Thursday, August 13, 2009


Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. ~Henry Fielding, "Love in Several Masques"

I'll start out by saying I'm not going into the medicinal and scientific evidence that tea contains cancer-fighting antioxidants; we all know that, we've heard it a thousand times. To me, those reasons are simply the icing on the cake of tea-drinking. This is simply about why I love tea and some of my favorites.

There are some hardcore tea drinkers out there who take it as seriously as wine tasting. I don't blame them; that being said, though, I'm not going to get into the different scientific aspects of tasting and using a bunch of jargon you're not going to understand. I'll be the first to admit my tasting knowledge is quite limited. I just know what I love. My love affair with tea started at an early age with steaming mugs of my grandmother's Constant Comment tea (Bigelow), to icy, lemony, sweet glasses of my mom's homemade iced tea (Tetley). I've been hooked since I was a wee child. I have a nostalgic fondness for those two teas, although I eschew all association with grocery store tea bags nowadays, because they contain essentially "tea dust." Just like real coffee connoisseurs will tell you that you need to enjoy fresh-ground beans, tea aficionados will tell you it's all in the loose full-leaf form that tea shines.

So that you're not out of the loop, I'll insert here a very brief tea primer on tea regions. Teas are categorized by region, much the same way some AOC wines are (Bordeaux, Champagne, etc.). Back in the day, they were Formosa (now known as Taiwan); India, who has so many small family plots all over, but most notable tea regions are Darjeeling, Assam (which is the largest producer world-wide of black tea), and Nilgiri; China (which has 17 different regions); Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka); and Japan (the three most common types exported are Sencha, Gyokuro and Genmai Cha). India is by far the world's largest producer of black teas, having overtaken China's exports after WWII (China now only supplies about 10% of the world's black tea). Japan exports primarily green tea, and only about 2% is exported; the majority is consumed in Japan. There is much more to learn about tea, and if you're interested, I highly recommend looking it up. There are different grades to teas that describe the condition of the actual product - whether it's full leaf, slightly broken, "tea dust", etc. Another interesting search would be the differences in production of black, green, white, and oolong teas (fresh-picked, pan-fried, bruised, fermented, etc.). For clarification's sake, "red tea" is actually rooibus (pronounced roy-bus), aka "honeybush," which is an herbal tisane (technically, anything that isn't Camellia sinensis, the Latin name for the tea plant, is herbal and called a "tisane"), whose origins are African, and I can discuss that another time. I'm partial to black teas myself :)

One of my all-time favorite teas, for really any time of the day, but specifically at breakfast, is Fortnum & Mason's Royal Blend tea. It's a blend of Assam and Ceylon loose tea, created specifically for England's King Edward VII "in the summer of 1902." The stringent, earthy maltiness of the Assam tea is what makes it one of my favorites, but the addition of the Ceylon tea cuts some of the maltiness perfectly so it's not overdone. It's an overall wonderful blend, strong (I admit that I'm a big fan of strong tea and coffee), so it can stand up to a hearty breakfast or anything else, but perfect to sip while reading a good book late at night, as well. When I want something bracing, I'll drink it with just honey or sugar. I find myself adding a spot of milk or cream to go along with that sugar in the evening though, to tame it a bit. I drink different teas in varying states; plain black teas, like this, I tend to sweeten quite a bit, but go easy on others, and with whites, greens, and oolongs no sweetener at all. Black teas contain more tannins (the acidic quality), and sugar helps to reduce that...much like some people add sugar to their spaghetti sauce to offset some of the acid in the tomatoes (guilty of that as well).
Back to my Fortnum & Mason-pushing. I love them. They are based in London, England, in Piccadilly, and have been in business since 1707. They KNOW tea. Long-time purveyors, they have blended many things for the royal family. They don't have a ginormous selection by most standards, but what they do have they create sublime magic with, and their tea expertise shows. I have a few other teas from them that I will review in the future. This post has gotten longer than planned; future ones should be much shorter.

Credit for tea region info goes to
Find teas from Fortnum & Mason here

1 comment:

  1. I learned a lot from your post today. This is my first visit to your blog and I really liked what I found here. I'll be back often.