Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How I Learned to Stop Coffee and Love Green Tea

Green tea

A semi-secret: I gave up coffee for Lent. Going in, it was a bit of a scary sacrifice. I didn't say much about it to friends or family because I was afraid I'd jinx myself. I knew it was going to be tough, and previous attempts to go coffee free for a time had ended in failure.

But I did it. Starting with the Ash Wednesday fast day probably helped--what are a few more symptoms on a day when you're already going through some sacrificial deprivation?

I knew there was no way I could manage without a semi substitute, so Ash Wednesday morning after church, I stopped (ashy forehead and all) and bought a box of green teabags. I knew it wouldn't be great tea, but I figured it'd do until I could pick up some loose leaf. I brewed some and sipped it resolutely, steeling myself for 40 long days in the coffee desert.

And then along the way, a funny thing happened. Instead of green tea being a major sacrifice--a pathetic coffee alternative--I found myself surprised by the beauty and subtlety and delicate nuances of the stuff: Japanese green tea, particularly, and sencha specifically, though not exclusively (I like bancha, and I also discovered genmaicha, which includes toasted rice with green tea--IT IS SO GOOD). Here's a good run-down of the basic types: Types of Japanese Green Tea.

In some ways, tea is far simpler than coffee: pour hot (but not too hot) water over the leaves, strain in some way after enough time has passed. No equipment involved, really. On the other hand, there are so many *layers* to brewing green tea. For instance, most teas can be steeped not once, but many times, and each steeping has its own character. To my taste, the first steeping can be a bit edgy and brash, a wake-up. The second (my favorite) is super fast: the leaves are awake and don't require much more than a rinse, and the flavor is full. Depending on the tea, it can be almost brothy: richly vegetable, almost a little seaweedy. For the third steeping, I let the water sit a good while, and it tends to be sweeter than the first to, sometimes startlingly so, lingering on the tongue.

I picked up an itty bitty baby Japanese teapot (called a kyusu) so I can make little cups, running quickly through three steepings (or more) and then starting again. The nicer kyusus are beautiful works of art, made of unglazed clay which requires a bit of care...I'll work up to one, perhaps, but for now, I'm very much enjoying this little guy. At work I just use a Pyrex measuring cup and pour through a tea strainer, but...there's a certain something to doing things in a fancy way, at least some of the time.

My little blue kyusu

I'm most certainly not done with coffee, but I'm actually not yet back to it. I had a cup on Easter Sunday. It seemed the thing to do. But the next day I got up, eyed the coffee and then my bag of green tea, and it was the tea that made my mouth water. So I shrugged, put the kettle on, and got down to business.

There's a lesson in all this, I suppose: when we are willing to let go, sometimes we may find ourselves unexpectedly blessed. I am grateful.


Spiderwebz said...

Tea! \o/
I only drink green tea in the morning, because of the tea-caffeine which keeps me awake at night. But indeed, sencha is a very good wake-up tea. And since you apparently like the strong stuff, have you tried 'mate' and 'gunpowder' teas yet?

Scott Kernaghan said...

I' quite a tea lover here. And if you ever end up in my neck of the woods, I'll sort out out with an incredible 'gunpowder green tea' that I have.

Little Flower Petals said...

That makes two votes for gunpowder green. ;) I've had it, but it has been awhile. I seem to recall it being less "green" tasting than sencha, maybe even a little smoky? The exploration continues!

Joe V said...

Once your're back to coffee, try an Aeropress. Pretty simple and if done right renders great coffee, full flavored but minus the acidic bitterness.

Little Flower Petals said...

Joe, my Aeropress was one of the reasons it was so hard to give up coffee. I'll second your praise for it. It really is a marvelous little gadget!

notagain said...

You mentioned not having coffee once before and I just knew it was for Lent. I didn't start drinking coffee until AFTER I left the donut shop and had to report for 4 am shifts at the airport. I'm more of a black tea man myself but for green I really like the jasmine stuff.

Little Flower Petals said...

OK, that does it. I think I need to go by the Tea Lady after work today. I know they have gunpowder green, and probably jasmine, too, among other things.