Tea brewing knowledge

November 1, 2007 at 3:00 am 5 comments

I remember my grandmother made a rather fabulous cup of tea. Growing up, I much preferred tea to coffee. I do drink coffee (weak and hopefully vanilla flavoured, which causes people in Melbourne to look at me with disgust) but I much prefer tea. My favourite brews are Lady Grey, Prince of Wales and any ginger spiced tea. Green tea too. Never with milk or sugar, just strong and black (or green).I always looked forward to the tea making ritual I participated in with my grandmother. The teapot looked pretty dodgy – old and well worn. But apparently this was a must because the flavour traces of long ago brewed tea would still be in the teapot. You put in one teaspoon of tea per person and…one for the teapot. When I was really little I actually thought the teapot was a very special person because it received its own portion of tea. And then you poured in boiling hot water, boiling being a key point. You covered the teapot with a tea cosy and left it alone for 3-5 mins. You didn’t stir the pot. You waited…patiently.

Clinking porcelain china cups being placed on the table would mean the tea was ready to come out of the pot snuggled in its tea cosy (sadly, crocheted!). This was always a big deal – the tea cups had an oriental design. Very colourful. Dragons with swishing tails of gold. Lotus flowers gently opening up. Chinese figures drapped in silk. The selection of cups went very well with the mahjong set, which had real ivory tiles and Chinese characters depicting the four winds. The steaming tea would be poured. The thinly sliced bread and butter “fingers” would accompany the tea drinking. All would be ready for a gripping game of mahjong. No-one in my family ever drank tea with milk or sugar. So the knowledge of whether you add the milk into the cup first before pouring the tea or add it later is a mystery to me.

When I went to Japan with my uncle for the first time about 18 years ago to visit his business partner, we were treated to a Japanese tea ceremony. Still remains vivid in my mind. Very graceful. Very quiet. Very respectful. The importance of tea making and drinking was clearly on display. I had visions of having a tea plantation. I still read books on tea – the latest being John Griffith’s wonderful book Tea: The Drink that Changed the World. (And how jealous I am of Griffiths. His father was Sir Percival Griffiths who wrote a whopper of a book on the Indian tea industry and was a director of major tea companies. Such inside knowledge!). I often visit the Tea Centre in Sydney. I dislike tea bags as I love to pour hot water over gunmetal gray coloured leaves and smell the aroma. But a tea bag is often what you get in cafes these days. It looks so wet and bedraggled as it sits limply next to the cup once you jiggled it a few times (or is that dangled?).

I’m the only one in my family who ever drank coffee but it doesn’t compare with tea. My parents scoffed at the notion that people would actually go to a “coffee house” or cafe to drink a bitter brew that leaves a nasty taste in your mouth. I inherited my grandmother’s tea set and I am always on the prowl for a smashing looking 1950s tea set – I’ve seen them with multiple pastel coloured cups with shiny gold rims. One day…

Meanwhile, it’s sad to see that Asia may be losing its tea making culture. Consumption of traditional tea is declining because the knowledge of how to brew the tea is not being passed down to younger generations. Tea is struggling for a place in 21st Century Asia where young people living a fast pace can’t always be bothered hanging around for 10 or more minutes while the tea is brewing. They prefer canned soft drinks, canned tea, powdered tea and coffee – quick, instant.The older generation can still find tea houses across Asia but often have to pay up to $1 per gram for prime tea leaves. And there’s the whole stigma attached to tea these days as being an “old person’s drink”. “Our children don’t want to carry on the traditions, so in the future it will be forgotten,” complained Wang Cheng-long, a life-long bulk leaf seller in Taiwan’s historic tea-growing region of Pinglin.

But tea isn’t going down without a fight. Asian tea lovers are attempting to repackage tea. Taiwan tea expert Yang Hai-chuan sells sachets of mixed oolong and green tea leaves at teahouses across Taipei, marketing them as hip flavored beverages rather than the traditional teas that have been drunk for centuries.You can now find all sorts of gourmet flavours: peach spiked teas; licorice flavoured teas; wild raspberry teas; vanilla flavoured teas. One I like is the Honeybush Caramel Dessert Tea, which is a very soothing tea with South African rooibus and caramel. But mostly they come in tea bags.

And so the tea making tradition and the knowledge of how to make a “good cuppa” – knowledge that has survived for 5,000 years since a gust of wind caused some tea tree twigs to waft into a bowl of hot water held by Shennong, a legendary emperor of China and led to the discovery of tea – may soon be kaput.Source: Reuters


Entry filed under: Knowledge Management, Tea.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jo  |  November 1, 2007 at 4:01 am

    Hi there (a little way across the sea).
    Being in the “tea business”, I don’t see the future of tea half as dark as this article states. Actually, tea is going through some sort of a renaissance at the moment and the recent pu-erh craze in China proves: tea is gaining a lot of momentum.
    There is a growing awareness (and demand) for lose-leaf tea (the only tea worth writing about) in the US and I’m sure that countries like our New Zealand here and Australia will follow in time.
    Have you ever thought about the change in availability of high quality tea in recent years? Until maybe 3-4 years ago, it would have been IMPOSSIBLE to get premium tea leaves in NZ. Today, you can buy teas here (i.e. at our teahouse) that were only available for a small group of insiders with good contacts to Asia before.

    PS: Forget about the nonsense with “one teaspoon per cup and one for the pot”. Tea is measured by weight and due to the differences in leaf size and delicacy, some teas require only 2 tsp per 500ml (i.e. tightly balled oolongs) while others need up to 7 tsp for the same amount of water (i.e. Bai Mu Dan white teas). I know, it is a widely spread myth and tea companies don’t help to dispel it…

  • 2. thinkingshift  |  November 1, 2007 at 6:14 am

    Hi there Jo
    Good to hear from a fellow NZer :)- and GREAT to hear about your tea house. I’ll be in NZ early next year, so will drop in. Shame about the one teaspoon per person + one for the pot business – has dispelled my childhood vision of the pot being very special! will seek out more information on how many tsps depending on which tea and experiment. But good to see you think tea is making a comeback (or has never gone away).

  • 3. Jo  |  November 1, 2007 at 8:18 am

    Hi Kim,
    I’m sorry about destroying your childhood vision – I thought it was a very cute imagination…
    If you’re interested in tea, there’s a great number of blogs out there devoted to tea. A good starting point would be T Ching and its link list.

    Reading these blogs will give you a good idea about where tea is heading at the moment.


  • 4. Kate  |  November 1, 2007 at 10:23 am

    Top 6 Reasons Not to Drink Tea

    1- The chemicals used to remove caffeine from tea are carcinogenic as there is no swiss water method as with coffee.

    2- The caffeine in tea takes twice as long to eliminate from the body.

    3- Depletes the adrenal glands just like coffee

    4- Decreases melatonin production = sleep disorders like insomnia

    5- Caffeine acts as a diuretic (by the way, caffeine is a strong diuretic, which depletes the body of certain vitamins and minerals, such as “C”, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, and potassium

    6- All teas contain flouride. Flouride is accumulative toxin. Only 50% of this poison is excreted from the body per day. The other half stays and accumulates, particualry in the brain & bones. Water contains lead & aluminium. Flouride attaches to lead & aluminum ions and heightens accumulation and increases these toxins metals to the brain. Aluminum flouride showed capacity to damage brain and kidneys in lab rats

    Get the real scoop on caffeine at http://www.CaffeineAwareness.org
    Test your caffeine smarts with the caffeine quiz.

    And if you drink decaf you wont want to miss this special free report on the Dangers of Decaf available at http://www.soyfee.com

  • 5. thom  |  November 19, 2007 at 4:35 am

    Hmm, interesting article. I hope the culture isn’t lost especially in a time when tea is beginning a renaissance in the west. There is so much to be learned and respected from the centuries of tea tradition. Interesting ways for it to be remarketed though. Thanks again, great post.


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