Sunday, 28 March 2010

Tea tasting old school (analog)

This teablog is still a bit of a crapshoot. When I ask myself what my motives are, I think, ‘Hmmm…’

Haven’t got much past the hmmm. I suppose sharing what I discover about tea is the biggest goal I have here. To do it virtually is an interesting proposition, because if I recommend a tea, such as Sencha Fudji, there’s no way I know if any of you actually went and tried that specific tea.

Because my tea dealer’s in Germany, I can’t imagine any of you in the US or Australia would bother ordering the exact same tea I’m talking about. If your tea guy has a similar green, you might order Sencha Fuji from him and that’s similar enough. More power to you.

So in some ways, meeting people analog (the old-fashioned way) and serving them tea is a much more immediate payoff. That’s what I did today, and I want to tell you about the experience. Had friends over for Kaffee und Kuchen, which is a very common thing to do on a Sunday afternoon in Germany. Very gemütlich. There was both coffee and cake. As always, I served tea as well. Most declined when I tried to pawn my loose-leaf tea off on them.

They came for coffee and cake and coffee and cake they wanted. But somehow I made the right choice of who to invite, because a few of them actually seemed excited at the prospect of a cuppa. Their eyes lit up when I said, ‘Would you like a cup of black or even green tea?’ ‘Yes, please,’ was the response and I served them my finest Japanese Sencha. Have written about it here recently. I get only compliments when I serve it. People ask me to write the tea’s name down, which I do gladly.

It’s exactly how it turned out today, too. It wasn’t even a recommendation. I offered them tea, they accepted and then got something far better than they normally would expect.

When I visit people and they offer tea, I get a tea bag. Some tea bags are better than others, but you know what I mean. The questionable quality of most people’s idea of tea is legendary. If you’re offered tea and ask, ‘What sort do you have?’, and the answer is black, peppermint and herbal, you know you’re in for a mediocre tea experience. If they can’t get more specific than “black”, then it’s probably not going to have a digestible taste. Maybe. You might luck out.

I know my visitors today went home fat and happy with cake and above-average tea in their bellies. My work is done here.


  1. So excellent on all fronts:
    (a) Mentioned Australia !
    (b) Everybody loves cake
    (c) You have been spreading the tea gospel.

    However, perhaps this is coloured by my personal taste, but I worry that offering someone a Japanese tea might not be the most accessible option. As someone who has hated every single Japanese tea I've ever tasted, I wonder if a Pai Mu Tan might be a much nicer option!

  2. I'm drinking a Pai Mu Tan white tea as we speak, and it is unbelievably tasty.

    Great suggestion.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. I know what you mean about the frustration of being served mediocre tea. It's gotten worse the more seriously I've gotten into tea, and the most frustrating thing about it is that I know people are spending just as much money on their mediocre tea as I am on my outstanding loose tea. You pay so much for packaging!

    When I'm a guest at someone's house though, I tend to be grateful for their hospitality regardless of the quality of the food and drink.

    What's worse, in my opinion, is when I'm out at a coffee shop or restaurant and I want to pay money for tea but I'm presented with something like Lipton or Tetley (common at most diners). Some coffee shops though have secret local one was run by a middle eastern man; he sold mostly teabag teas but he kept a stash of high-quality black tea and spearmint in order to make up "Arab tea"...outstanding. The shop was sold to Koreans, who kept the Arab tea at least I know I have one good option when I visit that shop.

    There's often hope in unexpected places, even when it seems like you're surrounded my mediocre tea!

  4. I agree with everything you've written here Alex.

    What I've learned about hospitality and #tea is that the more I'm grateful when the host/guest knowledgeable is the better the experience.

    I was in a bar/restaurant yesterday owned/run by my friend Sophie. I assumed they had only simple tea bags, despite the fact that she's English and has exceptional taste.

    When they assured me they had decent looseleaf tea, it made my afternoon. What a joy to be able to drink an above-average Darjeeling before rushing off to a meeting.

    Gratitude is unquestionably the key here. Thanks for reading Alex, but thanks especially for leaving your comments.

  5. Well first there's no need to sweat an agenda. It's tea, that's enough.

    In the USA it is not well understood how important tea is to other cultures. I had a Persian driver from DFW airport back home one night and we spent the entire 50 minutes on how to make a cuppa the right way. Likewise when Indian friends visit our house they will talk about tea for quite a while... although they like it somewhat sweeter than we do.

    So in time you can develop filters on where to have tea or coffee. Here the coffee that people serve is often more depressing than the tea - at least if I try to measure the distance between what I like and what I've been served. Often I'll just ask for water, thank you (and few people here are aware that sparkling water exists).

    Finally, I have observed that the one place in the world you cannot find Lipton's tea is England...