At some point everyone who enters the realm of estate and single-source tea – that is to say, good tea – encounters the leaf debate: Is whole-leaf tea the best form for making the best tea?
The purist’s argument goes that broken leaves have too many surfaces that allow all the tasty and aromatic oils to escape, so you must use the unbroken leaf that has locked these oils in. On the other hand, if you’ve been following this blog you’ve read about Ian Bersten’s ideas on how the best tea can be made only with ground-up leaves, which encourages more of these oils to infuse into your cup.
So which is correct? I’ve used both of these methods and have enjoyed many excellent cups of tea. But by far the best teas I’ve ever sampled combined the two methods.
Since 1998 I’ve been running an email chat group called Teamail. As it was one of the first online chat groups focusing on tea, it has attracted people from all over the world, and at all stages of their tea journey. Much of what I know about tea I’ve learned through Teamail and its members.
One of the earliest participants was a gentleman named Simon. He was located somewhere in southeast Asia – Indonesia, I believe – and shared wonderful stories of his tea-drinking experiences. This was a man who knew, and loved, his tea. In Simon’s opinion, the best way to make tea was to use whole leaves … and then crumble a few of them into the pot before adding water.
This was a revolutionary idea for those of us who had just moved from teabags to loose leaf tea. Was Simon actually telling us that everything we thought we knew about the preparation of fine teas was wrong?
Well no, not exactly. He still believed that the best cup of tea was the product of whole loose leaves. But he also understood that some of the essence of the leaf could be released only if the leaf were broken before infusion.
It made sense, and many of us began to follow Simon’s advice, measuring whole leaves and then crumbling a few between our fingers before adding it to the teapot. Lots of us ended up converted to his method. I don’t know whether he developed it or simply reported it, but we all referred to the technique as Simon’s Crumbs. As in: “I sampled a new Darjeeling that I made in a four-cup teapot using Simon’s Crumbs.”
Fourteen-plus years after being introduced to Simon’s Crumbs, it’s still my preferred method for preparing tea, and I still think it produces the most flavourful and aromatic cup. But don’t take my word for it – try it yourself and see.
Simon faded from the Teamail group some years ago. One member reported that Simon was an elderly gentleman and had passed away. I’m sorry to say that I don’t really know; a lot of people have joined and left our group over the years for various reasons. Whatever Simon’s reason, I still think of him whenever I fix a pot of tea with “his” crumbs.
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