Saturday, May 26, 2007

Tea is Still Cool

In his comment to my post about tea, Ben links to a short essay about tea by George Orwell. Thank you, Ben. I did find it both interesting to read and possessed of very good advice about tea-making. I only have a few points of disagreement with Orwell, which I gather is something of a rarity when discussing the subject. First, his blanket statement that Chinese tea has "not much stimulation in it" is overbroad and incorrect. I will admit that Indian and Ceylonese black teas taste more "normal" to me, probably because Lipton and other cheap, commonly-available blends are based on them rather than on Chinese black teas. However, that is not to say that there aren't a number of excellent Chinese black teas out there that could give the best Indian black teas a run for their money (I'm excluding Ceylonese here because the best thing I can say about any Ceylonese tea that I've tried is that it was pleasant). Hao Ya A, for example, is intense, pleasant, and excellent. Second, he says that one should not use bags or strainers of any sort because "if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly". Perhaps this was true in his day, but modern wire mesh straining baskets are large enough to let water interact freely with the tea and to let the tea expand as it rehydrates. In addition, such baskets allow you to remove the tea at the end of the steeping period, which is important because over-steeped tea gets bitter and nasty. Finally, I don't understand at all why one would ruin good tea by putting milk in it. It makes about as much sense to me as putting pepper on ice cream.

Here's how I make tea. It appeals to my meticulous side because it's very formulaic and doesn't leave a whole lot of room for crippling mistakes of judgment.
  1. Heat 1.5 L of water in an electric kettle. Some books that I've read say that the water should be filtered, and I suppose it should be. However, I haven't noticed any problems with tap water, and tap water is certainly easier and quicker to use. Since I always or almost always use black tea instead of green, this water should be heated to boiling.
  2. Scoop two teaspoons of loose tea into the aforementioned wire mesh strainer. The standard measure is one teaspoon per cup of tea, and my teapot holds two cups.
  3. After the water reaches a boil, fill the teapot with said boiling water, wait a couple of seconds, and dump it out. This has the effect of warming the teapot.
  4. Put the wire mesh strainer into the pot and refill the pot with the boiling water.
  5. Set your timer for 5 minutes.
  6. At the end of 5 minutes, take out the wire mesh strainer, empty, and pour your tea.
  7. Enjoy.
It's worth mentioning that tea made from teabags is almost certainly going to be inferior for two reasons. First, manufacturers usually use a lower grade of tea in teabags. Frequently, it's nothing but tea dust, and the resultant cup of tea will often be bitter and nasty. Secondly, there's not enough room in the bag for the tea to expand fully as it rehydrates. It's really amazing to me how great this expansion can be. But if the tea is packed in there, there won't be room for water to circulate through it, and you won't get a good infusion.

1 comment:

Ben W. Brumfield said...

It's worth pointing out that the kind of tea marketed as "Chinese" in 1946 Britain may have been altogether different from that imported today, given the effects of the War in both Britain and China.

I'm with you on the milk, though.