I’ve been a tea drinker for about as long as I can remember. Even before I started actually drinking the stuff, it was a team with which I felt affiliation. Two of the great women in my life – my maternal grandmother (“Gummy”) and my childhood babysitter (“Mrs. V.”) – different as they were, shared a fierce affection for Twinings English Breakfast Tea, in its distinct red envelope.
Mrs. V. used to steep three bags at a time, for a near-opaque brew, and drink it black. This is perhaps reflective of the challenges posed to her by my sister and me, in the wild afterschool hours. Gummy’s tea spoke of her being a young woman during the Great Depression. Her father had a scrap metal business in Chicago, which put them in the slightly better-off category of Russian immigrants, but times were hardly flush. So Gummy, until the day she died, would re-use one tea bag at a time, until it had nothing more to give, bolstered with milk and sugar.
I inherited their taste for black tea, combining both practices: I like it strong, milky and a little sweet. I went in for some experimentation during college (of course).
During slow hours working at the coffee shop, I experimented with all the loose teas lined up in their homey mason jars. My favorite blend was 2 parts Earl Grey to 1 part Raspberry. Also: Priya’s Indian Café off campus, where the lunch special included a cup of chai. A #FoodObsession thus begun, and it’s proved to be a long-term relationship. Chai and I, we’re going on 20-plus years strong, with no signs of fading interest in sight.
But proper chai, though spiced as it simmers, needs to start with a good, basic black tea. Tea you’d want to drink on its own. And that tea is Barry’s, which is as common as Lipton’s in Ireland.
I love a best basic. I’ve splurged on fancy teas before, the cloth-bound sachets, the beautifully tinned extravagances, but I always go back to Barry’s. I travel with it, gift it, and sing it praises whenever I can.
What’s an indispensable #BestBasic you want to share with the world?