"What's your favorite tea?"
If you're like 90% or so of all of us, you probably said, "Orange Pekoe."
That's because Orange Pekoe is what's listed as the primary ingredient in Lipton teabags, the tea most of us consumed growing up and the default tea at many restaurants.
But here's the thing: Orange Pekoe is not a flavor or even a type of tea. It refers only to the size of the leaf.
Lipton tea is usually made of several types of tea, most of them black…and Americans, like our English forebears, almost unanimously prefer black tea.
But there's a whole world of green tea out there that deserves to be noticed.
Last Friday at Todd & Holland Tea Merchants, tea distributor Sara Kadowaki poured a few green teas I'd never had before.
Yame Gyokuro, Kadowaki told us, "is the champagne of green teas." I found it had a viscous, almost meaty flavor. Yame Gyokuro is grown under straw mats so that plants are forced to strain for sunlight. That's because, as Bill Tood pointed out, "stressing a plant improves the flavor." This is as true for teas as it is for Bordeaux wine, which grows in notoriously challenging soil: the plant that works harder to survive tends to yield more delicious fruit (or, in the case of tea, leaves). Kadowaki even eats the used tea leaves…she puts them in tuna salad.
We tried a number of teas, each different and with varying degrees of complexity. All the while, Todd encouraged us to "make some noise" as we slurped from our cups. Slurping tea, making it bubble on the tongue, actually does seem to clarify some of the flavors, and if you're seriously "cupping," you should slurp.
My favorite tea of the bunch was Matcha Supreme, a powdered tea, the kind used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. Matcha is prepared by whisking tea granules in a bowl until the tea dissolves, leaving a delicate foam on the surface. Matcha contains L-theanine, which has an effect similar to caffeine, but as Kadowaki explained, "it picks you up without the crash."
Now, I confess, my favorite teas are, indeed, black. I'm guessing yours are, too. Still, green tea offers a different type of tea experience, not just of flavors but smells and textures. If you're consistently a black tea drinker, consider trying some green tea now and again. Green may not be your cup of tea, but it might at least provide some relief from the tedium of the same kind of cup every day, and there are a lot of green teas out there. So even if you're a devoted black tea person, give green tea a chance.