Tea for One, One for Tea, Some for You, But More for Me.
August 22, 2011 11:40 AM   Subscribe

Tea novice wishes to be initiated into the secrets of tea. Special snowflake details inside.

Recently, I've been on something of a tea obsession. Whether it has to do with my Anglophilia, something to drink that isn't soda but wanting something more than water, in the past two weeks I've bought nine tins of loose leaf tea. I have even purchased one of those lovely painted iron kettle-thingys.

But I have questions.

*What are the best sorts of teas if you're caffeine-sensitive? (Not allergic, just very very sensitive) Most of the teas I've purchases are of the herbal variety, but honestly I don't want to just drink herbal tea.

*How often can you reuse the tea leaves? Does it depend on the tea?

*If you don't have the pretty tins from the tea company and purchase your loose-leaf tea in sealed cellophane bags, what is the best method of storage?

*What additions do you prefer (sugar/lemon/milk, etc.)? When is it appropriate to add milk to a tea anyway?

*Tea shops/online retail companies: tell me of your favorites and what teas you would recommend.

Many a mug of hot tea is going to get through the coming annual Ice Age that is the Canadian winter so your assistance is greatly appreciated.
posted by Kitteh to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Don't wash the teapot out with soap - you'll ruin it! Or so my British friends say. Just hot water.
posted by bq at 11:44 AM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

My favorite is Chai. Don't know if it comes in decaf....

As far as adding milk, I think that's a matter of taste. Just don't add it to a citrus tea because it will definitely curdle (ew). But steamed milk makes for an amazing chai tea latte.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:47 AM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have heard that if you steep a tea bag for 30 seconds in boiling water, then discard the water and steep it again for your cup of tea, it cuts the caffeine dramatically. I haven't yet had a chance to test this intriguing bit of information, so take that with a grain of salt. I've had some dreadful decaffeinated black tea, so I really hope that it works.

When is it appropriate to add milk to a tea anyway?

When you like the way that it tastes. Try a bit of it with milk first, some teas will make the milk curdle. But if you like it, go for it. If tea purists clutch their pearls over it, that's their problem.

Depending on the water in your area, you may need to de-gunkify the implement in which you boil the tea water. Fill it with enough vinegar to cover the areas with mineral deposits and let it stand for a few hours. If you do this on a regular basis, you will not be stuck with a kettle encrusted with nasty calcium crud. (The calcium crud will kill the taste of the tea.)
posted by corey flood at 11:50 AM on August 22, 2011

I like Upton Tea for my mail-order tea needs.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:50 AM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I grew up with tea made by Nova Scotians, brewed dark and strong enough to stand a spoon up in, and treated as practically medicinal.

I know with green tea, the second pot made with the same tea leaves is considered the best (the first pot is too strong).

I store tea in a cool, dry, dark place.

My favourite is Lapsang Souchong, but then, I like really smoky flavours.

As for additions, let me relate a story:
I worked a summer in France, and was reamed out by my employer for putting both milk and sugar in my tea. She said I should only put sugar, milk is unhealthy. So I stopped putting milk in. Then I moved to Ireland, and people there were horrified that I put only sugar in my tea and not milk. After that, I decided I would put whatever the hell I wanted in my tea.
posted by LN at 11:51 AM on August 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

You might find the Tea FAQ helpful.

Green teas have less caffeine than black, but they still have caffeine.

You can reduce caffeine by making a quick brew (30 seconds) throwing that out, and brewing again. I'm not sure how much the caffeine is reduced, but it cuts it down.

Tea like to be stored in airtight containers in the dark.

I like sugar in tea, and for making "Indian Style" tea, about 4 parts tea to 1 part milk.

Indian grocery stores sell Lipton Yellow Label black tea, which is excellent for chai.
posted by and for no one at 11:51 AM on August 22, 2011

Response by poster: for modern flavours i like www.davidstea.com. A Canadian company as well.

I have three teas from there, one is herbal, one is rooibos, and the other is puer'h, which I'm drinking now. I like them, too.

I hear tell that white tea is also significantly less caffeinated. Essentially, the bad part of caffeine is the amount in a standard cup of drip coffee (which, sadly, I can no longer have unless it's decaf).
posted by Kitteh at 11:58 AM on August 22, 2011

nthing the splash and discard to reduce some of the caffeine level with black tea.

For storage, metal or ceramic airtight containers in a cupboard or pantry. (Vintage wooden tea caddies are lovely, but not cheap.) Tea isn't as fussy about storage as coffee, as long as it's kept dry, at room temperature, and away from light.
posted by holgate at 12:01 PM on August 22, 2011

I'm her husband, and a caffeine fiend, so I think we may be able to work some sort of Jack Sprat alchemy here where we both end up with black tea.
posted by Shepherd at 12:05 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Try hojicha. It's a roasted tea with significantly less caffeine than regular black or green tea, and it's absolutely delicious. I just buy the Yamamotoyama brand teabags (which you can probably find at your supermarket) and drink it straight, but I'm sure that there's fancier brands to be had.
posted by theodolite at 12:05 PM on August 22, 2011

Almost all teas will have much less caffeine than in a cup of coffee.

Green tea can be tasty, but proper brewing requires some care about temperature. I was told around 70 degrees. I have had green tea prepared for me by many different people, and it can range from extremely astringent to barely so, so I would suggest experimentation with green tea to find out what you like. I am pretty sensitive to caffeine, but a cup or two of green tea is usually okay for me. Most Japanese households I know reuse green tea leaves at least a few times (but in quick succession). Genmai-cha, which has puffed rice in, has a nice mellow flavor and seems a lot harder to get wrong than regular green tea. Green tea is generally drunk without sugar or milk.

You can also find rooibos chai mixes, or you can take a regular chai mix and combine it with rooibos tea. I have found that chai teas taste better with honey (and milk if you like!) than with sugar, although other teas I prefer sugar to honey.
posted by that girl at 12:07 PM on August 22, 2011

Oh, 70 degrees Celsius, if you weren't sure. 70 F would be a little . . . cool.
posted by that girl at 12:07 PM on August 22, 2011

Another variation on Nova Scotian tea making here. I steep the leaves or bag (depending on the day) for 3 minutes always, then discard and add a spoonful of clover honey. The only kinds of tea I like are Earl Grey (loose) and Irish or English breakfast (bagged).

I would never ever reuse the leaves or a bag.
posted by pink candy floss at 12:07 PM on August 22, 2011

Even black tea only has about half as much caffeine per cup as drip coffee, and the caffeine progression (most to least) goes black, oolong, green, white.

Really particular tea people know not only the ideal steeping times for the tea, but the ideal water temperature at which to steep tea, so if you get bored over the winter, you could get really detailed about your tea preparation practice.

Reusing tea leaves depends on the tea. I don't tend to do it, but I like my tea strong. If I take it with anything, it's usually honey and lemon, but my mother adds milk to every cup of tea she drinks. If you're starting out, I'd say try a few sips of unadulterated tea before you start adding anything - I find that most green and herbal teas don't need sweetening, and many black teas don't need sweetening in the afternoon - it's mostly in the morning when I crave sweet tea.
posted by EvaDestruction at 12:12 PM on August 22, 2011

Best answer: *What are the best sorts of teas if you're caffeine-sensitive? (Not allergic, just very very sensitive) Most of the teas I've purchases are of the herbal variety, but honestly I don't want to just drink herbal tea.

Good question. Generally you'd want a lighter tea (green or white, say), but if you drink green tea as strong as the stuff Japanese people drink you will feel the caffeine. Meanwhile, some black teas are considerably lighter than others: compare a nice darjeeling with a robust assam and you might as well be comparing a light white wine with a tannic, full-bodied red. Tea companies will often suggest a time of day for drinking your tea--lapsang souchong is light enough for the afternoon, for example (it gets more of its flavour from the smokiness than from heavy caffeine content), while there's a reason why English Breakfast gets called that.

*How often can you reuse the tea leaves? Does it depend on the tea?

Yes it does. A pu erh or many kinds of oolong can be reinfused multiple times, with water that's a fair bit under boiling point. A lot of other teas will be good for a second time, but probably not much beyond that. Some fine teas, probably not. And your good strong teabag-tea will make one good pot and that's really your lot (for me, at least). I think this partly has to do with how fine the bits of tea are: oolong teas will usually be whole leaves that unfurl beautifully as they infuse, and which can keep on giving, so to speak. The tea in a teabag is 'dust', much finer particles--infusing it once gets all the flavour out.

Incidentally, some of these teas that can be reinfused might be ideal for you: you can find one that isn't too caffeine-heavy to begin with, then pour many small (but tasty!) cups from one little pinch of tealeaves.

*If you don't have the pretty tins from the tea company and purchase your loose-leaf tea in sealed cellophane bags, what is the best method of storage?

The bag, folded over at the top. Tea lasts pretty well. Otherwise, at home I have some pretty tins that a friend painted for me. But at the office I keep it in the paper bag I bought it in, and that's fine.

*What additions do you prefer (sugar/lemon/milk, etc.)? When is it appropriate to add milk to a tea anyway?

This is very much personal preference. I can barely look when I see someone pouring milk into a cup of Earl Grey (ugh, milk fat + bergamot!) or lapsang souchong (smoky milk? Milky smoke?). But I frequently do see people do this--and yet those same people are pleasant, thoughtful human beings. Weird. Anyway: for me, milk goes in strong black tea made from teabags, but not too much. Black tea made with loose leaf usually gets no milk, but I usually make it a little lighter. Anything scented or smoked gets no milk at all. Green or white teas, ditto. I never take sugar. I don't have any philosophical objection to a slice of lemon--in a lightish brew of Earl Grey, say--but I would never actually make my own tea that way.

*Tea shops/online retail companies: tell me of your favorites and what teas you would recommend.

Search the green for Mariage Frères. They're despicably snobbish and colonialist, especially if you actually go to their shop--and yet, and yet, such delicious tea.

Some of my particular favourites, in no particular order after the first one:

--lapsang souchong (figures, huh?) as well as its smokier cousin tarry souchong;
--genmaicha, a Japanese green tea with toasted rice. I like this late in the evening. Some people hate it: when a friend went to buy me some, the woman in the fancy tea shop said to him "You do know, sir, that this tea is disgusting?" (It's not.) You also find machairi genmaicha, which is the same thing with powdered green tea added to the mix; this is the Japanese equivalent of lacing your spliff with crack;
--ti kuan yin, a delicious oolong that can be reinfused many times;
--golden yunnan, a black tea that is wonderful with very sweet things (but which, unexpectedly, becomes fearsomely strong if left to infuse too long);
--pai mu tan, an expensive but special white tea;
--Tetley, commonly available in Canada and a solid breakfast brew--the cup I had one winter's morning in Deep River, Ontario was memorably;
--pu erh, decried by an ex-girlfriend of mine as "anchovies tea", but if you like lapsang souchong (and anchovies!) you'll probably get some joy out of it.

Enjoy the long winter!
posted by lapsangsouchong at 12:14 PM on August 22, 2011 [17 favorites]

Try The Tao of Tea (www.taooftea.com) for online ordering and educational purposes. Veerindeer Chawla, the owner, is a master of great tea and it comes through with each of his employees. if you're ever in Portland, his two teahouses -- one at the Chinese Garden -- are spectacular.
posted by ..ooOOoo....ooOOoo.. at 12:21 PM on August 22, 2011

*How often can you reuse the tea leaves? Does it depend on the tea?

I would not recommend reusing black tea leaves beyond making a bigger pot of tea and drinking your way through it in the morning/afternoon. I find that black tea that has been over-steeped or steeped multiple times makes for an unpleasantly bitter brew. Less so with teabags, but I still wouldn't reuse unless I was desperate and out of tea.

*What additions do you prefer (sugar/lemon/milk, etc.)? When is it appropriate to add milk to a tea anyway?

This is obviously subject to personal preference, but in general, I add honey to herbal teas when I want a bit of extra sweetness, and honey or sugar and milk to masala chai/black tea. I never add anything to green tea.

*Tea shops/online retail companies: tell me of your favorites and what teas you would recommend.

I've used Adagio Teas to good results. Their samplers are an excellent way to try out a bunch of different kinds of tea. I especially like all of their herbals I've tried. You can also come up with your own blends if you want to get adventurous. Their little IngenuiTEA teapot is also great if you make a cup or two of tea just for yourself, or if you want an easy way to brew loose-leaf tea at the office or something.

And somewhat pricey, but I adore Far Leaves Tea's Monk's Blend. Also, IIRC, Far Leaves puts the caffeine content, suggested brewing temperature, and suggested brewing time on all of their tins of tea, which is helpful.
posted by yasaman at 12:39 PM on August 22, 2011

Lots of good recommendations! Don't be afraid to play around with resteeping. Sometimes in the winter, when I want the warm mug more than the caffeine, I'll resteep the same leaves five or six different times. I don't add anything to my tea unless I'm in a weird British tea with milk and sugar and tiny cookies mood.

We've just switched to Upton Teas after the unfortunate demise of SpecialTeas, and so far, so good. I also definitely 2nd the recommendation of hojicha for a nice, light, roasty taste, and like theodolite, tend to stick to the Yamamotoyama brand, which I can find in (Asian and some specialty) grocery stores. I've had trouble finding other hojichas to try, but maybe you'll be luckier.

Regarding storage: most of the places we buy from have re-sealable bags, which we keep in the cabinet. Sometimes I've used binder clips to keep smaller samples closed, and stuck those in a tupperware container. I find it's best to try not to over-purchase in the first place, so that you don't have random quarter pounds of tea sitting around from two years ago getting staler and less flavorful.
posted by deludingmyself at 1:01 PM on August 22, 2011

If you like Chinese teas like pu'erh, oolong, and some types of green, try Red Blossom for high quality teas.
posted by asphericalcow at 1:01 PM on August 22, 2011

Best answer: Tea! My husband is a super-tea snob, so I will pass on some tips to you. Even he will re-use leaves for another brew later in the day (leaves! not bags; I have to hide my Lipton bags in shame). But in my experience it will depend on the tea--for example, chamomile never re-brews for me.

If you want to be a purist, stick with loose leaves and avoid bags--you can control the amount of tea you use much more efficiently, which you'll want if you have different sized cups or teapots. Also try to get your tea as fresh as possible. It might be hard to find this out if you're buying from online retailers, but some can provide this information. Fresh tea is tastier tea! You can also focus on water temperature and steeping time as factors in the flavor of your tea. You've probably experienced already what can happen when you steep for too long, or use water that is too hot--bitter tea! To find out these standards, check out the tea package, the seller's directions or website, or do a bit of internet searching. Then you can experiment to see what works best for you with your equipment.

Speaking of equipment! Get yourself an electric kettle. Right now! Before you buy any more tea! Seriously--life-changing. It is so fast and so easy, you'll be amazed that you ever had the patience to wait for a stovetop kettle. Plus, some models can help you gauge the temperature of the water!

Our tea storage is ziploc bags and a few tins--I save them & re-use them after a thorough baking-soda-soak to get rid of the previous tea's smell. Nothin' fancy is necessary.

I add a wee bit of sugar or honey to my tea. It's the result of growing up in a sweet tea family--it's just a personal preference. However, chai tea with some sweetness AND a little bit of milk? HEAVENLY in the long winter months. So spicy & rich! Mmm. Try it! Still, it's interesting to at least taste different teas with no additions so you can experience the true flavor of the leaves--which you'll be able to discern if you brew & steep carefully.

I love jasmine teas; they smell so comfortingly lovely, and taste flowery without being overwhelmingly so. Totally makes me feel fancy. Oolong teas are another favorite; brisk & zippy, with a nice fragrance that's stronger than jasmine but just as pleasant. One tea that I've only ever gotten through my husband's workplace is called Lemon Myrtle, and it is like drinking a cup of lemon drops! It's herbal but so flavorful and fragrant; it makes an awesome addition to iced tea and is refreshing in the winter when I'm all stuffed up or coughing. It's just made from leaves, so I'm sure it's available other places. Look in to it if you like lemony things.

If you really get into the prep part of tea-making, you might like learning about Japanese tea ceremony. Not only is it interesting to learn the mechanics of their preparation, it's really quite relaxing to experience, even through video. The sounds and the graceful movements are nice! Plus there is so much historic significance to the act; there's plenty to read about. If you have a local tea house or tea garden, stop in and see what kind of services they offer--they are great ways to get more into tea than you might at home.

I don't know much about online retailers; 3Cups might ship to Canada, and they're militant about freshness. A shop closer to you is Intelligentsia in Chicago. If they are as meticulous about their tea as they are about their coffee, you should be able to get some excellent stuff. Have fun!
posted by Fui Non Sum at 1:02 PM on August 22, 2011

Response by poster: I do have an electric kettle because those things are MAGIC.
posted by Kitteh at 1:13 PM on August 22, 2011

Lotsa great comments above! I just want to add a shout-out for kukicha tea. It's a low-caffeine variety made from the twigs (rather than leaves) of tea plants, and it's toasty, warm, and delicious.
posted by equipoise at 3:15 PM on August 22, 2011

Check out Acquired Taste Tea Company; they are a Canadian company and do mail order.
posted by gudrun at 8:27 PM on August 22, 2011

Great stuff posted so far. I just wanted to recommend Steepster as a useful resource on tea questions. Some of the users are... let's say, fanatical about tea.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 11:13 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Let your level of thriftiness and your tastebuds guide you when it comes to reusing tea. My mother is somewhat notorious for keeping a teabag in the cupboard for weeks at a time and drinking numerous cups of (plain ol' black tea) before discarding it. She is also sensitive to caffeine and likes the taste of weak tea.

I personally like to use a tea bag about twice. Once only feels wasteful, but more than twice leaves a very noticeable lack of taste. But with loose jasmine tea leaves, my favourite, I often make serveral cups. As noted above, it does depend on your tea.
posted by equivocator at 11:44 PM on August 22, 2011

You mention Anglophilia. If you want a classic cup of British 'builder's brew' type black tea with a rich, comforting flavour, then I would highly recommend Yorkshire Tea. I have turned many people into converts over the years.

When it comes to herbal teas, I do love Kusmi Tea - they have some really unusual and delightful blends.
posted by guessthis at 2:13 AM on August 23, 2011

Really amused at an electric kettle being a must-have - they're as common in UK kitchens as a fridge.

We have a chain here called Whittards that does many many varieties of tea, both loose-leaf and in bags.
posted by mippy at 12:27 PM on August 23, 2011

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