Posted by: Adam Roper | June 24, 2009

The Art of Drinking, Part 2: Tea

As much as I love coffee, and visiting the dark earth-toned designed coffee places of Vancouver, every so often it’s nice to appreciate the lightness and simplicity of a tea house. There’s a cafe on Commercial Drive called Prado Cafe that illustrates the difference between coffee shops and tea houses- a place on the corner of one of the streets with clean white walls, simple tables, and big windows. It’s the kind of place you could spend an hour or two resting in the more uncomplicated aspects of existence, away from the complex conversations and abstract considerations that coffee seems to bring (Though I guess this depends on the tea you are drinking. Some varieties of black tea, like Pu-Ehr, are darker and more earthy than other teas).

Tea is another one of those things that has existed for centuries, though recently big food companies have tried to make it seem more trendy and cool so they can make money off it. First it was Ginseng, then Green Tea, then Roobios. Now Yerba Mate is starting to make its rounds.

Even so, this doesn’t change the nature of tea in the way it brings people together, in the way it’s flavor can calm a person one minute and strir them the next. This is, perhaps, the reason some Middle-Eastern cultures have viewed the act of sharing tea as peace making. The recent bestseller Three Cups of Tea is, in fact, driven by this concept:

“The first time you share tea with a Balti you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea you become family.”

Tea serves both aesthetic and deeply communal purposes. Drinking tea alone can inspire you as much as seeing red bicycles in Paris, or watching the rain for a few hours safe behind a bedroom window. In community the act of sharing tea of tea can dismantle bitterness and disagreement between people, given there are mediators and a willingness to change or resolve issues (which is maybe easier said than done. Who could have ever imagined, growing up, that the world would be so difficult to change?).

Now, the tea itself: When it comes to making tea there is not a mystical or complicated series of steps you must take, and there is no need to buy the latest fancy percolating tea maker promising the best possible infusion (I think infusion is just a word pretentious people use to sell things). Really it’s just a matter of getting the tea into the water. If you are using loose leaf tea you can:

  1. Use a handmade tea basket. These things are actually pretty cool, and they make me feel like a hippie when I use them. You can find them at any specialty tea store or fair-trade place.
  2. Use cloth tea bags. I’ve tried these before and they are interesting, though a bit of a bugger to clean.
  3. Use a tea infuser those metal ball-like contraptions that look like they could be used as a trap for very small mice.
  4. Just put the tea in the pot by itself. This works well with loose green tea. A teaspoon or two per pot is enough. I wouldn’t suggest this if you’re using a mug instead of a teapot.

Other teas, like chai or spice teas, taste good if you boil the tea first then add milk and honey, then bring to a medium temperature, making sure to strain the tea before serving.

When it comes to choosing which teas to drink, this also does not need to be a hugely complicated process. Some of the best teas I’ve tried are also the most common and inexpensive. My favorites so far are as follows:

Celestial Seasonings – For being a bigger company Celestial Seasonings has some really good tea. And the packaging is not too bad either, filled with fun pictures to look at and quotes to read.  My favorites are their Bengal Spice, Sleepytime, and Decaf Mint Green teas.

Yorkshire of Harrogate– Taylor’s of Harrogate has a tea called “Yorkshire” which is the best English tea that I’ve tried so far. You can drink it by itself, with a bit of sugar, or with milk and sugar. It’s great for afternoon tea dates with that special someone, or for a casual gathering of friends on a Sunday afternoon.

Mighty Leaf Tea – Most coffee shops will carry Mighty Leaf tea. This one is a bit on the expensive side, but it’s well worth the extra buck or two. Their teas also make letters to pen-pals all the more appealing. Their Vanilla Bean is pretty good, and they have a great Chamomile Citrus.

Just Us! – Just Us!, available at Ten Thousand Villages, sells great fair trade chai, green, and darjeeling teas. Next time you’re on Commercial Drive stop in and pick some up.

Market Spice – This tea originated in Seattle’s Pike Place Market- a place that everyone should visit at least twice in their lifetime. This tea is no different. If you get the chance to visit Pike Place try and track down the Market Spice store and pick some up.

If you want to think outside the tea box, you can try London Fogs and Chai Lattes. A London Fog is a bit like a latte made with earl gray tea and vanilla syrup, and a chai latte is a latte made with chai tea instead of espresso shots. You can usually tell a lot about how much a coffee place cares about their drinks by how well they make these two drinks, though they are on the slightly pricier side. If you have a milk frother, and a bit of vanilla syrup, you could save tons of money by making these at home.

Flowers / Herbs– You can pick up a good chamomile tea or a good mint tea anywhere you go, but if you really want to get fancy you can try planting a small chamomile / mint garden on your back deck! Nothing says “bah, I’m bored and lonely and have nothing to do this summer” better than planting your own small garden.

Cheers.

Next Time: Yerba Mate’. Stay Tuned.

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Responses

  1. I heartily recommend the Numi brand’s Spiced Assam Black Tea, a golden chai. My home is never without it.

  2. Aw, I totally forgot about Numi! I love their Ruby Chai and Jasmine.

    I also like “Two Leaves and a Bud” tea. This seems like a pretty friendly name for a tea.


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