Wednesday September 28, 2016 | 4 comments
I’ve been training for this! Having young children isn’t just about spending free time playing with Legos, it’s about not sleeping all that much, and taking a break from your own meals to help someone else with theirs. Related to all that my work-day breakfasts are short, but I’m still drinking loose tea, and here’s how to do that.
Of course more careful brewing works better when one has the time, and in general Gongfu style brewing gives better results than Western brewing (depending on the tea, not always), it just takes more time. This could as easily be an article on how to Gongfu-style brew tea at work instead. That wouldn’t be hard to do with a gaiwan, tea cup, and half-liter thermos of hot water, maybe using a side plate or washcloth to deal with spilled tea. The main problem would be appearing to spend a lot of time on just making and drinking tea, instead of working, but for desk-bound staff if an employer is fine with that then why not. Either way grabbing a quick tea with breakfast might be desirable, and it needn’t be from a tea bag, or cold-brewed from the day before.
Gongfu or Western style brewing?
Neither! Modified Western-style brewing is the shortest path, increasing the standard tea to water ratio and dropping the infusion time just a little, maybe down to 2 or 3 minutes instead of 3 or 4. But then being in a heated rush is probably about not timing things, just going with it, and letting learned habit help you get it right, even in a haze of semi-awareness. It would be normal to add to time over the later infusions, but then everything about parameters just depends. If someone isn’t using a rinse the second infusion might brew as fast as the first, with the leaves already wet, especially for a rolled oolong that needs to unfurl. Experimentation can match results to preferences.
Related to heating water: an electric kettle is the obvious choice, but anything is fine as long as you don’t microwave your water. Hard to say why, but that’s not advisable, not just related to my own preferences, but as a standard understanding. Maybe that’s because dissolved air doesn’t fall out of suspension nearly as effectively using such heating, resulting in brewing tea with frothy water (but then I’m an engineer, not a chemist or food scientist, so what do I know).
Making multiple infusions is where timing and the rest of the process gets tricky; preparing three (or so) infusions in a very short time, along with making and eating breakfast. Gear doesn’t matter for the result–so much; of course it does to some extent–but simpler is better. A French press works well for being easy to clean, but then a standard ceramic pot is about the same. Even an infuser basket would be ok, the kind that gives tea space to contact water, but it seems a shame to expose more volatile components to air during brewing, allowing some to evaporate off since these are part of what we taste.
The breakfast had better be simple too, a bowl of cereal or a pastry, maybe adding some fruit that isn’t difficult to prep. I feel like I need the tea more than food, to help get me started, but it works better to eat a light meal along with it. Only green tea or sheng pu’er seems to affect my stomach if I drink tea without food. If someone prefers black tea prepared with milk and sugar I think that combination would be fine for digestion, but I just don’t drink tea that way (with some people arguing milk interferes with nutrient digestion–not something I’d worry about personally).
The next problem is how to actually drink three small cups of tea in a short span of time (or large ones; depends on the person).
How to cool the tea
Even if drinking a brewed green tea that started around 170F / 75C (or whatever one prefers), allowing the tea to cool enough to drink it would be an issue in a really tight time-frame. If someone brewed tea for 3, 3 1/2, and 4 minute infusions (just an example; depends on the tea type and ratio of tea to water), the process takes up a bit over half a very short breakfast’s worth of time steeping, with the tea still a bit hot to drink quickly.
Brewing using cooler water won’t work, and adding ice or even cold water to tea seems completely wrong (although I can’t identify why adding cold water wouldn’t work). Cold-brewing overnight potentially could work, and that works well for a broad range of teas, even for teas one might not ordinarily try it with like Darjeeling or Dan Cong.
Another possible resolution: it’s normal to use a serving pitcher to mix tea for Gongfu style brewing (a chahai or gongdaobei), which would absorb some heat (although my understanding of the main point of those is to mix the tea), and the same principle can be extended to using an extra coffee mug. In a more extreme rush drinking a little cold water out of one before adding the tea chills it to remove even more heat, without adding anything to a tea. Cold-shocking tea like that is probably not ideal, per getting the most out of it, but then waking up a half an hour earlier to use a more standard brewing process could be far from ideal too. My kids waking me up multiple times a lot of nights is also definitely not perfect, so sleep time is at a premium for me.
Selecting a tea
Just as in post about brewing Grandpa-style (using uncontrolled brewing time, essentially, drinking tea directly from a mix of leaves and water) not every tea is well-suited to such a heavy-handed preparation. The best teas typically tend to respond well to Gongfu style brewing, allowing for careful control of infusion times, enabling the experience of aspects transitions over brewing. If someone only drinks the highest quality teas, which would make sense for some, then rushing a tea brewing may not be ok. Some general types can’t be rushed, in my experience; for example, Dan Congs respond best to a short infusion time Gongfu approach, not achieving the same balance brewed Western style. Then again, actually trying out variations works better than generalizing; I just experimented with a pretty good Dan Cong version and it did well using a modified Western style (the first time at least; the second time it didn’t work as well, and some teas can be touchy about parameters like that).
So which teas do work out better using a more Western brewing approach? Black or white teas (again, per my preference and in my experience, just one person’s take). Or some lighter oolongs tend to be very forgiving related to brewing approach, and green teas should be fine but can be quite touchy.
Issues with rushing a breakfast
This approach isn’t going to work for everyone, but then not everyone even eats breakfast (or drinks tea, odd as that is to consider). Personal schedule is also relevant; for someone with a one-hour car commute taking breakfast on the road instead might make sense. Some tea tumbler infusers even allow for controlling infusing time, shutting down contact with water by closing off a section. And grandpa-style brewing–drinking tea as a mix of leaves and water; not limiting brew time–can also work, for some teas.
Most of the people in Bangkok think either Starbucks coffee or a powdered flavored tea is just the thing, preferably handed to them in a paper cup, but for me rushing tea brewing works out much better.