Tea Steeping Innovation : Tea-bags revisited
- Holly Helt
I have bashed the tea bag for years. “Let your leaves dance,” I say…but I may have just met my match.
Chiki Tea has agreed to a licensing deal to open in Connecticut, and our partner rocked up with a box full of handmade organic muslin reusable teabags. My first thought was, “didn’t you read my book Green is the New Black which categorically says DITCH THE BAG!?”
These organic teabags are cute, I’ll give him that–but do they work? And why on earth would someone go through the trouble to clean out the wet leaves then wash it when a strainer is so much easier?
“Holly, people identify with teabags and beginners can understand it, so having a reusable organic one makes eco-sense and is friendly on the wallet. Once they experiment with Japanese tea, chances are they will elevate their taste preferences and with it, their brewing methods…but people need to start somewhere.”
I couldn’t argue against that point. He’s right. Let’s get folks sipping any way we can, and educate, educate, educate, as we go.
After this encounter with reusable teabags, I’ve been seeing many other ways to make tea.
At the O-cha Matsuri in Shizuoka, a company was offering a mock “Chemex” pour-over cone-shaped pot, which is designed for coffee, but they were steeping tea in the same way. The leaves were placed in the cone filter and water was being poured very slowly with a long-spout kettle just like most coffee houses in Japan. Interesting idea, but I just couldn’t get my umami on with this method. Mind you, I only had two samples and didn’t personally try the steeping myself so I might explore this idea down the line. It’s a fabulous looking thing, I’ll admit that!
Adagio’s IngenuiTEA, while quite a manly-looking device, is probably the most well-known tea brewing gadget on the market. You put the leaves in, add water, and when the steeping time is up, just set it on a mug or serving teapot and it releases the tea into the vessel. I bought one just to see what all the fuss was about. It’s fun and it works, but it doesn’t offer me the same mesmerizing experience of using a Tokoname clay pot and manipulating the leaves as I pour, slowing down if I see they haven’t fully opened. But I might just give it for Father’s day to my engineer dad.
One of the latest innovations to show up in tea shops in Japan is a glass teapot with a glass basket featuring thin lines cut vertically into the base edge of the basket. Upon first blush, you aren’t sure if it’s just a decoration or actual holes sliced through it. Initially, we thought the glass basket was a cute yuzamashi to cool the water and heat the teapot. But no, that didn’t work. You put the leaves in the basket, pour the water in and some of it leaks out into the main teapot while most of the leaves are in the glass basket infusing. When the steep time is up, slowly lift it out. This teapot is really adorable and is good for beginners who may not fully appreciate the levels of taste that can be produced by manipulating the leaves using a strainer-free glass teapot.
And finally, the one that blows my mind the most: a coffee house in Shibuya that offers green tea blasted through their espresso machine! That scares me but you can bet that the next time I’m in Tokyo, I’m heading there to taste it!
About Holly Helt
Holly is American and grew up in Japan drinking Japanese tea from age-three. She has studied two methods of tea ceremony, Urasenke and the lesser-known Yabunouchi, which has a direct lineage to Sen-no Rikyu (known as the father of the tea ceremony) ; it's also the school of practice for samurai. In 2012 she founded Chiki Tea - an online retailer of Japanese green teas, all sourced directly from small farms in Japan. Splitting her time between Japan and her home in Texas, Holly strives to bring the best teas from Japan to as many people as she can find to share in her life's passion.