Sunday, April 13, 2014

Real tea vs. Lipton tea

I am finally getting over the cold I caught last week. While I was sick I ran out of my usual Tazo Darjeeling tea - I was singing the praises of Tazo back in November. And because I hate the closest grocery store, Trade Fair (it makes me sick and tired just to be in its cramped narrow aisles even when I'm in perfect health) and I was too lazy tired to go another few blocks to the Key Foods (and they don't have Tazo anyway and I would have had to get Twinings instead), so  I went to the 7-11 instead and all they had was boxes of Lipton tea. But I figured that would be good enough to tide me over a few days.

Wrong. It was almost completely tasteless. I drank it anyway, I was desperate, but as God is my witness I will never go without high-quality tea again.

Please note, I grew up eating low-quality foods. My parents are pretty much the opposite of connoisseurs, they always bought food based entirely on whatever was lowest price, so until I had my first Starbucks coffee, my conception of coffee was what my father drank - instant. I still don't love coffee, but a well-made cappuccino is almost as good as a really fine cup of tea.

And of course we had the standard Lipton/Tetley teas. I thought that was what tea was supposed to be like. Now you may think that my parents had to lay off fancy foods like high-quality coffee and tea since they were raising six children, but that's not the reason - after all the kids had moved out and my parents could afford better quality food they still kept with the instant coffee and crap-brand tea. In fact, when my mother slept overnight this March (in order to see my daughter run in the half-marathon) she insisted on bringing her own box of decaffeinated Lipton (or Tetley - does it matter?) tea bags with her. It's hard to believe those companies are shameless enough to offer decaffeinated anything - their regular teas are so weak I'd be willing to believe they were already decaffeinated.

I'll never forget the first time I had a cup of Earl Grey tea - it was when I lived in Palmyra NJ, and I was invited over for tea by Al, the first honest-to-god homosexual I was aware I knew (it turns out at least one guy I hung around with in high school was gay, but I didn't know it until years later) and his infirm mother. Al never came out and said he was homosexual, but it was obvious to us hippies living next door that the younger community theater actor guy living upstairs in their big old house was Al's boyfriend.

Anyway, I was pretty much refusing all marijuana and alcohol while I was pregnant, but when I had that cup of Earl Grey I thought I was tripping - it was probably the strongest dose of caffeine I had ever had in my life up to that point (I was only 17 but still...) It was amazing. We only had herbal tea back at the quasi-commune.

So over the years I've come to appreciate a good cup of real tea. And at this point even the fancy brands are unimpressive - your standard English breakfast or even Earl Grey is just too often cut with inferior grade tea. But with Darjeeling on the label it has to actually be 100% Darjeeling thanks to the Darjeeling council or whatever it is that created the logo above.

And while I was sick this week I discovered an even better brand of tea than Tazo. After I bought the box of Lipton tea I was appalled by how tasteless it was, and so in desperation I decided to order tea for delivery. Luckily the web site has a food item search option so I searched for "Darjeeling" and one place called Ovelia Psistaria claimed to have organic Darjeeling tea. I was thrilled. I ordered it black* for fear they'd screw up the milk proportion. I should have asked them to hold the water too, because what they delivered was a tea bag and a cup of hot water. But what a bag of tea - Mighty Leaf - but they don't call it a tea bag, they call it a tea pouch and it's like somebody personally knitted it for you out of silk. That's what I'm getting from now on.

* No, I didn't just order a cup of tea - naturally they had a minimum amount to order for delivery. Unfortunately this place is Greek - like 50% of all eating establishments in my neighborhood - Astoria Queens is the Greekiest place in the world outside of Greece itself.

I always feel like I should eat more Greek food, since I'm living in Little Athens, but I just cannot get into it. I have an aversion to eating lamb and I hate olives and I don't like the filo dough they use with virtually all their pastries, and they soak all their desserts in honey.

But Ovelia had something called Pumpkin Galaktoboureko, and pumpkin sounded less Greeky than anything else on their delivery menu (pumpkin being of course native to the New World and thus less likely to be an example of traditional Greek cooking right?) but when it arrived it was dripping wet with honey - I thought the tea (or rather the cup of hot water) had spilled but that wasn't it - the dessert itself had soaked the brown bag it came in. I ate it anyway because I spent like 8 freaking dollars on it, but my teeth hurt from the sweetness, even though I cut it with unsweetened Greek yogurt (the one Greek food I like.)

And then there's the traditional Greek wine retsina. Have you ever tried it? Well don't. Just... don't.