Friday, August 15, 2008

How to Buy Tea

Tea has moved beyond the white-gloved pinky-high party scene. With one-half to one-third less caffeine than coffee, it's steeped with cancer-fighting antioxidants and is the beverage of choice for much of the world. While selecting and appreciating tea can be a life's work on its own, there are a few general tips for grabbing the right leaf.

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Look for loose and bagged tea in grocery stores, tea shops and specialty stores, ranging from $5 to $35 or more for a quarter of a pound.

Find out your regional preference. This is difficult to do because you may enjoy darjeeling tea from India and pu erh from China. But most countries have a few teas that are specific to their region. Understanding the area where the leaf was grown is important. The three biggest are India, China and Sri Lanka, but Japan is also known for its sencha. Still, there are seemingly countless teas from a number of regions. These are just good starting points.

Learn about tea varieties. Green, black and white teas are basics. But there are some hybrid teas (in appearance) that exist as their own category. Black teas generally have more caffeine, but not always. They are richer and malty in texture, and often earthy in taste. Green teas are typically a bit milder with a fragrant aroma and nutty taste. More specific black teas like oolong and darjeeling have a floral taste and are found somewhere between greens and blacks in terms of texture. Darjeeling, a delicate, clear-brewing black tea, is often called the "champagne teas" because of its high quality. White teas tend to be delicate and smooth, light as they go down. To be certain, there are degrees of this. Silver needle, a white tea from China, is lighter in color than White Peony, which also a subtle fragrance--a bit stronger than silver needle.

Try something knew each time. Tea is a bit easier to distinguish in taste and texture than coffee. For this reason, it's easier to branch out. Once you know you have a preference for white tea, try different flavors and leaves. Given the array of teas, though, you're not likely to be pinned down by one type or one region.

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