Tea 101 with Jesse Appell

All photos c/o Jesse Appell

The first time Jesse Appell visited the Beijing Tea Market, he was hooked. "There were thousands of shops, and all the shop owners were so welcoming and eager to share tea and tea culture. I wound up going back once or twice a month during the 9 years I lived in Beijing."

These moments ignited Jesse's love of tea, and he founded Jesse's Teahouse an online destination where he curates great tea, shares how to make it, and sends it to his tea community around the world. He has amassed a loyal following on TikTok and Instagram, among other platforms, where he shares gongfu tea culture with the world.

For those of you who are tea drinkers or just dipping your toes in tea, Jesse shares some simple tips to get the most out of your tea experience.

Tip #1: Good quality tea vs. bad

Focus on finding whole leaf teas – avoid anything crushed or powdered. From there, make sure the tea has good fragrance, and generally you also want tea leaves that produce colorful yet clear teas. Muddy tea color can sometimes mean dull flavor.

Tip #2: Water temperature affects tea flavor

Water temperature is very important for getting the best flavor out of tea. Higher temperatures bring out more flavor, but also sometimes bitter compounds or other undesirable flavors. Some teas – like red and black teas – are processed in a way that you can steep them as hot as you want. Others, like green teas, will “burn” if you steep them too hot. The right temperature depends on the tea type and your personal taste.

Tip #3: How to store tea to preserve quality and freshness

All teas benefit from being stored in dry and cool places outside of direct sunlight. Some teas, like pu’er and white teas, age and get better as they are left to themselves. Others, like green teas, lose flavor and freshness easily. In fact, my Chinese tea dealer friends keep their green teas in refrigeration at all times to preserve the freshness.

Tip #4: Where to start if you're interested in dipping your toes into tea

For new tea people, I always recommend trying a few different types of tea, so you can taste for yourself what you like. I have a sampler box on my site just for that, with four different tea types. If you want something familiar, Chinese red teas are what people in the west call black teas they will be familiar to those who like Earl Grey and English Breakfast.

Things about the tea community that would surprise people

I think a lot of people would be surprised how open and generous my Chinese tea friends are with their cultural knowledge. Sometimes people expect that since I am a white person, Chinese would be wary about sharing cultural knowledge. On the contrary, I find they are extremely eager to see their culture spread around the world and are very supportive.

Favorite tea ritual

My tea ritual is gongfu tea! It is a tea-making style from China involving a tea table that holds all the tea equipment, and a lidded cup to steep the tea. One of the most fun things of the last year is being able to share this daily ritual with so many people thanks to social media, and helping others find their own way to start their tea journey.

Usually I drink tea without music, but sometimes I will put on some guzheng music, which is traditionally paired with tea-making in China, or if I am feeling more Western, some lofi hip hop.

Bridging cultures with tea

On days when it’s hard to get up, I try to remember that I have a chance to be a cultural bridge between my home country of the US and my “new home” of many years, China. Recently there has been so much conflict between these countries and being able to share the more human aspects of culture online is a responsibility I am honored to come through on. I hope it serves to refocus some of the bad energy from politics onto good energy from tea.

Follow Jesse for more tips and peeks into his tea journey:

TikTok @yourteaguy
Instagram @jessesteahouse
Facebook @jessesteahouse
YouTube @jessesteahouse

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