Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Shade Grown Tea vs. Shade Grown Coffee

I recently read a post by Sir William of the Leaf about Shade Grown Tie Guan Yin. This post also references Japanese teas, such as Gyokuro, which are grown in shade for part of their timespan. The shade results in a higher concentration of chlorophyll in the leaf, as the plant tries to adapt to lower-light conditions, giving the leaf a more intense green appearance.

I want to write this article to talk a little bit about the concept of "shade grown", as this concept exists and is frequently used by connoisseurs to refer to both coffee and tea. But these concepts are used rather differently, and it can be misleading to think that they refer to the same thing.

Shade-grown coffee:

Coffee is a relatively shade-tolerant plant; it naturally grows beneath a forest canopy in rainforests. In fact, it is so shade-tolerant that is able to be grown indoors as a houseplant, in northern climates without much sun. Here is my coffee plant:

Even though the coffee plant itself can grow in low-light conditions, it grows faster and produces a greater yield of coffee beans when grown in full sun. In most commercial coffee cultivation, the coffee is grown in a monoculture, in full sun, with just coffee, and nothing else. This practice results in a greater yield of coffee, but there is an ecological cost associated with this practice. Besides the perils associated with monoculture, which I have written about in an earlier post on monoculture, there is another problem, the total yield, in terms of the total biomass, the total productivity of the ecosystem as a whole, is much lower. Another recent post which ties into this is the one on the value of diversity, in which I explain that as a general trend, ecosystems become more productive as a whole, the more biodiversity they have. A monoculture may yield the most coffee, but there is a tremendous loss.

Shade-grown coffee is based around the idea of protecting this biodiversity. The growing of coffee can take many forms. In some cases, the coffee is grown beneath a canopy of trees which produce food crops, such as nuts or fruits. In other cases, the coffee is grown beneath a canopy of wild rainforest trees which are not harvested, and are instead just left to preserve biodiversity and ecological value. This value can be immense. As one small example, many migratory birds use coffee plantations as wintering grounds, and the value of shade-grown coffee plantations as habitat for these birds can be immense, in terms of protecting the population of vulnerable or threatened species. There's a great article about shade grown coffee and migratory birds on the website of the Smithsonian National Zoo. Wikipedia also has an interesting article on shade-grown coffee. Shade-grown agriculture in general, when carried out under a forest canopy, is one of the most sustainable forms of agriculture.

Shade-grown tea is not the same:

If you are like me in your love of nature, you probably got excited reading about shade-grown coffee. Unfortunately, shade-grown tea is not as exciting. When producing "shade-grown" Tie Guan Yin or gyokuro, there is no forest canopy. The tea is grown out in the open in a monoculture, and is grown in full sun for most of the time, and then at a certain point, a screen is put in place to filter out some of the light. While this produces a similar shading effect, in terms of producing biological changes in the plant, resulting in changes in flavor, it provides no additional ecological value, and there is nothing more sustainable about it; if anything, it may even be less sustainable as it raises the cost of production, and the additional sunlight is blocked rather than captured by other plants.

Shade-grown coffee rightfully carries a strong positive connotation of being sustainably produced and protecting ecosystems. Unfortunately, shade-grown tea does not deserve this same connotation. For this reason, I hesitate to call gyokuro or other teas that have been shaded by screens or meshes "shade-grown". I think a more accurate description would be "shaded". "Shade-grown" crops, in common use (everywhere except the tea industry) is associated with the protection of ecosystems and biodiversity by growing a crop under the natural shade of a forest canopy.

Other people are sticklers about terminology, when it comes to things like "herbal tea" vs. "tisane". I find that debate unimportant. The use of the term "shade tolerant" is more important to me because it has real ecological implications. I know that for some time, I was personally misled about gyokuro because I knew so much about shade-grown coffee, and when I saw the "shade-grown" label, I assumed that it meant the same thing, and I was sorely disappointed when I later learned that it did not.

Why can't tea be shade-grown under a forest canopy?

The short answer is that it can, and it already is. The tea plant is a remarkably shade-tolerant plant. Like coffee, the tea plant grows naturally as an understory plant, often under a closed canopy of other trees. Tea grows wild in forests, both naturally, and in areas where forests have been allowed to grow up over former tea plantations. I have had wild harvested tea, harvested from these forests, courtesy of Life in Teacup, and it is delicious!

Can tea be commercially grown under the shade of other plants? I don't know. It is possible that the tea plant is not as shade-tolerant as the coffee plant, but some gardening sources I've read have listed Camellia sinensis as having "excellent" shade tolerance. The source I trust most, Sunset, lists Camellia sinensis as tolerating "partial" shade, but Sunset is particularly conservative on its shade tolerance scale, and is oriented toward U.S. gardeners and many tropical areas have much higher total light levels (It also lists sugar maples as tolerating "partial" shade, and this is one of the most shade-tolerant of U.S. hardwoods). I'm not sure of the degree to which it is carried out, but I know that Makaibari Estate in Darjeeling, as well as numerous other tea gardens, plant trees in their tea crops to provide cover, nitrogen fixing, or protect against pests. However, pictures of these areas seem to suggest that the area is still mostly open and sunny.

Who would buy shade-grown tea, grown under a forest canopy?

Will truly shade-grown tea, grown under a forest canopy, ever become widely available? I have no idea, but I will personally say, I would love to see this happen, and I would gladly pay a steep premium for such a product. And, if it tastes anything like the wild-harvest tea from forests that I tried, I do not think we are going to be disappointed with its flavor either!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Teavana IPO

Marlena of Tea for Today, in her recent post keeping cool, mentioned something about Teavana selling stock, and I looked it up and sure enough, I found that Teavana is planning about an IPO. Another earlier article shows that this has been in the works for a while, although I just learned of it now. (Unfortunately, the Wall Street Journal has taken both of these articles down, so you can only view the headline and a brief excerpt on archive.org now) For those who are not familiar with the world of finance and investing, what this means is that Teavana is going to move from being a privately-held corporation to a publicly-traded one, like most of the world's biggest corporations, with a stock that trades on the stock exchange. It is doing this primarily to raise more money.

This would be the first publicly-traded corporation in contemporary times which is in the business primarily of loose-leaf specialty tea. I say in contemporary times because there is a long history of tea companies in the U.S., UK, and other countries. There are big companies like Unilever, which own numerous brands like Lipton, but there is no way to trade these tea companies or brands on their own. There are also publicly-traded companies, like Peet's, which sells both coffee and tea, or Starbucks, which owns Tazo tea but, similarly, is more in the business of coffee. In today's world, Teavana becoming a publicly traded corporation would make it a first of sorts.

How do you feel about this?

I have complex and mixed feelings about large corporations. They're not all good but not all bad either. I don't like the idea of a single large player dominating the market for specialty tea, but somehow, I don't think there's a very big risk of this happening.

One good thing I can hope for coming out of this is greater transparency. Teavana hasn't exactly been the most transparent organization. Being a publicly traded corporation comes with regulations and responsibilities. It will become more difficult for them to carry out sneaky deals out of the view of the public, like their relationship with SpecialTeas, which has since closed.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tea, Tea Party Movement, Texas Education Agency, and Web Searches

There are a lot of things that pollute web search results, or at least, make it more difficult to find what you're searching for. Besides tea spam, which I wrote about some time ago, websites that are about tea but are low-quality sites looking to somehow make a fast buck, there are legitimate entries clouding the search results.

What clouds search results for tea?

In the world of tea, the biggest of these is the tea party movement, a political movement that has nothing to do with tea. If you want to know what I think about this movement, I actually wrote a page about the tea party movement on Cazort.net, a site where I share writings about politics, religion, and other controversial subjects. But other entities also cloud the results...the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the Tennessee Education Agency (also TEA), or the Tea Collection a line of designer clothing for children that has, you guessed it, nothing to do with tea. Another "tea" that is so esoteric that it does not usually appear in my search results is the town of Tea, South Dakota.

Numerous tea bloggers have written about these various subjects which crop up in their searches. Katrina recently wrote a post Stop stealing my tea! which references an earlier post by lahikmajoe, anything but a Tea Party? And I'm sure I've missed many other great posts on this topic.

How to search effectively:

Fortunately, there are easy ways to filter out these unwanted search results from your tea searches. I want to offer a few tips of how to effectively search for tea, filtering out unwanted results, without overzealously removing legitimate results.

In google (which is used both for google search and google alerts, something that many tea bloggers and others in the tea industry use) and in fact on most search engines and even many local search features of websites, you can include a minus sign (-) before a word or phrase in quotes to exclude things. For example, I often search:

  • tea -party -partiers

  • tea -"Texas education"

Note that you might not want to search for tea -texas or tea -education because there might be relevant tea-related searches that include the terms "Texas" or "education" but do not refer to the Texas Education Agency. Sometimes I include the term -bagger, as a lot of anti-tea-party rants refer to "tea baggers" without ever mentioning the term "party" or "partiers".

These same principles are also useful if you are an advertiser who is buying pay-per-click advertising through a keyword-based service like google AdWords. In this case, the excluded words are called "negative keywords": they can help you better reach your target audience.

Filter your searches only if necessary:

My advice though is to not use these sorts of filtered searches unless they're necessary. People may write about an actual tea party, or there may be an interesting news item about tea on a page that contains the text "party" somewhere on the page, even if the page itself is not about the tea party movement.

If you're sorting through pages of irrelevant results to find one or two relevant ones, then consider filtering things out. But if you just see one or two irrelevant items in a page of highly relevant results, you're probably better off just skipping over them manually.

What have your experiences with irrelevant results in tea-related searches, alerts, or advertising been?

Are there any major topics that show up in tea searches that I missed here? Have you found any effective ways to filter your searches beyond what I mentioned here?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Energy Saving Tips for Making Iced Tea

There is a hot week in store for many parts of the U.S. this week, and I'm gearing up for more iced tea brewing this week. Currently I have two batches made for today, one an herbal blend of fresh spearmint, fresh lemongrass, and dried lemon verbena, and one a straight black tea, an English Breakfast blend. While many of us get ready to brew more iced tea, I want to share a tip or brewing method that I have found is very easy and saves considerable time and energy.

When I brew iced tea, I always recommend steeping a large amount of loose tea leaves (or tea bags) in a small amount of hot water, because the process of cooling water to make iced tea is both time- and energy-intensive. Then, you can dilute the concentrated tea to taste, to make a large batch. However, even if you are already practicing this method, there is an additional step that can save you both time and energy.

What is going on in this photo?

This is a photo of my kitchen sink. In this photo, I have already brewed the concentrated cup of tea, which I will later dilute. I have then poured this hot tea into a jar, which I have closed with a lid (this is important--otherwise the aroma of the tea can escape into the air). I then place the jar inside a large pot and fill the pot with cold water. Avoid using delicate or temperature-sensitive glassware--a quick hot/cold contrast can shatter some glass.

The cold water from the tap, which is typically well below room temperature even in the summer, rapidly cools off the hot tea to below room temperature. If you want to speed the process, you can let it sit for a couple minutes, pour off the water in the pot, which will have warmed up, and then refill the pot with cold water.

Now, after a few more minutes, your tea can be diluted with additional hot water, and chilled in the refridgerator, or can be poured directly over ice if you want to drink it immediately.

The benefits of this method:

  • Time-saving - Other than pouring the hot tea over ice directly (which requires a lot of ice), this is the fastest way to make iced tea--the water will cool much faster by this method than if you set hot tea to cool in air, or if you place hot tea in the fridge.

  • Energy-saving - By cooling the tea as much as possible before placing it in the fridge, you save considerable energy required to cool the hot tea to the temperature inside the fridge. The low temperature of the cold tap water is free, in the sense that no electricity or energy is required to cool it. Keep in mind also that making ice requires energy, so if you use this method so that you reduce the amount of ice needed to make iced tea, you are still saving energy.

  • Cool-saving - Whenever you save energy on refrigeration, you also save excess heat from moving out into your kitchen. A refrigerator simply moves heat--pumping it out of the interior and into the exterior, which is your kitchen. If your home is not air conditioned, you will enjoy the additional comfort of a slightly cooler kitchen; if your home or kitchen is air conditioned, however, this additional savings will translate into additional energy savings because your air conditioner now has less heat to remove from your home or kitchen.

Conserving energy is both valuable in its own right to reduce the negative impacts that humans have on the environment, and it is also immediately beneficial to you in a financial sense, by reducing your electric bill. This method will not only save you time and help you to get your iced tea quicker, but, if you pay for your own electricity, it will save you money as well, and regardless of whether or not you do, it will help protect the environment.

How do you brew your iced tea? Do you do anything in your iced tea preparation process to save energy like this?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mbomba Estate: What's in a Consonant Combination?

Recently I sampled Mbomba Estate BOP from Upton Tea Imports. It was a very inexpensive broken-leaf tea, but of surprising quality and complexity given both the low price ($4.40 / 125 grams) and the fact that the leaf was so finely broken.

One thing that I find amusing is that many people have an intuition that the tea is probably African in origin, just because of the presence of the unusual "mb" combination of consonants at the beginning of the name Mbomba. This combination may be familiar from names like the Kenyan-American star athlete Mbarak Hussein or the creator god Mbombo in the Kuba culture of central Africa. This tea is indeed African, from Malawi to be specific.

Consonant combinations:

Consonant combinations are interesting in that some of them appear frequently in some languages but are very rare in others. Mb is virtually unheard of in English at the beginning of a word, but is common in the middle of words. On RateTea, 48 of the listed teas contain the "mb" combination in their name, but only this one contains it at the beginning of a word or name.

Another fun consonant combination: "tl":

Another favorite combination of mine is "tl", which is uncommon in English, and much rarer in older Indo-European languages, but commonplace in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, and thus, in words and names derived from that or similar languages, like axolotl (a critically endangered species of salamander).

One of the few words in these older languages that contains the "tl" combination is the word "Atlantic", which comes from the same etymological root as Atlas (so those are not distinct words). I actually could not find any old words with this combination, although they start cropping up as contractions of sounds, around 1400...for example myrtus-->myrtillus-->mirtile-->myrtle as the word shifted from Latin to French to English. Do "tl"'s occur in tea names?

A strange coincidence:

Is it a coincidence that when you start in Europe, and cross the ocean named by one of the few names containing "tl", you arrive at a culture whose language is chock full of "tl"'s? These cultures supposedly had no contact during the time period in which the "tl" sound was assigned to this ocean. Possibly a coincidence, but strange enough to make me think.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Iced Teas of the Day: Pure Tea, and Herbal Blends

Today is a very hot day here in Philadelphia. It's currently 91, and the projected high was 96 but I see it's now downgraded to 94. I don't mind the heat, honestly, but I have switched to iced tea after a single cup of hot tea this morning. I have two batches brewed up:

Iced Ali shan oolong:

The caffeinated iced tea I'm drinking, the only true tea, is an iced A Li Son Oolong from Tradition, which is a surprisingly inexpensive whole-leaf Taiwanese high-mountain greener oolong. I have never made it iced, and I'm curious how it would turn out.

It's good, not my favorite iced tea, but good. One thing that is very interesting to me, however, is how different the aroma and flavor is of the iced tea compared to the hot tea. This is a tea that I normally brew with multiple brief infusions, although I have brewed it with a single, long infusion to compare. With iced tea, I make only a single, long infusion (this one was about 15 minutes--this is a whole-leaf tea with very large leaves, and it needs a long time to fully infuse.)

The result is a pale yellow-green cup with surprising opacity (contrasting with the very clear cup if brewing this tea hot--does anyone have a clue as to a scientific explanation of this?). The aroma is honey-like, with tones of wood. Much more floral, and with a lighter overall character, than when drinking it iced. Smoother flavor. It really tastes as if I have added honey, and I have not added any.

An iced herbal tea:

My other iced "tea" was an herbal blend, containing no actual tea. For a four-cup batch, I used two teaspoons of rooibos, two heaping teaspoons of lemon verbena, and about the equivalent of two teaspoons of dried lemon balm, which I had grown myself in my garden in Delaware. This is a similar blend to an iced tea+herb blend and an iced herbal blend I wrote about earlier. I have been refining it and I love this batch, but now I'm out of lemon balm so I'll need to switch it up.

Lemon balm is interchangeable with lemon verbena; I find the two plants are most similar of all the lemon-scented herbs, which makes sense as they are the most closely related, both being in the Lamiales order (which contains the mint family and the verbena/vervain family, as well as other food plants such as olive and sesame, and some favorite floral scents including lilac). I also have been buying fresh lemongrass, which is available at the reading terminal market, and have been experimenting steeping it fresh in hot water to make an herbal tea, which I have tried both hot and iced, and I hope to write more about that soon.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Why Loose Leaf Tea Is Not Refridgerated

I received an interesting question through the contact form on RateTea, which I thought would be interesting to highlight here. The question (which I have actually seen posed by others in the past as well) was:

Will tea (loose-leaf tea or tea bags) stay fresh better (longer) if refrigerated?

The answer to this question was interesting to me as it defies a certain type of intuition, but makes intuitive sense once you hear it. People generally do not refrigerate loose-leaf tea. Why? For one, it is not necessary. But refrigerating loose leaf tea, or tea bags, can actually cause it to spoil. Why?

Relative humidity and condensation:

It does not always happen (depending on temperatures and humidities), but the risk of condensation when refrigerating a container of loose-leaf tea is very high. If any water condenses in the container of tea, even a small amount, it will ruin the tea in a very short period of time. Tea keeps for a very long period of time when dry. Once leaves become wet, they spoil very quickly. Even a small amount of cold water will cause the tea to infuse into the water, changing its chemical composition and flavor...and then if the tea leaves sit, they will eventually grow mold and spoil. Even in the low temperatures of a refrigerator, this process will happen much more quickly (a matter of hours and days) than the long time-scales over which loose-leaf tea will stay fresh if stored in a warm, even hot, but dry location.

Condensation frequently happens when you move airtight containers into a refrigerator, because the amount of moisture that air is able to hold changes hugely based on the air's temperature. A typical refrigerator keeps the temperature around 35-38F (1.67-3.33C), whereas typical room temperature is around 72F (22C). Room temperature air holds around three times as much water before becoming saturated. Thus, if you have a container that is over 33% humidity, and refrigerate it in a typical fridge, condensation will probably form. If the humidity is around 50% or higher, or if the initial temperature is higher and the humidity similar, it is virtually certain that there will be condensation. And given that many fridges cool unevenly, sometimes even approaching freezing in some areas (at freezing the amount of water air holds is about 1/4th as much as at room temperature), the chance of condensation in some part of the container is even higher--keep in mind, only some small part of the container needs to form condensation, and the tea will then quickly spoil.

Why risk it? Refrigerating tea is not necessary!

I have added this material to RateTea's page on storing tea as well, which contains a bunch of other tips and resources on how to properly store various types of tea, including discussion of how long tea stays fresh, and how aged teas are best treated differently from most other loose-leaf teas.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

More Tea Spam: Blog Comment Spam

Following the theme of tea-related spam, I would like to address another topic: blog comment spam. This post is not much about tea, but I am sharing it because this problem is widespread on tea blogs.

What is blog comment spam?

Blog comment spam is a form of unsolicited advertisement in which a spammer, looking to promote their own website, leaves a comment on a blog solely with the intention of promoting their website. This usually happens in the form of the spammer linking to their website in the website field of the blog comment, and it can also happen when the spammer includes live hyperlinks in the text of their comment.

The spammer benefits by receiving free links (and thus visibility and traffic) to their website, which produces direct benefits of driving traffic to their site (often resulting in cash from advertising or sales) and indirect benefits of more links to their site, which can be factored into search engine listings. The blogger and the blog's readers are harmed because their blog now contains irrelevant comments linking to a low-quality website.

Search engines, especially the better ones like google, are pretty good at detecting spam, so it is unlikely that comment spam helps websites much from a search engine optimization standpoint, but spammers persist in these activities because they often result in measurable traffic to their sites, especially when they comment on high-traffic blogs.

Tips for bloggers to detect spam comments:

Blogspot, wordpress, disqus, and most blog commenting systems incorporate some sort of automated spam detection and protection. However, spam comments still slip through the cracks frequently. Usually they are easy to identify, but I find the following guidelines useful:

  • Spammers frequently use anchor text as their name when commenting. For example, you will find a comment from someone with "green tea" or "best herbal tea" or "supplements" listed as their "name". Genuine commenters will almost never do this.

  • Spammers will leave a comment that is only tangentially related to your post, but that do not demonstrate that they've actually read the post. For example, if the title tag of your post says something about herbal tea, the spammer might leave a comment that is about herbal tea, but it is a generic or vaguely general topic which could have been left on any blog post about herbal tea.

  • Generic complements or thanks from new and unfamiliar users are often a sure sign of spam. Posts like "Thanks so much for this post!" or "Wow, this is such useful information, thank you for sharing!" are favorites of spammers...they attempt to lure a person in to approve the comment by stroking their ego...but in reality these messages can be left in bulk by automated programs. Accept compliments, but only genuine ones...if the compliment could have been generated by an automated program because it does not reference anything in your post, it's highly likely that it was an automatic spam post.

The fine line between spam and legitimate commenting:

The art of spam detection is complex and not straightforward. Sometimes I receive comments on my blogs that I am not sure whether or not to publish. For example, I have received comments that have spammy-looking anchor text as the name, but the comment is intelligent and makes clear that the person has actually read the post, and leads to a high-quality website. Other times, I have received comments from a person who identifies themselves by name and links to a personal blog, and it's not clear to me whether their intentions were to promote their blog or to genuinely engage in conversation.

On the other end of things, I have occasionally had my comments on other people's blogs not published (possibly because they were seen as spammy) myself. I hope that I do not come across as spammy, but to be honest, I have sometimes commented on blogs with the specific intention of letting a blogger know about a specific page or resource that I have recently created or published. While I usually follow my own rules of etiquette, I understand that not everyone has the same set of rules, and I do not fault other bloggers for not approving my comments.

Tips for blog commenters to avoid being perceived as spam:

  • Don't take it personally if you comment sincerely on a blog post and it does not get published. It might have gotten erroneously caught in the blogger's spam filter. Or that user may have an overzealous view towards spam prevention. Or they might just not like your comment--I've had a few comments that were clearly not spam, but that I did not publish because I did not want the perspective that they communicated to be passed on to others. Spam is not the only reason that bloggers delete comments.

  • Use your real name, or at least a publicly established pseudonym, when commenting. If you use anchor text as your name when you comment, you're highly likely to be perceived as spam.

  • Read the blog post before commenting. Comment only if you have something intelligent or valuable to contribute.

  • Be cautious when complimenting or thanking a blogger that you have never interacted with before. I do this frequently, and I think it's a good thing to do...but make sure to be highly specific in your praises and thanks so that the person can be sure that you actually read, understood, and appreciated the post.

For more information, Wikipedia has some good info on their page spam in blogs.

Have you encountered comment spam, on your tea blog, or elsewhere? Do you have any further advice? Any thoughts? Anyone have a somewhat different view of blog comment spam?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The "Perfect Tea Timer": An Hourglass Tea Timer

A while back, in my review of the Random Tea Room in Philadelphia, I shared a picture of this tea timer:

Several people pointed out to me that they have seen this tea timer elsewhere, and searching on the web, I found that it is actually fairly widely available, so I decided to write my own post just about this timer, and the thoughts that it brings up.

My Impression of the "Perfect Tea Timer":

I originally remarked that the timer was very cute, but not the most practical timer. Why? I think its cuteness is self-evident, much like this bunny:

Why, however, did I say it not practical? I found several possible reasons for this.

A Noiseless Timer: Liability or Asset?

For one, the timer makes no noise and indeed, does not do anything particularly visible when time runs out. This, however, on its own, is not necessarily a bad thing. One thing I like about the culture and ritual of tea making and tea drinking is mindfulness. I find that taking a break from tea can help us get out of the fast pace of our modern life, and slow down by focusing our attention on the tea. This timer requires us to focus a bit of attention on it, periodically, to enable us to see the passage of time. There is something a bit more natural about this process to me, than the chiming or blinking lights of most modern alarms or timers.

Lengths of Time to Steep Tea:

The other reason that I find this timer impractical is that I regularly want to steep tea for a briefer period of time. 3 minutes, to me, is my "middle" time. If I am brewing a new tea that I have never sampled before, and I am brewing "Western style" (i.e. about a teaspoon of leaf to make a single cup with one infusion), then 3 minutes is the default of what I shoot for. But by default, this means that some teas, even brewing Western style, I will prefer briefer times for. An example would be most broken-leaf black teas, which I tend to brew for only 1-2 minutes.

If I'm practicing something closer to gong fu cha (I say closer to because I rarely actually properly practice gong fu cha, with the proper teaware and all) I will use much briefer infusions...1 minute would be on the longer side for a first infusion. When you get really good at brewing tea, you don't need the timer as much, but I find the timer is helpful both for learning, and for recording times so that you can share your brewing experience with others.

If I were to make a timer like this "Perfect Tea Timer", I'd pick times of 1 minute, 3 minutes, and 5 minutes. The times don't need to be exact; you can see that the sand is half out at half a minute, and so on. But it's tricky to see 30 seconds on a 3 minute hourglass. That's why I said that, for me at least, this is not the most practical tea timer.

My Closing Question:

If you made a timer like this to suit your own particular tastes and habits for preparing tea, what times would you choose?