Culinary Adventures: Tea Tasting
July 18, 2013 § Leave a comment
Apparently, it’s a thing. My boyfriend came home from work last week with the idea and I was like, done. We’re going. This weekend.
Maybe I’m just a little too much of a tea geek (nerd?), but it was one of the most fun things I’ve done recently. Possibly ever. I had so much fun I completely spaced on taking pictures. But I promise next time. Because we will be going again.
For now you can enjoy the pictures I remembered to take of China Town. Like this one. Isn’t it cute?!
We got to the shop a little late, an hour before they close, so the woman behind the counter wasn’t too pleased. And then she asked us what kinds of teas we were looking for. Uh…
All I could do was stare at the rows of huge glass jars filled with tea leaves lining the wall. They were labelled with names like Supreme Water Fairy and Supreme Dragon Well. My boyfriend finally answered her with “green?” I think she took pity on us.
We sat down at the long counter that lined the middle of the shop and she started us off with one of their more popular green teas, which was a ginseng oolong. She said that it worked well as a coffee replacement because ginseng is good for energy.
It was fascinating watching her brew the tea. She poured hot water over the loose leaves, then immediately dumped the liquid out onto a little wooden box that had holes in the lid. She explained that you need to rinse the leaves to wake them up. Tea lesson number one.
Then she refilled the tiny ceramic jug, brewed the leaves for about thirty seconds (tea lesson number 2), then used the lid of the jug to strain it into a strainer that she had placed in a little glass jug. Then she poured the tea into tiny ceramic mug shot glasses.
At first taste I was mildly disappointed. It just tasted like green tea. But then, after I swallowed it, there was a burst of sweetness. It was weird, but totally awesome. It was the one we ended up buying.
After that we tried a jasmine white tea, which she recommended for relaxation, a dessert tea that was naturally sweetened with lychee juice (our second favorite), and a high mountain green tea, which had a very clean flavor like you would imagine anything on a high, windswept mountain top to be.
We also tried a 15 year aged pu-erh black tea (which tasted like an oak box) that is supposed to be very good for digestion. She recommended drinking it with meals or after dinner. She also told us that drinking cold water with meals (like I usually do) inhibits digestion. Tea lessons number three and four. These were perhaps the most helpful lessons because if you have food allergies, your digestive system needs a lot of extra love. Next time we go, we’ll definitely be looking for a better tasting pu-erh.
The man working in the shop also informed us that the best tea to drink was loose leaf with no cream or sweetener. Because tea bags are the leftovers, or as he called them the hot dogs, of the tea industry and cream and sweetener just make everything taste like cream and sweetener so it’s not even worth buying tea at all. Tea lessons number five and six.
Now, if you live anywhere near the Bay Area, lucky you! San Francisco’s China Town is full of these kinds of little shops that offer free tea tasting (this is the one we went to) and seems to be the only place that offers this kind of experience. But I did a little googling and it seems like there are a few tea rooms and shops around the country where you can taste-test teas. They seem to offer more of a tea time with scones experience than a pure tasting experience, but that sounds like a really good time, too.
Here are a few that I found:
Naja Tea near Long Beach, CA
ezentea in Atlanta, GA
Harney and Sons in New York and Millerton, NY
And if any of you have any recommendations, please share!
If you at all like tea, or are even slightly interested in the wide variety of health benefits associated with drinking tea, I would highly recommend trying to find a tea tasting shop near you. Not only do you get to try teas you probably never would have otherwise, but you get to learn a lot about tea from (hopefully) someone who knows a lot about tea. And I can almost guarantee that the tea you buy from an authentic tea shop is of a much higher quality than even the teas you can buy from high-endish stores like Whole Foods. I’ve had a couple bad experiences in that department. We’ll leave it at that.