ethan wrote:What is your recommended preparation for drinking black tea straight?
I nearly always brew black tea with boiling water; a rare exception are some Darjeeling first flush teas, but even those I usually brew with boiling water. If I know nothing about a black tea, I aim for 1 teaspoon of leaf (more if the leaf is large / loosely-packed) and a 3 minute steeping time. For finely broken tea I often start with a 1-2 minute steeping time, and for very large-leaf tea I sometimes start with 5. Some teas I settle on a steeping time as long as 8 minutes (like Ahmad Tea's Ceylon OPA or Kalami Assam) but I never start that long.
I find brewing temperature and steeping time are more important than brewing vessel, but in some cases brewing vessel can have an influence. My preferred way for brewing black teas is in a mug with a basket infuser.
I can't really answer all your questions fully because they go so deep...you'd have to ask more specific questions.
In general I prefer orthodox tea of medium to high grade tea, but I'm sometimes disappointed by higher grades, and sometimes pleasantly surprised by broken-leaf or even CTC tea. High-quality, fresh CTC tea can be really good.
I find orthodox black tea stores really well, if you store it properly. CTC tea I've pitched after 2 years (I noticed some Yorkshire tea, which was finely broken CTC, precipitously declined from rich, malty, and somewhat complex, to a harsh and rather boring cup 2 years later). I have some 2-ish year old large-leaf Ceylon in my cupboard and it tastes about like the day I opened it.
I don't notice a great correlation between price/cost and how much I like a tea...whether by estate or even grade. Sometimes I like higher grade teas but they can often be higher in caffeine and milder in flavor, and sometimes I want something either lower in caffeine, or just really dark and robust.
I definitely recommend trying teas from Nepal. You don't need to buy in large quantity if you're unsure of whether or not you'll like it...many companies, like Upton Tea Imports, or Rare Tea Republic / Republic of Tea, sell Nepalese tea in small samples.
About multiple infusions, I find high grades of whole-leaf, orthodox black tea nearly always yield multiple infusions gracefully. Chinese black teas of high grade, like golden monkey from Fujian, or some Yunnan teas, often work best for this. I've occasionally gotten 3-4 cups out of some teas, brewing Western-style (3 minute+ steepings). With Gong Fu brewing you can get even more. I rarely do gong fu brewing with black teas.
Hope this helps you gain some sort of insight!