There definitely seems to be a lot of over-thinking tea these days. The “Rube Goldberg approach” to preparing tea is seen everywhere. But how do you stop over-thinking tea and get back to the basics? A big question – time for some answers.

Tea Steeping Device Patent Diagram (Screen capture from site)

Tea Steeping Device Patent Diagram (Screen capture from site)

First things first – what is over-thinking tea?

One thing I learned while in Germany is that the Germans over-think everything. Take as an example the simple pleasure of hiking in the woods (and in all fairness they aren’t the only ones who do this). For Germans, hiking isn’t about just putting on a sturdy pair of boots and setting them to walking – they have to know all the details about every hiking boot ever made, how to breathe properly, what special clothing to wear, what sunscreen and bug repellant are appropriate, and so on. It sort of sucks the fun out of the whole experience. And that’s what over-thinking tea does, too.

Some examples of over-thinking tea:

  • You have to know all the intricacies of tea – what it is, what the growing conditions and harvests are like in the various growing regions, and each minute detail of how it’s processed.
  • You are riveted to reading about the hundreds of steeping vessels and gadgets available (such as have been reported on in this blog), or worse yet feel compelled to try out most of them at least once.
  • You just have to try every new tea available (and every possible variation of flavored teas and even tisanes).
  • A new tea club starts up and you have to join or feel left out some how.

Some might call this a bit obsessive. Could be. I’m not a psychiatrist. So I just call it “over-thinking” (having been told that I over-think a lot, I totally understand the mindset).

How to Stop

You’d think this would be a no-brainer where I said something simple like “Get rid of the excess and pare down to the basics” – well, yeah but with caveats: It’s good to experiment. It’s good to learn more about tea (this blog wouldn’t exist otherwise). It’s good to try new things. However, sooner or later you need to stand back and say, “Time to get a simpler approach here.”

Step-by-step:

  • From the dozens of teas you have on hand, select 1-3 that you like the best. Find good homes for the rest. (I call this the “litter” approach where there are just too many kittens or puppies for you to keep them all.)
  • Go through your drawer of strainers and infusers, your cupboards full of various steeping mugs and those brewing machines that promise an instant hot cuppa perfect tea, and your storage closet/attic/basement/garage for the ones you had the energy to box up and put away during a Spring cleaning a few years back (and have been piling more on top of them ever since). Pull it all out, lay everything out to look through, and sort them into piles of “keepers,” “resells,” “donates,” and the “I wouldn’t give this to my worst enemy” ones.
  • Pass along to others who want to learn more about tea the books from which you have gleaned your own tea knowledge so they might attain a similar level of understanding.

Now you’re ready for that more simple approach to tea.

What you need:

  • Something for heating water. If you want to be very simple, use a stovetop kettle (my personal preference). Or you can go with an electric one which is great for those situations where a stove isn’t available. Of course, even simpler is an open pot to put on your heat source (stove, hot plate, grill, or campfire).
  • Something for steeping the tea. Lots of choices and dependent on what tea you like. A gaiwan for those pu-erhs, oolongs, greens, and white teas (simpler even than a Yixing teapot where you need to season them and dedicate each one to a particular type of tea, and then you need a chahai or similar vessel to pour the steeped liquid into for pouring into the sipping cups). A ceramic teapot for black teas and even some green teas.
  • The teas. [WARNING: I am about to say something shocking.] Here goes: Teabags! Yes, teabags. You give up some aspect of taste but gain in terms of simplicity. While I don’t recommend using teabags with a gaiwan, they are certainly the way to go with the ceramic teapot for those of you willing to make that trade-off. Of course, you can buy those fillable tea filters. That way you can load them up with the teas you selected in your simplification process above.
  • Schedule your tea readings, including books and blogs like this, so that you feel comfortable that you’re not missing the information you like getting but aren’t buried under it to the point of not actually enjoying your tea.

Such ratcheting back on your tea efforts will hopefully let you have more enjoyment, unlike those hikes I was on in Germany where everyone was telling me I was walking wrong, dressed wrong, etc. Thank goodness they’re not around when I’m steeping tea!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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