By A.C. Cargill

Tea is a precious commodity, one that you want to get every drop of value from. It takes a lot of labor, time, and effort to get those magic little tea leaves from the tea fields to your table. As one who lives the “tea life,” I appreciate this very much and therefore want to get the most out of every tea leaf. This brings into play something I call the “Pioneer Spirit,” where you get every bit of use out of an item, like the pioneers did.

When these pioneers moved Westward, they took with them the basic necessities of life and made sure that they got the best use possible out of each item. Even when they found a place to stop and settle down, that principle still held true. For example, old clothes became doll clothes or were cut into squares and sewn into a quilt. Being descended from some of those brave pioneers as well as from American Indians who certainly knew how to get the most out of everything, I use that spirit of “repurposing” daily.

Instead of getting caught up in the big push to “go green” and recycling, where unwanted items are handed over to a company that grinds them up into something else, that “pioneer spirit” prompts me to say “Why throw out today what you could use tomorrow?”

My husband and I implemented this when we owned a “mini-ranch” (about 10 acres) where the previous owners had left piles of stuff around. A lot of it was definitely real trash (even I can’t think of a way to make something good out of “well worn” disposable diapers!). Much, though, was in re-usable condition that we stored for future use, saving us the 25-mile trip into the nearest town to buy something new. If you approach this sensibly, you may never need to buy materials for your next craft project or rush to the hardware store to replace a nut or washer.

“How does this relate to tea?” you ask. One answer is “multiple infusions” — all the more reason to buy the best quality teas in full-leaf or even broken-leaf form. I have a wonderful Ceylon tea that is full-leaf. Measuring it out in spoonfuls is tricky, so I do pinches. About four pinches (plus one for the pot) goes into my 4-cup teapot. Then, the hot water is added, and I let it infuse (or “steep,” “brew,” etc., whatever term you prefer). I pour and enjoy that first cupful or two and, while the pot is still hot, add more boiling water for another infusion. Since the tea is good quality, the second — and even third — infusion is usually as tasty as the first. It is also free of the bitterness that bagged tea can have if you let the bags sit in the water too long. [Update: I tried the free sample of Snow Dragon I received a couple months ago from The English Tea Store and find that this white tea is also excellent in its second infusion, maybe even a third. So are other higher quality teas like this.]

That’s not to say that you can’t apply your “pioneer spirit” to tea bags. The better brands like Barry’s, Typhoo, and PG Tips are usually good for a second infusion, at least. They are stronger tasting teas and can stand up to such treatment. If you are watching your caffeine intake, you will be happy to hear that the amount of caffeine decreases with each infusion (or so I’ve heard, although some say this is an urban myth).

I can almost hear the wheels of those covered wagons of my pioneer ancestors as I drink. Guess my “pioneer spirit” is still going strong. Hope yours is, too. Enjoy!

Find more tips on living the “tea life” on A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!

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