Need a Tea Mentor
I am baffled. Baffled at how many places there are to purchase tea online. Baffled at all the different types of teas, origins of tea, names of tea, etc.
Only a month ago I was still happily drinking my Bigelow tea from the grocery store. I feel I have come a long way since then, however I feel like a complete idiot.
I have read reviews, tried to notice which online retailers people like, compared prices, and even made a few orders although they are scattered.
I have started to place a couple of orders and chickened out.
The real problem is I have no idea what I like or where to begin to figure it out.
Do I start with black teas, greens, oolongs, whites, etc and so on.
I am intrigued by pu’reh (sp?) but that is a real shot in the dark it seems – although I did order some (I think).
Should I forget all of this and just go with flavored teas and call it a day?
I admire those who can taste a tea and instantly tell what region it came from and so on, and I know it takes time to get to that point. My concern is am I even ordering the right “beginners” teas?
I really do enjoy LEARNING about anything I am interested in but I have to say after mastering many different hobbies, some which have become passions, tea seems to be the most difficult and is so eluding me!
This makes me want to invest my time in it even more.
So, I eagerly await my orders, and requested samples, and will do my best to learn a few new things along the way.
I would love to hear from other beginners and what path you are taking on your tea journey as well as attuned tea connoisseurs who may feel like giving a few pointers to a newbie.
Hello Azzrian: May I suggest following our (TeaEqualsBliss and my) blog? We are the SororiTea Sisters: http://sororiteasisters.com/ And we write about all different types of tea, from Pu-erh to white and even tisanes and all the stuff in between.
I don’t know that there really are “beginner” teas… your palate knows what it likes and that is where you start, and then slowly branch out from there. I also recommend that even if you’ve tried something and found it not to your liking, that you give other types of that same tea a chance (for example, I am not a big Lapsang Souchong Fan, however, since my first less than enjoyable experience with Lapsang Souchong, I have found some that I actually enjoy … so basically what I’m trying to say is that not all teas are created the same.)
I don’t consider myself to be an expert by any stretch of the imagination as I continually learn new things about tea every day … and I’ve been drinking tea for a long time now.
Might I also suggest checking out Tea Trade and some of the teas that are sold there. I have a shop there, and I sell samplings of teas that I’ve tried and reviewed. This one is probably my most popular right now: http://liberteas.teatra.de/store/products/foodzie-box-size-sampler-lots-of-tea-one-small-price/
Other members also sell many different types of tea and tea samples, and samples from different sources can help you determine what you like and where to start branching out to learn more.
I can certainly recommend LiberTEAS, and Sororitea Sisters, for her/their knowledge and experience in all things Tea. I don’t need any samples at the moment, or I’d be taking advantage of the sampler she mentions above!
I am for sure going to jump on that next pay day. I have tapped myself out this time around lol :) I can’t wait though to get a box from her and see what she sends! I LOVE surprises!
Thank you so much for your reply! I am going to check out all of the links right now. I believe I have followed you on Twitter – lol I have no idea what lead me to you there but will for sure check your blog, and other resources offered here.
Oh I can absolutely see how one can be a long time enjoyer of tea yet still have a lot to learn. :)
Oh lord, they have a food box too … let the bank account damage begin…
Well Im not a “connoisseurs” just a lover of tea. First thing to look at is what type of tea you are interested in.
You mentioned pu’er to me i’m still a newbie when it comes to pu’er and the best place for me is Verdant. I would try their Alchemy blends. It is not flavored it is just a mix of one of the pu’ers and spices. They also have Diyi Cornfields Shu, which was the pu’er that made me not be afraid of pu’er. Before Verdant I had a lot of bad experiences with pu’er.
I would look into Adagio, they have great prices and great tea for it. There is also Steepster Select which I’m a member of. It exposes you to great tea and great places to buy it.
These are my go to places:
Verdant Tea-Green,blends,pu’er, and the Laoshan black
oolong-Asha Tea house
I would start with Adagio first to see what you like and then go from there. Personally I would stay away from flavored. If you what to get into tea I would taste the tea and not the flavoring that is added. Thats just me though…my two cents :)
On the flavored tea note, it’s a more obvious what you’re getting up front, something that probably tastes a lot like the flavoring that’s been added/infused, so I’d also stay away from those to start.
I think there are definitely good flavored teas and lots of people doing really fun and delicious stuff with them, see http://www.52teas.com/, but I think it’s important to build a foundation based on unflavored tea to know what you’re working with.
BTVsGal – thank you so much!
Jason – I agree about base flavors – and A lot of flavor additives are terrible tasting so I am being careful to note reviews.
oh yeah I forgot about 52teas. Yes I have a few of Frank’s teas from swaps. I look at flavored teas as a dessert replacer…:)
LOL I just ordered the two teas of the month – the cranberry scone and the st. Pattys day one. They are only a few hours from where I live so should be here fast … yummmm. I need some good desert type teas!
It’s great to see new people getting into tea and trying to learn more about it. You could always go with our Tea of the Month Club, Steepster Select (http://member.ly/steepster-select) which is designed to help people just like you get deeper into the world of loose leaf tea (self-promo). :)
I think the best advice I can give is to just be open and willing to try anything. When I started out, I was mostly familiar with flavored teas and thought I wouldn’t like much else. But through my learning process, running Steepster, and running Steepster Select, I’ve learned the teas I thought I would like least in the beginning are actually the teas I like the most now.
I’ll add onto that and say it’s important to be aware of what you’re actually drinking. Don’t just drink to have something to drink, but putting thought and reflection into your tea drinking process can make a huge difference in what you’ll get out of it.
In terms of actual recommendations, I think anything on the first page of the teas section (http://steepster.com/teas) is going to be a winner. Following other people on here should give you natural recommendations too.
Pu-erh might be a little rough for a beginner – I find it to be pretty polarizing because of its extreme earthy flavor. If you’re looking for a pu-erh that caters towards a newer audience, I’d recommend this: http://steepster.com/teas/verdant-tea/19262-2008-diyi-cornfields-single-steeping-shu
Also, here are a few other of my recent favs:
Thank you so much for this information. I joined the tea of the month club (Steepster’s) last night :)
Hey Jason I emailed you by the way … from the steepster of the month site. Was wondering if I would get a box this month or next. Thanks!
Ah, I’ve been wrapping up some Steepster Select stuff so I’m a little behind on emails. The signup period for each month is the preceding month, so if you signed up in March the first box you’ll receive is in April. It’s just like that because we need a few weeks to source the teas and put everything together.
Ah that does make sense – still though darnit lol I’m so anxious :) Thanks for letting me know Jason.
Try doing some swaps! Thats how I first got to try a huge variety from this community. There are some very generous swappers here. Just put up what you are willing to trade and see who’s interested. :). There’s already a swap thread that you can take a look at to see what others are offering. Good luck!
Folks have offered a ton of really great advice. The next step, I think, would be trying to get a group together locally of folks who want to go on this journey with you. Tea (for me, at least) is always much more fun when I drink it with others. It’s also the best way to learn about tea, because everyone gets to talk about whatever it is you’re drinking. When I have to talk about a flavor, I understand it much better. Plus, I get to see things from a different perspective when others tell me what they’re tasting.
For example, when I’m with a group of people I feel comfortable with, the craziest things come out of my mouth. I always end up being the weird one in the group that says, “You know what? This is going to sound weird, but this jasmine tea tastes like you’re eating a strawberry starburst on top of a sunny mountain with pine trees around you and an open container of play-doh in one hand.” But even though that description sounds crazy.. there’s something true in it. And I never would have thought of my tea in that way if I hadn’t been drinking with others and hearing what they had to say.
Where are you? There are probably folks on Steepster who are near your general area. A meet-up can always be arranged via PM’s.. etc (as long as everyone uses common sense, of course). You could also use the PLACES tab to see what physical tea shops are in your area. One of them is bound to be a fun place to hang out with good owners or employees. A couple might even hold events or tastings. Those are always a good place to meet new friends, especially if you can drag along one willing person you already know so you’re not in a corner feeling shy.
Everything’s more fun with friends, and tea is no exception! Steepster a great place for fostering those feelings and connections online, but it’s still the bees knees if you can get some real folks to drink tea together with you.
Whatever happens, don’t “call it a day”… with pu’er or anything else. Tea is one of the coolest plants around, because through processing alone, it can taste like pretty much anything. Awesome and magical!!! No additional flavors necessary!!!
As for pu’er specifically, it is spelled so many different ways.. that’s just because tea people are still arguing about which transliteration system to use. Many are still stuck on Wades-Jiles, which is no longer used in language learning (even for Chinese kids learning their own language).. instead people use pinyin nowadays. But with pu’er, people even use their own various spellings to try and convey those pirate-y sounds to an English ear. If I had to transliterate myself, I’d call it “poo-arrrrrrrrrr” (and then put a picture of a pirate next to it say “YARR!”).
There’s also great recent thread that is collecting recommendations for Starter Pu’er. If you haven’t already checked it out, you should:
There’s so much tea in the world. No one will ever try them all or master them. But you can sure have a wonderful time continuing to learn and explore. That’s what we’re all doing. I hope you have fun!!
Thank you for your response! I am in Topeka, Kansas – honestly around here although I can do more research, there really just are not many cool, interesting, kitschy business. Speciality stores are few and far between. We only have ONE starbucks which is fine with me I am NO starbucks fan BUT if that gives you any idea of what limited resources we do have there ya go. lol I will however be happy to hear from anyone who is around my area. I’m in the midwest, it would be far easier for me to find a cow tipping group than a tea group. Then again maybe I am just being old crotchity and cynical. Hummm
I just checked around Steepster places a bit, and the nearest tea shops (that are still open) are House of Cha in Lawrence and the Queen’s Pantry in Leavenworth. House of Cha is full of Bubble-tea-related yelp reviews, but some of them indicate they sell a wider range of teas. Looks like they recently changed to much nicer owners, too. QP is full of British-stuff, including English-favorite-teas.
If House of Cha is close to you, it could be worth a visit?
I am down in Lawrence often – will check that out – I think there also may be a shop called the bay leaf that has some teas … I will google that too. Thanks for letting me know about House of Cha – my daughter is totally into bubble tea so we can both hit that place up.
Hurray! I’m glad there are some stores within reach. But sad to find out about the Bay Leaf. : (
Spoonvonstup …….. You must tell me what Jasmine tea you were drinking to inspire that description. I want to be eating a strawberry Starburst on a sunny mountain with pine trees and play-doh!!
Called me out! :-p It was Verdant’s Yunnan Jasmine.
Sunny Mountain – Yunnan white taste (warm, sunny, linen-y..like heat radiating from stones)
Strawberry starburst – maybe not extreme Starburst (that was for sake of example), but definitely strawberries and banana and melons
Pine trees – I don’t know. There’s a definite bit of pine that comes out over steepings
Play-doh: This particular yummy taste.. it’s a bit citrus-ey and sweet? Hei/fu cha also has this, I find.. just a particular kind of sweetness that I can’t identify any other way.
It’s so hard to describe tea, that sometimes you just have to fall back on something truly preposterous and weird just convey the basic texture you’re experiencing. After awhile, I find myself comparing teas to other teas (which is not so helpful to an outsider). But that strawberry-sunny-mountain-pine-tree example isn’t the weirdest by far. What about you? What’s the weirdest description you’ve ever found yourself sharing?
You’ve got some great advice here, but I’ll add my thoughts as well. I personally started with flavoured tea – first bagged, then loose flavoured tea. From there I have moved onto enjoying pure teas more, but there is still a lot of flavoured tea in my cupboard. This brings me to my point: try to avoid buying a LOT of something until you know if you’ll like it. It doesn’t take long to amass more tea than you could possibly drink, and to potentially end up with many ounces of tea that you don’t even like. Swaps are a good way to get a taste of numerous teas to help you decide whether you want to order more. It has taken me more than 2 years of tea drinking to get away from the obsession with buying lots of tea just in case. I have learned to be selective, and only order what I can handle at a given time. I’ll be enjoying my backlog for ages, at my current rate!
Disclaimer. The following is what I would do. (But not necessarily what I actually did) It may not be an approach that works for you, but it’s what makes immediately more sense to me and looking back, I would rather wish someone had been around to tell me to do it this way in the beginning when I just started exploring the loose leaf. I could probably have saved myself a lot of confusion. You may already know some or most of this, but I decided it best to start from the very beginning anyway rather than assume that you would know.
It doesn’t really matter where you start, but like previous people have said, if you want to explore what tea actually tastes like and what your preferences are when it comes to type and region and those things, save the flavoured stuff for later. Just get some flavoured things that you like and use them for more sort of recreational purposes, you know? When you just want something you know is nice but don’t want to have to think too much about it, if you know what I mean.
No matter whether you choose to start with black or green or oolong or what have you, I would recommend picking one of these and concentrating on that for a while. If for example you decide to start with, say, green tea, get some samples of that, and put the others aside for a bit. At this point I don’t think you have to worry super-much about where you shop, so find a place with a wide selection if you can. Adagio, I think, is good for this exactly because they have such a wide selection.
Get a selection of samples from different regions. If we continue with the hypothetical green tea starting point, I would get a couple of Chinese ones and a couple of Japanese ones to start with. China and Japan are the ‘biggest’ regions when it comes to green tea, although it is produced in a number of other places as well. But these two have the most well known teas, so it should give you a fair idea of what to expect from a green tea.
When you taste them, try to not just pay attention to whether you like it or not. If you can, try to put some words on why you’re having that experience. Does it taste bitter or sweet? Does it taste like flowers or is it slightly salty or does it remind you of something? Don’t be afraid to get it wrong. Some people, when they’re new to Steepster and to trying to describe their experience with a tea, seem to be uncertain of their own experience with it. They seem to think that if they don’t feel what they tasted matches what others found, that they somehow did it wrong or that it’s because of their lack of experience with it. This is not true. Nobody can taste with someone else’s tongue or smell with someone else’ nose, so if you say something has a note of pineapple, for example, in it, nobody can come and say you are wrong. If you found it, it’s there. Even if other people can’t seem to find it or if other people are interpreting the note in question differently. So there is no possible way that you can get it wrong. Tea tasting is not an exact science, so try to avoid falling into this trap of insecurity and trust your senses.
Anyway, getting back to our hypothetical green tea journey. (I like to think of it as exploring, myself. I can just picture myself wearing a tropical helmet and making my way through the tea jungle with a kettle in one hand and a machete in the other. :D) When you experiment with your samples and try to pay attention to which ones you like and which ones you don’t and most importantly why you don’t or do like them, you should start getting an idea of which region is generally more appealing to you. Did you for example tend to prefer the Japanese greens over the Chinese ones? Then that’s your next step on the journey and you can try a wider selection of Japanese green teas, saving the Chinese ones for later.
The key here is to take one thing at a time. Don’t go all out and attempt to try all the teas at once, because you will likely only confuse yourself.
As you become more experienced you will slowly start to develop expectations of what the typical Japanese green should be like. Maybe you find it has a certain quality that other green teas lack or a specific sort of basic flavour profile. This won’t happen overnight and you likely won’t even realise that it did happen until the day you’re sitting there with a cup of tea and finding yourself thinking ‘this tastes Japanese’.
I don’t think anybody can really blindtest fifty random cups and identify them all correctly, except possibly the experienced tea masters whose job it is to make sure a crop is up to the standard of that company and blending it so that the customer will get a consistent flavour profile from that blend, but we can work towards it. And I suspect even those tea masters that quality test blends like that have their specialities as well. It’s a learning process and it never ever stops. So arm yourself with patience.
Very well put, Angrboda. What you describe above is somewhat how I started, as it just so happens that I did start with green Tea, focusing mainly on ferreting out what I value in them. As you basically stated, it’s hard—within a reasonable time frame—to really find out what you like in any Tea if you choose to brew up and drink from a disparate set of Teas.
So, Azzrian, although I still consider myself a relative newbie to loose-leaf tea, my choice to focus mostly on Chinese green Tea for the last year, trying upwards of probably 40 different Teas (not including the flavor-added varieties), has rewarded me with having a much better idea of what I like—and what I don’t really care for—in a green Tea. That experience has been invaluable in guiding me in my Tea purchases I have made (and will make going forward).
For these reasons, and others, I have very few oolong—and only one pu-erh—Teas in my cupboard. I am still having a ball experimenting with and getting know Chinese green (and a few red) Teas.
I also agree that there is no right place to start, and that there are no wrong answers, so-to-speak, in terms of what one finds in a Tea. And from an educational perspective starting with the fundamentals—as Angrboda is referring to by starting with tea that has no flavors artificially added—is a great way to get an overall perspective of what Tea has to offer and is a great long term approach if you think this is something you plan to stick with.
In terms of where to begin shopping, I advise letting your pocketbook guide you there. If you can afford the best, both Verdant Tea and Life in Teacup are great places to start. Otherwise, some place that has a wide range of teas in every class, like Adagio—as previously mentioned, or one of my favorites, Tea Trekker, are good places to start.
And, as others have mentioned, I invite you to focus on purchasing small amounts of tea whenever you order: samples, samples, samples! It’s a shame to buy lots of one particular tea only to find that you don’t like it or you won’t brew up regularly (I have a few of those myself).
If you like to read, getting a few good books can really help, as it has helped me to earn my ‘tea walking shoes’. Here is a link to one thread with some good books http://steepster.com/discuss/2418-recommendations-for-books-on-tea
Here’s a link to reviews of online tea shops http://steepster.com/places?near=&name=online&type=&style=&serves=&food=&features=&good_for=
I want to thank you – what well thought out, entertaining, and very good advice. Actually I have just woken up and read through this one time but it begs for me to read it again when my mind is more clear and the fog has lifted. Which makes me wonder – what will become my regular morning cup of tea. :)
I do not think I could totally give up flavored teas – I am too curious about flavors – so I do like your idea of enjoying those for what they are and focusing on one variety overall. Oh goodness. Now I am not sure which one to begin with. What I think I will do is wait until all my orders arrive and see which I have the most of. I have a feeling it will be green or oolong. Which ever I ordered more of will be where I begin. :)