Info for beginners:
Different kinds of teas and how they're different
Linda Gaylard's book on tea, not super in depth but helps with understanding the differences between kinds of tea and in tea culture around the world
Your local tea shop
https://shopmandalatea.com/ (currently "elocating to new digs and streamlining our website")
http://www.dragonteahouse.biz (also on ebay)
Has multiple options depending on what you want, monthly. 30 dollars, or 50 for premium.
30 dollars a month, mostly used to educate (e.g. comparing two teas that have been processed differently, mao cha vs raw pu erh, young tree vs old tree)
Oolong tea club
Akira Hojo, owner of Hojo Co., of a degree in agricultural chemistry and one in food science & nutrition, has a bit of a broken english but knows a lot of stuff about tea, writes about particular teas or about the characteristics of a family of teas or about agriculture or sometimes about more technical stuff
Don mei's blog/ chinalife's yt, there is quite some shilling and memeing involved but their content is good, especially for beginners getting into gong fu
Marshaln, extremely interesting, puer focused but talks a bit about everything, a lot of the other sources quote him often
2Dog, owner of white2tea, puer focused, has some funny stories and nice pics, a lot of insight on sourcing and the making of puer, his snapchat is pure gold
Teadb: Good content, chill, two guys drinking tea and talking about it, their website also has a ton of resources on brewing and articles on different types of tea, they respond really quick to comments and questions, both on the website and on their fb
Thejadeleaf: This guy is a potter in taiwan and has some nice teaware, he also sources tea, a bit on the expensive side but his blog is interesting none the less
>How to make tea
1. Get a scale
Scales are useful to measure amounts of tea as their density vary widely. A rolled oolong, for example, is quite a bit more dense than a silver needle tea (not to mention silver needle would be quite hard to measure with a spoon).
2. Get a kettle
A Japanese water boiler works too, don't microwave your tea (hard to judge temperature, unevenly heats), stovetop kettle or electric kettle are both fine it's mostly up to preference
Different tea types require specific temperatures to bring out their best qualities, and to avoid their bad ones. Green teas for example do not generally handle boiling water well as they will scorch. Other teas (eg black tea) may be too faint if you brew them too cool (besides intentional cold brewing). Raw pu erh is mostly up to preference, and many start at one end of the spectrum and work their way up or down until they find what temperature the specific pu erh shines with.
You don't necessarily need a thermometer, although it is helpful. You can eyeball (roiling boil, steaming but not boiling, no steam, etc), use a water boiler or electric kettle with built in temperature settings, etc. However, a thermometer is useful when you're newer to tea as you can more closely follow other's instructions and adjust to preference.
4. Timing & quantity
Most teas become bitter with oversteeping and extremely faint when under steeping. There are two main ways of preparing tea, one is gong fu (traditional chinese method) and the other, much more common one, is the western way (see ISO3103).
4a. The gong fu method consists of brewing a high quantity of leaves (∼10g per 150ml of water, ymmv) for a relatively short period of time at a temperature that greatly depends on the particular tea; what follows is my personal opinion after some research and a lot of brewed tea, but your mileage may greatly vary depending on your personal preference and taste, so it's advised that you try changing these numbers to suit your taste better:
∼15s @ 100°C (or as hot as you can get the water) for black and pu erh, ∼20-25s @ 95-100°C for highly oxidised oolong, ∼30s @ 85-90°C for little oxidised oolong, ∼60s @ 80-85°C for green, ∼60s @ 75-80°C for white.
There are exceptions though as, for example, high quality gyokuro (an already high quality japanese green tea) is considered best when steeped 90s for the first time, then 15s, then 20s, then 30s and so on all at about 60°C, so look up the name of the tea you're going to be drinking and see if wikipedia or whatever obscure mongolian site translated for you by the nearest and cheapest immigrant you could find yields any info about steeping time and temperature.
Water temperature decreases when you pour it in a room temperature cup/pot, so it's usually best to pre-warm your cup/pot.
Leaves can be re-steeped, the best brew is usually considered the 2nd or 3rd or 4th, and the higher quality the leaves you're steeping the more times you'll be able to steep them and get a good tasting brew, usually adding 5 (black) to 15s (green) each time you re-steep them.
4b. The western method is thoroughly documented in the ISO3103 document and chances are you know this already, but here's a short summary in case you can't be bothered to spend $30 to know how exactly the english spend their time everyday from 16:45 to 17:00:
Warm a teapot or cup with hot water, use 1 to 1.5g of leaves for every 100ml of water, refer to paragraph 4a and leave the leaves steeping for 3 to 5min according to personal taste, ideally leaving lighter (green, white) tea steeping less than stronger (black) tea, then throw away the leaves.
This method produces a blander tasting tea liquor but it's especially useful if you're going to make a lot of tea, for when you have guests for example.
If you want to make this a bit better use more tea and steep it for less time.
>New to tea what do I try?
A little bit of everything.
Go to upton (or any other decent place with samples) and try some greens, oolongs, blacks, whites, etc (Sencha, tie guan yin, moonlight white, etc pick some that interest you) get some 15g samples. Try them. If you like one, explore that subvariety more, learn what you do and don't like, then try to get some better quality (yunnan sourcing, what-cha, etc).
What-cha also has an intro sampler with a little bit of everything, which may make it easier.
>But tea bags are so cheap!
Yes, and they contain the lowest quality tea possible (laymen translation for the technical term for the content of tea bags is "dust"), but loose leaf tea can be fairly cheap unless you buy organic japanese top quality first flush (picked during the first harvest season of the year, aka in spring, usually the most expensive and highest quality) single estate small field green tea grown in a bushido-law-observing farm by the 23rd generation of samurai farmers.
Twinings' bagged tea costs around €60/kg here, and for the same price you can get a mid quality chinese oolong from ebay, or organic genmaicha from one of the websites listed at the top, and those two can be re-steeped, so even if you bought good quality taiwanese oolong for €180/kg you could steep it (at least) three times, and while effectively costing you as much as twinings' bagged tea it would be considered much better by most.
You still can find cheaper tea bags at the corner store during the week it's on sale, and that will likely cost you less money but still taste like bagged tea.
If you like bagged tea enough tho nobody's to stop you from saving your money by buying that and enjoying it.
>Does all tea come from the same plant?
No, but it's all from veeery similar plants, all of the Camellia sinensis specie.
For centuries, people have selected and crossed and cloned different bushes to get the tastier leaves and the bigger bushes, and different varieties of bushes are found in different regions (for example the variety that yields da hong pao is found in the Wu Yi mountains in the Fujian province of china, while the variety that yields sencha is found in almost all Japan, but not in China or India) - these different varieties of bushes are called "cultivars", short for cultivated variants, which means they were selectively cultivated (by men) slightly different varieties of the same specie of plant.
Different varieties of Camellia sinensis are also found in different climates - when, for example, tea was exported to India, the bushes changed slightly to adapt to the different weather and heat conditions; from that originated the Camellia assamica variant, short for Camellia sinensis var. assamica, where "variant" is the technical term to refer to slightly different variants of the plant that naturally occur(red) in different places.
>Raw pu erh? Ripe pu erh?
Raw pu erh is lightly fermented, steamed, and (generally) pressed into cakes, bricks, or other shapes. Then it is aged. The fermentation process continues as it ages developing a more complex flavor over time.
New raw pu erh can taste a little bitter (under a year old) or overly smokey, but these flavors generally mellow with time.
Ripe pu erh is strongly fermented artificially speeding up the aging process and generally tastes "darker", and is often recommended for those who enjoy coffee.
>I want to get into pu erh what should I try?
White2tea has both a raw sampler and a ripe sampler to show the differences it can have to let you experiment a bit. It has worldwide free shipping.
Mandala tea and yunnan sourcing also both have sampler sizes of their pu erh. You can try getting some random stuff that looks good and hope you luck out.
>What if I want to try something from somewhere like white2tea or yunnan sourcing but I'm not sure if it will be good?
Look it up on steepster. It's not guaranteed, and you shouldn't pay attention to the scores. Someone may have rated the tea low because it had notes of liquorice or apple and they dislike these things as preference. It doesn't mean the tea is bad, it just means it wasn't for them. Read what they say and decide why they rated it low, and if the reasons are some you'd agree with.
>How should I store tea?
Normal tea: in airtight tins away from light, heat, humidity, smells, and temperature fluctuations. In a tin inside a cabinet, in a glass jar away in a cupboard, etc are fine. Tea absorbs smells very easily so make sure the container is SEALED and do not store two types of tea together, or anywhere near strong smells of any type.
Pu erh: in clay pots with a snug lid is generally best. The point of long-term aging pu erh is to expose it to light humidity and air to allow it to continue aging, therefor air tight containers are counter-productive. Pu erh, like any tea, picks up smells easily so avoid storing it near anything with a strong scent, or in cardboard. You don't have to use clay (but it is recommended as it is porous) you can store in pretty much anything as long as your pu erh won't pick up the scent and it can breathe a bit.
Also if you are storing pu erh in a high humidity environment like a cellar be sure to check for mold often. And in general, check for bugs and signs of pests trying to get in to your stash (nibbled wrappers, spider web, etc).
>Places to avoid
Teavana (overperfumed, expensive, shit quality), starbucks (same shit), anything overly expensive for standard types of tea without reason, anything that sells "fanning" quality (tea dust instead of closer to broken or whole leaves).