Excursion: Tea Equipage for the Forty-Eighth Century

If you thought today’s post was going to involve science fiction, it’s actually quite the opposite.  Believe it or do not, but in actuality we’re currently celebrating the 48th Century of tea as a beverage. I’m not too keen on which archeological findings indicate it, but apparently evidence exists which demonstrates tea has been brewed (intentionally or otherwise) since the year 2737 BCE, or roughly 5~ish millenia back. It goes without saying that it’s a little difficult to wrap one’s head around that figure. At the dawn of Troy and the Minoan civilization, when the most advanced cities were Sumerian, and Egyptian hieroglyphs and bronze were going viral, the building of Stonehenge had recently begun and the total world population sat at no more than 30 million souls. And yet, during this most trepidatious period of pre-history, one industry (which has miraculously continued uninterrupted some mind boggling 4,752 years hence) was born in what we now think of as the People’s Republic of China. Of course I’m speaking writing about the cultivation of an herb eventually classified by Linneaus in 1753 with the nomenclature “Camellia sinensis”.

See, tea really is that cool. Now you know why I’m devoted to a lifelong study of the subject.

Obviously the ways we brew tea have changed a lot in the last 5,000 years though. Today I wanted to explore a few of the best post-modern tea implements money can buy, even if you know your budget could never stretch to it. It turns out that thanks to the immense response I’ve gotten to this blog, I can finally stop thinking about tea as just a passing hobby and justify the cost of these. Enjoy!

 

Ryobi Package by Jocilyn Mors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons License
Ryobi Package by Jocilyn Mors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

 

Ryobi Demo by Jocilyn Mors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons License
Ryobi Demo by Jocilyn Mors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

 

The first item I was able to track down on my shopping spree necessary tea equipment upgrade excursion was a laser gun thermometer. I had been coveting one of these bad girls for so long it hurts. Instead of holding a metal thermometer in a mug of steaming water waiting for the temperature to drop to the required level to brew a delicate tea, this brilliant device will give you the temp with one simple click. Just point and shoot like laser tag. Note: you definitely do not want to use this device for laser tag. >.> It’s a high class infrared laser that you should, under no circumstances, ever point at someone’s face. After asking a chef friend where they acquired their own, I found mine at Home Depot for $29.97 USD. I was embarrassed to realize I could easily have afforded this before now and all the nerve endings in my hands need not have been sacrificed. *sigh*

 

Salter Package by Jocilyn Mors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons License
Salter Package by Jocilyn Mors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

 

Salter Cover by Jocilyn Mors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons License
Salter Cover by Jocilyn Mors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

 

Salter Screen by Jocilyn Mors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons License
Salter Screen by Jocilyn Mors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

 

Salter Demo by Jocilyn Mors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons License
Salter Demo by Jocilyn Mors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

 

I actually spent the entire day searching for the perfect pocket scale. I wanted a digital scale that was not only extremely portable and uses easily replaceable batteries, but can also measure to less than 1 gram. It’s actually very challenging to find a scale that can measure less than a gram in a country where everything is weighed in ounces. I had considered getting this specially designed one from Upton that measures in Teacup units… but I can remember 2.25 g pretty easily (the equivalent weight in tea for every 6-8 oz water). Apparently I should have gone to Sur la Table first–they had several things I needed that were surprisingly affordable (including a thin glass teapot with a really excellent infuser and a tetsubin lid holder).

 

Perfect T-maker display by Jocilyn Mors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons License
Perfect T-maker display by Jocilyn Mors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Perfect T-maker Cleanup by Jocilyn Mors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons License
Perfect T-maker Cleanup by Jocilyn Mors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

 

Yes, I realize this is not the official name, but when I saw this i couldn't resist.
Yes, I realize this is not the official name, but when I saw this i couldn’t resist.

 

Admittedly I had held off getting this little “do-hickey” for quite some time simply because I’ve never trusted them. However, what with this being a tea blog, it actually does make good sense to review the now all-but-ubiquitous, occasionally ripped-off TeaVana Perfect T-maker for my readership (Yes, I realize this is not the official name, but when I saw the box above i couldn’t resist). If it doesn’t do what I’m expecting it to (and honestly my expectations aren’t all that high), I can just resell or donate it without a lot of worry.  TeaVana actually does sell one of these devices built from glass instead of plastic, and I’m a lot more attracted to the idea of brewing in glass versus hardcase plastic. Naturally, the glass version costs twice as much, but it could still be fun to do a comparison blog between the two before i chuck out one or both of them. But actually I have been pleasantly surprised with the results I’ve gotten from even the plastic infuser. My fears mostly derive from the fact that the bottom strainer is way too effective and removes too much grit from the tea, thus more or less annihilating the tea’s natural texture. Maybe that’s great for a lot of tea drinkers who aren’t interested in or wouldn’t recognize the point of tea grit, but obviously for the purposes of this blog I definitely want to maintain natural tea grit when I review a tea. Nevertheless, I’m going to be infusing a lot of teas with the Perfect T-maker for a while so I can generate enough experience using one to offer a critique. I can already tell that the Perfect T-maker has an issue with cleanup that is hard to combat.

 

Rikyu Blue Tetsubin with Cups by Jocilyn Mors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons License
Rikyu Blue Tetsubin with Cups by Jocilyn Mors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

 

Cheapest Tetsubin Ever by Jocilyn Mors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons License
Cheapest Tetsubin Ever by Jocilyn Mors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

 

Tetsubin are another necessary(?) accessory for the serious tea-snob. Over the past ten years I’ve gone through about six or seven different Tetsubin and currently have 2-3 usable ones. There’s historically been a lot of controversy about the utility of tetsubin given their tendency to burn delicate teas, but personally I still use tetsubin quite a bit for maintaining high temperatures when brewing Pu-erh and Tisanes (cast iron usually holds water temperature much better than ceramic or glass). I don’t brew delicate teas in tetsubin because i don’t need to. Tetsubin are also adorable and can be as artistic as pottery. xD However, tetsubin’s biggest failure so far in the West are their outrageous costs. In reality, tetsubin can be purchased cheaply if you know where to look. The second image above was taken at a kitchen and restaurant supply store in a local strip mall. The Rikyu tetsubin and cup set above I found at Home Goods for $30, which is a really terrific deal. The only issue I have with the Rikyu tetsubin is its lack of a bulb on top of the lid. I needed to concoct a lid-lifting method that wouldn’t burn myself, but i’ve done so before and I have a few ideas I can share when I end up doing a tetsubin review blog at some point.

 

Cuisinart PerfecTemp in Action is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons License
Cuisinart PerfecTemp in Action is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

 

Finally, the last piece of tea equipment I upgraded to was the Cuisinart PerfecTemp. I’ve never really felt like an appliance I purchased was something akin to “an investment” until this moment. The PerfecTemp is simply… brilliant. It basically takes all the guess work out operating an expensive tea kettle (eg. Zoujirushi or Breville), while offering the most comprehensive set of accurate temperature settings a tea fanatic could want. And please quote me on that. Thanks to the Ryobi mentioned above I can verify all the temp settings are accurate to within less than a degree F. I absolutely adore the fact this kettle has a 160 degrees option for delicate teas (the first I’ve seen), for which I have a plethora. I’ve often needed to brew to 175 F and then leave the water sitting with a thermometer in the measuring cup while i stand around for 8 or so minutes waiting for it to cool. This is also the first kettle I’ve had with a 190 F setting for Oolong, though that’s becoming more common to see on high end kettles. It’s been an enormous help since most everything I’ve recently bought from Upton and Eli calls for brewing around 180. Finally, the PerfecTemp has a button/setting for French Press at 200 degrees F. Of course I really have no use for French Pressed anything, but the fact that I can very quickly brew my Blacks slightly below boiling is really exciting. Quite a few teas I’ve bought recently call for 205 degrees, so again, this setting saves me an enormous amount of time and effort.

Apart from that, to my mind, the PerfecTemp’s ability to detach from its power source before pouring is a definite plus. Constructed of all stainless steel; with a refill lid one doesn’t even need to touch when hot; a terrific easily-replaceable spout filter; and a 3 factory warranty; the PerfecTemp’s price tag of $100 USD had me all-but falling down in the middle of Bed, Bath and Beyond in swoon.

After about a week of use, honestly my only pet-peeve about the PerfecTemp is the amount of time it takes to reach the 160 F setting. All other settings take merely a handful of minutes (you’ll barely notice), but if you’ve been brewing at or around boiling in order to cool to 160, the PerfecTemp simply stops heating and it’ll take around 15 to 20 minutes for the water to cool. I guess in a perfect world the kettle could have some sort of cooling functionality, but honestly it’d add thousands to the manufacturing cost and would be just one more thing to break down. Kettles like the Breville for which the carafe is made of glass no doubt cool faster than steel… but then glass has its own unique issues that make it less than ideal for everyday brewing. Although @ $250 it’s obscenely overpriced, I’ll probably be doing a Breville comparison review at some point this year or next… *removes glasses, pinches nose bridge, shakes head*

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