There are a lot of rules for tea – there are probably more rules for tea preparation than any other drink. Even George Orwell published an essay about brewing tea – eleven rules for tea. There are fewer commandments in the Bible…
Here at Leafbox Tea, we are no different. We are currently writing an ebook about tea. Turns out, that you can’t write a book about tea without putting in brewing instructions. So, we set out to find out what the rules really are.
That’s twelve rules so far, there are a lot more. Generally though, the rules are not much more than quaint cultural holdovers which express the tastes of the people, businesses, institutions and cultures which write them.
These rules are not really as important as businesses lead people to believe. Of course, if you ask us, the more rules you put on something, the less appealing it becomes. The vast amount of rules out there about tea are confusing – no wonder Americans still don’t understand tea. When looking at the rules, there is, apparently, nothing simple about tea at all.
In the process of writing our Field Guide to Tea, we tested some of these rules. Violated and intentionally broke them wanting to see the results. What we found was that the rules really don’t matter.
Tea is a matter of taste – all the tea rules leftover from centuries ago matter little if they cause you to brew up something you don’t like.
Breaking the Rules
Never drink puerh on an empty stomach – This has been making the rounds again this year. There was an article published on an English-language Chinese news site about what the Dim Sum restaurants won’t tell you. Most of the items on the list were nothing but mythological nonsense about tea – the most painful to read was that you should never drink puerh tea on an empty stomach. Says who? There is no reason not to, in fact, we occasionally like starting the day with a cup of puerh. Even with all the nonsense in that particular article, the most disturbing thing about it was the number of times it was promoted. Even the United States Tea Council promoted it on their Twitter account – com’on guys, this is the 21st century we are beyond that now.
Black tea needs boiling water – Not always true, but we are also guilty of promoting it as a rule. It does make things easy, though. Use an electric kettle, when it shuts off, pour out your water. Were you not there when it shut off? If the water is still hot, it’ll still brew you a pretty good cuppa. A Leafbox Tea member once commented that “black tea needs scalding water.” Scalding water is not always boiling water, and this is probably closer to being a truth anyhow. Boiling water is not necessary, especially if you are using tea bags or broken tea leaves. These seem to be less resistant to heat and give up their flavor easily.
Green/white tea should be brewed at xxx-degrees – This is nonsense. A lot of people around the world manage to brew up a cup without the use of a thermometer everyday. In fact, in the Leafbox kitchen, despite having access to samples of some really fine teas, we don’t even have a thermometer. We’ve brewed up some rather fine and exquisite green teas without ever worrying about temperature. The saying, “water, off the boil” describes water that has been allowed to cool after boiling. The exact rate at which water cools varies based on a handful variables and will different in everybody’s kitchen, but simply letting your water sit for a minute is just fine. Tea is art, not science.
Preheat the pot – This rule comes about because of the desire to keep the water as hot as possible. Does it make a difference? No, not really. We typically brew our tea in glass pots, which are so thin and shed heat so quickly that there is not point in preheating it. Heating the pot can be an extra step. For most people, the mass of water will stay hot long enough to brew the tea without worrying about warming the pot.
We aren’t writing this article to debunk long-established rules of tea. We are writing it in hope that tea drinkers will realize that the rules are not rules at all. They are only guidelines, and that brewing tea is a very personalized experience. Understanding and enjoying tea, from handling the leaves, to drinking down that last gulp is all about experience. Making it good depends on you and what knowledge you bring to the tea. We’ve written before that for all the mastery, skill and dedication that goes into the manufacturing of the tea – the final step – the brewing, is up to you. Sometimes the best rule is the one that encourages to you experiment and discover what you like.
How do you feel about all the rules that at various places around the internet? Are they examples of sage advice or do you find yourself making your own tea, by your own rules?