Tea time can be full of horrors even if you have been drinking tea for years. Remember the classic monster and horror movies from the 1950s, the days of such classics as The Mummy, Dracula, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Frankenstein? Well, tea time horrors can range from that level of spine-tingling shivers to the more modern (and sadly graphic) horror films like the Alien series.
The oversteep is greatly to be feared. If you are talking about a tea high in tannin such as Assam, you could end up with a very bitter cuppa indeed. Milk and/or a sweetener to the rescue! Or you could turn it into a “masala chai” (spiced tea) by adding things like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger, and pepper (black, white, or even green). There is also a rumor going around that soaking your feet in strong tea like this could make them more tolerable olfactorally speaking. A little tea on a cloth or paper towel is supposed to make a great mirror cleaner, making it really sparkle. If you’re desperate for a cup of tea to drink, though, and you don’t like milk or sweeteners in your tea, you can always add a bit of warm water. Not ideal, but it will meet your immediate needs, especially if you don’t have time to start over. Watch out, too, for teas with floral flavorings such as Jasmine, since the floral can get really strong and overpowering if left too long to steep. You can also oversteep by using water that’s overheated. Boiling water turns most green teas into green soup. Ewww!
The understeep can be almost as bad. I say “almost” because you can always try the tea, and if it’s too weak, let it steep some more. Some teas (especially those whose leaves when dry are in little ball, pearl, nugget, spirals, or whatever shapes) need time to fully unfurl in the water. Some teas like this are Ti Kuan Yin Iron Goddess Oolong which I got to try a few months back, Gunpowder green tea, and Snow Dragon which is my fave white tea. These are all teas where you can get multiple infusions from the same batch of leaves. The first infusion is the wake-up call. The subsequent infusions are usually different in flavor from the first and the leaves really get a chance to react to the water. Making the first infusion too weak could mean that the leaves in your pot haven’t fully opened, and that would affect your second, third, and fourth infusions. Not a good way to get the most for your tea dollar.
That brings me to the most horrific tea time horror of all: waste! This can occur several ways. Your tea could get a bit cool in the cup and the tea purist in you could say “No way I’m reheating that in the microwave.” You could steep up a fresh pot and then forget it was there after the first cupful (hey, I understand, we all lead busy lives) so that it really is bad by the time you get back to it. You could set your tea on a cup-warmer too long, especially if it’s a delicate tea, so that it gets totally overheated and is very bitter — yuck! Not even I would drink it then. Worst of all, you could fail to make a second or third steep from those tea leaves, opting instead to “quit while you’re ahead.” As Lainie Petersen pointing out in her recent review of Keemun Panda, this isn’t always a bad thing, especially if the tea is reasonably priced, but still…
Sigh, that’s my Pioneer Spirit coming through!
Of course, there are other tea time horrors: the scones burn, the jam is moldy, you spill your tea, you forgot to mail out the invitations, your shipment of teas didn’t arrive on time, the honey/sugar/agave nectar/whatever ran out, the milk is curdled, the kids thought that pot of tea was some kind of watercolor paint, and so on.
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