Whole leaf enthusiasts know the exquisite difference between a cup of carefully steeped whole leaf – part ritual, part alchemy, part spirituality – and half careful attention to detail. We also know how convenient tea bags are. In desperate circumstances, we will buy a cup of hot water and whatever bagged tea is available and . . . be grateful for it.
Tea bags. We love them and we loathe them. Not all tea bags are equal. At the top of the quality pyramid is Steven Smith, Teamaker. Not too far behind is Mighty Leaf. In descending order, you will find Tazo, Stash, and Good Earth. At the bottom of this caste system dwell the likes of Red Rose, Tetley’s Tiny Tips, and Lipton. These last three share the distinction of being grown in an area where tea isn’t plucked: it is mowed and baled like hay. The dust on the floor is swept up, measured into tea bags, and sold to Americans.
I have found myself in the dusty midwest, waiting at an airport in the middle of the prairie, stressed out by travel (travail), and anxious. Knowing that I need hydration, I peruse the offerings at a canteen beyond the security checkpoint. Sugary soda? Not. Coffee would add to my anxiety. The tea offerings include sugar-laden iced tea or a teabag from the dungeon of fannings mentioned above. If you had photographed my face as I plucked the teabag from the water and closed my eyes for the first sip, you would have seen bliss.
If tea were a drug, teabags would be the gateway. Rather than disparage those who enjoy the convenience of teabags, let’s embrace them. It is easy to indulge our inner snob. The way of tea, however, has no place for the egoism expressed by many recent converts to whole leaf. Like those newly converted to evangelism, fervent certainty can be quite exclusive in its fundamentalism. Stop it already.
Let the leaf do the talking. Make a cup of the real deal and share with the gratefulness that is the spirit of tea. To paraphrase my dear mum, “you will catch more tea drinkers with a real cuppa than you will with your nose turned up.”
Loading Image and Image 1 courtesy of the contributor.