1) First, let’s start with how you were introduced & fell in love with the wonderful beverage of tea.
I was already drinking tea fairly regularly in the mid-1980s. I was as much an Anglophile in high school as I am a Sinophile now. I didn’t know much about tea at the time, but I was a ‘hardened and shameless tea drinker’ even before I was old enough to vote. My “falling in love” with tea is probably best dated to 1994, when I was given a gongfu set by a Taiwanese friend and started researching how one used all the pieces (since she assured me it wasn’t a toy tea set). I took my first tea class that year at the Taoist Studies Institute, and started getting samples of wulong teas, mostly from the Perennial Tea Room because they advertised on NPR and were, at the time, one of the few tea shops in Seattle. (Of the three I’m aware of back then, they are still the only one under their original ownership—the other two have been sold and resold, or closed). The first teas that really struck me as being both delicious and unique from all the others were Bai Hao Wulong (aka Oriental Beauty), Tie Guanyin, and Baozhong.
2) What was the very first tea blend that you ever tried?
First? Who knows? That was probably more than 30 years ago. It might have been a Lipton teabag, or some Earl Grey or English Breakfast that had been stuck in the back of the cabinet for years. I remember I discovered several old teas in nooks and crannies of the kitchen and thinking, “We’ve had tea all along and nobody’s been drinking it?” I also know I was a little disturbed that the English Breakfast Tea that I had at home was never anything like the tea I was served for breakfast in England, which is one of the things that got me thinking about tea.
3) When did you start your tea blog & what was your hope for creating it?
My debut blog post was on 25 May, 2007, and was about how a brewing experiment showed temperature and time had a huge impact on the flavor of a tea. I don’t recall what my hope was in creating the blog—I think it was mainly because I was already answering lots of the same questions over and over again and perhaps I wanted to just collect the answers and stories I kept repeating as a reference.
4) List one thing most rewarding about your blog & one thing most discouraging.
This is kind of an odd question to me. I don’t really think of anything in my blog as either rewarding or discouraging. It’s simply part of my work. I add to it, and the body of what I’ve written about grows, making it easier to answer future questions. The positive term I’d use might be “useful” or “helpful” and maybe the negative term would be “throwaway” or “fluff.” I suppose if I went back and looked at an article I wrote years ago and I can still stand by the information—that is, I haven’t learned anything that might call the original into question—that might be rewarding. It would mean I’d done my job correctly. And likewise, it might be a little discouraging if I’d seen that I’d posted some inaccurate things along the way. But I don’t spend a whole lot of time reading my old posts, so I don’t really have that experience.
5) What type of tea are you most likely to be caught sipping on?
Excellent. By that, I mean it’s nearly always going to be some high-end, hand-crafted, unique, single-origin something. I’m partial to teas from Chinese-speaking areas, but it could also be a smallholder production from Kenya, or an exquisite first-flush Darjeeling. Today, for example, I had a green tea made by the Buddhist monks of Putuo Shan, a strip-style Ali Shan Taiwan wulong (not ball-style, so rather uncommon in that respect), and an aged Da Ye wulong from Nantou (1991). Tomorrow will probably be a Ruby 18 (with amazing naturally-occurring wintergreen flavors), a single-estate Assam, and a Yunnan hong bing. But I’m just guessing. Maybe I’ll feel like a cup of the Azores-grown tea or something.
6) Favourite tea latte to indulge in?
I think I once had a tea latte to experience what that meant. Or maybe I was too horrified to try it. I don’t remember. I block that out of my mind. Not sure how “favourite” fits into that picture.
7) Favourite treat to pair with your tea?
More tea! Seriously, though…tea doesn’t need anything paired with it. And the right thing to have with tea depends on the tea. Ginger-y things seem to go well with many teas that have undergone post-fermentation processes. I tend to like things in their historical and cultural context, though. I might have pumpkin seeds with a Taiwan wulong, or mochi with a Japanese green. Oh, and Keemun and chocolate are usually good together, even though that’s not within the cultural/historical thing.
8) If there was one place in the world that you could explore the tea culture at, where would it be & why?
Well, I’ve already explored some of Taiwan and some of mainland China. There’s still enough to explore that it could take my entire life. I suppose anywhere that there actually is a tea culture would be a candidate. I’m interested to experience some of the tea culture of Morocco, Turkey, Georgia (the country), and a number of other places, and maybe returning to the UK and Ireland with more tea experience under my belt. But there’s not really one place that stands out from all the others, particularly if you eliminate ones I’ve already visited.
9) Any tea time rituals you have that you’d like to share?
I’m mostly likely to serve tea gongfu-style, if that’s what’s meant by “rituals.” If it’s personal rituals, the closest thing is that making tea is the first thing I do as part of making breakfast, and after logging into the computer at work.
10) Time of day you enjoy drinking tea the most: Morning, Noon, Night or Anytime?
Always. Some tea is better than no tea; more tea is better than less tea.
11) What’s one thing you wish for tea in the future?
A higher level of tea culture and education in the general population and particularly in the United States. Prior to World War II, you can find newspaper ads for specific varieties or estates. People actually knew this stuff on a regular basis. I’d love to re-achieve that level of awareness again, and see people ask substantive questions of tea merchants, and see that the tea shops who can answer those questions thrive.
— Whom do you tag?
…and although I can think of lots of other blogging tea geeks, I want to get this post out before too much more time passes. If you think I should add you to this list, teach me something I didn’t know or offer me a tea I haven’t tasted and you’ll earn your way onto it.
*Side Note: When you create your own tag post, please start by letting your readers know who you were initially tagged by.
**If you end up participating in this TAG, tweet @theteacupoflife OR @teaaholic your post so Lu Ann (Cup of Life) can get to know you more too. You can tweet me, too: @michaeljcoffey