Drink Magazine

The Forgotten Component of the Tea Experience- the Joy of Making Tea

By Dchew78 @peonyts

Whenever we tea lovers laud the merits of tea- as we are wont to do given half an opportunity- we are quick to share our devotion to the taste, the sensation, the ‘chaqi’, how it brings people together and how it improves our physical well-being (placebo or otherwise).

While all of that holds sway, often lost in the shuffle is the joy of making tea, a component of the tea experience that has often been relegated to a means to an end.

There are some that go to an extent of getting a machine, so they don’t have to go through the “hassle” of making tea.

Making tea, a hassle? Oh the sacrilege!

I would argue that making tea is as integral a part of the tea experience as smelling and observing the unfurling of the leaves.

To automate that is akin to delegating your domestic helper to bring your kids out to their favorite activity.

Here is a look at the joy of making tea:

The Antithesis to a Microwave World

A friend of mine asked “Isn’t it so much trouble for a cup of tea when you can have a tea bag?”

“You are one of the last people who should say that, isn’t it so much trouble to paint when you can just take a photo?” I replied. (Her greatest passion is painting, realism no less)

The Forgotten Component of the Tea Experience- the Joy of Making Tea
And it was true. Sometimes the end is just part of it, as gratifying as the end may be.

In a technological driven world, we often neglect the joy in the process.

“Forget about the view, are we there already?”

“Can we just pop something in the microwave for dinner?”

At the most fundamental level, the act of slowing down to make tea injects a moment of calm into the bustle of our lives.

Consider this:

1)   Measure out the tea leaves (Can’t it be premeasured for convenience?)

2)   Boil the water (Don’t we have supply of hot water on demand?)

3)   Warm the vessel (Can’t we get a warmer or something?)

4)   Add water (Is there a way to prefill the vessel?)

5)   Infuse it (Can we pre-infuse it? I don’t have time to wait)

6)   Pour it out and drink (It’s too hot to drink right away, can we add ice?)

The simplest form of making tea goes contrary to our modern sensibilities and I say it’s for the better.

It’s a Personal Pursuit of Excellence

Personally, I feel the greatest joy in making tea is in the pursuit of excellence, chasing down the perfect cup.

There are some who claim a perfect cup of tea can be had by using that scoop and golden rule or even a mechanized approach.

The Forgotten Component of the Tea Experience- the Joy of Making Tea
To which I say the bar of perfection is set too low.

Way too low.

Brewing tea is about extracting the most out of your tea and it entails more than just adhering to the set quantity of leaves, water temperature and infusion time though it matters.

*Here’s an article about the factors that influence the quality of the brew*

Nailing down the parameters is just part of it and it’s not even THAT important.

95⁰C or 93⁰C? Will the tea gods curse me to a lifetime of Assam if I deviate from the norm?

Did I add an extra 2g? Help! I don’t want to be cursed with ungodly astringency!

Balance and adjustment is key.

Which brings me to the next point-

Know Thy Tea

The Forgotten Component of the Tea Experience- the Joy of Making Tea
If you only know one solitary quote by Sun Zi (Sun Tse) it is probably this “Know thyself and know thy enemy and you will always be victorious” (Or often literally translated as “A hundred battles fought and a hundred battles won)

Indeed I often make the point that you learn more by drinking the same tea a hundred times than a hundred teas once.

The first time you make it, it’s feeling it out, literally testing the waters.

If you are brewing a tea that allows multiple infusions- and why would you waste your time with a tea that can only be steeped once- you will probably get closer to what you want after the 3rd infusion or so.

The next time you might want to swap the brewing vessel or add the tea leaves or increase the water temperature and such.

Subsequently you might play around with little things, height of water pouring, swirling, arrangement of leaves and such.

It becomes a technique to be honed.

If you live in temperate climates, there is also a matter of adjusting for the seasons. My farmer friends tell me teas taste different in summer and winter and they make subtle adjustments if they want to maintain the same taste, something that I have never personally experienced since I live in the tropics.

In any case, there is a myriad of variables to play around with, that’s what makes it fun.

Busting Through a Plateau

Initially the improvement to the quality of the brew comes quickly, but there may come a point in time when a plateau is reached.

Has the tea been maximized?

The joy is in identifying and adjusting to the limitations.

Is it the water?

Is it the kettle?

Should I get a new brewing vessel? (A question that always seems to be answered in affirmative)

Should I use different cups?

Should I try something new?

And so forth.

Much like an athlete yearns to beat his personal best, we tea addicts often crack our skulls thinking of how else to improve the quality of the brew.

And that is the lifelong pursuit of excellence, the joy of making tea.

Don’t let a machine rob you of it.

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