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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Tea, please.. and not iced

In the 1980s I noticed that I was sensitive to caffeine. After consuming several cups of coffee in boring half-day or all-day business meetings, I got jumpy and began to have palpitations. (At that time, decaf coffee wasn't as widely available as it is now, and what was available didn't taste good.)

My job required frequent travel across Canada, where more persons drink tea than in the U.S. Even in the office in Raleigh, I was surrounded by Canadians. So, I switched from coffee to tea. For the southerners out there, I mean hot tea -- not iced tea.

The lower caffeine load of tea didn't make me jumpy, especially after I discovered that consuming tea tends to be self-limiting. I enjoyed a fresh mouth feel after tea, compared to the persistently oily mouth feel after coffee. (For the same reason I usually drink tonic water when I fly.) I developed a personal tea ritual. Executing this ritual seven days a week is one of the little enjoyments of life.

Lipton bags are not my preference, but I will use them when nothing else is available. There are better bag teas: Mighty Leaf, Twinings, Bigelow, and Red Rose (if you can get it; it's Canadian). The Tazo brand that Starbucks astutely acquired in 1999 is satisfactory. Among the mass market bag teas, I prefer Tetley.

Connoisseurs, however, always use loose-leaf tea. For 15 years I've purchased it from Upton Tea near Boston. I recommend them highly. Not only is their customer service superb and their inventory fresh, but they offer over 400 individual teas. The proprietor knows his business.

To brew loose-leaf tea, you need hardware to separate the leaves from the liquor after steeping. There are lots of gizmos for this, each with pro's and con's. I use a single-serving French coffee press from Bodum, a less fragile but somewhat bulkier single-serving device called IngenuiTea, or a small plastic leaf holder. The latter doesn't work as well as the first two, but it's convenient for travel.

Remember, you're drinking primarily water, so the water should taste good. In Raleigh the tap water tastes great after running it through a Brita filter. In other places I've resorted to bottled water. It helps to aerate the bottled water first, to get some dissolved oxygen back in it. Avoid distilled water; you need a small amount of mineral content in the water to enhance the flavors of the water-soluble chemicals from the leaves.

What kind of tea? I'm loyal to Irish Breakfast blends, in particular the River Shannon from Upton. It's mainly Assam from India. Upton offers small samples of all their teas at reduced prices. Experiment and see you what prefer. Twinings makes a decent Irish Breakfast bag tea (look for the green box).

Now that I've mentioned price: when I meet someone at Starbucks, it's a pleasure to pay half, or less, for my morning beverage than my companion pays for coffee!

Iced tea? Of course. What else would one drink with Eastern NC BBQ? But that's a subject for another day.