Sunday, March 5, 2017

Talking Tea, Part 1

These are outtakes for a Harney's Tea "Show us your mug" contest on Instagram. 
I read about the contest at 11:30 pm and it closed at midnight, so I had to hustle. 
That's iced tea in the mug.  The silver bowl holds cotton puffs on our bathroom sink. 
I could take or leave that tea, but the purple tin looks pretty. I didn't win.

This will be the first of three posts about tea. The next post will be about Harney's Tea, and the final post will be about how to boil water, focusing on our new electric kettle, which just replaced our Simplex British stovetop kettle because my husband loathed it despite its timeless good looks. It's time I gave an update on Simplex and what's gone since the company's sudden demise a few years ago, its seeming resurrection, and its current status under a new company name. 

* * * * *

We love tea. My husband always gets up well before I do, puts the kettle on, and makes mugs of black tea for both of us, with milk and sugar. Since I prefer lukewarm and cold tea, I have something nice to look forward to every morning, no matter when I wake up. It's is usually all I need for breakfast. Fortunately, I can handle a mug and a pole toy at the same time, because Harris demands his playtime as soon as I'm up.

My husband drinks regular or decaffeinated tea at all hours and it has no effect on his sleep. If I have a cup of decaf after about 4 pm, I will be up all night. Sometimes that's okay: more time to read.

Our tea preferences are not fancy. We avoid Salada and Lipton, but who doesn't? We use loose tea, bags, and sachets without noticing a lot of difference. We prefer black teas from India and Ceylon to those from China. For Christmas, I got my husband a tea chest similar to this one and we keep it packed with a variety of brands from Bigelow to Tazo. It's easier for him to pick out what he wants instead of rifling through boxes and tins in our cabinet. (I wanted to get him this fancier one, but it's so big that it wouldn't fit anywhere. One of us would have had to move out.)

He drinks a lot of English Breakfast and Earl Grey. My favorite morning tea is Assam, with its strong, malty flavor. Assam often the main component of Irish and Scottish Breakfast teas, which I like, too. 

Green tea tastes like grass to us, but that could be our fault; more on that later. White tea seems "weak" rather than "delicate." Red teas made with hibiscus remind me of Egypt, where they drink it cold and sweet. 

For herbal tea, we like mint, but Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger is among my "madeleines." It returns me to my high school years, when I also discovered overalls, coffeehouses, Earth Shoes, The Grateful Dead, bean sprouts, and Tolkien. I don't step into that time machine often.

We drink lots of flavored black teas, too. No doubt many connoisseurs look down their noses at those, but that leaves more crème brulée, caramel, vanilla, chocolate mint, and butterscotch for us. We also stock up on the spiced teas that are sold at Christmastime so we can have them all year along. And I love chai — my Starbuck's pick if we're out and thirsty.

We used to buy tea in Paris, at Mariages Frères, in business since 1854, and at least as good as English tea in our opinion. We'd find room in our suitcases for their signature black tins filled with fruity Marco Polo, Imperial Wedding with its caramel notes, Vanille des Iles, fragrant Noël, and Butterscotch — our favorite! — among others. But since we aren't crossing the Atlantic very much anymore, we've had to find alternatives. Tealuxe's Caramel Creme Brulée is about as close as we've come to butterscotch.

In Paris, we also discovered Kuzmi Russian teas; their tiny, colorful shop is always packed. Cardullo's in Harvard Square stocks many of their varieties in pretty tin. I like Kashmir Tchai the best, but I also like their Vladimir and St. Petersburg teas, which are sweeter, more complex versions of Earl Grey. They make a nice, low-caffeine Russian Evening tea, too.

We tried various English teas on our trip to London a few years ago, but somehow the Fortnum & Mason and Harrod's teas we eagerly brought home didn't wow us, although they were fine. We made a point of having a "cream tea," every afternoon at a different place, including Fortnum's, our hotel (The Cadogan, where Oscar Wilde was arrested), a church basement, a midcentury-modern tea shop, and a hipster hole-in-the-wall. Every one was marvelous. Why don't we have more tea shops here? Coffee, you say? Ha! Tastes like burnt sticks, or burnt sticks with milk and sugar: I'll have tea.

There is no shortage of imported and local tea around Boston. We can now get several flavors of Harney's teas at the Star Market as well as upscale grocers and Cardullo's. (More on Harney's, which started out in Connecticut and now supplies some London hotels, later.)

For Irish and Scottish breakfast teas, I rely on Taylor's of Harrogate. We drink lots of the Stonewall Kitchen's Wild Maine Blueberry Tea, made by Republic of Tea. We buy tins on our way to Southwest Harbor every summer. Republic of Tea also makes a caramel-vanilla flavor inspired by cake and a line of Downton Abbey teas, which look good, anyhow.

There are a few stores around Boston that sell their own brand but we're not fans. I've just never liked any tea I've tried at David's Teas or Teavana. There's a new Australian shop, T2, on Newbury that may have potential . . . but I'm skeptical. They have some intriguing black teas, including Caramel Brownie, Creamy Chocolate Chai, and Terrific Toffee. The latter has nougat bits in it; the ingredients include sugar, glucose syrup, almonds, honey, egg, cocoa butter, and potato starch. Weird. I want mostly tea in my tea. And when I asked for more information about their Irish Breakfast blend, all the shopkeeper could do was look at the box I was holding and recite what it said: "black tea." Gee.

Harney's has me so spoiled. More on that soon.


  1. Cute photo! I must avoid caffeine, so I'm a green tea drinker (but only in the AM). Tazo Zen or Yogi Kombucha are my favorites. Back in the day, black tea was my favorite, especially Earl Grey. I've learned a lot about tea over the years; water temperatures, how long to steep, and why you shouldn't squeeze the teabag (for some teas). My brother sticks a Lipton teabag in his travel mug in the morning and drinks it all day like that...yuck!

  2. Thank you for your recommendation of Kashmir Tchai- picked up at Cardullo's and love it! My family are all tea drinkers. We also used Simplex kettle for years, but recently converted to a Zojirushi water heater--very convenient but not as attractive as your beautiful blue-lit glass! Anne C.


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