A post about tea

The “about the author” paragraph at the end of Time for Tea notes that I have “a taste in tea that would drive Dr. Sinensis mad.” And since this is a chilly, rainy day here in Maryland, excellent for settling down with a cuppa, I thought I’d expand on that description a bit.

I love Dr. S. to pieces, but he is a connoisseur, and I have always found being a connoisseur inconvenient and far too much trouble. I like what I like, and whatever field of endeavor we’re discussing I usually find appealing or acceptable a broad range of the objects within, though some of them are… not my cup of tea, possibly because they are bitter and nasty and unfit, but probably just because they’re not to my personal taste. People who come to my house and see the large display of tins of loose tea probably assume that I’m a tea snob, and to some extent that’s true, but I have no objection to teabags as long as they produce drinkable tea (most of them don’t, because their contents are if not literally what got swept up off the factory floor then the consistency thereof, and finely cut or powdered tea steeps very quickly and ends up full of tannins, more than needed to give tea its characteristic flavor). I did a lot of research into tea when writing this book, and some of it was taken into practice, but there’s more than one way to enjoy any beverage (or anything else for that matter) and I stumble off the path of enlightenment quite often, and don’t care.

So, what teas do I drink? Right now I’m enjoying a cup of Lapsang Souchong Black Dragon from Upton Tea. I’m very fond of the smoky taste (some people hate it) and it would probably be on Dr. Sinensis’s Approved List. I tend to prefer Chinese black teas to Indian ones (I don’t put milk in my tea, and the strong taste of Indian teas is better mollified with a bit of milk), though I’ll drink a nice Assam some mornings when I’m not having coffee. Blends with Lapsang in them are also favorites. Since I have to watch caffeine consumption, I’m leaning more these days toward oolongs and green tea, and am trying out various senchas and other Japanese teas (like genmaicha with the roasted rice, mm).

Where I fall away from the ideal is my taste for flavored teas, especially ones with bits of fruit or fruit oils added, or spicy chai, or the blends with fruit and nuts and spices that get sold at Christmas. Not that I’ve asked him exactly, but I don’t think Dr. S. would approve of those. And I drink a lot of what should properly be called infusions but most people refer to as tea, in other words the wide family of herbals. I love chamomile and mint and hibiscus and lemon verbena and many other varieties, and some of them I grow and dry myself (because once you’ve accidentally established a peppermint or lemon balm plantation, you might as well take some advantage of it). And I drink yerba mate at times too.

Since I haven’t succeeded in growing Camellia sinensis myself (I did try once), and certainly couldn’t produce it on the necessary scale, where do I buy tea? Upton Tea is definitely my favorite online source; they have a huge selection in a range of prices from very reasonable to Prohibitively Expensive For Connoisseurs Only Ouch, and you can find nearly anything you’re looking for there (they even have Bohea!), and try it out in sample sizes if you aren’t ready to commit to larger amounts. I’ve also bought happily from Peet’s and David’s, and herbal infusions I usually buy on impulse at a supermarket.

By the way, taste aside, I usually find that decent tea is cheaper when bought loose-leaf than in bags, and all you need is a little infuser like this to make yourself an easy cup, or a pot for that matter. I would hate for anyone to think you have to turn into Dr. Sinensis to have a nice cup of tea. Unless you want to, that is.

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