Our favorite teas and how we found them

Writing about tea is thirsty work. We wouldn’t have made it through the tea leaves without occasional breaks to enjoy a nice cup or two. Which led to some lively discussions about which brands were the best. Each of us has a favorite, often rooted in fond memories of times past.

Clare: A genetically ingrained habit
I spent much of my childhood in England with my British parents and my grandmother and aunt.  When I was a little girl, I had no interest in tea—only the associated biscuits and little cakes that graced the tea tray at four o’clock. I drank the tea anyway because it would have been impolite to focus only on the sweets.  But now that I am an adult and can eat sweets without the tea charade, I still want the tea–the habit is genetically ingrained in me.

I have always liked a strong cup of full-bodied, milky tea—the way my mother (who is now 93 and in a nursing home) still likes hers.  My mother hates weak tea.  I can remember her taking sips of a tea that she had just brewed, making a face and saying, “Ugh!  Tastes like dishwater” and dumping the lot because it wasn’t strong enough. I still find to this day that from the first sip of a cup tea, I know immediately whether or not it is a winner (i.e., whether I’ll enjoy it to the last sip).  That can depend on a whole lot of things: my mood, the length of time I steeped it, the minerals in the water, etc.

My mother’s favorite tea, Typhoo, is also my favorite to this day. Typhoo is a full-bodied, rich, strong tasting tea.  Nothing namby-pamby about Typhoo.

Verlee: An every(wo)man’s tea
I made the switch from coffee to tea during my semester at Cambridge University. It was nigh impossible to get a decent cup of coffee then, and the tea was so delicious, robust, and fruity that the transition was painless. A nice young man from Ipswich turned me on to Jackson’s of Piccadilly, which was rich, smooth and clean. But it was difficult to find Jackson’s back in the United States and on a later trip to London I was introduced to PG Tips, an everyman’s tea that is the daily choice for millions of Brits.

With its pyramid tea bags that allow the water to flow freely through the leaves (the tips of the leaves, no stems), it produces a dark, strong, yet smooth tea that helps me greet the day. I buy it in boxes of 160 teabags and panic if I run out. For my afternoon cup of tea, I like Barry’s Gold. I found it in Ireland while looking for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

I always use a teapot; in the morning it’s a prosaic stainless steel one I bought on that same trip to Ireland more than 20 years ago. It’s still holding up and makes the best tea. I make afternoon tea in a small white porcelain pot, a Home Goods find. It makes exactly one and a half cups, enough to help wash down a gooey chocolate chip cookie. For me, a good cup of milky tea has no peer.

Cynthia: Subdued charm and spicy blends
When I was very young I believed tea, with its light, fragrant aroma and delicate appearance, was for ladies (my mother’s favorite was Constant Comment), while rich, dark, more acidic coffee was for men. Nonetheless, I became a coffee drinker from college on. When my son began attending a British school, though, I began socializing with parents who really knew their tea. Their habit converted me.

Now I drink tea throughout the day, all kinds of teas.  I don’t understand those who are loyal to a single type or label when there are so many possibilities. In the morning, I start with something hearty like St. Dalfour’s full-bodied English Breakfast tea. Later I’ll turn to a spicy and sweet blend like Yogi’s Black Chai tea.  In the afternoon or early evening I enjoy Twinings’ Lady Grey tea, a lighter version of her more renowned husband’s, Earl Grey.

I still have the occasional cup of coffee. But as far as I’m concerned, a day without tea wouldn’t be nearly as pleasant.


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