TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

January 8, 2015

The miseries of missing tea time

Filed under: food,oolong tea,tea,Tea sites — by JanisB @ 12:15 pm
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Another crazy day …

Yesterday was another one of those days … a day when I had so many errands to run, including a visit to the vet with three kitties, that I never got around to having my tea.

On a normal day – that is, a day when I’m working at home, or can finish my errands in short order – I consume between 24 and 72 ounces of tea. And often more.

I generally start the day with a Taiwan pouchong prepared in what I refer to as modified gongfu style: tea steeped successively in a clay pot, with the first three steepings decanted into a 24-ounce teapot. This is repeated at least once. In the afternoon I go through a couple of potsful of tea in my 38-ounce teapot. I might have white or green or black tea, or one potful of each. In summer, the hot tea is often replaced by a couple of quarts of iced tea.

And that doesn’t include any teas I happen to be sampling for review.


It’s true: without my tea, I get a wee bit cranky.

I’ve been drinking this much tea every day for more years than I care to disclose; let’s just say a long time. So when I miss having my tea, I really feel the loss. Without my tea I tend to get cranky and tired. Sometimes I get a headache.

Tea professionals and other tea fanatics that I know – people who tend to drink a lot of tea – have also reported this kind of response. But there seems to be some dispute about why it happens.

Some claim that we’re addicted to caffeine. That’s certainly possible, and a few of the symptoms of tea deprivation do mimic those of substance withdrawal. I’m not completely convinced, however, because L-theanine, the caffeine-like substance found in tea, does not have quite the same chemical makeup as true caffeine, so it does not necessarily have the same effect on the human body. While caffeine, an alkaloid, is straightforwardly a stimulant, L-theanine, an amino acid, can act as both a stimulant and a calmative: If I drink a cup of tea when I’m under stress it not only calms me down, it also seems to provide the mental clarity I need to cope with the stressful situation itself. And although it may exist, I have not seen any convincing evidence that L-theanine is in fact addictive. (I want to state clearly that I’m neither a scientist nor a physician; these are anecdotal comments based on my own experience. If you want more information about caffeine and L-theanine, I encourage you to research this on your own.)


All purrs after I have my tea!

I’m more inclined to hold with another theory: dehydration. In this study, participants displayed some of the same symptoms I experienced when I didn’t have my tea. It’s my observation that when tea drinkers don’t have access to tea, we often don’t drink anything in its place – or at least not in the same quantity that we’re used to with our tea. Considering that the average adult’s body weight is comprised of about two-thirds water, we tend to be sensitive to any shortfall of liquid intake.

Then again, perhaps it’s part addiction, part dehydration, and part habit. Whatever it is, I don’t like it, and from now on I’m going to make the effort to have some portable tea – either a travel mug of hot tea or a bottle of chilled tea – with me whenever I’m on the run.

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December 11, 2014

Scents and scents-ability of tea

oolong tea leaves

Oolong tea leaves

The enjoyment of tea encourages us to engage all of our senses. Look at the shape and colour of the dry leaves, watch them unfurl and swirl in the hot water. Feel the cool smoothness of gyokuro leaves or the nubbly texture of a Buddha’s hand oolong leaf. Listen to the water boiling in the kettle, then as it’s poured from kettle to teapot to cup. Savour each sip, perceiving the range of tastes playing across your palate.

Our sense of smell may be the most important, and most varied, aspect of enjoying tea. Sniff the dry leaf in the sack or tin immediately after opening it to draw in the scent; again when you first pour hot water onto the leaves; and once more when bringing cup to lips. After the teapot is empty, lift the cover and take in the lingering bouquet graciously left by the tea on the interior of the pot.

To further enhance the olfactory appreciation of tea, in the mid-1900s the aroma cup was created in Taiwan. Also called a fragrance or smelling cup, this is a small cylindrical cup (wen xiang bei) paired with a small drinking cup (cha bei). Altho’ these were specifically designed to amplify the aromas of fragrant Taiwan oolongs, you can of course try it with other types of teas.

Three aroma cup sets from my own collection.

Three aroma cup sets from my own collection: Decorative china with flange, celadon porcelain in a bulb shape, and a traditional partially glazed red clay.

Fresh-made tea is first poured into the tall cup and allowed to rest for a few moments, then emptied into the drinking cup. If you’re nimble, you can add some drama to this procedure by inverting the drinking cup over the aroma cup that has been filled with tea, lift the cups together with thumb and middle finger of one hand, and quickly flip them over to transfer the tea into the drinking cup. Otherwise, simply pour the tea from the aroma cup into the drinking cup.

The aroma cup is then raised toward the nose to smell the lingering tea fragrance, which is intensified by the cylindrical shape. Sniff … and ahhhh! Aromas last for about a minute, during which time they subtly change as the cup cools, offering multiple nuances of scent. Alternate smelling and drinking the tea from the two cups to fully enjoy this ritual.

It’s been said that smell is the most evocative of all the senses, that a mere hint of a familiar scent can draw us immediately to another time and place. Certainly this is true of the fragrances of tea. If you don’t already use an aroma cup to enhance your tea enjoyment, I highly recommend that you give it a try.

(Here is one source for aroma cup sets, altho’ there are many other vendors who sell these as sets or individual cups.)

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November 11, 2014

Ramblings: The easiest teas!

Often when I talk with tea drinkers about my favourite teas, they tell me that they don’t drink oolong or white teas because these teas are too difficult to prepare. So instead they stick to “easy” teas: black teas.

Black teas are easy? Are you serious? After green teas, black teas are the touchiest and most persnickety of all the teas. Some of them are downright pains in the you-know-what to get right.

Why is that? Well, if your water isn’t hot enough, like at a rolling boil, most black teas end up tasting flat. And you have to time them really accurately. Too short a steep and there’s no taste. Let them steep just a touch too long and you’ll end up with a bitter, undrinkable cup.

Compare that with oolongs and whites, the easiest of all the teas to prepare and the most forgiving when you get it wrong. Yes, you read that right!

Oolong tea leavesGranted that oolong teas perform best when steeped gongfu style in a clay teapot, and I like to steep white teas in a gaiwan. You can, however, infuse both oolongs and whites in a gaiwan, gongfu style, or in a standard English-style teapot. Certainly some black teas are that versatile, but they’re few and very far between.

In English style teapots, oolongs can steep for anywhere from four to seven minutes;  white teas for ten to fifteen minutes. Now that’s what I call versatility! And there will still be enough spirit in the leaves for one or two more infusions.

Put a black tea into either a gaiwan or an Yixing clay teapot and you’ll end up with over-steeped swill. Not to mention that most black teas do not lend themselves to multiple steeps – one infusion and the leaves are spent.

Oolongs and white teas share one important characteristic with black teas: you do need to use water at the proper temperature. For oolongs that’s just below boiling while still bubbling, about 195 deg F. White teas like their water flat, between 130 to 140 deg F. (For best results, always bring the water to a full rolling boil, then let it cool down to the optimum temperature.)

And if the water is a little too hot or too cool? No problem: the teas will still come out just fine.White tea leaves They’re both really very forgiving.

“But white tea has no taste!” you’ll tell me. Actually it might not – not if you’re steeping it for one or two minutes, as many tea vendors advise. Try infusing for twelve minutes and you’ll be amazed at the wonderful taste and aromas you can coax out of white teas following this low-temperature/long-steep method.

And no, you won’t be over-steeping them. Occasionally I get distracted and forget that I left my oolong tea to steep; when I finally do return it might be fifteen minutes or even an hour later, and while I wouldn’t recommend this as a regular practice, the tea usually smells and tastes pretty darn good. Back when I was taking night classes, I always brought along a thermos of white tea to keep me alert. There weren’t any of those nifty travel mugs with built-in infusers, so I just put leaves and water into a regular thermos. Three hours later I’d drink the tea during class break, then refill the thermos with hot water – using the same tea leaves – to steep for the ride home. And never once did the tea get bitter. It smelled and tasted sweet from the first sip to the last.

Can you do that with black tea?

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