The short version: If you want to get good tea in America without asking your Chinese friends to load up their suitcases before leaving the Mainland, Adagio.com is for you. My favorite kind? 滇红茶. Adagio calls it Yunnan Noir.
The long version: Keep reading.
Before I went to China, I drank neither tea nor coffee.
After moving to China, I discovered that the expat community was nuts about Starbucks. Any time one was nearby, we had to go. Since I had nothing better to do while sitting in Starbucks with everyone else, I ordered something: Carmel frappuccino. Not bad, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to get one.
After I started school in northern China, my ho-hum attitude toward coffee changed, albeit somewhat under duress. Most of my classmates were from South Korea, and spoke no English. Since I was just starting school, my Chinese was, shall we say, “limited.”
One of the older ladies in the class (“older” meaning she was married with a couple of kids) started passing out some South Korean instant coffee. I didn’t know how to tell her in a way she’d understand that I didn’t really drink coffee, so I just smiled and shoved the little yellow packets into my bag. Day after day after day.
By the end of the school year, I had a mountain of instant coffee in my apartment. I didn’t know what else to do with it… so I drank it. Before long, I was hooked.
Not long after that, I was too hooked. At my previous workplace, my cubicle evolved into a hotbed of coffee snobism, with Schul getting a healthy chunk of our paychecks.
I got to the point where getting adequate rest was a problem. Cutting back wasn’t working, so I quit cold turkey.
The following two weeks were a blur: I never remembered anything people said to me, and I had no idea what was going on in meetings.
Then things got better. I dabbled a bit with tea, but nothing serious.
After a few months, my younger brother, who was a tea fanatic, passed away. I ended up with some of the tea he left behind, much of it from Adagio.com.
The previous Christmas, he had given me a ForLife Brew-in-Mug Extra-Fine Tea Insufer with Lid. I really hadn’t used it, but now that I had a pile of loose-leaf tea, it was time to give it a try. And I made an amazing discovery: Fresh loose-leaf tea is actually good.
“So this is why some people like tea!” I finally understood. After growing up with the awful stuff from grocery stores, it just didn’t make sense why people would actually want it.
Something else also made sense: The day after my wedding, my father-in-law was in our apartment, and I made him some tea. That’s the Chinese thing to do, right? He took a sip of the loathesome Lipton liquid, and asked, “Is this what you normally give to your guests?” When I said “Yes,” the look on his face was one of veiled horror and disgust. “How on earth did I give my daughter to such an uncouth idiot?”
Now that I’ve gotten used to real tea from China, those bags fill me with the same horror and disgust I saw on my father-in-law’s face.
Once you’ve had the real thing, there’s no going back.