That's right. I drink tea. Deal with it. It's just an aspect of me, not the whole of me. I'm still the same person. Don't hate.
I've been drinking coffee since I was in high school. Coffee's just always been there. By college I was drinking it black. No contaminants for me. Real people drink coffee. Or so I always thought. Besides, I loved the stuff. Ten years ago I bought a roaster and started roasting my own for crying out loud. I not only drank coffee, I understood coffee.
I saw tea people as weak and high maintenance. Coffee for me was as much a statement about who I am as it was my preferred way to get caffeine into my system. Tea people weren't in it for the caffeine I thought. And since you never really had to acquire a taste for tea, I assumed that tea drinkers were people who weren't strong enough to get over the hump and learn to like coffee.
Don't believe coffee's an acquired taste? Set a cup of black coffee in front of a kid sometime. Hilarity will ensue, I assure you.
Anyhow, all of that changed almost a year ago.
Last December I was a house guest in the lovely home of Sara Baldwin, the doyenne of American Mosaics. Sara drinks tea exclusively. It wasn't 'til we got back from dinner that she broke the news to me that there was no coffee in the house. I remained cool on the outside but I was panicking on the inside. Waking up without any coffee in the house had long been a recurring nightmare but I was a guest. I was determined to tough it out.
The next morning I walked into the kitchen and Sara was making a pot of jasmine tea. I had a cup.
It was pleasant. Really pleasant. It had caffeine in it and for that I was grateful, but more than anything the jasmine tea was pleasant tasting. I'd grown so used to shocking my system into action every morning with the murky bitterness of black coffee that it never occurred to me that I could do the same thing a little more pleasantly.
I drove home to Florida from Virginia that day. It was a 15 hour drive and the the entire way home all I could think about was that jasmine tea.
|Tea is made from the new leaves of the Camellia sinensis, a warm-climate evergreen shrub that's a kind of camellia, as its Latin name suggests.|
I bought some when I got home and I started drinking jasmine tea. I've never been one to do anything half way so within a week I'd installed myself at the tea shop down the street and I set about learning all about tea.
|As befits a member of the camellia family, tea blooms.|
Nearly 11 months later and there has to be 30 kinds of tea in my kitchen. In the mornings I like a Lapsang Souchong. In the afternoons I like a good Earl Grey or a chai with black pepper. At night I usually go for something citrus-y and without any caffeine in it. I'm hooked on the tastes, I'm hooked on the ritual and I love the whole package.
By mere happenstance I ran into someone on Twitter named Jim Shreiber. Jim's a tea merchant in Chicago and he Tweets as @JimmyDoesTea. Jim's a riot and he really knows his tea. Jim's business is named Shui Tea and his approach is two pronged. He sells tea through the store on his website and he also does in-home tea tastings in Chicago. I admire his approach to tea and since he blends his own, he knows what he's talking about.
Two weeks ago I ordered some teas from him. I ordered a blend he calls Moscow After Hours, a maté blend called Caramelo Rápido (maté is made from the leaves of an Argentinian holly tree and is a parallel obsession of mine) and a non-caffeine tea called Cherry Bomb.
Moscow After Hours is my new afternoon tea. What a complex and delightful blend it is. He starts with a blend of Lapsang Souchong and high-mountain Ceylon. He then adds bergamot, milk thistle and safflower. The bergamot gives it the he familiar ring of Earl Grey, but the milk thistle and safflower leave it with an effect that can only be described as smoky. To quote from his website, "Smoky and strong, the assertive aroma will make those around you whisper, "What on Earth are you up to?"
I mix up my afternoons with Shui Tea's Caramelo Rápido. Maté is in a league all it's own and I don't care what anybody says it has caffeine levels that dwarf tea and coffee. Two cups of maté at around 3pm leaves me hanging from the rafters. Maté by itself is a treat enough but when it's roasted and blended with a hint of caramel it's almost heaven. If you've never had maté, track some down. You won't be disappointed. On second thought, order some Caramelo Rápido from Shui Tea!
Finally, my evenings are now spent int he company of a blend called Cherry Bomb. Cherry Bomb starts out in life as Rooibos tea blended with cherry, chili, rose, safflower, peony and carrot. Those disparate flavors combine into something of such stunning complexity that caffeine's beside the point. Imagine the flavor of a lingering cherry popsicle, with just a little earthiness, the scents of peony and rose and then a chili pepper end note that kicks you in the teeth. I can't get enough of the stuff.
Oh I still drink coffee from time to time and it'll do if I'm out and don't have any of my tea supplies handy but at this point, nothing does it for me the way a nice cup of tea does.
My orders from Shui Tea arrive days after I order them and everything I've purchased has exceeded my expectations in every way. If you're curious about the world of tea, I suggest you take a quick trip through the Shui Tea store. And if you're in Chicago, set up an in-home tasting with Jim, I'd love to know what they're like.
Shui Tea's website and blog is here and you can go to the tea store directly here. Give it a try, there's a whole new way of looking at the world available through the miracle of tea.