Friday, March 10, 2017

Talking Tea, Part 2

I submitted this photo of Possum to the Harney's Instagram contest. And didn't win!

(Full disclosure: this is not a paid ad or sponsored post. I just like the brand.) 

We discovered Harney's teas on the October Sunday we adopted Harris in 2012. We'd spent the night in an inn near Woodstock, Vermont, and planned to drive to Kitten Associates in Newtown, Connecticut, to meet Robin and Charley, as he was called then. We hoped to bring him home ahead of Hurricane Sandy, which was due to start battering New England that night.

I was a nervous wreck. I had no doubts about the kitten, just us. I was afraid Robin would take one look at us on her doorstep and change her mind. We had passed a rigorous application process that began with an intense, interactive online questionnaire. Depending on my answer to a question, new windows requesting further details would cascade down the screen. I also had a phone interview, and our vet was called for a reference. We lived too far away for Robin to do a home inspection, however, so I felt we still weren't in the clear. But I already loved Harris; I felt he was my cat.

Oh. Aren't we supposed to be talking about tea?

That morning at the inn, I felt too anxious to eat the waffles, bacon, and eggs in the breakfast room; I could barely handle tea and toast. There was a selection of Harney's tea sachets in pretty tins. I don't remember what I picked, probably something soothing, like mint or chamomile, while my husband tried Vanilla Comoro, a decaffeinated black tea. He raved about it, so I made a mental note to buy some if I ever recovered from my grief in not getting Harris.

We got Harris, and not much of Hurricane Sandy. When I could tear myself away from my cats, I went tea shopping and found Vanilla Comoro at Cardullo's in Harvard Square, and at That Darn Patisserie on Newbury, and Savenor's on Charles, which has the best price. That was four years ago; now Harney's is in supermarkets.

As much as I enjoy tea, it took me a long time to get around to trying other Harney's varieties. I assumed that the best teas came from English or French companies. But black tea is not native to either country and so there's no reason to think that only Europeans can find and buy the best leaves in far more distant countries, or that only they know how to blend and flavor them to make a perfect cup.

It turns out that we Americans can do it, too. Harney's was founded in the 1980s in Salisbury, Connecticut — less than 50 miles north of where Harris came from. (Robin also loves Harney's.) The company recently moved to Millerton, New York.

Two or three Christmases ago, I discovered their Holiday Tea, flavored with almond, citrus, cloves, and cinnamon. I was out of Mariages Frères Noël, and I liked the dark red tin. It's wonderful to drink all year long. That tea brought me to the Harney's website, where I discovered that they have about 300 varieties; Cardullo's only stocks two or three dozen, so this was exciting. I spent hours browsing and reading descriptions, ratings, and reviews. (Tea drinkers generally write useful reviews.)

I also discovered how little I knew about tea. What didn't I know? Just about everything. How black teas, differ and what green and white teas are. Why loose tea may taste better than a teabag, and why a sachet is a good compromise. What temperature the water should be for different types of tea. How teas can be differentiated and judged by not only their flavor, but also by their "briskness," "aroma," and "body." Tea can be judged similar to wine, but I'm not likely to taste the subtle differences others can.

 "I don't see what all the fuss is about."

You can find a lot of what I learned about tea on this helpful page.

Harney's teas are reasonably priced and their website is easy to use and informative, with detailed descriptions and comparative ratings for each tea. They smartly sell inexpensive sample bags of many loose teas, so you can brew two or three cups and decide if you like it. I discovered their Irish Breakfast, Chai, and Chocolate Mint teas this way, and I plan to try a lot more. We buy tins or their  economical bags of 50 sachets of the teas we like best.

Not every variety is a hit. I don't love their "Oaklands Full Assam" because it's too "brisk," or astringent, for me. Their Irish Breakfast is also a pure-Assam tea, and I like it much better. Their "Tower of London" blend in the photos above is a little too flowery-sweet for me, although it's fine once in a while. (And I'm happy to have the purple tin.)

I'm on Facebook and, somehow, Harney's finds me and messages me there about the status of my orders — and so far I've been hearing from members of the Harney family. When I write back with questions, I get prompt, detailed answers. And one stormy day, I called the company with a question and had a great chat with the same Harney son that had messaged me on Facebook.

He told me that their best-selling tea by far is — I'd never guess — Hot Cinnamon Spice. "Tastes like that red-hot candy," he said, sounding a little bemused. "It's so popular that if we only carried that tea, I think we'd do all right."

It's a China tea blended with three kinds of cinnamon, plus cloves and orange peel. I've always hated that candy but the tea is probably worth a try.


  1. Oooh, now you are making me want to try some loose tea again! And decaffeinated black tea? Oh yeah, want some!

  2. Please tell us about your kettle discoveries. I've been having a dickens of a time finding one --I've considered glass, ceramic, stainless steel, electric versions of each of the former, and cast iron, and am completely befuddled by considerations of what leeches into the water, avoiding plastic, avoiding "made in China," etc. Would love to know how your search came out.

  3. This and your previous post are very interesting. You certainly have access to a wide variety of teas. I have been using Taylors of Harrogate varieties for a while. Other brands have been Tetleys, Twinings, Dilmah, Stash (flavoured). I had not heard of Harney's before, so did some searching and discovered that a Toronto company sells a selection of Harney's and ships across Canada. I might give them a try at some point. I am intrigued by Assam tea, as have not tried that before.


Spam goes right into the trash but I appreciate relevant comments from non-spammers (and I can always tell the difference). I do my best to follow up if you have a question. ALL spam, attempts to market other websites, and anything nasty or unintelligible gets deleted instantly. The cats and I thank you for reading — and please feel free to comment on what you read.