The Zen of Steeping Tea

It’s the simplest of procedures. Put the tea leaves in a pot of hot water, or you could simply pour the hot water over the tea, and then you wait.

The amount of time to wait differs depending on the type of tea being brewed, but really, it’s not about how much time one has to wait. Rather it’s about the fact that one has to wait at all that’s key here.

In our hurry-hurry culture of immediacy, waiting for the perfect time for tea is the one brief respite in the day where nothing matters beyond the moment when the tea is done. The four to six minutes that one has to wait is too short of a time period to invest yourself in any other useful activity. Sure one could watch television or perhaps fill out an answer or two in a crossword puzzle, but these are but mere distractions. For during this time, only the tea is of any consequence.

If you pull the tea leaves from the water too soon, and it will end up tasting weak. Let it steep too long, and it will become bitter with tannins. The timing requires accuracy, but not precision. An extra 3 seconds will not ruin the tea. But an extra minute might.

For some reason, this meditative state upon time is lost when one uses a tea bag. The tea is done when it “looks” done. We will mindlessly bob the tea bag up and down in the hot water, and then compress it before removing it for good. Perhaps we will use it in another cup, perhaps not. With tea bags, there is an opportunity for a do-over if we screw up. With loose leaves in a tea pot, perfection is given only one opportunity.

Because of these differences in approaches in tea making, using loose leaves in a tea pot takes upon a larger, more meaningful “ritual” feeling when one makes tea. This ritual is insinuated with greater meaning than the process of making tea with a tea bag. When one speaks of the ritual of tea making, this contemplation on time and perfection is the subtext of their meaning.