On Tea

I’ve never been much of a tea drinker.

. . . but I’m getting there.

It started with my sister introducing me to what she calls “tea of life” — more properly known as Kirin’s Gogo no Kocha Lemon Flavor. It’s a cold bottled black tea sweetened and flavored with lemon, and lemme tell you, on a hot day, it’s glorious. Then I started drinking Oi Ocha, which out here in California is mainstream enough that you can buy it at CostCo, because on the whole I tended to like green tea better than black. From there I branched out into a few others — genmai cha, Ayataka, mugi cha (which isn’t actually tea if you’re pedantic, but I’m going to lump herbal infusions in under that term for the purposes of this post, so just deal with it) — which all shared one thing in common.

Well, two, but the Japanese part isn’t that significant. No, what they had in common was that I was drinking them all cold and pre-bottled.

I mentioned to Marissa Lingen in email that part of the reason for this was, I find the drinkability range of hot tea to be very narrow. They’re too hot to drink; then they’re cool enough that I could drink them but if I do they’ll mostly register on me as hot water rather than any flavor; then there’s the drinkability zone; then they cool off too much and get unpleasant to me. And even when they’re drinkable, they often taste . . . thin? If that makes sense?

Marissa recommended a particular herbal mix to my experimentation, so I thought, why not. I bought some. And then, when I went to put it into our cabinet — well.

My husband used to drink hot tea every so often. But he fell out of the habit years ago . . . except there was a span of time where he hadn’t quite accepted that yet, and kept buying tea. Plus I had bought a few, or had them bought for me, during previous stints of experimentation. The result was that, for a household which doesn’t drink tea, we sure did own a lot of it.

Thus began the Great Tea Craze of 2017-2018. I decided to taste-test my way through the cabinet, and my husband decided to resume his old habits. And I’ve learned some interesting things.

  • MY GOD was some of that tea old. We celebrated when my husband finished off the box of cinnamon apple spice that had expired in 2009, and could move on to the box of cinnamon apple spice that actually dated to this decade. (Still expired. But only by a few years.)
  • Mostly we’re drinking the old tea, because it’s just weaker and less nuanced, not actively gonna hurt you. But the untouched 48-count box of Lipton that, judging by the packaging (featuring a message from Mary Lou Retton), probably dated back to the ’90s? Yeah, that went in the compost.
  • Joulies, which we’d received as a Christmas present years ago, are really helpful for keeping tea in a drinkable range of warmth for a longer period of time.
  • Although one of the reasons I’m interested in drinking tea is because I like having beverages that aren’t sugared . . . well, I like tea better when I apply a moderate amount of honey.
  • Also milk. In fact, I like many teas better with milk, not because that obscures the flavor, but because I can taste the tea’s flavor more clearly when there’s milk to give it body. It helps address the “thinness.”
  • I’m fine with English breakfast, Irish breakfast, Ceylon, maybe Keemun (just started on one that’s Keemun and a bunch of other things, so it’s hard to say for sure), rooibos, and some herbal things.
  • I don’t like darjeeling (too astringent) or Earl Grey (too floral). Also, contrary to what I had thought during previous tea stints? I don’t like fruit teas very much. Most of them are much too sour or tart for me.
  • My husband, however, likes Earl Grey. Or at least, he decided that he did, because Captain Picard likes it (“Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”), so that should be good enough for him, right? We own a *lot* of Earl Grey, much of it untouched.
  • . . . yeah, I can see the appeal in the whole ritual of the thing. Heat your water, get your tea bag or infuser, pour the water, wait a few minutes, add the various things (honey, milk, joulie), go back to your desk with the cup.
  • Also, hot tea = very nice in the winter for somebody like me who gets cold easily.

The most interesting thing will be to see whether this truly becomes an ingrained habit. Right now it has the energy that comes from I HAVE A PROJECT as we drink our way through the Cabinet of Ancient Tea. At this point we’ve disposed of most of the boxes and bags that had actually seen activity in the past; now we’re into the things that were basically untouched. Deprived of the feeling of progress that comes with clearing things out, now we’re going to find out how much I actually enjoy drinking hot tea for its own sake. More than I thought I did! But enough to do it habitually, especially once winter ends? We’ll see.

I know I have tea drinkers among my readership. Share your own preferences, your thoughts and suggestions for a novice in the comments!

3 Responses to “On Tea”

  1. Diatryma

    Tomas likes tea, and he wants a tea buddy so he can get a bit more into it as a hobby. I like everything about tea except tea. You’re exactly right on the thinness thing– there just isn’t enough there for me most of the time. I will try the milk thing sometime, but mostly, I make it, I smell it, I buy the paraphernalia.

    • swantower

      You might try iced teas/things that can be cold-brewed. Over on the DW version of this post we’ve been talking about how some teas have a lot more body when done that way, for whatever reason. I’ve been drinking a lot of cold Japanese barley teas (mugi-cha); they’re very refreshing and a good option for a non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic, non-sugared thing that still has reasonable amounts of flavor.

  2. Jazzlet

    I sometimes drink Earl Grey/plain black tea made half and half. I do like Earl Grey though so that may not work for you.

    I very much like Lapsang Souchong for drinking when I am eating things like bread and cheese. I do do a bit of matching of tea to food in a rather haphazard way. I rarely drink tea on it’s own.

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