17 February 2012


For Christmas, Julia got me an assortment of gitfts including some looseleaf tea and a strainer from Teavana. Here you're looking at the Celestial Temple blend, a Chinese high-elevation mix of black tea leaves.

I am not a tea expert or a snob. While I appreciate using a tea ball or other device like this strainer for using looseleaf, 99% of my tea consumption in my lifetime has been via bags. At work I mostly use bags of green tea, herbal tea, or Earl Grey depending on my mood and the season. I often head to the coffee maker and hear a yelp of "It's not ready yet" when I'm just siphoning off some hot water from the release valve on top of the machine. That's what the spigot is for, people.

In fact, for the past week I've had a little seasonal sinus trouble, and a gentle green tea with the perfect amount of dried orange peel made the start to each day so much happier.

At right you see a double dose of the Celestial Temple in the Teavana strainer, resting in a Pyrex measuring cup. Normally you just use a mug for a single serving, but I wanted to capture the color of the tea while it was steeping. The tea is rich and aromatic, with notes of flowers and honey. It's nice because you get a full-bodied brew and the requisite caffeine kick but with great complexity and interesting aromas that will be fun for the wine enthusiast.

I do have to mention that growing up in Memphis, tea was one of my earliest beverages and one of the first things I learned how to make. Though always in the iced form. Brew four bags in a half gallon of water for five minutes, remove bags, add a quarter cup of sugar, let cool, pour into pitcher and cover. The alternative was reserved for holidays: essentially an Arnold Palmer called "Payne Tea" after my Mom's maiden name. We would squeeze lemons and make pulpy gallons of this beverage and, to this day, none of us have ever suffered from scurvy.

High school got me into hot tea, partially as an extension of Anglophilia but also as a desire to try as many different culinary traditions as possible. Celestial Seasonings was widespread at the time and I had a blast working my way through their boxes of teabags. A night with the South American "Morning Thunder"/yerba mate was a transcendental experience of listening to trance radio and not sleeping for 36 hours. But these days, I approach tea in a much different way. I don't add milk or sweeteners or anything else. Just the leaves, in water slightly lower than boiling, and sip at the temperature that makes me the happiest. Sure, I get some weird stares occasionally and people wonder why I'm looking at my watch for a few minutes before I drink something, but the ritual and the swirling of the colors in the water always make me happy, whether at work, or sitting in an airport, or crouched on top of a mountain where it's taken forever to get the water up to temperature. As you sip the tannic liquid you can reflect upon centuries of British tradition and more centuries of Chinese/Indian agriculture, or you can simply accept the caffeine hit, let your belly get happy from the warmth, and be glad about the whole process... until the mug goes cold and it's time to start over.

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