That One Bad Cup

Ok, so I’ve had two bad cups of tea in my years of drinking the elixir of life. But the fall down the rabbit hole that turned me into a self-proclaimed tea-snob started with the first bad cup.

I had been drinking tea daily for a couple of years, but hadn’t really branched out of the grocery store isle yet. A true novice. but for some reason my co-workers thought I new a LOT more than I really did. At that time, I thought all teas were basically the same. Didn’t matter where it came from, a bag of Earl Grey was a bag of Earl Grey.

And then I got on a cruise ship.

Now, if you haven’t been a on cruise yet, let me tell you: everything edible on ship is incredible. I think it’s an official rule that all food must be amazing. On this fateful day, I decide, post yoga, to treat myself to some of the delectable pastries aboard and a nice cup of Earl Grey.

And it unfolds like this:

I take my happy, zen’d self down to the Lido deck (where the buffets are), grab my little apple tarts, a few pieces of fresh fruit, and who knows what else finds it’s way onto my plate, and I locate the tea station. I grab a cup, put in the Earl Grey tea bag (not a standard brand, might have been their own, but it doesn’t matter because all Earl Grey is the same, right?!?), and pour in the hot water from the industrial sized hot water dispenser on the counter.

With a pep in my step, I make my way to a shady, less windy part of the upper deck and perch myself on a lounge chair to enjoy views of the beautiful southern Caribbean sea whilst I enjoy my tea and snack.

Aahhhhh…. Peace… Serenity…

I take a bit of one of my treats and it’s just incredible; nearly melting in my mouth, perfect texture, subtly sweet. Divine. By this time my tea has steeped, so I take out the little bag of dust and breathe in the scent of liquid gold. It smells just as an Earl Grey should. A wee bit bitter with a citrus kick.

All is right in my little world.

Expecting the tea to be as glorious as everything else on ship, I take my first sip.

Gag! My face contorts into a grotesque misshapen state.  This is the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth! I kid you not, it all I could do to not spit it out over the side of the ship!

I look into my cup and ponder what went wrong. Maybe it was that my treat was too sweet? I take a sip of water to cleanse my palate and try again.

Oh, wretched soul am I! No this is not happening.

But yes.  It was. I could not finish the cup.

I now realize that when an inferior blend meets an inadequate water base (not filtered) with the incorrect steeping temperature, the result is liquid gross in a cup.

It was at this moment, on a clear winter’s mid-morning, somewhere in the southern Caribbean that I learned that all teas are not the same. There are good teas and good tea blends and there are some really nasty ones; there are proper ways to brew your cuppa and there are some things you’ll want to be sure to avoid (for details on these, please check out Tea 101).

It was at this moment that I realized I had become a tea-snob.

May your cup ever be filled with good teas.

And remember: Friends don’t let friends drink bad tea.


Today’s tasting is a real treat: Lychee Black. One of my dear tea friends, Erica at Tea Time, Me Time, sent me this sample a few weeks ago. Now if you’re like me, your first thought may be “what is lychee?”

Lychee is a tropical evergreen tree that is native to Fujian and Guangdong provinces in China. The tree produces a red, fleshy fruit that is used in many different desert dishes. The outside of this fruit appears rough in texture and is inedible; the inside has a large black seed that is surrounded by a slightly opaque-white flesh (the pictures online remind me of the consistency of a jellyfish). Typically the fruit is eaten fresh as preservation techniques, like canning, tend to lose the sweet floral like fragrance.

I haven’t been able to find the specific way that this Chinese black tea is created, but the way the ingredients are listed on the package lead me to wonder if it is by spraying the flavor onto the leaves (a popular technique used today).  What I find more interesting is the origins of this fruit flavored tea date back to the Tang Dynasty where the tea leaves and the fruit were smoked together, allowing the sweet fruit flavor to infuse in the leaves. It was popular with the emperor then and has remained popular today.

Brew It

Erica procured this amazing tea from Teavivre. Upon opening your package you’ll be hit with the intoxicating sweet scent of the lychee. The leaves are a small and thin, dark brown with a slight twist to them.

Obviously, I got a little excited about trying this tea and took the picture after I ripped the package open. This sample packaging actually holds several cups worth of the tea. I merely wish it was resealable.

The package direction suggest you steep this tea for 2 to 5 min at 195 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a slightly cooler than most black teas (which can take the full boiling point). I couldn’t find any research to support the lower temperature, but I won’t argue with what a tea grower says to be the best way to brew his tea.

The resulting liquor is medium bold in body, with a beautiful dark caramel / copper color. The wet leaves offered a clean, fresh aroma that had a hint of fruity stone-fruit type of sweetness (this is the lychee flavor) that is vaguely reminiscent of apricot. As the leaves cool you may also pick up a few sniffs of a vegetal aroma (from the tea itself).

The flavors of this tea are a bit more complex than what I was anticipating. It has only a mild stone-fruit suggestion (some tasters have said it’s grape-like, but I don’t taste anything like grape) with a hint of vegetal tones that balance well with the fruit. Where this tea really shines is in the finish: extremely smooth with an almost soft, delicate flavor.

Contemplative Thoughts

Honestly, this tea has flavors that I’ve never smelled or tasted in all my days. As a result, I don’t have a single cell in my body that knows that to do with these flavors. I knew immediately that I liked it, but in several tastings since, I have yet to wrap my brain around this amazingly smooth and complex tea.

That’s part of the fun of life. New experiences, good and not so good, happen. Simple things, like trying a new restaurant, or even reading something outside of your normal genre, could easily spark a moment where your brain has to pause to really think about what you’ve just experienced and come to a formal resolution.  Those moments where you don’t just instinctively react can be small opportunities to rethink what you’ve always taken for granted or believed without cause.