TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

January 29, 2015

Ramblings: Intuitive about tea

tea-teaspoonWay back when I first started getting serious about high-end teas, I bought every tool, gizmo, and gadget in order to “properly” prepare the tea. My collection included several kinds of measuring spoons, a gram scale for metric weights, a small postal scale for avoirdupois weights, and an instant-read water thermometer. I’d obsess over exact measurements of water and tea leaf and precise water temperatures, and set both digital and analogue timers to ensure that the tea steeped for just the perfect amount of time.

That, as they say, was then, and this is now. All of those tools are somewhere in my tea room, mostly gathering dust.

Water kettleNowadays when I want a pot of tea, I “measure” the leaf in my hand. Water temperature? My clear electric kettle lets me see when it’s at a rolling boil (for most black teas), forming a string of pearl bubbles (for most oolongs and pouchongs), making crab-eye or fish-eye bubbles (for most green teas), and completely flat (for most white teas). These visual cues encompass various familiar ranges of temperatures.

And I say “most” because sometimes the prescribed water temperature doesn’t seem quite right for a particular tea. So I might pour string-of-pearls temperature water into a pot of Nepal or Darjeeling black tea. Certain teas seem to ask for less, or more, heat. After a while you get to know which ones.

Similarly, not all teas conform to the measuring spoon or weighing method, and these days I simply eyeball it. When it looks and feels more or less like a good amount it goes into the teapot. If it’s not right, I’ll add or subtract a little when making the next potful. Eventually you get the feel for each tea.

Trust your tea intuitionAnd forget about timers; I rarely even look at the clock. Instead, I let the tea steep while getting various little jobs done. I’ll practice my 24-form tai chi while a pot of black tea infuses. Emptying the dryer, folding the laundry, and putting it away gives white teas enough time to do their thing. By the time I’ve peeled a hard-boiled egg and sliced a piece of cheese for our dog’s breakfast my green tea is ready. Are these activities exactly five minutes, twelve minutes, and two-and-a-half minutes long? Don’t know; I’ve never checked them against the clock. And the tea usually comes out right.

The only times I hover over my teas are when they’re being prepared gong-fu style. Even then I can get the dishwasher mostly loaded or unloaded during the several consecutive steeps.

Sure, it’s important to get that initial understanding of how tea works. I imagine, tho’, that after a while most serious tea drinkers dispense with the fuss and bother and just relax about their tea-making. Some may call it sacrilege; I see it as perceptive intuition. Give it a try – you might be surprised at how in tune you are with your tea.

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January 24, 2014

Ramblings: Water, leaves, and all that good stuff

Filed under: food,tea,Tea sites,water for tea — by JanisB @ 4:24 pm
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As anyone who reads my posts on Facebook might have noticed, I experienced a crisis of world proportions in the past few weeks.

Tea leaves six typesSimply put, tea didn’t taste good to me any more. Whichever tea I fixed — white, green, oolong, black — the aromas were still wonderful but the taste was sadly lacking.

Naturally I presumed it was a problem with my tastebuds. Had I burned my tongue and fried them all? Couldn’t remember doing that. Maybe I’d eaten something so spicy or strongly-flavoured that my tongue had gone completely numb. Nope, couldn’t recall anything like that happening either.

Finally I accepted the fact that my tastebuds had simply shut down for no good reason at all. As I was no longer able to properly taste tea, I figured why waste my good teas and started sipping some of the lower-quality tea I usually keep around the house for iced tea. (I like my iced tea cold-steeped, very brisk, and very strong, and don’t usually like to waste good tea in such a fashion.) Surprise! This stuff, not at all appealing when hot-steeped on a good day, tasted even nastier than usual.

Brita everyday

Photo courtesy of Brita.com

And then it dawned on me: When was the last time you changed the filter in the Brita water pitcher?

That little date-and-circle thingy that accompanies a new Brita pitcher to remind you when it needs a new filter has long since disappeared. Being that I couldn’t recall when I had last changed it, I figured it was probably well past time.

And so I tossed the old filter and put in a new one. Three “drippings” later, I tentatively fixed a pot of one my favourite floral oolongs, hoping this would solve the problem.

To quote Lewis Carroll: “Oh frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!” I had tea again. I could taste it. It was excellent tea! As a matter of fact, every cupful that I’ve sipped in the past week or so has been excellent.


What does Jabberwocky have to do with tea? You might be surprised …

The moral of this long drawn-out story is just this: A cup of tea is mostly water, and if the water isn’t good the tea won’t be either. Of course it’s important to use good quality fresh tea leaves, but equally important is that you use good quality fresh water.

(The other moral is that if you wait long enough, you too can find a way to interject a portion of Carroll’s delightfully silly poetry into one of your conversations.)

A good cup of tea is so simple yet so complex. It requires just the right balance of leaves, water, temperature, and steep time. If a tea doesn’t “work” for you, it could be attributed to any of these components. A little tweaking of one or more elements can make the difference between a so-so cup and a superior cup.

When your tea doesn’t taste right, don’t presume it’s the quality of the tea leaf — as in “I’m never buying tea from that place again. They have such lousy tea.” It could be the quantity of leaves you’re using, either too much or too little. The water may be too minerally (is that a word? I guess it is now) or too flat and depleted. And it might be that the length of time you let it steep is too short or too long — or that you’re sipping it at too high or too low a temperature.

kitten-sipping-teaExperiment. All of these elements meld together synergistically in a great cup of tea. If a tea isn’t making your mouth very very happy, don’t presume it’s bad tea — or that your tastebuds have become comatose. Any one — or  more — of these components may need some tweaking. (Note that I did not say twerking, which will never make your tea taste better … actually, it will probably leave a very bad taste in your mouth.)

One of the great joys of drinking tea is finding the perfect balance to suit your taste. Sometimes all it takes is a little adjustment. Or a new water filter.

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