Spending time in England when I was little (and into my teens) I have fond, probably over-blown memories of my great-grandmother making the worlds best English Breakfast tea. It was dark, full-bodied, and without milk gave me the tiniest of astringent puckers to my mouth…something I was fascinated with. I think that she really did make possibly the worlds best tea. I was spoiled and didn’t even know it.
So, as an adult with an adult relationship to the food and drink I enjoyed, I pretty much gave up on ever having a really amazing pot of tea like Grandma used to make. She clearly used some vex or magic and it was far too late to find out how she did it. So I assumed I would simply never know.
And that is that.
Over the next 20 years or so I have been invited by friends who claimed they made tea ‘like a sweet British nana’ or ‘had an amazing green you really must try!’. Now, I am not sure if I was drinking the same stuff they were drinking, because it was not like any nana made for me and I had a strange, uneducated feeling that what was being touted as green tea, really wasn’t.
The black teas were, to be as kind as possible, over-stewed, and the greens probably suffered the same fate causing them to become incredibly bitter.
Now, I have to point out that I had zero education in the art of tea. I assumed that what I was being given was correct. But, somehow it just didn’t seem (or taste!) right.
And then, about 8 years ago, I did a radical, outside-of-the-box thing, I started to read the label of the tea I was trying to make. Around the same time, my daughter and her best friend had just started a bonafide ‘tea club’ at her high-school. So tea became a little more important to the household.
In reading the label I discovered that almost every single thing I was doing to make tea was pretty much wrong. I mean, it was okay, but I wasn’t getting the best brew from the leaf by leaving the bag in too long. Not pre-heating the pot. And certainly not taking the time to really examine what I was drinking, never mind how I was drinking it.
I started to play with black and white tea. Started to brew them for the required time and not stew them to the point of bitterness. I will admit I was very slow coming to greens – only doing so when I started taking my Sommelier courses – but I jump ahead.
I found out more about blends and pairings. It was a nice, passive learning process. But I still hammered those poor brews with more milk and sugar than you can shake a stick at. I was ruining it and not even knowing. I had forgotten how to drink tea like I did when I was little in England.
But then a twist of fate stepped in, I got sick. Not that cancer has much to do with my tea story, other than the fact that when in chemotherapy, one can not stomach sweets or sugar. I had to re-discover tea in it’s truest form…naked. I was suddenly reminded what I was missing.
Over the last 4 years, I have been learning and discovering and reveling in tea…to the point where I decided to take courses toward my tea sommelier certification. At about halfway there I am discovering how much I am in love with tea, the cultures, the industry, the estates, and the million or so different tastes.
I alternate and tell my husband how ‘this oolong from Taiwan in my favourite so always buy it for me’ to ‘this green from China is my favourite so always buy it for me’. I have a very special place in my heart for Vietnamese Lotus Tea as well as a lovely Ceylon from Sri Lanka that I swear calls to me each and every morning.
I think that is where I will go next dear readers. I will hit my blog up with a couple tasting notes and then move over to some pairings.
I am also honing my ‘Afternoon Tea’ skills as well. I plan to journal my wins and losses and would love for you to come along with me. So until next time…
Stay lovely tea-folk!