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.

So, with that, here’s an excerpt of the things I love about tea.

Sourcing:

Tea farm, by Cheryl

Tea farm, by Cheryl

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 don’t like 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. That said, there are three teas from them that I do like. Those are:

  • Black Dragon Pearl: Great for iced teas, great body and depth. The pearls make for easy brewing and measuring.
  • Silver Yin Zhen Pearls: This white tea is really lovely. Again, all about them pearls.
  • Blackberry Mojito Green Tea: This one is my guilty pleasure. The quality of the actual tea leaves is not great, and there really isn’t much actual tea in here. But over ice, with a couple of those Belgian sugar rocks, it’s fantastic to beat the heat.
All of these I brew using western methods. I find that most of Teavana’s stuff 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 better quality for a better price elsewhere.

Other teas that I am digging right now:

Two Tea Picking Tourists, by David Edwards

Two Tea Picking Tourists, by David Edwards

  • Rishi White Peony: Had a variation of this when I was in HKG this year, and I freaking love it. Great flavor. Rishi’s offering is decent, however, I am probably going to try to source some white peony from China the next time I am due. I brew this using the western method.
  • Pu-erh teas: I’m on a journey with pu-erh right now. I have stuff from the three places below. For sheng (raw) I have one from Yunnan and this one, and for shou (cooked) I have this one and this one. I’ve brewed these both eastern and western, but prefer eastern.
  • Oolong teas: This tea is often considered the pinnacle. It’s complex, roasted, and has many tasting notes. I love this one from Samovar, and this Rougui from White2Tea. All three of the shops below have great, high quality oolongs. Same as pu-erh for brewing.
  • 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: Only one of their teas I consistently buy, Lady Grey. Brew western.
  • 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!
  • Passionfruit from Tahiti: This stuff over ice is THE BOMB. Average quality black tea, but the passion fruit infusion makes this one. This may end up competing with the Blackberry Mojito for my refreshing summer iced tea. Brew western.
  • You will notice I don’t have any green tea on here. I’m getting back around to green teas, but i’m trying not to have 20 different teas around my house. I’ll probably go back to The Steeping Room or Samovar first and pick a few to explore. Frankly, I prefer white tea over green tea.

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.
  • 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!
  • Samovar: Jesse is a tea fanatic, and I love the stuff I get from him when I am in San Francisco. They have some great quality teas that rotate often.
  • White2Tea: They have a fantastic rotating sampler pack of pu-erhs that will get you started. Keep in mind, many pu-erhs are in cake form and must be separated for steeping. I’m still trying to figure out how to break them apart without breaking all the leaves. I love tea, but the caked pu-erhs frustrate me. It’s a journey though, right?

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):
    • Teavana Perfect Tea Maker: 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.
    • 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. One is poor quality, one is OK. I didn’t spend much for either, so that’s part of the problem. I don’t brew with these as much anymore as I prefer the gaiwan, but good yixing clay pots are like iron skillets. 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).
    • 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. When the office kettle dies, I’m replacing it with the gooseneck. 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.

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.