Sunday, September 24, 2006

Tea for two

Though it may not be apparent here, tea is one of my foremost passions. While my friends were into Liptons or, at best, Celestial Seasonings, my mother and I were exploring the hundreds loose premium teas stocked at Limbo, a fabulous Portland market conveniently next to Trader Joe's; from unflavored white tea to gunpowder, sencha, and gussied up darjeelings, we explored by shoveling tiny scoops of the leaves (purchased by the ounce) from the pristine glass cases into neat little Ziploc pouches, taking them home and immediately brewing a few cups of each.

As a journalist, I wrote several reviews of Chicago-area tea shops; when I was in Delhi in 2004, I met the world's first tea sommelier, who paired brews expertly with food at the House of the August Moon; S and I fell in love over strong ginger tea served by his cook Raju from a tarnished silver teapot; we named our kittens Earl Grey and Orange Pekoe; our kitchen is littered with airtight containers for Makaibari, Castleton, Devan's, and teas from S's various travels in Nepal and northeast India. So I'm always excited for tea-related stories; after NickD's auspicious mention of going for a single-estate run in Illinoise, it seemed a bit more than coincidental that I found a recent NYT article on the proliferation of new tea-bag designs in the U.S., which are leading to a sort of democratization of long-leaf heaven.

It's an interesting phenomena, but I'd like to note that, by and large, Americans are still lazy bastards:

"Like coffee lovers who moved up from making instant coffee to grinding their own estate-grown beans fresh for each cup, many American tea drinkers have graduated to whole leaf teas. Though there are myriad gadgets on the market, like little metal infusers, for brewing a single cup from whole tea leaves, they do not eliminate the chore of cleaning up the soggy remains. ...

And even though the better tea bags will produce an excellent cup of tea, some of the finer points of tea making have been lost, like the different water temperatures and steeping times required, depending on whether the tea is black, oolong or green. An exception is the tea made by Le Palais des Th├ęs: a suggested temperature and brewing time is printed on the foil packets that contain the muslin tea bags. But how many tea drinkers pay attention to those arcane details anyway?

'People like good tea but not the work,' said Michael Harney, a vice president of Harney & Sons, in Millerton, N.Y., a company that his father, John, founded. 'We see our customers switching from loose tea to sachets all the time now.'"

So let's raise a glass to people finally catching on to delicious and excellent teas, rather than the insipid droppings plied by some of the world's prepackaged tea players, but...come on guys. Do you really deserve delicious first flush if you're so afraid of getting your hands dirty? For shame.


Cory said...

I still haven't convinced my husband that Celestial Seasonings isn't "real" tea... Lapsang Souchong apparently doesn't sound appealing to him. He grew up in Greeley, CO what can I say? He'll probably grew up on Liptons.

Venitha said...

I admit that tea is just not something that I can get into. I even went to a tea "class" at a famous tea house here in Singapore to learn to drink it the right way, and mostly I just got a stomach ache from drinking too much tea. Tiny little glasses, but LOTS of them. Probably I've ruined my tastebuds by consuming lots of spicy food, but give me Celestial Seasonings Vanilla Hazelnut any day.

Cory said...

Aaaaarrrrrgggggg, Venitha, nooooooooooooooo!!!! I'll make you a good cup of tea. :)