The Perfect Tea

Apparently, I’ve been brewing a cup of tea the wrong way for decades.

A YouTube video showed me the error of my ways, but also got me thinking about whether perfect matters, and indeed, whether it’s overrated or even necessary for happiness. And further more, is it ego driving perfection or a necessity to always live above and beyond “good enough?”

Certainly one expects perfection in, say, open-heart surgery, or assembling a rocket ship to go into space safely. And in times past, I have been that person who wanted just the right seat at a restaurant, with food cooked and served just right, plus other idiosyncrasies. Eventually I learned such expectations were not only a waste of time but usually unnecessary indulgences.

So with a low expectation I watched this video, arrogantly titled “How you’ve been making tea WRONG your entire life.” I learned how to make “perfect” tea long ago, yet admittedly watched with an “already doing it right” attitude. BBC produced the video, and if any country knows a thing or two about brewing tea, it’s the Brits.

Well… sometimes if seasoned correctly, and with a nice cheese sauce, crow’s not too bad.

Turns out I scored three out of four on the “perfect steps” score but fell short on the final, critical brewing time. FIVE minutes they claim perfection takes? Been doing three minutes before these two Brits in the video were even born. That doesn’t automatically qualify me as being right (but adds geezer points, probably).

Being open-minded about such things (and serious about good-tasting black tea), I took the bait and ran some tests using a high-quality tea (Serendipitea) and my everyday tea (Trader Joe’s Irish Breakfast), brewing two cups of each, one at my sure-I’m-right three-minutes brewing, and one at the video know-it-all’s five minutes.

Lo and behold (cousins of everyone who thought themselves right but quickly informed otherwise by these two troublemakers) the five-minute tea tasted better! More full-bodied, more nuanced, more… teaness. Yes, more noticeable in the higher quality tea, but even Trader Joe’s everyday-affordable-tea-cuz-who-can-afford-the-good-stuff-every-day improved.

There are times this won’t work (as in, restaurants that continue to serve cheap Lipton tea, which I affectionately (not) call “powder and twigs tea”), but with good-to-great tea leaves, five minutes makes a better cuppa.

I propose the mystery is thus finally solved of why one of Alice in Wonderland’s more delightful characters is called the Mad Hatter. Clearly at some point he learned three is wrong, five is right, and the extra two minutes drove him mad with anticipation.

I commiserate with M.H. now, having tasted perfection and thus committed to losing an extra 12+ hours of my life each year waiting on the tea to brew… properly. Such madness is the cost of perfection.

3 thoughts on “The Perfect Tea”

  1. Ha! Gary, Neil has a cousin in Fort Collins, an anal perfectionist, who has always set a TIMER for the 5-minute tea brewing requirement. I always thought that was excessive. Since my tea habit runs to mint, lemon, rooibos, etc., rather than anything black or caffeinated, I just dip the bag until the water is colored, then leave it for another minute or two, and tuck the tea bag in a saucer for a second use. I’m sure that’s HERESY!! But c’est la vie . . . thanks for the amusing (and enlightening) post, though I doubt I will set my timer like Cousin William.


  2. I use a timer as well (helps on black, doesn’t matter on herbies, IMHO). Second use on herbals is really common! And sometimes I’ll even drink herbal tea leaving the bag in the whole time. Depends on the herbs, but overall, not a big herbie drinker. Hope you two are doing well! Here? F***in’ too cold, I say. This time last year I was in SoCal/Ariz in blue skies and shorts. Sigh.


    1. Well, it’s super cold here as well. 5° this morning. But on Thursday early morning, I will fly to San Miguel de Allende de for two weeks! 75° and sunny every single day. No rain this time of year.

      We are doing fine. And I have pretty much given up even decaf coffee for my herbal tea. No chamomile, though. It tastes like perfume! Happy steeping.


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