Drink My Tea and Eat It Too

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While it isn't a habit for most American tea drinkers, Asian cultures have been eating their spent tea leaves for centuries. I was contemplating this recently while enjoying some gyokuro and decided to give it a try. We were having white rice with dinner (random boxed store brand) so I just mixed my leaves in when I was done steeping. The result was actually a lot more delicious than I had expected. It was refreshing and the tea helped to break up the starchiness of the rice.

I wouldn't suggest doing this with all tea as black tea would likely be quite bitter. It worked well in this instance because gyokuro is a shade grown green tea with a sweet taste  and hardly any astringency. It also helps that the leaves are relatively small in size. Have you ever eaten your tea leaves? Tell me about it in the comments, I'd love to hear about it!

How I Buy Tea

I often get asked about how I buy tea. First and foremost, I am a notorious impulse buyer. If a tea is unique or strikes my fancy then I'm probably going to buy it. One of the first things I consider is actually the size of the package. Thanks to this blog and the generosity of many lovely tea companies, I usually have tea coming out of my ears. It just wouldn't make sense for me to buy a whole pound of tea because I would never drink it all. I LOVE when companies offer sample sizes because it allows me to try a tea I might not have been able to otherwise.

The next thing I would look for is appearance and aroma. Although not all good looking leaves make good tea, I'm a sucker for a pretty tea. Whether it's the downy hairs of a silver needle or the twists and curls of a golden monkey, I love examining the leaves and getting up close and personal with my tea. Each variety of tea also has a scent all its own and I find myself to be most attracted to teas that smell exactly as they should. Drinking tea is a very sensory experience and aroma is a huge part of that.

It is also very important to me that the tea I buy is environmentally and socioeconomically responsible. I try to buy tea that is organic and fair trade whenever possible. Organic is important because the massive quantities of tea that I drink put me at risk for consuming pesticides and chemical fertilizers. I also prefer that my tea be fair trade because I think it behooves a tea drinker to know where their tea came from and the affect that their purchasing decisions have on the workers who produced it.

Price would be my final consideration. With the world at our fingertips through the internet, there are enough online retailers to make your head spin. It can actually make the decision to buy very difficult. I will usually spend a lot of time comparison shopping before making a purchase. I'll Google a tea or look at what others are saying about it on sites like Steepster and Teaviews. I find that with tea you generally get what you pay for. Of course their are exceptions to every rule and you can find some awesome teas for a bargain price if you search around enough.

I'd love to hear from my readers on what matters most to them when purchasing tea. Let me know in the comments on this !

How to Get Started with Tea – Buying Your Tea

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Purchasing tea can be truly daunting once you realize that there is more out there than what you find next to the coffee in the grocery store. When you are first starting out, you live and you learn. For every amazing tea you find there will be lots of mediocre and probably a few really bad ones thrown in for good measure. Here are some things I’ve learned that make it a little easier.

Tea bags are not necessarily a no-no. We all need tea on the go sometimes. Look for bags that are the whole leaf silky pyramid style. These allow the leaves to fully expand while still giving you the convenience that you are looking for. I really like Adagio’s and Mighty Leaf’s offering in this department.

Every type of tea has a different appearance. It’s best to do your homework ahead of time on what the leaves should look and smell like. When buying in a store, I tend to prefer prepackaged tea over the random leaves in a jar variety. My local health food store has tons of jars of tea but I’ve never tried it because frankly I’m a bit scared. If the store has the option, a great indicator of taste in a tea is its aroma. With a few exceptions, if you think a tea smells delicious then it probably is.

Sourcing good quality tea can be tough, depending on where you live. I’m lucky enough to love close to New York City so I can find a shop that sells good quality tea pretty easily. SoHo alone is a goldmine these days. For those of you without that blessing, Wegman’s supermarket actually has an unbelievable tea selection. They have almost any kind you could think of and often have loose bulk tea for sale. Whole Foods tends to mostly stock Rishi, which is pretty decent stuff and not terribly expensive. Then there are your tourist trap tea shops (ala Teavana). Don’t get me wrong, they have some very good teas. They’ll also try to coerce you into buying everything else in the store. Buyer beware is always a good rule of thumb.

Buying online can be just as hazardous. There are more websites out there selling tea than you can shake a stick at. In general I tend to avoid websites that focus more on health claims than on the tea. I also flat out refuse to buy any tea that does not have the ingredients listed. I’ve had a lot of luck with tea from Seven Cups and Chicago Tea Garden. If you are looking specifically for green tea, especially Japanese, then Den’s is definitely the place to go.

There is an incredibly community of tea drinkers online. Use them to your advantage! Send a tweet asking for advice and recommendations. Check out ratings on sites like Steepster and Teaviews. If you google almost any tea being made today, you are likely to find a blog post about it.

I hope that this little series will help someone to start on their journey with tea. It really is an amazing beverage.

How to Get Started with Tea – Tools of the Trade

Once you are drinking loose leaf tea on a regular basis you will probably want to set yourself up with the proper tools. It is super easy to go overboard (and broke) with the variety of teaware that is readily available on the internet. It took a while for me to learn this but less really is more. When I first started I went through phases of mass accumulation but eventually I realized that I always wound up using the same tried and true pieces.

There are a few simple essentials that everyone needs:

  • tea kettle
  • porcelain or ceramic teapot
  • mesh infuser basket
  • thermometer
  • a favorite teacup (even if it is your trusty coffee mug!)

As you get more serious about tea, you might want to add a few things that are tailored to your favorite types. If you enjoy oolong, you’ll eventually want to get an yixing pot. For green or white tea you’ll want an gaiwan. Once you're really serious I definitely think it is worth investing in a tea maker, especially if you are as busy as I am. In the past I had a Zarafina Tea Maker. It worked very well and certainly served the purpose. I've since given it away because I was lucky enough to win a Breville One-Touch Tea Maker. I have to say that it is absolutely amazing. Whichever way you choose, just make sure that it works for you.

Click here to read part four of this guide,

Buying Your Tea

How to Get Started with Tea – Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

No matter what your obsession may be, there will always be a pretentious snob that tells you that you are doing it wrong. With tea it’s very easy to get bogged down in measuring leaves and perfectly calibrating your water ratios. It’s not that these things aren’t important but they can get in the way. Sometimes you have to just wing it, for better or for worse, especially when you are just starting out.

The point is to enjoy your tea, to savor the tranquility that comes from sipping a delicious cuppa. I was lucky enough to have someone teach me that right at the beginning of my journey with tea. Don’t be afraid to use too much leaf or steep it in water that isn’t exactly the right temperature. I think that kind of experimentation is the most valuable tool you’ll have in learning about tea.

Click here to read part three of this guide,

Tools of the Trade

How to Get Started with Tea – Drink Lots of It

I know quite a bit about tea but I am not at all what I would call an expert on the subject. However, I have learned a lot over the years. I’m intending this series of posts to be more of a primer for someone who is just getting the feet wet when it comes to tea.

It is easy for a newcomer to feel overwhelmed with the explosion of the tea industry in recent years. I know that I did when I started tea blogging way back in 2008. The easiest way to get started  is to taste as many different kinds as you can. Do it whether the tea is good, bad or ugly. Either way you will learn from it and grow. Your palate will evolve over time, making you better able to taste the nuances of a really delicate tea. You’ll notice your own tastes and preferences changing too. When I first started drinking tea, I was all about the earl grey and flavored teas. Now I still indulge in the odd flavored selection but there is a definite lean towards the more traditional, unflavored teas. It's hard not to be biased because most people have a firm idea of what they do or don't like but try to keep your mind open. Don't be afraid to try new things!

Click here to read part two of this guide,

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff