Sunday, May 11, 2008

in hot water

For years people have been extolling the virtues of green tea. Antioxidants! Antiaging! Anticancer! Antianti! It's time for me to come out as anti green tea. I'm sure it's healthy, and it will save my life and make me a stronger athlete and a better sister/daughter/aunt/friend/lover, but you know what? Taste? Not great. Inferior to many other flavors.

Ever go to your local supermarket or Trader Joe's and pick up a box of generic "green tea?" It's not bitter. Bitter is delicious, like the delicate round leaves hanging out of a watercress tea sandwich, spread with butter, and with the crusts lavishly discarded. Bitter is the bite of a kalamata olive, purple, and perfectly speared with your fork from the middle of your Greek salad. Bitter is the delicious fan of a dandelion-looking arugula leaf hiding in your baby mesclun salad mix. These items are bitter and delicious.

Generic green-tea-in-a-box is not bitter. It is astringent. It makes my mouth pucker like the mediocre white wine I may have snuck out of the fridge when I was a child just to see what being an adult tasted like. It sucks the saliva out of your mouth like an unripe persimmon. No amount of sugar fixes astringent. The only thing that fixes astringent is pouring out your cup of tea and replacing it with something delicious, like coffee.

So how do I find myself with such an inordinate amount of green tea in my house and in my life? First, I blame Teaism, an addictive teashop with three locations in my former home city, Washington, DC. A perfectly lacquered shelving system houses dozens of elegantly papered boxes with lots of perfectly folded foiled black bags of tea held shut with old fashioned brass paper fasteners. A menu of teas sits on the counter, amid cast iron teapots and other tea accessories. They sell you the idea of tranquility at the Navy Archives store, all soothing tones and earthy colors. And I willingly bought. I have long-since drunk all the rest of the tea I bought that day. The delicious chocolatey variety from Sri Lanka, the extra long leaf, and extra short leaf, and silver tipped and all the rest. I shared quite a bit with friends at my former office, and foisted off whole bags of loose teas on tealoving friends.

What I have learned with this tea-adventure is that there are exactly four green teas that I can stomach. There is spinachy sencha, served in Japanese restaurants the world round, and around mugs of which my ex and I wrapped our freezing hands as we watched the rickety sushi carousel bring assorted goodies around on their colored plates on a last-minute wintertime trip to Tokyo. Then there is the twiggy toasted hojicha, which looks like sticks and mulch, and tastes like a cross between bark and walnuts. I'm drinking it now, and considering rescinding my utter hatred of green teas. Genmaicha has puffed rice in it, and tastes like popcorn or really good basmati rice, two of my favorite foods. Then there is jasmine tea, preferably the one that's been rolled by hand into balls that unfurl like languid sunbathers in your mug after you add the water. This one I discovered here in Chile, at the Whittard of Chelsea store in the mall Parque Arauco, which is everything that my favorite Teaism store is not. Cramped and chaotic, with a garish color palate, they are non-purists selling everything from mugs with hearts to flavored coffees. Maybe the age-old dichotomy of Asian-style tea shop (Teaism) vs. the British-style tea shop (Whittard). I couldn't say, really.

So maybe I'm not exactly anti-green tea, so much as I am anti mass-market bags of green tea that make you look like a sourpuss when you drink them. In the meantime, if anyone is in the neighborhood, please come over and help me drink myself out from this mountain of twigs and puffed rice and rolled balls of leaves. Because what I'd really like to drink is a good cup of Sumatra. Coffee.

3 comments:

Carrie said...

I need to put this blog on my feed reader! I knew you were a great writer, but I never knew I could be so sucked into an essay about green tea.

And, btw, I agree completely. Totally not my thing.

mr-t-in-dc said...

Watch out though, I've heard some theories that too much green tea = kidney stones!

Lillian said...

Bitter is delicious, like the delicate round leaves hanging out of a watercress tea sandwich, spread with butter, and with the crusts lavishly discarded. Bitter is the bite of a kalamata olive, purple, and perfectly speared with your fork from the middle of your Greek salad. Bitter is the delicious fan of a dandelion-looking arugula leaf hiding in your baby mesclun salad mix. These items are bitter and delicious.

Beautiful writing.