Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wide World of Affordable Tea

Asians have been drinking tea for thousands of years and in many Asian supermarkets, you can get quite a lot of tea leaves for only a few bucks. Why? Because Asians don't think of tea as some hoity-toity drink! When you go to a Chinese restaurant (an authentic one), the first thing the waitress/waiter does is to either put a pot of tea on your table or ask you what kind of tea you'd like. No big deal.

Of course there are all kinds of fancy tea shops in Asia but that kind of tea is not the kind that comes in tea bags, which are filled with a lower grade of tea than the loose tea. The best tea is always loose. That's the stuff that you can inspect and smell without a paper filter in the way. You're also paying for the ambiance there. In North America, if you go to Teavana or other fancy tea shops for loose tea, they'll also charge you for the ambiance and the brand. The same quality (or even better) stuff can be found at any Chinese supermarket (e.g. Super 88 or C-Mart in Boston, TNT in western Canada). If there are no Asian markets in your area, Coffee bean direct has a great selection of teas that are very good quality and reasonably priced. They also have some interesting flavors (e.g. raspberry rooibus, Earl Grey Zephyr, mint teas, etc.) that you won't find in Chinatown.
T-Sac - Size 1
t-sacs (for making your own tea bags)

Earl Grey Zephyr tea - a little more fragrant than regular Earl Grey
Flavored rooibus tea
Green Jasmine tea - it's very fragrant. If you're concerned about the convenience (or lack thereof) of using loose tea, get a pack of t-sacs, which come in different sizes (from 1 cup to 12 cups). They're available at Coffee Bean Direct and other places too.

However, if you don't care about the quality of your tea and want the convenience of pre-made tea bags, those Chinese supermarkets will probably have green or jasmine tea bags for about 20 bags for less than $1. For about $3, you can get a box of 200 individually-wrapped jasmine tea bags. These are especially good for making iced jasmine tea in the summer. The flavor doesn't matter as much when it's hot outside and you just want to guzzle a glass of tea to quench your thirst. Save the good tea for drinking in the winter.
200 tea bags for about $3.

Another great drink to make in the summer is iced raspberry rooibus. It doesn't require any sweeteners but a little simple syrup, agave nectar, or honey will make it taste like (or better than) the more expensive bottled teas that you get at the store. You can brew a lot of tea at once and store it in glass or plastic jars or bottles (e.g. empty spaghetti sauce jars, glass milk bottles, etc.). This will save you a lot on bottled tea drinks and you won't be overdosing on high fructose corn syrup all summer. Unsweetened iced tea is surprisingly refreshing too. In Asia, it's common for people to drink bottled unsweetened iced oolong and iced jasmine tea. By making your own iced teas, you can slowly wean yourself off sugar by adding less and less sugar each time you brew. Then, you can save money on sugar! :)

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