Tired of Tetley? Bored with Bigelow? There has been a dramatic increase in the range of teas imported into the US in the past three to four years, offering delightful alternatives. These teas usually are sold as loose tea leaves (not in tea bags) and are available in specialty tea shops or on websites.
Six delicious and memorable teas…
- Chinese Keemun. This black tea is nicknamed the “Burgundy of teas” because it is full-bodied, rich and robust like a good Burgundy wine. The flavor is sweet and slightly smoky. Keemun pairs very well with chocolate or lamb. It is best without milk and sweetener added.
- Hojicha (sometimes spelled “Houjicha”). This Japanese tea is technically a green tea, but the tea leaves have been roasted so that the tea actually is brown in color and extremely full-bodied by green tea standards. The flavor is hearty, toasty and distinctive. Hojicha is lower in caffeine than some teas.
- Low-Grown Ceylon. Black teas made from leaves grown at low elevations in Sri Lanka tend to be robust and comforting, very different from the delicate and lighter teas made from tea leaves grown at high elevations on the island. A low-grown Ceylon is a great choice for tea drinkers who like to add milk and/or sweetener. Consider seeking out a “single-estate” low-grown Ceylon made from tea leaves grown on the acclaimed Vithanakande estate.
- Pu-Erh (also spelled “Puer”). While most teas are best fresh, this dark tea is intentionally aged. As a result, Pu-Erh can have a musty, barnyardy smell. That isn’t for everyone, but many people who try it swear by this tea’s earthy flavor and smooth mouthfeel—there’s almost none of the dryness and astringency common to black tea. Pu-Erh contains active probiotic bacteria that not only deepen the flavor but also provide a wonderful aid to digestion—it’s great for settling the stomach after a big holiday meal. It’s best without milk or sweetener added.
- Ti Kuan Yin (spellings vary, also known as “Iron Goddess of Mercy”). This nicely balanced Chinese oolong tea has a wonderful toasty, somewhat sweet aroma and flavor. Breathe out slowly after taking a sip to encourage its rich, comforting and somewhat floral aroma to linger. The sweetness and roundness of this tea make a wonderful counterbalance to spicy foods.
- Yellow Tea. Chinese Yellow teas are similar to green teas, only mellower and less grassy. They tend to be somewhat sweet, often with notes of roasted corn. They’re best on their own, not paired with food. Yellow teas are hard to find in the US but are available through the websites mentioned above.
*Prices for specialty teas can vary from $6 to $35 or more for four ounces depending on the specific tea and where it is purchased. Four ounces of loose tea typically produces roughly 40 to 50 cups.