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It's just dried leaves and water

Eat Well


"Relax. It's just dried leaves and water. You're going to be fine," I say. This is the most disarming thing I can think to say to the customer who has come into my shop and is staring at row after row of tea tins. Paralyzed by the fear of "getting it wrong."

Here's an oversimplified primer for those of us who didn't grow up steeped in tea history, culture, and tradition. Tea comes from a plant that is grown in India, China, and Japan. Four major categories of tea are black, oolong, green, and herbal.

Black teas are fermented. Oolong teas are semi-fermented. Green teas aren't fermented. So, black teas will taste stronger than green teas. Black, oolong, and green teas contain caffeine. Herbal teas do not.

I prefer to brew my tea in a large basket strainer versus using tea bags. The basket strainer allows the tea to expand, plus I can use the leaves over again. Oh yes, I said I reuse my leaves.

I put a tablespoon of leaves in my strainer and pour in the hot water. How hot? Who cares. I use an electric tea kettle at the store, and we have an instant hot tap at the house. I don't know the exact temperature of either, and it's never mattered to me.

How long should you steep tea? This is where my cheapness kicks in. For black, oolong, and green I steep for one minute, and then enjoy my tea. On the second steeping I go for three minutes. And the third steeping I go for five minutes. Yes, at the end I'm left with lightly flavored water and I don't care. I've wrung every ounce of enjoyment out of those dried leaves. For herbal teas I steep for five minutes one time.

Tea shouldn't be pretentious. It should be an affordable pleasure. Using my method I can obtain upwards of thirty cups of tea for the price of one fancy coffee concoction. Once you've experienced a handful of teas, feel free to play with time and temperature and find your perfect balance. Until then, relax, it's just dried leaves and water.

Taylor's Provisions, located at 208 S. Mill Street near the corner of Mill and F Streets, and is part of the Mill Town Marketplace collection of businesses.


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