Random observations

Being at a conference means that I can only have bad tea. I have no option of brewing any sort of tea at home, and the only available tea around the conference area was Starbucks.

Which…. interestingly enough, no longer offers Tazo. Instead, we have Starbucks offering Harney & Sons teas now, in those nifty pyramid teabags. Most of the teas are odd though… including some Mudan white tea with bergamont oil (yes, a White Earl Grey), green tea with lemon and ginger, and that sort of thing…. not exactly what I was looking for. I just got an English breakfast.

I almost missed the Tazo stuff seeing the odd flavours coming from H&S

Tea in Harvard Square

I’ve been living around Harvard Square now for four years, and really, I’ve been blessed by the number of tea stores that are around this little area. Over the years, it has gotten more tea vendors. This is not to say that they are all of high quality or sell exotic things, but for the US of A, I think my selection here is not too bad.

So what do we have around Harvard Square?

I guess we’ll start with A. Dado Tea. They have a nice tea menu, as you can see. But you can also see that they’re not cheap. 2.25 for a basic cup to go, and very little leaves at that. If you want Korean green tea though, this is the place to go. It’s also nicely decorated/setup so that drinking tea there is actually rather pleasant. It’s also a bubble tea place… and I think that’s where they make their money.

Tealuxe is sort of the original tea store around here, as far as I know. They only sell tea — and one kind of coffee (which nobody buys, as far as I can tell). I remember they used to carry a superb selection of teas, some of which I’ve never heard of, and there was always something interesting to drink there. Unfortunately, I think they overexpanded a few years ago and had to cut back (probably took on more than they can chew). Nowadays, they offer mostly black teas and, horror of horrors, flavoured black teas and herbal teas. Their oolongs and greens are nowhere near what they used to be, and they have yet to offer any kind of puerh. Oh well, that doesn’t matter so much. They’re rather expensive, but good for a reliable cup of tea when I’m in a rush.

Then there’s Peet’s, which stinks of coffee when you walk in. The tea menu, however, is not bad, and has some really strange things. There’s this one tea that I tried recently called “Imperial Red”, and I honestly have no idea what it is. In some ways, their offering of teas might actually be the best among all the stores in Harvard Square now, surprisingly enough. As much as I’d hate to admit that a coffee store is selling decent tea, this one actually does. I should probably go visit their home in Berkeley at some point.

There are a whole bunch of places that sell pretty decent teas, but which are not listed in the google results, because they are primarily coffee joints. These places, such as Toscanini’s (an ice cream bar), Cafe Gato Rojo (a cafe in a Harvard building), Cafe Pamplona (a little place in the basement of a house with 6ft clearance — if you’re too tall, you won’t be comfortable there), among others. They are all supplied by a business called Mem Tea (G). It’s a great service, as they are just a wholesaler doing mostly restaurant and cafe business, but the consumers, like me, get to drink loose leaf teas that are actually decent. These places, if not for the existence of Mem Tea, would all be selling me teabags of various kinds, most likely Stash or Twinnings or Lipton or some other such thing. Instead, they use the “loose leaf in a bag” system and have various kinds of teas on offer. They don’t do retail, except through stores that buy them, but I’ve met the owner of the thing and he is quite a nice person. I’m always glad to see those signature tea containers that they use, because it means I can order a reasonable cup at that place.

There’s a new store in town that isn’t even on the maps yet, at the corner of Massachusetts Ave. and Remington St., called Karma…. something. They’re downstairs from a Yoga Studio of the same name, and offers tea up front. It’s a sleekly designed place, and I tried one tea there already… a Yunnan black of some sort. It’s not bad. I couldn’t figure out where they source their teas. Sometimes it’s obvious where a store gets their teas, but this one isn’t. I might go back again and try something else they have to see if it’s up to any good.

So, while the offerings around here isn’t fantastic, I have a feeling that this is probably better than most. At the very least, I can always count on a cup of tea that is brewed with loose leaf tea and not have to worry about the horror that is a teabag. Then again, when I’m despearte enough, I can even drink McDonald’s tea…


I had decaf tea for the very first time today.

It was an accident, I assure you. I will never order decaf tea knowingly, even for the sake of discovering what it tastes like. No. I will not waste my money on that. I will rather take McDonald’s tea than decaf.

What happened was that I was having some food with my girlfriend at a middle eastern restaurant, and while she ordered a Turkish coffee, I wanted a cup of tea. Among the choices of chamomile, earl grey, rose, and blueberry butterscotch dillweed hibiscus, I heard “English Breakfast”. That’s an unadulterated tea, I thought, so I ordered it.

The teabag came in a little plastic bag, I opened the little bag and noticed that on the blue tag where it said “Trader Joe’s Premium Teas”, there was a little orange line underneath it, with a bold black word “decaffeinated” written across it, as if it were a warning sign.

Since I already opened the packaging, I didn’t quite want to return it to the server, and figuring it would be the first time for me drinking decaf… I plunged it into the cup of hot (really not so hot) water.

I couldn’t really tell any difference between this teabag and any other teabags I’ve brewed in the past. It does the usual diffusion of colour slowly, and I let it sit, figuring it needs a good few minutes to brew a proper cup for me to taste test this thing.

So a few minutes later, I took a sip… hmmm… it tastes like…. the second wash of some bad teabag tea. You know how sometimes, when you’ve brewed one cup with a teabag already, you can always try again and brew another, weaker cup. Well, this tastes like that weaker cup. It’s…. bland. It’s not bitter at all. I suppose the lack of caffeine reduces the bitterness. I also suppose that whatever the decaffeination process is, it probably does something similar to brewing the tea once. It’s so bland… I let it sit some more in the cup, and tried it again, and it was still the same bland taste. I don’t think this thing can take a second infusion, no matter what you do. It was so bad I even took a small sip of my girlfriend’s Turkish coffee.

I think I’m going to brew myself some puerh now.

Lipton teabags

Some of you know that I am a PhD student doing research in China this year, and today, in Shanghai, we had a dissertation group meeting today, with a few fellow PhD students talking about their respective projects.  That, of course, is not interesting subject for this blog.

What is interesting is the tea I drank.  Lipton Yellow Label tea.

A thought occurred to me today — what makes it so that Lipton, a company that sells what really is an inferior product, can penetrate the country where tea is originally made and still made with such sophistication?

I posed this question to the group, and got everybody wondering.  After all, there are cases where something that is abhorred earlier would take over a market after it’s been accepted, but usually, that something is foreign, unknown.  Tea, on the other hand, is not such a thing.  Chinese drink tea all the time.  I suppose bad tea in a bag is unknown, foreign, just as coke or pepsi or sushi might be, but still…. it’s like introducing some weird burger to Americans and taking the States by storm.  Mos Burger (google it) is weird, is good, but is not popular outside of Hawaii.

So, I guess the question is — how did Lipton do it?

I suppose the fact that it’s in a bag helps.  The perceived image of drinking something foreign (foreign must be good!) helps.  But the tea itself is horrible… it’s a little sour, flat, not aromatic, goes well only with milk (I was imaginging it having milk in it the whole time I was drinking my bag).  Why do people like it?  It’s not even that cheap.