The tea’s in the pot and the water is heated to just the right temperature — that means it’s time to time your tea.

Goldilocks went around the home of the Three Bears, declaring, “This porridge is too hot. This porridge is too cold. This bed is too hard. This bed is too soft.” Without a timer, you’ll be declaring “this tea is too weak” or “this tea is too strong.” Then — SWOOSH! — down the drain it goes. A waste of your tea dollars.

Digital Tea Timer

There’s no shortage of choices when it comes to timers. In fact, I never cease to be amazed at mankind’s ingenuity when a simple device like a timer can be produced in such an array of shapes, sizes, colors, styles, and features. Some are even a combination of a timer with a thermometer.

Timers have gotten to be so well-recognized as essential to proper preparation of your fine teas, that there are now “tea timers” especially created for timing the steeping of your teas. Some are digital, while others are little sand-filled hourglasses. Still others are designed to be more cute than useful (one looks like a penguin with a beak that you tie your teabag string to).

What makes a tea timer different from regular timers? Sometimes it’s just a simple tea leaf or the words “Tea Timer” painted on the front. Sometimes it’s more, such as special settings for different types of teas.

One sand-filled tea timer I found online has three timers combined into one unit. The sands are different colors: Green for 3 minutes, Red for 4 minutes, and White for 5 minutes. This type of timer is nostalgic but has a few drawbacks:

  • no beeper or “Ding!” to tell you time is up
  • only 3 time settings, not nearly enough for those who are fairly adventurous with tea
  • not the most accurate, which seems to negate the whole purpose of using a timer

Digital Tea Timer

For you tea lovers who are totally into high tech, there are little computer programs available online (just be sure you have a computer nearby when steeping your tea). All you iPhone users take heart, too, since there are bunches of apps for you to download.

So, you’ve cruised the online stores and dug through the bins at the local kitchenwares shop, or you searched online for the best timer program. The reward for your efforts: a timer fit for timing your teas. Now what? You need to know what recommended steeping times are for the tea you want to prepare.

Here’s a general guide:

Often, though, the tea vendor will have on their Website (or on the package or a card included with the shipment) their own recommendations for the perfect steeping time. Don’t be surprised when you see a steep time as short as 30 seconds or as long as 10 minutes. Just as there is tremendous variety in tea (depending on, among other things, how the tea leaves from the Camellia Sinensis plant have been processed after harvest), so there is variety in how long to steep. You may even find, over time, that you prefer your tea steeped shorter or longer than recommended to suit your individual taste.

Gyokuro Green Tea

Based on the above guide for steep times, if you drink a lot of green teas and some of the more delicate Oolongs, you can forget about those cute hourglass timers that usually can’t measure fewer than 3 minutes. They also won’t work well if you indulge in the heartier white teas or herbal tisanes needing more than 5 minutes steeping time, since the timers usually don’t handle longer times.

For my money, digital is the best. Just be sure the batteries are working. They’re also small enough to carry with you, if you need to walk away from your tea while it’s steeping. Some even have belt clips (watch how you bend over, though, or you could hit a button and end up steeping your tea 5 hours instead of 5 minutes — now that’s strong!).

“Ding!” Oops, tea’s ready. Time for that golden pour. Enjoy!

Make sure to check out A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!

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