New to tea, need some direction.
I’m sorry if this was posted before, and if it was please put a link for the discussion. So, I’m brand new to loose leaf tea so much that I don’t eve know what I like. Lol. I know I want to brew gong fu style, and use a gaiwan. I have a set coming, but I have no idea where to buy tea! There are a few tea shops here in Pittsburgh, but I’m not sure if the loose leaf they sell is any good. And online just seems like a tangled web of confusion. I don’t want to buy cheap tea, or poor quality that turns me off to becoming a tea drinker. So, where should I go for online, and what begginer teas should I go with? Any recommendations on kettles? Anyone have experience buying teas from theteashop online?
I’d suggest checking out a few longstanding companies that sell samples or sampler sets online. Harney & Sons is one. Den’s Tea used to sell samples. Golden Moon and Adagio also sell samples. Samples are good if you don’t know what you like because you can buy just a small amount to try and won’t get stuck with a huge tin of something you hate.
I don’t think there is an ultimate guide for perfect vendor. Sure google will spit out mostly the long term operating vendors where prices might not be the best offer on such a saturated tea market these days. Sample few vendors for the same tea you are interested in. Do it few times with other different teas as well . Compare the prices , quality . Also keep an eye on shipping fees , coz some vendors have lower prices but up-marked shipping. I might share some rates, but depends on where you live.
Hey, I’m from Western PA too, but a good bit north of Pittsburgh, so just a little closer to Erie. I write a lot about tea so it’s tempting to just spam this discussion in mentioning blog references, but that doesn’t seem right.
The two main vendors I recommend for general, value-oriented themes are Hatvala of Vietnam and Farmerleaf based out of Yunnan. In both cases when shopping from overseas there’s a natural trade-off between adding cost due to shipping and getting a better value on what you buy. Farmerleaf offers free shipping beyond a relatively low limit ($30), and in general vendors do that, build in some of the shipping cost into the pricing, which works out well if the rates are still relatively low. I just ordered tea from Yunnan Sourcing too; they’re worth a look, and have a US outlet. They sell lots of versions but to me they really seem a better source for pu’er, which you might get to more later since it’s not necessarily a great place to start on tea. To me rolled oolongs and Chinese black teas are, since both are good across a range of quality levels, pleasant and approachable (no need to learn to like them), and easy to prepare. Sheng pu’er does take getting used to and requires the most learning to prepare but shu might work better right away. I will cite one reference here I wrote as a general summary, and a second on brewing approach:
I agree with above. Try as many samples as you can. When I first started drinking good tea I only bought sample sizes for a while and tried as many as possible. Also, just know that some of them might take some getting used to. I wasn’t so sure about pu-erh tea at first and then grew to like it a lot. There are indeed a confusing amount of choices online, but as you get into it more you might like so many options. The tea world is huge. I’ve already accepted I’m not going to figure it all out. I feel like I’ve never met someone who doesn’t like Laoshan Black Tea or Da Hong Pao Oolong. I feel like those are can’t miss teas.
Great stuff! Thanks for the info. Can I make black tea, and oolong in a gaiwan?
You can make pretty much any tea in a gaiwan. If it’s a fine cut tea you might want to use a mesh strainer in the cup.
If you don’t have a variable temperature kettle all you need to do to reduce the temperature by 10 degrees C is to pour it into a cup/pitcher. When I make Japanese sencha I pour boiling water into two Japanese cups (temp drops to 90C), pour that into pitcher (temp drops to 80C), pour that into teapot (temp drops to 70C), and then add the tea. It warms up all the teaware too! You do need to let it sit for a minute after you pour it into each vessel. It helps to have a thermometer to verify if temperature is right but not necessary.
All the recommendations about doing a bunch of samples until you find out what you like. Let me know if you want any more recommendations for online vendors. But honestly, the best investment I made early on in my tea and gong fu brewing tests was an electric kettle with different temperature settings. It made things so much easier and the tea quality was better because I could precisely control the temperature for different kinds of teas with no hassle. As soon as mine breaks I will instantly buy another.
Black and pu-erh teas can be steeped at or just below boiling. Or, yeah, you can just boil and then wait a few minutes for green, etc. Some people, myself included, are more exact with temps, but you can always experiment with different temps by how long it’s been since boiling. If you like the resulting tea, it’s the right way to brew it regardless of standards.
I just wrote a short summary of the differences between Western brewing and Gongfu style, and which types work better made which way. I’ll also add a little on direct answers here but this is a more general start: https://www.quora.com/How-do-I-find-the-perfect-brewing-for-any-kind-of-tea