I haven’t always had a large tea collection, nor have I always consumed loose leaf tea. But tea has always been part of my life, if only because sweet tea is as much a part of the South as barbecue and Coca-Cola products.
That changed when I went to college. The dining hall presented its food options to me, and say what you will about college dining hall food, but the main thing it introduced me to was hot tea. (Also the hot chocolate machine. But mostly tea.) It was bagged tea and there wasn’t much variety, but it was tea, and when you’re sick and need something to soothe your throat, or when you want caffeine but don’t like coffee, tea is just the thing to turn to.
Around this time I also noticed a lot of people talking about tea on the NaNoWriMo forums, which got me more curious. But I still never explored the tea, instead just drinking the bagged tea from the dining hall–though I did drink it more often.
And then I graduated. I lived in Atlanta for awhile. I lived with my family for awhile in a dinky small town where the tea selection ends at Walmart. At some point while living with my family my mom and I went to a European food store in Chattanooga. Besides finding all the tasty chocolate there, I also found some loose leaf tea. Since a lot of the tins were in languages I had zero knowledge of, I may or may not have chosen the tea based on how pretty the tin was.
I didn’t have a steeper and I had no idea how to brew the tea, but by golly I was going to figure it out. The first few times I used coffee filters and tried to use them as tea filters. The result was frustrating and I swore to myself that it would never happen again. A few weeks later I found a tea infuser and started using it, but since I didn’t have any instructions on how to make tea, my tea making experience consisted of:
* pour hot water in mug
* put hot water in microwave
* measure tea and put it in infuser
* get boiling water out of microwave
* dunk infuser in
* let tea steep
Not the best tea-making process. You’d think I would have thought of using the stovetop, but I used the same process to make hot chocolate. Why fix what isn’t broken, right?
In 2011 Chom, a Quebec Wrimo, brought me a tin of tea from David’s Tea when she visited Atlanta. It was a chocolate rooibos, and it was delicious and lasted quite awhile. I still have the tin.
By 2012 I was broke as balls. I bought a little bit of loose leaf tea occasionally and also participated in the NaNo tea swap in 2011, where one of my tea swap partners was, coincidentally, someone I already knew. But the tea making process remained the same: dunk the tea infuser or bag into the hot water. Really, you’d think I would learn.
One of the Raleigh MLs was passing through the area in early 2012, so we planned to meet up one evening after I got out of work. I got there before our meetup time, so I grabbed dinner and wandered around the mall next to the bookstore, which is a completely appropriate place for two Wrimos to meet. Meanwhile, I passed the Teavana, and–curious and innocent of what was to come–I went inside to kill some time.
That day was the last day of my job, a substitute teaching gig, so I decided to reward myself with some tea. But the Teavana salespeople are vicious creatures, suggesting the most expensive teas and dumping much more than you would like. I kept telling them I didn’t want that much tea because I didn’t even know what my money situation would look like in the next few months, but they kept giving me more tea than I wanted despite my saying “I want two ounces of this tea.”
Oh, but it was an herbal tea, and they were supposed to sell a white tea with it so you could blend the two. Well, I had never had a white tea before, so why not give it a try? I didn’t know the difference between any of the teas, so of course the salesperson recommended one of the most expensive ones. Eh, whatever. I wanted to reward myself after finishing that job, but I did not need to spend that much money on tea.
But she started with scooping way too much tea in the bag and trying to sell me an expensive tea tin on top of that. Um, no. So I did the same thing as with the last tea: kept saying no until getting down to just an ounce of tea.
The tea wasn’t awful, but the experience convinced me never to step into a Teavana again. Considering Atlanta is short on tea shops as it is, this is a serious decision. Apparently they’re supposed to stop, but I remain unconvinced. I can get better tea elsewhere.
Over the next few months, my roommate moved out and a new one moved in. This one brought an electric kettle along and unintentionally sparked my love of tea. This was when I figured out that the temperature mattered, and I went out and bought a meat thermometer to stick in the kettle, then started figuring out what teas steeped at what temperatures and for how long, using the instructions Teavana had given me as a starting point.
And so it began…
Zen Tea is the non-Teavana tea shop in Atlanta, and it’s usually a write-in stop during the Atlanta region’s MARTA write-in. It was the second stop during the 2012 MARTA write-in, and I spent my non-writing time gazing at the 100+ teas on the shelves: blacks and whites and greens and oolongs and herbals and rooibos, all with friendly staff who remembered me from my last visit. I had more than a few dollars to spend, and I was almost out of tea. It was time to start exploring.
And explore I did: I wound up getting an earl grey creme, a white chai, a chamomile, and a chocolate black tea.
By February 2013 I had drunk most of this tea, and for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t struggling for money. I also had an Adagio gift certificate to use. The solution was clear.
And then I noticed that fifty dollars got free shipping.
And this is where the fun starts.
I made room in my tea drawer for the newly acquired teas. A few months later this tea drawer turned into a tea cabinet when I attended a local festival and ran into a couple of local tea companies. I wound up using all my small plastic and glass containers to store the teas, but it was worth the effort. My tea cabinet was complete…at the time.
Now I’m on a tea strike not to buy any more tea until going to San Francisco in November, where I will acquire all the tea. What a difference a few years can make.