An American Editor

October 17, 2012

Going Green (Tea, That Is)

Filed under: Miscellaneous Opinion — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
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When I was young, many decades ago, growing up in America meant wanting to imbibe in the “adult pleasure” of drinking coffee — every adult I knew drank coffee and multiple cups of it.

Coffee’s caffeine never affected me. It amazed my wife and friends that I could drink a pot of espresso coffee at 11 p.m. and be sound asleep by 11:15 p.m. And because I was a commuter for many years, I rarely had my first cup of coffee until I had already been awake for three or four hours. Drinking coffee was very much a habit and habits are the hardest things to break. We get a sense of comfort from our habits.

One day, however, I looked at my coffee mug, which was still three-quarters full, and realized that although I “drank” coffee all day long, I rarely drank more than the equivalent of one cup in the entire day. Usually I would have a sip or two then set the mug aside. When I got around to wanting the next sip, the coffee was cold (and I never liked iced coffee), so I would dump the coffee in the mug and refill the mug with “fresh” hot coffee, and the cycle of sipping-dump-refill would repeat. I realized at that moment that I really didn’t like (or dislike) coffee — it was just habit and a hot liquid to have available, and that I drank it because everyone drank coffee while working.

I wondered if I would like tea any better. I knew that I didn’t like the off-the-shelf black, green, herbal, and flavored teas — the Liptons, Bigelows, and Saladas of the mass market — so I thought I’d go upscale and give a premium green tea a try. Green tea was supposed to be flavorful and provide numerous health benefits.

I admit that my drinking habits are somewhat peculiar in comparison to the habits of most Americans. When I drank coffee it was straight, no chaser — no sugar, no cream, no flavoring. I detested the taste of the flavored coffees. I also wasn’t fond of the off-the-shelf coffees like Maxwell House and Folger’s; I preferred premium coffees like Jamaica Blue Mountain and Kenya AA. So I wasn’t overly surprised to find that I didn’t like off-the-shelf mass market teas either.

After trying a few varieties of premium green tea, I was delighted to find that I enjoyed the straight, no chaser premium green teas. At last I had found a hot drink that was flavorful, which I drank by the cup rather than by the occasional sip, as long as I bought premium green tea in loose-leaf form and brewed it correctly.

Tea making is an art in the sense that you need to find that perfect balance of quantity, brew temperature, and brew time. With coffee, it was easy. Use a machine to which you simply add some coffee and water and click a button. Coffee requires near-boiled water. Green tea, on the other hand, requires water heated to about 175 degrees F (79.5 degrees C), because boiling (or near-boiling) water, which is what most people use, “burns” the tea and changes the flavor.

I read about the importance of using the correct-temperature water and so bought a kettle that lets me heat water to that correct temperature. There are several such kettles available; the one I bought was a Cuisinart. I then experimented and found that using water heated to the correct temperature and finding the right brew time for each variety made a significant difference in flavor.

As I wrote earlier, I also discovered that there is a major difference between off-the-shelf grocery-store teas and premium teas. Premium doesn’t necessarily mean high priced but it does mean higher quality. I did some exploring and tried several different purveyors of premium loose-leaf green teas. I currently buy from Harney & Sons, which is local to me, being about an hour away, and The Republic of Tea. Because each supplier seems to have its own sources, I still sample teas from other sellers, but these two, primarily Harney & Sons, are my main suppliers.

I discovered something else about loose-leaf green tea, aside from all the health benefits that keep popping up in newspaper and magazine articles (e.g., helps prevent cancer, helps lose/control weight): I discovered that because each variety has its own distinct flavor, I like to have several varieties on the counter and each day I brew and drink a different variety. Currently, I have seven varieties on the counter and so each day of the week has its own flavor.

I know that cost is a consideration, so when I initially buy a variety, I buy the sample size. The samples allow me to brew several pots (I brew pots of tea rather than cups) and discover whether I like the variety enough to want to buy it in a larger quantity. Yet the loose-leaf tea is also economical in the sense that from less I get more. Although your taste is likely different from mine, I have found that I can make two four-cup pots of tea using just two teaspoons of tea; that is, I get the equivalent of eight cups of tea from just two teaspoons of the loose-leaf tea.

My wife and I each have our own personal carafe, which we use as our brewing pots and which keep the tea hot for hours. Separate carafes enable us to enjoy tea while we work. For me, there is nothing better than a cup or two of green tea to soothe my frustration with another poorly written manuscript.

If you haven’t tried a quality green tea, you should. If you are a coffee drinker, you might find a new flavor sensation. As I discovered, it doesn’t take long to look forward to a flavorful pot of hot tea. As for coffee, it remains unmissed.

If you are a tea drinker, what tea(s) do you drink? Where do you buy your tea? I am always on the lookout for new sources and the Internet makes exploring the world of tea easy.

15 Comments »

  1. I really like white tea — and I love the teas from Adagio: http://www.adagio.com/ A friend in the US sent me a starter pack a few years ago and I really liked them.

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    Comment by Rhonda — October 17, 2012 @ 4:28 am | Reply

  2. I tried and rejected green tea because, even though I enjoy the flavor, it stains my teeth about five times faster than the combination of coffee and nicotine does! Ditto red wine.

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    Comment by Carolyn — October 17, 2012 @ 6:19 am | Reply

  3. Finally, a loose-leaf tea fan! Not many of us around. I buy from Gurman’s Teas at the Irish franchise: http://www.tea-coffee.ie. My favourites? Flavoured green teas, particularly those with ginger, orange peel, pineapple, mango, papaya, sandal tree, chocolate, vanilla, coconut, cacao bits. One of my favourites – Nine Treasures of China – contains Sencha, Yellow tea, Gunpowder, Chun Mee, Pai Mu Tan, Lung Tseng, Linyun White Snow, Pi Lo Chun, China Oolong, pineapple slices, strawberry slices, and sunflower blossoms!

    I usually have four flavours in the house at all times, so I have plenty of variety from day to day. Gave up coffee about two years ago and just got bored of black tea, not to mention being tempted by the health benefits of green tea. And shop-bought green tea is just no comparison to the loose-leaf variety…

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    Comment by Deirdre — October 17, 2012 @ 8:01 am | Reply

  4. I’m fond of Adiago Teas (http://www.adagio.com/) for loose-leaf green tea. Teavana will do in a pinch because there’s one in my local mall, but they’re incredibly overpriced. And when I’m out and about and there’s no chance for a cup of loose leaf, I’ll take Starbucks’ China Green Tips. Which raises the question: when will bakeries and coffee shops get with it and offer *loose-leaf* tea?

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    Comment by Erin C Brenner — October 17, 2012 @ 9:45 am | Reply

  5. I’ve recently discovered The Path of Tea (http://www.thepathoftea.com/) in Houston, and I love their teas. The strawberry sencha green tea is just heavenly. They have flat-rate shipping, too!

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    Comment by Katie — October 17, 2012 @ 10:44 am | Reply

  6. I love Japanese Sencha green tea and drink it almost exclusively. The best source I’ve found is at itoen.com. Ito En is Japan’s largest tea purveyor and they now have an American presence. They have a huge selection of green teas from Japan and elsewhere. Prices range from cheap to extremely expensive. Treat yourself to one of their more expensive Senchas and you will be in for quite a surprise.

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    Comment by Paul Biba — October 17, 2012 @ 10:46 am | Reply

  7. I forgot to mention: the Mark T. Wendell Tea Company (marktwendell.com) has an excellent loose leaf decaffinated sencha green. I make a batch of it and keep in in the fridge like iced tea. Tastes great. I take 7 measures of the sencha and add a little hot water, then fill up the container with cold water and let it brew overnight. No need to remove the leaves when its done.

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    Comment by Paul Biba — October 17, 2012 @ 10:51 am | Reply

  8. My favorite teas are from Gong-Fu Tea in Des Moines, Iowa (they also do their own importing): An Oolong called Wuyi Shan Ti Kwan Yin (I like most Oolongs), and a green called Jasmine Dragon Pearls that is wrapped up into little balls that unfold beautifully in a clear glass carafe.

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    Comment by Sean — October 17, 2012 @ 1:43 pm | Reply

  9. Great post, and great suggestions in the comments. I go through phases: five or six months of mainly coffee, then five or six months of mainly tea.

    Adagio has great tea, as someone mentioned earlier. Lupicia (http://www.lupiciausa.com/) has a few shops on the West Coast, and they offer some interesting flavor combinations. I’ve been meaning to check out McNulty’s (http://www.mcnultys.com/) here in NYC.

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    Comment by Emily Albarillo — October 17, 2012 @ 2:05 pm | Reply

  10. As my spouse is a native of Japan, we are purists about our green tea. No mango, jasmine, honey or other flavorings and NEVER milk or sugar in it. But even among the unadulterated green teas, there’s hojicha (roasted) and genmaicha (green tea with roasted brown rice for a nice warm flavor). SA is a good brand, imported from Japan.

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    Comment by Julie Yamamoto — October 17, 2012 @ 2:20 pm | Reply

  11. Rich, it’s no _wonder_ I like you!🙂 My favorite vendors of whole-leaf teas are Adagio, TeaSource, and Lupicia. Here is my list of links to more vendors:

    http://www.kokedit.com/ckb_teavendors.php

    Like

    Comment by Katharine — October 17, 2012 @ 5:43 pm | Reply

    • And here, Katharine, I thought you liked me for my regal presence, quick wit, and 3 strands of hair (all gray-white). I guess I’ll just have to add tea to that list🙂.

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      Comment by americaneditor — October 18, 2012 @ 2:01 am | Reply

    • I wondered how long it would be before you shared that list, Kathy. It’s such a great resource!

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      Comment by Erin C Brenner — October 18, 2012 @ 8:39 am | Reply

  12. it really is amazing how much much more sustained energy tea gives you once you make the coffee swap, if you are into not only a delicious cup but amazing health benefits (seriously google it) you should check out Gaba tea. I get mine from somage; a company that sources their teas directly from the family estates, so you know they are getting a fair deal!

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    Comment by Tessa — October 17, 2012 @ 7:56 pm | Reply

  13. Upton Tea here. I like extremely assertive black teas and alternate between lapsang souchang and pu-erh. I love chai, but rarely make it because it’s calorific and a bother to make if you’re doing it from scratch.

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    Comment by dpzora — July 25, 2013 @ 3:52 pm | Reply


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