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Iced Tea and Accessories (ETS image)

Iced Tea and Accessories (ETS image)

I don’t drink hot tea anymore. I wrote about it here, so I won’t cover it again except to say that it’s always iced tea season for me. But here in the northern hemisphere spring is in full swing and summer is approaching, and so one could safely say that it’s coming up on iced tea season for all of us.

With that in mind I shall endeavor to share a few things I’ve learned about tea over the years. Not that I’ve found out any great and mysterious secrets of iced tea or anything like that. One of the first things I would share about iced tea is that as far as taste and quality are concerned, it’s not really that much different from hot tea. You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear and you’re not likely to make a good cup of tea – hot or cold – unless you start with good tea.

After that, most of the same cautions that apply to hot tea apply to the iced kind. Time and temperature are critical, so make sure that you’re not steeping your tea too long. If you want “stronger” tea use more leaves rather than steeping the leaves longer. Understeeping is a no-no too but probably not nearly so common. I can think of numerous cases where I’ve seen people throw a bunch of tea bags and hot water in a container and let them sit for a very long time in preparation for making iced tea. Which is iced tea that’s likely as not going to end up being very bitter.

Temperature is the other key part of the tea equation. While most people here in the United States will make their iced tea using black tea it’s safe to say that just about any type of tea that tastes good hot will also taste good iced. I can’t think of any exceptions right off the top of my head. Hot or cold, you can sum up tea and temperature by saying that it’s important to make sure the robust teas like black are steeped at high enough temps while you should beware of overheating the more delicate ones like green.

As far as how to make iced tea, I’d wager that just about any method that obeys the rules above should turn out good iced tea. My own method is to heat water in a Pyrex measuring cup in the microwave and then steep four cups worth of loose leaves in a gravity type infuser. Which I mix with cold water and pour into a one-quart plastic bottle which I’ve filled halfway with water and frozen.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Many British seem to have some very specific opinions about how tea should be done. Which is not surprising, I guess, given that tea has pretty much been an institution there for longer than we Americans have had a country. As I just mentioned in a recent article for this site, perhaps one of the best examples of how opinionated the British are about tea is “A Nice Cup of Tea,” a 1946 essay by the British writer George Orwell.

Tea making is an art! (ETS image)

Tea making is an art! (ETS image)

Surprisingly, Orwell had nothing to say about how the Americans do tea but some other Brits have been a little more forthcoming. You could probably find countless examples of this sort of thing but here are a few of the more high-profile examples. Such as this 2013 article in The Economist, which looked at America’s tea revolution but noted, “A decent cup of tea, however, has been harder to find, though that is about to change.”

During that same year BBC America offered a few thoughts on “How to Do Tea in the U.S.,” starting with the warning that most of the tea consumed here is of the iced variety and not to assume that the server knows you want hot tea. Other pointers cover how to shop for tea in a place with “a wide and strange variety of tea on offer,” how your tea might be prepared on these shores, and the differences between tea terms on either side of the Atlantic.

As I mentioned many years ago in these pages, there are a number of prominent British citizens who have been kind enough to share some tips on tea with the Americans. They include the late journalist, Christopher Hitchens, who offered a few thoughts here, and actress Dame Helen Mirren, who weighed in on our tea deficiencies here.

Last up, here’s a take on the topic from Smitten By Britain, where self-confessed Britophiles gather to share their fascination with all things British. The author, who is apparently an American, minces no words about the situation before moving on to the instructional part of the article. It opens by noting, “Americans make a rubbish cup of tea.”

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The common wisdom about Earl Grey tea is that if you put milk in it, the milk will curdle. After all, the tea is made with a citrus fruit – oil of bergamot. Many tea drinkers swear that it’s true, but others add milk to Earl Grey tea regularly with no resultant curdling (I am one of these folks – Earl Grey upsets my stomach without milk in it). In fact, adding milk to Earl Grey tea is becoming increasing common, despite the issue of curdling.

Earl Grey Cream tea makes a good start to Earl Grey Milk Tea. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Earl Grey Cream tea makes a good start to Earl Grey Milk Tea. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Several things could account for milk both curdling and not curdling in your Earl Grey.

Why Milk Would Curdle

  • You add cold milk into the teacup after pouring in the hot tea.
  • You steep up the tea overly strong.
  • The Earl Grey version has a heftier dose of oil of bergamot than usually found in this style of flavor-enhanced black tea. (Some versions even use the rind instead of the essential oils of the fruit.)

Why Milk Would Not Curdle

  • You add the cold milk in first and then the hot tea, giving the tea a chance to warm the milk a bit, which seems to prevent curdling.
  • You steep up the tea weaker than usual for a black tea (most British drink this tea steeped weak and with no sugar or milk added).
  • The flavoring is imitation, not real oil of bergamot. (Yes, there is Earl Grey made with something less than authentic oil of bergamot. Demand for this tea is so great that growing enough of these fruits is proving difficult.)

Earl Grey Milk Tea

I came across a recipe for Earl Grey Milk Tea (the author called it “chai,” meaning the U.S. way of using the term to mean spiced tea). The recipe called for the following ingredients:

  • 7 cups water
  • 4 Earl Grey tea bags (better to use loose leaf tea so you don’t have to remove the bags before adding the sugar and spices)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 6 cardamom pods (crushed)
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 1 cup whole milk (room-temperature)

Pretty simple to make. (I modified things a bit to fit my personal experience with this style of tea making.) Boil 7 cups of water in a large saucepan on the stove. Steep the Earl Grey, remove the bags (if you’re using loose leaf tea instead, leave the tea leaves in the water). Add in the brown sugar and spices. Boil for 5-6 minutes, then strain into a teapot or other heat-bearing vessel. Stir in the milk slowly and serve.

Give it a go, and let us know the results.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

When we’re making tea sometimes things can go wrong. Fortunately, the stakes that come with these mishaps are not so high as if we were on an Alaskan fishing boat or a bomb disposal team. But they can be kind of a pain even so. So, without any further ado, here are some of my least favorite tea mishaps. Some of them might look familiar.

The one thing worth crying over!

The one thing worth crying over!

Crying Over Spilt Tea
This one’s not too surprising and its hardly unique to that beverage we call tea. But with tea (as with coffee, I reckon), there’s another dimension to spilling. Not only can you spill the finished tea in liquid form, but you can also scatter a pile of those pesky little loose tea leaves all around the kitchen.

Forget About It
Of the mishaps listed here this the most frequent and probably the most aggravating, because I really only have myself to blame. In fact, the last batch of tea I made as I was starting to write this fell into this category. I drink a lot of black tea and steep it for about two minutes. This is less than most recommendations you’ll see for black tea, but it works for me and I use a timer to make sure I get it right. Which works great – when I remember to push the button to start the timer. Or if, when the timer goes off, I don’t switch it off and go on about my business, proceeding to forget all about the tea.

Malfunction at the Tea Strainer Junction
You might not have encountered this one, unless you use one of those gravity type tea strainers that you sit on top of your cup when you’re finished steeping, which allows the tea to filter out through the bottom and used leaves to stay put.

I haven’t worked out the mechanics of this one but my theory is that sometimes a stray tea leaf gets stuck in the mechanism. So while the tea is steeping it is also leaking out the bottom of the strainer. If you’re lucky it leaks at a slow rate and you notice it before any harm is done. Other scenarios don’t work out quite so well – but that’s why we have mops.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

(Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

(Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

The British are known for their love of tea and that attitude that tea is the cure for all of life’s mishaps. Break a nail (after just having a very expensive manicure and special nail polish applied)? Have a cup of tea. Your spouse ran off with the clerk from the grocery store? Have a cup of tea. That notice from the IRS that you are being audited back to the beginning of time arrived in the mail today? Have a cup of tea. Whatever the occasion, be sure to have the tea “British style” – black tea steeped strong with milk and sugar.

The black tea is usually one of the name brand blends. PG Tips has claimed a top spot for many years. Their tea blending pros focus on making sure that famous flavor is consistent cuppa after cuppa. Some other top brands are Twinings who have been around for 300 years and counting, Typhoo that started out as a stomach soothing tea, and these others: Fortnum & Mason, Harrisons & Crosfield, Barry’s Tea, Bewley’s Tea, and Taylors of Harrogate/Yorkshire. They are intended to be steeped up strong. And have milk and sugar added to them.

But what about other black teas?

Over the years, I’ve had other teas that are generally not ones you would serve British style and had rather surprising (and good!) taste results. Here they are:

  1. Earl Grey – Often tea aficionados think that the oil of bergamot in the tea, since bergamot is a citrus fruit, means you can’t have milk in it; I beg to differ, no curdling and a great flavor blend, especially with a bit of sweetener (I switched from using sugar years ago).
  2. Golden Bi Luo – A black tea from the Yunnan Province of China. This may seem like total lunacy to those of you who treasure this fine tea, but I just had enough left for this experiment recently and decided to go for it. The typical smokiness and vanilla notes still came through.
  3. Nilgiri Oolong – Oolongs vary in how much the leaves are oxidized after withering. This one was pretty highly oxidized and was almost a black tea. So, adding milk and sweetener was not too surprising. Even though this is a true black tea, it is not usually served British style. But I dared. The milk and sweetener brought out the malty character even more.
  4. Dooteriah Second Flush Darjeeling – A marvelous tea any way you serve it, but when served British style it was a true revelation. A bit smoky, rich, aromatic, uplifting, and soothing. The only bad thing here was when it was all gone. I had to rush to steep some more!
  5. Red Dragon Pearls – The “pearls” are tea leaves rolled into spheres about 3/8” in diameter that have an aroma like raisins. Only the tender tip leaves are used, making this a rather prized tea.
  6. Young Pu-erh – Some folks, when reading my article a few years ago about putting milk and sweetener in this tea, seemed totally shocked. A pu-erh! Served British style! Ugh! But it was worth it, the flavor becoming even smoother and full-bodied while the typical earthy character still came through. There were cocoa notes very evident, too. Just remember to steep it for the maximum time recommended: 10 minutes.
(Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

(Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

One key step is to steep in a teapot, not in a gaiwan or small vessel, and treat it pretty much as a regular black tea. Another key step is to be very conservative in how much milk and sweetener you use – enough to smooth and add a touch of sweetness, but not so much that the tea’s signature flavors are smothered.

Do your own tea experiments and see what teas will stand up to being served British style!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

There are lots of tea blogs, lots of tea professionals advising on this and that about tea, Facebook groups about tea, tweeters on Twitter focused on tea, and more, and many of them talk about how you should do this with tea and that with tea. But is there any real “should” in tea? Well, yes and no.

Some say you shouldn’t put milk in your tea. Others say you should. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Some say you shouldn’t put milk in your tea. Others say you should. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

The Should Nots

You definitely should not ditch whatever grocery-store bought teas you have and go spend hundreds on those rare teas that those experts rave about. For one thing, the cheaper teas can be a lifesaver when you need a quick cuppa just to keep going. For another, you can always use those teas for other things such as to help with puffy eyes or as cleaners around the house.

You should also not rush to buy the latest trendy tea or something that celebrities like Lady Gaga are drinking unless you just like spending money on things that you most surely won’t like. Just because a celebrity likes something doesn’t mean you will, but it also doesn’t mean you won’t either.

The Shoulds

When you try a new tea for the first time, learn a little something about it so you will get some idea of what to expect in terms of taste and aroma, even though your experience may be vastly different from what the vendor describes. Follow the vendor’s infusing recommendations (and the vendor “should” supply this information to their customers). Taste the tea liquid (a good mouthful or two) after infusing and before adding milk, sweetener, lemon, honey, mint, etc. Often, you may prefer the tea as is and may even be surprised by this, especially if you are used to drinking teas with lots of flavorings added. This could lead you to explore more of the world of fine teas.

General “shoulds” for teas include using the best water quality you have available, cleaning your teawares in-between uses, and taking your time. Water is the key ingredient in any tea and should never be distilled or sterilized water since it will infuse a flat-tasting liquid. The chlorine/chloramine in most municipal water systems in the U.S. also causes problems, affecting the taste and aroma of your tea. Clean teawares prevent one tea ending up tasting like the tea you steeped just before that. If the earlier tea was one of those flavored teas using something strong like cinnamon, your Ti Kuan Yin could end up with a cinnamony character. And as for time, even if you are having a tea that steeps in a very short time (some need only a few seconds), take your time to sip and savor and let a tea’s aftertaste take over.

The biggest “should” is that you should get the most of out your tea. I know that earning the money to buy those teas can be rather strenuous these days. So, get the most for those tea dollars spent.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Bubbles showing the water is really boiling! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Bubbles showing the water is really boiling! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

The importance of water when it comes to the taste of your tea is a subject that has been discussed often on this tea blog and on others. Steeping techniques have been examined in the minutest detail all over the blogosphere and social media sites. So, what else is there to say? Plenty!

While people are fussing about water quality (hard water versus soft water, distilled and filtered versus municipal system water coming out of the tap), they tend to forget about temperature. Some teas steep very quickly – even for only a few seconds – and others need more time – as long as 10 minutes. It’s those long-timers that are the issue here. Anything that has to steep for 3 minutes or longer will experience some cooling, even if the steeping vessel is covered.

Several things affect how fast water temperature will decrease during steeping: room temperature, what the steeping vessel is made of, its shape, whether it has a lid, if a fan is on nearby (especially if it’s blowing towards the steeping vessel), and if you cover it with a cozy or tea towel. All pretty obvious.

There is some debate among tea professionals about whether the temperature decreases enough to adversely affect the steeping. A particular cozy design, for example, was under assault a few years back from these “experts” who claimed the cozy kept the teapot too hot, that a little cooling was needed to avoid oversteeping the tea (no scientific evidence was ever presented to support this). This concern seemed strange considering that for most folks, the big concern is usually about the water cooling too fast so that the tea did not fully steep. That’s touted as a main benefit of the Brown Betty teapot – it keeps the water warmer longer even without a cozy or tea towel over it.

One thing is for sure: you can think about things like this way too much and end up spending too little time actually enjoying the tea.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Let’s face it – there are times when you just gotta use a bag. That’s true of lunches brought to school or to work from your home, true of purchases from the store, and true for that time when steeping loose leaf tea just isn’t possible. Yes, there are times when a teabag is your best option.

Three popular bagged brands. The middle one had a string and tag for easier dunking. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Three popular bagged brands. The middle one had a string and tag for easier dunking. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Don’t faint. You heard me right. Yours truly … a “Tea Princess” dedicated to steeping tea loose at all times and even bragging that I take bagged teas, cut open the bags, and dump the tea loose in my teapot … has admitted that there are occasions when one has to resort to that item of both adoration and loathing: the teabag. From its humble beginnings as a little silken bag used to send a small sampling of tea out to prospective customers to its now almost universal acceptance (our house being an important exception), the teabag has taken the tea world by storm and has certainly come a long way, developmentally speaking. You can find them in a variety of shapes, sizes, materials, and colors (usually bleached white or a more natural hue). They can be filled with fine tea dust or larger pieces. There are also ones you can fill yourself with whatever teas and other items you wish (some like to make their own fruit-flavored teas, adding in dried chunks with the tea leaves while others like to put together their own herbal bags).

There is a lot to be said for the humble teabag:

  • You get the right amount of tea (usually) for steeping up a quick cuppa.
  • You can carry them with you so your fave teas are always available (if they’re filled with that fine dust tea, you’ll want them in some kind of plastic baggie or individual wrapper to avoid that dust getting everywhere).
  • You can steep in a cup … no teapot needed … and no straining!
  • You can toss them away for a relatively easy clean-up.

Of course, there are points against teabags:

  • People (such as me) with sensitive palates can taste the teabag, especially the kind made of that hemp plant or muslin, and so do not get a true tea flavor.
  • The teabags that don’t have a string and tag attached will need a spoon or something to get them out of the hot liquid once the tea steeping is done.
  • Teas in bags where the pieces are larger are also rather cramped and don’t let the pieces fully interact with the water.
  • Some teabag materials aren’t good in compost piles (this is less true these days as more companies seek out different materials).

So, when is a teabag your best option? Here are a few instances:

  • You’re traveling and don’t want to have to settle for whatever teabags that quik-stop place carries.
  • You work in a place that doesn’t have any good tea available or has no tea of any kind available.
  • You have some on hand around the house as an emergency plan for when you need a quick cuppa in-between potfuls.

Other than that I personally can’t even imagine needing to use a teabag. As always, though, I leave that final decision totally in your hands.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

When people think of a tea ceremony, many think of the Chanoyu in Japan. Others say that “gongfu cha” is a ceremony. Plus many Asian countries have ceremonies for enjoying tea, such as Darye in Korea. (Some folks say that the only true tea ceremony is the Chanoyu in Japan, that the ones in other countries are poor imitations. I don’t know either way. And that debate needs to remain the subject of another article.) Regardless of the type of tea ceremony, a ceremonial tea is needed. The chief among these is matcha, but it’s not the only one, as you will see below.

Full of beauty, grace, and tradition, the Chanoyu Tea Ceremony is great to experience at least once in your lifetime! (From Yahoo! Images)

Full of beauty, grace, and tradition, the Chanoyu Tea Ceremony is great to experience at least once in your lifetime! (From Yahoo! Images)

What is Darye

Literally, darye means “etiquette for tea” or can also be translated “day tea rite.”

In contrast to Chanoyu, the Korean Way of Tea is far less rigid. Koreans seek to maintain a feeling of naturalness, so the steps initially seem complicated but are really fairly easy to master. This ceremony can be held both alone or with others. The tea served is a special one called Panyaro, which means “The Dew of Wisdom.” It’s making was by Tea Master Chae Won-hwa. You can see some photos of the process here.

What is Gongfu Cha

Actually, “gongfu cha” (or alternately “kungfu cha”) means tea preparation done with skill. We often associate this with certain procedures, employing either gaiwans or Zisha clay pots called Yixing after the area where the clay is from.

What is Chanoyu

This is a tea ceremony in Japan centered around a highly ritualized preparation and serving of matcha. As far back as the 14th century, the Japanese, starting with the upper class, have been gathering socially to share matcha. Over time certain rules and procedures were developed for participants to follow. By the 16th century the form of ceremony that we are familiar with today was formed by Tea Master Sen no Rikyu. The guiding principle was Zen Buddhism where people seek to become one with nature and thus purify themselves. One key principle is economy of movement. Everything is stylized to assure this. Another principle is the full appreciation of everything involved, including the room and all teawares used. This aesthetic sense carried through to other aspects of Japanese cultural, creating a wave of influence for centuries.

What is Matcha

The short of it: matcha is a high-grade green tea processed to a powder form.

The longer version:

Matcha is a very special tea, made from the finest, shade-grown, and hand-picked tea buds. The shade slows down growth and causes the leave to produce more amino acids and turn a darker green than normal. They also develop a more intense sweetness and deeper flavor. The buds are steamed, dried, and then laid out flat to dry – not rolled as other green teas are. This is the tencha – the unpowdered leaves. Next the leaf veins and fine stems are removed and they are ground to a fine powder using the traditional stone grinding wheels. The grinding can take up to an hour to do 30-40 grams. Matcha is graded according to the location where those leaf buds are grown on the stems of the tea bush (higher up is better), careful treatment during processing that includes care to avoid exposure to sunlight, using the proper grinding equipment to avoid a “burnt” quality, and avoiding exposure to oxygen that makes it turn a dull brownish green and develop a hay like aroma. The powdered form of this tea means it dissolves in the water and is therefore consumed along with that water, fairly unique for teas. This quality, however, makes it an ideal tea for Chanoyu. There is no messy clean-up of spent tea leaves.

Final Note

You don’t have to have a ceremony to enjoy either Panyaro or Matcha or, for that matter, any other tea. You have only to know how to prepare the tea and, once prepared, to enjoy it. Cheers!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Most tea steeping directions call for teaspoonfuls of tea leaves, so a spoon (not your hand) touches those leaves. Those of you who use bagged teas end up touching the bag (or the string-and-tag), not the tea. But some tea experts say that hands-on is the only way to go when it comes to taking some of those tea leaves out of their container and putting them in the steeping vessel. To me it raises an important question, especially in an age when hyper-sanitation seems everywhere: Should you touch those tea leaves? A previous article on this blog by our friend from Australia made the case for that hands-on approach, but I wanted to take another look at the issue.

The other day a tea lover posted a picture that was captioned: “Transferring tea leaves with clean hands into a preheated pot can draw us closer to understanding the leaves we brew”. Here it is (used with permission from Miss Tea Delight):

Miss Tea Delight using hands for tea (photo used with permission, all rights reserved)

Miss Tea Delight using hands for tea (photo used with permission, all rights reserved)

My comment was: “What do you think? I don’t like using my hands…. even at their cleanest there are skin oils…. pieces [of tea leaf] always stick [to my fingers] and end up eventually falling into the pot….. ugh!” Quite an exchange ensued, as follows:

  • Respondent #1: by hand is better ?
  • Me: Some people think so, but I prefer a measuring spoon with the exception of a chunk of pu-erh off the cake.
  • Respondent #1: yes, part of it still stays on my hand.
  • Me: And measuring out the right amount is a problem.
  • Respondent #1: yes!
  • Respondent #2: No hands, they are never perfectly clean unless you are scrubbing for surgery.
  • Me: Hee! So true. If you’re making the tea for yourself, it might be okay, I guess.
  • Respondent #3: whenever we smelled the tea in the factory at any stage it was by hands only…and it used to be a fun…and convenience…
  • Respondent #4: Chinese people: we’re not that fussy, but as a Brit, I toTEAlly know where you’re coming from.
  • Me: Yeah, very good point. I think we’re seeing a real cultural difference here. I also don’t like to handle some of the tea leaves and buds due to how delicate they are. I want them to remain intact for the steep. Might not be a big issue, though.

It still doesn’t answer the question, though, which is often the case with such exchanges – they end up being a bunch of comments back and forth. So, it’s time to look into the facts of the situation. Certainly on an emotional level the idea has both its opponents and supporters, but putting that aside is necessary to get a true answer here.

The Science

Whenever you touch something, some of your skin and oil come off on that thing. That is how we leave fingerprints on things. Minute amounts of this skin and oil will come off on your tea leaves when you handle them. Unless you have some kind of skin disease where larger amounts than normal tend to slough off, the amount should be so minute as to be inconsequential. Tea is steeped in hot water, so any microbes left on those tea leaves by your touching them should be obliterated. As for affecting the tea’s flavor, there is virtually no chance of that unless your tastebuds are Superman strength (sort of like that X-ray vision but for the sense of taste) or you are using a highly-scented soap (even then the effect is minute). And if the idea of that minute amount of skin and oil makes you cringe, then you won’t want to even think about those little leafhoppers that are responsible for the amazing flavor of Oriental Beauty tea.

Conclusion

There seems to be no scientific reason to object to touching tea leaves with your hands, assuming they are clean. There does seem to be a preponderance of emotional objections, mine included, that no amount of science may ever overcome. Different cultures are at issue as well, with many of us here in the U.S. being more sensitive to such things. In the end, as with many things, the choice is yours.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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