I trust my senses to make a good cup of tea, but that has not always been the case. As a novice loose-leaf tea drinker, I was afraid to trust myself. I rarely made a cup of tea without my tools. As the years passed, though, I ditched the thermometer and the timer and learned to trust my instincts through touch, sight, and experience.
Loose-leaf tea can be more than just a delicious cup of tea – it can be a sensory experience. I began making tea in a glass teapot so I could enjoy the sight of the leaves opening and releasing their flavor and the water changing colors and taking on the goodness of the leaf.
My first tea job was serving people tea at demos at local specialty stores. I encountered many people who had never had the sensory experience of loose-leaf tea. They had never seen what was inside a tea bag. After seeing my thermometer and timer, some became intimidated. Many asked if they absolutely needed a thermometer, a timer, and a teapot to make a cup of tea.
It’s a balance I have had to find when I speak to customers. The level of knowledge and the depth of tea passion vary. I tailor the conversation depending on how far a customer wants to go with their knowledge and tea education. The bottom line is always a good cup of tea, but a good cup of tea will vary depending on the road the customer wants to take. Regardless of the process, I always tell people to trust their instincts.
My process has changed over the years. I mentioned ditching the thermometer, but for me it was after using it for months. As I used the thermometer, I always touched my water-cooling vessel at the point at which the boiling water hit it, throughout the cooling process, and when it reached the desired water temperature. Over time, I gained a feeling for different water temperatures. I did the same with the timer, but used a different technique. I began to pay attention to the color of the infusion. This takes me back to the glass teapot. For me, it was crucial to use a glass teapot to be able to judge the rate of infusion and the color of the brewed tea.
Every Friday morning, I conduct educational tea tastings at work. I don’t use a thermometer or a timer. My technique was validated when my colleagues complimented my tea-making skills. It’s one thing to refine my technique to fit my palate, but pleasing others gave me further confidence in my tea-making instincts.
This article was originally posted to T Ching in January of 2011.