The first tea I ever imbibed was a bitter, brown, tart and tasteless brew made with a bag of Earl Grey. It would be some time before I tried tea again.
Here in Norway, coffee is the common social glue. It's consumed in large amounts throughout the day: morning wake-up cup, the first cup at work to get you going, the cup you share over a conversation at a café, the fifth cup at the end of the workday to keep you running, the cup you toss down while commuting, the cup you drink after dinner to smooth things over, the cup you drink when having friends over or visiting friends yourself, the cup you imbibe because your mother/grandmother/mother-in-law offers it to you (and it's impolite to decline), and of course the cup you drink (but shouldn't have) just before going to bed.
So, naturally, tea for most norwegians is some kind of crushed substance that comes in a white bag with a piece of string attached, and a label that says Lipton or Twinings. Worse, some think tea is synonymous with Earl Grey. And, even worse still, in some social groupings tea is viewed as a womanly drink (based on my own empirical studies). At work, males seldom drink anything but coffee. If you don't want to stick out like a sore thumb, you certainly do not venture into the land of tea. This is perhaps more true for persons working in mechanical industry and similar professions where a lot of physical work is involved, than for office workers, but declining that cup of coffee can sometimes involve facing puzzled looks and answering a lot of questions about why and if you have some medical condition prohibiting the use of coffee. Trying to brew tea correctly at work is begging for ridicule. My guess is that this is not something specific for Norway, but more of a European (and possibly North American) thing, and tied to the masculine culture.
Because of the mostly ignorant attitude towards tea, I've never been a huge fan of replying 'yes' when offered tea here in Norway. Partly because of the bags, and partly because of the belief that the water should be boiling and the tea left in for at least five minutes. No wonder those who do drink tea here add huge amounts of sugar to it. Only when «artisan» coffee became popular in the '90s did tea become something more than 'black twigs' steeped in boiling water, at least for me. Lately we have seen some transformation, with the appearance of more 'high tech' teabags and some stores selling loose leafs (sadly, they almost purely sell scented black teas), but this is a diminutive change compared to the renaissance which coffedrinkers have experienced the last ten years. So I figured that if coffee could be so much more than brown powder turning into a cup of bitter brew, then what couldn't tea offer my palate. I had to explore, and I had to rid my memory of that harsh cup of 'tea' that I had tried many years ago.
Around 2005 I started hunting the internet for tea. After reading up on every thing tea, I landed on some taiwanese dong ding oolong. Which I've never regretted. From that day on tea has been a daily companion, and a good one too. We still don't have too many shops focusing on tea (only Le Palais des Thes have tried the waters here, so to speak, but every time I go there I feel like I'm being assaulted by the clerks, who are desperate to sell anything to anyone), which means that I have to maintain my private import operation for some time to come. Now I've tried countless variations and have expanded my horizon considerably. My tastebuds and olfactory receptors are thankful, and so am I.
Morning cup: Qi Men Mao Feng. Butter and malt. Pairs nicely with poached eggs, toast and cheese.
Currently: 4th steeping of an organic Gokujo Uji Sencha. Still sweet and floral, though it's getting weak.