Tuesday March 21, 2006

I went to Teavana today for take out tea, since I was in Boston to get my hair cut and walked by it while running errands. It’s in the Prudential Center, and quite popular on the weekends with loads of people running around, looking at different kinds of tea. So, it must be good right?


Well, where to start. First of all, it’s expensive. I ordered their “best” oolong, the “Monkey Picked Oolong” (whatever that is). When you buy it loose leaf it is $25 for 2oz, which is actually quite expensive. 2oz is roughly 56 grams, so at $25 for 2 oz, we’re talking almost 50 cents a gram. That in itself is not a sin — I’ve paid far more for teas, but is it worth the price?

Well, I ended up not knowing for sure. They use this thing called the “Perfect Tea Maker” (I’m not going to link since I don’t think anyone should buy it) which essentially does all the work for you. You put in the tea leaves, pour the water into this thing, and it sits there, brews, all the while allowing you to see the leaves because it is made of clear plastic. Then, when you’re ready to drink it, you can press this button which opens the valve at the bottom of the tea maker, and the tea will come pouring out while the filter will keep all the tea leaves in the container. So far, so good.

In theory, this is all pretty nice. It separates the tea from the water, and I suppose if you wish, you can put water in again and repeat. In practice, however, there are problems, especially when your take-out tea department uses these things. Both clear plastic as well as the strainer, and especially the strainer, will begin to absorb the flavours of whatever tea you’re brewing in it. I think no matter how hard you wash the thing (and I asked — they wash it in a dishwasher) it will still keep some of the flavour over time. You can tell because both the strainer and the plastic are a little brown-hued — tea colouring.

Ideally then, all teas should have one and they should use the same one for the same tea. That, of course, doesn’t happen. Since these guys sell you a motherload of flavoured teas like “Vanilla Bean”, “Peach Apricot”, and “Black Currant”, the brew you end up drinking will have these flavours mixed in. These are usually especially strong, and much more pronounced than your regular tea flavour. When I drank the cup today, I definitely could taste some of the vanilla and a little fruit (not sure what). Lovely, in a tieguanyin.

What’s worse, the water they used for this tea was not hot enough, and for all the “knowledge” that the staff seems to display, nobody seems to think they need to wash the leaves. So, they poured green-tea temperature water into this container with fresh tea leaves, which will lower the temperature, and after a minute or two poured it out to my cup (they use a timer, even, how precise…). I noticed that given the amount of tea leaves — and it was a lot of leaves they used — the flavour was weak. After a few sips I noticed that it was not hot at all, which was probably why I didn’t taste all that much — the water simply wasn’t able to extract the flavour of the tea in time. If they had washed the leaves, it would’ve unfurled the stuff a little and would’ve made a better cup. Or, just use hotter water, which is fine for oolongs anyway.

So, I paid $3.50 for an insipid, funny flavoured tea of unknown provenance. I think it is tieguanyin from China, but since I don’t get to play with the leaves, and since the flavour was not clear, I was not entirely sure. Either way, it sucked. I got back to Harvard Square and went to Toscanini’s and got a cup of loose cooked Puerh instead. At least it was flavourful.

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