Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Great Tea Experiment: Prologue

Camellia sinensis, the tea plant
Even though my dad worked for Lipton all my childhood, I fell into appreciating tea my junior year abroad in Scotland. You need cool damp weather to really appreciate tea and Scotland has plenty. Plus they have a different sort of water there, and tea specifically blended to brew well in it. I remember understanding how the Scots felt about tea after a day-long tour, including several considerable walks, through the Orkneys in March; we landed at a farmhouse for "tea," meaning a full meal, at 5 p.m. and were first given a mug of milky hot tea. I quaffed it down into my grateful tummy and its warmth and goodness and yes hit of caffeine slowly infused me to the very fingertips and toes and made me feel like a complete and basically good person once again. The dinner itself, served just after I drained the mug, was stodgy and good and almost an afterthought; I was already sustained by the time I swallowed the last mouthful of tea.

Garden of Eden on 14th Street carries some teas from Harney & Sons, one of the few companies I've found to offer a variety of  real black teas (I am tired of weak old decaf black tea, especially when it's prettied up with some bergamot and called "decaf Earl Grey") that have been decaffeinated through the carbon dioxide process, which is much less toxic and preserves delicate flavors better than the ethyl acetate process. As of September 2011 Harney & Sons is offering a decaf Assam, a Darjeeling, and a Ceylon, and provides these in $2 sample packs at their website. I am in the process of trying them all.

I am sensitive enough to caffeine that I can only have a cup of regular tea before noon and not compromise my sleep that night. Harney & Sons offers so many interesting blends of full-caffeine black tea, though, that I added half a dozen sample packs to my recent order of decaf teas. I am going to make myself a different cup each morning and report in detail so I can share them with you, my dear readers (all three of you), and make a record I can refer to in the future.


Natasha and Kimbo said...

A great post, thank you. Now, please do tell us how on earth to make a good cup of tea like they do over yonder. Mine NEVER taste right.

Brooklynsheep said...

Use a good teapot that holds more than four cups. Fill it with boiling water and leave it for five minutes. Drain, dry, and then add one teaspoon of tea for each 8 oz cup you want. Bring your water up to the proper temperature and brew for the proper amount of time for the particular kind of tea you're using (green, white, oolong, black): I like to give the teapot a little swirl after the first minute to make sure all the leaves get a chance to distribute their flavors throughout the water. When the time's up, pour a little tea through a sieve into a china cup, and sip some -- if it's too weak, keep brewing another minute. If it's too strong, throw it out and try again with less tea, more water, or more time (experiment). If it's just right, pour it through the strainer into cups or another teapot and serve!

Claire said...

What an inspiring post...makes me want to brew a cup right now! :-) Harney & Sons is one of my favorite brands as well...I'm making my way through a container of their (very zippy) Peppermint Herbal at the moment. Even my cats love the fragrance!