“What time is it?” “It’s teatime, you old bag!”

I started drinking tea years ago, influenced by a friend who is a tea connoisseur. My friend and his wife live far away and we hardly ever get to see them. I don’t think he’s ever prepared a cup of tea for me. But he wrote about tea so appealingly on his online journal that I had to try it out.

The first thing to know about tea is that American supermarket brands are crap. They’re made from the little particles that are not good enough for tea drinkers elsewhere in the world. You want to use loose tea to make your tea. You can buy it online; one good place is Adagio Teas, which is where I buy. I tried a couple of dozen different kinds of teas over the years, but never really felt like I developed any kind of palate for it, so I eventually just started buying Lipton Yellow Label loose tea. I was never able to find it in a standard supermarket, but I bought it regularly from a supermarket called Vineripe, which caters to the middle Eastern and Eastern Asian immigrant communities here in San Diego. The package I buy has a strange alphabet on it; I think it might be Farsi.

I tried different kinds of teapots, but they were hard to clean, so Julie got me a kind of teapot called YiXing, made from a special Chinese purple clay. It’s a nice-looking teapot. You don’t wash it; you just rinse it with hot water between uses. The tea steeps into the porous clay and supposedly adds to the flavor.

A different YiXing teapot than the one I have.

A different YiXing teapot than the one I have.

Eventually, I got tired of messing with the teapot. The spout clogs regularly, and has to be cleared with a very thin brush. So I switched to making tea one cup at a time using a mesh steel ball to contain the leaves.

I commented to a friend recently about how I drink Lipton Yellow Label, and he said he considers it barely one step above rubbish. He’s English, so he should know. He drinks Irish Breakfast tea. We didn’t have any of that around the house, but we did have English breakfast, and I liked that much better than the Yellow Label so I think I’ll be drinking that for a while. I found two or three containers we had lying around, and I ordered a small sampler of English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast from Adagio to see which I like better.

The English Breakfast we had around the house is in teabags. I know that all decent tea-drinking people hate teabags, but really this wasn’t bad. These were the oval pillow kind without strings, not the square ones with attached strings you get in the US. Manufacturers now make pyramid-shaped space-age teabags which are supposed to be just as good as loose tea. Maybe teabags have gotten better.

In the late afternoon and evening, when I need to avoid caffeine, if I want something hot to sip on I drink rooibos tea, which is an African herb tea. The plant doesn’t have any caffeine in it at all. The taste is similar to black tea, but different enough that it doesn’t seem like some kind of fake food that’s trying too hard (like some of those vegetarian fake meats you can buy). It’s a tougher brew than regular tea. Regular tea needs to be steeped for a precise amount of time or it’s underdone or overly bitter, but you can leave rooibos tea steeping as long as you want. Leave it in there for days if you want. The tea doesn’t care.

This handmade Doctor Who TARDIS teapot is available for sale on Etsy for $15. It holds more tea on the inside than it does on the outside.

Tardis teapot

3 thoughts on ““What time is it?” “It’s teatime, you old bag!”

  1. Patrick Nielsen Hayden

    This is the greatest tea shop in North America, and they’re happy to ship to the US. They are run by maniacs who personally visit Japan, China, and India on a regular schedule to bring back what’s good this year.

    Jo Walton introduced them to me. Oh my god. Try one of their Darjeelings. Second flush — first flush is overrated by a lot of tea people.

  2. Mitch Wagner Post author

    Patrick & David, thanks for the tips. Patrick, I’ll give their Darjeeling second flush a try, although as I said I never really developed a palate for tea. I can tell good tea from bad tea, but I can’t tell good tea for great tea.

    BTW, you were right about electric kettles. Our sister-in-law has one and it was fantastic; I went out and bought one as soon as we got home from staying at their house a few days.


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