How to get into tea-Step 1

This is going to sound really obvious is you’re already into tea, but I’ve told a few people about what I’m doing here and their immediate response is, “I drink a bit of fruit tea when I have a cold. Real tea? I just don’t know how to get into it.”

So here’s a really simple way to make a cup of black tea more palatable for someone not accustomed to it: a bit of milk and sugar. Or honey. Or whatever Cancer-causing non-sugar sweetener you prefer.

When I say that, I don’t want to give you the impression that drinking tea with stuff added is somehow a less valuable or genuine experience than drinking it black. If you already like tea with milk and sugar, keep doing what you’re doing. I will say that I started that way and slowly weaned myself from adding things. You can better taste the real tea if you drink it alone. But first things first. Start out enjoying it as sweet and milky as your heart desires.

And full disclosure, so I don’t mislead you: I still put a bit of milk in my tea in the morning on occasion. If I order tea in a restaurant or cafe and it’s bitter, I’ll definitely add a little cream. It’s still tea, after all.

On their park bench like bookends

Seems like it’s been ages since we did this-sit down across from one another. We used to do it regularly, weekly even, one of them thinks to himself. They ease hesitantly into light conversation about almost-superficial things, but this lasts only a few minutes. The lightness goes on only as long as it takes for them both to fiddle with the teapot and make sure the tea is steeping properly. Why do people do that? What could’ve possibly happened between thirty seconds ago and now?

They both like strong tea, so once that’s checked, they delve into things that’ve happened in their private lives. Things which would probably rarely come up in conversations with other friends. It’s infinitely comforting to know you have a friend with whom you can do this, says one and the other quickly agrees. It’s as if the time since they last met didn’t exist at all. They could tell every story, emotion and discouraging detail to each other, and in this instant it feels as if they can pick up where they left off.

By the time the first cups have been poured, they immerse themselves into a very pedantic back and forth about “what she really meant when she said that”. In the hands of these two, what was originally said in the now being dissected conversation is of little consequence.

They were a bit chilled when they first came in, but as the first cup warms them, they both almost unwittingly settle deeper and deeper into the soft and gentle rush of words. Although they might need to set up a story with a few particulars, there’s no need to go off and get into a convoluted back-story about the each other’s character or life’s details. Somehow, there was an important thing one of them thought he’d never tell anyone and suddenly it came rolling over his lips and into the air between them. Without any consideration, it’s easily digested by the other.

As the second cup is being poured, they effortlessly shift the focus to the one who’s been primarily listening. Until now he’s playfully mocked and toyed with the other’s thought processes. He’s suddenly knee-deep in a description of his daily struggles. Any job would be more meaningful than what I used to do, he says. But does meaningful have to mean twelve-hour days and the death of my private life? As with most conversations like this, they solve none of the problems that were brought up. While listening to one another, they’re both transported to another place.

A place where they aren’t the teen-agers who first got to know one another or the young adults juggling entry-level jobs and divulging embarrassing love troubles. They aren’t even really this age-who they are today. For a few moments at least. Through at least one (possibly both) of their thoughts passed the vision that they are the old friends in the Simon and Garfunkel song, sitting on the park bench, looking back over a long life. A friendship stretching back through the decades that defines them more than the career or family choices they made.

At some point they must abruptly jostle themselves out of this reverie, resolutely down the dregs of the teapot and a bit hurriedly wrap themselves in scarves and jackets. As they part and promise not to let the time before their next meeting grow so long, one of them says, that was some really good tea.

White gloves and port not necessary

Have already mentioned my move away from Earl Grey, but when I did decide to go Bergamot-less, I was only aware of the general names for black teas. The big ones are Assam, Darjeeling, and Ceylon. But those are merely places or regions where the tea is grown. When you get more specific, there’s an incomprehensible subdivision of the teas that come from these places.

So I decided to begin with Ceylon for a few reasons. I don’t want to only talk about the way tea tastes and the manners in which it is drunk. The history of tea is really interesting to me as well, and what I’ve discovered about Ceylon will take a while for me to describe. The most obvious thing is that this tea really is grown on the island of Sri Lanka, which was once called Ceylon.

How I’ll do this is start with what I’m drinking today and work my way through some other Ceylons as the week progresses. The first one up is Ceylon Nuwara, which is grown in high elevations in the mountains of Sri Lanka. The more I read about the way it is grown, the more I wanted to book a flight to go there and see these places with my own eyes. One of the estates is called Lover’s Leap for the cliffs near where the tea grows. If I believed everything I read, I’d blithely accept that limitless jilted or unrequited lovers have hurled themselves to their deaths from these very cliffs. When I picture myself looking out from the cliffs into the clouds below, I’m not particularly bothered by these stories.

As I’m reading this and that about Nuwara, I come upon an ad for a hotel/inn not far from Lover’s Leap. I think to myself, “Yes. Now we’re getting somewhere. This is more like it.” But as I read on, the description goes into great detail about the very Imperial manner in which one can enjoy staying there. Formal dress code, required pre-dinner drinks and a choreographed seating ordeal in which the men cannot enter the dining room until the ladies have all been sorted. White gloves, sorbet and port…this is exactly the kind of thing that makes it so difficult to reject the preconceptions about tea and the people who drink it. If I really needed to go through all of this to enjoy this stuff, I don’t think I would’ve ever gotten very far.

I’ve read this tea described as “mellow” and “bright-flavored”. Nothing against those descriptions. There are some much stronger teas that I’ll soon delve into, but this is a good start.

Preconceptions

Have considered writing about tea for a long while, and am still a bit hesitant. So I’ll write about what’s holding me back and get it out of the way.

First of all, I had many preconceptions about tea when I would reject it as a choice of beverage. Was never much of an iced-tea drinker. And my perception of tea in general was stuck in the 19th Century. I saw it as a very snooty and elitist drink. So that’s my first goal-to tell how I got over that prejudice.

I’ve already gotten a bit of the ribbing I expected for writing about tea. Have heard repeatedly to write about what makes you passionate, and here it is. To many, being passionate about leaves dunked in recently cooked water is questionable. To others, it’s merely a daily beverage to be given little thought.

The one I was most concerned about, though, is the smallest most difficult audience. The tea connoisseur. What can I possibly offer that he hasn’t already read about or doesn’t already know? Well, this isn’t really for that person. There are enough of those websites/blogs.

I’d like to write about what I’ve learned so far and pull you along with me. Because of the above-mentioned passion, I’m sure at least I will be having a good time.

Try Oolong

Was once primarily a coffee drinker, but it always made my heart race when I drank as much as I wanted. My impression of tea was that it was herbal and boring. Then I somehow got hooked onto Earl Grey. Think I liked the Bergamot oil more than the actual tea, but like it I did. I was told that once I got accustomed to good black teas, I wouldn’t be able to stomach Earl Grey anymore. I guess that’s true. I see Earl Grey as a “gateway tea”. What one drinks until he gets a taste for tea.

I drank so much black tea, and slowly eased into green tea. But what really got me excited about tea after the early days was Oolong, which is also called Wu Long. Some describe it as tea halfway between green and black. Green tea is unprocessed, while black tea is entirely oxidized. Oolong falls somewhere in the middle. It can be almost not oxidized, or so far along to be almost like black tea. It’s also called brown tea. That seems accurate.

Love the taste of it. Can drink pot after pot. Easily. If black tea is too strong for you or you just can’t get used to the taste of green tea, try Oolong.