In last month’s post, I wrote about the joys of sharing tea with friends at the perfect tea party. One of the comments on the post remarked that so often when people discuss tea, they talk about what to eat with the tea, and not the tea itself. So in this post, I’m going to talk about my favorite teas to drink alone, unadorned by any accompaniments. The first tea that comes to mind is a lovely Georgian black tea that I drink every morning called Georgian Village. This light, almost sweet, tea – reminiscent of a second-flush Darjeeling, but with a bit more body – eases me into almost every morning, steeped in a small pot that makes just enough for my travel mug and half a cup to drink as I finish getting ready for work. This tea isn’t a typical “breakfast tea,” which I always think of as strong and full-bodied, some mixture of Ceylon and Assam. While I love those types of teas, I usually enjoy them with scones or some type of pastry. My Georgian tea stands on its own, starting my day with a gentle nudge, instead of a kick in the pants.
Another tea I usually enjoy by itself is pu-erh tea. For me, this strong, earthy brew is not easy to pair with food. Most of the pu-erhs that I’ve tried are so complex and have such depth that drinking them with any food would dilute the experience. Some of my favorites have notes of mushrooms, earth, chocolate, and even leather. Part of the joy of drinking them is discovering the different notes and flavors through each steeping. They can be a bit off-putting at first – a tea that tastes like leather? – but are worth the effort to discover one you love.
Of course, if we talk about complexity in tea, we must bring up oolongs. There are so many different types of oolong teas, and while they do pair well with various foods, they are always a wonderful experience on their own. The flavors in oolongs can range from light and grassy to buttery to rich and smoky. I remember the first oolong tea I tried at a tea market in Shanghai – I thought it tasted like broccoli! Since then, I’ve continued to try different types of oolongs, and find the most enjoyment in the Tung Ting oolongs. I have one that is a charcoal-roasted Tung Ting, and while it’s not as smoky as a Lapsang Souchong, it evokes memories of campfires, tempered by a rich, creamy top note. This is one of my favorite afternoon teas, and one I drink when I feel like I’ve been overindulging in rich food. It seems to have a cleansing effect, and makes me feel like I’m doing something good for my body!
This is one of the joys of tea – you can enjoy it on its own, or with snacks, pastries, or a meal. Drinking tea unadorned and unaccompanied helps to identify exactly what it is about a tea that you like, and can lead you to try new teas that you might not have thought of if you’d only thought of tea as an accompaniment to food, however lovely that may be. I will continue to explore new and different types of tea, and continue my learning about teas from all areas of the world. It’s been a fascinating journey so far!