Posted by: ktzefr | August 26, 2013

Tea Talk: the good, the bad, and the unsavory

Swallowtail butterfly; Photo:KFawcett

When Starbucks acquired Teavana at the end of last year they said they were going to “reinvent the way the world enjoys tea.”  I don’t like this reinvention.  I was excited at the prospect of tea shops in neighborhoods and along urban streets, rather than just the mall locations.  Tea bars, too, are a super idea, though not entirely new as tea houses have been common for centuries in some parts of the world.  But real tea drinkers are more interested in the actual taste of the tea than anything else, and the Starbucks folks have already gotten rid of nearly all of the wonderful teas I enjoyed and replaced them with mediocre leaves and even less palatable blends.

I loved Black Dragon Pearl, a fragrant and rare, hand-rolled black tea from the Yunnan province.  It was pricey, but the leaves were good for multiple infusions.  The Darjeeling Vidyaranya and Darjeeling Puttabong were exquisite teas from some of the oldest estates in the Darjeeling region of India.  Both made great afternoon teas and the lovely aroma of a steeping cup was alone worth the price and the effort.  And there was Himalayan Majestic from the hills of Nepal and Ceylon Neeraja cultivated in the heart of tropical Sri Lanka, but my favorite tea to get dumped was Copper Knot.  The hand-rolled leaves made a pretty copper-colored brew and the scent and taste, both rich and delicate, made it the one tea I would have chosen to keep before all others.

The last time I stopped by Teavana I let out a sigh of relief; at least they still had Golden Monkey, the last really good tea on the shelves, in my opinion.  The relief didn’t last once I got the tin home, however.  I don’t know where they’re buying these leaves, but they’re nothing like the Golden Monkey I’ve bought in the past.  It takes two heaping spoons of leaves to make a decent cup of tea.  The taste is weak and bland.  The leaves do not look nor smell the same as they used to and they’re not good for multiple infusions.  I’m not even convinced that it’s Golden Monkey, but Starbucks is charging for these leaves the same price I once paid for the real deal. 

I peruse their shelves and shake my head.  What real tea drinker wants leaves with names like these:  Champagne Sangria Punch, Strawberry Slender, Blueberry Kona Pop, or Citrus Lavender Sage.  It sounds like they’re selling designer soaps or sachets.  I don’t want berries and fruits and herbs in my tea.  Unless, of course, the “herbs” are a simple yerba mate.  But that’s not going to happen either.  What would the old folks in South America (where brewing mate is close to a spiritual ritual) think about the Starbucks reinvention — Raspberry Riot Lemon Mate and Caribbean Calypso, for example, and there’s one with mango and another with acai.  No, this isn’t mate.  All you really need for a good cup of mate — yerba mate leaves, hot water, and a calabash gourd. 

As I said, I don’t like the Starbucks reinvention.  So, I’ve been searching the web for teas that resemble the ones I used to love at Teavana.  I’ve ordered tea from estates in China and India and paid more for the shipping than the leaves.  Some have been very good; others not so much.  I’ve found good teas online at The Tao of Tea and Rishi Tea and have even resorted on occasion to…teabags. Help!

Any tea lovers with great leaves to share?


See also “12 Fun Facts about Tea”



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