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(Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

(Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

The British are known for their love of tea and that attitude that tea is the cure for all of life’s mishaps. Break a nail (after just having a very expensive manicure and special nail polish applied)? Have a cup of tea. Your spouse ran off with the clerk from the grocery store? Have a cup of tea. That notice from the IRS that you are being audited back to the beginning of time arrived in the mail today? Have a cup of tea. Whatever the occasion, be sure to have the tea “British style” – black tea steeped strong with milk and sugar.

The black tea is usually one of the name brand blends. PG Tips has claimed a top spot for many years. Their tea blending pros focus on making sure that famous flavor is consistent cuppa after cuppa. Some other top brands are Twinings who have been around for 300 years and counting, Typhoo that started out as a stomach soothing tea, and these others: Fortnum & Mason, Harrisons & Crosfield, Barry’s Tea, Bewley’s Tea, and Taylors of Harrogate/Yorkshire. They are intended to be steeped up strong. And have milk and sugar added to them.

But what about other black teas?

Over the years, I’ve had other teas that are generally not ones you would serve British style and had rather surprising (and good!) taste results. Here they are:

  1. Earl Grey – Often tea aficionados think that the oil of bergamot in the tea, since bergamot is a citrus fruit, means you can’t have milk in it; I beg to differ, no curdling and a great flavor blend, especially with a bit of sweetener (I switched from using sugar years ago).
  2. Golden Bi Luo – A black tea from the Yunnan Province of China. This may seem like total lunacy to those of you who treasure this fine tea, but I just had enough left for this experiment recently and decided to go for it. The typical smokiness and vanilla notes still came through.
  3. Nilgiri Oolong – Oolongs vary in how much the leaves are oxidized after withering. This one was pretty highly oxidized and was almost a black tea. So, adding milk and sweetener was not too surprising. Even though this is a true black tea, it is not usually served British style. But I dared. The milk and sweetener brought out the malty character even more.
  4. Dooteriah Second Flush Darjeeling – A marvelous tea any way you serve it, but when served British style it was a true revelation. A bit smoky, rich, aromatic, uplifting, and soothing. The only bad thing here was when it was all gone. I had to rush to steep some more!
  5. Red Dragon Pearls – The “pearls” are tea leaves rolled into spheres about 3/8” in diameter that have an aroma like raisins. Only the tender tip leaves are used, making this a rather prized tea.
  6. Young Pu-erh – Some folks, when reading my article a few years ago about putting milk and sweetener in this tea, seemed totally shocked. A pu-erh! Served British style! Ugh! But it was worth it, the flavor becoming even smoother and full-bodied while the typical earthy character still came through. There were cocoa notes very evident, too. Just remember to steep it for the maximum time recommended: 10 minutes.
(Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

(Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

One key step is to steep in a teapot, not in a gaiwan or small vessel, and treat it pretty much as a regular black tea. Another key step is to be very conservative in how much milk and sweetener you use – enough to smooth and add a touch of sweetness, but not so much that the tea’s signature flavors are smothered.

Do your own tea experiments and see what teas will stand up to being served British style!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

There are lots of tea blogs, lots of tea professionals advising on this and that about tea, Facebook groups about tea, tweeters on Twitter focused on tea, and more, and many of them talk about how you should do this with tea and that with tea. But is there any real “should” in tea? Well, yes and no.

Some say you shouldn’t put milk in your tea. Others say you should. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Some say you shouldn’t put milk in your tea. Others say you should. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

The Should Nots

You definitely should not ditch whatever grocery-store bought teas you have and go spend hundreds on those rare teas that those experts rave about. For one thing, the cheaper teas can be a lifesaver when you need a quick cuppa just to keep going. For another, you can always use those teas for other things such as to help with puffy eyes or as cleaners around the house.

You should also not rush to buy the latest trendy tea or something that celebrities like Lady Gaga are drinking unless you just like spending money on things that you most surely won’t like. Just because a celebrity likes something doesn’t mean you will, but it also doesn’t mean you won’t either.

The Shoulds

When you try a new tea for the first time, learn a little something about it so you will get some idea of what to expect in terms of taste and aroma, even though your experience may be vastly different from what the vendor describes. Follow the vendor’s infusing recommendations (and the vendor “should” supply this information to their customers). Taste the tea liquid (a good mouthful or two) after infusing and before adding milk, sweetener, lemon, honey, mint, etc. Often, you may prefer the tea as is and may even be surprised by this, especially if you are used to drinking teas with lots of flavorings added. This could lead you to explore more of the world of fine teas.

General “shoulds” for teas include using the best water quality you have available, cleaning your teawares in-between uses, and taking your time. Water is the key ingredient in any tea and should never be distilled or sterilized water since it will infuse a flat-tasting liquid. The chlorine/chloramine in most municipal water systems in the U.S. also causes problems, affecting the taste and aroma of your tea. Clean teawares prevent one tea ending up tasting like the tea you steeped just before that. If the earlier tea was one of those flavored teas using something strong like cinnamon, your Ti Kuan Yin could end up with a cinnamony character. And as for time, even if you are having a tea that steeps in a very short time (some need only a few seconds), take your time to sip and savor and let a tea’s aftertaste take over.

The biggest “should” is that you should get the most of out your tea. I know that earning the money to buy those teas can be rather strenuous these days. So, get the most for those tea dollars spent.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Bubbles showing the water is really boiling! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Bubbles showing the water is really boiling! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

The importance of water when it comes to the taste of your tea is a subject that has been discussed often on this tea blog and on others. Steeping techniques have been examined in the minutest detail all over the blogosphere and social media sites. So, what else is there to say? Plenty!

While people are fussing about water quality (hard water versus soft water, distilled and filtered versus municipal system water coming out of the tap), they tend to forget about temperature. Some teas steep very quickly – even for only a few seconds – and others need more time – as long as 10 minutes. It’s those long-timers that are the issue here. Anything that has to steep for 3 minutes or longer will experience some cooling, even if the steeping vessel is covered.

Several things affect how fast water temperature will decrease during steeping: room temperature, what the steeping vessel is made of, its shape, whether it has a lid, if a fan is on nearby (especially if it’s blowing towards the steeping vessel), and if you cover it with a cozy or tea towel. All pretty obvious.

There is some debate among tea professionals about whether the temperature decreases enough to adversely affect the steeping. A particular cozy design, for example, was under assault a few years back from these “experts” who claimed the cozy kept the teapot too hot, that a little cooling was needed to avoid oversteeping the tea (no scientific evidence was ever presented to support this). This concern seemed strange considering that for most folks, the big concern is usually about the water cooling too fast so that the tea did not fully steep. That’s touted as a main benefit of the Brown Betty teapot – it keeps the water warmer longer even without a cozy or tea towel over it.

One thing is for sure: you can think about things like this way too much and end up spending too little time actually enjoying the tea.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Let’s face it – there are times when you just gotta use a bag. That’s true of lunches brought to school or to work from your home, true of purchases from the store, and true for that time when steeping loose leaf tea just isn’t possible. Yes, there are times when a teabag is your best option.

Three popular bagged brands. The middle one had a string and tag for easier dunking. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Three popular bagged brands. The middle one had a string and tag for easier dunking. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Don’t faint. You heard me right. Yours truly … a “Tea Princess” dedicated to steeping tea loose at all times and even bragging that I take bagged teas, cut open the bags, and dump the tea loose in my teapot … has admitted that there are occasions when one has to resort to that item of both adoration and loathing: the teabag. From its humble beginnings as a little silken bag used to send a small sampling of tea out to prospective customers to its now almost universal acceptance (our house being an important exception), the teabag has taken the tea world by storm and has certainly come a long way, developmentally speaking. You can find them in a variety of shapes, sizes, materials, and colors (usually bleached white or a more natural hue). They can be filled with fine tea dust or larger pieces. There are also ones you can fill yourself with whatever teas and other items you wish (some like to make their own fruit-flavored teas, adding in dried chunks with the tea leaves while others like to put together their own herbal bags).

There is a lot to be said for the humble teabag:

  • You get the right amount of tea (usually) for steeping up a quick cuppa.
  • You can carry them with you so your fave teas are always available (if they’re filled with that fine dust tea, you’ll want them in some kind of plastic baggie or individual wrapper to avoid that dust getting everywhere).
  • You can steep in a cup … no teapot needed … and no straining!
  • You can toss them away for a relatively easy clean-up.

Of course, there are points against teabags:

  • People (such as me) with sensitive palates can taste the teabag, especially the kind made of that hemp plant or muslin, and so do not get a true tea flavor.
  • The teabags that don’t have a string and tag attached will need a spoon or something to get them out of the hot liquid once the tea steeping is done.
  • Teas in bags where the pieces are larger are also rather cramped and don’t let the pieces fully interact with the water.
  • Some teabag materials aren’t good in compost piles (this is less true these days as more companies seek out different materials).

So, when is a teabag your best option? Here are a few instances:

  • You’re traveling and don’t want to have to settle for whatever teabags that quik-stop place carries.
  • You work in a place that doesn’t have any good tea available or has no tea of any kind available.
  • You have some on hand around the house as an emergency plan for when you need a quick cuppa in-between potfuls.

Other than that I personally can’t even imagine needing to use a teabag. As always, though, I leave that final decision totally in your hands.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

When people think of a tea ceremony, many think of the Chanoyu in Japan. Others say that “gongfu cha” is a ceremony. Plus many Asian countries have ceremonies for enjoying tea, such as Darye in Korea. (Some folks say that the only true tea ceremony is the Chanoyu in Japan, that the ones in other countries are poor imitations. I don’t know either way. And that debate needs to remain the subject of another article.) Regardless of the type of tea ceremony, a ceremonial tea is needed. The chief among these is matcha, but it’s not the only one, as you will see below.

Full of beauty, grace, and tradition, the Chanoyu Tea Ceremony is great to experience at least once in your lifetime! (From Yahoo! Images)

Full of beauty, grace, and tradition, the Chanoyu Tea Ceremony is great to experience at least once in your lifetime! (From Yahoo! Images)

What is Darye

Literally, darye means “etiquette for tea” or can also be translated “day tea rite.”

In contrast to Chanoyu, the Korean Way of Tea is far less rigid. Koreans seek to maintain a feeling of naturalness, so the steps initially seem complicated but are really fairly easy to master. This ceremony can be held both alone or with others. The tea served is a special one called Panyaro, which means “The Dew of Wisdom.” It’s making was by Tea Master Chae Won-hwa. You can see some photos of the process here.

What is Gongfu Cha

Actually, “gongfu cha” (or alternately “kungfu cha”) means tea preparation done with skill. We often associate this with certain procedures, employing either gaiwans or Zisha clay pots called Yixing after the area where the clay is from.

What is Chanoyu

This is a tea ceremony in Japan centered around a highly ritualized preparation and serving of matcha. As far back as the 14th century, the Japanese, starting with the upper class, have been gathering socially to share matcha. Over time certain rules and procedures were developed for participants to follow. By the 16th century the form of ceremony that we are familiar with today was formed by Tea Master Sen no Rikyu. The guiding principle was Zen Buddhism where people seek to become one with nature and thus purify themselves. One key principle is economy of movement. Everything is stylized to assure this. Another principle is the full appreciation of everything involved, including the room and all teawares used. This aesthetic sense carried through to other aspects of Japanese cultural, creating a wave of influence for centuries.

What is Matcha

The short of it: matcha is a high-grade green tea processed to a powder form.

The longer version:

Matcha is a very special tea, made from the finest, shade-grown, and hand-picked tea buds. The shade slows down growth and causes the leave to produce more amino acids and turn a darker green than normal. They also develop a more intense sweetness and deeper flavor. The buds are steamed, dried, and then laid out flat to dry – not rolled as other green teas are. This is the tencha – the unpowdered leaves. Next the leaf veins and fine stems are removed and they are ground to a fine powder using the traditional stone grinding wheels. The grinding can take up to an hour to do 30-40 grams. Matcha is graded according to the location where those leaf buds are grown on the stems of the tea bush (higher up is better), careful treatment during processing that includes care to avoid exposure to sunlight, using the proper grinding equipment to avoid a “burnt” quality, and avoiding exposure to oxygen that makes it turn a dull brownish green and develop a hay like aroma. The powdered form of this tea means it dissolves in the water and is therefore consumed along with that water, fairly unique for teas. This quality, however, makes it an ideal tea for Chanoyu. There is no messy clean-up of spent tea leaves.

Final Note

You don’t have to have a ceremony to enjoy either Panyaro or Matcha or, for that matter, any other tea. You have only to know how to prepare the tea and, once prepared, to enjoy it. Cheers!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Most tea steeping directions call for teaspoonfuls of tea leaves, so a spoon (not your hand) touches those leaves. Those of you who use bagged teas end up touching the bag (or the string-and-tag), not the tea. But some tea experts say that hands-on is the only way to go when it comes to taking some of those tea leaves out of their container and putting them in the steeping vessel. To me it raises an important question, especially in an age when hyper-sanitation seems everywhere: Should you touch those tea leaves? A previous article on this blog by our friend from Australia made the case for that hands-on approach, but I wanted to take another look at the issue.

The other day a tea lover posted a picture that was captioned: “Transferring tea leaves with clean hands into a preheated pot can draw us closer to understanding the leaves we brew”. Here it is (used with permission from Miss Tea Delight):

Miss Tea Delight using hands for tea (photo used with permission, all rights reserved)

Miss Tea Delight using hands for tea (photo used with permission, all rights reserved)

My comment was: “What do you think? I don’t like using my hands…. even at their cleanest there are skin oils…. pieces [of tea leaf] always stick [to my fingers] and end up eventually falling into the pot….. ugh!” Quite an exchange ensued, as follows:

  • Respondent #1: by hand is better ?
  • Me: Some people think so, but I prefer a measuring spoon with the exception of a chunk of pu-erh off the cake.
  • Respondent #1: yes, part of it still stays on my hand.
  • Me: And measuring out the right amount is a problem.
  • Respondent #1: yes!
  • Respondent #2: No hands, they are never perfectly clean unless you are scrubbing for surgery.
  • Me: Hee! So true. If you’re making the tea for yourself, it might be okay, I guess.
  • Respondent #3: whenever we smelled the tea in the factory at any stage it was by hands only…and it used to be a fun…and convenience…
  • Respondent #4: Chinese people: we’re not that fussy, but as a Brit, I toTEAlly know where you’re coming from.
  • Me: Yeah, very good point. I think we’re seeing a real cultural difference here. I also don’t like to handle some of the tea leaves and buds due to how delicate they are. I want them to remain intact for the steep. Might not be a big issue, though.

It still doesn’t answer the question, though, which is often the case with such exchanges – they end up being a bunch of comments back and forth. So, it’s time to look into the facts of the situation. Certainly on an emotional level the idea has both its opponents and supporters, but putting that aside is necessary to get a true answer here.

The Science

Whenever you touch something, some of your skin and oil come off on that thing. That is how we leave fingerprints on things. Minute amounts of this skin and oil will come off on your tea leaves when you handle them. Unless you have some kind of skin disease where larger amounts than normal tend to slough off, the amount should be so minute as to be inconsequential. Tea is steeped in hot water, so any microbes left on those tea leaves by your touching them should be obliterated. As for affecting the tea’s flavor, there is virtually no chance of that unless your tastebuds are Superman strength (sort of like that X-ray vision but for the sense of taste) or you are using a highly-scented soap (even then the effect is minute). And if the idea of that minute amount of skin and oil makes you cringe, then you won’t want to even think about those little leafhoppers that are responsible for the amazing flavor of Oriental Beauty tea.

Conclusion

There seems to be no scientific reason to object to touching tea leaves with your hands, assuming they are clean. There does seem to be a preponderance of emotional objections, mine included, that no amount of science may ever overcome. Different cultures are at issue as well, with many of us here in the U.S. being more sensitive to such things. In the end, as with many things, the choice is yours.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

There are black teas (what many in the world call “red tea”), green teas, white teas, rarer yellow teas, purple teas, hundreds of oolong teas … and then there’s pu-erh. Strange. Mysterious. Off-putting. But, as with anything new to you, starting out is easy – just take that first step. Here is a pu-erh (or two) that can get you started. But first, a little about what pu-erh tea is.

Don’t let the dark color fool you. The tea has no bitterness or astringency and can be drank as is or with sweetener – even milk! (Photos by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Don’t let the dark color fool you. The tea has no bitterness or astringency and can be drank as is or with sweetener – even milk! (Photos by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

The Basics of Pu-erh

This is strictly bare-bones information. Just enough to give you an overall understanding of this style of tea. The tea leaves are those from the tea bush (Camellia Sinensis) and tend to be of a more sturdy nature (but not always). They are grown in the Yunnan Province of China (the regions of Simao, Xishuangbanna, Boshan, and Lincang). There are white, green, and black pu-erhs, described as follows:

  • White Pu-erh – This is called “bud” and “silver tips” pu-erh and is made entirely from the highest quality uppermost tender buds of the tea plant gathered exclusively by hand in Spring.
  • Green Pu-erh – This is called “raw,” “uncooked,” or “sheng” pu-erh. There is a young version that has not completely fermented and an aged version that has undergone a complete fermentation through dry storage, usually for 5 years or more.
  • Black Pu-erh – This is the true “black tea” (aka “shou,” “ripe,” or “cooked” pu-erh) and dates from the 1970s. It is a way to mimic aged green pu-erh to meet market demand. The most important difference is Wo Dui (a Chinese fermentation process used for this style of tea) where temperatures are strictly controlled and humidity is kept high to break down the natural structure of young tea leaves to remove bitterness and unwanted flavors.

Still with me? Good. At this point, I would say that which of these you start out with would depend on your overall tea preferences. If you drink mostly regular green tea, then go for a green pu-erh with a few years of aging to remove some of the bitterness, for example. However, being of a more…uh, well, not really pushy…more like “helpful” nature, I can’t resist passing along the recommendations below.

A Pu-erh to Start You Out

My first recommendation is that you start with a loose version of pu-erh, not the kind pressed into cakes (beengs), bricks, or mini cakes (“tuochas”). Otherwise you might quickly get frustrated by trying to chop some off to put in your steeping vessel (often a gaiwan or Yixing teapot – see more info on these in my articles: part 1, part 2, and part 3). The other benefit is that you get to play around with blending the loose tea with other loose teas you may have on hand. Keemun and Assam are a couple of black teas to try blending with the pu-erh. It will reduce what some find to be the unpleasant side of pu-erh – what they call that “dirt” taste.

One to try: Golden Pu-erh Loose Leaf Tea is aged for 5 years deep in the mountain caves of Yunnan, China. The flavor has musty, elemental notes. The leaves have a wonderful aroma that is earthy yet sweet, very nice. The instructions say to steep 2-10 minutes in water that has been brought to a rolling boil. I recommend starting with 2 minutes, adding 30 seconds for each subsequent infusion of the tea leaves (you can infuse the leaves several times). The first infusion will be fairly light, with the following infusions being darker, a bit earthy, and yet caramelly without bitterness.

If you’re really adventurous, you might try my own recipe for a chocolaty version of this tea: Tea Experiment — “Mocha” Pu-erh.

There is also a version of this tea with caramel added to enhance the natural caramelly flavor. See my review.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

See if this scenario sounds familiar: You buy a tea blend, you love the tea blend, you run out of the tea blend, you buy some more of the tea blend, you don’t like the new batch of the tea blend. If it does, then read on to find out what might have happened and why tea blends can vary from batch to batch.

Testing the blends. (Screen capture from site)

Testing the blends. (Screen capture from site)

First a bit of a look at what tea blending is. In theory, it is simple. In practice, it is a skill that takes years of experience and a creative mind to develop. The result will be a flavor unique to that blend. You start with the processed leaves, and these can be greens, blacks, Darjeelings, oolongs, or combinations. (There is now a restriction on labeling teas as “Darjeeling” if they contain too much of a non-Darjeeling-area- grown tea.) Some tea vendors include the addition of other substances to the leaves as part of the blending process, but it is really a separate step called “flavoring.” There is also  “scenting” the tea that is often done as part of the processing of the tea leaves, such as a nice jasmine green tea. Here we are just talking about blending different batches of tea leaves together.

The goal of blending is important to keep in mind. Most of the time, the sole objective is to maintain consistency not only throughout the batch currently being processed but from one batch to the next. This is where things can get tricky, for nature comes to play here. What were the weather conditions during the growing season, what was the harvest like, did teas from other terroirs have to be added in to give enough bulk? The skilled blender can make sure all of these things are balanced so that the new batch tastes as closely as possible to the previous batch. He is “ironing out idiosyncrasies” (as one blender put it). The pros that blend such brands and Barry’s, PG Tips, and Lyon’s know that a lot is riding on their noses and tastebuds.

Now imagine a tea that is a blend of two rather different tasting teas whose characteristics have to be combined just so to result in that unique taste you have come to know and love. For example, Scottish Breakfast blends Assam and Keemun. You get that malty richness from the Assam and that more smoky quality from the Keemun. Getting the blend just right batch after batch depends on the blender. If he/she has an off day, so does the blend. If the Assam quality is more malty than usual or the Keemun more smoky than usual, that will also throw off the blend. And then there is the “bottom of the barrel of the blend” – that last little bit left from the batch and where sadly the tea in your package could have come from. The best thing to do is let the vendor know and see about a replacement. Most are happy to accommodate. They want you to be pleased always.

Personally, I don’t mind a bit of variation batch to batch since I know the blenders are only human and that teas vary anyway. But I certainly understand being persnickety about one’s tea!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Spring Pouchong - a tea worthy fingering! (ETS image)

Spring Pouchong – a tea worthy fingering! (ETS image)

I spend all of my day drinking tea.

I taste for professional reasons. I blend and taste and I taste the blends of others in our company. I taste competitor teas. I don’t ever taste tea bags, except every so often when someone invents a “new kind that actually tastes good”, which it invariably doesn’t.

So some of the time I am measuring tea on a digital scale, measuring water temperature and timing the steep.

But when I just want some tea, I use the my digital-optical-feel method.

This means picking a tea that I fancy; sticking my digits in and pulling out a quantity that seems about right, throwing that in the pot or tumbler; adding an amount of water that looks about right and leaving it to steep until I feel like it’s been there long enough.

This method, which seems quite anarchic and scary to a lot of people, has a number of benefits to recommend it.

Firstly, it’s relaxing. It’s hard to relax with a cup of tea if you’ve just had a panic attack because you couldn’t find your favourite teacup before the 125 seconds recommended was up.  This way, it doesn’t matter.

Then it’s also about discovery. Sometime you find new things in a tea that has been a tad under- or over steeped. A new way of drinking it. As an example, my favourite oolong is great at thirty seconds. It also great, but very different, at three minutes, which I would not have discovered had I not wandered off one day mid-preparation to feed a cat.

It’s about identification. That taste that you just can’t identify comes to the fore at five minutes or if you add too much tea. You might not find it pleasant, but it helps you understand that component.

It gives herbals time to shine. A liquorice/black tea blend might taste like a black tea at three minutes and pure liquorice at eight. And engine oil at twelve.

But mostly, to me, it’s about quality.  A quality tea should be great across a number of steeping times, a range of strengths, a variety of serving methods and situations. I once saw a customer abused because they didn’t enjoy a tea that they had steeped at 5 degrees above the recommended temperature. In my view, the vendor needed to offer better tea.

So be an anarchist!

I’ve had great tea with hot water liberated from an aeroplane kitchen, and I’ve boiled kettles under train tables where the conductor can’t see. I’ve strained tea at three a.m. in a hotel room through all manner of devices. I’ve mixed the few leaves in the bottom of a dozen packets and brewed up in a wok.

I’ve broken pretty well every rule in my time, and even though I’ve had a few shockers, there is little that is more joyous than crafting a delightful cup of tea in awkward situations, just by look and feel and common sense and experience and ingenuity.

Tea Anarchists Unite!

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The rush to grow tea in the U.S. is on, with brave agronomical pioneers in several states boldly going where… you know the rest. But wait, there are already several relatives of the tea plant (Camellia Sinensis) blooming from coast to coast. Well, almost. Camellias, azaleas, and rhododendrons are the generally known names. You can’t steep the leaves, but you can enjoy their evergreen foliage and showy floral displays. Since Spring is just around the corner (honest!), you might want to see if any of these could grow where you are. So sit back, sip a cuppa, and read on.

A relative of those gorgeous blooming bushes in your yard? (Stock image)

A relative of those gorgeous blooming bushes in your yard? (Stock image)

According to the American Camellia Society, the tea family of plants is named Theaceae after the name of the first named genus in that family (Thea). Camellia is one of about 30 genera in that family. The name Thea is no longer used, with Camellia taking its place. The species Gordonia lasianthus (Loblolly Bay) is native to the United States, mostly grown in the Southeastern coastal plain. Two species of the genus Stewartia (Stewartia malacodendron and Stewartia ovata) are native to the Southeastern United States. The genus Franklinia is widely grown in gardens for their 3” wide white flowers fall colors of scarlet and crimson (all existing plants are descended from seeds collected around 1768 by William Bartram from wild plants along the Altamaha River in southern Georgia). The Ternstroemia species are evergreen trees and shrubs in mainly tropical regions of Asia, Africa, North and South America.

Camellia japonica is Alabama’s state flower (and one site shows there being 462 species in this genus), but is originally from eastern and southern Asia. Some japonicas perform well as far as Fort Myers and West Palm Beach in Florida: ‘Alba Plena’, ‘Debutante’, ‘Gigantea’, ‘Lady Clare’, ‘Mathotiana’, ‘Professor Charles S. Sargent’, and ‘Red Giant’. More than 3,000 named kinds of camellias exist, in a remarkable range of colors, forms, and sizes; they are not browsed by deer. The species Camellia oleifera can take temperatures down to -15°F if sheltered from sun and wind.

Camellia sasanqua is a flowering evergreen member of the tea family that is grown as either a large shrub or small tree, ranging from 4 to 15 feet tall. It has glossy green leaves and flowers in a variety of colors and shapes. It can be grown in USDA zones 7 to 9, and like azaleas and rhododendrons it loves an acidic soil enhanced with organic matter.

Ternstroemia gymnanthera is an evergreen with unusual foliage (its leaves change gradually from bright red to dark green). The average height ranges from 8 to 10 feet, but is often pruned as a hedge or topiary. The small, unremarkable white flowers give way to red berries in the fall. The shrub thrives in partial sunlight or shade in USDA zones 8 to 10.

See this extensive list of Camellias available.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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