Tea isn’t rocket science. You don’t have to be accurate down to the milliliter. A bit of icing on the fuel lines won’t lead to a catastrophe. But how precise do you want — or need — to be with your tea? Are you losing spontaneity and the flow of the moment? Or are you risking ruining that very nice (and yes, pricey tea)? Time to check it out.
Gadgets to Help Your Precision
Timers are the first thing that spring to mind. You will want one that can time seconds and minutes and that can be, well, precise! For this digital is best. Resist those cute little sand timers unless all your teas are supposed to be steeped for the same length of time (often these are for three or five minutes). See more info here: Forgetting to Time Your Tea. And for you teabag users, there are timers that will automatically lift the teabag out of the water when the time is up.
Thermometers designed for testing water temperature are another must for those who desire this precision when steeping tea. Anyone who has cringed when sipping their green tea has probably used water that was too hot. Likewise, those who find their black tea too weak probably did not get that water up to true boiling temperature (212° F at sea level). Even a whistling kettle can be wrong! See more info here: Getting the Temperature Right with Tea Thermometers. Don’t forget the problem of super heated water. See more about that here: Super-heated Water and Tea Flavor.
And then there are those little kitchen scales for measuring out foods for portion sizes. A lot of folks who are watching their caloric intake use them. I know some tea folks who use them, too, especially when chipping a chunk off of an expensive large tea cake. If you’re used to teabags with a pre-measured amount in them, this process of getting the right size chunk can be unnerving at first. You may want to use the scale for awhile until you get a feel for what is the right amount.
The Case for Being Imprecise
Too much precision, and too much advice, can take the fun and life out of things. My grandmother cooked using pinches of this and dashes of that (she had made some of these recipes so frequently that she knew them by heart) — frustrating for her descendants who thus have no exact recipe to go by, but a guarantee that each time she made a particular dish such as her own unique stuffing it was new and fresh.
Thus it can be with tea, where all that measuring and weighing and timing can not only drain out the fun but also the freshness of the infusion. A bit of oversteeping can actually benefit some teas. I have gotten into the habit of steeping stronger black teas for six minutes instead of the usual five minutes. The tea seems to stand up to milk better, that is, the flavor still comes through and is clearly detected. A good black tea can stand this without being bitter, or so I have experienced.
Bear in mind that steeping tea isn’t like building a bell tower or navigating a spaceship to Mars. Being off a little won’t make the tower lean or the spaceship end up at Pluto instead. Just be willing to work with the tea, trying new things —
shorter or longer steep times, more or less dry tea, hotter or cooler water, etc.
Above all, enjoy! Tea is not only healthful (as many claim) and flavorful, but preparing it is a time aside from the tasks of the day.
See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.
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