Things worth learning: tea


“Tea is an aromatic beverage commonly prepared by pouring hot or boiling water over cured or fresh leaves of Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub native to East Asia.” (Wikipedia)


Tea, like wine, is something you can acquire a taste for and enjoy even if you don’t know much about it. But I’ve found that learning about tea has helped me enjoy it more.


Until recently I was a coffee drinker. I started in college, staying up late drinking watery drip at all-night diners. Eventually I figured that if I was going to drink coffee anyway I should try to find some that wasn’t gross. In Europe I discovered good espresso, fancy machines, and French presses. I learned that it’s important to buy freshly-roasted beans and grind them just before you use them. The quality of the water also makes a big difference.

As I got older I found I couldn’t handle the potency of good coffee any more. My energy would take a nose-dive halfway through the afternoon, which was a big problem when I was supposed to be focusing on developing software.

Tea has been much gentler. I drink black tea most mornings, mid-morning. Sometimes I drink green tea just before or after lunch. I like to drink an herbal tea mid-afternoon, usually something with ginger. I find it invigorating. Occasionally I’ll drink chamomile and passionflower teas in the evening. There are so many kinds of tea to discover.

It’s best to prepare tea by infusing loose tea leaves. It’s important to use pure water, boil it at the right temperature, and steep the tea for the right time. These things are easy to acquire and learn.

I’m fortunate to live in an area of the country where a fair number of people appreciate tea. There is a tea shop nearby, The Whistling Kettle. I also order teas online from shops like Silver Tips, further south in Tarrytown. It’s fun to go to a tea shop and try different things from the menu – that’s how I learned about Lapsang souchong, Oolong teas, Japanese green teas, and various exotic herbal teas. I’ve also read books about tea: how and where it’s cultivated, the different types of tea, and the history of tea consumption.

As with wine, I never aspired to be a tea connoisseur, but am happy to be a dilettante. Learning much more than I have already wouldn’t dramatically increase my enjoyment of drinking tea, which is why I learned in the first place. It’s been worth the effort.