Fragrant Leaf green tea brewing in a Kinto one-touch teapot at Good Coffee in Portland
If you take a look at the Rogue Pepper Instagram feed, you will probably notice that I spend a lot of time at coffee shops. Doing homework, eating brunch, hanging out to write, or having less-formal meetings; the coffee shop is a terrific “third place” for me and so many others.
The thing is, I can only drink so much coffee in a day.
(It’s an unpopular opinion, I know. Try not to hold it against the other great articles on this blog, eh?)
There are plenty of times when I want a hot beverage, but don’t want the supreme rush that comes with a quality coffee drink. Likewise, between work, school, commuting and side projects, quality coffee drinks aren’t always accessible. In my office, for example, we have a Keurig machine and a cafeteria that sells several varieties of powder-based, sugary instant coffees. With the closure of two nearby cafes last year, and the limited hours at Rollover Coffee & Donuts, usually the only brew within a mile radius is that small, Seattle-based chain called Starbucks.
So rather than lament the dearth of choices, I decided a while back to take things into my own hands and start exploring that ancient beverage so many of us have turned our back on.
That Lipton Stuff?
When I was a child, our mother would make iced tea, and none of us would drink it. I blame this on two factors:
- It was a bunch of bags of supermarket tea that was probably more sticks and bark than anything else.
- In a pitcher/jug, the tea could easily be mistaken for grape Kool-Aid, which resulted in a shocking reaction from a young version of me that thought he was about to drink some delicious purple concoction straight from the jug.
Either way, as I entered adulthood, my only experience with tea were those ill-fated gulps that were probably karmic retribution for bad manners. So when I decided a while back to start taking tea as a serious alternative to other caffeinated beverages, it was without much foundation.
What I Like about Tea
As we have friends who are seriously into artisanal coffee or craft beers, I wish I could say that I had a particular expertise in tea preparation, brewing, regions, etc. At this point, though, I am best classed as a “passionate amateur”, if anything. That’s not to say, however, that I cannot at least share some of my favorite aspects from the exploration so far.
Ritual Behaviors – All forms of tea have at least some of the same procedural/habitual aspects of quality coffee preparation. If you want the best possible drink, you need to be mindful of getting the right amount of water to tea and steeping for the appropriate amount of time and not much longer. If one were really serious about quality, I’m told there are elements to consider surrounding the vessel for brewing/serving, and even the method of heating your water.
Tree-mendious varie-tea* – Green, white, oolong, pu-erh, herbal, the range of flavors, intensities and kick provided by a cup of hot tea are so variable, I’m not certain there is much need to drink the same cup of tea twice in a lifetime. This part may be intimidating to some, I didn’t know where to start when I first dove in, and I’m sure I drank some poor quality teas, or badly mangled some good leaves with amateur mistakes. Luckily you’re the only one who has to know, and trying again isn’t that costly.
Social experience – I’m sure when you started reading this post, one of the images that came to mind was either a butler pouring tea into little white cups, or a stereotypical grandmother doing the same. What’s clear is that we have a deep association between tea and conversation. Sitting around, enjoying a hot beverage and good company is one of the best, most rewarding experiences we can share with our friends and family, and one that tea supports very well. Around the office, too, tea is a lot more tradable than coffee, and has encouraged a few conversations among folks who don’t normally work together or collaborate. Bonus, none of us have to lament Keurig-quality instant “coffee” drink.
Calming/Meditative/Soothing – We all live busy lives, I’m sure mine is no busier that most reader’s, and it’s tough for us to really set aside the time we should be taking to either enjoy the day or at least catch a breath between our other demands. With a cup of tea in my hands, though, each sip gives me a moment’s respite. I can use it to appear thoughtful as I consider the next thing to say at work (pretty much the behavior that Twix turned into their ad campaign), or to just silently shut the world out for a few seconds. With a disposable coffee cup in your hand, the expectation is “go, go, go”, but nobody looks at you weird when you take your time after sipping tea from a mug. Hooray for unspoken expectations!
So What Have I Been Drinking
Work – Lately I’ve been making a double-matcha green tea from Republic of Tea at work, and mixing it up with a coconut and green tea from Harney & Sons. The double-matcha makes a great, frothy first cup of the day, and while the second steeping can’t compare because of the absence of the free-floating matcha dust, it does a fine job of providing energy and clarity of mind through some longer meetings.
Out & About – If I skip my morning almond milk latte at Royal Coffee, I’ll have them make me a cup of jasmine green tea, which I can credit with helping me conquer my statistics test prep last semester. I’ve also been switching to a hibiscus green tea after a certain hour when studying at Lux.
Home – By the time I get home, it’s usually later so I’ll go lighter on the caffiene, opting for a “gingerly jasmine” from Tazo. With green tea, jasmine, ginger and rose, this tea hits several levels of flavor, with just a little bit a sweetness. One of these days I’m sure I’ll be raving about someone recreating the mint tea they had in Morocco.
I know these are all on the “big brands” sort of tea producers, but I assure you that the trend won’t continue. We’ve been picking up some great teas on our travels, I just haven’t had them enough to give a quality review of each one.
* I’m rather confident this particular pun will get cut by the editor, but can’t blame me from trying.