I'm not a big tea person. I'm not a big wine person either. My working theory is that I don't like the taste of tannin. (Grape wine, anyway. Plum wine, umeshuu in Japanese, is great stuff with dessert.) Plain Darjeeling tastes like mulch water to me. Earl Grey is drinkable if I dump in an amount of milk and sugar that would horrify actual Brits. I keep trying anyway, because I already don't like coffee, beer, or caviar, and I carry a tiny video game machine with me everywhere I go -- I'm afraid if too many people find out about it, they'll take away my adulting license.

Explaining to people that you don't like tea that tastes like tea will get you looked at funny. The easiest way to avoid this is to instead cultivate a taste for exotic forms of tea whose names are not in English. Bonus points if you pick something that Americans couldn't pronounce correctly if their lives depended on it. "Chai" works all right, but "mugicha", "rooibos", and "tǐe guān yīn" will get you the hat trick.

I live not all that far from Chinatown, so occasionally I go buy something weird, just to find out if it's edible. I read enough to make sure I don't inadvertently buy motor oil, but search me what most of the plant names equate to in English. They'll usually localize things like gingko biloba, ginger, soy, and some fruits and flowers, but a lot of the "herbal remedy" stuff will be marked, at best, in Pinyin. They also sell stuff in Korean, which I'm just hopeless at. I know hangul is phonetic, and I could probably pick apart the blocks if I had a cheat sheet with me and some time, but I know zero Korean and wouldn't even have any idea how to look it up in a dictionary.

Genmaicha is Japanese sencha green tea with roasted brown rice. (Sencha tea is brewed tea. Matcha tea is the powdered stuff you mix with a whisk.) My taste in tea is apparently really plebian -- the rice was originally added by poor peasants who wanted to stretch the much more expensive tea leaves. If you add enough sugar or honey, it tastes weirdly like breakfast cereal.

Moroccan mint tea is gunpowder green, any random kind of mint you want, and ungodly amounts of sugar. (As far as I can tell, all Middle Eastern beverages involve ungodly amounts of sugar. Proper Arabian coffee is almost syrup.) It's decent. The rats go out of their tiny little minds over the teabags.

Most "sleepytime" teas have chamomile in them, which tastes really musty to me. Some also have valerian, which has some sort of serotonergic compound in it and therefore disagrees with me violently. Also, it smells like stewed gym socks. I'm not keen on catnip either, and I can't hand it off to the rats in any case. I buy a surprising number of things based on whether I can feet the leftovers to animals.

Luóhàn guǒ, otherwise known as momordica, is some kind of dried fruit suspension. It's sold as cubes of compressed powder, kind of like bouillon, and in order to actually make it, I have to engage in the time-honored practice of breaking into my random Asian foodstuffs through a million layers of wrapping. Mine came folded two cubes at a time into waxed paper, wrapped in cellophane, packaged in a tiny cardboard sleeve, shrink-wrapped together into a block of twelve cube-pair-sleeves, packed into a larger cardboard box, and wrapped in another layer of cellophane. Just to make sure, I guess. If I took an unopened package deep-sea diving with me, I feel certain the contents would remain perfectly dry. It smells like brown sugar, and tastes like liquid dates.

Thai tea is great stuff, although having seen a few recipes for it, I suspect it would not taste much different if you omitted the tea leaves entirely. I mixed up a batch once, and a single pitcher required a can of sweetened condensed milk plus half a cup of sugar. If you want it cold, cutting that half and half with milk makes a decent latte; if you drink it hot and are as lazy as I am, the Japanese grocery at Porter sells it in packets like cocoa.

Bubble tea is a tasty drink but a terrible misnomer. You can get "bubble tea" that tastes of green tea or milk tea, but I'm fairly sure the non-tea kinds like strawberry, mango, coconut, and melon are pretty much froot-flavored milk. I am exactly as classy about my bubble tea as I am about all my other tea, which is to say that I am more than happy to drink the canned stuff they keep on the shelves by the door at the big Chinese grocery downtown. I will drink all manner of strange beverages labeled in various moon-languages, in fact, although I do draw the line at Ramune, which is so sweet it actually burns. It's worse than Smirnoff Ice, or, God forbid, Chu-Hi. You really want the nifty bottles, you can drink the stuff yourself.

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