WITH COLDER WEATHER comes a time to gather—family and friends come together to enjoy each other’s company and share the warmth of the season. And for many of us tea drinkers, sharing our love of tea with those we care about is another way to enjoy ourselves. After all, tea has brought pleasure into our lives and when you add its profound health benefits, who wouldn’t want to encourage everyone to give it a try?
But for some reason, many people see tea as a complex and complicated thing, or else a plain, bitter brew. When you offer to share a lovely pot of Assam with friends and family, they always seem to say, “No, thank you, I don’t like tea. Do you have any coffee?” But this reluctance is really an opportunity—with just a little work, you can demonstrate just how wonderful tea can be, and share a bit of joy with your guests in the process.
We all come to tea in a different way, and thinking about how you first fell in love with tea can help you introduce others to it. For me, the first time I was genuinely smitten with tea was in Singapore, when I stumbled upon a teahouse/cafe that presented its tea offerings with a ritualistic tea ceremony using small, 3-ounce teacups that were refilled throughout your meal. Who could refuse a few sips from a tiny teacup? Was it recollections of childhood tea parties that delighted me, or was I just curious about this whimsical presentation? Needless to say, I came home with a small tea set that included an 8-ounce teapot and four little teacups. As I approach my guests with a small tray of tea paraphernalia and tell them I have a special tea experience for them, they never seem to refuse.
Flights of Fancy
A number of shops in Portland, Oregon, now offer “tea flights,” not unlike beer or wine flights. Customers select three or four teas that they’d like to try, usually in the same family—green, white, oolong, or black—and they’re given a series of small glasses or white cups lined up on a tray to sample. The clear or white cups allow the viewer to marvel at the differences in the actual color of the teas. If you’ve never seen this before, call a few of your local tea shops and see if they have such an offering so you can experience it yourself before choosing a fun tea flight to offer your guests.
The Hands-On Approach
Another option for wooing reluctant tea drinkers…themselves is to engage them in preparing a delicious cup of whole-leaf tea themselves. Depending upon whether they’re willing to have caffeine, I either select a green, oolong, or black whole-leaf tea, keeping a few tasty herbal options ready as well. My goal is to demystify the process of making a cup of tea and let them experience firsthand how delicious good-quality tea that is correctly brewed can be.
I’ve come to understand that many non-tea drinkers feel a bit intimated by the brewing process. What I want to do is show them how easy the process really is—without them realizing that there’s a lesson going on. I try to keep things simple: Typically, I’ll either use a small 8-ounce teapot with built-in strainer, or a mug that has a removable strainer with a cover that can hold the strainer after the brewing is complete.
I gather my trusted tools of the trade onto a small tray and let the process flow. I start with hot water and my digital thermometer, telling my guests the desired temperature for this particular tea. While we wait for the water to cool, I show them the delicate whole leaves and have them touch and smell the dried leaves. Next, I offer them my beautiful hand-carved tea scoop and ask them to put the leaves into the vessel. Then I hand them the thermometer and wait until they tell me that the correct temperature has been reached. Out comes the timer, which I ask them to set for the desired steep time. Next, I ask them to pour the water over the leaves and start the timer on its countdown to perfection.
As we wait for the timer to chime, I explain why it’s essential to remove the liquor from the leaves and before you know it, we’ve brewed a perfect cup of tea. Often, this is the first experience my guests have had with whole-leaf tea. Their first sip can be quite revealing. You see a small smile forming on their lips and they remark, “This is delicious. I can’t believe I actually like tea!”
To help cement their new love of tea, I often send my guests home with a bit of tea to try again. I might create a complete tea package with all the accouterments for them, if I’m aiming for a terrific gift to offer. If I just want to remind them how delicious tea can be, I might give them a few samples wrapped in a ribbon. Stuck into the packet is a preprinted message that reads:
W+ 3T = The perfect cup of tea Legend
W= excellent Water, preferably bottled water but experiment with your tap
1T =Tea – best quality whole leaf
2T= Temperature – optimal brewing for each type of tea
3T= Time – optimal for each selected tea
I can’t tell you how much pleasure I get when I invest the time to introduce my guests to the world of tea. I feel like I’m opening up their lives to a new treasure that they will always associate, on some level, with me—their guide to the exotic world of the healthiest beverage on the planet.