You know we love a good guest blog now and then. Geoffrey Norman, of The Lazy Literatus and Steep Stories, has graced us with some very helpful tips and tricks for the tea traveller! Happy Trekkin'! -Naomi
by Geoffrey Norman
I’ve been called upon by the ladies of Joy’s Teaspoon to give my two cents on how to tea while traveling. Although, I’m not sure what about me screams, “Seasoned Traveler.” I can barely afford to go downtown. On a weekday. Around noon. That said, I have done some minor road trips in my time and have tried to maintain my tea snobbery while on the go. These are – by no means – rules that are set in stone. People have their own ways of coping with cuppas while trekkin’. The following techniques (if you can even call them that) are ways I’ve found to make a decent cup while knee-deep in vagabond splendor.
#1. Teabagging. Hear me out. I’m not talking about the cheapo pre-bagged dust that you can buy in any supermarket. Nay, I’m referring to a special type that can carry whole leaf tea. Do-it-yourself teabags, if you will. Believe it or not, these are a thing, and – boy! – do they come in handy. If I hadn’t discovered these on a chance trip to the Stash Tea Store several years ago, my tea-ing would’ve suffered. The kind I normally go for are the Kotobuki fold-in teabags, but T-Sacs do the trick as well (and carry more tea). Joy’s Teaspoon also carries tea filters for just such an emergency. I haven’t used ‘em, but my overlords assure me they work. (“You can put the sword down, now.”) If this sounds like far too much work for you, I suppose you can buy pre-bagged tea. Just remember: If it’s anything less than a net sachet, you will be judged. I’m judging you. Right now.
#2. Finding Hot Water This is an easy one. Your first thought will likely be to pack your Breville One-Touch and heave it wherever you go. Not necessary. There is one thing that is ubiquitous, whether or not you’re traveling by land, sea or air, and that’s coffee machines. What do coffee machines have on them? Hot water spouts. Hot water running through the average coffee machine is 195F or hotter. Take it from a guy who has worked in the hospitality field (against his better judgment) for more than a decade. If you’re brewing black tea on the go, you’re set. Should you be chancing a green, white, yellow or oolong tea, simply pour the water and wait a few minutes for it to cool down. Or shorten the steep time. Gas stations, hotels, airports, kiosks, everything has access to hot water. And if they don’t…um…you must be out of the country. Good luck with that.
#3. Storing Your Tea This is a touchy subject, and I can’t say that there’s one clear, right way to do this. Larger tins are too cumbersome to transport and Zip-Loc bags are too unreliable. The safest bet is – strangely enough – the bag you bought your tea in. Chances are, they’re re-sealable and can put up with the rigors of luggage. If you don’t have any such bags on hand, investing in smaller tins is another way to go. The way I settled on was pre-bagging loose leaf teas and having them share one larger tin. Of course, that takes some forethought, determining how much one plans to drink on said trip. In the end, it’s a subjective thing. Just make sure to keep the leaves in a cool, dry place. Never leave them in the car.
#4. Tea Powder You can thank the Japanese for this innovation. Okay, technically, they got it from the Chinese, but the Land o’ the Rising Sun darn well perfected it. If you’re a green tea buff, then you already know of a place to procure powdered green tea. Heck, you probably even have the number of the nearest Asian mart on speed-dial. Aside from the fact that a good many of them taste delicious, they’re also useful in a travel bind. That and it doesn’t take very much powder to make a decent cup or pint of tea. Less than a teaspoon, seriously! If powdered green tea isn’t your bag…there are places one can purchase powdered oolong, powdered white tea, and powdered black teas galore. Just stay away from powdered pu-erh. It’s evil.
#5. Cold-Brewing I, personally, haven’t tried this, but I hear it works. The idea is simple: Collect some empty bottles, fill ‘em with water, stuff a filter with tea leaves in ‘em, put ‘em in the fridge, and pull the filters out in the morning. From what I gather, a good cold-brew takes up to six hours or so to infuse. I only have testimonials that attest to this. In the end, I suppose it’s up to personal taste, but a way to go if you want a DIY RTD. Another suggestion would be to fill a clear bottle with cold water, add a teaspoon of powdered tea, and shake it thoroughly. Same result. I have tried that to resounding one-handed applause.
#6. Tea-ing is Peeing The plight of the tea drinker: It goes right through you. I have not found the cure-all for the numerous bathroom breaks we tea drinkers must subject ourselves to. It’s the cards we’re dealt for drinking so much liquid – a diuretic, no less. I can, however, give some personal pointers on minimizing the frequency of trips to the loo. Always eat while you’re drinking tea. Or eat beforehand. Whichever. Food acts as a buffer between brew and bladder. I’m no biologist, but there has to be some evidence pointing to this. Something with protein in particular is a must, be it in bean, bar or…uh…beef form. Point being, you’re less likely to run to the John on a full “belleh”. Don’t drink [tea] and drive on empty.
7. Teaware This is perhaps the easiest tea tip of all. Travel mugs are practically their own business model. Coffee drinkers have been using them for years. We tea drinkers, however, haven’t had anything good for loose leaf tea, except within the last decade. Thank the times we live in for the sheer enormity of options. There’s LibreTea, AquaOvo, and the Eight Cranes Perfect Steeper, to name three. Many ways for steeping loose leaf tea in the comfort of your…car? Personally, I think the larger the containing vessel, the better. No eight-ounce travel cup for me. Hell no. Go big or go home. 16oz. or above. And if you can help it, get a clear one. Watching the leaves expand is distracting when you have an hour wait for a flight. Those are the only recommendations I have. I’m sure seasoned travelers have other tea traveling tips they could add. I love being enlightened. If you have any suggestions, leave ‘em in the comments. Unless they involve powdered pu-erh, then clearly you’re just wrong. Bon voyage!