One of the things my friends don’t understand about me is why I usually don’t order tea when I’m outside. Even if I’m meeting to talk about tea.
If we’re meeting for dinner, even if I’m in a Chinese restaurant, I often order chrysanthemum tea or at most Eight Treasures tea- a mixture which is approximately 1/8 tea, as in Camellia sinensis.
Even more egregious is if we’re meeting in a cafe or some equivalent. Even on occasions when I meet and talk tea, almost exclusively I order coffee.
For meal times, it is partially related to iron absorption, something I wrote about in this article about Don’ts of Drinking Tea.
But more importantly is that there is only so much tea we can drink in a day, every cup (huge or small) should matter.
How can I be certain that all teas outside will suck?
Firstly hardware. Apart from tea houses, you’re not going to be served tea in a gaiwan, not a with tea tray and all.
For convenience, most cafes serve tea in a huge glass pot- good for aesthetics, horrible for oolong and green tea- the 2 types of teas that I’m most likely to order. Then your tea steeps forever in it.
Not how I would like to enjoy my tea, personally.
Secondly it’s also related to hardware. Few shops- if any- own a variable temperature kettle. An air-pot that reboils the same water repeatedly is probably all you’re going to get. In other words, more likely than not, whichever tea you order, it is likely to be doused with freshly boiled water.
Third- it is most likely to be bagged. Sometimes shops do a bit better and provide pyramid bags, which is only interesting if you don’t regularly gongfu brew your tea.
Pyramid bags in theory sounds interesting- more space for the leaves to unfurl. But it leads to brewing in a regular mug- which is not conducive for oolong tea especially- and the packaging often seems ill-suited for storing tea leaves.
Flimsy paper packaging, wrapped with a film. Once it’s open, the pyramid bags are often exposed to elements like oxygen and moisture. Even if you used good quality tea leaves in there, very soon it would degrade. I don’t see why vendors would increase their cost in that manner.
This is not to be overly negative though but because I drink so much tea anyway, I rather forgo a significantly worse cup. In the past I used to drink tea in a thermal flask but I decided that the compromise was a bit too much for my liking.
If I come across as a snob, I apologize. It’s just that I strictly adhere to a daily consumption limit of 15 gram of tea leaves. If it’s going to cut into my quota, I want to enjoy myself. Even if it’s not gongfu brewing, if the compromise is not massive, I’m happy to allocate my tea quota.
Unfortunately most places I can drink tea outside- apart from Bak Kut Teh joints- don’t quite justify my daily 15 grams.