Saturday, 20 August 2011

what tea do I start with?

(photo: a new morning-a new tea drinker)

Someone's been interacting with me on twitter or even in the real world. They've politely tolerated my blathering on about tea. How no matter what the topic of conversation is that it somehow veers back to tea drinking.

Finally, the question comes up, 'Ok, enough already. Go ahead and tell me. What tea should I start with?''

What an exciting prospect, but then I freeze up. Hm? What next?

Well, the first thing I ask is, 'How do you take your coffee?' Cream or milk? Sugar or not? What on earth does that tell me? Well, if you drink black coffee, then a delicate subtle tea just won't do. Not at all.

The next question, 'Do you like spicy foods?' does the same thing.

I used to think that a decent Earl Grey was a nice gateway tea. That one might like the Bergamot oil early on and over time want to taste more of the tea and less of the flavouring. I'm not sure if I'd always go that direction anymore. If someone's already enjoying Earl Grey then I won't discourage it, but I'm not so thrilled about pushing someone in that direction. Not when there's so much delicious tea out there.

If someone tends to eat spicier food, I think I'd recommend a malty Assam. If not, a subtle Ceylon. Yes, ok. But which one?

Go to your local tea seller and ask what sorts of Assam they have. Or what about their selection of Ceylon?

Ask to smell the tea leaves. Any decent tea seller will be thrilled that you're interested. Don't be shy asking how much a tea costs and definitely don't assume that a higher price means better tea. It simply doesn't.

I know this answer is very simple. Maybe too simple. But if you're new to tea (or good tea), you'll likely appreciate the simplest of answers. Please let me know how it goes.

What about you other tea obsessives? How do you answer the question posed above? Someone shows even a hint of curiosity about trying decent tea. Which direction do you send them?


  1. I imagine I would prefer something dramatic and bold in the morning. Then something lighter with a touch of citrus for the afternoon. That said, I am off to go make a nuisance of myself at our local Teavana.

  2. Must chat with you about that. That establishment often gets sideways glances from tea snobs, but they are providing an important service. I cheer them on from a distance.

    I'd love to hear about your experiences and maybe even blog a bit about them. My little guinea pig, you.

  3. There's no loose tea shop near me and I was lucky to find Jing Teas on line who do Tea Explorers. A selection of 10g samples. That helped.

  4. Wow, great tip Fay.

    I'll try to remember that when Brits in the same predicament ask for help.

  5. I'm going to look for a light Ceylon tea to try I think, thanks to your suggestions!

  6. I'm often surprised by the teas that go well with spicy foods. Some of them, like Yunnan black teas, seem to make sense to me. Others, including a Darjeeling I did not like when drunk on its own, surprise me.

    I find different people like radically different things for a "first tea". I like your idea of asking questions to try to figure out what tastes someone has, before making a recommendation, instead of just giving people uniform or canned suggestions.