Panic can set in when you “screw up the brew” of your tea. You have no idea what to do. We’re here to help. First, don’t panic. It happens to us all. Then, take a breath, step back, and read on…
You get a new tea. Maybe it’s a sample from a vendor like us. Maybe it’s a pretty rare and special tea. You are drooling in anticipation. Like an athlete prepping for the Olympics, the World Cup of Soccer, or the Tour de France, you have honed your tea steeping/infusing skills and are ready for this challenge. You steep the tea and take that first sip…things seem okay…more than okay…wow! a great tea, you think…another sip…still good. You finish off the first infusion and get the next one going. This time you take a sip and…WHAM-O! Right away you know that something has gone horribly wrong. Your first clue: your face screws up into a tight ball as if you’d just bit into a whole lemon. Your second clue: you have the sudden urge to run as far away from that tea as possible, crying “What happened? What did I do wrong?”
How to Make It All Right Again
If this is one of those trashy teas that are fairly commonly available, my best advice is to toss the leaves, rinse everything, and start over. But for those rare and premium teas, the thought of wasting those leaves is too much to bear. So, here’s an alternative solution to make it all right again:
- Drain all liquid off the leaves as thoroughly as possible.
- Put them back in your gaiwan or other steeping vessel.
- Heat water to the proper temperature – this is actually the number one reason that steepings go awry, i.e., the water is too hot or not hot enough. However, even if you overheat the water, you can shorten the steep time (pretty tough to do when the time is only a few seconds).
- Do a quick tea leaves rinse – pour some water over the leaves, swish a little, and pour out the water. Hopefully, any chemicals making the tea taste bad will be washed away (but no guarantees).
- Use a timer and have it preset (some of these steep times are quite short, so you won’t have time to set it once you pour in the water), or you can count out “One-hippopotamus, two-hippopotamus…” as an easier method. If you’re not sure how long to steep, consult the vendor’s instructions (either on the package or their Web site). Shorten the time if you think the water is too hot.
- Steep no longer than the time needed and then strain thoroughly (some teas, especially sheng pu-erhs, do better if you leave some of the liquid in the steeping vessel) into the sipping cups.
We all have a bad tea experience now and then, but one of the great things about loose leaf teas is the ability to give them another try. No way can you do that with the dust-in-a-bag. Hope this works out for you.