As somewhat of an undeclared tea snob, I know that I tend to be a bit prejudiced on the pure, unadulterated whole leaf tea side of things. I usually don’t drink teabag or blended teas except when out and there is no other choice. Recently, while out for dinner at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant, was no exception. It turned out that we were in for a surprise, but it involved some unintended subterfuge on their part.
On their menu they listed just China black tea, China green tea and a chrysanthemum tea. We opted for the green. They always bring their tea in a very nice Tetsubin-like cast iron teapot with small white porcelain cups. We let it steep for a minute or so and then removed the strainer with the leaves when it had steeped long enough. The first thing I did was examine the tea leaves to give myself some idea of the quality of the tea. As you can see from the picture below (sorry about the quality, but I used my iPhone and the camera doesn’t take high resolution pictures), the leaves were all small broken pieces of leaf and some stems. Not a good indication of quality. So I set my mind to a poor to mediocre pot of gpgt (general purpose green tea) commonly found in so many asian restaurants. I tasted it expecting it to be either overly bitter or just bland. What I got was totally unexpected. It was a lovely, lightly sweet tea with a flavor for green tea that I just couldn’t quite put my finger on. I asked the waitress about the tea and she brought over the bulk bag she got it from. Mystery solved. It turned out to be a very cheap green Earl Grey tea by Lily’s Tea House from some local asian store. I couldn’t identify the flavor because, firstly, I always associate Earl Grey with Black tea (mostly Indian) and secondly, because I don’t drink Earl Grey or many other blended teas. In fact, I wouldn’t have ordered this if they provided full disclosure and had it listed as China Green Earl Grey Tea. Despite receiving a tea I mistakenly ordered due to an error of omission on their part, we never-the-less requested a refill of hot water to enjoy a second pot.
The lesson here, I’m sure, is pretty obvious to most. Variety IS the spice of life and keeping an open mind (and palate) can bring you surprising rewards. I don’t think I will be changing my preference any time soon, but I do think I will be less limiting in trying some of the, shall we say, “less expensive” teas out there.
It turns out that eating crow doesn’t have to leave a bad taste in your mouth after all.
Image 1 and Image 2 courtesy of the author.