Last month, I stopped in at David’s Tea in downtown Boston, to pick up a couple of teas for a friend and refill my own tin of Cream of Earl Grey. It’s a black tea blend, little lighter than a standard Earl Grey, with a hint of vanilla to sweeten the citrus. I rediscovered it this winter and have been drinking it nearly every morning for months.
A friend who accompanied me on another David’s trip, a few months back, stared in awe at the packed shelves behind the counter, full of stout stainless-steel tins, with color-coded labels for black, green, white and herbal teas. “How do you choose?” he asked in bewilderment. I began explaining my tea preferences, but the bottom line was this: I’ve been drinking tea for a long time, and I know what I like.
My annual summer tea order arrived last week, just in time for the season’s first heat wave. I order a tin of blackberry sage and one of ginger peach every year, alternating between them on the warm mornings when the trees outside shimmer with heat and the sunlight dances across the floor. I’ve been drinking these two blends since my long-ago summers as a barista at the Ground Floor, when I’d open the shop in the early mornings and pour my first cup of tea while brewing the day’s first pot of coffee.
According to my friend, I’m a bit of a tea snob these days. But I wasn’t always.
I grew up in Texas, where the tea is mostly iced and nearly always Lipton. I’m not a big iced tea drinker, so for years I thought I didn’t like tea at all. It took a barista job and a semester in Oxford to change that opinion – though once I discovered a few favorites, I never looked back.
But here’s the secret: my tea snobbery is firmly middle-of-the-road.
In Montréal a couple of years ago, I walked into a cafe-cum-tea-shop that boasted lots of expensive teas from single-origin estates high in the Himalayas (with prices to match). I was totally intimidated, and a bit put off. I realized I had no interest in distinguishing between first- or second-flush Darjeeling. Instead, I accepted the limits of my tea knowledge – and bought some La Crème des Earl Grey to take home.
These days I’m perfectly content with my sort-of-snobbish attitude to tea. I travel with my own tea bags, and keep a few in my desk at work, so I always have my favorites around. I breathe a sigh of relief when I’m out at a coffee shop or restaurant and I see that they carry a brand of tea I like: Harney & Sons, Republic of Tea, MEM Teas (based in the Boston area). And I do tend to turn up my nose if I order tea at a restaurant and the waitstaff brings me a cup of Lipton.
I feel this way about wine, too. And books, come to think of it. But that’s probably a post for another day.
Are you sort of a snob about tea, or anything else?