Note from Len: I am pleased to pass along this email from my friend Jean Remple on the topic of how to brew a perfect pot of tea. When I told Darlene that I wanted to buy two porcelain pots she informed me that she already has two, and she agreed to let me use them with the understanding that if I damage either of them the consequences will not be mellow. So I am handling them very carefully. I am here to testify that, by following these instructions, I have improved the quality of my tea dramatically. Merci, Jean!
E-Mail from Jean Remple on January 12, 2013:
I really liked your tea comments. And I have some good advice to give (I’m passing it on from my master of tea, Dr. Chan of Hong Kong, who was a mathematician and university friend — when I fell ill, he would always come up to my room in residence and treat me with a small suitcase containing dozens and dozens of tiny drawers filled with herbs and teas). He was a graduate student; I was an undergraduate.
Here is what Chan taught me:
- When making tea, always use two identical porcelain teapots.
- Pre-warm both of them with hot water, which is poured out when they are warm.
- Toss a generous amount of tea (approx 1 teaspoon per person) into the first teapot.
- Add hot water (just below boiling point) and swish around.
- Wait one minute, and no longer, before pouring the tea into the other pre-warmed twin teapot and serve.
At this point, Dr. Chan (who was 3-4 years older than myself) would launch into a long lecture about tannic acid. The gist of his argument was that tannic acid starts to form very quickly in the teapot, and is not good for your system; and in fact, it destroys the fresh taste of your tea. He insisted: “Use more tea leaves if you must, but do not let the tea steep beyond 3 minutes at the very most.” Hence the twin teapots. He even told me: “When you go into a Chinese restaurant and order tea, ALWAYS ask for a second empty teapot. The waiter will look at you, as though you were an idiot. But don’t be misled. That look is one of respect. He knows that you know. Never drink tea that has been in a teapot more than 3 minutes. It’s basically poison.”
So that’s my message from Dr. Chan from the distant past at the University of Toronto. I have always followed his counsel. And I can add this: when we have been offered tea from friends improperly made, I taste immediately the tannic acid (which grabs you in the throat, like cheap vodka). Laila has an even more violent reaction; she gets a sharp pain between her shoulder blades that makes her feel nauseous.
The only exception to the above is certain herbs and roots which can steep a little longer. But, I find that even valerian roots must not steep indefinitely. By the way, did you ever try valerian for your sleeplessness?
Another thing (and I am not sure that this was Dr. Chan or if I read it), some experts maintain that metal must never come in contact with tea. That’s why I never use a metallic flow-through egg, myself. I also like the idea of the tea floating free in that first minute. And if I have to strain it (because I have on hand only one teapot and two cups), I use a small plastic strainer.
To conclude, I am going to send you a package of Azorian Preto Orange Pekoe tea which I recently bought on Sao Miguel [in the Azores.] It is my own personal daily favorite (although I am also fond of that smokey, tarry-tasting Lapsang Souchung tea, and wine-red Rose Hip tea.) Remember the Azores is the only place in Europe that produces both tea and cigars! They brought the tea masters over from China and Japan two centuries ago. The Azorean tea plantations are a marvel for the eye to sea; there are two of them on Sao Miguel.
One last piece of advice, never use a teabag, unless you have absolutely nothing else available.