The ABCs of Tea

Morgan & Owens

Aficionados explain how to buy it, brew it, and slurp it.

1. Shopping "Look at the leaves. If they're tippy (younger leaves from the tops of tea plants), they'll have a silver, gold, or light brown color. These are the better-quality leaves." Gary Shinner, CEO and founder, Mighty Leaf Tea

2. Cultivating a taste "Start with Earl Grey or a flavored tea you know you'll like. As time goes on, you'll be ready to try different kinds. It's like the first time you tried whiskey or coffee and thought, Why did I drink this stuff? By the fourth time, you'll probably think that it tastes pretty good." John Harney, founder, Harney & Sons Tea Company

3. Etiquette "If you're doing a tea tasting in Asia, it's normal to slurp your tea. Slurping mixes the tea with oxygen, bringing out more flavor. But don't slurp if you're not in a teahouse; people may not understand what you're doing and think you're rude." Dan Robertson, owner, The Tea House, an importer

4. Pairing with food "Stronger infusions go with stronger foods. Oolong stands up to spicier cuisines. Assam, a strong black tea from India, partners well with cream dishes. On the milder side, Japanese green tea complements seafood well." Sebastian Beckwith, cofounder, In Pursuit of Tea, an importer

5. Culinary uses "In Japan, tea goes into things like gum and ice cream. I've also had tea butters, Earl Grey chocolate mousse, and tea-based soups. If you find a tea you like while traveling, bring it home and use it in your cooking." Susan McKeen, editor in chief, Tea Experience Digest

6. Keeping tea fresh "When I travel, I put tea in a Ziploc bag and make sure it stays out of the sun, because light will fade the leaves and leach out the flavor. I also have an immersion heater so I can heat up water in my hotel room." Mary Lou Heiss, coauthor, The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide

7. Brewing "Bring the water to a boil for black teas, but only heat the water to around 180 degrees (just before it boils) for green and white teas. Pour the water over the tea rather than dropping in a tea bag, so the leaves get hot enough to open fully." Bill Hall, partner, Charleston Tea Plantation

8. Cooling off "When you cool hot tea by adding ice cubes, it gets watery. Instead, fill a Ziploc bag with ice and put it in the tea. Or make ice cubes out of tea." Nicky Perry, owner, Tea & Sympathy, a New York City teahouse

Fancy a spot of tea?
On March 7, we're giving away a Harney & Sons gift bag (filled with tea, preserves, and nuts) via our blog. Keep an eye on our homepage!

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