It’s the holiday season, and gifts are flying. As the known “tea” person in your social group (if you read this blog regularly, that’s you) you will probably receive some teas as gift. You may also be expected (or at least they think) to give tea out sometimes, as what you buy will inevitably be “better” than whatever they have at home. It’s, I think, a very interesting dynamic.
On the receiving end, I think we’ve all been there before — people buy you tea as a gift, knowing you love tea. It’s a very kind gesture, and something that I always appreciate. Depending on the person who gifts tea, you may end up with something quite nice (I got some decent lapsang recently) or some butterscotch vanilla peppermint lemon rooibos. Thankfully, the latter never happened to me.
Gifting tea is harder though. What to buy? What to give? Of the major tea groups, I think puerh is almost by definition out of the running, unless the giftee specifically asks for it, or you know the giftee is an avid drinker. Puerh is just too much of an acquired taste for it to be a viable gift. Blacks are obviously the most gift-ready, since most people are familiar with it and it’s difficult to mess up, brewing wise. I tend not to gift Ceylon, just because they’re terrible, and will not gift anything from these newfangled tea producers (Kenya is getting more popular) unless I’ve personally tried them. I find Assam to be quite safe — solid Indian black, and if I have access to good Keemun, I almost always choose that over other blacks. Darjeeling I personally find them to be more fickle — they are more demanding on the brewer, and can end up horribly wrong if the person making it is not careful. They’re great teas — but not always appreciated.
The same can be said for oolongs and greens. If the person is already somewhat into tea, I may gift them some oolong — it’s often a good “gateway tea” for people to really get into drinking more and more varied kinds of tea. I find Taiwanese teas to be, by far, the best in that regard — not so much because they’re necessarily better, but because I am more likely to be getting what I think I’m getting. With teas from the mainland, the quality can vary quite wildly, and I wouldn’t give anything I haven’t tried before. With Taiwanese stuff, I find them to be more likely to be of a known quantity. I like to give Jinxuan and Oriental Beauty. Gaoshan tea is more of a hit or miss — too easy to overbrew and end up in a bitter mess.
I only give greens if the person already likes tea and has a preference for greens, and I almost always give Japanese greens rather than Chinese ones — good Chinese greens cost far, far too much for any normal gift, and for anyone who’s not used to drinking these, it’s always a waste (I don’t even buy good Chinese green for myself). Japanese greens, I find, can be nicer without the difficulty of Chinese greens and the prices are not exorbitant for some reasonable, drinkable tea. I’m personally inclined to drink gyokuro (the two times a year I drink greens), but I know opinions differ wildly there.
I think of a gift of tea as a pretty practical gift — you can almost always find ways to use it, although in the case of people like us, we probably have already way too much tea, and so the gift needs to be tailored to the person’s collection and likes and dislikes. For people who are not quite as enthusiastic, I think of a gift of tea as an introduction — I always try to push the boundaries of what they might accept as good tea, and perhaps convert another hapless one to the habit. After all, if your friends all think of you as the “tea person”, you can’t just give them a tin of Twinings Earl Grey.