I've dispatched Erik to San Francisco this week to check out all the teahouses there and generally sniff out the state of things tea-related in the West. If he doesn't get too distracted by the latest offerings from Apple Computer, Inc., I expect he'll come back with lots to tell. I'm sure we're all looking forward to that.
Since I went so nuts for Betjeman & Barton's Pouchkine tea over the holidays my loving wife cleaned out the shelves at Williams Sonoma so I will never be without it again. Man, that stuff is good, but here's something: the original tin I received has a best before October 2003 sticker on the bottom. The new tins have a 2006 date. I'm not a scientist or anything but I would surmise that there's a 3 year age gap somewhere in there. The thing of it is, the tin that I should have enjoyed a long time ago tastes a lot better and I'm trying to figure out why. A blend is a blend so it might just be a different crop of tea or an off day for the tea blender or something, but these are established, old-school, probably not stoned tea merchants and one would think they would aim for (and achieve) a consistent product. The international tea community demands no less. So it's got to be some sort of accidental aging process in which the tea itself loses a little flavor, the added flavors step in to fill the void but lose enough of their original character (orange-lemon-bergamot) to create a new flavor that is better than anything, even the New England Patriots. Not that there's anything wrong with the newer tea, it's top shelf, but it tastes like the description on the tin - a blend of black teas with citrus flavoring. The older stuff tastes exotic, mysterious, sensual, like a wet kiss from a virgin bride who's just eaten a fruit from another planet and all that crap. Go figure.