I've been a tea lover for a long time (and have thrown some awesome tea parties in my childhood, if I do say so), but I'd always considered loose-leaf blends a bit fussy. First, I was too impatient for all that measuring and steeping. Second, it was messy cleaning those silver balls out. Strainers? Forget it. Attempting to get the blend inside was a fight in itself. But, then, I found the Perfectea Maker, which was a game changer — it drains from the bottom into your cup and is a cinch to rinse out. It was like the tea world had been patiently waiting for me to wake up and smell the notes.
And, apparently, I'm not alone. Americans have been steeping and sipping for hundreds of years, but only recently has there been a huge surge of interest in blends and process. Naoko Tsunoda, the tea-ologist at Teavana (she helped Oprah develop that chai tea for Starbucks), says that people are awakening more and more to the actual art form of tea. The artisanal-coffee and cocktail-mixology movements seem to have a lot to do with it, she says.
However, there are lots of misconceptions about creating the perfect cup, Tsunoda says, the three most misunderstood aspects being temperature, water quality, and knowing how to really enjoy. "Green tea has a lot of antioxidants," Tsunoda explains. "If you use a boiling water, [while] there's nothing wrong with it, it just might be bitter and stringent. It isn't bad, but the natural sweetness doesn't come out because the bitter is extracted by the hot water." Fortunately, there is a handy-dandy guide for steeping times and temperatures. The actual H2O is important, too. Tsunoda says that if you're investing in the product but have terrible tap water, using a filtered water or a Brita is key to really tasting the flavor and enriching the whole experience.
And, last but never least is smell. She says that many drinkers think taste is the most important, but actually, it's all about aroma. "The molecules travel up your nose, and your brain will register what you're tasting." Ahead, the four loose-leaf teas I'm smelling and obsessing over right now (plus, a satchel blend, because let's be real: Sometimes, you have to leave the house in a hurry).