At Far Leaves Tea, we call those who drink loose leaf tea, Tea Makers, because they don't just drink tea as a beverage. They take the time to make and experience loose leaf tea through the numerous different infusions as the tea leaves unfurl. In the spirit of learning more about how these Tea Makers began their tea journey and their tea rituals, we are, of course, sitting down and having tea with them.
Following chef Mark Gordon as our first Tea Maker Profile guest, we were excited to invite our long time fan Jen, writer and professor of journalism, join us for a tea dialogue on her loose leaf tea journey.
Q: Why do you drink loose leaf tea, Jen?
A: I used to drink tea bags...herbal teas like peppermint and maybe decaffeinated black teas with cream and sugar. I would get a big old pot of tea and add sweetener.
Now I call tea bags, tea dust because there is no leaves (inside).
Like everyone else, I didn’t know (about loose leaf tea).
It’s world of difference. When I got those other (non loose leaf) teas, it was like bad coffee with a bunch of milk and sugar. Most of what you like is this warm milky hot drink.
When you get really good loose leaf tea, the flavor is like drinking from this mountain stream. Fresh, clear. So much more subtle. And loose leaf tea really predated al of the pour over coffee (movement). (It's like) I used to have a marker with a single color and now I have a box of crayons.
I had no idea it was going to feel like a world opening up. At the start, I just hadn’t experienced enough teas and I didn’t have a palate for it. I wasn’t convinced that I could tell good tea from bad tea. Maybe a bit embarrassed. There would be a fancy kind of tea and I didn’t even like it that much. But I would try little samples of it. You could really side by side begin to taste the difference. As I did that along the way, slowly I have a more refined appreciation for these different varieties of tea. I don’t actually drink wine. But I assume it must be the same. Your entire world opens up.
Now I love tea and I drink (loose leaf) tea all the time. The longer I drink tea, the longer it just becomes a pure pleasure. Now I enjoy it more than food. I think I feel about tea the way some people feel about chocolate, especially since there are so many choices to fit your mood. The flavors really get me.
Q: Can you share with us how tea complements your profession as a writer?
A: (Jen shares an experience with us.) I was working on a New Yorker article. I was working for 9 hours probably with a pot of tea. One of the hardest things bout writing for a complex magazine like a New Yorker is that you really have to sit down. It's an excruciating process. You have to have these moments of insight around the story. As any writer would tell you, maybe I should go clean the fridge. There was something about sitting at the Far Leaves Tea tea house, quiet and meditative. It really helped me focus. The tea is something I could drink all day long. I wouldn’t do this with coffee. I wouldn’t be able to. The tiny little shots of tea keep you going. The aesthetic pleasure and the little caffeine boost but very soothing, never leaving me jittery. It really helped get me into these 9 hours of focused spaces.
Even with the rise of fancy artisanal coffee, it still feels like people are rarely sitting and appreciating. They are walking (with coffee). But there is something about being able to step out of the rushing stream of daily life a bit with tea and be a little more present.
Q: How does tea get you into the moment and be present?
A: Goes back into diverse sensory enjoyment of tea. Unlike coffee grounds, every tea looks different, smells different, and you steep it differently. All of these make you more mindful and aware. And you get these wonderful rewards.
You put leaves in the pots. Teas and leaves have different smells. And there are all these tastes, all these motions. Here you have your water and pot and your cup and your pitcher. You are not just consuming something that's in your hand. You are making an active choice to steep this pot of tea to make sure the water is right and that it doesn’t over-steep. And pouring it out.
And with each step, they make me be very present and aware in a way that really wonderful food can make your slow down instead of eating mindlessly a bag of chips. It’s almost like you lose a lot of pleasure that way. That's unconscious consumption instead.
Q: What advice would you like to share with new tea drinkers?
A: Don’t fear tea. It’s not snobby or intimidating. Your taste and understanding of it will evolve. Don’t worry about getting it wrong. Just try it.
And give it a little time. It’s unlikely people will like it when they first try it. Give your tastebuds and your mind a chance to reorient and be open to its experience. If you have been eating potato chips and then you eat asparagus, you won't like the asparagus. But eventually you’ll like it. It takes time for taste to change.
Q: What are your favorite teas?
I like vegetables and salad, fresh fruit. It appeals to me. (Drinking green tea is) like biting into a perfect head of lettuce.