Help with Tea (please!)
As a 21 year old college student with poor study habits, to say I drink a lot of coffee would be an understatment. I even go to Starbucks, sometimes twice a day (I know, I'm ashamed.)
I'm interested in switching to tea. I have no idea where to start. Any suggestions? I like things sweet. Please help, with any suggestions.
Here’s a thought. Check these two web sites to see if there is a tea shop near you. If so, go in and try a tea. Next time, try another. Talk to the people running the place. Look at the equipage and the way it is used. Smell the teas. The initial learning curve will be quite steep and in a very short time you will have formed some ideas of what you like, want, and need. By the way, honey and tea were made for each other.
Go buy a Twinings sample box, which has five or six of several kinds of tea -- English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Earl Grey, etc. You can add milk (not cream) and sugar. Make sure you steep the bags for two minutes in the hot water at a minimum. This will give you decent black tea by the cup, which will provide some of the caffeine you will undoubtedly miss. If you are going to get off the caffeine and want to look at herbals and Chai, have fun in the Bigelow and Celestial Seasonings section. You can get virtually any flavor in the world, and many are decaffeinated. I have never found the decaf and green teas an acceptable substitute for coffee -- probably because you generally don't put milk in spicy orange flavors and the like. Those flavors are best drunk plain or with honey/lemon. Milk and sugar go best in the standard black teas like English and Irish breakfast. BTW, there are some regular brands out there that are cheaper and good too. I like Red Rose, and drink it occasionally.
When you say you like things sweet, do you mean you like stuff that's sweetened with sugar, or just that you like things with a generally sweet flavor profile? Tea (as in real tea, made from the Camilla Sinensis) is not generally exactly sweet, though some types are more sweet than others. I would recommend trying some high grade tea that's prepared without any additional sweetener and see if you can develop a taste for it, rather than just throwing in a bunch of sugar and milk.
A darker more roasted and / or oxidized Chinese oolong, or a first flush Darjeeling might be interesting places to start. You don't mention where you live; maybe if you tell us that, we can give you some pointers of places to check out (beyond the ones mentioned in the first response). Of all the "chain" type places, I think only Peets really comes close to making a drinkable cup of tea (and selling at least acceptable quality looseleaf tea), though I haven't been in a Starbucks or Coffee Bean for quite some time.
Buying good quality leaf and brewing tea yourself is probably the best way to go, unless you want to hang out at a coffee shop / teahouse for the atmosphere. A simple asian style cup with a built in strainer is one way to go, or a small pot (Beehouse makes some nice ones). Any sort of infuser device (like a tea stick or tea sock) will work too as long as it allows the leaves to fully open - avoid tea balls and stuff that prevents the leaf from opening. Loose leaf tea can be infused multiple times, so don't waste leaves and only drink the first brew (you may want to do a quick rinse before the first brew, to clean off any dust and to "open up" the leaves).
Water.... In Chinese tea, water is known as the "mother of tea", and using the right water is very important to having good tasting tea. Purified tap water can work, but ideally, you'd like something with some mineral content but not too much... spring water with low total dissolved solids is ideal. This all may sound a little anal retentive, and it is, but with tea, you'll notice if you're using bad water.
Temperature is also important. Different types of teas (and different grades of teas) can require very different temperatures. Black tea generally requires water at a full boil, actually hotter than the water at most restaurants / teahouses. On the flip side, white, green, and some oolong teas can sometimes or often benefit from cooler water - ranging from maybe 140 F to 190 F. Don't follow any one person's rule of thumb here - it's not an exact science.
One other quick tip... pre-heating teaware is important.
Smell the dry leaf, smell the wet leaf, smell the teacup when you're done drinking... all of these things will help you understand the tea you're drinking better.
Keep in mind that tea isn't inherently "better" than coffee. Both can have a lot of caffeine, depending on how they're brewed. Some or most kinds of tea *may* have some beneficial health effects, but I wouldn't drink tea just for that reason.
Upton and Adagio are two of the fairly popular online tea retailers; I think you can get better tea elsewhere, but these may be good starting points, and I think both offer samplers which might be helpful if there isn't somewhere good locally.
Supermarket tea is often stale and big name brands are mostly blends of inferior teas. Go to www.uptonteacom and order a bunch of their sample sizes ($1 each), or try out some flavors at Tea Luxe if you have one nearby. Stick to loose tea, get a basket or filter for your cup if you don't have a tea pot.
Black teas are often sweetened, green teas not. Also, if you want to lower the caffeine content, pour a little boiled water over the leaves, wait 60 seconds, pour that tea off and refill with water, steep for a few minutes. Caffeine is water soluble so you can eliminate most of it that way.
Upton has a very informative website, so you can learn about the different varieties as you sample them.
I second this recommendation. You will recieve a catalog along with your order that will provide all the info you need. If you chose to sweeten your own tea, I would suggest that you mix up a batch of simple syrup and use that instead of granulated sugar. You'll get a clearer and more consistant result.
I am a big fan of tea, and have so many different varieties on hand. Most are Celestial Seasonings, Bigelow, Traditional Medicinals or Yogi Tea. Here is a link to CS:
My favorites are Bengal Spice, English Toffee (a dessert tea), and Honey Lemon Ginseng Green Tea. I use honey in my tea, and a touch of lemon, if warranted, but not milk. I also really like the Bigelow Peach tea, Yogi De-tox tea, and Traditional Medicinals Ginger tea. But a good Chai is hard to beat! Just spend time reading the packages. Some have caffeine and some don't. Have fun!