It is good to have friends in tea places. It’s also good to have friends in high places, which can either be powerful, spiritual, or recreational (as in recreational marijuana). I do have friends in each of those spheres, but none can frugally deliver a bit of flavor to my mailbox. My supply of loose leaf tea was diminishing. My resupply arrived, just in time. Winter weather is trying to arrive, as well. Forget tea bags. The months ahead are going to require pots of camellia sinensis, black tea.
Why not just use tea bags? They’re convenient, tidy, readily available, and reasonably inexpensive compared to other caffeine options like coffee or soda.
Don’t ask a tea connoisseur about such choices. Loose leaf versus tea in a bag? Leaves of tea that are recognizable as leaves grown from a plant versus something that can look like sawdust trapped in a tiny pouch? Pull up a chair and wait for a long impassioned explanation from them.
I’m not a tea connoisseur. Want proof? I still can’t spell the word without help from spell check. ‘Tea’ I can spell. ‘Connoiseur’? We’ve got to find a better word for that.
I’m a fan of tea, as much from frugality as flavor. Thank Starbucks for that.
Starbucks introduced me to tea in about 1980. Boeing hired me after I graduated from college, helped me move across the country from Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech (VPI&SU at the time). I knew no one. Had nothing else to do. Hadn’t discovered what hiking really could be like. So, bored and curious, on the weekends I’d drive from Everett near the 747 plant to Pike Place Market. There, there was a slice of a store squeezed into a gap between a couple of other stores, their names forgotten by me by now.
That store, which is still there, was crowded. Coffee? Sure, but equally tea and spices. Don’t forget the spices.
All I wanted was a cup of tea. I drank a lot of tea in college. Aerospace (and Ocean) Engineering was the sort of curriculum that kept me studying past 2AM with early morning classes a few hours later. Coffee cost too much. Pop (soda) was sticky. All I expected was a tea bag dumped into hot water. Nope. With a line behind me, the person behind the counter (who wasn’t called a barista because no one used that word) explained how to use loose leaf tea, the strainer, the timer, and the counter by the window where I could watch the tourists while my tea steeped. Hooked.
Tea in a bag is also someone’s idea of how much, what kind, what blend, how big your cup should be, what materials you want to dunk into something you’re going to drink, etc. Don’t worry. They’ll take care of you. But, do they know you?
Loose leaf tea is friendly to frugal people.
Today might need more or less tea. In 2020, cranking it up to almost espresso strength can seem like a fine idea. The amount I use is determined by whether I’m filling a cup, a mug, a thermos, or an entire pot. Adjust as desired if someone else will partake, too.
Then, use the leaves again. Using the same leaves twice or thrice can be just as nice, if the tea leaves are high enough quality. Each steeping means less caffeine, too. A full strength pot in the morning can lead to a bit of less-caffeinated tea in the afternoon. Or, in the right weather, drop the leaves into a jar and make sun tea.
While at Boeing I worked with someone from east Asia. They erased my ideas of how to drink tea. Black tea for 4 minutes or 90 seconds for green? The right mug? Ha! They drank tea sent over by their family from their tea farm (not a plantation). Three or four rolled up leaves, like little green ball bearings, dropped into a glass tumbler of hot water. No dainty little handle. No insulation. Somehow they carried around a hot glass from meeting to meeting. Each leaf eventually expanded into a full leaf a few inches long, not bits and pieces. When the glass was empty, more hot water on the same leaves. Repeat as necessary. Only get rid of those three or four leaves at the end of the day.
Loose leaf tea loosens restrictions. Use as you will. I do.
Take a look at the packaging. Five packages delivered in a couple of boxes. No tiny tea bags. No inner sleeves. No tags or strings. No staples or glue. I’ll drop the contents into airtight glass containers that I’ll store in a cupboard. Nothing fancy, yet sufficient. Buy the same amount of tea in bags from a major retailer and watch the postal carrier carry a bigger box that won’t fit in the mailbox and probably also includes plastic peanuts. Tea leaves aren’t that fragile.
Frugality is about choices. Learning more about the things I enjoy and use helps me understand their fundamentals; and also helps me cut away the excess, the unnecessary.
Take a look at what I bought. Three of them are blends (from Joyful Alchemy on Whidbey Island), but two are straight black teas (from Dandelion Botanical in Sequim, WA), something like a single malt scotch (a much more extravagant topic for later). All for about the same price as bags, and maybe cheaper. If you drink black tea you’re probably drinking either or both of those: Assam and Keemun. ‘Breakfast’ teas are usually a blend of those two, each blend getting a different name like English, Irish, etc. By buying both I can blend my own or go full Assam or full Keemun. Control and exploration for a very small fee.
People who sell tea, especially from local shops, typically also understand flavor, and hence, herbs and spices. Remember those spices at Starbucks mentioned above? I suspect the people working in that shop at that time knew about more than coffee. I definitely know that the shops I order from retain that knowledge about tea, and herbs, and how they can also be used for cooking, tinctures, and other things I don’t understand. They emphasize their customer’s needs instead of the brand’s identity.
There are whitecaps on the bay. Wind and rain came through, making the lights flicker here on Whidbey Island. I don’t want the power to go out; but if it does, I don’t need to worry about coffee roasters, grinders, percolators, espresso machines, and whatever froths those frothy drinks. Boiling some hot water in a kettle on a camp stove is easy enough. Pour into water and leaves into a pot to steep for a while. Then fill a mug (my hands are too big for a cup), let the warmth work its way through, and watch the storm go by.