Inspired by Caterina’s Tea Recommendations (link via the newly-redesigned Meg), I’ve decided to go into tea snob mode for a moment. You may want to look away or you might lose that image you have of me as a rough-and-tumble guy from the streets…

Like Caterina, I drink 98% loose leaf tea. When I go for a teabag, though, it’s never a Lipton’s (tea “sweepings,” or “dust,” don’t appeal to me). There is a noticable difference in quality between a low-grade teabag and high-quality loose leaf tea. Interestingly, in all but extreme cases, most loose leaf tea’s per-cup price is mere pennies, far less than one would expect.

I like my teas of average strength, so I follow the general brewing rules of thumb:

  • Green Tea: less-than-boiling water for ~3 minutes
  • Black and Rooibos Teas: less-than-boiling or barely-boiling water for ~5 minutes
  • White Tea: same as green, but perhaps 30 seconds less

Of course there are exceptions. Specific varities of teas require different touches, which vary from person to person.

I never—never—use any sort of cream or sugar in my tea. I like my tea straight, without anything else drawing away from the flavor. I can understand people using cream or sugar in their black teas, but it’s a plain-and-simple no-no with green and white teas.

At work, I have a small teapot (which has always gotten me a strange looks) with ceramic basket infuser inside. I brew the tea in the pot and then strain it through a teaball. At home, I’ll use either a small glass container (like the ones you find in restaurants, courtesy of my sister) or one of my Yixing teapots, depending on the type of tea I’m drinking. I generally prefer the eastern philosophy and methods behind tea preparation and drinking to the English idea of “tea time,” probably because I generally prefer green teas, which are not as common in the west.

I drink 2-3 cups of tea a day during the week, and a cup or two over the weekend. The tea I drink depends very much on how I feel in the morning, when I have my first cup of the day. If I’m feeling a little sluggish, I’ll go for a stronger black tea. If I’m feeling normal, I’ll go for a green or white tea. And other times, I’ll go for something a little different, like a Rooibos or a darjeeling. After a heavy meal, a white or light green tea is perfect, though an earthy cup of Pu-Erh can do wonders for digestion.

If you’d like to find out more about tea, one of the best non-commercial sites I’ve seen thusfar is Get Orientaided, which gives a good history of tea from an eastern perspective. In terms of buying tea over the web, I have enjoyed teas from Culinary Teas and Adagio Teas quite a bit.

My favorites change over periods of time. For instance, a few years ago, these were my favorites. I feel like my palette is refining a bit, though. So, here are the teas I’m frequenting now:

  • China White Mutan (from Coffee Caboodle): This slightly expensive white tea is subtle, yet full-bodied, and works as a nice, light, non-flowery follow-up to a heavy meal or to start a morning off in a quiet fashion.
  • China Red Ching Wo (from Coffee Caboodle): I don’t generally go for the heavier black teas like English Breakfast blends, though I’ll occasionally go for a smooth Assam. This south China black tea has a reddish-hue about it. It’s flavor is mellow and even. This is a good tea for non-regular tea drinkers to start with if they’re used to Red Rose or another bagged tea.
  • an unknown green/jasmine blend from China (from the Zhang Yi Yuan Tea Leaf Shop): A co-worker’s friend brought this from Beijing. This very light green/jasmine tea has a flowery flavor to it. While I don’t generally go for this type of tea, this particular blend has an unbelievably good aroma and tastes almost as good. Very delicate, but quite sublime.
  • Adam’s Peak Rare White (from Culinary Teas): This right here is the holy grail of white teas. I first had it as part of a sampler from Culinary Teas and absolutely fell in love with it. The buds are hand-picked from Adam’s Peak, a sacred mountain to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, and Muslims. Only 30kg are plucked weekly, making this rare and quite expensive (a 4oz. bag is $55, a 1/2 oz. sample runs about $6). The taste is complex in its simplicity and subtlety, awakening your senses without clobbering them over the head. This is far and away the best tea I’ve ever tasted.