By Rob Ridge - owner of English Tealeaves

But I don’t like tea?

This is the plea we hear from some visitors to the Café who have been dragged in by their spouses or friends. They sheepishly plead, “Do you have coffee?”, and breathe a sigh of relief when we explain that we have imported European coffee served in cafetieres (French presses). If we are not too busy, I will take the challenge and ask why they do not like tea, and get responses like, “I don’t like the taste”, or “my parents made me drink tea when I was ill”! I then issue a challenge, if they will “play fair”, I guarantee that we will find several teas that they not only find drinkable but also really enjoy.

There are various reasons why tea is not liked. Poor preparation is high on the list, followed by quality of tea and the selection of tea for the occasion or the drinker. When we eat out, we mainly order coffee; yes, I like coffee, but do not like the after effect of a dry mouth. There are so many different types of tea to choose from that, putting aside the health benefits, they are a delight to drink throughout the day.

We have over 125 teas to choose from, and for new customers that is sometimes very intimidating. To me its revenge, as when we moved to the USA over 30 years ago, I would freeze at the McDonald’s counter, not having a clue what to order. Our advice is to decide whether you want a plain or flavored tea and if it needs to be decaffeinated/caffeine free. Plain teas can then be selected from the black, green, oolong or white selections. If you prefer a dark espresso coffee it is unlikely you will initially prefer a green tea, and you should try a strong black tea such as Assam, Tealeaves Breakfast or the smoky Rasputin that have higher caffeine content. If you prefer lighter and sweeter drinks, a flavored tea such as Mayan Coca or Caramel Nut are the biggest converters to tea. Some coffee drinkers enjoy our number one selling tea, Snowflake, a black tea with almonds and coconut.

One of the best ways to learn what you might like is to come to a tea tasting where you can not only try six different types of tea, but also get some good indications on what your palate prefers. It is not what the best tea is; it is what “you” prefer. It is very common at our tastings for one taster to choose a tea as the best and another to give it the worst rating.

So let’s try to give some explanations of tea tastes that will give you a good starting point. The majority of flavored teas are black, and this combines the fairly strong taste of the base tea with a flavor that is blended to give the taste desired without overpowering the tea. The green and green oolongs are lighter in flavor than the blacks and therefore need less flavoring and result in a lighter, less strong flavor. One of the ways to start drinking green teas is to start with a mild flavor, such as Strawberry Green. An alternative is to blend green tea with lemon grass and/or lemon myrtle to get a natural organic, refreshing tea. Some of the herbals, such as Rooibos (Red Bush) and Mate are flavored to overcome a taste that only a few people enjoy.

Assam, from India, is one of the strongest black teas. It has a rich aroma and a malty robust flavor that is ideal for drinking at breakfast, especially with fried food. If you like this you should try our English Breakfast blends, which is our #1 seller. Darjeeling, the champagne of teas, has hints of wildflowers and mildly vegetative, is slightly astringent, and is excellent with many foods. There are different flushes (picking periods) that produce different flavors. My favorite is the 1st Flush that is fresh and cleanses the palate. Darjeeling 2nd Flush is excellent with desserts.

Oolongs can be what I call greenish or blackish, 30% oxidized is closer to a green and 70% oxidization like a black. I drink a Formosa superior oolong in the evening, and the orange brown liquor gives an incredible light, fruity & spicy flavor that seems to surprise the palate. At the other end of the oolongs, which are only lightly oxidized, there is Jade that combines the flavors of green and oolong with very smooth liquor that can be infused several times. I love the green/oolong flavor that is sweet & floral and very smooth and has a beautiful light green color.

The choice of green teas is amazing with the majority coming from China and some from Japan. My favorites are from Japan (I started drinking green tea in Tokyo) such as a good Sencha, a roasted Hojicha or Gemaicha. Expensive Gyokuro that has a bright emerald green infusion (really vivid green not like the usual amber green) and an incredible unique sea weedy vegative and sweet taste. There are great varieties from the Darjeeling green that is hay like grass in taste to some of the Chinese, like Dragons Well that is grassier. So many flavors to choose from and then there are the Whites. The silver Needles with only buds are a unique taste, very expensive and full of anti oxidants.

Most people new to green tea prefer to start with a less grassy approach. One lady said Japanese Sencha tasted like pond scum. The only way to find out what you like is to be a little brave and see what your palate tells you. From the reaction of some of our customers, it can be quite an exciting experience to keep trying different types on a adventure to find teas that will give the taste buds a new stimulus and the body a really healthy liquor. Take the challenge?