I visit my local teashop frequently. On my most recent trip, I had a conversation with the owner, a very eccentric woman who appears rather ordinary — until she speaks. Her love for teas flows out in conversation sometimes in a very passionate manner. By now, she knows me as a regular. On this day she was taking the time to show me some of her newer teas, including one Earl Grey variety that had vanilla in it. I kindly dismissed the tea, and told her that I liked staying as close to the original flavor of the tea as possible.
“Oh, you are a tea traditionalist,” she said in a questionable tone.
At first I was a little taken aback; I thought this was an insult. “What does it mean to be a tea traditionalist?”
“Traditionalists are people that stick very close to unadulterated tea varieties: blacks, greens, sometimes whites,” she explained. “They never seem to go for any infusions or flavors that are blended.” She thought it was okay to be a traditionalist, but made it clear that she was not a part of this category. Unlike me, she enjoys her teas infused with different fruits and flavors.
The thought of someone being able to categorize my taste in tea was actually kind of exciting. I had a category that I fit into. It’s true that I’ve never enjoyed infused tea flavors and always prefer a simple green or black tea. Upon further investigation of my traditionalist mentality, I realized that even the way I prepare my tea is relatively simple and shockingly traditional. The woman at the tea shop was correct: There is nothing that irritates me more than the American obsession with adding sugar to tea.
Of all the Madrid cafes that I could have been standing in, I somehow ended up at Starbucks.
Study abroad kept me away from home for a few months, and I was craving familiarity in the form of a warm, comforting drink. I wanted chai, the Indian take on tea. Masala chai is a daily Indian ritual – one cup in the morning and one following the afternoon nap. This variation on black tea is enhanced by spices and sometimes ginger. At first sip, the masala provides a kick that is accompanied by a rich black tea flavor. It has become comfortably settled in Indian culture, an inherent routine that simply exists without question. And so, because my parents drank chai twice daily, it had been incorporated into my routine back home in the States.
We have finally welcomed the joyful spring season, filled with bright bits of green and bursts of sunshine. As we creep into the fresh spring air, consider taking tea along for the ride to double as a comforting sip and hand warmer. While green tea seems to be the chosen one in the American market, oolong teas have been patiently waiting their turn to take the stage. For a select few, oolong has risen to the top as a treasured favorite that’s tucked into tins and relished on special occasions.
Oolong teas are true works of art that are thoughtfully handcrafted in China and Taiwan and are respected as artisan steeps. They have been partially oxidized, which means after they are harvested, the leaves are bruised in order to expose their oils to air. Afterwards, they are heated and processed, and the leaves’ final flavors are set. Some leaves are even placed over charcoal to add and intensify smoked, woody notes. MORE
Contrary to popular belief, green teas are not bitter (unless they’re burned with boiling water—but we’ll cross that bridge in a moment). The nuances that linger within green tea can leave your palate with endless taste memories: from rich chestnut aromas, luscious floral flavors, buttery and brothy sips, clean and crisp grassiness that brightens the taste buds, to toasted notes that warm you to the core better than a favorite sweater.
Most green tea that is sipped in the U.S. is often thought of as bitter and lackluster. The majority of green tea found on supermarket shelves is packaged in tiny, bleached paper bags that are filled with low-grade fannings, otherwise known as the tea dust at the bottom of the barrel. And let’s not forget that the green tea is often over-steeped in boiling water. It’s time to flip that cup conundrum on its head and start from scratch with green tea sips that will leave you longing for more. MORE