Scenario: A friend tells you that they want to “start getting into tea.” They ask you to recommend a few good loose leaf teas to get started with. Which teas do you recommend?
As a “teavangelist” myself, I love helping tea-newbies begin their tea collections. I like to recommend teas that are at once delicious but that also have a broad appeal and are easy to prepare. I’m listing my selections below. What do you think?
Americans tend to be most familiar with black tea, though usually either as an iced beverage or loaded with milk and sweetener. Here are two teas, one Chinese, one Indian, that will encourage people to appreciate plain tea.
This rich tea often has a creamy sweetness, which makes it perfect for those who want to wean themselves from milk & sugar.
Some Nilgiri teas can be ho-hum, but good ones are remarkably smooth and flavorful. Even better, they make awesome iced teas.
A lot of people think they don’t like green tea. This is often because a lot of inferior green tea is marketed as “health food” (which isn’t supposed to taste good), and is then prepared with too-hot water for too-long steep times. Cooler water, and shorter steeps, plus high-quality green tea, is a good way to rid people of their anti-green tea prejudices.
White Monkey Paw
This very light tea has mild vegetable and nutty notes that should please even the most fussy palate. Just make sure that your friend uses relatively cool water (170F or so) and short steep times (30-60 seconds) with this one.
On the other end of the spectrum is hojicha, a roasted Japanese green tea. If a tea newbie complains that green tea is an “acquired taste”, give them a cup of hojicha. It’s roasted notes take care of any grassiness, and some folks find it a great substitute for coffee.
Oolong sounds weird but tastes great, and can be a lot more accessible than many green teas.
Iron Goddess of Mercy
Green and floral, this lovely oolong never fails to impress people, even newcomers to oolong. Makes an excellent cold-brewed iced tea.
This dark oolong has incredible honey and (sometimes) fruity notes. A great transition for folks who want to explore beyond black tea, but aren’t sure about the greener varieties. Also great on ice.
White tea is trendy and a lot of people are eager to try it. While silver needle is the “classic” white tea, it can be a bit subtle, which is why I suggest starting tea newcomers on new-style white teas.
A lot of just don’t “get” the subtle flavors of silver needle the first time they try it. Shou mei is far less expensive than silver needle, and has some wonderfully sweet and even fruity flavors. Lovely on ice, too!
Many tea lovers turn up their nose at flavored tea, but I still enjoy them if they are well-made.
While I think that tea newcomers need to spend a lot of time with true, unflavored teas, I will say that genmaicha, Japanese green tea with roasted/popped rice can be a great way to train the palates of those unfamiliar with green tea. This stuff is great for controlling appetite, too!
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