Tea novice -- a few questions

From the southern US — hey everyone. I’m looking to switch from coffee to tea because I’m not particularly fond of coffee (just drink it for the caffeine). Just a few quick questions I couldn’t find exact answers for on google:

1) What’s a good website to buy tea bag samples from? (Please forgive me if linking isn’t allowed — didn’t see anything about it in the guidelines)

2) English breakfast tea, Earl Grey, and darjeeling tea — I’ve heard those are three good ones to start with, true or false?

3) Do people drink different teas at different times of the day? For example, is it common to drink English breakfast tea in the afternoon?

4) I’m willing to invest in a nice electric kettle, but I’m confused about the boiling. Some sites say the water has to be boiled, then cooled a bit before pouring; however, others say that using hot water from a coffee machine is sufficient. I know that certain teas need certain temperatures, but what’s the deal?

Thanks to anyone who can clear up these questions. Please don’t go too far in depth — as long as you can point me in the right direction, I can follow instructions/google the rest.


11 Replies

Hey Blaine! Welcome to Steepster!

I’ll try to keep things really simple for you; I know it can be super intimidating when you’re just hit with a huge swarm of information. So, going down your list of questions…

No rules about linking to vendors, but just a head’s up that it is pretty frowned upon for vendors to link to their own websites unprompted. If you’re looking specifically at tea bag samples, and not loose leaf tea, I’d say that based on where you like Harney & Sons might be a good starting point for you. They carry a lot of “staple” teas (English Breakfast, Earl Grey, etc.) but also some nice teas and blends that are more unique to them. They aren’t the world’s highest quality vendor, but they aren’t poor quality either and they’re really accessible with a decent price point. Plus, it would allow you to order both bagged/sachet style tea AND loose leaf tea if you want to venture into that realm of the tea world…

https://www.harney.com/ My personal favourite from them is Boston! Paris is also really, really popular here on Steepster.

As to your second question, I don’t know that there is a necessarily “bad” place to start sampling – taste is so subjective. The best thing you can do is try A LOT of different things, but until you figure out exactly what speaks to you only purchase in smaller sample sizes so that you don’t get stuck with a large quantity of tea you don’t like. Since you’re switching over from coffee though, I think black tea/pu’erh tea, and roasted oolongs would be the more natural transition – but I encourage you to try a white tea, green tea, and greener oolong at some point just to compare/see what you think of them. I think experiencing a mix of straight teas (like Darjeeling, for example) and flavoured teas (Earl Grey, etc.) is also helpful to pinpoint where your tastes lie.

Personally, I drink whatever tea I want at any time of the day. If you break out your chamomile first thing in the morning or finish your day with your Irish Breakfast you definitely aren’t breaking some weird “faux pas” regarding when you can drink different teas. The only thing that would factor at all, in my opinion, is how sensitive you are to caffeine. If you think having a strongly caffeinated tea at 8PM is going to keep you awake, then I’d avoid having that in the evening for that reason – but not because of the tea name/type.

You’re right, different teas to steep at different temperatures. I good vendor will always provide you with a baseline steeping recommendation that includes what temperature to steep your tea at. The best thing I ever did for myself, tea related, was buy a variable temperature kettle so that I could set how hot the water boiled at – then you don’t have to worry about letting it cool after it boils. However, there’s nothing wrong with letting it boil then cool down – it’s just a touch more tedious. Some water ‘purists’ will say not to use water from a coffee machine because of the flavour contamination – but I think it’s honestly up to you and how ‘pure’ you’re desiring the flavour to be whether or not that’s a concern. If you’re just sort of testing the waters with the whole exploration thing, I wouldn’t put too much stock in it though.

Black tea, dark oolong, pu’erh are basically all good to go with boiling water. Greener oolong is good around 85C, and green/white are more sensitive/will become bitter quicker so most people say nothing hotter than 80C. Experiment though, see what you like! Personally, I boil all my white tea but that’s not the “recommended” thing to do…

mrmopar said

Seconded on the welcome. Ros gave some excellent info. If you get into puerh let me know and I will help you out with that. Pots of good people here so don’t be afraid to ask.

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Thank you a ton for all of that information. You’ve cleared up a ton of things for me.

The only question I have left (at this point) is a bit awkward to ask, but: does tea help get things moving in the bowels in the morning? Other than caffeine, that’s the main reason I drink coffee in the morning — I’m terrified of having to use the bathroom in public, and coffee helps to clear me out before leaving the house. I’m rather embarrassed to ask that, but it’s important to me.


YatraTeaCo said

Valid question, and don’t be embarrassed to ask. According to my sister in law, as soon as she drinks a cup of tea, she’s off for her business. My wife too to a certain extent. This really depends on the individual and the effect tea has on one’s body/digestion. So you can’t really guarantee that it will be the same for you, but there is little to lose in trying.

Echoing YatraTeaCo’s statement – if it’s important to you then never be afraid to ask it! Personally, I seem to be pretty well immune to caffeine so I don’t find that drinking something strongly caffeinated affects me in that way; but I work in a tea shop and it DEFINITELY has that effect on several of my coworkers. So I think it’s probably the sort of thing that varies person to person?

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Fergy said

i still consider myself still a bit new to tea as well, though ive been putzing around for a while now, but i second all thats said before me. the main thing i have to add is, generally, and i mean really LOOSELY generally, the higher temp that a tea is brewed, the more caffeine you will get from the tea.

im really picky with the teas i like, and as such, i tend to just drink whatever im in the mood for at whatever time of the day i want to drink tea. just be advised, tea does have caffeine, so different types will have a different effect on you. but as stated before, different people react differently to teas. hate to say it, and i know its not really helpful, but you will just have to try and see for yourself.

a little advice on the kettle, buy the best you can to start. its one of those things that you usually get what you pay for. good things to look for are a large range of adjustable tempratures, the more the better, but at a min you want boiling, and 170 degrees Fahrenheit. generally, when you have a large range of temps, the thermostat will be more accurate, which is a good thing. good things to have, but not 100% needed are a keep warm feature, and an auto off.

one last thing to note, is the quality of your water. you can use standard tap water and have a good cup of tea, but the better your water, (less chlorine/chemicals, good mineral content, ect) the better your tea will come out. but you likely wont be able to tell the difference when you first start messing around with brewing. simply learning to fine tune your brewing technique will make a bigger difference.

good luck, and welcome to the world of fine tea :)

AllanK said

The unfortunate thing about caffeine in tea is it is generally impossible to know how much caffeine is in tea. Teavana used to tell you the caffeine range on all their teas but they are no more. I know of no other tea seller who tells you the caffeine on their tea.

Fergy said

yep. which is why i said its generally the higher the water temp, the higher the caffeine, as the hotter water extracts more than colder water, and that they would just have to try the teas themselves and see.

AllanK said

There used to be this myth floating around that a thirty second rinse would decaffeinate a tea but it was false. To use this method to decaffeinate a tea you need at least 15 minutes and that will use up all the flavor too.

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Greetings! The limited caffeine in tea could be an issue, related to that one special interest concern. Amounts vary for all types but in general a cup of coffee contains 100 mg of caffeine and tea is between 30 and 50. I think a lot of people really ramp up beyond that 100 mg by brewing a large mug extra strong (more coffee, maybe a double), and they could easily be taking in 250 mg in a go, which would be hard to recreate with tea.

As to where to start it sounds like you might be thinking of black teas, that it could be the familiar ground that serves as an entry point. That’s fine, and I would generally recommend taking an organic approach, trying alternatives of what you already know and like, and branching into brand new range bit by bit. As to timing, some people mention starting the day with black tea but in general no one pattern holds, it’s just a matter of preference. Green tea and sheng pu’er can be hard on your stomach, easily offset by eating some appropriate food with both, but beyond that caffeine intake related to sleep, and drinking tea late in the day, is the only other main concern. Preference, tea quality, and value are, but I mean related to effects.

You might consider trying Chinese black tea too, since those can be softer than Indian versions (or blends, what English Breakfast tea is, but that varies). And it seems to me that light rolled oolong is a nice approach point, for being completely different, good across a range of types and quality levels, and relatively easy to brew. I’ll mention two vendors and an introduction to tea themes I wrote, with the idea being that one vendor is good for Chinese black samples and the other for rolled oolong. I’ve written about caffeine too, if that’s of interest to look into, but it’s hard to know which teas are relatively lower or higher in caffeine, and that narrow typical range (30-50 mg per cup) makes it not matter too much anyway. For as little as those samples cost for the one vendor (with $30 and above triggering free shipping) it might work to try a sheng and shou pu’er along with those black teas (Dian Hong, Yunnan versions).




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SusySteep said

OMG … so many things to learn about tea !!!

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