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tom_g's avatar

Tea 101: What do I need to get started?

Asked by tom_g (16570 points ) August 12th, 2011

Any tea connoisseurs here? I’m a coffee drinker who has more recently been enjoying tea. This has been exclusively the teabag (no jokes please) variety from the market (Tazo, Twinings, etc).

I know that there are people who take tea very seriously, and wouldn’t even consider consuming that crap. Apparently fresh, loose tea is the way to go.

If I was to go all tea geek (I’ve been known to do this with other things), what do I need to purchase and/or know? What are the basic supplies? Is there a good online source for tea that anyone orders from (like Sweet Marias is to the coffee roasting world)?

And finally, is there a general path when it comes to enjoying teas, like there is with wine, beer, or chocolate? In other words, are there teas that are more accessible to the amateur palate that should be explored prior to other teas?
Thanks.

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25 Answers

janbb's avatar

Get a tea pot, loose tea and a tea ball from a tea shop, gourmet food store, online or good market. Boil water, ” hot the pot” by running hot tap water init and spilling it out. Put the loose tea in the tea ball, put the tea ball in the heated pot and add boilinng water. How long you let it steep will depend on your taste but it does need to steep for awhile. I would start with English Breakfast tea an d then expriment with others like Earl Grey, Darjeeling and Lapsong Souchang.

sinscriven's avatar

I really like the teas from Adagio and they have quit the selection. They offer a gift set for $25 bucks that includes a themed sample pack of four teas, a book about teas, and their neat little teapot that makes making tea pretty easy. You just drop the loose tea in the teapot, pour hot water in it, let it steep and when it’s ready you just place the teapot on top of your mug and it’ll spill out the filtered tea and you’re good to go.

Link if you’re interested

Aethelflaed's avatar

If you can get a tea ball that’s mesh, like this instead of this, it’ll help reduce how much loose tea gets into the mug.

confuzzlement's avatar

I don’t think tea should be taken too seriously, but then again who am I to judge, If somebody gets my milk to tea ratio wrong I go mad. lol
I’d say, for convenience go for Lyons gold blend, nicest tea bag, tea. in my opinion.
You should, try the English breakfast tea too, as that has a nice freshness to it almost lighter.
I think the fresh tea you put in the tea ball is better then any twinings tea out there, as the flavours of the fruits that are supposed to be in it, aren’t that nice at all.
Health food shops are great for teas. there’s a whole world of teas there that normal supermarkets don’t buy.

tom_g's avatar

@confuzzlement: “I don’t think tea should be taken too seriously”

That’s part of the fun of it for me. I had to get into brewing my own beer, etc.

Aethelflaed's avatar

I highly recommend going to Whole Foods loose tea section and just getting a couple drinks worth of a few different ones, so you can see what you like. Shouldn’t cost you more than 5 dollars. Republic of Tea has some good ones; I really enjoy their Mango Ceylon.

confuzzlement's avatar

Well yano, each to their own!
Whatever makes you happy.

tom_g's avatar

@sinscriven – That Adagio site looks great.

@Aethelflaed – Why didn’t I think of this? I have a Whole Foods less than 1 mile from my house. Hitting that place tonight, although I don’t have the supplies (tea ball, pot). Thanks.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@tom_g They should have some tea balls for you. And actually, I just heat up the water in the mug via microwave for 2 minutes. Maybe a large pyrex cup if I’m making tea for two.

marinelife's avatar

I love tea. I would look around your town and see if there is a tea room that serves and sells tea. Then I would go there and sample.

Personally, I like black tea very much. I like Darjeeling, (by the way Twining’s is quite a good tea—I drink it for every day [the English Breakfast]). I like jasmine tea.

I am not much for green teas although I like gunpowder green tea more than most.

However, I love white tea. Silver Needles is my very favorite tea.

pezz's avatar

Good water…

tom_g's avatar

Thanks everyone.

And what’s the consensus here about loose tea vs. tea bags? I would imagine it would be comparable to freshly-roasted and ground coffee vs. the stale grinds you buy in the market.

Aethelflaed's avatar

That loose tea is better, but bags aren’t actually that bad, and that you can always cut open a bag and dump the tea into your tea ball so as to not be wasteful.

janbb's avatar

yes, it’s not as big a difference .

Kardamom's avatar

I absolutely love tea and drink it all the time.

If you want the “whole experience” then you should follow @janbb‘s advice from the first post at the top. That being said, I think tea bags are perfectly fine. I don’t have the time to mess around with loose tea and tea balls, although it’s really fun to do that, especially if you have friends over.

I actually don’t like the tea balls, though, because they seem not to infuse enough of the tea into the water. I prefer the little unbleached paper strainers that some tea places use. It kind of looks like a conical paper towel and they put the loose tea in there, then they slide a little popsicle stick like thing through the top of the cone and hang the cone in the hot water. I think you get more tea infused, but don’t have to worry about getting any of the floaters.

I have recently become aquainted with the fact that you can also cook with tea. Both the leaves and the drink. Apparently using tea in food dishes has always been done in Asian cooking, but I never even heard about it until recently. So don’t go throwing out your used tea leaves so quickly. You can eat that stuff and it’s full of antioxidants and lends a different flavor component to certain foods. You can read a little bit about that here

Here is a good article in the Chicago Tribune all about cooking with tea, with recipes.

Here is a site that talks about baking with tea and has a bunch of recipes. Who knew?

As for drinking I agree with starting out with either English Breakfast or Irish Breaksfast and then moving forth to Earl Grey (at which point you will be come addicted and might not be able to move on to anything else) but then check in with Chai and Ooolong and then Lapsang Souchang which has a decidely smoky flavor which you will love or hate. Then you can try some of the Japanese green teas like gunpowder tea and green matcha. You can read a little about Japanese Green Teas

If you get really serious about this tea drinking business, then you might want to learn about and eventually participate in a Japanese Tea Ceremony

In the meantime you might want to consider hosting a traditional English Tea

Dainty sandwiches with the crust cut off are often served at an English tea. Here are some recipes to get you started.

Onion Sandwiches

Watercress Sandwiches

Curried Egg Salad Sandwiches

Chicken Salad with Apples and Walnuts

Asian Tuna Salad

Pimento Cheese Rollups

Usually and English Tea will have 3 or 4 sandwiches (with the crusts cut off and set onto one of those tiered serving platters like this) and then there will be a couple of salads. I’ll give you a few ideas:

Apple Waldorf Salad with Cranberries

Butter Lettuce Salad with Lemon-Garlic Vinaigrette

Asian Napa Cabbage Salad with Peanut Butter Dressing

Cold Sesame Noodle Salad

And of course you will need some dessert. Below are some possibilities:

Scottish Shortbread Cookies

Glazed Lemon Bundt Cake

Gingerbread Cake

English Trifle

My cousin threw an English tea party for our other cousin’s baby shower. She went around to thrift stores and bought inexpensive, and mismatched (on purpose) fancy looking cups, saucers and tea pots. It was so much fun. She even bought extra teapots and put the flower arrangements in those. She served items that were similar to what I listed above. All of the women wore big fancy hats. It was super casual, but we all looked like we just flew in from London.

tom_g's avatar

Wow, @Kardamom. Thanks!
Have you ever considered writing books? I mean this as a compliment. Your answers are usually so thorough. They answer the question and provide info on the logical next step. Holy crap, I need to consider the food I eat with tea? Kardamom’s got my back. I’m all set. Answer bookmarked and ready.

tranquilsea's avatar

I buy all my tea from David’s Teas. My favourites are Cream of Earl Grey and Buttered Rum. I have to beat my kids away from this tea.

Kardamom's avatar

@tom_g I would love to write a book. I would also like to take some writing courses and get some more knowlege about proper writing. I just tend to let my fingers fly on the Fluther keyboard and hope that somebody gets some valuable (or at least interesting info).

This was one of the questions that I’m passionate about, so when I was looking up all the stuff, I was so in the moment. So thank you for allowing me to go into the zone!

tom_g's avatar

Update: I searched everywhere and couldn’t find any loose leaf tea that I could buy that didn’t come in $13 containers.

I ended up going with Adagio. I got the black and oolong samples. That’s 8 different teas. They just arrived, so I can’t comment on them yet.

Also, I got this infuser.

I’m currently enjoying a cup of Yunnan Noir.

Thanks again to everyone for your help.

tom_g's avatar

Ok. I have had a chance to taste these. Wow, they all taste so different. I’m really enjoying this. Currently enjoying a delicious cup of pouchong.

Kardamom's avatar

@tom_g Have you yet invited anybody over to tea taste with you?

tom_g's avatar

@Kardamom – I’m exclusively drinking these in the office. None of my coworkers seem interested.

marinelife's avatar

@tom_g Did you find a tea room yet? The ceremony of drinking tea is a big part of things.

Kardamom's avatar

@tom_g Wow! That’s a bummer. With all of the stress in people’s lives, you think they’d welcome having a tea break.

Drinking coffee is just not the same, it’s kind of like a wham bam thank you ma’am kind of thing wheras tea drinking is more like love making.

tom_g's avatar

@marinelife – I have not experienced the tea room yet.
@Kardamom – I enjoy coffee, and I used to have a supplier of fresh roasted beans that I would grind and brew in the office. Mostly I got complaints about the “skunky” odor of the beans. If you’ve ever experienced the amazing odor of fresh beans, it’s not the least bit “skunky”.
Mostly, they like to take a Starbucks run.

The whole process of making and consuming my tea is really improving my work day.

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