Me And My Tea

I love black tea, and by that I mean brews from leaves of Camellia sinensis and C. s. assamica, nothing else, milk and sugar please.

Earl Grey is basically Assam flavoured with oil of bergamot, a citrus fruit. It’s OK if there’s no plain tea. But many café employees believe that Earl Grey is plain tea.

Sometimes I drink honeybush which is kind of nice, but that’s another plant and nothing compared to real tea. I don’t like rooibos much.

Here are my favourite teas.

  • Assam CTC. This is Crushed, Torn and Curled Assamica. Dark, strong, the main ingredient in “English breakfast”.
  • Yunnan (Swedes, this is pronounced “jynnän”; Anglophones, you will never learn to pronounce that first vowel) and Keemun. Chinese black teas with a hint of woodsmoke, like delicate versions of the outrageous Lapsang souchong.
  • Black tea dust. This is actually considered low-budget stuff, but it makes for a strong brew which is what I mainly care about.

I don’t like these:

  • Oolong and Darjeeling. Sour-tasting.
  • Ceylon. Weak unsatisfying stuff. Maybe I should try grinding Ceylon into dust.

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27 thoughts on “Me And My Tea

  1. About Ceylon: i worked in a carpet store for a while when i was younger, the man who owned the store drank a lot of ceylon tea. He used a samovar to brew it, so the tea was really strong and you mixed it with hot water and sugar to your own taste. The result was much better than just brewing a regular pot of ceylon-tea. Still one of my best tea-experiences.

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  2. Oops, I should have read more carefully … ginseng wulong is not black tea. And if you put milk and/or sugar in it, I will personally fly over from Singapore and scold you (as they say here).

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  3. Earl Grey is my absolute favorite tea, with English Breakfast coming in a close second. Alas, I’ve had to give up tea altogether due to my kidney’s predisposition towards creating stones from the oxalic acid contained in tea leaves.

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  4. I’ve really come to like sencha (green tea). We have it at home in the evening, and I usually have a thermos with cold sencha to drink as I walk to the station on my way home in the evening too.

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  5. My wife grew up in Hangzhou, near the famous Longjing tea plantations. It’s green tea though, not my cup of … tea. She really likes Iron Buddha too, though of course the name actually means Iron Guanyin. That’s the Chinese folk Buddhist equivalent of the Virgin Mary, a compassionate female intercessor.

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  6. Hey Martin, the quality of teas sold under those names varies so greatly by supplier here in the US that your favorite at one tea shop may be awful at another. I thought that I loved Ceylon for years because the tea shop by my house sold what I later found out to be the excellent Lover’s Leap OP under that name, rich, clear, dark, and with a fascinating astringent/sweet balance. I’ve bought numerous other teas sold as Ceylon that, while no doubt from the island itself, brew up exactly as you describe.

    I love most Yunnan tea too, interestingly the tea lady I see regularly says that her male clients inevitably gravitate towards Yunnan after trying everything else. Do you know if the Chinese pronunciation is similar to how you describe it in Swedish?

    I’ve seen Ti Kuan Yin (which also varies hugely in quality here, and has an interesing variety called “monkey-picked” that is supposed to be the best leaves, apparently the monkeys know someting) translated here as Iron Goddess of Mercy, and always thought it was probably an excessively poetic elaboration of the original Chinese, but apparently not, thanks!

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  7. The Chinawoman who shares my bed and board tells me that the Mandarin pronunciation of Yunnan is approximately “yu*in nan” if you’re using English orthography. However, “u*” is a vowel that doesn’t occur in standard English, though it is common in Swedish. The best I can to do explain the “u*” sound is that it is what you get if you purse your lips to whistle but instead send your voice out through the little opening between your lips.

    Here’s Guanyin, cross-dressing Indian male saint of mercy.

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  8. Like the y in Norwegian fyr and ny? My mom was born there, and tried to teach us, but I grew up saying “fear” and “knee” for them, and no one corrected me, leaving my orbicularis oris weak and undeveloped.

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  9. I always liked tea but on our honeymoon in Victoria, BC my husband and I discovered GOOD leaf tea at a little tea shop. Much better than the usual tea bags widely available in the US. We order most of our tea online now and have found many excellent varieties. We also had a bit of learning to do, since we did not grow up in a tea drinking culture. We had the same problem you have with Darjeeling – too bitter! But we found out that if you only brew it 3 minutes it’s better. (We use a coffee press, so it’s easy to stop the brewing.) It’s very delicate, so probably not your cup of tea either way. If you want a stronger brew use more leaves.

    I generally prefer the stronger, darker teas – Keemun, English Breakfast and Lapsang Souchong are favorites. But when I go to SCA events (camping) I like to make a “sun tea” using green tea and mint. Very refreshing and good to share with the household. Especially those folks who may have had at bit too much beer the night before…

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  10. Love Darjeeling. Didn’t know that about Earl Grey. Lot of good tea counsel on this post. I’ll have to try oolong. I’ll give a shot to your tops…now to find them in the incredibly cosmopolitan metropolis in which I reside. Sherrard, Illinois…population 700….saaaallluuuute.(old “Hee Haw” ref…indicates backwater area…not necessarily evil or hillbilly…just backwater…the hillbillies are a couple of miles away. We laugh at their town of 300.)

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  11. I think it’s fair to say that’s in only in Sweden where “café employees believe that Earl Grey is plain tea”. In Ireland Earl Grey is counted as fancy tea. Café employees also look at you funny if you ask for “just normal tea” or any other variation. They also often serve you tea in a latté glass, or a bowl, or an old shoe and get terribly annoyed when a complaint is made, especially about their tea-making skills.

    I think a day out at the “Afternoon Tea” café on Dalagatan is in order!

    And some other tea-drinking spots in Stockholm I stumbled across just now:
    http://www.metro.se/se/article/2007/02/16/14/0726-45/index.xml

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  12. You don’t like Oolong and Darjeeling since they’re “sour?” Perhaps that’s because you’ve never tried any fine stand-alone teas. Many Oolongs are fruity and floral, or roasty, but I’ve never heard of one that’s actually sour. And no Darjeeling would be sour if it were prepared properly. They might be sensitive to water temperature and steeping time but when you’re mindful of these you’ll be able to enjoy new kinds of tea.

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  13. In case anyone is interested, Mandarin or northern Chinese has two high rounded vowels that English doesn’t differentiate but Swedish does. In Wade-Giles spelling, you can write ch’u (with two dots over the “u”) for the high rounded front vowel which is spelled with “y” in Swedish. You can write ch’u (without dots) for the high rounded back vowel. In Pinyin, the first is qu while the second is chu. In Chinese phonetics, the first is written with a kind of “T” with two top bars on a diagonal plus a symbol much like an “X” only more curved. The second is written with “<" plus a letter much like a squared off "U." Of course, other initial sounds can also occur with those vowels.

    As for tea, my Chinese-born friends tell me that green tea is for spring and summer, while black tea is for autumn and winter. Also, green tea is for the young while black tea is for the elderly. There is also white tea, which doesn't quite fit into the scheme.

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  14. Tea is very important to me and I respect other people’s tea choices. All I would say to this is that I like Ceylon, but do find that it doesn’t brew up strongly. That said, the unbroken Ceylon leaf (Orange Pekoe as opposed to Broken Orange Pekoe, BOP, and you sometimes find this sold as Orange Pekoe even though most Indian subcontinent leaves are some sort of Orange Pekoe, not just Ceylon), while still fairly fragile, has a lovely floral flavour I think is worth having around. A good compromise for guests who don’t like it spoon-staining strong. Nilgiri is another good one for this.

    I also drink a lot of Kenya CTC, which a Bengali friend of means once told me is `for the untouchables!’ All the same it wakes me up. I find Kenya hits the brain and Assam the body more, so that if I have to go and do something energetic I’ll do it much easier after a few cups of Assam but hard thinking tends to go better on Kenya. No idea why this should be or whether I just observed it and explained it wrongly, but I notice it.

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  15. Sugar?! What is this sugar of which you speak? No sugar in my tea, not since my first undergraduate year when I ran out during a penurious patch and discovered I didn’t miss it. And of the two I think the Kenya’s probably the stronger brew. It’s certainly keeping me going today…

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  16. I was — possibly wrongly — under the impression that the ‘original’ Earl Grey was a specific and flovorful type of tea itself, that it was only grown in what was then called “Communist China,’ and that the ‘bergamot-flavored’ darjeeling or assam (think darjeeling is more likely, the whole cut and tone of Earl Grey is different from that of the (to me) too harsh assam) was a substitute for the then unavailable ‘real’ Earl Grey. (This may have been an urban legend, over the years I became more and more skeptical of the person who told me this.)

    Interestingly, apparently the bergamot can have a similar effect as does grapefruit juice in interreacting with various medicines. (I’d mention viagra, but surely none of you would need that, so I’ll mention buspar, claritin, and dextromethorphan.)

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  17. Not sure, what was sold to you under the name of Ceylon, but the reason our best high grown teas may seem weak is due to the complex flavour profiles which maybe missing in some of the more robust teas from other parts of the world.

    That sounds like a bit of a lame excuse.

    I’ll put my money where my mouth is. On behalf of the good people who produce Ceylon teas, we’d like to take up the challenge to converting you to our best. Can I have your address, I’ll send some samples out right away! I’ll throw in some brilliant Ceylon steamed green tea as well.

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