11 January 2011

Tea — one of the great joys of life

I'm slowly learning about good tea, a process I expect will never end. Late last year this book arrived in the mail: a completely unexpected and highly thoughtful gift from Jo at Ya-Ya's House of Excellent Teas in Christchurch (the source not only of my excellent teas, but excellent advice on brewing them). The book will soon continue its travels, and although I'll miss it, I'll enjoy the knowledge someone else will get to appreciate it — and maybe appreciate tea a little (or a lot) more.  

I've noticed something curious about my tea-drinking, though. While I love good tea, brewed carefully and enjoyed with proper attention, I still enjoy a mug of gumboot tea — a strong brew of supermarket stuff with a drop of milk. I never drink it alone, but with friends (probably the essential factor) I enjoy it: I don't drink it out of politeness. A good tea bag will even suffice*, although I've maintained for years now that tea bags are inventions of the devil, along with cellphones and other abominations.

Maybe that says something about tea — that it can transcend its own adversity and even when abused can still offer something to the drinker?

*Budget bags dropped into milk and soaked briefly in tepid water are an entirely different matter — and I don't exaggerate: this kind of evil can still be encountered here, often from cafés that pride themselves on the quality of their coffee.

[Update, 14 January 2011: Thanks to AJB for alerting me to Christopher Hitchens' highly entertaining, delightfully crotchety and often wrong essay on How To Make a Decent Cup of Tea. He speaks, of course, about the particular style of tea known here in Aotearoa as "gumboot" and elsewhere by other names including "sergeant major's tea" (thanks, Avus).]

[11 January 2011, Canon 20D, 24–105 mm f4 L at 82 mm , ISO 400, 1/13s at f11]

All content © 2010 Pete McGregor


robin andrea said...

I had to google gumboot tea to get an idea of what you sometimes drink with a drop of milk! What kind of tea do you prefer? We brew a pot of tea every morning. I suspect it must be a non-descript gumboot tea. It's an English Breakfast tea from Assam that we have shipped from the San Francisco Herb Co. Did you read recently that tea growers in India are experiencing some of the effects of global climate change? That's a scary prospect: a world without tea.

pohanginapete said...

Robin, "gumboot" might be a peculiarly New Zealand term when applied to tea. They're all blended rather than single estate, they're usually from Ceylon/Sri Lanka (I think) and the quality varies hugely, from appalling to not bad ;^)

I'm still at an early stage of exploring different teas. I do like some of the Darjeeling first flush teas, which to me taste "fresher" than the second flush teas (which are apparently preferred by many experienced tea drinkers), and right now I'm particularly enjoying a traditional non-smoked Lapsang Souchong, which has distinct, delicious flavours — almost fruit-like. Some of the Oolong teas are excellent, too. Eventually I suppose I'll start trying Puerh tea, too.

I don't want to imagine a world without tea, or where it's unaffordable. Good tea's already expensive, although not as crippling as the prices suggest — a little goes a long way (e.g. I usually get 3 infusions from one brew).

Zhoen said...

I like lapsang souchon, mostly for the aroma. Pur-eh is an absolute favorite, which I get several brewings out of. The Hong Kong Tea House serves one type, and they pronounce it Po Lei. My mainstay is strong Indian style Assam. I use an oolong at work, with the not-quite-boiling water, it's not great, but it's at least drinkable, especially on the second brewing. Used to love Keemun, haven't had any in a very long time.

Nothing wrong with tea bags, it's just that so much of what is put in it is dust, or garbage tea to start with. The small fragments aren't necessarily bad, but they steep very quickly. And most commercial brands aren't good.

Um, sorry, ranting. I'll go have some tea now.

pohanginapete said...

Ooh, Zhoen, now I'll have to try some Puerh... If you don't have access to boiling water, white teas might be worth investigating because they should be brewed at a lower temperature; however, given the kinds of teas you enjoy, you might find them a bit subtle. On the other hand, one you might really enjoy is a Taiwanese GABA Oolong (the GABA refers to the high concentration of gamma aminobutyric acid); Jo included a sample with my last order and I loved it — delicious flavours like ripe fruit, and it brews best at 85°C.

Feel free to rant about tea any time ;^)

butuki said...

Ach, I left a very long and involved comment, only to have it erased by Blogger. Phooey!

Added that I started up my blog again and also started a new photoblog (http://laughing-knees.com/chamber-moon/)

Zhoen said...

I do like white teas, but given short breaks at work, I wouldn't waste any kind of good tea there. I think white tea actually has more flavor, very round. I'll look for the GABA next time I order tea.

Relatively Retiring said...

Have you tried any of the Gunpowder teas (as opposed to Gum-Boot)? Some lovely minty flavours, and you can usually convince the uninitiated that you're brewing rabbit droppings.

pohanginapete said...

Miguel, Blogger drives me nuts sometimes. I've lost comments in the past, but some time ago I installed the Lazarus form recovery extension (for Firefox) and so far it's always managed to retrieve lost comments.
    Great to hear you've restarted your blog. I'll pop over soon, and will check out the photoblog.

Zhoen, I've tried a couple of white teas — delicious, but one definitely had more flavour than the other. Unfortunately, the one I preferred was also much more expensive :^(
    So much choice...

RR, ha! I must offer some rabbit-dropping tea to guests sometime... Yes, I have some cheap Gunpowder from a local Asian supplies store — nice enough, but I tend to leave it sitting in the packet in favour of the good stuff. But I haven't tried a high quality gunpowder, although one of the Oolongs has been rolled in a similar fashion.

Avus said...

I imagine your "gumboot tea" must be slightly related to what we, in the army, called "sergeant major's tea". It was said to have reached (unattainable)perfection when it was so strong that a teaspoon would stand upright, unsupported, in the cup!

pohanginapete said...

Avus, I know the "sergeant major's tea" very well, although I've never heard it called that here (very apt, though). It's a particular style of "gumboot" tea — one whose effects on the human body, particularly the visage, are probably best not thought about.