Fancy Some Tea? Here's All You Need to Know

Tea is so much more than a bag of leaves and some hot water.
Tea is so much more than a bag of leaves and some hot water.
Photo by Steve Garner

After a fairly mild fall and a deceptively warm December, winter finally decided to wallop us with some mighty chilly weather. Fortunately, our weather won't be so cold that we'll be forced indoors by the possibility of frozen flesh like folks in other parts of the country. And while warmer temperatures are back, we will see more cold days and nights before spring arrives.

On chilly weekends, I like to hunker down with a big pot of soothing tea and binge-watch anything and everything my computer will stream. In anticipation of frigid evenings and nasty weather, I've stocked up on all the essentials to make my perfect pot of tea.

Of course, all you really need is tea (duh), a cup and some way to make water hot. But I think it's a little more fun to get fancy with it. Dust off that china set. Mix and match loose-leaf flavors. Serve tea in style!

Here's what you'll need to be the swankiest tea drinker on the block.

Kettle Microwaves are faster, sure, but I get a small thrill out of putting a kettle on the stove and waiting for it to start whistling once the water boils. I have a Le Creuset tea kettle, which I found greatly discounted at Marshall's, but which you can find in stores and online for about $85. Alternatively, you can check antique stores and thrift markets for a fun and funky kettle. Mine sits on my stove all the time, so I think it's important to get a good-looking kettle.

Do note, though, that black tea is the only tea that takes boiling water. Oolong tea, green tea and white tea are steeped at a lower temperature, from 170 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. How long you want to steep it is up to you.

Tea pot For the sake of this article, I'm going to make a distinction between a tea kettle and a tea pot. A kettle is made of metal and can be heated on a stove. A pot is usually glass or ceramic and should not be heated on a stove or in a microwave, though it can hold boiling water without a problem. I usually heat the water in the kettle, then pour it into the pot with tea to make a large quantity, as opposed to making a mug at a time. I'm partial to ceramic Polish tea pots (like the one to the left), which you can often find at stores like Marshall's or Tuesday Morning.

Tea cups/mugs These can be anything! In some countries, people drink tea out of small bowls without handles. I'm partial to a good mug, but the handleless cups are great for warming your hands as you hold them. Check out Chinese import stores in Chinatown for inexpensive tea sets, which usually come with a pot and several cups without handles. Check out anywhere else from gas stations to Walmart and Neiman Marcus and William Sonoma for mugs.

Infuser Finding the right infuser is crucial to your tea-drinking happiness. If you drink tea that already comes in tea bags, then you don't need an infuser, and you're probably drinking kind of crappy tea. Loose-leaf is way better. There are a number of different kinds of infusers, some more efficient than others.

Ball infusers are usually either mesh or aluminum with larger holes punched in it. The mesh ones work better than the ones with the larger holes, though tea leaves can sneak out of those, too. Spoon infusers resemble spoons with a mesh or metal ball at the end. Some infusers are built into pots, so you put the tea in the center plastic or metal cylinder, and when you pour water into the infuser, flavored water then seeps out of the holes and into the pot.

Alternatively, you can purchase empty tea bags to fill with your own loose leaf tea. I recently found some awesome ones at Fit, the Japanese import store in Dun Huang Plaza (pictured at right). Some companies also make cloth tea bags, which are washable and reusable.

Tea caddy or tea storage containers Before you do what I've done and start collecting tea like it's 1773, as if all the tea is about to be dumped in Boston harbor, get yourself a tea caddy. It's what servers bring you at restaurants when they want to show you the tea selection to choose from. Generally, a tea caddy is a wooden box with separate compartments for the teas. This works best for tea already in bags, though, so if you have a lot of loose-leaf tea, I recommend mason jars with clamp lids. However you choose to store your tea, it's important that the container be airtight to keep the dried leaves from spoiling.

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Not only is David's Tea delicious, it's also really pretty.
Not only is David's Tea delicious, it's also really pretty.
Photo courtesy David's Tea

Tea You also need tea. Lately, I've been snatching up any Texas-made tea I can find, and I must say, this great state is home to some mighty fine tea producers. Of course, when I say made in Texas, I don't necessarily mean grown in Texas. Most tea is grown in China, India, Sri Lanka and Kenya. The United States doesn't have many commercial tea plantations, so it can be difficult to get completely local tea in Texas.

That said, a few of my favorite companies are Tea in Texas, Wild Springs Tea and Zhi. Tea in Texas is made right here in Houston, and the company also puts out a tea enthusiast magazine called Tea in Texas. I recommend their Houston Hero tea, a blend of Ceylon black tea, roasted almonds, nuggets of caramel and vanilla. Wild Springs Tea is based in Kerrville, but their tea flavors represent the various flavors of the state, from Creamy Lavender Black Tea for the Boerne lavender festival to San Antonio Mariachi Chi and Medina Apple Harvest. Zhi is an Austin-based, 100 percent fair-trade company that sells tea online and in stores across Texas. Give their Turkish Spice Mint tea a try. It's sure to settle any stomach.

I have another tea obsession, but it's definitely not local. In fact, it comes from Canada. David's Tea is my all-time favorite tea purveyor because the flavors of David's teas are so intense and true to the names and descriptions. Also, David's likes to add cocoa nibs to the tea, which creates a hot chocolate/tea hybrid. Brilliant!

Extras The Brits like milk in their tea, Indians like some extra spices, and here in America, we tend to like a little sweetness, from sugar or honey. For a true multicultural tea service, you'll need a vessel for cream or milk, some honey or sugar, stirring spoons and saucers. You can also find tea filter clips, tea spoons, tea warmers with candles, tea trays, tea coasters...the list goes on.

But let's just start with some good tea, a mug and some hot water. And maybe some Law & Order on Netflix.

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