How to Become an Uncle Iroh Level Tea Connoisseur

I had thought about covering how I wound up becoming a tea connoisseur, but I already possessed a great level of devotion to the drink from the age of seven.  So, I shall spare you from what would be a long history and only mention the pivotal moments on my journey to my present level of expertise.  In college, my father introduced me to Peet’s Coffee and Tea, and I feel in love with their Assam Golden Tip.  From that point on, I practically tried every variety they had available, and learned which teas I favor and which I hate.  Concerning the latter, three syllable oolong varieties, Pu-erh, and Japanese black tea are all anathema to me.

iroh

As I plunged into learning about the different varieties, I learned what temperature water and time were proper for each kind and even the complex terminology surrounding tea.  For example, Balasun Estate SFTGFOP1 SUPREME First Flush translates to this tea being from the first pick of the year on the Balasun Estate and earning the designation Special Finest Tippy (or really, really, really awesome) Golden (the tips of the tea buds were golden) Flowery (the bud has not yet opened) Orange Pekoe #1 (only the bud and the two adjacent leaves plucked, which were “slightly delicate, long, wiry leaf with the light liquor”–courtesy of Wikipedia, as I knew not what the “1” meant) SUPREME (just in case you can’t figure out that this tea is awesome).  I thank The Tea Drinker’s Handbook by François-Xavier Delmas et al. for teaching me the terminology and many other intricacies pertaining to the beverage.

For a writer, there is no better drink than tea to keep one going.  After all, a Japanese proverb has it that “The man with no tea in him cannot perceive truth and beauty.”  Most of my best works were written under its influence–or while smoking a pipe.  Unfortunately, the two tend not to mix.

cards_tea

So, what’s the first step to connoisseurdom?  To really fine tune your knowledge, you would need that handbook I mentioned or something like it.  But to begin, you will need the following essentials:

 

1) A Tea Pot

As long as you have a small cooking pot, you can do without a kettle.  I suppose you could also do without a tea pot if you are content with the two cup method, but that gets old soon, I tell you!  Tea pots come in four main varieties–each with their pros and cons: 1) terra cotta or clay, 2) ceramic or procelain, 3) glass, and 4) cast iron.  Cast iron and terra cotta pots have the most memory or tendency to retain the flavor of the last tea you make in them.  Terra cotta pots retain the flavor of oolong so well (the most common tea made with them) that one can do without the leaves after serving the same tea enough times in them!  Unless a layer of enamel is added, cast iron pots should only be used for approximately the same kind of time; e.g. making Lapsang Souchong and Irish Breakfast tea with the same pot is fine, while deciding to make lightly fruity and flowery Darjeeling in this same pot would be a mistake.  My personal favorite is ceramic, because it is cheap, durable, and has only a little memory, which can be reset through placing it in the dishwasher.  High class china has about as little memory as glass, but tends to run pretty expensive.  And glass would be perfect if I did not have the tendency to break them after three or four months of use.

Concerning their shape, three things must be kept in mind: 1) the spout is ideally higher than the lid; 2) the infuser basket should fill as much of the pot as possible; and 3) larger pots diffuse the tea’s liquor less evenly.  For myself, something around 22-24 fl. ounces seems best, others might find a smaller size more convenient and others a larger for serving large groups of people.  I recommend Upton Tea Imports to anyone looking for some good tea accessories.

tea girl

2) A Cup

Obvious, but all the more reason to make sure that its on this list of essentials!  This is mostly a matter of personal choice, though glass or white ceramic will allow you to perceive the tea’s color best.  Yes, some teas actually have a very beautiful hue to them!

3) Loose Tea

The best tea is never sold in bags–unless you’re shopping on Peet’s or Adagio Teas.  But, the leaves in tea bags tend to be either broken or have gone through the CTC process (Crush-Tear-Curl) which actually does impair their flavor.

The following lists my favorite places for buying tea and their pros and cons.

h1PkQ

Peet’s Coffee and Teas

Pros

  • many great teas to try
  • often sell rare and expensive tea
  • many teas available bagged
  • easy to navigate

Cons

  • rare teas quickly sell out
  • not the largest selection of tea

Adagio Teas

Pros

  • many great teas to try
  • often sell rare and expensive tea
  • many teas available bagged
  • easy to navigate
  • has weird fan teas
  • close relationship to growers

Cons

  • popular teas often sell out
  • tea selection does not vary much
  • weird teas might not be your thing

gj-bu tea

Coffee Bean Direct’s Tattle Tea

Pros

  • cheap but good quality
  • decent variety of basic teas
  • easy to navigate
  • can buy in bulk (up to 2 lbs.)

Cons

  • less variety
  • no upper class teas

Upton Tea Imports

Pros

  • widest variety of tea I know (over 480)
  • many high class teas
  • cheap shipping available

Cons

  • overwhelming to the beginner
  • need knowledge of tea terminology
  • many varieties sell out fast

anime tea

Well, that’s all the information you need to expand your knowledge of tea!  I might also talk about the many different strains of tea, but I think that these websites categorize them well and offer good descriptions of their teas’ flavor profiles.  Good luck!

Anime side note: The employees at Adagio Teas obviously include anime fans.  Just scroll through this page.  I prefer drinking traditional blends or classic strains of tea, but this might appeal to some of my dear readers, and these fans’ creativity is wonderful to behold.  Read the ingredients carefully unless you really like chocolate, which somehow winds up in most of these blends!

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3 comments on “How to Become an Uncle Iroh Level Tea Connoisseur

  1. Reblogged this on Aquila et Infans and commented:

    I thought that this post might be of interest to my readers here also. Enjoy this article on tea!

    Like

  2. A slightly belated reply, but I read this post weeks ago, and spent a long time since then deliberating whether £25 ($40) postage was too much to justify just for anime-themed tea… sadly, Adagio’s UK site only caters for five or six major, non-anime fandoms. 😦

    In the end, I decided to keep my anime and my tea separate, bought several samples (Yunnan Noir, Black Dragon Pearls, Blood Orange, Spearmint, Cream, and three different types of chai), and preordered Patema Inverted with the £25. 😛

    Many thanks for the site recommendation. 🙂

    Like

    • You’re welcome. I’d say that you made the right choice in keeping your anime and tea separate. That shipping cost is ridiculous! But, it sounds like the UK site has a good selection. I remember the Yunnan Noir being particularly good. You’ll have to tell me how the Dragon Pearls are. I’m curious, but the only tea I buy shaped like that is Jasmine Downy Pearls.

      Ah! Patema Inverted has an interesting idea behind its story. I’ll have to get my hands on it myself in some way.

      Like

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