That time I opened a tea tin with a hammer

In case you didn’t know, I love tea. Despite the self-imposed tea-buying hiatus for the majority of this year, I finally bought more tea. To be specific, I spotted a 24 Days of Tea advent calendar from a DavidsTea store in San Francisco. Those things went out of stock on the website in hours, and the closest store to Atlanta is Chicago, so I handed over some money and a calendar became mine.

I was a good Sushi. I let the tea sit and didn’t open any of them until yesterday, December first. After getting home from my Thanksgiving weekend, I cracked open the advent calendar with a tiny 1 on it and was rewarded with my tea of the day: Forever Nuts, a fruit and nut blend that I heard turned water into a beautiful reddish pink.

Sweet, right? I got to work opening the tiny (but very cute) tin. Note the words “got to work”. See, here’s how the process should have gone. Step one: open tin. Step two. Brew tea. Step three: profit.

Here’s how it really went.

Step one: Attempt to pop tin open, but the lid is practically glued on.

Step two: Attempt to unscrew the lid, thinking it’s one of those tins you have to unscrew, but nothing budges. Grab one of those rubber grips and try. Nothing moves.

Step three: Repeat steps one and two a few more times until it’s pretty clear the lid isn’t budging. Start to suspect the thing really is glued on.

Step four: Tweet your frustrations, then repeat steps one and two. You know how complaining about an annoyance sometimes makes it go away? If only it were that easy.

Step five: To Google! Look up ways to unseal a container, even though you’re already familiar wtih most of the tips. Try steps one and two again for good measure.

Step six: Grab a knife and stab the top plastic part of the jar. Manage to get a cut or two in there, but nowhere near enough to scoop out any tea. Try steps one and two again. You know, just in case.

Step seven: Bang up the sides of the container. Try steps one and two again. Tweet again.

Step eight: Refusing to accept defeat, grab a hammer and hammer the sides of the tin until it finally budges. Enjoy tea and hope to any gods listening that the other 23 days aren’t like this.

#24daysoftea: Now with hammers!

I earned that tea. I just don’t want to waste half an hour of my life on opening the others.

Favorite Teas of the Now

It’s no secret that I have a large tea collection. I’ve drunk down several of my teas in the last few weeks, but because there’s so much tea left, I declared a tea buying hiatus at the end of last year in order to finish what I have.

In no particular order, here are a few current favorites in my collection:

Cara McGee’s TARDIS blend at Adagio. This tea is a fruitier and toned down Earl Grey. I’m a sucker for Earl Grey, so this one’s a winner. It’s just… good. A little familiar and then there are the blackberry and vanilla tones to remind you that yes, you’re drinking something new. This tea is my comfort in a mug. And yes, you do get an extra ounce of tea when ordering because the TARDIS is bigger on the inside.

Organic Hot Lips at DAVIDsTEA: This is a green tea with a kick, but in a chai way. It has all my favorite spicy things in it: cinnamon, peppercorn, and chili pepper. I got a small pack of this when visiting a San Francisco DAVIDsTEA and now I’m wishing I got more because of the tea buying hiatus. This tea is great for stuffy noses and other times you need a kick.

Organic Golden Monkey from Red Blossom Tea: This could be a daily tea for me. It’s a light black tea that doesn’t come on too strong or too sweet. This tea is everything I want in a straight black tea. Bonus: I can resteep the leaves a few more times and the tea still tastes great.

Grand Shou Wild Leaf Lincang Pu-Erh 2006 from Red Blossom Tea: I know, two teas from the same company. But this pu-erh is so good. It’s earthy like you’d expect from a puerh, but not so earthy as to be alienating (like stronger puerhs can be). This tea was one of the first puerhs I’ve had, and it won’t be the last. And if you don’t brew it at least five times, you’re doing this tea a terrible disservice.

Foxtrot by Adagio: This one isn’t technically a tea at all, but that doesn’t stop me from including it. This is by far my favorite herbal tea. Foxtrot is a blend of chamomile, rooibos, peppermint, and a tad of vanilla. It’s slightly sweet and a wonderful nightcap.

Honorable mentions that aren’t in my current tea collection include Verdant Tea’s Laoshan Black and Adagio’s Cha Cha herbal blend.

What are your favorite teas?

My attempt to archive my tea collection

I’ve mentioned time and time again that I’m a big fan of tea. My current tea collection sits at somewhere around fifty different teas, and that’s not including the teas I have just one bag of, or the teas I’ve received through the NaNo tea swap that didn’t include tea names and companies. My tea drawer and cabinet both overflow with tea, along with the teas that have somehow migrated to the boyperson’s apartment.

And then there are the teas I’ve finished or have drunk only once, like in a coffee or tea shop. I want to remember my reactions to those as well.

Enter Steepster. I’ve known of Steepster for a long time but never joined because I didn’t need yet another social site in my life. That is, until January when my tea collection had finally reached the point of not remembering what I’ve consumed and what I haven’t. This is already happening for books, and I’m not as well-read as some readers out there. I knew the same problem would happen with tea if I didn’t do something.

So I signed up with Steepster. You can view my Steepster profile here. The signup process was simple, and I could immediately start editing my profile and adding teas to the my collection.

How to use Steepster

The easiest way to add a tea is to search for it, keeping in mind you’ll probably get multiple results. This is especially the case if you’re searching for a general tea name like “earl grey” or “jasmine green”. Each tea from a company has a different page on the Steepster site, which means, for example, Twinings Earl Grey and DavidsTea Earl Grey are two different teas on the Steepster site. This is good because you can distinguish between the two when reviewing them. This is not so good when you’ve received teas from tea swaps and don’t know what company the tea’s from, therefore making the archiving process more difficult. Since almost all my teas of unknown origin are from the NaNoWriMo tea swap, I asked my swap partners, but there’s a chance that they won’t remember by the time they get around to checking their messages again.

And if a certain tea isn’t already in Steepster’s site, like many of mine weren’t, you can add it. I must have added at least ten teas to the site in my quest to archive teas.

You can also review teas in what Steepster calls tasting notes: your impressions of the tea, how you prepared it, and a score. You can add a tasting note just once or every time you drink the tea. It’s up to you. I haven’t decided what exactly to do with these tasting notes or scores yet, though I did copy most of my Adagio reviews over to Steepster. Since lots of other folks use Steepster, you can see what other people think of a given tea while deciding what teas to get or whether to buy from a certain company.

The best part of Steepster is the discussion board. Here you can discuss just about anything related to tea. A few of those discussions include specific companies, what teas you received today, tea swaps to participate in, and just about anything on anyone’s mind. Like any community, there are some users more deeply involved with tea than others, but that’s okay. There’s a place for everyone to start talking and reviewing, even if you’re brand new to tea. So join in!

The only problem with Steepster is that it makes me want to buy more tea! Unfortunately this can’t happen right now because of my tea-buying hiatus. This means I have a great excuse to drink more tea and drink that collection down. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Tea and Me, or the birth of a tea lover

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
* drink

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.