Torturing Your Tea Leaves

Cramming your full-leaf teas into a tiny infuser ball or tea stick can be tantamount to torture. At least it seems so to this tea drinker. All that effort to grow, harvest, process, package, and bring to market those leaves of the Camellia Sinensis bush, and you don’t let them unfurl fully in that hot water in your teapot. Tsk!

Do you remember the original version of the Sci-Fi horror flick “The Fly”? Not the gross-out version with Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, but the more tame but still scary version with David Hedison and Vincent Price. Hedison played a scientist who was trying to transport objects using a new electronic device and decided to use himself as a test subject. Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for the audience (it would have been a pretty dull movie otherwise), a fly got into the transporter with him. What came out the other end was a man’s body with a fly’s head (and a fly’s arm) and a fly with a man’s head (and a man’s arm, of course). At one point, Price, giving up from trying to undo the mess his friend has gotten into, sits on a bench outside the lab where all this happened and hears a tiny voice saying, “Heelllppp mmmeeee! Heelllllppppp mmmeeeee!” He looks over and sees a spider web. Ensnared in the web, with the spider bearing down on it, is a fly with a white head on it. A closer look reveals that the white head is Hedison, hair turned white with fright. Knowing he can’t save the fly, Price smashes it with a rock just as the spider reaches it.

I imagine that if tea leaves were sentient and could talk, they would probably be screaming (like that white-headed fly) in tiny voices “Heelllppp mmmeeee! Heelllllppppp mmmeeeee!” as they start to expand inside that infuser ball or tea stick in the hot water inside the teapot. If you hold your ear close to the teapot while your tea steeps, you can probably hear them. Okay, not really — but they aren’t happy.

The really fine teas, like Tie Guan Yin, Snow Dragon, or Imperial Formosa Oolong, plump up in the water to 4 or 5 times the size they are when dry. Imagine if a bunch of skinny people got on an elevator to go up to the 30th floor and, when the elevator gets there, all those people have expanded to 4 or 5 times their size and now fill that space and more (don’t ask me what made them expand, it’s an imperfect metaphor). When the elevator doors opened, they’d all be saying, “Heelllppp mmmeeee! Heelllllppppp mmmeeeee!” in tiny voices (because they wouldn’t have enough air and room to say it loudly).

Now that you have that image in mind, have a heart and give your tea leaves a bit of breathing room in the teapot. The best thing would be total freedom, loose in a sort of steeping dance with the water. The next best thing is a larger infuser ball or basket. They won’t be as crowded and will at least able to move around a bit. And you’ll be rewarded with a better tasting brew. Now, isn’t that worth the effort?

By the way, if you happen to see a white-headed fly in a spider web about to become the spider’s next meal, grab a big rock and…

…head over to A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill, a great place to kick back and relax!

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