Friday, 27 January 2012

teascapades of a tea newbie

a note from your regularly scheduled teablogger: this post is written by Jim. You will immediately be able to tell that Jim is not a tea drinker. Why on earth would I turn the reigns of a teablog over to the likes of this guy? Why indeed. 

Well, I write this blog partially with the tea newcomer in mind, and he's curious about tea. He writes some very funny non-tea-related blogs, and I knew he'd do something entertaining with it. And that he certainly did. 

One important thing to remember: this is just the beginning with Jim and tea. He's already agreed to be a recurring character on the teablog. Without further ado, I bring you our guest teablogger:

I like to try new things, and while tea isn’t “new” to me, having access to someone who might know a bit about tea is. In the past, I tried tea as a substitute for coffee, specifically, Lipton tea. Everyone knows that Lipton is the name in mass produced tea. Right? Right?

So I tried it, and honestly it made me sick to my stomach. Not initially, but after a couple cups. I found it was a little harsh on an empty stomach (much like coffee can be) and eventually I gave it up as a bad job.

Nearly a decade later, enter Twitter, toss in a mildly humorous and nearly contentious miscommunication spawned from incorrectly linking to people’s blogs. . . and I found Ken. And in finding Ken, found someone to ask all my annoying questions about the mysterious world of tea.

I tapped that resource for the first time in the middle of a grocery trip this past weekend. Without copy and pasting the exchange, essentially it amounted to this: Assuming Ken was more or less waiting by his phone/pc for my tweet, I said, “quick, I’m at the store, what tea should a newbie try?” and he, apparently actually sitting by his phone/pc waiting for my tweet began to guide me to the best of his abilities to my best choice.

Yeah. . . so there are a lot of options. And I tried tweeting this picture to Ken, but I was in a wifi-less store, and it kept timing out. So after Ken had asked a couple questions about what sorts of tastes I preferred, he offered me four or five options. And believe it or not, the store only had one of them. I mean, are you looking at that shelf? That’s just the Stash choices I could fit in the picture. . . Anyway, we settled on Stash English Breakfast.

Ken wanted me to get filters, but I couldn’t find tea filters to save my life, so that apparently put loose-leaf tea out of the equation. But fear not, regardless, of whether this tastes like ass, I will totally try loose-leaf tea because it’s different, and I like trying different things. Not ass. That was probably misleading how I wrote that in there. But different things.
 So I had the tea. Now I drink coffee in the mornings ordinarily, and I won’t lie, sometimes when I finish my gigantic travel mug full o’ joe, I feel a little bit like I’m going to throw up. That doesn’t stop me from doing the same thing the following day, mind you, cause my mama didn’t raise no quitters, but I knew I wouldn’t try tea on a day that I was already queasy from caffeine overdose. Today was that day!!

The very first thing I did was find my finest heirloom porcelain tea cup. Because tea evokes all sorts of images in my head of cultured snobby people drinking tea out of fine
china with their pinkies in the air.

Mission accomplished. I filled it with the finest tap water money can buy and prepared my tea kettle microwave.

Ken had told me to heat the cup, and essentially what I did was. . . heated the cup and water in the microwave until it boiled. Once it boiled, I removed it from the microwave and plopped the tea bag in it.

Ken (and the packaging) said to steep it for three minutes. I set my duck timer (the duck timer is win/win/win. 1) “When Timer Ends Duck.” That’s funny. I can see people actually ducking when the timer goes off (as instructed), 2) ducks are funny, 3) when I use it with my kids I can blame the duck for why they have to finish doing whatever it is they’re doing, “sorry kids, the duck quacked.”)

So I steeped. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t trust Brownian motion to disperse my tea evenly throughout my hot water, so I. . . in the absence of Ken’s learned guidance. . . bobbed the tea bag up and down in the water a couple times. I didn’t continually do it, because Ken’s instructions hadn’t explicitly spelled out how I was to steep, but he hadn’t mentioned bobbing, so I felt certain I was going outside the framework of accepted tealore, but I fucking did it anyway, because sometimes, in the absence of instructions to the contrary, you just go with your gut. Plus I’m American, and if history has taught me one thing, it’s that when Americans get a hold of tea, they do unexpected things with it.

Further to my discussion of Brownian motion...when the timer was done, and the duck quacked and I had ‘ducked’ and then chuckled at how funny I think I am. . . I threw the bag away and I stirred the tea. Because it seemed to me at the time that if I didn’t trust Brownian motion to disperse my tea evenly through the water, I may as well help the process of mixing and get a good uniform dispersion. Ken had told me not to squeeze the bag out so I didn’t.

Finally, I was ready to drink my tea. But, as I was about to take my first sip two things
occurred to me. 1) It was so hot I was going to burn the shit out of myself, and 2) pinkies
up, yo!

Something they don’t teach you at tea academy is that if you’re using a big giant Bugs Bunny coffee mug as your fine china, it’s really heavy and you should be careful not to be too cavalier with your pinky erection lest you spill hot tea all over yourself when the mug slips from your grasp.

pinkies up, yo!

pinkies in the you just don't care
Okay, I don’t know what the tea pros say, but when tea is so scalding hot you can barely tolerate it in your mouth? It’s also too hot to taste. So I waited a while longer. Because to quote Ralph Wiggums, “It tastes like burning.”

It, okay and don’t hate on me here, tasted like Lipton.

Now Ken suggested that if I drank coffee with cream and sugar, I might enjoy tea the same way. I suspect so, and for whatever reason it never even occurred to me to add cream to tea. But my next attempt will be to add a little and see if I like it better. The short answer to the question of is English Breakfast a better choice than crappy ol’ Lipton may, unfortunately, have to be “no”. At least at this early tea age, I’m not really tasting any difference.

Jim pretending to enjoy his tea goodness


  1. Everything about this made me happy.

    FINE, I'll buy some damn tea if you let me blog about it and put up awesome photos. I'm buying the kangaroo tea. You promise it won't taste like Lipton, though, right? Because if it does, you're getting a spit-take photo.

    1. I have no idea what Kangaroo Tea is Amy, but let's go about this carefully. With your eating peculiarities, the perfect tea might be a bit puzzling.

    2. It's what I've decided to call the Rooibos tea you recommended. Because they both have two "oo"s in them.

  2. 1. i am worried about the microwaving of tea. or even just the water - it really has to have boiled, and as recently as possible for black tea not to go horribly wrong. it's okay for tisanes to be a bit cavalier, since you'll be leaving the bag in.
    2. i am a bag squasher, my boyfriend isn't. it's a contentious issue.
    3. milk, not cream. cream is wrong.
    4. porcelain. YES. i have big big big mugs, but they are fine porcelain/bone china. the thick sort of clay might suit a coffee but not a tea.
    5. pinkie. hmm. don't try that in a greasy spoon caff in london.

    1. Thank you Elaine for your detailed notes. Both you and KB are right about using a microwave to heat water for tea, but I'm assuming that's Jim's only possibility at present.

      You know my opinion on squashing your teabag. Your boyfriend is, on at least this matter, quite sensible and admirable.

      Milk or cream...not sure I'd say either are wrong. I've written about the topic on this blog before, and I assure you it'll be covered again.

      The same thing with the porcelain versus ceramic mug debate. Definitely worth having-just not at this early point in Jim's tea experience.

      And lastly,

      if Jim makes it to a greasy spoon caff in London, how he holds his pinkie will be the least of his worries.

    2. why the LEAST? I'm worried now.

    3. 1) Well. . . it was BOILED, it was just boiled in a microwave.
      2) this sounds like a personal issue, and unrelated to tea.
      3) I don't really have access to either at present. I'll probably start with cream though.
      4) I think the enamel is pretty chemically inert w/regard to either, so I'm thinking my bugs bunny mug is PERFECT.
      5) I wouldn't.

  3. Now, I've been drinking tea since I was nine years old and my first teas were Twinings Earl Grey and Red Rose. I have since graduated to having more tea than one cabinet can hold. But I didn't start drinking coffee until I was nearly 20 and it's still not something I can drink on a regular basis and never on an empty stomach.

    Personally, I can't stand tea brewed from microwaved water. It always comes out too bitter/acidic IMNSHO. When that was looking like the only option my company* was willing to provide when we moved to our new space, I bought myself an electric kettle, which I adore! (*BTW, my company buys Lipton tea for the few tea drinkers in the office. blech!)

    Also, English and Irish breakfast teas are very strong, robust teas. Even though I take my other black teas with sugar only, I always put milk in those as well. Personally, I probably would have pointed Jim to Bigelow English Afternoon tea - still a nice rich black tea, but not quite as robust as Stash's English Breakfast.

    And this might break dear Elaine's heart, but I always drink my tea in big, chunky mugs - 1) they hold more, 2) they seem to be better insulated for keeping the tea hot, but not scalding.

    1. I like the comment. . . but I have to look more into this "microwaved boil" vs. "kettle boil" thing. It's my thinking that microwaving water does nothing to change the flavor of the water. . . or, flavorlessness of it. And don't get me wrong, the microwave is such an inelegant solution to any heating problem. . . but I'm just not sure that microwaved water and kettle boiled water are perceptibly or imperceptibly different.

      Perhaps a taste test should be conducted! SCIENCE!!

    2. Thanks for that KB.

      It's taken me so long to comment, because I wasn't at my computer and I wanted to share a link based upon the first thing you said.

      Cara in Cleveland did an earlier guest blogpost about her memories of Red Rose tea. Here it is:

      I'll answer the rest of your comment later.

  4. Awesome. Thanks to you both. :-) Stay tuned... a post about tea cozies coming soon.

    1. Ooh, tea cozies? I've never written about them.

  5. Oh Dear...I almost feel like I'm writing to a celebrity, since sooo many blogs I read refer to you as their "tea guru"! But I do have a pressing *tea* question...and you seem like the man with the here's hoping you might be willing to help:

    So, way back about 5 years or so ago, I used to buy a tea called "Envy" by Tazo. It's long gone now, but I heard that they still have it, it's just been renamed "Green Tea" or something ordinary like that. I've tried that version, but it is not the same, to me.

    The tea I remember had a distinct *black pepper* sort of taste and aroma to it. Now, I must temper that sentence by letting you know that I have a limited sense of smell. But I definitely sensed something black peppery.

    Given all that...I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on what I might look for to duplicate that tea essence. I would prefer tea already in bags, but I have all the paraphernalia to do loose tea as well.

    If you feel so inclined, I would love to here your thoughts. Thanks!

    1. Hello DogsDontPurr,

      Although I enjoy being the teadude for a lot of people, I'm anything but a guru.

      I'm not familiar with 'Envy' by Tazo, but I'm happy to try and find out what I can. You said it was a green tea with a *black pepper* smell/taste. That should be distinctive enough to make at least some sort of near connection.

      Why don't you send me an email? Send it to: lahikmajoe (at)

      Maybe if we find out something interesting, it'll make it's way onto this not-very-famous blog.

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  7. I've never seen such a selection of Stash Teas in my life.

    And, pardon me, but I just don't get the pinky thing. What is that all about?