The name of this blog is Know Tea, but I don’t really talk about tea that much, do I.
That’s not because I don’t care about tea. I care deeply about tea. And a decent cup of tea is darned hard to find, lemme tellya.
Aside: About the blog title–or those of you who have not read the explanation before, it refers to my last name. It’s a Swedish name, Bengtsson, that was Anglicized more than 350 years ago to Bankson. Even when spelled Bengtsson, it is pronounced Bankson. Always Bankson. Never the other pronunciation that I won’t even write. Note that even in the original spelling, the “T” was before the “S”, not after. There has never been a “ST” sound in the name and there never will be. So don’t put one in there. The one with the “ST” sound is not my name. It is offensive to me when people decide they know better than I how to pronounce my own name. If your name is Johnson, I will not take it upon myself to call you Johnston. Please afford me the same respect. Know Tea, thank you very much.
But back to tea. If you are one of the approximately 12 tea drinkers in the United States, you know how difficult it is to get a decent cuppa anywhere in this great land of ours. Even at the ubiquitous coffee house chain (the one with the green woman on the sign), I had a bad tea experience the other day. I wanted a decaffeinated tea, and the barista (BTW, why do they call him a barista even when he’s a he? Shouldn’t it be baristo if it’s a man and barista if it’s a woman?) gave me an herbal infusion!
Universal, Unbreakable Tea Law No. 1 – “Herbal Teas” are not tea! They are properly called herbal infusions. Tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Just because it’s a hot beverage that is brewed with boiling water does not make it tea any more than a piece of asparagus fried in oil and glazed with sugar is a doughnut.
All of those Celestial Seasonings things, like Sleepytime, Red Zinger, etc., are not tea, even though the box touts them as “herbal teas.” Same goes for the Traditional Medicinals “teas” such as Smooth Move (which, BTW, really, really works–never drink more than one cup!) and Throat Coat (also a great product). They are herbal infusions, and some of them are quite tasty, but they are not tea. Only tea is tea.
So on my second attempt at ordering tea at our local branch of the Ubiquitous Coffee Shop with the Green Woman on the Sign, I made sure I was getting real tea, not rose hips and ginger or some such. But when the baristo (I think I’m just going to start calling him that, whether he likes it or not) brought me my paper cup o’ tea, he only brought one cup. This surprised me, as the branch in our former city of residence always gave tea drinkers two cups, as they should. When I asked for a second cup, he said, “Oh, you want me to double cup it? Why don’t I give you a cup sleeve instead?” He didn’t get it. I can’t pour milk into that sleeve.
Universal, Unbreakable Tea Law No. 2 – The milk goes in first!
You see, since the tea was brewing in Cup No. 1, I needed Cup No. 2 in which to pour my milk (I prefer half-and-half, but since I’ve been trying to watch things, I’ve switched to 2%, which is not terrible). The milk goes in first. Always. No, not all tea drinkers put milk in their tea, but many of us do, and the milk goes in first. Why? Because it just does, that’s why. So, all you baristi (baristae?) out there,if you’re going to brew our tea in a cup (instead of a little tea pot, short and stout), give us two cups, please.
The other day I had the unthinkable happen. Actually it happens to the 10 tea drinkers in America all the time (yes, there were 12 when I started this, but in the 10 minutes I’ve been writing two of us have given up entirely on ever getting a decent cup of tea and have switched to water). I was breakfasting at one of the many Paschal’s locations within the wonderland that is Hartsfield. I ordered a cup of tea. The waitress brought me a big box full o’ tea bags so that I could pick the kind I wanted, which I appreciated. Then, she did it. She brought me the cup of hot water from the coffee maker that they only run plain water through for the tea and instant cocoa drinkers! You other 7 tea drinkers know exactly what happened: the tea never did brew up right. Why not, you non-tea drinkers may ask?
Universal, Unbreakable Tea Law No. 3 – Tea needs boiling water, not just hot water, and said boiling water must be poured over the tea!
One does not derive a decent cup of tea from lowering a tea bag into a cup of tepid-to-reasonably-hot water. One puts the tea (preferably loose tea, but bagged tea will do if it’s good tea) in the pot or cup and pours boiling water over it. That’s because the tea needs all the oxygen it can get.
I know, I know, why don’t I just face the fact that I’m not going to get a good cup of tea out, and just make it at home? Well, I do, but there’s a problem there, too. I’ve got some Twinings English Breakfast and Earl Grey in the cupboard, as well as some decaffeinated green tea, but I wanted some different varieties, namely, some Oolong or Darjeeling. So I went to the grocery and looked at the varieties of tea they had. Aargh.
Universal, Unbreakable Tea Law No. 4 – Having a variety of teas means you actually carry different varieties of tea, not simply plain ol’ garden-variety black tea with all manner of artificial flavorings added to it.
Lapsang Souchong. Darjeeling. Assam. Ceylon Breakfast. Irish Breakfast. Formosan Oolong. These are varieties of tea. Apple-Cinnamon and Mixed Berry are flavored teas. Don’t think you are offering a true variety to tea drinkers if these are the only things you have on the shelf. If I wanted cinnamon in my tea, I could shake some in it myself. You’ve at least got Columbian and Kenyan coffee on the shelf. Why not carry at least two different varieties of teas?
Tea is really wonderful, when it’s made properly. Get some good leaves. If you like sugar, try some demerrara or turbinado instead of the refined, white stuff. Get some half-and-half (or 2% if, like me, you’re trying to be good). Get a tea pot. Get a cup and saucer. And get some boiling water.
If you’ve never made it before, here’s a handy tutorial. And no more than 3-5 minutes’ brewing time, please. Longer does not equal stronger. Longer just equals bitter.
Now, let it never be said that Know Tea never taught you anything about tea.