[First off, let me apologize--apparently Chantal started a thread about this store when it first opened, over a year ago, but site search doesn't turn it up. So if this needs to be moved, feel free. :-) ]
Last night the gaijin girls (smart, adventurous ages 8 and 12) and I attended our first tea tasting together. The New Mexico Tea Company is located on the northeast corner of Mountain and 12th. The owner, David, hosts these weekly tastings, which take about an hour and a half, and are free. You call him to sign up in advance; there's only 6 spaces at each. The summary: you'll have a good time and get some education in a wholly snob-free environment.
We tasted several teas--white, flavored white, green, flavored green, oolongs, smoked and blacks, as well as rooibos (not really tea). In addition we experienced the difference between different steepings of the same teas. The choices were diverse and sometimes challenging, and really gave a good cross-section of the possibilities out there. I feel David's prices are reasonable; he only sells bulk tea, priced by the ounce.
David gently busts some myths about the various teas. Many people know that regardless of variety (green, white, whatever), tea comes from only one plant. David explains the difference in processing between the varieties and goes into some of the more exotic means of preparing tea--for example, some jasmine teas are made by placing a tea leaf into a jasmine flower, letting the flower close overnight, and then removing the tea leaf the next morning. Who knew? He also handles questions about caffeine adroitly: "If you are really worried about caffeine content between the different teas," he suggests, "look for something else to drink." Different caffeine levels can be achieved by rinsing the leaves after their first steeping, he explains. And the taste difference between the different steepings (we went to four on a ginseng oolong!) is subtle, nuanced and really interesting.
It's very friendly and relaxed. Sometimes in life, you meet people who feel that, as experts in their field, it's their job to demonstrate their superior education and then gently guide your tastes in the proper direction. I can't stand that. David approaches the tea as a shared experience that a person should have some fun with. As with wine, my favorite approach is 'try what you want to, explore what you like, and don't go back to what you don't like.' This fits perfectly with the vibe at these tastings.
So What the Hell does ridin Know About Tea?
More than the average bear, actually. Before becoming unemployed and wretchedly poor, I used to work for Yogi Tea in Marketing, and I was exposed (sometimes reluctantly) to several tastings a week. New products and reformulations all had to come through my department for feedback. Staff at the tastings always included hardcore types like the brand manager and the director of marketing--Sikhs who had drunk some tea in their time, let me tell you. I thoroughly enjoyed the tasting at New Mexico Tea and I heartily recommend it! It would make a fun date, including a first date. There really wasn't anything about it I didn't like, and you guys know I can be a bit...um...discerning at times. You'll have fun, you'll learn a thing or two (I did), and you'll expand your taste buds' consciousness. Without busting your wallet's chakras.
New Mexico Tea Company
Open 7 days a week from 10am till 6pm
Located on the corner of Mountain and 12th street in downtown Albuquerque.