Tea help!
December 2, 2005 11:04 AM   Subscribe

Calling all tea experts . . .

My mom asked for a teapot for Christmas. She is an almost-daily tea drinker. She's not an expert or a snob, she just enjoys hot tea, which she uses to replace soda after being diagnosed with diabetes.

I'd like to supplement the gift with some accessories and some fantastic tea. I'm totally open to suggestions of any kind - tea bags, loose teas, herbals, etc. Is there a brand or type of tea that is considered the "world's best"? The only problem is that it has to be available for purchase in Portland, Oregon, or online with delivery before Christmas. Thanks!
posted by peep to Shopping (38 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Please read the essay "A Nice Cup of Tea" by George Orwell. It should tell you all you need to know.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:08 AM on December 2, 2005

Rigeways Organic Earl Grey is extremely good.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:08 AM on December 2, 2005

That's Ridgeways. And never wash your teapot with soap.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:16 AM on December 2, 2005

Genmeicha tea is a type of brown rice green tea that has an amazing earthy flavour and is rich in antioxidants and such. South African Rooiboos (sp?) is also extremely good, and is caffeine free.
posted by theinsectsarewaiting at 11:18 AM on December 2, 2005

Maybe one of the gift sets from Adagio Teas?
posted by scody at 11:18 AM on December 2, 2005

Oh that's a shame she's not a snob, otherwise she'd really like tea from Fortnum & Mason....
posted by forallmankind at 11:26 AM on December 2, 2005

I know it isn't very sophisticated, but we get a ton of use out of our electric kettle. They are fast and easy and around $20.

Tea Spoon?
Tea Stick?

I've purchased tea online from Upton. Their catalog is fun to browse and they have all sorts of sampler packages.

Teaism has amazing chai.

There's a great little shop in SF, but I can't think of their name at the moment. I'll get back to you.

Oh, and tea cups/sets from China, India, Japan, Thailand, etc. are great ways to experience different types of tea. Though, these tend to be quite expensive and fragile.
posted by shoepal at 11:29 AM on December 2, 2005

I'm not a tea drinker, but my wife thinks the Mighty Leaf teas are very good.
posted by mudhouse at 11:30 AM on December 2, 2005

I've always liked Upton Tea Imports as a purveyor of fine teas. They have large selection of various teas, at a variety of price ranges, and they offer taster packets (which you could get a big set of for your mother). I've never ordered off the web, but they used to be very nice when I would call them on the phone and ask stupid questions about tea.
posted by OmieWise at 11:31 AM on December 2, 2005

Teavana sells online. I've never bought from them online, but in-store. Their tea isn't the world's best perhaps, but it seems like good enough tea. (I've purchased loose tea in lots of places, so I have some basis of comparison).

I personally favour Sri Lankana and Indian black teas, which are the closest to what most people consider "tea" e.g. tetley or whatnot.

You might get a few samples of black teas to see the difference between different varities. Darjeelings are typically lighter, while an Assam has more body.

One good pick would be the first three on the black tea page at Teavana - an Assam, a Ceylon and a Darjeeling. (from there or anywhere - many places will stock tea from these three regions) A couple ounces of each will make plenty of tea and really aren't too daring in the world of tea. Make sure to get a strainer too. I would avoid tea eggs and go for loose leaves in the pot, strained out when you pour. It lets the tea steep much better (and quicker).
posted by GuyZero at 11:33 AM on December 2, 2005

I like Sri Lankan (or Ceylon) Silver Tips, which are a variety of White Tea. It is rare (and thus expensive) in the US, however.
posted by blue mustard at 11:34 AM on December 2, 2005

Since she's not a snob, I'd say Stash, Revolution or republic of tea.

Golden Moon is good too.

There's also In Pursuit of Tea
posted by shoepal at 11:35 AM on December 2, 2005

Best answer: My most recent favorite teas come from Tea Forte. The packaging is lovely and the flavor divine.
posted by mewithoutyou at 11:36 AM on December 2, 2005

I'll second the Mighty Leaf rec!
posted by shoepal at 11:37 AM on December 2, 2005

First, I would reccommend loose leaf -- once you find some good tea, there is a fantastic difference. If you go this route, you will want to get her a teapot and a strainer for her cup since infusing the tea in the pot will flavor the pot, plus the strainers are just a couple of bucks.

As for the type of tea, I'm someone who was raised on a lot of iced tea and made the move to Earl Grey when it came to hot teas; however, for the moment I've found that my favorite loose leaf teas are oolongs -- not too strong but still have flavor. When it comes to brand, I'd find a local shop that sells teas and coffees as I was disapointed with stuff I bought online (it was much too bitter and it is getting away from the bitter that is one of best parts of loose leaf tea). Also, good loose leaf doesn't have to be any more expensive than bagged as I think I am paying ~$3.75/quarter pound for my oolong and that lasts me over 3 months of a cup every morning.

Now that I look it up, it appears that you can order online from the shop I frequent -- The Bay Leaf. I have been very happy with their Celyon, Assam, Formosa Oolong, and Apricot Arabesque, though I have yet to hear if my grandmother appreciated the Assam or oolong yet.
posted by The Bishop of Turkey at 11:38 AM on December 2, 2005

Tea samplers from are always fun! Every cup is an adventure. I think if I were to receive tea as a gift I would rather have samples rather than a box of one or two teas. You could alsways do a sampler and then a giftcard so that she can buy her favorite(s).
There are also lots of sweetening accessories like honey sticks (plastic tubes of honey), sugar cubes, flavored sugar cubes. I guess this may interfere with her diabetes.
Also consider an electric kettle. Slate did an article about them a week or so ago, how the english love them and americans still go for the slower, less energy efficient kettle to heat water for tea.
Other accessories like small teaspoons, antique cups, pottery mugs, sugar creamer sets, tea cozy.
posted by TheLibrarian at 11:41 AM on December 2, 2005

Some tea ideas: make -your-own teabags, the book of tea by kakuzo okakura, a cast iron teapot/set is a coveted item by many tea drinkers (they last a lifetime!), a good storage canister, crystal sugar and a gaiwan might also make a good gift. They're decorative, lending another use aside from tea swilling.

Specialteas is my favorite online retailer. They offer taster/sampler quantities (cheap!) of most all of their teas. Search around, find a bunch of different 1 oz. samples of things she might not have had.
posted by cior at 11:43 AM on December 2, 2005

I bought my wife a ingenuiTEA , she loves it and uses it daily. She is a tea snob, her father ran a tea plantation in India.
posted by beowulf573 at 11:57 AM on December 2, 2005

On the off chance you don't already know: a couple of posters recommend Earl Grey (I drink it too.) Just be aware it has a very distinct flavor (bergamot, a citrus fruit) that some people really don't like. Unless you know your mom likes it, you might want to try something else or get more than one kind of tea.
posted by Opposite George at 12:00 PM on December 2, 2005

Another vote for teas and teaware from Adagio. Their customer service is excellent, as are the teas, and they have a great selection of pots/glasses/stuff.
posted by kcm at 12:01 PM on December 2, 2005

Acutally, Adagio is the online retailer that I bought from and found that the teas were too bitter. If you do buy from them, i would warm you way from the Earl Grey as it also had too much bergamot oil.
posted by The Bishop of Turkey at 12:09 PM on December 2, 2005

I have had good luck with eTeapot.com and their fabulous single-serving mugs, of which I wrote about here (warning: relevant self-link).

I currently prefer Gold-Tip Assam loose-leaf tea from the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, but I'm no tea expert and others may have better choices. I think this one is yum with honey, though.
posted by mdeatherage at 12:11 PM on December 2, 2005

BTW, if you want the most awesome teapot in the world, get her this ultra-modern work of art from Eva Solo.

Of, if she likes more traditional teapots, get one for me. Damn I want that set bad.
posted by GuyZero at 12:26 PM on December 2, 2005

Check out this previous thread.

I recommend Harney & Sons for tea and accesories.
posted by ericb at 12:28 PM on December 2, 2005

Don't forget teapots. For a good one that doesn't drip, try the Perennial Tea Room. Select Teapots >> Contemporary >> Serenity 3-cup (various colors). In practice "3-cup" means that you can fill 2 12-ounce mugs.

If you happen to get up to Seattle, the PTR store is worth a visit, too.
posted by Araucaria at 12:40 PM on December 2, 2005

The Tea Table is a small business that offers a "tea of the month" gift package - I received a subscription last Christmas and it was a lot of fun. A 6-month tea-of-the-month subscription and a teapot that can handle loose teas is sure to turn your mother into a tea snob...
posted by mmoncur at 12:43 PM on December 2, 2005

Best answer: I'm a bit of a tea fanatic. When you pick out a teapot, if you choose a model that has a strainer basket that sits inside the pot, be sure that the strainer has some sort of attached tab or handle for lifting the strainer out of the pot. This seems like a really common-sense thing, but MANY of the teapots I've seen don't have this feature.

For a tea drinker, this is a huge deal because the strainer has to come out - the loose tea cannot be left to sit in the water, brewing into infinity, as it will get bitter - and the strainer (which is usually metal or ceramic) will get very hot, obviously, when you let it sit in boiling water.

For purchasing tea online, I have personally had excellent experiences with both Adagio Teas and Upton Tea Imports . I second everyone who has named them, and you should definitely go with sample sizes of anything you think your mom would find interesting to try. Adagio's samples have the benefit of coming in tiny reusable square tins, which look a bit nicer than Upton's silver packets, which are not resealable, and therefore won't keep the tea fresh as long.

For a neat accessory idea, you might pick up some of Adagio's paper filters, perfect for brewing a cup of fine loose leaf tea when you don't have the time or inclination to make a full pot.

For bagged tea, I would go with Stash Tea, which, coincidentally, has just opened a retail store in their home state of Portland, Oregon!
posted by aebaxter at 12:46 PM on December 2, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. She requested a specific teapot, so that's a done deal.

I ordered a sampler from Tea Forte and I'm still browsing other sites suggested.

And holy crap, the Stash store is 2 miles from my house! I'm familiar with the brand but I'll definitely be checking out the store. Thanks again.
posted by peep at 1:03 PM on December 2, 2005

I second (third?) the suggestion of an electric kettle. It's more energy efficient, and much faster, than heating water on the stove or in the microwave.
posted by luneray at 1:20 PM on December 2, 2005

I can emphatically recommend Murchie's for all your tea ordering needs, especially if you're in Canada.

I prefer using an electric kettle, a big mug, and their bagged teas (blasphemy, I know) with honey or whatever I have at hand, but their loose teas are excellent too.
posted by azazello at 2:19 PM on December 2, 2005

Tea drinker here. I'm a big fan of Bewley's Irish tea. It is an African tea, FWIW. (Disclaimer: I've never ordered from this site, I always order from Bewley's by mail.)

By the the way, this is an excellent question. Thanks to all for the great info! I'll be checking out all the nifty accoutrements soon.

BTW, shoepal - Teaism is GREAT! They have the best chai. My brother & I would always go there when I visited him. Too bad I'm in NY. Sooo far away!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 2:24 PM on December 2, 2005

I order from Harney teas (mentioned above) and have been happy with them. I use a pyrex type measuring bowl (about 8 cups big) and a fine strainer. I use an electric kettle (it's way faster than the stove). Brew temp and time are crucial. Too long or too hot and the tea will be overly bitter.

boiling water and brew for 5 minutes for black or oolong (some say 4 min for oolong)

160-180 water and 3 minutes for green tea

Teapots with integrated strainer is OK but I prefer the measuring bowl--easier to clean.

After brew I put the tea into a thermos to keep it hot all day. You should 'prime' the bowl and thermos with boiling water so it doesn't steal heat from the tea.

A loose tea sampler is probably best for the beginner to find what kind of tea they like.

Get a chinese green (eg gunpowder), a japanese green (eg sencha or hojicha), a darjeeling, an assam or ceylon, a few oolong (eg dong ding, formosa), and maybe yin hao jasmine (which is black) or dragon pearl jasmine (which is green). some of those are expensive varieties though so you might want to stick to the cheaper ones at first.

There is a quite a bit of variety in tea once your taste buds get tuned in.
posted by jockc at 4:12 PM on December 2, 2005

The important thing is to know what your drinking, so get her a book and a lot of different teas. She'll learn about it sip by sip while reading about it.
posted by pracowity at 5:07 PM on December 2, 2005

Stash is good stuff. Genmaicha is good stuff (linked at coffeeAM).
posted by mumeishi at 7:33 PM on December 2, 2005

I was told by a tea shop owner that Scottish Breakfast Tea is the most caffeinated, so if the soda your mom is replacing happens to be Mountain Dew, that's the way to go.
posted by Sara Anne at 8:50 PM on December 2, 2005

If you're in Portland, check out the retail store of the Tao of Tea, on SE Belmont between 34th & 35th. (And the next time your mom's in town, take her to lunch at the ToT restaurant next door; it has a ginormous tea list, and their Indian food is delicious.) They sell loose-leaf tea in containers; I like their jasmine tips green tea and their chai, and for a herbal variety their cranberry & orange tea. Their stuff is also for sale at New Seasons -- a little spendy, but great as a gift.
posted by lisa g at 11:01 AM on December 3, 2005

Red Blossom (in SF)
posted by shoepal at 7:25 AM on December 4, 2005

Also check out this previous thread for recommendations
posted by darsh at 3:28 PM on December 4, 2005

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