Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Match Made in China

As a business gift one year, my dad got a charming pair of Chinese tea mugs. We've talked about my tea obsession, which extends to all of tea's accoutrements, so it's no surprise that I promptly made off with the mugs. Aside from their homey looks, they also had a particularly utilitarian component. Each tall earthenware mug came with 2 additional items: a strainer that sits neatly in the lip of the mug, and a matching lid, which can fit atop either the mug or the strainer. The mugs are designed with tea for one in mind: put some tea leaves in the strainer and fit it in the mug, add hot water, and cover with the lid to keep warm. Later you can use the lid as a tiny plate to hold the strainer while you sip. The whole system is quite brilliant.

Except it didn't work.

Whether it was the heady Darjeeling I had brought back from London, Violet's magical wonderful perfect tea blend, or my exotic Gypsy Love tea with its pink rose petals, the shriveled tea leaves would seep out the holes in the ceramic strainer into my tea. They would get stuck in my teeth as I sipped, and what was supposed to be my serene tea ritual became jolting and unpleasant. Highly upsetting.

After initially being so enamored with the ingenious tea-for-one system, I now wrote it off as a plain old mug. The once-alluring strainers just sat in the cupboard, deflated and dejected. Until tonight, that is.

My parents just came back from a trip to China. They managed to get a little shopping done while there (which is to say, they came home with 2 more suitcases than they had left with), including a generous mass of souvenirs and gifts for my sister and I. They also had the opportunity to visit a tea factory, where a purported "Dr. Tea" schooled them on the benefits of green tea and on proper brewing techniques. So, among my stash of Chinese goodies was a lovely red box packed to overflowing with high quality green tea.

These tea leaves are like none I've seen. Vibrant green, long unbroken leaves that, in spite being dried, still seem like they were picked yesterday, and simply frozen in time. It occurred to me that maybe these brawny things are what my strainers were made for.

So, I boiled some water and let it sit until it cooled off the boil (per Dr. Tea's instructions), meanwhile filling one strainer with a spoonful of my green tea leaves. I poured hot water through the leaves and strainer into my mug, covered with lid and waited. After a few minutes, the leaves had rehydrated to a gorgeous mass of green, and when I lifted out the strainer, not a single leaf had sneaked out into my pale, pleasantly grassy tea!

So, basically, in spite their unpretentious appearance, my Chinese tea mugs are not useless, they're just refined. They don't waste their skill on any old tea leaf. Only the best for these guys.