Many years ago, I started a long journey into the world of tea. I still consider myself a n00b, but a no0b who knows what he likes and is not afraid to try something new. A friend of mine was asking about my tea obsession so I ended up putting together this long email that represents my current thinking around the leaf. After spending all that time, I figured I’d post it here, and possibly update it over time.

BTW, I recently found a guy who has an AMAZING YouTube channel if you want to learn about tea. I visited his shop in Camden Town (London) in October of 2017 and absolutely fell in love. Don Mei of MeiLeaf Teas is great! Check out his channel, or just start going through the Basic Tea Education playlist.

So, with that, here’s a post on my journey.

Sourcing:

Tea farm, by Cheryl

Tea farm, by Cheryl

The first thing you need to do when you think about expanding your tea horizons is actually purchase good quality leaf from reputable suppliers. As silly as it sounds, there is such a thing as counterfeit tea, and certain suppliers are dedicated to excellence in their products while others are not.

I am all over the place with respect to tea sourcing. I am on the constant lookout for quality teas of many varieties and processing methods. What I abhor are things advertised as tea that don’t actually have any tea in them, or things that are over fruited/perfumed to cover up poor quality tea. I’m looking squarely at Teavana right now, but the list of tea providers that fall in this category are lengthy. So even though our friends at Teavana may be shutting down, it doesn’t mean that the world isn’t littered with providers that mimic them. I am experimenting with other summer iced blends, many of which include a passionfruit tea from Tahiti that is fabulous.

I find that most of Teavana’s stuff (and others, not just them) is overly perfumed, over fruited, and just full of stuff that is not from camellia sinensis. Some of their plain teas are OK, but I find much better quality for a better price elsewhere.

Teas that I am digging right now:

Two Tea Picking Tourists, by David Edwards

Two Tea Picking Tourists, by David Edwards

  • Good Bai Mu Dan (White Peony) from Yunnan Sourcing. I actually really dig their purple varietal as well. I brew this western, but I’m about to start experimenting with brewing this gong-fu.
  • Pu-erh teas: I’m on a journey with pu-erh right now. My favorite pu-erhs right now are the rich shou (cooked) pu-erhs. I have not developed a taste for the sheng (raw) aged yet, but there is time. I brew these eastern or in my Teforia.
  • Oolong teas: This tea is often considered the pinnacle. It’s complex, roasted, and has many tasting notes. I’ve totally changed my sourcing strategy around Oolongs, and I think it’s for the better! I now pretty much solely source from MountainTea. High elevation teas from Taiwan are AMAZING. They also have some great fully oxidized options that I prefer over many black teas I have tried.
  • Fortnum & Mason: It’s the place the Queen buys her tea. ‘Nuff said, right? For western teas, these are pretty good. Their afternoon blend is great, and the Christmas blend is AMAZING during the holidays. Perfectly spiced and balanced. I don’t like their Smoky Earl Grey, but applaud the attempt. I brew these western.
  • Twinnings: If you like Earl Grey, but want something more delecate, try their Lady Grey.
  • Matcha: This is the superfood of tea consumption. It’s pulverized/ground green tea. Mix it up into a frothy, silky beverage for consumption, or just mix it into anything. I put it in smoothies for an extra kick in the AM. You can put it in pastries and ice cream too! You don’t need ceremonial grade as a beginner. Culinary grade is fine.
  • Passionfruit from Tahiti: This stuff over ice is THE BOMB. Average quality black tea, but the passion fruit infusion makes this one. Because it is really hard to source, I dilute it with something else. My favorite right now is the Chubwa Summer Black. I’ll do it either 4-1 or 5-1, with the 1 being the passionfruit tea.
  • Green teas: I have re-developed a love of good green teas. It took me a while to get there, but my favorite place to buy from is Yunomi. I like to purchase after the harvest, and right now I am loving any of their senchas. I’ve had five of them and they are all fantastic. If you are feeling really adventurous, go for their gyokuro blends. I really only brew these western today, but I’d like to try to do some gongfu soon.

Great places to source tea from:

Tea-tasting, by Terry Madeley

Tea-tasting, by Terry Madeley

  • Yunnan Sourcing: I love this guy. He’s built a great business and works hard to keep you buying. There is always a great deal for you, and the goods are shipped from China.
  • MountainTea: Want some amazing high-grade roasted oolong? You can’t go wrong with their medium or dark roast TieGuanYin oolong. And if you want something really special, go grab some of their Ruby #18.
  • Crimson Lotus Tea: This guy is a pu-erh enthusiast. I have purchased a few teas from him and found them to be really high quality and very delicious. Also, if you are looking for a shortcut to get into Gong-Fu Brewing, they are offering a Pu-erh Tea Gongfu Starter Set. You get everything you need, plus a couple of tea balls! But keep in mind, with everything here, you can brew ANY tea gongfu style. BOOM!
  • MeiLeaf: A massive tea enthusiast, and such a fun guy to watch online. If you are in London, you should definitely stop by his tea shop and enjoy a gong fu session. They have both product and teaware to check out!
  • The Steeping Room: I stumbled in this little tea shop in Austin and freaking LOVE IT. I met one of the owners and she is passionate about high-quality tea. She taught me quite a bit about the tea business and quality sourcing. You don’t have to travel there to get tea (but you should), they sell it through their website as well!
  • White2Tea: They have a fantastic rotating sampler pack of pu-erhs (both sheng and shou) that will get you started. Keep in mind, many pu-erhs are in cake form and must be separated for steeping. You can’t go wrong with Old Reliable as a daily drinker.
  • Teavivre: I’ve purchased a couple of teas from these guys. They have a couple Dragon Pearl black varietals that are really nice. Check the others they have too!
  • TeaBox: If you are looking for assams (more traditional black teas like the kind you get in the store), check out TeaBox. You also get samples with every order, so it’s good to branch out and buy a few!

Teaware:

Drinking from the tea pair, step 4, by Dimitri Federov

Drinking from the tea pair, step 4, by Dimitri Federov

  • Western (hot or iced):
    • Bottom Dispensing Tea Infuser: I have two of these, one in a much larger size. These are great because you can see the tea steeping, but they dissipate heat quickly. I only use this for iced tea now. All hot tea goes in the other methods. You can find alternative ones to this as well if Teavana goes belly up.
    • Takeya Flash Chill Iced Tea Maker: I got this as a gift this year and FREAKING LOVE IT. What I will do is brew this around lunchtime, and I’ll have iced tea all day to drink. Leave it on the counter so it doesn’t cloud up, but be sure to drink it that day. Trying to save it may end up in cloudy tea or a bacteria colony.
    • ForLife Bell Teapot: Cause, come on. Its pretty! I have a couple of different variations of this (work and home) for when I want to brew a full pot. I also have this one.
    • Quick note on iced tea. A friend of mine gave me some iced tea once and it was unbelievable. I asked him what he did differently. He put a LIME instead of a LEMON in his iced tea. Try it, it will change your life, and you will never go back. Also, for whatever reason, the Breakfast Blend from Fortnum & Mason does not like being shocked. It gets really gross and cloudy when you take the hot brew and pour over ice. Not sure what wicked chemistry is going on, but no thanks.
  • Eastern:
    • Teforia: Yep, that’s the fancy machine. It does three infusions per carafe, which ultimately acts like an insulated fair pitcher. It uses eastern methods while looking like a western output.
    • Gaiwan: I have several gaiwans. These are used for Gong-Fu Cha ceremonies. The main concept is more tea with shorter infusions. Sometimes I will bring a fair pitcher into the mix if I have a bigger gaiwan, or if we have multiple people enjoying the tea. If it’s just me, then I go from gaiwan to tea cup.
    • Yixing pot: I have a couple of these now, and they are great for your gong-fu sessions. They get seasoned over time and can influence the flavor of your tea quite nicely. Stick to one kind of tea per yixing (oolong, pu-erh, etc).
    • Gong Fu Glass Pot: You can find these on eBay as well, but this one is always available. Same concept as above, but you can brew any tea you want session to session. Yixing are really meant to have one kind of tea in them and get seasoned over time.
    • Tea tray: For the true Gong-Fu Cha ceremony, you need a tea tray (and maybe some tea pets). This is because during the ceremony, the first pours of water are used to sanitize your teaware and wash your tea leaves. You don’t drink the first infusion.
  • Kettle:
    • Do yourself a favor and get a quality electric kettle. Here’s mine. I also have one of these at my office. I also have this one on my list for faster pours. FYI, the office kettle is a bit challenging to pour precisely, and I find that I have to be REALLY careful otherwise I will make a giant hot water mess. Regardless, either allows you to heat your water to precise temperatures very quickly. A good kettle is worth the price!

Resources:

  • /r/tea: Not sure if you Reddit, but there is some seriously great stuff here. Good resources, and it’s searchable. Just keep in mind that you will find some fanatics there.
  • Mei Leaf: Love this guy and all of his videos. I’ve learned more about tea in the last two months with his videos than the previous couple of years.
  • The Oolong Owl: I freaking love Char and her tea reviews. Her owl tea pets are amazing as well. GREAT resource, and I have purchased quite a few teas based on her reviews.
  • The Tea Cup of Life: Lu Ann’s blog has tons of wider tea tips and tricks. Enjoy!
  • Tea For Me Please: I love Nicole’s blog. Gives me great ideas for new teas to try or new teaware. She has a Youtube channel as well. Lots of great educational stuff.
  • CompareTea: Found these local tea heads recently and here is where I found the Teavivre/Auth Tea Black Dragon Pearls. Great reviews!
  • Thirsty for Tea: Bonnie doesn’t post as much as Nicole, but she has quite a variety of content that includes recipes.

OK, so as of today, that’s the list. I hope that this helps any of you folks looking to get into tea. Have questions? Post them in the comments below and I’ll answer them as soon as I can!

This post originally appeared on BrandenWilliams.com.