I like to think of myself as a tea snob. Maybe not a snob, but at least someone who can justify the time and expense I spend on buying, making and drinking tea. But I have recently learned a valuable lesson: as far as plain black, English Breakfast tea, store-bought Twinings in bags is just as good as loose, organic, ultra-snobby English Breakfast that you make with ultra-snobby, high-tech tea paraphernalia.
Just a month or two ago I was drinking Twinings because that’s all I had. I started thinking how flat and boring it tastes. How my elevated tastes had moved far beyond Twinings and their… their… their… bags. So I went online and ordered 100 grams of English Breakfast (Broken) Organic Black Tea Blend for about $11, plus the cost of shipping. I also got a bunch of other teas, including the Assam Margherita GFBOP Black Tea (I believe the acronym is for a French phrase meaning “Way too high-class for you, bozo”).
Basically, my girlfriend didn’t believe that I can really taste the difference. So we had a blind taste-test of the two black teas, plus a bag of store-bought Twinings. While the Assam was noticeably different (sharper, with a little lemonishyesque flavor), I guessed wrong on the two English Breakfasts. I do not consider this a personal failing, rather a failing of the whole idea of English Breakfast Tea — which is, after all, a blend and not a specific kind of tea. And in the end, side-by-side with a single-leaf tea, it’s a lot more bland.
So if you’re going to buy loose tea, get an Assam or Ceylon or something, because the blends are probably the same thing you can buy at the supermarket.
For months now, in times when I have let this blog lag, I have puzzled over why a certain post from last year (which has nothing to do with tea) has consistently gotten more hits than any other post. There have been times when I literally do nothing but check back every couple of weeks, and the Mormon blog post gets like 40-50 hits per week from people searching for “Mormon” or “fashion” or some combination of the two.
Of course the first things that come to mind are presidential candidate Mitt Romney (you already knew he was the world’s most prominent Mormon, but did you know about his dog problem?) and the Tony-award-winning Broadway play, The Book of Mormon. But can that many people still be looking online to find out exactly what Mormons are all about?
I did some research to try and find out. I started with Google Trends and an in-depth analysis of all Google searches for “Mormon” in hopes of finding… you know, trends. I mean, that’s the name of the website, right? Google Trends? Unfortunately I have to report that I am too stupid to extract a single shred of content from the graph.
I did find a fascinating article about how Mormons know more about religion than most Protestants and Catholics do, but not as much as atheists and agnostics. Also a very informative site about their magic underwear.
In the end, I have to assume that widespread fascination with Mormons is just because the majority of sane people in the world still can’t believe that there’s really a religion based upon the fantastical story of a convicted counterfeiter who claimed the Angel of God came to him somewhere in western New York sometime around 1820 with divine laws inscribed on gold tablets which got lost a few days later before being seen by anyone else, and which has spawned crazy fundamentalist cults led by men obsessed with polygamy, statutory rape and (in a few cases) murder. I mean, that’s certainly the reason I’m into Mormons. I guess I’m not alone.
A modern day tea party may be brewing in Israel following a report that the country’s largest tea company, which has an 80 percent monopoly in that country, has been hiking costs to its fellow countrymen. The Wissotzky Tea company, which claims to have been founded in Russia in 1849 and is now Israel’s largest exporter of tea, is charging up to four times as much for green tea in Israel as it does in Europe and the U.S., according to Israel National News. Black and herbal tea prices are also said to be much higher in Israel than elsewhere.
The company blames the higher prices on a 16 percent tax from Israel which isn’t in other countries. But clearly 16 percent does not equal 300 percent. Consumer activist Shmuel Birnbaum is urging people to buy loose tea from spice stores and outdoor markets rather than getting gouged by Wissotzky.
The news invites an obvious comparison with the Boston Tea Party, in which early colonists in America were being forced to pay a lot more for tea from Britain, and in response, broke into British cargo ships, threw a bunch of crates of imported tea into the harbor, and bravely blamed the whole thing on native Americans. Except in the case of Israel, it’s not an outside country that’s overcharging them, but a local company. That’s capitalism.
I guess Christmas season is the time when everyone who likes the idea of loose tea, but considers it too much of a pain to make, gives other people tea as a gift. That may explain the prominence this holiday season of Candy Cane Black tea, which just today I saw advertised both in a Trader Joe’s newsletter, and on the homepage of my favorite tea site, for Virtuous Teas in Newton. I haven’t tried it, but I’m hoping it’s a lot better than Candy Cane Polar Seltzer, which was hands-down the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted (Note to Seltzer fans: The Pumpkin Spice and the Eggnog, surprisingly, were kind of good. But that’s a topic for when I start a seltzer blog).
So what kinds of tea are good for the holiday season? I have two I can recommend right off the bat: First is Decaf Vanilla from Virtuous Teas. It’s made with real vanilla bean so it’s not fake-tasting and it’s decaf so you don’t go crazy if you drink it all day. The second is Red Velvet Cuppa Chocolate, which despite the dumb name, is really good and also non-caffeinated because it’s rooibos (or “red” tea). Both are good for late nights with a flaming yule log. A third, which is unfortunately no longer available, was called Spicy Green at Virtuous Teas, but they stopped selling it a couple years ago for some reason.
If you have a favorite tea flavor for this time of year, leave it in comments below.
Say you’re suddenly craving that loose green tea you’ve had sitting around for several months. You go to open the can — not exactly airtight, but pretty close — and the first thing you notice is a web. The second thing you notice is a little maggoty creature, crawling around the side of the can, currently freaking out at the thought that the closest thing to God his maggoty little brain can comprehend has suddenly shone light inside his home for the first time in his maggoty little life.
Well, this happened to me tonight with organic Green Paradise tea from Heavenly Tea. It was part of a little four-pack of tea I bought back in March. The small tins they came in have been stored in my bedroom for the past several months over a humid Boston summer, but I don’t know how the bug got in there. Granted, our kitchen has has a minor fruit fly infestation, which seemed to be subsiding as the heat and humidity are starting to decrease. But this was not a fruit fly. It was a maggot — a pantry, or Indian meal, moth larvae who was probably destined to become a moth someday until I ended his maggoty little life.
I dumped out the tea on the counter and looked at it. I noticed that the little dried fruit bits that are supposed to add that “velvety mouthfeel” mentioned on the website were all damp like he’s been chewing on them. Maybe that’s the lesson: Don’t keep green tea with fruit bits in it for long periods of time. Of course the fact that it’s organic may have had something to do with it, and maybe that’s the corollary to the lesson: If you are going to buy tea with fruit bits and expect you may keep it for a long period of time, at least get the kind that’s been saturated with insecticide, since They Say that putting tea in the fridge or freezer is a bad idea (I’ve never tried it, so I can’t confirm this).
While for me, this is the first time I’ve ever found a bug in my tea, apparently it’s not unheard of in the tea world. Here’s someone who wrote last spring about their “wet stored 90s tea” which was found with some kind of infestation. And here is an eHow guide to identifying bugs found in teabags (which simply recommends in the end that you throw out the infested tea, never explaining what you might gain by identifying the bugs first).
So, the answer the question of what should you do if you ever find maggots in your tea is: Throw it out. Duh.
I can’t find any information on how long Red Rose Sunset Spice tea has been around, but I just saw it for the the first time this week in the Somerville (Mass.) Shaw’s Supermarket and picked it up. For a brand that’s relied on the loyalty of woman over the age of 90 (not exactly a long-term marketing niche) and weird little ceramic figurines of animals to sell its tea for years, I was glad to see them try something new, even if the company is now owned by the megacorporation Redco. But I had no idea what to expect. The box says it’s spiced with cinnamon and cardamon, and the whole Indian-looking design is obviously meant to imply that it’s like the now-trendy Chai tea, so I figured maybe it’s like Chai-lite.
Fortunately, it was pretty much exactly that. I made a big jar of sun tea yesterday and it was really good. It doesn’t taste fake, and for around $2 a box of 48 bags, it’s probably the cheapest supermarket tea deal going if you’re halfway through the summer and already sick of “regular” iced tea.
I’m urging everyone to buy this in hopes that they don’t decide it’s a failure and yank it off the shelves in a few months, leaving us with Constant Comment, which is also good but more than twice as expensive as is everything by the frou frou-ey Bigelow people.
Note: Apologies for not posting for some time. I continue to be amazed, however, by the fact that this blog keeps getting hits even when I don’t write for nearly a month.
As far as I can tell, we can thank 60’s Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith for the persistence of the idea that the sun performs some magical transmutation in the creation of sun tea. At least we could thank him, if it wasn’t for the fact that he died last December. As much as he was famous for his role in pro football (he retired from playing before I was born), he is known for being a spokesman for Lipton Tea in the 1980s. And perhaps because I watched him on TV at such an impressionable age, I distinctly remember at least one commercial (though I can’t find it online) where he talked about how sun tea gets “mellowed by the sun.”
For this reason, I — and I think a lot of people — have planted deep in their brain the idea that there is something in the sun’s rays that makes iced tea better. I’ve done extensive research on the topic as well as studying empirical data, and am convinced that the only role of the sun is making the water get slightly warmer than it would normally be, which makes the tea darker and stronger.
So this weekend while it was raining here in Boston, I resorted to my “Rain” Sun Tea recipe which I use when I require great quantities of plain old black tea. Here’s the recipe:
1. Fill up the jar you use for making sun tea about halfway with cold water.
2. Heat up a kettle or pot of water on the stove.
3. When the water is pretty hot, not boiling, pour it into the jar and fill it up the rest of the way.
4. Add a bunch of teabags.
5. Let it sit for a couple hours on the kitchen counter. Or else put it out in the rain to get that special “rain mellowed” taste.
This way of making iced tea has often actually come out better than the normal sun tea method. The water starts out hotter that it will ever get out in the sun, but not as hot as if you made it using boiling water. That makes the tea strong and “tea-y” tasting more than sun tea, but isn’t hot enough to release the tannins, which is what makes it bitter and is I think one of the factors in making it cloudy, though I have yet to figure out the whole cloudy iced tea phenomenon.
The post by the guy calling himself Silas Richie starts: “If you like Drinking Tea and you like Music, I have the perfect thing for you.”
So I says to Myself: Hey, I like Drinking Tea, and I like Music, too. This sounds like the Perfect Thing for Me!
A link leads you to a downloadable album called “Tea Life,” by Mr. Richie and Brian Tairaku Ritchie (brother? uncle?), described by Richie as “an album which is created for the purpose of drinking tea to it. It features the shakuhachi, japanese bamboo flute, as well as various gongs and other world instruments, as well as some electronic synth work. it is the perfect blend of ambience and contemporary improvisation.” The album is said to have been created “for an Art Event called Present Situation which took place on April 30th 2011 in Madison, WI.” (The guy apparently has a William Blake thing about Capitalizing Random Words).
The music? Well, not really my cup of tea, so to speak. I guess that in certain moods, while sitting alone in the Himalayas contemplating a Zen koan or fasting beneath a fig tree, I could see listening to it. But it’s a little lacking in the melody and rhythm departments. Definitely not danceable, anyway.
So what kind of music is best to listen to while drinking tea? The topic came up on Facebook a couple days ago, and suggestions included MC Elemental’s “Cup of Brown Joy,” (which is awesome and has already been showcased on this blog), a song called “T.U.S.A.” by a Ginger Baker band calling itself Masters of Reality (where Baker, the Brit drummer for Cream, complains about how Americans can’t make tea right) and Nirvana’s “Pennyroyal Tea,” which is not so much about “tea,” per se, as about Kurt Cobain’s constant stomach pains and self hatred. Other than that, there’s a Facebook page devoted to the topic, an album for sale on Amazon called “Cha Tao: The Way of Tea” and any number of other sites where people suggest their favorite tea music.
Personally, I drink tea practically all day, so I have no real “tea” music. But I’m always looking for songs that have to do with tea, so send them my way.
It’s by no means a funny story when someone loses their house to fire, not to mention their pet rats, but there was one weird detail that Nick Werner of the Star Press included in his story about the tragedy that hit the Bailey family of Eaton, Indiana. The family of three woke up early Thursday to find their house on fire. Over the course of the next few hours, it burned down, reportedly started from a barbecue at an outdoor fireplace to kick off summer the day before. Toward the end of the story, in a good bit of scene-setting, Werner writes:
On Thursday, the sun tea Allen (Bailey) had set out to brew the day before on the patio railing was about the only thing the family had left.
If you live near Eaton, take some time this weekend to drop off money, clothes or household items at Lakeview Greens golf course, at 18921 N. Delaware County Road 150-E. But if you don’t live near Eaton (I don’t), make a jar of sun tea mindful of the fact that it could be the only thing you own tomorrow when you get up, and reflect on the transience of material possessions.
This weekend, it’s not going to be hot in the Northeast, but it will be sunny. That means it’s a good time to wash out an old jar, fill it with water and teabags, and set it out on the porch or in a window. Here’s a not-so-secret recipe for sun tea that’s a little different: add mint leaves, 5-10 whole cloves, a stick of cinnamon and/or some shavings of orange peel to the water in addition to the tea. Put it out in the morning, and wait until mid-afternoon to bring it in. Fish out the orange peels and mint leaves, add the juice of a half or whole lemon, and put the whole jar immediately in the fridge.
And be glad you have a fridge to put it in.