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A Nice Cup of Tea

In recent years, tea has become more mainstream/popular in the US. Being a daily tea drinker, this sounds like good news to me. Unfortunately, various frou-frou purveyors of tea are taking advantage of the trend to market flavored-up, artfully packaged, pricey, cutesy "teas" to the unwary public; many of these fancy concoctions don't even contain tea. I don't need fancy tea, just a simple black tea - PG Tips is my go-to at home.

Twice lately I was in establishments who had purchased an impressive selection of fancy teas to offer to their customers. I was asked what kind I would like and I told them, "plain black tea, hot, thank you." In both places this caused great confusion. The very nice people at both places ended up bringing their tea tins to the table/counter to allow me to see them and choose.

To the chagrin of all, neither of them actually had a plain black tea to offer to me. They had only berries, blossoms, herbs, zests, etc.

Now, let's say a restaurant DOES happily have a nice, real tea to offer.....seldom is the water a) hot enough to brew the tea, b) free enough of impurities to not adversely affect the taste, and c) free of, yes, COFFEE flavor! which comes from running water through the coffee machine to (semi) heat it.

A nice cup of tea is one of my favorite small pleasures, but it sure is hard to find one!

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  1. Hey, Sandy -

    I'm a tea drinker, too. Twinings Ceylon hot, Trader Joe's English Breakfast iced. I pretty much drink one or the other, all day long.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Jay F

      Wow, cool! I have been slowly convincing the hubby to drink tea, too....what other beverage (excepting water) can be so delicious, healthy, and calorie-free?

      1. re: sandylc

        What did it for me was a six-week bout with bronchitis/flu several winters ago. Though I've always drunk iced tea, coffee was my morning beverage of choice since age 25. I started drinking hot tea during that illness, and I've loved it ever since. I can drink coffee still, but I dislike the aftertaste.

        1. re: Jay F

          Oh, yeah...that aftertaste....and coffee breath...ugh.

    2. sandy, agreed on all counts.

      After trying scores of ancient teas, trendy teas, English teas, Chinese teas, etc, I, too have found that the plain ol' black tea that I grew up on is what I really like the best. And it is a nightmare to order in a restaurant - lukewarm water, coffee flavor, yep, I know those, too.

      My 22 year old son is also a tea lover, and a bit of a tea snob, but he loves to go to Teavana and other pricey tea shops and try their monkey-balls-gunpowder-hibiscus-aged-smoked whatever you call it. I can take a sip or two, but that's enough for me. I guess I'm getting to an age where I know what I like (finally!).

      1 Reply
      1. re: jmcarthur8

        HA! Thanks for improving a semi-crappy day for me!!! I'd like to go back to one of those restaurants and order monkey-balls, etc. tea......

      2. You are so correct, Sandy!

        While I love to drink coffee, now that the cooler weather is here, I instinctively switch to tea. English or Irish Breakfast is my favorite go-to, and Yorkshire Gold is my favorite import to buy when I have a spare dollar or two. Being forced to accept substandard water and flavor when I am at a restaurant does go against my grain, especially as we are paying for it. Coffee drinkers do not accept it, why should tea drinkers? Is there a polite way to protest this treatment? Just curious... :-)

        Tea Drinkers, unite! :-)

        2 Replies
        1. re: buzzardbreath

          Business name: Just Plain Tea
          Questions asked at the counter: Black or Green and cold or hot
          Most valued equipment: RO water purifier and OF tea kettles and a good timer

        2. Go online to Murchies, unless you can visit Victoria. They have some of the best teas in the world. We visit the store and purchase 1/4 pound packages of their teas. Want a superb black tea?http://www.murchies.com/store/tea.htm...

          5 Replies
            1. re: Puffin3

              And if you do go to Victoria, stop by for a properly made cup of tea and a nice pastry. Do they still have the tea grannies?

              1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                Nope. Now they have smart pretty young women with good teeth and nice figures. 'Got to like that' LOL

                1. re: Puffin3

                  :-) I was actually thinking of the old cabinet with figures of old ladies having tea in it. When you pressed a button, they moved as if they were drinking. I remember it being really old, like pre-electricity old, and coming from the Black Forest, maybe?

                  1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                    Yeah I think it's in a front window maybe. I'll have a look next week.

            2. I recommend Upton Tea www.uptontea.com They have a great selection. I too have a hard time getting a decent tea when out, and get particularly annoyed that a "large tea" costs more than a "small" they do not give you more tea just more almost hot water in a slightly larger cup

              6 Replies
              1. re: mmalmad

                Yep... paying more for extra hot water (resulting in weaker tea) is awful!

                1. re: mmalmad

                  My wife takes enough finest quality loose tea for two in a little piece of tin foil. We order a pot of boiling hot water with a few slices of 'lemon on the side". When the waiter looks perplexed I just say we only drink hot lemon water. I say it with that 'look' that if he is a good boy and brings us the hot water his tip is certain. I sort of whisper in a conspiratorial voice: "Oh yeah would you make sure the water doesn't taste like coffee?". When he dutifully brings the pot of hot water then leaves my wife empties our finest quality tea leaves into the water and lets them steep. By the time it's ready to pour the leaves have expanded so few leaves get into our cups. Of course the lemon slices are never used. I could write a book. LOL One tip: The best way to get the best service from the front and back of any restaurant is to get your server on your side. The best way is to imply that you are on 'their side'. Most servers are only 'serving' because of the potential tips. Imply if they 'go above and beyond for you' you will reward them. And for Gods sake make sure you do ! Before we moved we used to frequent a neighborhood family run Italian restaurant that had been around for years. We had just moved to the neighborhood. The week before we went to the restaurant for the first time we dropped some things off at the dry cleaner across the street. My wife: "So that little restaurant looks like it's been around for a while. It must have good food". Dry cleaner: "They have great food but you have to be careful not get 'Peto'. He's the owners cousin and if he doesn't like you watch out!". He hates his cousin". We found out what 'Peto' looked like. We made a reservation. We arrived and my wife asked someone, (who fitted 'Peto's' description) "We would like to have 'Peto' as our server please" She whispered: "we are told he is the "best server". Sure enough she was talking to 'Peto'. For a few years 'Peto' insisted on serving our table. He always went the extra mile for us. We always left him an extra tip. Before we moved away we made sure our friends, who we had had such excellent service from him when we all went to diner took up where we left off.

                  1. re: Puffin3

                    Sounds like you enjoy fooling waiters, as if you don't quite think it's necessary to be honest or up-front with them.
                    Sneaking tea (or other ofod or drink) into a restaurant and asking them to give you a "free pot of and lemons hot water" isn't the way i like to treat restaurants or the waiters in them.

                    1. re: EWSflash

                      Yeah, that's really cheating the restaurant -- and a famous "trick" of penny-pinchers. If I wanted to use my own tea, I'd order tea and then just use mine instead of theirs.

                    2. re: Puffin3

                      I had to give up coffee a couple years ago and switched to tea. I'm fussy about my tea and dislike the tea most restaurants offer. I carry my own as well.

                      But I always order a tea(and pay for it) and then use my own instead of the bag they bring.

                      1. re: ziggylu

                        Ditto here - I always order tea, and tell them to put the tea bag on the side. Then I use my own.

                  2. I will admit that I never order hot tea at most North American restaurants, and generally not at coffee/tea shops unless it involves a teapot and loose tea.

                    I've gotten spoiled with tea, though, as I live in a tea producing area.

                    19 Replies
                    1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                      yeah, there's that whole lukewarm-water-and-a-Lipton-teabag nonsense. Bleh.

                      1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                        I have ordered tea at all Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, etc etc restaurants in North America.

                        p.s. There're quite a lot of these restaurants (quite, quite a lot) in North America.

                        1. re: huiray

                          I find that at the Japanese/Chinese etc restaurants, I rarely order tea - it comes, it refillable quantities with the meal.

                          1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                            So you have never specified what kind of tea you wanted at "Japanese/Chinese etc" restaurants?

                            In any case, I was taking a bit of a poke at your assertion of never "ordering" tea at most "North American" restaurants. :-)
                            In my experience most such places *will* require you to actively assent to "hot tea" or to specify *what* you want to drink when you sit down, even if a sizable number will "automatically" bring you tea if you say nothing.

                        2. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                          I'm a picky tea drinker as well (don't drink coffee at all). I hear all your complaints! I will say, though, that restaurant tea service has improved considerably in the Bay Area in the last ten years. Most place are at least offering good quality tea bags, and more and more are offering loose teas.

                          Since I'm very caffeine sensitive, my daily brew is white tea. It's kind of embarrassing how many kinds of tea I have in my desk drawer at work!

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            Do you have a special method for brewing the more delicate white tea?
                            (I usually boil the water, set the alarm for 10 min and then brew it. Hopefully by then the water temp has dropped to ca 175 F. )

                            1. re: RUK

                              Yeah, I boil the water in the kitchen at work, and then walk it back to my desk. So it doesn't cool for ten minutes, probably closer to five. Maybe I should get a thermometer!

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                You probably don't need a thermometer - I find that if it is bitter, the temperature was too high.
                                So essentially we do the same.

                                1. re: RUK

                                  Yup. BTW, I used one of these at work: http://www.republicoftea.com/product.... best $4.95 you'll ever spend.

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    Ruth, do you think it would be difficult to clean if you don't have a garbage disposall?

                                    1. re: Jay F

                                      It's not hard to clean at all, unless you want to prevent it from discoloring (which the manufacturer says is natural). Among other things, you can turn it inside out to get anything that might be caught in the seams at the bottom.

                                      1. re: Jay F

                                        Upton Tea sells similar metal tea strainers with bamboo handles, comes in 3 sizes, very easy to clean. I also have the republic of tea and use both depending on which size cup I am using

                                        1. re: mmalmad

                                          Hmmmm...they have lots of nice straining devices at Upton:


                                          Thank you.

                                      2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        That looks like a really cool thing, Ruth.

                                        1. re: sandylc

                                          In the product comments there are a lot of complaints about how it fits in a mug. I use a really wide cup (like a latte cup) so I just set it in the middle and it rests on the bottom. It also fits in my rather narrow mug. So I guess you need a mug that is either wider and shallower or narrow.

                                          I also have a travel infuser similar to this one: http://www.amazon.com/Eight-Cranes-PS... Mine is threaded top and bottom, so when you take the steeper off, you can swap it with a cap that's screwed on to the bottom. Great if you like to make multiple infusions.

                                      3. re: RUK

                                        This is a known phenomenon, with both coffee-brewing and tea-brewing. The bitter oils are extracted at about 5-10 degrees higher than the desired flavor components. With coffee, you pour water at just a little under boiling (about 95ÂșC) over your grinds, and let the foamed bubbles (containing the bitter oil constituents) be left behind on the filter cone. There is something similar going on with tea-brewing.

                              2. I love the Twinings Ceylon Breakfast Tea and have real trouble finding it these days. I'm sure it could be mailordered but I'd be leery of its age.

                                1. About a year and a half ago I switched from my usual coffee in the morning to tea as I was getting increasingly jittery from drinking coffee. Teavana was mentioned here, I find many of their teas perhaps somewhat trendy, but I really like the Javavana Mate and brew myself a pot every morning. Heh, sipping a cup now with just a touch of milk. As satisfying as coffee and no jitters. I still drink some coffee on weekends since my husband starts up a pot, but somehow I am losing my taste for it.

                                  1. I notice that *all* of the posters here (including you) appear to like "tea" such as like Liptons, Earl's Grey, Joe's Breakfast, etc - i.e. processed teas for the Western palate. Not unexpected, I suppose. For myself, I think the last time I had purposely and consciously chosen such a tea (Lipton's) was a few years ago at my former place of employment, with the only type of teabags available from the coffee stations. I suppose some Thai/VN/Korean restaurants might use teabags of these teas sometimes, and I can taste it on occasion at those places when I ask for tea.

                                    At home, I brew myself Oolong, Jasmine, several varieties of green...

                                    At restaurants, I get the "house tea", or Po Lei, or Kuk-Pou (blend of Po Lei and dried chrysanthemum flowers), or Jasmine, or Green. No problems whatsoever with "coffee tastes" or weird tastes. The usual problem, if there is one, is that the tea is too weak because they skimped on the tea leaves.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: huiray

                                      I like Earl Grey, but other than that I tend to drink mainly, oolong tea (lots of oolong tea), green tea, jasmine, hojicha, genmaicha, loose, and not in bags.

                                      1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                        +1, and I love it all either hot or iced.

                                      2. re: huiray

                                        I drink both -- I long strong black teas with milk, and I like white tea and oolongs without. Different teas for different circumstances! Currently the top three are some Russian Caravan I brought back from Murchie's in Vancouver, a Taiwanese milk oolong and a jasmine-scented silver needle.

                                      3. I know you're content with PG Tips - and that's fine - but I would recommend considering loose leaf tea. The tea in tea bags is almost always comprised of fannings, the small pieces of leaf leftover from the sale of finer quality whole leaf and cut pieces. Fannings brew strong (on account of the exposed surface area) but lack the fuller and more subtle flavors of whole leaf tea. That's not to say you can't enjoy tea brewed from tea bags, but you may be missing out!

                                        Brewing loose leaf tea gives you access to freshly harvested leaves chock full of complex notes and aromas (fruity, malty, citrusy, etc.) that are not typically available in bag form.

                                        In any case, I pretty much stay away from ordering tea at restaurants unless I know they're going to serve me a small pot of it already brewed. I don't care for having to make it myself...

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: rockcreek

                                          I have had loose tea many times, in fact, have a small tin of it in the pantry now. I just don't find the flavor difference to be stark enough to compensate for the convenience and speed of the bag! You have reminded me here, though, that I should maybe make the loose tea on the weekend......

                                          1. re: sandylc

                                            Agreed Sandy, a nice pot of loose leaf is good for visitors or special treat but for the 6 or 7 cups the average Scot has a day, tea bags win every time. Tetley or Scottish Blend are my usual favourites.

                                        2. First thing in the morning, it's a large mug of double strength Red Rose, with milk. Sometimes a second mug of the same. Builder's tea, I've heard it called.

                                          In the afternoon, unsweetened iced tea in teh summer, hot green tea in the winter.

                                          9 Replies
                                          1. re: kcshigekawa

                                            I know that entire countries drink their tea with milk; I haven't been able to bring myself to try it because, one, I don't care very much for drinking milk, and, two, it just doesn't seem like they go together. One thing that I like about tea is how clean and clear it is; how non-filling....I must be strange.

                                            1. re: sandylc

                                              Nope. I feel the same way. I don't drink milk. Why would I put it in tea?

                                              1. re: sandylc

                                                it's very similar to coffee with milk. Tea with milk takes on a different flavor profile that's quite nice, particularly with the British blends like PG Tips, Yorkshire, and Typhoo.

                                                I usually don't add milk, but sometimes I enjoy it.

                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                  Except for some of the more delicate scented teas, English teas are designed to be drunk with milk. The milk balances the bitterness and the tannins, and the milkfat helps bring out some of the other more subtle notes.

                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                    Tea is now a minority drink in the UK and, almost invariably, it is taken with milk. Personally, I detest the taste of tea and have always been a coffee drinker.

                                                    1. re: Harters

                                                      and I *only* drink tea in the UK (unless I brew it myself) because I've had just one too many cups of Kenco "coffee" (and I use the term loosely).... At least tea was usually drinkable.

                                                      Costa isn't too bad, but Starbucks is a last-resort for me, anywhere.

                                                      1. re: Harters

                                                        No!! I wouldn't say it was a minority drink H...

                                                        As for the milk/no milk, black tea I always have Milk and a sugar (vanilla sugar is great or brown/demarerra), whereas with fruit teas, and Pret a Manger's excellent green tea, there is no place for milk or sugar.

                                                  2. re: kcshigekawa

                                                    I love Red Rose - it's exactly what I think of when I want a cup of tea.

                                                  3. I love the tea they serve at Don Mee's. Dim Sum nirvana if you're ever in Victoria.

                                                    1. I had an English stepfather: Heat the pot by pouring boiling water into it and let it sit a while. Empty it and put into it one teaspoonful of tea for each cup and one for the pot. Make sure the water has BOILED. Pour it over the tea, cover the pot with a cozy (or even a clean dishtowel) and let the tea brew for a few minutes. Pour into cups using a strainer (or not, if you prefer). If you are English, pour milk into the cup first before the tea. After you've poured most of the tea, empty the pot and start over because what sits in the pot for half an hour will be "stewed". Tea should be poured by the ranking female present. (Do I heat a mug of water in the microwave and drop in a teabag? Yes. Sorry, Dad.)

                                                      1. Don't really have that problem in good old blighty, but tea does seem to be best when I make it at home. We still have the occasional problem of nearly-boiling water from coffee machines, but I've found the best way around this, is to do it yourself as much as possible, agitate the tea bag for a little longer, and use less milk.

                                                        At home though, boiling hot water and good old Yorkshire Tea (you should actually import it!) makes for a delicious, warming thirst quenching drink.

                                                        1. On my last trip to the Asian market I stumbled upon a large bag of sugar packets containing crystal honey-ginger. Six packets mixed with 4 cups of hot or cold water creates a ginger-honey brew that I'm keeping in the frig to use as a topper for hot tea, added to ginger ale or tonic water and for ginger-honey martini's. $4.00 for 40 packets. Sold in the aisle where the sugars are displayed.