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?