Monday, February 22, 2016

Tea complexity

I like tea.

Since I've started drinking tea without milk or sugar, I've become particular (some might say OCD, but those people don't care what kind of warm brownish liquid they pour into their mouths, now do they) about how my cup is brewed. I used to insist it had to be steeped for at least five minutes, but now I just pour my cup as soon as the tea bag gets wet.

My late grandmother used to drink her tea black and I couldn't understand why she was so fussy about how long it was steeped.

Now I do.
If tea steeps for very long tannins are released and it can become bitter.

The bitterness can be reduced with milk, and sugar will mask it.

So, for those of us who drink tea black, we may politely request the tea be poured as soon as one finishes pouring water into the pot or removing the bag quickly if making a single cup of tea in a cup (because we are too lazy to wash the tea pot and put it away after making one cup, okay? If you think that's horrifying, I once had someone [who will remain nameless for his own protection] make a pot of tea by throwing tea bags into his coffee maker and turning it on. [The second most horrifying tea incident was on a cruise ship where the attendant poured the pre-boiled water from the coffee maker into a paper cup with my tea bag in it.]).


Better quality teas can be steeped for longer periods, but if the tea came in a box of 144 bags, on sale at the grocery store, shorter is vastly preferable.

I also like Randall Munroe's excellent comic xkcd.

And I love his What If series even more.




In it, Munroe, who was an independent contractor in robotics for NASA began his comic in 2006 after NASA didn't renew his contract, uses his background in science to explain the probability or improbability of  reader submitted questions such as: What if we were to dump all the tea in the world into the Great Lakes? How strong, compared to a regular cup of tea, would the lake tea be?

Now do you see where this is going?

Um, no you don't. Trust me.

Well, I hope you don't know where this is going, because if you do, it means your brain is as broken as mine. Good luck with that. (Preposition, sentence, ending, blah, blah, blah...)

Where this is going is the International Organization for Standardization, which all the hip kids who are into standardization and international agreements call the ISO.

The ISO (see, I'm a hip kid. [My mom says I'm cool {No, she doesn't.}.].), is voluntary, non-government organization (or "NGO" [yes, I did air quotes when I typed that, it was really "hard"]) established in 1947, which develops standards for things as diverse as photographic sensitivity to light, anti-bribery management and the dimensions of bales of hay.

They also have a standard for brewing tea, ISO 3103:1980 Tea -- Preparation of liquor for use in sensory tests.

I KNOW, right?

Now, pick your jaw up off the floor, because there's more. The standard is CONTROVERSIAL! And, unsurprisingly, where tea is concerned, the British are at the centre of the controversy.

Nope, it's not about when milk might go in (it goes in first, of course, unless you're some sort of animal).

Nope, it's not about the temperature of the water.

It's about whether the tea pot should be warmed before brewing.

The Royal Society of Chemistry has an alternate standard How to make a Perfect Cup of Tea, arguing the teapot should be warmed before brewing tea, whereas the ISO standard does not require it.

I imagine all this being discussed with representatives of the ISO and the RSC at a very tense tea party held at a posh estate with fine china in peril as tea cups are forcefully returned to their carefully matched saucers, angry voices accuse other angry voices of barbarism, and behind a beautifully framed wall-sized mirror scientists observe and take notes.



Related links
International Organization for Standardization
ISO 3103 Tea -- Preparation of liquor for use in sensory tests [ISO]
XKCD What if
ISO 3103 [Wikipedia]
Royal Society of Chemistry - "How to make a Perfect Cup of Tea" (PDF). [Internet Archive]

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