To Press or Not to Press

While studying for my tea master certification we used the Chinese Gongfu Tea Ceremony as a format for tasting and evaluating tea. It taught me to appreciate the tea leaf with all of my senses--the feel, appearance, texture and aroma of the dry leaf, the liquor and the wet leaf. I have continued to prepare tea in this manner at every opportunity, especially at the monthly tea tastings I host. And you might say that I have become an insatiable leaf sniffer. Dry leaf, wet doesn't matter.  Put a pile of tea leaves in front of me and I'm going to sniff them.  I really can't help myself!

Now, I was not new to tea drinking by any means prior to my certification! I'm no spring chicken and I had been drinking tea for most of my life--albeit in the British tradition. I had been serving afternoon tea daily since 1983 and over the years had acquired a nice little teapot collection. However, I have to admit that I found the actual tea leaf to be a bit of a nuisance. I prided myself on using good quality loose-leaf tea, but before the removable mesh infuser what was one to do with those pesky leaves? They always managed to end up in my cup or hopelessly clogging the spout. (Of course, it provided me with the perfect opportunity to use my beautiful sterling silver strainer, but still......) And needless to say, my good quality loose-leaf tea usually ended up tasting rather bitter at the end of our little gatherings due to having stewed forever in hot water. And then, what a mess it was to clean the teapot! Leaves everywhere!

My new-found appreciation of the tea leaf and the Chinese way of preparing it was accompanied by a whole new array of tea utensils--kettles, scoops, infusers, timers, thermometers, measures, Chinese gaiwans and Yixing teapots, serving pitchers, Japanese tetsubins.  You name it, I bought it! Never again would my tea over-infuse. Not only had I discovered the Art of Tea, but it had actually become a science to me. For that reason until recently I was very much against using a French press for brewing tea. I love it for coffee, but not tea. Why? Because I am adamant about never allowing tea leaves to stew for long periods of time in the water.  In my experience doing so more often than not causes the tea to become bitter. Just pressing the leaves to the bottom of the pot doesn't resolve the problem unless you drink all of the tea right away or decant it into a serving pitcher ............ serving pitcher?........ Duuuuhhh! Not rocket science!  I've been preparing tea gongfu style long enough to have been able to figure that one out! (It sometimes takes me a while to catch on to the obvious.)

Now, not only have I discovered the tea press but it has become my preferred method for brewing small quantities of tea. My favorite one is the 12-ounce tea press from North Bank.  It’s just the right size for our nightly green or white tea ritual. It's really quite simple! Prepare your tea just as you would in any other teapot. I recommend having a warm serving pitcher or teapot at the ready when using this delightful little press pot. At the allotted time just depress the plunger and pour your tea into your cup. Any leftovers should be poured into your serving pitcher. The beauty of this method--as with any glass teapot--is that you can watch the leaves gracefully unfurl in the water as they magically release their essence. With each infusion the leaves open up a little bit more until finally they appear to fill the entire pot. You might say that this little performance has become the highlight of my nightly ritual. Actually (OCD that I am) it has become my new obsession!


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