I spend all of my day drinking tea.
I taste for professional reasons. I blend and taste and I taste the blends of others in our company. I taste competitor teas. I don’t ever taste tea bags, except every so often when someone invents a “new kind that actually tastes good”, which it invariably doesn’t.
So some of the time I am measuring tea on a digital scale, measuring water temperature and timing the steep.
But when I just want some tea, I use the my digital-optical-feel method.
This means picking a tea that I fancy; sticking my digits in and pulling out a quantity that seems about right, throwing that in the pot or tumbler; adding an amount of water that looks about right and leaving it to steep until I feel like it’s been there long enough.
This method, which seems quite anarchic and scary to a lot of people, has a number of benefits to recommend it.
Firstly, it’s relaxing. It’s hard to relax with a cup of tea if you’ve just had a panic attack because you couldn’t find your favourite teacup before the 125 seconds recommended was up. This way, it doesn’t matter.
Then it’s also about discovery. Sometime you find new things in a tea that has been a tad under- or over steeped. A new way of drinking it. As an example, my favourite oolong is great at thirty seconds. It also great, but very different, at three minutes, which I would not have discovered had I not wandered off one day mid-preparation to feed a cat.
It’s about identification. That taste that you just can’t identify comes to the fore at five minutes or if you add too much tea. You might not find it pleasant, but it helps you understand that component.
It gives herbals time to shine. A liquorice/black tea blend might taste like a black tea at three minutes and pure liquorice at eight. And engine oil at twelve.
But mostly, to me, it’s about quality. A quality tea should be great across a number of steeping times, a range of strengths, a variety of serving methods and situations. I once saw a customer abused because they didn’t enjoy a tea that they had steeped at 5 degrees above the recommended temperature. In my view, the vendor needed to offer better tea.
So be an anarchist!
I’ve had great tea with hot water liberated from an aeroplane kitchen, and I’ve boiled kettles under train tables where the conductor can’t see. I’ve strained tea at three a.m. in a hotel room through all manner of devices. I’ve mixed the few leaves in the bottom of a dozen packets and brewed up in a wok.
I’ve broken pretty well every rule in my time, and even though I’ve had a few shockers, there is little that is more joyous than crafting a delightful cup of tea in awkward situations, just by look and feel and common sense and experience and ingenuity.
Tea Anarchists Unite!
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