A Guide to Teas for Every Season
Certain types of tea match up to the changing hour, mood, or occasion.
Ask tea lovers what sort of tea they like to drink in the morning, which after dinner, what their preferred choice is on a sunny summer’s day, or what brings comfort on a chilly mid-winter afternoon, and each confident and passionate answer will be different. There are, of course, no definitive rules about which tea best suits different times of the day or changing aspects of season and climate. Choices are individual and very personal. And yet, it is perhaps possible to suggest harmonies between certain types of tea and the changing hour, mood, or occasion.
Upon waking, most people seem to crave a tea with a rich and powerful flavor that wakes the taste buds and enlivens the senses. So they choose a malty, smooth, tippy Assam or a bright, aromatic Ceylon with hints of roasted nuts and satisfying creaminess. Others might choose a classic China Keemun that fills the mouth with gentle, rounded, nutty sweetness. The same teas pair wonderfully with flakey croissants or toast and marmalade at breakfast. The depth and strength of the teas marries perfectly with the sweet fruitiness of jams, the buttery crispness of pastries or the savory deliciousness of crispy bacon or scrambled eggs on grainy toast.
A mid-morning break calls for the comfort and lift of a Wuyi oolong with its complex roasty depth and satisfying warmth, or the sappy spring flower notes of a jade oolong that will brew again and again until lunch time and on into the afternoon.
When energy levels begin to flag at two o’clock, elegant, lighter teas raise the spirits and help maintain focus until the end of the working day. A fruity, slightly grassy First Flush Darjeeling strikes just the right note and pairs well with a shortbread biscuit or slice of lemon drizzle cake. Or choose a Bao Zhong with its sweet-pea notes and honeyed apricot finish, or a high-grown Nuwara Eliya from Ceylon, Sri Lanka, with a floral and fruity elegance all its own.
After dinner, white, green, jade and dark oolongs, or pu-erh teas all work their magic. Try a Jasmine Silver Needle to bring a sigh of satisfaction from guests as they sit back and relax to the heady notes of the tea’s exotic perfume. Or gently infuse Long Jing at 167˚F for its creamy smooth freshness with just a hint of hazelnuts and young spring vegetables.
For coffee drinkers who are more used to darker, stronger flavors after dinner, serve Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe), an oolong, with its rich dark cocoa notes and deep roasty hints of charcoal. Alternatively, an aged raw pu-erh will deliver warm, honeyed mellowness while also aiding digestion.
As the climate changes through the year, tea drinkers begin alternating different teas. The chilly temperatures and grey skies of winter inspire spicy chai, whose warming ingredients seem to defend from the cold and wrap us with a comforting sense of well-being despite the harshness of the world outside. Other winter teas flavored with berries and spices are reminiscent of mulled wines served fireside at Christmastime. And the toasty flavors of Wuyi and Cassia oolongs remind us of blazing wood fires and the comforting aromas of a busy oven.
The golden days of summer sunshine call for lighter, more floral, aromatic teas. Sip fragrant white teas or try the shaded Japanese gyokuro or shincha – the first flush of– with their brothy umami sweetness. Whisk matcha into an ice-cold frappe with honey and coconut or almond milk. Or cold-steep a Taiwanese milk or jade oolong for a sparkling, deliciously smooth, refreshing iced tea.
The amazing range of teas available today encourages us to constantly try something different and discover what best suits our mood, the time of day, the food we eat, and the changing temperament of the weather. The possibilities are infinite and the enjoyment boundless.
Do you enjoy tea by the season or mood?