One of the things I get asked about all the time, Gentle Reader, is my tea preferences and tea drinking habits. This is because I have a hard-earned and well-deserved (if I do say so myself) reputation as a tea drinker (if not a tea connoisseur). But also because there is tea in… well… all of my books.
Yes, even the SF stuff.
It’s a theme, okay? Found family, comforting stories, strong female characters, queer rep, and… tea.
(FYI my month newsletter, The Chirrup, almost ALWAYS also includes a tea recommendation.)
What’s My Favorite Tea & How do I drink it?
It may shock you to learn that I have STRONG opinions on tea, which I will mention given any kind of conversational opening. So, finally, after over a decade of this website, I figured I better just fess up to all my preferences.
Hot tip before we start? Get tea stains off your china using denture cleaning tablets! I know, right? I just fill up the cup, pop in the tablet, leave overnight and then hand wash as normal.
Favorite Teas to Drink!
I used to be exclusively a black tea drinker. I like my black teas malty, mellow, and very strong. The kind that can be brewed forever without getting tannic (bitter). Strong enough for a mouse to run across. I was raised this way. I drink unsweetened ice tea very occasionally and usually mixed with a little lemonade. I love a bubble tea, but I only go for those that I can order 0% sugar, and since I like the ones with lots of stuff in them, I consider this tea+nibble combo of joy a full meal and not really a beverage per say.
- I’m not a fan of brisk tea (herby or acidic).
- I don’t like Earl Grey except as a flavoring for sweets and deserts. Bergamot tastes soapy to me.
- I devoutly believe lavender, rose, and violet have no place in food/beverages of any kind. Like bergamot, it all tastes like soap to me.
- Finally, I believe if you like sugar in your tea (or coffee for that matter) and you just haven’t found the right tea.
I tell you this not to offend or alienate, but so you can judge my choices by your own preferences. I will not fault you for how you take your tea (unless you’re Patrick). To each their own (except Patrick, but he started this war).
10 Best Black Teas
I usually drink bagged black tea out of a mug, I’m a plebeian. I like my mugs: smaller (otherwise my tea gets cold too fast), straight sided, thin-lipped (VERY important, I loathe a dribble), and white (so I can see the color). The ones in my merch store are mostly what I have and use. If not teabags, I’m usually doing a mug with a tea infuser wand.
If I am going with a serious loose leaf black, I use a tea pot with a fitted emersion infuser or strainer and British style porcelain teacups and saucers. I like my teacups to be VERY thin and delicate and I don’t mind risking breaking them since I have a vast collection, but it does mean that even though they are British style, my preference if for Chinese or Japanese manufacture from the 1950s-80s.
- 1706 Strong English Breakfast, Twinings – my favorite named tea brand, this is a strong (high caffeine) extremely malty tea that takes anything you want to throw at it: over brewing, second bag, microwave reheat – it can handle it all. It’s the Clydesdale of teas. Hard to describe objectively as I am so familiar with its flavor, but if you’re a coffee drinker (with milk, lattes, etc) who wants to get into tea, this is your tea to try.
- English Breakfast, Twinings – similar to the above but less resilient and will go bitter if abused, sometimes too weak for a second bag, but always a pleasing cup. Never aggressive, and never work to drink. An unassuming easygoing tea designed to go with greasy breakfasts and milk, and best that way. This is the version Americans get.
- PG Tips– the budget version of #2 and generally easier to find globally.
- Assam – if I am picking just a whole leaf (like at a proper teahouse) then I look for pure Assam or a blend based heavily on Assam. Assam is a round malty tea, great for company as it can be served with or without milk, morning or afternoon. Goes best with proper substantial strongly flavored nibbles, like chocolate cake or trifle. Or, for your savory, cheese and chutney or egg salad sandwiches.
- Yorkshire Gold – a lovely milder tea for the late afternoon, okay with milk but that’s not how it shines. Good with gentle sweet treats (like lemon cake) or lite savory bites (like cucumber sandwiches).
- Thai orange – you may be familiar with Thai iced tea, this is the unsweetened hot version. It’s a lovely tea that I think of as halfway between Assam and chai. It has a fragrant flavor that makes it best as an after meal sipping tea with or without dessert. It suits fragrant deserts like those with coconut or passion fruit. Also complex enough to make a great afternoon tea on its own, and can be taken with or without milk. This is my travel tea since it’s strongly flavored enough to disguise airplane/hotel water and comes individually bagged in sealed plastic squares.
- Chai – I have a complex relationship with chai. For years when I worked for ren faire this was my morning tea. Our local did it boiled VERY strong and highly spiced but unsweetened and that’s how I like it. Unsweetened with milk or almond milk, cinnamon forward a bit peppery and even a touch of ginger. There’s a huge range of Indian chai out there, so personal taste really comes into play, but these days this powdered version is by far my favorite: Blue Lotus Mandarin Flavor Masala Chai.
- Pu’erh – I generally do not like this tea (fermented black) because it has a peat-bog taste to it, but I love Existential Despair from Teapunk Teas. Described as the “port wine of teas” this is exactly that. A strong very complex black with notes of honey brandy and plum. A gorgeous sipping tea on its own, but also great with fruitcake, plum pudding, Christmas pudding and the like, if you go in for that kind of thing.
- Flavored blacks – I do like a flavored black on occasion but similar the above pu’erh, I tend to prefer those that lean into warm spices and a winter evening or holiday theme, rather than fruity bright notes. Right now Harney & Sons Original Hot Cinnamon Spice is one of my favorites.
- Fruity blacks – I go for apple if I go for anything.
I will often sample single source, single leaf blacks like Keemun or first flush Darjeeling as an experience when available. But in daily life these are not teas I reach for regularly. If I’m going to drink a tea without milk then I go for…
Best Oolong Tea
Oolong is a tea that you need to treat like a black and drink like a green, and to me it sits halfway in between these two but is entirely its own creature.
- Which is to say like a black: use boiling water on the leaves to make sure they unfurl properly (unless told otherwise by the vendor).
- But like a green, do NOT over-brew, so: 3 minutes at most then drink it all before it gets cold. Let an oolong sit too long or get cold and it will turn evil on you.
The best oolongs also have a 2nd or even 3rd seeps. Which means if you drink it all, then brew again, you get a completely different experience and whole new tea the second time with the same leaves. It’s loads of fun.
Oolongs need room to unfurl, so either use a teapot that has a LARGE emersion cage or one that has a built in spout-strainer. The British style “poor into a strainer” option doesn’t work well with oolongs, since the leaves are so big they can clog the spout.
I drink my oolongs out of a smaller earthenware cup, the kind with no handle and no saucer or (since I own more of them) with one of my porcelain teacups without the saucer (plebeian, remember?)
- Taiwanese milk oolong – my favorite kind of oolong and one of my absolute favorite teas. Called milk for a reason – it has at creamy sweet component on first seep and a pleasantly mellow hay element on the second. This is a stunning tea, beautiful to look at and like drinking a warm summer day. I will also drink a Taiwanese mountain oolong in a red hot minute. Both of these a lightly colored teas so when I’m inspired by scifi writing I mix them with a few Butterfly Pea flowers to turn them a beautiful blue. (Doesn’t materially change the flavor.) and if you add lemon, purple (does change the flavor). Speaking of color…
- Ruby oolong – the Thai reds have more in common with black tea than green. They brew dark and reddish in hue, hence the name, and are maltyer and less milky and grassy than the Taiwanese teas. The second seeps are a bit more mild and greeny, so it’s like getting two teas in one. I source mine from Thailand via a local tea vendor.
Speaking of oolongs, I used it to create a blue space tea! Read all about it here!
Best Green Tea & More
I don’t enjoy green tea all that much, but I’ve been told I should drink it the most. I struggle. I like a toasted rice green or jasmine with food, but as a beverage to sip on its own? Sigh. So this is where I have resorted to fruity blends. For me a green has to be cut with something.
I don’t drink much white teas or the other varieties, not because I don’t like them, just because if I am going to go there I’d rather have an oolong since I like them best of the non-blacks.
- Passionfruit green – passion fruit is my favorite fruit flavor so I’m always looking for anything that uses it, this combo is hard to find and always getting discontinued but I still love it
- Other fruit greens – I’m enjoying a pear kiwi green right now and I’d like to find a fun apricot or citrus one.
Because I don’t really enjoy the flavor of green I rarely drink matcha, which feels (emotionally) like the strongest of the greens. I’m not big on Yerba mate or mate de coca either. While these are not made with the tea plant, of course, they’re worth mentioning IMO because they are both stimulants that taste, to me, a bit like they’re cousins to greens.
Best Tisanes (no caffeine)
Aka herbal teas, but I refuse to call something tea if it doesn’t contain the sacred leaf. I actually do drink a lot of tisanes. I never drink decaf tea, it always tastes a little bit like fish to me. Not that fish is bad, just not in my tea. I’m also not a big fan of roobos and I rarely drink mint, ginger, or chamomile except for medicinal purposes. The ones I do drink?
- Citrus teas: Hibiscus teas, lemon zinger, that kind of thing.
- Winter cider teas: Teapunk Tea’s Apple Cinnamon Herbal is my current favorite but I am always looking for anything in the “mulled cider” flavor profile.
For me the teapot design is SUPER important. This should come as no surprise since I’m a potter by training and a former archaeological ceramicist by profession. Function before form, thank you very much.
I prefer a large back handle (not an over-lid). I like a rounder more spherical or egg-shaped pot with a glossy (not matte) interior (most of the time, see the Japanese pot as my one exception). That usually means refractory or stoneware modern ceramics.
- The spout MUST poor without dribbling. If it dribbles I will throw it away. I don’t do chipped or cracked pottery or dribbly teapots. Period.
- The lid must have a flange and fit properly, I do not mind if it has added material like cork or rubber to ensure a good fit.
Best Large Teapot
The Target lamp teapot – 6 cups, brown
This is my all time my favorite teapot and I don’t have a photo of it, but as I got it 20 years ago at Target it’s no longer available. So I’d just be taunting you with the impossible. It has a classic Aladdin’s lamp shape to it, and I love it with a passion because of it’s smooth modern profile and the fact that it has the prettiest pour I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. So graceful, perfect stream, and not a dribble, ever, even at the last. This one lives at my office and my heart.
Best Regular Teapot
The modern daily use teapot (with metal emersion cage option) – 4 cups, white
Depicted above without the emersion cage in it. This FORLIFE Curve Teapot (with Infuser, 24-Ounce) is a wonderful pot I purchased on a whim years ago from a local teashop and have never once regretted. Comes in many different colors and highly recommended if you only have one teapot in your life, does get a bit splashy at the last gasp though.
Best Vintage Teapot
The vintage company teapot – 6 cups, red
Larger than my daily white one and more vintage looking so it goes with my serving teacups, which are mostly red and gold themed. I use this one when I want to have a proper sit-down tea party with company.
Teapot on the Go!
The picnic teapot – 8 cups, white
Gifted to me along with the teapot travel carrier (carriage cozy), this one is used almost exclusively for period picnics, like so…
The MASSIVE Teapot
The party teapot – 10+ cups, cream
I have two party pots, these are large Brown Besses that I got at TJ Max back in the day. I bought one on a lark because it was so huge I was charmed by the ridiculous size of it. Then I discovered that it actually poured beautifully (although it’s so heavy it takes two hands) went back and bought 3 more (for self, mum, GF). This was back when my girlfriend at the time was in charge of a tea-based con suite, sand it quickly became very important to have these huge mother-pots.
Most Versatile Teapot
The glass multi use teapot – 2 sizes
I think it’s perfectly fine for teapots to modernize. I don’t mind Pyrex or glass, in fact I recently purchased one that I am over the moon about. So much I bought both sizes.
I actually got the smallest version first, which is 2 cups, for heating up milk to make hot cocoa, heating syrup for waffles, and to act as a milk pitcher or gravy boat at parties. I liked it so much, that I got the bigger version for the office. It is microwave, and stove top safe, so it can also act as a kettle. It has a really big immersion chamber, which makes it ideal for green teas and oolongs.
The Japanese individual teapot – 2 small cups
I LOVE this little Yamakiikai Kyusu pot, I used it at Piper’s when I was visiting and fell in love. It took forever to get here and it’s a tiny pot for the price, but it is an absolute joy to use, and so cute. This one has a rough interior and built in strainer, so I use it only for loose leaf oolongs and tisanes.
Travel teapot AKA the Zojirushi thermos – 1 mug
Called the Zojirushi Stainless Steel Travel Mug with Tea Leaf Filter this is one of my most important travel items. I don’t boil my water inside this thermos, it’s too tall for that, the boil coil doesn’t work right. But I DO use it as a kind of teapot on the go. It has a removable snap-in strainer so I can make oolong in this puppy which is GREAT. I usually boil the water in a paper coffee cup, pour into this over the leaves, cap it, swoosh it gently, then out comes LOVELY tea. This is an expensive piece of kit but I have had mine for well over a decade now and used it every time I travel, and I travel A LOT. It’s a bit dented now but otherwise in perfect condition.
Also I have a collection of assorted tea cozies, like this one.
Best Tea Kettles & More
Tea kettles are a matter of taste and application. Had I more counter space is would have a “keep it boiled” dispenser style operation, as it is, a basic electric kettle serves my needs.
- Electric tea kettle at home – based on the fact that we wanted something that boiled fast, had a small footprint, and we could see the water level inside from the outside.
- Electric kettle at the mum’s – ceramic kettle has its advantages, it really does keep the water hotter for longer. This one is quite small though, so not good for a family.
- Electric tea kettle on the go – invested in this exclusively for local writers retreats and conventions, so not really necessary unless you do a ton of drivable events. It’s actually pretty awesome. Works just like a regular electric kettle but smaller and transportable. I think I might go with the updated thermos version in the future.
- Boil coil – for boiling water on the go (in hotels, on writing retreats, etc).
How I use this to make tea while traveling to conventions & conferences:
Teapot bag collection!
I own three teapot purses of varying sizes.
- The black kettle purse is from Amazon, it occasionally turns up there again for sale.
- The massive red teapot purse is from a defuncted Etsy vendor that gave me hysterics when I opened it because it was so big.
- And the white one is from the convention circuit but the vendor, akoriDotDesign, is on Etsy.
In addition to the types of cups and mugs already mentioned as part of this post, I should fess up to having a vast demitasse teacup collection which is unused. Demitasse teacups are actually not originally intended for tea anyway, they were first introduced for hot chocolate.
My month newsletter, The Chirrup, almost ALWAYS also includes a drink (tea) recommendation. You can also reply to a Chirrup with your suggestions, I love talking tea! (Sadly the comments are now closed on this post for spam reasons.)
Yours (destined to drown in tea),
Find my books
Gail’s Daily Tea Party
Tisane of Nifty
Quote to Sip
In college my boyfriend destroyed my electric kettle by trying to use it to distill alcohol from fermented apple cider. I think the trauma of that experience has turned me into the person I am today.
~ Gail CarrigerTags: Tea & Nibbles