Who doesn’t love a tea party? One of the best events I’d been to this year was a tea social hosted by Cindi Bigelow, CEO and grand-daughter of Ruth Bigelow, founder of one of America’s largest tea companies, Bigelow Tea.
I was just getting over being sick with bronchitis, but I was determined to get to this event and figured it couldn’t be bad for me since we drinking tea (my favorite!) and being social (another fave for me!). As soon I walked in and the Bigelow folks found out I was on the mend and antibiotics they fixed me up with a “Lemon Ginger Herb Plus” tea which contains probiotics (READ: Stuff that is great for your tummy when you are on a prescription, plus contains microorganisms that promote microbial balance in your intestines.). “It was what the doctor ordered”.
The event was so much fun! I mingled with the other food bloggers and tea loving guests over tea, tea sandwiches, scones with jam and cream — YUM!. Then we sat down and learned some ABC’s of tea. I did not know that all tea (except herbal/fruit teas) comes from the same, one plant — Camellia sinensis: white, green, black. The same plant! I don’t know why I didn’t know this, but now I do. Cindi was really informative and engaging. We ripped open tea bags and compared Bigelow teas with some of their competitors. She was very careful not to disparage the competition. She left us to see and taste the difference for ourselves. It was eye opening to empty the bags and see that some tea companies use tea dust instead of the higher quality leaves. I was fascinated to discover that Bigelow uses real oil of bergamot as opposed to some companies that use artificially flavored “bergamot” pellets in their Earl Grey tea.
We also did a comparative tasting of English Breakfast, Earl Grey, green, peppermint and chamomile teas. Here’s a video clip of us doing this:
It was extremely “taste-formative” to mindfully compare the teas. The object was to discover what we really liked or didn’t about the different brands of the same teas. I do the same thing at my chocolate tasting events. It’s always much more interesting to taste across brands although most chocolate manufacturers prefer that you taste just their chocolate — no kidding!
Cindi also talked about the importance of tea packaging. Bigelow uses a more expensive foil-like package on each bag which seals in the flavor and helps preserve the tea. The downside is it’s not biodegradable like the paper wrappers on other bags, but for Bigelow preserving the quality of their tea is a priority. I drink all sorts of teas and some have paper wrappers or no wrappers at all. Cindi recommends that you store them a dark, air-tight container like a tin.
Of course we learned how to brew a proper cup of tea. One of my pet peeves has been the numerous crap-tastic cups of tea I have been served in my life (don’t get me started here!).
Here are the basic steps for brewing a black tea:
- Get a clean cup.
- Put the tea bag in the cup.
- Bring fresh cold (ideally filtered) water to a rolling boil and pour it over the bag while it’s still rolling.
- Steep for 1-2 minutes (although I like it a bit stronger so I leave it a little longer).
- Remove bag.
- Add what you like (I like a teaspoon of raw sugar and sometimes a dash of milk.)
- Sip and savor.
There are different instructions for brewing herbal and green teas here.
After the tasting we did more socializing with wine and chocolate. They gave us a lovely selection of different tea bags to try at home which I shared with my family. That turned out to be another “hello” moment! Bigelow makes over 100 different teas, many of which you don’t see in the stores; some are seasonal. My sister-in-law fell in love with the Sweetheart Cinnamon (a special tea for Valentines Day) and the Green Tea with Pomegranate. She’s on a mission to find them where she lives. My Mom loved the Earl Grey. My boyfriend likes to blend different different teas together and make his own “special concoctions”. So he had a ball.
I definitely recommend having a tea social at home and tasting, tearing and comparing teas with friends. Rather than go out and buy a bunch of different teas, each guest could bring a box or a few bags and something yummy to nibble for the social part. It’s good, clean, fun when so little else is these days. I am in the midst of planning “the tea party of tea parties” at my house, so I have to stock up.