An American Editor

October 17, 2012

Going Green (Tea, That Is)

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.

May 9, 2011

Going Hand-in-Hand — Drinking & Editing

Okay, so “drinking” is a bit misleading. No, I’m not talking about alcohol or even the authors who could drive their editors to alcohol. Rather, I’m talking about drinks like tea, coffee, and soda pop — the stuff that can make a day enjoyable while suffering through another language calamity.

Years ago, I drank coffee. I never really liked it; it was just that it was a little better tasting than milk (I hated milk except for buttermilk) — just about anything was better tasting than milk — and drinking coffee was a sign of having crossed from childhood to adulthood. That should give you a clue as to how ancient I truly am!

I knew that I was drinking coffee out of habit, not out of like, the day I realized that I would have a sip or two, leave the rest to get cold, dump the rest because it was cold, pour yet another cup, and repeat the cycle. I bet on a great drinking day, I never got through more than 1 cup of coffee when totaling sips together.

This love-hate relationship with coffee continued for decades. I even tried buying expensive, gourmet blends, grinding my own, and gourmet coffee-making systems. Nothing changed my drinking process, although I will admit that I did learn how great a difference there is between a gourmet bean like Jamaica Blue Mountain freshly ground and Folgers.

Then one day I was reading yet another novel in David Weber’s Honor Harrington series when it struck me that Honor was drinking hot chocolate even when all her companions were drinking coffee. Well, I like hot chocolate — actually anything that is dark chocolate — so I decided to drop coffee and go to hot chocolate (no marshmallows, though).

Once again I went through all the machinations and from store blends like Swiss Miss to gourmet blends purchased online. Alas, this quickly became another coffee for me. The hot chocolate just wasn’t satisfying. It certainly was better than the coffee (much better than the chocolate dusted coffee I had been drinking), but I’d still drink a sip or two and end up discarding the rest.

I’d never been much of a tea drinker. Off and on I had experimented with tea but the truth is, I was experimenting with Tetley and Lipton and Red Rose and other store-shelf brands — the mass market teas. I did try Twinings, which was a step up, but all the teas suffered from the same problem: not much flavor and not a compelling drink. It was coffee and hot chocolate all over again.

Perhaps the problem with all of these drinks is that I do not use sugar (although the hot chocolate was sweetened with the substitute stuff). I don’t use sugar because I can’t. Too much sugar sends my body into disaster mode; it’s one of the reasons I rarely ever eat a dessert. If that was the problem, I wasn’t going to change my sugar avoidance, so I had best find another drink. Let’s face it; water is a great drink but even though it is life-sustaining, it hasn’t got that panache or flavor to satisfy the drinker in me.

Anyway, one day in the gourmet grocery I came across some upscale green tea. I wasn’t having luck with anything else so I decided to buy it and give it a try. That was the beginning of my downfall. I probably now need to join Tea Drinkers Anonymous because I am hooked.

I begin my day with a carafe or two of a full leaf green tea. I alternate each day between Bi Luo Xian, Sencha Kyoto, and Dragon Well (Lao Tzu’s Tea), all from the Republic of Tea. (I’ve tried a couple of other gourmet tea sellers, but I always come back [so far] to the Republic of Tea.) During the day, I either make a carafe of one of these teas or I drink The People’s Green Tea, which comes in tea bags.

With these teas, I have finally found drinking salvation. For quite some time, I simply boiled a kettle of water and let it cool for a minute or two before pouring it over the tea. But I kept reading about how important it is to use the correct temperature water for tea so as to get the full flavor without burning the leaves. I admit I was skeptical, but I finally broke down and bought a Cuisinart variable temperature kettle. Here is a link to a review of the kettle. What a difference using the right water temperature  — and the right steeping time — makes!

Yes, I am a convert — to green tea, timing the steeping process, and the variable temperature kettle. I actually enjoy drinking green tea enough that when I travel, I take my carafe with me, along with a timer. (The People’s Tin Lid Timer replaces the lid on the cans, making it easy to carry.) When we eat out, whereas before I would always decline an after-dinner drink, now I bring my own tea bags and timer and simply ask for hot water.

Needless to say, as I spend my day editing, I often have a cup of green tea at my desk. These days, when the cup of tea isn’t alongside my keyboard, I almost (but not quite) feel naked, exposed, as if something is missing. A good cup of tea just makes my day.

What makes your day, drinkwise? For those of you who drink green tea, what green teas do you drink? Do you have a favorite tea store? Tea blend? Tea brand? Does drinking go hand-in-hand with your editing day?

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