Newsflash: The best tea-timer in the world can’t prevent over-steeping so long as tea leaves remain in contact with the tea liquor. I’ve often seen individuals and tearooms infuse a pot of tea with great care, pour it into cups, and then leave the rest of the tea and tea leaves to continue steeping, growing more bitter and disagreeable by the second.
One way of avoiding this is to simply prepare tea in a teapot that holds the same or lesser amount of liquid as the mug or cup it is being poured into. The other way of keeping perfectly-steeped tea tasty is to pour it from one teapot to another, a process known as decanting. In fact, decanting actually has two purposes:
- It stops the steeping/infusion process. Once the tea has been separated from the leaves it can no longer over-steep.
- It mixes the most infused tea (that which is at the bottom of the pot, or closest to the infuser basket) with the least infused tea, resulting in a more balanced cup (i.e. one cup of tea won’t be weaker/stronger than another from the same steeping).
Tea must be decanted quickly, particularly if they are prone to bitterness, tend toward high astringency, or has strong floral notes (which easily become bitter and overpowering).
- A good steeping teapot will have a wide, well-designed spout that is not prone to clogging. The most precise timing of an infusion is useless if you have to add an extra 20-30 seconds to the decanting process because of a clogged spout.
- A long thin “pick” or stick can quickly unclog an uncooperative spout. Chinese tea tool sets will often include one of these picks. A chopstick or cooking skewer also works (avoid using metal picks/sticks as they are more likely to scratch the teapot).
Tealights and Tea Cozies
Tealights and tea cozies have their place in keeping tea warm, but many people use them inappropriately: A pot containing tea leaves should never be covered with a cozy or placed over a tealight, as this “stews” the leaves and the remaining tea. Use cozies and tealights with decanted tea only.
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