seven tricks to fail at tea

How to make tea and fail gloriously.

That is exactly what happened. My intentions were noble: use the finest leaf, mimic every technique the Japanese tea masters used, and make the best Japanese green tea ever.

I crashed harder than a lead balloon.

Granted, I'm being overly dramatic. What I want to present to you today is a fond memory I have during my stay in Japan back in 2013. I was interning in Japan at Obubu Tea Farms for several months at this point. Having arrived in January I wasn't in the peak of the Japanese green tea season be any means. So I spent a few months converting a Kendo dojo into a tea storage  facility, touring to pottery events, and diligently recording as much as I could about tea. Most of this information came from talks in broken English with the local farmers and from Google translated tea manuals I found in the house.

I was more ready than anyone could ever hope to be.

If you thought the story couldn't get any better, well just read on. In order to make tea I needed tea leaves. Fortunately there were several rows of bushes in front of the house and across the driveway. I figured to make a small batch of tea I could do with a large cooking bowl's worth. This was my second mistake. Tea has a tendency to shrink at a 5:1 ratio once all the water is out so I was seriously miscalculating my required materials. Oh, what was my first mistake? Glad you asked. You see, being the ignorant intern I had assumed the tea field across from the house was ours. Why would it not be? The answer of course lies within Japan's land distribution. The field was if fact not ours. It was being rented by a farmer on the other side of town. The following failure in tea making is all thanks to my nimble thievery skills and poor calculations. Let us begin and be thankful I wasn't chased out of town by an angry tea farmer.

My one success was maintaining perfect quality control in the leaves. Look at them beauties.

My one success was maintaining perfect quality control in the leaves. Look at them beauties.

So I failed to calculate the right amount of tea. What I needed was enough to comfortably knead like dough between booth hands. What I ended up getting was about half of that. My second failure was that I chose the wrong field. My third mistake was the amount of time to harvest. The above batch took over an hour. With the sun setting I reluctantly headed into the house to begin the processing.

I was soon to realize how little tea I had and make my fourth mistake when I decided to split this pitiful harvest into seven small batches. I put the micro into microbatch that night. Doing this was incredibly time consuming. Not only did I not know how to make tea outside of reading in a book, I had none of the proper equipment. Enter failure number five, overestimating my ability.

Note the lack of a "steamed" tea. An entire night dedicated to making a sencha and I failed.

Note the lack of a "steamed" tea. An entire night dedicated to making a sencha and I failed.

My sixth failure came about when I realized I couldn't steam the tea and had to pan fry it. Setting out to accomplish this I ignored the need for a thermometer and was left to guess how hot the fireplace was. That's right, I roasted tea in a frying pan on top of a fireplace. I maybe a failure but at least I'm old school cool.

Let's just ignore that fact that I'm using my bare hands to fry these leaves and move on.

Let's just ignore that fact that I'm using my bare hands to fry these leaves and move on.

So how did my batches turn out? Not good. The leaves that I left to wither were much too bitter. The pan fried ones had an overly powerful charred taste to them. For the most part the leaves imparted too little flavour to be palatable. The did smell wonderful during the roasting. I'll give myself that pat on the back. If I'm to go a little deeper in my retrospect the main cause of my dismay could have resulted from my vigorous rolling step. Let's call this mistake number seven.

Rolling may have not been the most accurate of words to choose.

Rolling may have not been the most accurate of words to choose.

By now you may be curious to see the brewed leaves. I actually take an ounce of pride in this. The leaves look good. Again, this is all thanks to the quality control that comes with hand picking tea. Even the most haggard tea plant from the worst tea garden can give you a wonderful tea bud if you know how to pluck.

Below is a bitter brew that I drank with a smile. I may have failed gloriously that night. I probably should have prepared much more thoroughly. I obviously was too exited and rushed into the task without stopping to even make a list of what needed to be done. Is this the right way to go about things? Likely not. I could have been successful if I had done any of the above. Fortunately I was able to learn by my mistakes, by trial, and by error. So while you may not get the opportunity to hand make tea as a Japanese intern, you may encounter some eagerness and fail when you brew a tea.  Don't be discouraged, there is always a lesson to take away from it and correct later.

While it looks like water and taste like water it is tea. Its my tea.

While it looks like water and taste like water it is tea. Its my tea.