Hello everyone this is Mike from The Tea Letter and welcome to episode one of Tea Sessions!
First, a bit about this podcast: I like to write long articles on the blog (breaking 1,000 words isn’t uncommon for me) so I thought I’d give your eyes a rest and let your ears do all the work. I plan to use this podcast as an opportunity to explore new storytelling and educational tools not available to me if I’m tied to the written word alone. As for topics, let’s just say everything will tie back to tea in some form another but it’s a bit early to limit myself to a certain niche. In other words, this is an experiment and I’m glad you’re here at the beginning! Let’s dive in.
I’d like to get started by talking about today’s tea, and this tea is from TeaHaus in Ann Arbor. TeaHaus is a nice little tea shop on the north side of downtown in Kerrytown—not far from Zingermann’s (a world famous deli in Ann Arbor you have to visit if ever you’re in town). They have phenomenal sandwiches. Oprah’s been there, Obama—it’s very well known. Anyways, enough about sandwiches. We’re talking about tea here!
What I’ve got today is called the “China Yellow Dragon”. I have to admit I’m not super familiar with yellow teas. From what I understand they’re sort of a cross between a green and a black tea. The description of this tea says: “Its gently baked leaves yield a slightly sweeter brew than green tea, with nuances of cocoa on a spicy base.” I have to be honest, I was a little torn about talking about this tea today for the simple fact I don’t think I’ve nailed it yet (that’s why I was brewing it).
I’m brewing it at home and I’m using a simple David’s Tea mug-top infuser because I moved all my specialized brewing gear to my new office in the city. So, I’m sort of trying to do a pseudo-gongfu style at home and, frankly, I don’t think I’ve nailed it yet. It says three grams of tea per eight ounces of filtered water boiled and cooled to 194 degrees Fahrenheit. (I didn’t do that; I just brewed straight to 194 degrees because I have a variable temperature kettle.) Brew for two minutes.
This is more of a Western style of brewing, not like Chinese gongfu style. I thought I’d give it a shot because I’ve done it before and it was very good but this one, today, the way I did it, it came out feeling very thin and lacked body. I’ll try it again and report back on the results!
Now then, on to the topic of the day: what tea taught me about empathy.
It’s hard to overstate how big the world of tea is. As the world’s second most-consumed beverage after water, you can go almost anywhere in the world and find tea. It should come as no surprise that experiences, ideas, and opinions about tea are just as varied as the application of tea itself. This is something that can make writing about tea as a blogger a bit difficult, especially just starting out, as it’s easy to step unwittingly onto a landmine without realizing you’d ever entered the minefield. But, I digress.
The point is, it’s very difficult to say what’s “right” and “wrong when it comes to tea because ultimately the enjoyment of tea is subjective. One man’s bitter and over-brewed concoction is another woman’s strong and full-bodied treasure. In fact, my own wife has vastly different taste in tea when compared to me.
She loves all kinds of blended and flavored teas. Right this moment in our tea cupboard there are 4-5 boxes of different types of bagged, flavored tea. We have everything from pumpkin spiced chai to Japanese sweet bean tea and even a corn tea. She occasionally asks me if I want something from her collection and still somehow finds a way to be baffled when I say “no thanks” for the twentieth time!
What this means is I’ve had to develop a kind of patience, empathy, and understanding for my fellow tea drinker that makes space for all the different ways people like to drink tea. I’ll give you another example:
For Christmas, my brother got his girlfriend a tea set from Teavana (hey guys, if you’re listening to this!) that included some loose leaf green teas and a Teavana mug-top, gravity infuser. You know, the kind you put on the mug and it drains the liquid out of the bottom and into the mug. Anyways, she was excited to try it so she threw two tablespoons of tea into her infuser and poured about sixteen ounces of boiling water on top of it. She told me she wanted tea to be simple and easy (as opposed to the way I do it when I brew gongfu style). To be honest, I was mortified.
To begin with, when it comes to tea I’m a bit of a stickler for minding the details. The water should be the right temperature, the leaf to water ratio should be adjusted per brewing style, and brewing times should be planned per taste.
Watching her boil green tea, which is a delicate leaf that “should” be, and you can’t see me but I’m making air quotes here, brewed at cooler temperatures ranging from 160 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit (depending on origin), my first instinct was to jump in and offer to make things right. Instead, I started to speak and then clamped a hand over my mouth and told myself to keep quiet. (My mother happened to see and she laughed at me.)
The resulting brew tasted thin and weak, like heavily watered-down green tea. My brother’s girlfriend was not happy with the result, so he asked me what I thought went wrong. I took a sip and could tell immediately there was far too much water and not enough tea. I told him so and then went on my way to make my own tea, just the way I liked it.
I’ve had to extend the same courtesy to people in online communities as well.
I frequent r/tea, the sub-reddit for tea, and people like to post photos of whatever they’re drinking, their tea collection, and so on, to the sub-reddit for others to enjoy. As much as some people post their latest loose leaf tea purchase, there are just as many people who post their impressive array of boxed, bagged tea. For every artisanal ceramic drinking mug, there’s a Pikachu mug right underneath it.
Who’s to say one is “better” than the other? I’ve brewed tea with plastic gravity infusers, porcelain and clay gaiwans, and more recently with my new yixing clay pot, and all of them produce equally enjoyable cups of tea. In China, one of the most common ways to drink tea is to throw a pinch of leaves into a plastic tumbler and brew it repeatedly throughout the day, adding more hot water whenever the tumbler runs low. That’s about as simple as it gets and that tea is delicious, too.
The benefit of empathy and consideration for others’ tea habits isn’t just limited to tea, by the way. I’ve noticed an overall increase in my ability to empathize and be accepting, if not understanding, of the differences between myself and others. Heaven knows we need more of that in our world today, and I’m happy to say tea has played a part in my growth as a loving, empathetic human being.
That about does it for this first rendition of Tea Sessions. As always, I’d love to hear your own stories or experiences with tea. Has it helped you? How? I’m dying to know so leave a comment here or on Facebook, shoot me a tweet, or find me on Instagram. All links included in the show notes along with a transcript of this post on the blog.
Until next time, I’m Mike and this is Tea Sessions. Happy drinking!