least, not as much as the last month. There are definitely some things lined up in the chute though, so be sure to keep an eye out for all of that.

In the meantime, I asked a friend (Katie Sekelsky, I'm pretty sure I've talked about her before... Oh yeah, here) about tea. It's a beverage that I've never really enjoyed before, particularly since most of my experiences have been with nasty iced tea. In conjunction with her webcomic Magpie Luck, she created a tea blend at Adagio Teas, and is, as far as I'm concerned, my go-to authority on teas. I wanted to know what she would recommend for someone who wanted to "get into" tea (in the way that one "gets into" drinking warm beverages). This is what she had to say:


I am assuming you have mainly only had instant iced tea (and not iced tea brewed by making hot tea w/ loose leaf and then chilling). And so you should expect a much different taste with hot tea.

You can go all out, as I have, with loose leaf tea and infusers. It is not really that expensive to get into, but I would definitely recommend starting out with bagged tea, since you aren't sure yet if you're going to like tea at all and you won't want stuck with a bunch of gadgets and bags/tins of tea.

In general, though, bagged tea is considered inferior to loose leaf. But I am not yet snobby enough about tea to not drink bagged tea sometimes myself or to not recommend it to others. I would recommend against Lipton hot teas, though, as they are probably the lowest end for bagged tea you will find at the store (though they are still totally drinkable).

Now, you might want to start out with an herbal tea. Which is not actually tea! It just infusing herbs/fruits into water (and therefore inherently decaf). But it will get you started on the whole "drinking a hot beverage with a lighter taste" thing. I would recommend either a mint or a fruit. But really, go for wherever your tastes lie. You can find a decent variety of bagged herbal teas at the grocery store (and actually, for herbals, Lipton should be just fine).

When you get into actual tea, there are a few varieties (and sub-varieties and so on). And I would recommend trying a variety, because they are quite different and you might hate one but like others, and it's not really a matter of weening yourself from one to another.

Here are the main types of tea:

Black tea: The most common type in the States. Odds are, if it does not specify another sort of tea, it is black. It is typically stronger, and the hardest to mess up (other types of tea can get bitter if brewed too long).

Green tea: A lighter, earthier type of tea. Much different from the types of iced tea you've likely had.

White tea: Also lighter. I've not had as many varieties of this tea, though, as I don't like it that much. Except when paired with mint.

Red tea: Actually an herbal tea made from the rooibos plant which grows in Africa! And also decaf. It has a very distinct taste that I like a lot, but is very hard to describe.

You can get all those varieties in different flavors as well, which you will probably want to do before trying an unflavored variety. There are fruity teas, spicy teas (see: chai), minty teas, flowery teas, etc. Again here, go with the sort of thing you like!

You can also add things to your tea, which you may want to do at first. Such as sugar (though if you dislike sugary iced tea, you may want to play it light here), honey (same goes), and milk (which I would only recommend for stronger chai blends).

So, in summary:

Try an herbal tea. Then try a flavored tea (probably black). Then try some non-black tea. Then try unflavored teas. If any of the above are too bland, add sugar or honey. If any of the above are too strong/spiced, add a little milk or cream.


So I went to Walmart and got some tea.

Is it something I would continue trying? I guess so, although I'm still not convinced I wholly like the taste of it or not yet. Maybe my tastes will grow over time, or I'll put those sugar packets to good use some other way. (Actually, adding one sugar packet did make a difference. It tasted a lot better.) In any case, it was a fun trial, and shows I really need practice with webcams. (Eventually, I'm going to have to stop doing these irrelevant conclusions.)


zxo said...

I'm also a big fan of tea, and I can attest that there's a lot of crappy tea products out there -- most of them falling into the 'premade' category. Tea really is one of those things that if you want it done right, you just gotta do it yourself.

I'm not a huge fan of herbal teas myself, but I can agree that they're a good transitional step for a non-tea drinker to start with. I find that they need sugar to taste good, whereas good "real" teas don't.

I tend to go for black teas over green -- green tea can be very difficult to keep from getting bitter, and I don't particularly care for its planty taste, even when done right. I do like white tea, though -- it's close to a lighter version of green tea.

I also prefer the loose-leaf tea to teabags, but I think that has more to do with the increased selection of flavors and styles than with any inherent quality differences (although I agree with Katie that Lipton -- and other cheap teabag brands -- should be avoided. If you can get it in packages of more than 20, it's probably not that great.)

Among my favorite varieties that I've found have been smoked black tea, black tea blended with ice wine extract, coconut chai (really, you can't go wrong with any kind of chai), and a green tea blended with toasted rice.

Stephen Lewis said...

I won't lie, I actually thought of you when I tried the cherry-flavored tea. In fact, I have a hard time even looking at cherries without remembering your disgust for them. (I really shouldn't mention the flavor of the last batch of ice cream I made, should I?)

Bonus anecdote: At the restaurant I work at, occasionally I help the waitresses get some of their drinks, including coffee and tea. I always thought it was incredibly strange that to "make" the tea, we would just fill a mug with hot water and throw in a tea bag. By the time the tea got to the table, it was still mostly clear, which made me wonder how quickly it was supposed to "work".

Perhaps the fact that I'm using (what I'm guessing is a) low-end tea (and purchased from Walmart, for that matter) means that it will taste less pleasant by default, but if I were to jump straight up to loose leaf (say, if I were to come over to a tea veteran's house), would I be blown away by the new taste, or would it still kinda taste "meh" on my amateur tongue? I guess what I'm wondering is if "superior" teas are an acquired taste as much as the concept of tea itself is.

zxo said...

If by "acquired taste" you're referring to aspects a tea n00b probably wouldn't pick up on, you're probably right. Or maybe you'd notice an improvement, but wouldn't know exactly how to describe it.

Even I'm relatively lost when it comes to subtle differences between different varieties of the same type of tea -- hence the memorable teas I mentioned earlier all have some external flavor enhancement. I mean, I could tell you I like oolong teas, but ask me to recommend a specific one and I'd have no answer.

Overall, the situation is similar to wine, with the difference being it's a lot cheaper to experiment with quality teas than high-end wines.

ksekelsky said...

I'm glad you did not hate the tea, Steve! And also, I agree with pretty much all that zxo has said! (except, I guess, his specific preferred blends, as I have not had any of those - but chai definitely is good!)

One thing to note is that the size of the mug doesn't not particularly matter when using a teabag. If you were making a whole pitcher (with plans to chill it or what have you), you might want to to add an extra one or two. Or more. But a double size mug should not typically make a difference. If anything, you may just want to leave the teabag in a bit longer.

Stephen Lewis said...

To clarify, it wasn't so much the size of the mug so much as my inability to eyeball a normal-sized mug's amount of water inside it.

...and did you just use a double negative?