Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mild Tea - Brewing Tea Weakly

I was in the Newark, DE Farmer's Market today with my friend Jen, and we were looking at fruit, and she laughed as I remarked: "I love smallness." I had chosen the smallest grapes available--today, red grapes--and was eyeing a bag of very small apples longingly. Later, I picked up some mini-bananas:

When I got home, I brewed up a cup of tea, pictured below. It was Upton's Shou Mei Classic Organic (ZW23), one of my favorite white teas. The leaves of this tea are large, and take up a great deal of space. Upton recommends using 2-3 teaspoons of leaf per cup, and even this amount does not produce a particularly strong cup. However, I chose to use only a little more than one teaspoon of leaf, as I wanted a particularly mild cup of tea. It wasn't until I started sipping the tea and contemplating that I realized that there was a strange commonality between how I had chosen to brew the tea and how I had selected fruit earlier at the market.

Shou mei is dark among white teas. While this photo makes this cup of tea look rather dark for a white tea, this tea normally comes out much darker in color, like a dark oolong or lighter black tea. This cup of tea was extremely mild, even outright weak. But this is what I wanted. I didn't want the largest piece of fruit, nor did I want the strongest cup of tea; instead I sought the opposite.

There was little flavor; the aroma was faint, and was earthy and suggestive of autumn leaves, which adds an element of congruence to the photo above. And like the lighting in the photo, there's not much about this cup of tea that stood out; it was highly muted, mellow, and with a hint of warmth, like the reflection of the lamp in the window and on the mug.

Why? Why brew and drink such mild or weak tea?

I feel like I could write pages about the reasons for brewing tea exceptionally weakly, and I hope to write more about this topic in the future. The current culture in the United States is, in my opinion, one that glorifies excess and extremes, and I think this is a shame. While people across America are drinking 20 oz. lattes with extra shots of espresso, I'm drinking a very weak cup of what was an extremely mild tea to begin with. In some senses, I may be brewing my tea weakly, and choosing to write about it, as an act of rebellion against an aspect of American culture that I find unwholesome. But outside this deviant streak in my personality, there are numerous other reasons for my brewing choice that come to mind.

One phenomenon I have come to appreciate is how the subtleness of the aroma forces you to pay attention more closely to the qualities of the tea. I find this promotes mindfulness, which in turn promotes both mental clarity and physical well-being. I also like the noticeable but low amount of caffeine in a cup of weak tea. Spacing caffeine out over a long period of time, I find, promotes a calm alertness and clarity of mind, whereas having too much caffeine at once I find makes me feel "off", and beyond a certain point, actually harms my ability both to focus and to relax.

I can also drink more cups of weak tea than I can strong tea. In the winter, and on cold, rainy days like today, I like to drink hot fluids continually; brewing weak tea allows me to drink a lot more. And sometimes, I don't have a clear reason; I'm just not in the mood for a strong cup of tea.

Try it out.


  1. No worries Alex - I'll make my tea stronger to cancel out your bad karma.

  2. That may push the universe in the direction of imbalance; thankfully, there are a number of people that will be brewing their tea with medium strength.