Making good tea while travelling

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I am just back from a long absence to the Pacific Northwest. I went to Seattle for business, met tons of people there and then my family joined me and we had a little more than a week vacation between Seattle, Victoria and Vancouver. For those interested, you can see our pictures on Flickr:

Seattle:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/lbugnion/collections/72157604406125724/

Victoria:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/lbugnion/collections/72157621755064349/

Vancouver:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/lbugnion/collections/72157621765415383/

Being just back, my fingers are itching to start blogging again, but I thought it would be fun to start with a more relaxed topic, one that I have been wanting to write about for quite some time: How to make good tea when travelling?

Those of you who know me well know that I am a tea lover. I drink much more tea than coffee, and in fact I don’t have a coffee maker at home (well, I have one of these italian coffee makers), but I use it only when I have guests, really (or when I make tiramisu ;))

The thing that really keeps me pumping is tea. But not just any tea: I strive on great tea. And no, great tea does not always mean expensive tea (though I did, once, pay 60 USD for 100 grams of Yunnan tea…). But still, I just cannot take what they serve you in airplanes and most restaurants, which is basically just tea dust. It results in very bitter tea, almost undrinkable. As in US hotels, sometimes you cannot even find tea bags.

Portable tea “pot”

The solution is to resort to the Chinese wisdom, and to use an accessory that they, too, have been using for centuries.

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This “pot” is made of one main container and two lids. The first lid is a metal mesh, and the second lid is water tight. When both lids are closed, no water can escape the container.

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To make great tea with this device is super easy. In the morning, I add some tea leaves. Then on my way, I always find a place to get hot water. In airplanes, just add the stewards. In hotels, they sometimes have hot water cookers (especially in Europe), but in the US they mostly don’t, so you can just ask in bars and restaurants. Sometimes you get weird looks (I am not sure if some people think I am using drugs or what) but it’s also a nice way to start a discussion by explaining what kind of tea this is. Also, in offices in the US, you often have a hot water tap on the sink. Just make sure that this is indeed potable water, and that it is hot enough (at least 80 celsius, ideally around 90).

I bought my tea pot from the Mad Hat tea shop in Tacoma, WA, USA but I am pretty sure they can be found elsewhere too. It is a typical Chinese article, and super easy to find in Asia.

Drinking the tea

When the tea is ready, I simply unscrew the first lid, leaving the metal mesh, and pour the tea into one of these portable cups with a lid that you can buy from Starbucks. The capacity is roughly the same, so you can empty the “tea pot” into the drinking cup completely. This is actually very important if you intend to reuse the leaves during the day (see below).

Reusing the leaves

With some teas, you can actually reuse the leaves multiple times during the day. Often, the first infusion is actually not the best, because it tends to be stronger and more bitter than the following ones. Perfect teas to carry through the day are Oolong teas.

What teas to use?

The previous paragraph says it all, mostly. If you want to reuse the leaves throughout the day, prefer teas with large, mostly uncut leaves. This can be a white tea, certain greens, oolongs. Black teas are less suited to be reused throughout the day, and the flavor tends to fade after 2 infusions. With a good oolong, however, the flavor remains for 5, 6 infusions without any worries. And if you like white teas, you can infuse and drink almost like water, perfect for health!

Typically I take 2 or 3 different teas with me on trips. One oolong for the day, and two other teas for morning or evenings, to break the monotony.

Boiling water

If you want even more freedom to get hot water, you can do like I did and purchase a portable water cooker. These can be found in airports. It is very small and easy to pack, can switch between 115 V and 230 V (there is a small switch below the pot), and cooks the exact quantity of water that my “tea pot” can hold, so it is perfect. I take this pot with me mostly when I am away for more than 3 or 4 days.

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And sugar?

Even though tea purist frown on it, I do like sugar in my tea sometimes, especially in the morning. Finding sugar is very easy, any bar, Starbucks, hotel etc have sugar packs lying around. So it’s really easy to have some for your tea if you are so inclined.

I hope that this info helps you to become a travelling tea lover like me!

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