Tea doesn’t just happen for most of us here in the Western Hemisphere. Coffee is more often the hot beverage of choice, with our tea experiences being limited to that iced stuff in Summer. Somewhere along the line, I got totally enamored of pu-erh teas. And a lot of you at some point made tea much more prevalent in your line up of beverages. But how that comes about is the controversy. The “experts” say one thing, and the people I chat with online and in person say another. We’d like to know your story on how you got started with tea and where you have gone since that beginning.
What Tea Experts Say
Here are some statements (paraphrased to the best of my memory, since I didn’t save them in a file or write them down) that these “experts” have told me:
- People start with those flavored teas as a great way to get into fine teas.
- People start with herbal teas and then progress into fine teas.
- People need those cheap bagged teas as a way to get a taste for tea, then they learn about fine teas and make the switch.
My Own Story
JAS-eTea.com, my tea store, grew out of my introduction to and growing enjoyment of fine teas. Previous to that I was your typical coffee drinker with my Summer time iced tea. My wife, Janice, gets the credit here when she bought some good quality longjing green tea. Soon after, I learned how many levels of quality there were for this tea. Wow! Tea was more than just black and green varieties. My thirst to learn more was whetted. I tried several other green teas and then some silver needle white tea. Fabulous! My eyes were opening to a wonderland.
Oolong teas were the next discovery in my expanding tea world, and thought I had found the nirvana of tea appreciation. Again, though, the breadth and complexities of choices were still unknown. Just as I was exploring some of these deeper pathways (in the form of Dan Cong oolongs), someone mentioned that I should try pu-erh tea.
Pu-erh here in the U.S. is pretty unknown in the mainstream of tea, and finding good sources is a bit tough for those dedicated to it. My trials with raw (uncooked, sheng, or green) pu-erh also showed that this tea needs some experience and knowledge to enjoy at its best. I had never tried a tea that was so sensitive to infusion times. Next, I tried ripe (cooked, shu) pu-erh and soon discovered that they can be easier to infuse. I also soon learned that there are a number of factories, large and small, producing both types of pu-erhs, with some tea masters’ cakes being much sought after. And the issue of aging became a key factor.
Soon, my attention and focus for tea was on learning as much as I could about pu-erhs and the many variables involved. These include but are not limited to terroir, manufacturer, technique employed, age of the tea trees and altitude where they exist, and age of the final tea product. (Of course, many of these factors apply to other teas as well.) While I have learned a lot about pu-erh over the years, I think that it is a lifelong knowledge and tasting journey. The Chinese refer to this as “cha dao” or the “way of tea.” In addition, the similarity between fine red wines and fine pu-erhs is unmistakable, with quality and flavors depending on the same factors of terroir, year, maker, and vineyard/garden, and the way they pair with certain foods.
It seemed pretty clear that helping myself and others find and purchase these remarkable teas was a good thing to do, so I established a pu-erh buying club, sourcing some great pu-erhs directly from China and making them available at great prices. A short time later it also became clear that this was a good arrangement needing to be made more official by setting up a store site. The rest, as they say, is history.
Tell Us Your Story
We’d love to hear from you. Some things you might want to include (but feel free to add things in or skip some of these – just wanted to give you something to get your brain thinking):
- At what age did you start drinking tea?
- What tea did you start drinking?
- When did you start exploring other teas?
- Were the first teas you started exploring the highly flavored ones, and if so, which ones?
- Where are you now in your tea drinking? (Staying with favorites, keep trying news ones, etc.)
Thanks for your time!