In over 350 posts, I have often written about situations where it is hard to make a good cup of tea. For example, I once described being stuck in a transit hotel overseas “with two ..teabags, some slightly damp sugar sachets and …creamer” . Or my guide to making endless unauthorised cups of tea on long haul flights.
Today, though, I am gong to discuss a different scenario. One where everything is going for you. You have the tea, and all the equipment, and yet you inexplicably fail to make a decent cuppa.
This post is really for novices. Not because only novices make mistakes, but because us seasoned professionals have made them so often we can fix them without any stress.
As you care about your tea guests, you taste the tea you are making before you serve it, and sometimes, it’s just not right.
Here are some scenarios I have personally witnessed people fail to cope with.
Accidental Gong Fu: Too much tea and too little water.
This can occur in two ways. The least likely way is that you are tipping dry tea into boiling water, and you slip. Basically, you are doing it wrong. You should always add the water to the tea (except as mentioned in the third scenario).
The most likely way to accidentally Gongfu is to fail to put enough water in your kettle. You’ve added the tea to the pot, you are pouring the water in, and you suddenly come up short. Assuming that the water is high enough for the tea to brew, you have an issue.
Of course, the answer is to boil more water. But by the time that boils, you may have some overly strong tea.
So, if you have enough liquid for a cup for everyone, just use what you have (even if a sneaky change to smaller cups is necessary). Obviously, it needs less brewing time. But how much?
Unless you have a clear teapot, you have to guess. But here’s a trick: guess on the light side. You can pour the tea into a warmed vessel and check it. If it’s under-brewed, just pour it back into the pot for another 30 seconds.
And once you’ve made your tea, you can probably get a second infusion, even if it’s a Darjeeling or other lighter black tea.
Accidental Grandpa: You forgot the filter.
Grandpa-style tea is brewed without a filter or strainer. If that floats your boat, great. But sometimes, you might additionally go down that path. Either your in-pot filter was missing and you didn’t notice because you were kvetching to your significant other about the new OH&S rules at work that cut 45 seconds off of your lunch break, or you were planning on using a tea strainer that is currently missing/in the dishwasher/in the pocket of the coat you left at work.
If you have the pot strainer, great. Just pour the tea through it into the cups. If you have a fine kitchen stainer, that also works. Muslin/cheesecloth can also be used (slowly).
At a pinch, you can pour slowly with a fork over the spout, or only use the top portion of the tea and pretend there aren’t a few leaves in the cup and silently dare your guests to complain. Make it clear that the biggest bits of cake go to the best-behaved guests and you should be OK.
Underwhelming: Your tea is too weak.
You may have bought a special packet of tea, measured the required amount, added water, used your timer and for some reason, it’s just too weak.
At this time, forget all your moral high ground- “but I did everything right, so this is how the tea is supposed to be”. That is not what your guests want to hear when sipping basically tinted water.
Giving it longer is the best option, but keep tasting it to make sure it doesn’t go bitter. Decanting it, adding some more tea to the pot and re-pouring the liquid through is an option. Adding some more leaves when it becomes clear it’s not brewing is workable, but be careful of tipping them in as per “Accidental Gongfu”.
Overwhelming: Your tea is too strong.
Whether you added too much tea or too much time, whether the detailed instructions were wrong or not, you can deal with this by adding more hot water. If you’ve already poured it and milked and/or sugared it, then use a tablespoon to remove some from the cup and replace with hot water.
After all, this is the principle of a samovar.
Faux Pas: You only have teab*gs in the house.
What? WHAT? What is wrong with you? The ONLY reason to have teab*gs anywhere near your house is that some well-meaning but ultimately unsuitable friend/parent/sibling/significant other presented them to you ( as in “You like tea, so I bought you this pack of assorted teab*gs from Target”) and you are waiting a decent interval before ending the relationship via an intervention, emancipation, the courts or Facebook.
If you find yourself in that dastardly situation, the only thing you can do is break out your credit card, treat all of your guests to a great meal with great tea at somewhere expensive, and never mention the real reason you failed to serve them tea at home.
So, I hope that round-up helps.
Remember, you should always have good tea, good equipment, quality milk and sugar on hand (even if you don’t take them yourself) and be ready to put in the effort to make tea perfectly. And sometimes, it will not be perfect for whatever reason.
If you have to go down the worse case scenario of just making the tea again, the “wrong” tea may have a culinary use. Use instead of water in a savoury dish. Cook rice in it. Make it into a sorbet or a syrup.
Who knows? You might end up making it wrong again… on purpose.