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Tea - Questions about Retailers / Pots / and types

I like tea, however I do not know a lot about it

I like Teavana's Golden Monkey a lot and am looking for a good Oolong to try, i have also enjoyed some silver needle tea as well

I know there are other places that have "better" tea for better prices than Teavana

How do I know what is good and bad versus investing a fortune

Right now we get the Peach Cran Tango (for iced tea)
I keep some Golden Monkey and Black Dragon Pearls for black tea (hot) and I like the Golden Monkey much more than the dragon tea

I generally make all the tea double strength

So the questions I have are for multiple steepings, it seems that is more cost effective but is the tea really as good on round 2? How much time do you generally add? Will all the caffiene disappear on round 2? (which would be nice for drinking later in the day if that is true) and how long can you save the wet leaves and have them still be good to use etc?

Tt is my understanding that Oolong is what the more serious tea drinkers drink...is this because it has more flavor? Are flavored Black and Oolong tea's inferior tea because they use additives to flavor them?

Also I am looking for something with less caffiene possibly for evening, White Needle seems to be popular but there are different kinds and it is expensive, what makes up the difference between white needle tea?

American Tea Room seems to have good reviews overall online, why are they "better" than Teavana (other than the pushy sales people)

Also what is good Cast Iron Pot to look at? Teavana has a great selection but are they inferior quality to something else and if so why? The clay pots seem to be for the Oolong only and one specific kind as they season, is there a best type of pot or will any of the clay pots be equally as good

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  1. That fact that you are making your tea double strength worries me - it sounds like your tea leaves are already stale when you buy them. A reputable tea shop should be able to tell you when the tea leaves were picked. I went to a Teavana once when one opened in a nearby town and bought tea from them and was not impressed - the tea smelled musty and stale.

    I never save my teas for later multiple steepings - once the tea leaves have been exposed to hot water I don't think the natural qualities of the tea will keep. I do use again for a 2nd infusion if I want one after I have finished the 1st one but I wouldn't keep them and use the next day etc.

    If you want zero caffeine in the evenings, you should look at the herbal teas. If you just want less caffeine then brew white teas in general. The different prices depends on several factors including flush (first vs second or third) and quality of the tea leaves (whole vs broken).

    Explore all the different types of teas out there and enjoy the ones you like. Thinking that serious tea drinkers only drink oolong is rubbish - that is like saying serious coffee drinkers only drink Jamaican coffee.

    1. That's a lot of questions in a short space.

      I don't know if you can say that there's one tea type which "serious tea drinkers" prefer, and the question that's really important is what you prefer. But oolong (wulong) is a large category which encompasses a wide range of flavor possibilities, and the processing of oolongs (partial oxidation and often some amount of roasting) can give them a very complex set of flavors. Oolongs can range from very lightly oxidized, with more vegetal or lightly floral / fruity flavors (Taiwan high-mountain oolongs and the newer style of Tieguanyin are often produced this way) to heavily oxidized, to teas which are generally medium oxidation and low to medium roast (Wuyi yancha or "cliff" tea, Fenghuang (Pheonix) Mountain dancong), to almost to the degree of a black / red tea (Oriental Beauty is typically very heavily oxidized). I would say that, generally speaking, flavored teas of any type are somewhat frowned upon; a good tea can have floral, fruity, etc. flavors of their own, and adding flavoring agents tends to mask those. However, some people do like to add osmanthus, chysanthemum, or other flower buds to their tea; if you want flavoring in your tea, better to buy natural dried flowers, and add them to the tea yourself.

      Caffeine won't disappear after a rinse, or even after the second or third brew, though the caffeine level will drop some. As far as drinking the same leaves later in the day or the next day, it depends on the tea, but if it tastes good to you, it's fine. On the same subject, there is no agreed on answer about which teas have more caffeine, and there's a lot of misinformation on that area. I would suggest just brewing the tea you like to drink, but brewing it much more weakly. The brewing parameters will affect the caffeine level much more than the difference between different processing styles.

      Yixing clay pots or other unglazed stoneware would be ideal if you want one tea / one pot. However, a glazed porcelain "gaiwan" (covered cup which can be used as a teapot when you use the lid to strain) or porcelain teapot will work well to brew all kinds of tea, and I would really suggest starting with this approach. If you want to brew multiple infusions of teas for only one or two people, you want something small, so that you can enjoy each brew and don't use too much tea. 60-120 ml (2-4 oz) is probably a good size. In this style, you would typically use quite a lot of tea leaf in one session (from a light covering of the bottom of the pot to almost entirely full of tea leaves, depending on the size / shape of the tea and on your personal taste), and you should be able to drink 4-10+ infusions of a good oolong or pu'er. Rather than the second infusion having less flavor, the second - fourth infusions will often be the best. Small pots and cups will allow you to taste the tea better, however, may also bring out more flaws of a so-so tea.

      Cast iron kettles were historically used for boiling water, and are traditionally not enameled inside. Personally, I don't think that the small cast iron teapots pushed by outfits like Teavana are a very good idea for tea brewing.

      Lots of good sources for tea online. It's worth trying out samples and seeing what types of flavors you like. You could try bigger places like Upton or Harney and Sons, or if you're interested in some smaller companies, here are a few you might check out; many of them sub-specialize in specific types of tea, so it's worth finding out what their "specialties" are:

      http://houdeasianart.com
      http://floatingleavestea.com
      http://redblossomtea.com
      http://teahabitat.com
      http://jingteashop.com [located in China, but ships to the US

      ]

      teachat.com can be a good resource for more information on these topics, as well as to find some more vendor suggestions, or suggestions of specific teas from a vendor

      Some general brewing tips:
      * Pre-heat all your brewing vessels and drinking cups first
      * Don't be afraid to use gently boiling or just-off-the-boil water with oolongs. But backing off a tiny bit on the water temperature may make some teas taste better, so if you don't like the result, try backing off a little on the temperature. This can be a very subtle difference - say, even waiting 10 seconds and then pouring slowly from 6" up will often make a difference.
      * In general, disregard vendor instructions on brewing. Experiment, and you will find timing and leaf quantity parameters that work for you.
      * I don't use a thermometer, and rarely use a scale, but if you are the "measuring things" sort, a scale is the most important gizmo to have. Tea varies a lot in shape and size, and can settle in different ways, so measuring it by volume is difficult. Measuring by eye will train you to do things in a more intuitive way, but using a small scale is probably the quickest way to be able to brew a tea consistently.

      It looks like you may be in Phoenix, AZ? If you are ever visiting Tucson, you might stop by http://www.sevencups.com/.

      8 Replies
      1. re: will47

        Thank you, Will, for posting this. So informative! You obviously love your tea.

        1. re: will47

          Thanks so much for all that info that answers a lot of my questions

          I do like to measure things for consistency, the scale idea is a good one I have a good kitchen scale for baking

          I had been using a thermometer and timing the brew according to teavana instructions but the brews always came out weak so doubling the amount of tea they recommended seemed to fix that - using about 4 teaspoons to 16.9 oz of water with 1 teaspoon of sugar produces a result i like in the team with a 3 min steep time for black tea (golden monkey)

          Can you over steep your tea? The teavana instructions state if you brew black teas too long they will become bitter...is this only for black teas or can all teas "oversteep"

          That small teapot sounds perfect for brewing just a bit for the mrs and me (i am in charge of making tea for her us)

          will report back once i get some new stuff

          yes i am in phx, will check out 7 cups next time i head down to tuscon

          1. re: Dapuma

            Yes; teas can be over-steeped. Most teas will become bitter or astringent if they are brewed too long, but there are a lot of factors - it's not just a simple time calculation. Water temperature, time, ratio of tea to water, and the quality of the tea, as well as the type of tea, are all factors. For example, you can cold-brew tea for hours, and the end result will tend to still be sweet and relatively pleasant -- this is a great way to make use of so-so quality tea.

            Generally speaking, the better quality a tea, the more tolerant it will be of being brewed with a heavy hand, though it's also true that you may not get the full potential of an amazing tea unless you brew it well. So, if you have a mediocre tea, by using less tea (relative to water) and backing off on water temperature, you can often still produce a good tasting tea. On the other hand, when evaluating tea to purchase, you often want to "stress" the tea as much as possible. There are different ways of doing this, but tea experts will sometimes do "competition" style tasting (or "cupping"), using boiling water (even for types of teas that you might usually use cooler water for), and a fixed amount of tea and water for a fixed amount of time (3 grams for 100 ml boiling water for 5 minutes, or 5 grams / 100 ml boiling water for 3 minutes are some examples).

            Different people have different tolerances for bitter or astringent tastes, and, the more tea you drink, the more you may develop a tolerance for certain tastes. I brew my tea very strong, and in tiny cups, but I'm sure some people wouldn't prefer the way it tastes. So I think it's a matter of what tastes good to you and whomever you're drinking tea with, rather than "correct" or "incorrect". The good news is that even if you brew the tea in a way that's not perfectly to your liking, there's always the next infusion. Try to approach tasting tea with a not-too-judgemental mind.

            With the black tea, I'd try hitting it with full boil water and see how it tastes. I find that most black teas are fairly forgiving.

            Assuming your kitchen scale can measure to grams or fractions thereof, you can probably just use that to measure the tea - you don't need to buy a new scale just for tea.

            1. re: will47

              Upton has this:

              A tin (approx. 35g.) of each of the following teas: Formosa Oolong Fine Grade (TT15), Formosa Amber Oolong (TT55), Formosa Jade Oolong (TT86), and China Oolong Se Chung (ZO10). An excellent comparison of a wide variety of Oolong (Wu-Long, Black Dragon) styles.

              Am i doing the calculations wrong?

              By my calculations that is 4oz of tea for about $15 which sounds WAY cheaper than teavana - are Teavana that much of a rip off or is this bad tea or am i missing something?

              1. re: Dapuma

                "are Teavana that much of a rip off"

                This.

                1. re: will47

                  awesome, can get so much more for so much less

                  How long will tea stay fresh in the packages they are shipped in? Can i get 3 or 4 of the samplers and just leave them in a canister and they will be ok for awhile? (teavana got me 3 big canisters that will hold lots of tea) Is there anything to storing different types of tea in the canisters - will the scents of other teas alter the flavors? or are they just full of it?

                  thanks again will47 you have been so helpful

                  Also the AZ tea place in tuscon sells Rock Wulong - what is the difference between that and regular oolong / wulong

          2. re: will47

            harney and sons has a much nicer website but their prices are a lot more expensive than upton

            Is there a big quality difference or is it for the fancy packaging?

            was just comparing some sampler packages and it seems like upton's were around $15-20 for about 5oz of tea and harney and sons were about 4oz and around $25-30

            1. re: Dapuma

              Either Upton or Simpson and Vail have good quality teas. Tea doesn't spoil, but I think the flavor might change over time. Store in a cool dry place or in a tin in a cool dry place.

              http://www.svtea.com/

          3. http://www.uptontea.com/shopcart/home...

            http://www.svtea.com/

            Here are 2 tea purveyors that I have dealt with in the past. Upton's could really reorganize its information for clarity, but if you are deeply interested in estate green teas, it is a good place to order samples to try. They also sell Oolongs and black tea. Oolong tea is partially fired (if I understand this correctly) and so is 'between' green and black. The best Oolong is supposed to be Formosan Oolong. A good Formosa Oolong is very good indeed.

            Simpson and Vail carries a variety of teas, green, black and Oolong. They also carry tisanes and other "teas" like rooibos, and coffee.

            In terms of a cast iron pot, you don't have to have one, IMO. But I understand their appeal. You should not be doubling the strength of your tea. For one thing, you'll stain your teeth. For a good green tea, you should heat the water to just under boiling, and steep for a short period of time. Flavor will we too harsh otherwise.

            Teavana has purchased its Google primacy. I doubt that this company is any more knowledgeable about tea than older existing merchants. If you like loose tea, you might well end up ordering from purveyors like the two I gave you links for. If you like bagged tea, then it is easier to find different varieties in regular stores. I hope you enjoy your tea journey.

            2 Replies
            1. re: sueatmo

              Partially oxidized, not partially fired. Some people will say "fermented", but it's really oxidation, not fermentation.

              I disagree about doubling - there's no "correct" amount of tea to use, and other brewing parameters and personal taste, as well as the quantity of tea you're drinking, are also important.

              1. re: will47

                OK, thanks for the correction. In amounts to use per serving, I have noted that green tea can taste astringent if brewed too strong or for too long. I have actually come to prefer a tea bag for green tea for portion control. But of course the best green tea will probably be loose tea. And of course there are always exceptions.

            2. There are several books dedicated to tea enjoyment. A copy of "A Decent Cup of Tea" by Malachi McCormick was given to me many years ago. It's few pages cover the basics of tea types and brewing, but several topics were omitted for brevity, one reason I did not know about white, yellow or Pu-erh teas until recently, when a good tea shop opened nearby. I recently found a copy in our library of "The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook" by Mary Lou and Robert Heiss. It highlights several teas of each of the five main types, but it told me much more about tea than I wanted to know (i.e. I don't need to how to pick the leaves off the bush). I imagine it might satisfy a budding connoisseur's curiosity better than the first volume, though.

              1. The Stump is my teapot for life. Extra-fine infuser screens out all sediment, and stray leaves. Purchased a basic white at Peets, but a rainbow of colors available on the website. I need to add the large sized Stump ASAP.

                http://www.forlifedesign.com/shop/ind...