Wednesday, July 24, 2013

All About the Tea

I am a tea connoisseur.
I drink tea all through out the day, and rarely drink cold beverages (the only exception, now being at work, the water seems to taste funny which makes my tea not taste the way it should.  So juice boxes, and a bottle of water to keep hydrated at work, but otherwise I hardly ever enjoy cold drinks).

I have a tea for just about every mood and weather, and recently even found a tea I enjoy as an ice tea.
I'm not sure if it's the flavour, the warmth or the way I can make the world disappear while enjoying a hot mug, but it's definitely become all about the tea.

At home, I drink a lot of loose leaf.  The majority of my stash is currently from David's Tea, with a few things from Teavana and Tea Pigs.  Although I drink so much tea, I'm still no where near the top of the tea drinking pile.  I don't have a kettle with separate temperatures for my different types of tea.  I don't use teapots, though I do have one with matching mugs for if I have company who drinks tea - which is never, since I don't have company over.

I do, however, have the necessities that everyone who enjoys loose leaf tea should have.
- The perfect spoon:

Just as the website says, it really is the perfect measuring spoon for tea.  It fits most tea infusers, and gives a perfect steep.  I only have one mesh ball that I have to carefully put the contents of the spoon in, as it's sides are the same size as the spoon.  Even then, the quantity is prefect.

- Infusers:
 There are a variety of infusers on the market, and they all pretty much do the same thing - keep your tea leaves out of your mug.
I currently own 3 mesh balls, one novelty teapot infuser, a pincher mesh ball and one mesh basket.

My favourite is the mesh basket:

It hangs on the edges of your cup or teapot, and you simply add your tea, then pour the water and let it steep.  Mine came with a little tray to put the basket on when you take it out, so you don't end up with tea all over the counter before dumping out the leaves.  I love it for how simple it is to use and wash.  Occasionally, I have a friend who will make me tea.  This person doesn't drink tea themselves, and really wasn't sure on the specifics of how to brew loose leaf.  They found the tea balls too fiddley for their big hands, and I often didn't have the tea pincher available.  They use this one the most, and has made a point of saying it's their favourite way to make tea, outside of tea bags.

The Teapot tea infuser.
This must be, by far the cutest infuser I own.
The only problem is, it isn't practical.
Now I may be queen of impractical clothing, makeup or hair colour, but when it comes to baking and tea, I prefer my things to be practical, then if possible decorative, rather than being useless and looking pretty.  That being said, I still love this little one.  It was a gift from a close friend (as a decoration, mostly) and it sits in plain site in my kitchen, to express my love of tea.

Mesh Balls:
I have 3 of these, 2 from David's Tea, and one was a gift.
These often come in a variety of sizes, sometimes shapes, and chain ends.
The smaller ones can me a bit of a pain to use, if the spoon you're using to measure is larger than the ball, or if you have big hands.  They're usually closed by a latch, and either have a hinge at one end, or a piece of metal holding them together.  Others actually screw together, although those are usually solid metal with holes punched through them, which I find doesn't allow as much flavour.
These are great to use, but do have some things you need to look out for.
First being the size of the mesh.  If the holes in the mesh are too large, you'll end up with the smaller leaves in your tea.  While most teas will end up with a tiny bit of leaf specs at the bottom of your cup, you don't want to actually have leaves in your drink.  Which brings me to the second thing to watch out for.  Have your ducks in a row.  In other words, make sure when the ball is closed, there are no gaps, and the top and bottom line up with each other, or the clasp may not close, or if it does, will allow larger leaves into your cup.  I find with use, over time the balls may become slightly distorted or the hinge may become loose.  I use a pair of pliers to squish them back into shape, and always check before use.  I've recently been using these to brew iced tea, which I leave two balls in a container with four cups of water over night.  In the morning, I take out the balls, and put my smaller mesh ball in the mouth of my water bottle  and pour the tea through that, to catch anything that may have escaped the larger balls.

The Pincher:
This may be my least favourite infuser I have.
I find it's a little difficult to actually open it long enough to put the tea in, and it's near impossible the actually use a measuring spoon to put the tea in it.
I've heard a lot of people just stick it in their tea, and whatever tea leaves end up in the ball is what they use.
This means every time you have a tea, it's going to be slightly different, and quite often, weaker than desired.
I keep mine as an emergency back up.

 Tea Filters/Tea Bags:
These are great to have in stock.  Though I rarely use them for home use, I keep them in case I'm running out the door and my tea needs to steep a little longer in my travel mug.  They're also fantastic to travel with - they're light weight and thin, and unlike the rest of the infusers mentions, they won't get bent out of shape if someone accidentally drops something (or sits on) your suitcase.  I use the ones from David's Tea, because they're biodegradable and chlorine free, however most places that sell loose leaf tea should carry some sort of to go filter (unless they don't actually sell single tea cups... if they're by bulk only, chances are, they won't).

So Much Tea, So Little Time.
How do you decide what tea to buy?
In stores like David's Tea or Teavana, wall to wall is usually covered with large canisters of tea, each with it's own name, and sometimes a coloured label indicating the type of tea.
David's Tea and Teavana have samples daily, sometimes both hot and cold tea, brewed to perfection.  I love this idea, being able to try a bit of a new tea every time you go - Sure, it's about a shot glass or the dixie cups size, but its enough to sip and determine if you like the flavour.  Both also offer cups of tea, whichever one you want, made to order.

But how do you know what you want?
If you're brand new to loose leaf tea, a lot of this can be overwhelming.  After all, when you go to a coffee shop, or the grocery store, there isn't much you need to know.  Start with what you know you like.  If you usually go for a black tea (Earl Grey, Orange Pekoe, English Breakfast), then try something in that realm.  Usually go for fruity tea? Think something herbal.  Try the same thing you'd buy from the store, freshly steeped - or if you're feeling adventurous, try something new but in the same family.  If you know you like black tea, and a name appeals to you, ask what's in it.  If the ingredients are something you like, try it!  I've found that David's Tea is really good about the cups of tea you order - I love jasmine tea, but found I really didn't like the black pearls. Maybe it was too strong, the wrong type of milk, or steeped a little too long; but when I ordered a second tea, and mentioned I wasn't a fan of the previous (I actually had poured it out in the sink, as I couldn't get past the first few sips) they gave me my second tea on the house.  I wouldn't take advantage of this - don't order something you know you're not going to like - but it was nice to know they cared enough to make my time there a pleasant experience.  That being said, I'm going to try the Dragon Pearls again, because you never know if you really like something off one taste - like I said, it could have been brewed too strong for my taste.

A Tea For Any Time.
Loose leaf tea really opens up the option for tea any time, day or night, and for special occasions.
 David's Tea has something I love... Seasonal Collections.

Each season they bring out a new selection of tea, geared towards the season.

My first encounter was Chocolate Cake, which came out around my birthday along with the cupcake collection, now known as the cake collection.  Originally, the 3 teas were Chocolate Cake, Birthday Cake and Ice Cream Cake, later including Red Velvet Cake and Carrot Cake.  Sadly the Chocolate cake, along with Ice Cream Cake and Carrot Cake were discontinued.

Since then, I've had a bad habit of falling in love with the seasonal teas - Snow Bunny let me fall in love with a banana infusion, which lead me to try Banana Nut Bread both have since been discontinued - perhaps to return next year.  I also fell in love with Banana Dream Pie, and stocked up just before it was eliminated.

Since then, I've found some that stay in stock all year, that I really enjoy.

The Skinny: Recently added, but has become my morning tea.  Now, I'm not a girl who needs to lose weight, I'm on the small size - as my friends say, Pixie Sized.  But I often have digestive issues, not something known to a lot of people.  This tea is stocked full of digestive aids, and I'm finding it really does help my tummy feel not so wubbly.  The taste is dark, and has a hint of orange to it, and even steeped weak has a rich taste.

Cream of Earl Grey: I love Earl Grey tea.  And London Fog.  So this is a tea that stands between the two.  it has hints of vanilla and cream, without the steamed milk.  Want a London Fog? Steep this with your hot, whipped milk, it's fantastic!

Read My Lips: I'm Delicious! After the chocolate cake tea was discontinued, I searched for the perfect chocolate tea.  And though nothing so far has come close to the extreme Chocolate-Devil's-Cake perfection of my first love, Read My Lips has become a new love.  This is not only chocolate, but mint as well! I've always loved peppermint patties, or mint Aero bars and this tea reminds me of that sensation of biting into one.  I drink this throughout the day, particularly when I'm feeling down, and it's an immediate mood booster.

Butterfly Jasmine: This may be expensive, but its worth it.  I save it for special occasions or days when I need a pick me up.  The scent lingers, a light jasmine perfume fills the air and only adds to the taste.  It's also fun to watch the buds turn into little butterflies, which is perfect for the Blooming Glass Teapot. (There are a ton of blooming teas out there, and they're magnificent to watch - as seen below).

Super-Size My Order! - If you know you'll be drinking a lot of one tea (and it's a popular blend), consider getting the Large Collectible Tin.  I have one in both Th Skinny, and Read My lips.  Each tin comes with tea inside a resealable bag.  I love the large tins, because unlike the smaller tins (Free with a purchase of 100g, or $2.50 for Coloured tins!) which pop the top off, they come with a latch, and the picture of the tea inside with the name!  Now, I don't plan on buying this more than once; after all, I don't need a bunch of the same tin after it's empty.  Every time I finish off one of the tins, I'll buy another 200g to put inside.  Just to keep them fresh, I'll still keep them inside the resealable bags, but I love the look of my monster tins in my cupboard.

Tea For Times of Trouble:
I get sick - a lot.
My immune system is next to zero, so any time I get a hint of a cold, I go running to my tea cupboard.
For the past 3 years, I've come to rely on Celestial Seasonings Echinacea Complete Care Wellness Tea.  Unfortunately, this tea has now been discontinued.
Of course I find this out today, as I'm sipping my 'sick tea' (as I call it) - after waking up to feeling like death warmed over, only getting worse the longer I was awake - and realizing I may not have enough to flush out this cold.  They now carry a wide variety of Wellness Teas, the closest to my usual being Sleepytime Echinacea Complete Care.  I have tried sleepytime tea before - in fact, I have some in my cupboard - but I found it didn't make me sleepy, and I'm not entirely sure I enjoy the flavour.  So now I face the dilemma of trying this new tea, or searching for a new one.  I've been considering Gail's Organic Cold Remedy, though have been longing for Cold 911 - sadly, I can't have juniper, so this out for me.  I've also been looking at Super Ginger.

Tea for Sleep...
Now, I'm an insomniac.  I have been for over 10 years.  I've tried a few sleep teas, and have never really found anything works.  Then again, I've tried numerous sleep remedies, including prescription sleep pills - with no results.
Now that I've been shopping a lot at David's Tea, I've had a few new teas catch my eye... I haven't tried them yet, but these seem to help you drift off to dream land:
 Sweet Dreams - what better to help sleep than the sweet smell of chamomile? How about some Valerian root?  Mother's Little Helper has the very thing to help you drift off.  This is one I've taken into serious consideration, and plan to try next trip to the store.

It's a Canadian Thing.
I love loose leaf tea, but from time to time, I need something quick to make - something already packaged.
And any true Canadian loves Tim Hortons.  This coffee shop is spreading through the US, but will always call Canada home.  Originally, I loved their coffee.  Since switching to tea, I have a deep fondness for their Earl grey.  You'll often find me with an extra large Earl Grey - a whopping 24oz - at work (since there's a Tim's a few blocks away) or when I'm traveling or munching at the coffee shop.

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