Tea Party

Once merely a post-dinner afterthought, tea has recently been getting as much attention as coffee. Which means a whole new batch of jargon to get a handle on. So we asked the pros at Somerville-based MEM Tea Imports, a supplier for the majority of the area’s independent restaurants and cafés (and whose goods are pictured below), to explain three tea terms we’re seeing all over town.

Photo by Scott M. Lacey

The highest grade of Japanese green tea. For two to three weeks before the leaves are picked (by hand), the tea plants are covered. The resulting leaves are extremely delicate and must be steeped at a lower temperature than most teas, but they yield a more deeply flavored cup. Find it at: Bondir, Avila, Hi-Rise (Mass. Ave. location), Swish Shabu.

An aged and fermented tea derived from ancient trees in China’s Yunnan province. Aged for three to five years, it develops a layer of bacterial mold that’s rinsed off before steeping. Because of its age, this tea tastes better the more it’s steeped — the third or fourth time is best — and is strangely savory. Expect earthy, woodsy, and umami notes from your cup. Find it at: L’Espalier, Ula Café, Chez Henri, Trident Booksellers & Café.

  A fancy way of referring to herbal teas, or those caffeine-free infusions made from dried flowers, fruits, roots, or herbs. Common varieties include rooibos, ginger, peppermint, and yerba mate. Find them at: Journeyman (where the tea list has a tisane section); erbaluce (which serves a tisane-infused cocktail).