“Go Have Some tea”
This continues my occasional series on tea. It’s a drink I enjoy regularly but have no great knowledge of – more than the average person I think, by now, but nothing parallel to my beer or spirits knowledge.
In some ways though, it’s better to approach things as an ordinary consumer. Since we don’t know what to expect, or what’s behind a lot of things, the edges of experience seem sharper, both the highs and lows.
In the earlier Parts I reported on tea drinking by an American in England, then an Englishman in America, a neat twinning. Neither was thrilled at what he found, but then culture clash is as green as some tea of that genre.
I also discussed my own preference in tea: a floral, black tea type (Orange Pekoe). I recalled this in Montreal from decades ago. I think it was Red Rose, which does not taste the same to me today.
Generally I don’t favour the innumerable herb and flavoured teas, with “orange spice” a partial exception. Green tea I associate with Asian cuisine, a perfect combination, but otherwise when it’s tea time I reach for the black tea.
I’ve tried numerous Orange Pekoes in recent years including the big names from the UK. These don’t really approach what I recall in Montreal. They seem more earthy, a touch “green tea”, a touch smoky, or a combination.
I did find one brand in Toronto I liked, from a Canadian tea blender. It had a nice floral note, but not quite what I recalled from Montreal days.
My search for that taste therefore continues, but not methodically. It would be easy to speak to a specialist tea retailer, and try their recommendations, but I prefer more spontaneous encounters.
The un-premeditated find has its own rewards, after all.
If I see something that looks promising – a label of romantic mien helps – I go for it. So now this one is in the hopper, and it proved a surprise on two accounts:
First, I made a mistake. it turned out to be loose tea, not bags. The package is quite clear: “Loose Leaf Black Tea”, but I didn’t see it. For me, or until now, all tea comes in bags.
Second, I was fixed on the Kodachrome blue shadings and glowing Taj Mahal image. I remembered too from years ago the name Brooke Bond, that it had to do with tea.
This loose tea was almost a deal breaker for me – sure, I can try that form of tea again, maybe next year, now where’s a distant corner of the cupboard to put it in? Then I thought, let’s drink “the real thing” while it’s fresh, why let it moulder on the shelf?
So Libby got a nice white teapot we had, and remembered how to brew it. We read the package instructions to make sure.
Before reporting my reaction – okay it was super-good – I’ll say I have rarely had tea made this way. Always bags. The only times I can recall drinking “real tea” was once or twice as an experiment 30 or 40 years ago, and (to be sure) on my score of trips to Britain.
In Britain – it was mostly England – this was in the morning, at the cafe with breakfast. That tea was the strong earthy type from big metal urns, famously “breakfast tea” (apparently an Americanism, or originally – I did do some research).
That caff tea is perfect with milk, with the grill breakfast. I think too when we had fish and chips in England I drank tea. There was a specific reason for that: beer writer Michael Jackson, departing from his pairing theories for beer and food, wrote that tea is best with fish and chips, and not to fool with different beer types.
Certainly the tannins offset the richness of fish and chips well. That tea always came in bags.
So until the other day, these cases apart, I always used tea bags to make tea.
The Brooke Bond stuff was superlative – sweetly floral and, speaking of beer, malty, almost like a best bitter in body with some of the taste. There was little or no loamy or smoky character. It’s all Indian tea according to the label, but whether that alone makes a difference I don’t know.
My clear impression was, apart the specific quality of this tea, the loose tea format also made a difference, vs. bags I mean.
Why this should be, I don’t know either. After all it’s the same tea, both are infused in water. The three teaspoons that go into the average pot seem about the same quantity as a bag for a large cup, close enough.
It should be like brewing (sorry), where scale is not relevant to quality – it’s ingredients and methods that make the difference. One of those imponderables I guess.
Maybe it was Brooke Bond we bought in Montreal all those years ago – I’ll have to ask my mother.