On a recent snowy afternoon a group of friends and I gathered beside the fire to experience three of the world's finest organic fair trade teas: Pai Mu Tan White, Darjeeling Green and Earl Grey. Called "Transcendental Tea" by tea traders The Groovy Mind, this collection represents the three most distinct members of the tea family: white -a relatively new arrival admired for its impressive antioxidant properties; green - which became popular in the late '90's and has since found its way into everything from ice cream to air fresheners; and black, a simple and elegant classic with a fascinating and sometimes sordid history.The first tea on the menu was green (I had assumed green had the most subtle flavor, but learned later that in fact, white is the most delicate of the three). As I poured hot water into the tea press, I was struck by how big the individual tealeaves actually are. Usually I make tea from tea bags and so had never seen the pretty leaves suspended in water. The tea took on a delicate chartreuse color and the steam produced a faint grassy scent. While the flavor was pleasant and lightly nutty, it was also a bit bitter, as I had unfortunately steeped it for longer than the recommended 2 minutes. So, although it is probably unorthodox and possibly tacky, we added honey and were very impressed with the results - the bitterness was gone and the charming floral taste emerged.
The second tea we experienced was the Pai Mu Tan White. As the new darling in the tea world, white tea has found its way not only onto the menus of gourmet cafes, but is also getting a good deal of attention for its remarkable health benefits. White tea is unique because unlike green and black, the tealeaves are simply picked and air-dried - whereas the others are oxidized, rolled, bruised, steamed, aged and/or fired. The delicate handling of white tea allows the powerful antioxidants found in Camellia sinensis (the tea plant) to remain in the leaves. The healthful properties of white tea are of significant interest to medical researchers, who have conducted a number of studies that demonstrate the brew's ability to help fight disease and protect the body's immune system. As for the taste, it is absolutely delightful. It has a sweet mellow flavor and was the hands down favorite amongst the group.
The final tea, Earl Grey, has always been my tea of choice. The Groovy Mind's Earl Grey is spectacular - as soon as I unsealed the foil bag containing the loose tea, I could smell the intensely fresh exotic scent of bergamot. Usually the Transcendental Tea set comes with a straight Assam black tea, but TGM graciously made the substitute. My friends are fond of Earl Grey as well and we were all pleased to have the chance to taste such a quality blend. Because we enjoyed the Earl Grey with honey and milk, it was a bit of a departure from the purer tea drinking experience of the green and white; but with snow on the ground and a fire in the fireplace - it offered just the cozy comfort that a wintry Saturday afternoon calls for.
I highly recommend taking the time to enjoy tea with friends, particularly if that tea is of the class and quality offered by The Groovy Mind. For as Henry James so aptly put it: "There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea."