I started drinking tea when I was 11, probably EarlGrey. The flowery-fruity teas are a good introduction to the world of tea. Like with any food, I had to try many to deepen my appreciation of the taste, texture and aspect.
I prefer to get my tea in bulk because I need to look at the leaves first. If the leaves are whole, curled and shiny, it is promising of a subtle aroma bouquet; if the leaves are broken and crumbly, like for most tea bags, you will get a dark, strong and often bitter brew: I would pass and get coffee instead! When I visited a tea plantation in Sri Lanka a few years ago, I got a better understanding of the different grades of tea. The dust and the lower quality is usually what goes inside the tea bags.
As for the fruits and flowers in the mix, I look also for the right amount, not too few, not too many. This is about tea after all, not a dried fruit cocktail.
About brands, in particular, I love Sloane tea, because... it's from Toronto, fair Trade and they have a woman sommelier! My favourites so far are the Earl Grey and the Rouge Provence for the evening. You can find them in Ziggy at Home or Black Bird Bakery.
In France, I used to drink Mariage Freres' Marco Polo tea. Who knows what are "the Chinese and Tibetan flowers " that compose the secret blend? This is indisputably the most legendary flavoured tea in the world. In a pre-pandemic world, I used to get it at the Orly airport shop in Paris. You can find Mariage Freres elegant blends in a few stores in Canada too. The shiny black tin caddy is iconic. Their limited editions are instant sold out in Japan. The kind of gift you are happy to receive and happy to offer. Like a bottle of good wine, minus the headache.
Another French favourite is Palais des Thés. Inspired, ethical and knowledgeable this company provides indications about the water temperature, the quantity of tea and the infusion time for each tea. The du Hammam and The des Lords are their best sellers. Because they disclose the origin of their teas with National Geographic worthy landscape pictures, you get a whole imaginary trip just by looking at the label.
Colourful and vibrant are the Kusmi teas. I would occasionally go for their cheeky names: Sweet Love and BB Detox. The Mercantile in Roncy carries a selection.
With a sweet French pastry, I love the sharp contrast of a smoked tea like Lapsang souchong. I found some good organic Lapsang souchong at Karma Coop. Lapsang souchong is not for the faint of heart but if you like smoky "peated" whiskey, like Lagavulin, you should try Lapsang souchong. (As I am writing these lines I am dreaming of a Rose-flavored Ispahan pastry by Pierre Hermé and a cup of Lapsang souchong!)
When I lived in Japan, I discovered green teas. The key point with green tea is the water temperature and the infusion time. It has to be well below boiling temp and not steep for too long; otherwise, it is bitter and grassy. Special mention for the grilled rice tea "Genmaicha" to enjoy with sushi for its toasted taste. In Toronto, I find it at PAT Central or Sanko. I tend to pick up the one that has the picture of the farmer printed on the packaging.
Finally to fully appreciate the tea, the right teapot; a roomy infuser is preferable to a ball-style of infuser to allow the leaves to expand when they unroll. The Degrenne Salam teapot has been a tea lover favourite for decades with its deep and detachable infuser. It keeps the tea warm naturally with its felt insulated lid.
After you enjoyed your tea, the good news is you are not supposed to wash your teapot; you just rinse it and leave the tannins inside. It works as long as you drink the same time of tea. Tea experts recommend having one teapot for each type of tea: flavoured, smokey and green; otherwise... just wash it when you switch the type of tea. I have been using my Salam teapot for 23 years, and I love it as it comes: with patina and tannins.
What is your favourite tea shop?