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All About Tea

All About Tea Image

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Anna Canning, Peace Coffee Project Manager

I didn't start out as a coffee person. Growing up, my mother heralded each day with a cup of Lipton tea with lemon and a gooily heaping teaspoonful of honey; we didn't have coffee in the house. Coffee was that stuff whose red and gold can my grandmother paired with her Marlboro reds and her yellow pleather breakfast nook (an aside: she had a matching coin purse and cigarette case with clicky clasps). Coffee was just that stuff; I was well into college before I really noticed it.

Tea, however, had a certain something. While Lipton tea was the stuff that punctuated my mother's day, the corner of the cupboard held another class of beverage in a dark green tin. My father had a friend who ran the perfect British tea room, creating the pinnacle of high tea illusion in the smog of the states and, some nights after he closed the shop, he'd come by for some sort of expat commiseration perhaps. Then tea was proper. I was short but knew what to do, even if it was a struggle to heft the kettle. First step was to rinse the pot with hot water, pre-warming it, then the tea leaves were spooned into the pot, a teaspoon per person, and one for the pot. It was a malty, caramelly smell when the boiling water finally hit the leaves and I believe there was a tray that we loaded up with the provisions. On fancy occasions such as these, our standard natural raw sugar was traded in for the classic pure white sugar cubes, the milk came in a little pitcher, and there was a particular sequence in which these things were to be added to the cup. While I've since forgotten the proper protocol, I can't honestly say that my cups of tea have suffered, although to be fair I rarely add milk to my tea any more.

The instant fanciness is one thing that excites me about our switch to Rishi's loose leaf tea. With It’s just a half step more effort than a teabag, if even that (as a child, my fingers always got tangled up in the elaborate origami of the packets with the smiling Sir Lipton); dropping a spoon or so of tea into its appointed spot was is easy by comparison.  That half step yields instant fanciness, the sense that something lovely is afoot. And it is. Pour hot water onto loose leaf tea and the plant unfurls before you, the delicate bud tips and serrated rose-like leaves revealing the tree that was. Coffee can't quite pull off that trick; take a spoonful of coffee grounds and there's no hint of their origins as round, ripe cherries.

The other side of the fanciness of tea is its frugality. There were a few semesters in college that I subsisted largely on Lipton tea, sweetened with enough sugar that it was an adequate source of calories in itself, even if not of nutrition. I'd snag handfuls of them, free, from the cafeteria, but still the spectre of scarcity haunted me and I'd resteep the bags in at least one change of water. Once I no longer lived on campus, I made a surprise discovery: when I had to buy my own tea, those bags were actually outdone in cheapness by slightly better loose leaf tea. Not ground up into the so-called "fannings," the tea didn't just hold up to multiple infusions with a sigh, it bloomed and varied under several flushes of water. Indeed, I was surprised anew when sampling teas in the lab how some of the white, green, and oolong teas reveal themselves more richly, with fuller mouth feel and more nuances, on a second steeping.

It's for all these reasons, and more, that I'm excited to announce that Peace Coffee is partnering with Rishi Tea to bring you a selection of organic, fairly traded teas of utter deliciousness, sourced with the same values that we bring to our coffee. Based not too far from us, in scenic Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Rishi Tea is unique in the world of tea, partnering directly with a variety of small farmer organizations, mostly in China and Japan, to build long-term relationships. Those relationships allow them unparalleled access to every step of the plucking and processing of the tea crop and their head tea buyer spends a good portion of the year abroad, hand selecting the leaves best suited to each of their offerings.  Once the tea arrives in Milwaukee, some of the teas are sold as they come while others are used by their artisan tea blenders to create all sorts of concoctions: Some are classic—the combination of green tea and mint is a traditional Moroccan cooling, refreshing drink—while others are technically not tea (i.e. they aren't made with the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant), but are botanical infusions that contain no caffeine. Try the Tangerine Ginger however, and you won't be missing any zip.

So join me in a cup of tea, or two, or three, or more. Would it be condescending to suggest that you shouldn't be intimidated by the loose leaf form as I've demonstrated that even a child could prepare it? These paper filters make it easy to brew tea with whatever you've got on hand, a favorite mug, delicate china, or a lovely teapot (I've also been known to use a martini shaker or a pint glass; you work with what you've got). If you've upgraded your coffee service to include a glass Hario server, they double nicely as a teapot, revealing the leaves as they unfold, reconstituting a tea bush in your cup.

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