Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Taking tea

Another Japanese pot of tea, water coming 
to the boil at Nakamura-san's hermitage.
"Bring your own tea," says my dad, "I know you like the fancy stuff."  In truth, while a cup of sweet, black, tippy Assam in the morning is an incredible grace, and a pot of Rose Congou when an afternoon writing sessions falters is a gift, I'm perfectly happy with a cup of Lipton tea.  As long as the water used to make it was at the boiling point.

I despair of getting a good cup of tea when traveling or out to eat, resorting to stuffing an electric kettle with my PJs (so it doesn't take up extra room in my bag), hunting out microwaves — and, I confess, when truly desperate for a caffeine fix, drinking a Diet Coke.  The Irish travels were a joy, a decent cup of tea could be had anywhere.  Even at fast food places.

The trouble is not the tea, but the temperature.  The correct temperature for brewing black teas is 212oF.  The advent of the Keurig hasn't helped things, for while "Keurig believes that the optimal temperature for brewing coffee, tea and hot cocoa is 89°C (192° F),"  I don't.  Different flavor compounds are extracted out at different temperatures, so tea brewed at too low a temperature tastes different, and frankly, not to my liking, de gustibus non est disputandum1 notwithstanding.

When I stay with my dad he pulls out a little tetsubin, a small cast iron Japanese tea pot.  He warms the pot while bringing a kettle of water to the boil, and sets out a mug for me on the counter.  The sugar is tucked in my mother's now classic Corningware sugar bowl.  It's the perfect pot of tea, brewed with bags of Lipton and love — and water of the correct temperature.  What else should I expect of an organic chemist?

1.  In matters of taste there can be no dispute.  But proper black tea must be steeped in water just off the boil, green tea is better at 180o.


  1. Michelle, I agree totally about black tea and the water temperature. When I used to travel to the U.S. frequently on business, I would despair of ever having a good cup of tea but I understood in those days that coffee was the beverage of the day. Now that tea is gaining in popularity, it is easier to find a good pot of tea at many places but there is nothing like a pot of tea when the water is poured boiling hot onto the bag. I have to agree that Irish tea is excellent - could be my Irish roots talking! I think I had better go make a cup of tea right now.

    1. I am reading this with my cup of orange spice tea -- and enjoying thinking that we are "sharing" a cup of tea in spirit!

    2. I didn't mention that I was making my tea in my "small cast iron Japanese tea pot"! Even more interesting was that someone called at 10:00 p.m. just after I had commented and she asked if she could come over for tea. So there were three of us having tea.

    3. I think I need a teapot post! And now I'm having a dark, sweet mug of tea before digging into a pile of grading!