Thursday, February 18, 2010

Expensive Tea is Inexpensive

I've always been a believer in focusing on value rather than price--it's one of the reasons I selected "value" as a rating category on RateTea.

What is an expensive tea? My favorite tea company, Upton Tea Imports, lists the priciest tea in their catalog: Top Competition Tie-Guan-Yin 2g (enough for a single cup) for $6.00. This is expensive tea. Tea does get more expensive than this, but this one is definitely up there. Teas of all styles are widely variable in price, but some of the priciest teas tend to be vintage pu-erh, yellow teas, Taiwanese oolongs, Japanese Gyokuro, and certain single-estate Darjeeling and Assam teas.

$6.00 per cup is really not all that expensive. It's common in the U.S. for people to drop $8 or more at a bar on a mixed drink.

Multiple Infusions & Cost per Cup:

Multiple infusions (brewing multiple cups of tea from the same set of leaves) are central to gong fu brewing, but even when brewing a cup or pot of tea in a more basic western style, the better teas tend to be usable for more than one infusion. This tends to be especially true of whole-leaf and large-leaf teas and compressed teas like pu-erh, as the rate of diffusion through the leaf is lower, and there is still a lot of flavor and aroma left in the leaf after making a cup or two.

When you consider how many times it's possible to brew a tea, the price changes dramatically. If you were even able to brew two cups from those 2 grams of tea above, it's now $3 / cup...and with three cups it's $2/cup. This is starting to sound pretty reasonable, especially since you can easily pay more for that when buying tea in a tea house or coffee shop. And that tea would just be for a special treat. You can get outstanding teas for far less than $6 / 2g.

So the conclusion is: if you're going to buy the best of the best in some aspect of your life, you might as well pick tea. It's the least likely to break the bank!

Breakfast Teas

I find it amusing that most "breakfast" teas, whether English, Scottish, or Irish Breakfast, or some of the "China/Chinese Breakfast" blends sold by a number of tea companies, always tend to be strong black teas. While I love many of these and other strong black teas, and I love having tea in the morning, I rarely have these teas for breakfast. These "breakfast" teas I tend to reserve for the late afternoon, usually the last caffeinated cup of the day for me.

My favorite teas for breakfast are bitter green teas. Chun mee and young hyson are probably my favorites, and I also enjoy sencha, especially when it's on the bitter side. My absolute favorite breakfast tea is Upton Tea's Chun Mee Dao Ming. I like a fair amount of astringency in my green tea for breakfast too. In black teas though I like a more mellow tea, like a gentler Darjeeling or a Keemun. I rarely have oolong tea for breakfast, but I have been known to enjoy a raw/green pu-erh, or shou mei white tea.

Do you like breakfast teas for breakfast? Or other teas for breakfast? How about breakfast teas at other times of day?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tea for Hard Water

Hard water (water with a high mineral content, usually mostly calcium) is a common problem in many areas. While brewing tea is a matter of taste, hard water definitely affects the flavor and aroma of tea, and most people seem to agree that it has a negative impact on the quality of the brewed cup of tea. Many tea websites and tea drinkers advocate purification of water, and some even go to the extreme of suggesting use of bottled water to brew tea. For those interested in sustainability, however, this might not be the best approach--bottled water in particular uses a great deal of energy and resources in its transportation and packaging.

Is there another option? And what about those situations where you simply don't have access to good water?

Tea blended for brewing in hard water:

I recently stumbled upon two blends specifically designed for use with hard water: Yorkshire Tea for Hard Water from Taylors of Harrogate, and the Royal Alberta Museum blend from Murchie's. Yorkshire Tea's website reads: "We're actually the only tea company who still go to the trouble of blending to suit different water types." but Murchie's offering disproves this claim. Murchie's explains that the Royal Alberta Museum approached Murchie's to produce the blend for a special occasion, and Murchie's blended the tea specifically for Alberta's hard water.

With some digging I found a third such blend: Pluckley Tea from the Kent and Sussex Tea & Coffee Company. Again, this blend is specifically designed for hard water, this time the water in the Kent area.

What's the secret to these blends?

People wanting more options or seeking to achieve the same effect with single-region tea might want to know what these blends have in common. Murchie's Royal Alberta Museum blend contains mostly Assam with some Ceylon. Yorkshire Tea for Hard Water does not specify what goes into that particular blend, but their other blends contain Assam and teas from Rwanda and Kenya. Pluckley Tea is described as a blend of East African teas, mostly Kenya, and Assam.

It seems reasonable to try East African teas, and especially, Assam, if you have hard water.

I'd be curious to know if anyone has tried this out and validated this theory. Or...if anyone has even tried any of these blends (do they live up to their claims?). I would also be curious if anyone knows of any more teas specifically blended or designed for hard water. Unfortunately, these are all black teas, so I'd also be curious to know if anyone has any experience with which green or oolong teas perform better in hard water.

While using high-quality water is great, sometimes it's important to be realistic; sometimes hard water is all you have access to, and knowing which teas perform best in it could be a useful piece of knowledge.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Tea-Food Pairings: Spicy Food Enhances an Otherwise Undesirable Tea

I'm no tea connoisseur, and I've only begun to explore some of the most basic aspects of tea-food pairings. I recently found an interesting illustration of how important tea-food pairings can be.

I am constantly sampling teas from Upton Tea Imports (they're my favorite tea company), and among them was TD22, a Darjeeling tea from Steinthal Estate. (Link is to my review). It's a relatively inexpensive, broken-leaf tea, first flush but out of season when I sampled it. It was on the low side of what I have sampled from Upton, in terms of how much I liked it. I found it bland but when brewed more strongly, it had a heavy quality that I disliked.

More recently, however, I drank one of the last cups of it while eating a rather salty, spicy chicken and bean soup that I had made. I was astonished at how much I liked the tea now that it was paired with the spicy, salty soup. It had a clean, fresh quality and some complexity in the aroma that I hadn't noticed when drinking the tea on its own. I found this fascinating, as there are many teas, including some broken-leaf Darjeelings, that I like better, but that I find do not go well with spicy and salty foods!

I finished the soup, cleared my palate by eating some veggies, and then sipped the tea again. It seemed bland again! It was remarkable!