Category: Brewing Tea

Brewing Tea History of Tea Tools and Equipment

The Bodum Assam Tea Press

Essay about the Bodum Assam Tea Press

Bodum Tea Press

A few years ago, when I was a mature student studying for my B A Illustration Degree, I wrote the following essay in 2011. Our brief was to describe a designed object in a museum collection. I chose the Bodum Assam Tea Press and I feel many of the observations still stand. I would really appreciate any comments and comparisons you may have about tea brewing implements of the past and present day.

fig-2The Bodum Assam Tea Press (fig.1) is located in the ‘Making the Modern World 1990 – 1999’ cabinet (fig. 2), Gallery 5 at the Science Museum. I find it is interesting that a teapot, which has a history going back well over a thousand years, is displayed as an innovative product of the final years of the 20th century in a museum of Science.

Is it regarded as an innovative product because of how it looks? Also, although displayed in a cabinet featuring products made in the past 25 years, does it maintain a respect for the rituals and traditions of our British tea drinking culture? And, is it an effective functional object that is relevant to life today?

 

 

fig-3

The physical structure of the Bodum Assam Tea Press

The outer body of the Bodum Assam Tea Press retains the familiar fat-belly shape of a traditional tea pot (fig 3) that has long since been regarded as essential for allowing space for the leaves to brew.

It is madfig-4e of borosilicate glass, a thermal shock resistant glass consisting of silica, alumina, calcium sodium oxide and boric oxide, which was invented primarily for industrial use. In addition to the glass pot there is a removable central plastic column punctured with holes except for the bottom three centimetres, and a vacuum plunger (fig 4). When this is depressed, the contents of the sealed-off base section of central column become isolated from the liquid in the pot. It was designed Carsten Jorgensen for Bodum, the Swiss glass manufacturing company.

fig-5Because it is made of glass, the Bodum Assam Tea Press “has its own inherent ‘decoration’ – the beautiful colour of the tea seen through the glass”(a). The audience can participate in the thrill of watching the dry leaves unfurl and the colour of the liquor intensifying as it brews (fig 5).

 

How its design was influenced by earlier makers


It is worth noting the similarity and influence of the teapot (fig. 6), designed by Wilhelm Wagenfeld in fig-61932 for Jenaer Glaswork Schott and Gen, a revival of which was also marketed by Bodum in the early 1990s. Likewise it can be seen that Jorgensen’s Teaball teapot (fig. 7), described as being of ‘beautiful simplicity and excellent materials for everyday life’(b), is highly evocative of Marianne Brandt’s silver tea infuser (fig 8). fig-7Both endorse the influence of Modernism on Jorgensen’s work.  In addition, the clean, almost perfect spherical tea pot shape with the pared back spout reflect ‘the smooth surfaces and pfig-8recise geometric shapes associated with the International Style that continued to surface in new examples of aesthetic purity in design’(c) of the late twentieth century.

 

 

The beauty and ceremony of the Bodum Tea Press


Being made of glass, The Bodum Assam Tea Press fulfils our fascination with the visual aspects of tea brewing whilst the ‘engineered’ look of the central perforated brewing chamber intimates a forthcoming sense of theatre and the ceremony of brewing tea.

Picture 643

This sense of ceremony was highly important when tea was first arrived in Europe and England in the middle of the seventeenth century. It was a highly expensive and sought-after luxury enjoyed only by the fashionable rich elite strata of society. You can still see contemporary portraits (fig 9, right) of families drinking tea.

These paintings were an important indicator of status and high fashion. The expensive tea paraphernalia: tea pot, sugar bowl, kettle, slop bowl, and delicate tiny tea cups, often made of silver, delicate porcelain and later bone china, were equally important for the sense of occasion, the tea often only being drunk perhaps once or twice a week.

 

Social status or intellectual prowess?

Today the emphasis of the ceremony has shifted from the social status of the hostess pouring the tea, to the intellectual status of the teapot owner. His ownership signifies his superior knowledge of high quality (and no doubt expensive) tea leaves. The contents of the pot are on display, indicating a high quality leaf and quite unlike the opaque bag containing an unknown, invisible tea dust (figs 10 & 11) that is consumed by more than 90% of the UK’s black tea drinking population.

 

fig-10-11-in-one-image-for-blog-post

We then come to the functionality…


The Bodum Assam Tea Press’s most prominent feature is the central filter system. In a comparison about tea pots, Robin Harrison, the then chairman of the Tea Brokers’ Association and director of Thompson, Lloyd & Ewart tea brokers, said: “The ability to isolate the tea leaves from the liquor easily was a serious advantage over the others (teapots). It prevented the tea stewing”(d).

Another benefit of this teapot is its lightness and its strength, both features being due to being made of glass. With its 1.5 litre capacity it is possible to make a large quantity of tea that can sit until required without stewing. The full pot can also be lifted with ease using one hand by the person pouring the tea. With the transition of the twentieth century we no longer embrace the ‘Victorian values of display’ and when ‘the availability of cheap servants enabled formal rituals of eating and organised leisure to develop in the home’(e). The pot is designed to hold a high volume of tea thus eliminating the need to go back and forth to the kettle to make a new brew.

The one area of functionality that Jorgensen did not improve in terms of efficiency was the cleaning after use. We no longer have the cheap servants and ‘someone’ has to empty the leaves out of the narrow chamber, a fiddly exercise that uses copious amounts of water to rinse them out and clog up the sink drain because , after use the leaves are no longer controlled, the brewing function being over. I find this too onerous for everyday use. Perhaps here we have a case of style over function.

In conclusion …..

Jorgensen has created a product that has strong visual intrigue and also respects the importance of brewing techniques. I feel it has been designed by a man for men and certainly to this end you can find it in John Lewis and Selfridges department stores costing between thirty to fifty pounds (depending on the materials used for the internal filter column). It is one of those household products that are ‘not only functional but pieces of sculpture – true objects of desire’(f). It will probably sit alongside a Philippe Stark orange squeezer and Nespresso coffee maker.

Sadly I fear the desire of a cup of delicious tea is limited. Society is now driven by the need for instant gratification, which a tea bag provides; instant colour in the cup and the flavour is almost irrelevant. The art of making good tea is being forgotten and is no reflection on the Bodum Assam Tea Press. It is down to our inability to wait for a mere four minutes to create the perfect brew.

Do you have any questions about the Bodum Assam Tea Press or anything else around the use of tea pots today? Perhaps you have other questions that relate to English tea drinking culture, both past and present? Please let me know. Every question sets me off on another quest!

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Bibliography:

Picture descriptions:
Fig. 1. Bodum Assam Tea Press, courtesy of the Science Museum Picture Library, London.

Fig. 2. Bodum Assam Tea Press in the cabinet entitled Making the modern World 1990 – 1999, Gallery 5, Science Museum, London.
Fig. 3. Brown Betty teapot.
Fig. 4. Bodum Assam Tea Press. Picture courtesy of the Science Museum.
Fig. 5. Bodum Assam Tea Press. Filled with tea to illustrate the colour change as it brews.
Fig. 6. Image of tea pot manufactured by Jenaer Glaswerke Schott & Gen, 1932. Designer: Wilhelm Wagenfeld. Materials: Borosilicate Glass.
Fig. 7. Assam Teaball tea pot by Bodum 1998. Stainless steel, Bronze and Plastic. 1.5 litre capacity tea pot for use with loose tea leaves, made in Germany, designed by Carsten Jorgensen. Image from Power House Museum Collection, Sydney, Australia.
Fig. 8. Silver and Ebony tea infuser. Designer Marianne Brandt, 1924. British Museum London. Twentieth Century Gallery.
Fig. 9. The Tea Party, early 18th century. This painting attributed to Richard Collins, hangs in the Goldsmiths’ Hall, London.
Fig 10. Dry tea leaves: Loose leaf early season darjeeling leaves on the left. Contents of darjeeling teabag on right.
Fig. 11. Wet tea leaves after brewing: Loose leaf early season darjeeling on the left, the leaf is clear to see having now unfurled. On the right we have the brewed teabag leaves, difficult to identify as being tea leaves.

Primary Sources:
– Science Museum, London. Ground Floor, Gallery 5, cabinet entitled “Making the Modern World 1990 – 1999”

– John Lewis Department Store.
– British Museum.

Secondary Sources and footnotes:
(a) Heath, Adrian, Heath, Ditte, Lund Jensen, Aage, 300 Years of Industrial Design, Function, Form, Technique 1700 – 2000, Herbert Press, London 2000. p261.
(b) Production notes, Teaball teapot, Powerhouse Museum Collection, Sydney, Australia.
(c) Raizman, David, History of Modern Design, Laurence King, London 2003. Design in Context: An Act of Balance p364.
(d) Metzstein,Ruth, One for the Pot, How do new types of teapot compare with the round-bellied pot our grandmothers used? Our panel finds out. Independent on Sunday, 3rd September 1995.
(e) & (f) McDermott, Catherine, Twentieth Century Design, Design Museum, Carlton, London 1997.

Brewing Tea History of Tea Tools and Equipment Types of Teas

Captivated by Jean-Etienne Liotard’s ‘Still Life: Tea Set’

Tea making paraphernalia

Jean-Etienne Liotard - Still Life Tea Set
Still Life: Tea Set,  1781-1783,  Jean-Etienne Leotard (Swiss, 1702-1789), Oil on canvas mounted on board. J Paul Getty Museum, Getty Centre, Museum South Pavilion, Gallery S203.  

I have quite fallen in love with this painting, which I only discovered recently in my continual quest to clarify the question,  ‘How and why is tea regarded as an English drink?’ For me this picture oozes sensuality that embodies the mystery and magic of Cathay, the country from which the tea has travelled. I just want to touch the delicately decorated porcelain and know more about the tea party that has just taken place.

What is it that we see in this picture?

We have a painted tole tray placed on a table. On the tray, the porcelain is decorated in the Chinese style (chinoiserie). There is a round bellied tea pot, a tea caddy, a lidded jug (either for milk or hot water), a bowl containing lumps of sugar, a plate containing some bread and butter, six tea bowls and saucers, and a large slop bowl into which any spent leaves can be placed. Each tea bowl and saucer has its own silver spoon and and there is a pair of silver sugar tongs sitting on the sugar bowl  to serve sugar into each cup.

What can I tell, just from looking at what is on display?

The delicate porcelain is likely to be European made and painted with what was perceived as Chinese imagery and fuelling our image of Cathay, “..… a continent of immeasurable extent lying just beyond the eastern confines of the known world. Of this mysterious and charming land, poets are the only historians and porcelain painters the most reliable topographers. …..  Even if creating the delicate porcelain in ‘the known world’ , the magical exoticism of the East was still highly aspirational.

The delicate pale colour of the tea is worth noting; a delicate Chinese tea, possibly green or oolong. It looks a delicate elixir that I long to taste. The richly dark tea that is now regarded as being English tea is really Indian or Ceylon in origin and did not appear in Europe before the 1840s and only exceeded the  volume  of China tea sales by the 1890s.

The tea bowls have no handles and, as far I can see and would expect, the saucers have no indent shape for the cup. The European tea sets of this period were likely to be made in sets of twelve tea bowls (that later had a handle attached), twelve coffee cans and twelve saucers that could be used for either. It was not anticipated that tea and coffee would be served at the same time. **

The plate of bread and butter is another point of interest. I have found this bread and butter plate appearing in paintings relating to tea drinking as early as 1720 and, having read numerous Nineteenth Century housekeeping and cookery books, there is evidence that suggests that bread and butter was served alongside tea as to drink tea without any food might be injurious to health. I have found we English were slightly obsessed with bread and butter, serving this alongside sandwiches or toast, muffins or tea cakes! But that is a topic for a blog post all on its own.

Do we know anything about the tea party guests?

This picture depicts the end of the party – there is a general sense of disorder and mess however there is also a display of (English) tea drinking etiquette of the period. Some cups have been turned upside down or alternatively the spoons have been placed in the tea bowl. These actions both indicate that the guest no longer wish to be served any more tea – they know how to demonstrate this to their host without either person having to say anything. Even though no people are in the picture the owner of the picture would have known the messages being transmitted; sophistication, refinement and knowledge of polite behaviour.

How can we relate this to today’s drinking etiquette?

There are still echoes of this opaque behaviour today. You wait until your hostess offers you the tea (or the second cup of tea). If she forgets to serve you (people could sit, not saying a word until the hostess notices her error) it would almost be impolite to highlight her ‘impolite’ behaviour. Being direct is not the English way – rituals are played out with coded behaviour such as turning the cup upside down or putting the spoon within the cup. In the same way, if someone offers you something on the tea table such as the jam or some milk, make sure that you offer it back to them – their offer to you might be an indirect request.

What tea should you consider drinking to capture the magic of this picture?

Newby's 100g Gourmet Caddy - Prime DarjeelingMy modern day favourite would be a delicate darjeeling. I recommend Newby Teas Gourmet Darjeeling (pictured right). I like the fact this mainly a second flush Darjeeling which almost has more flavour than a first but if it is an early season picking then you get the very delicate Muscatel taste. Newby is what I call a risk taker in the world of tea in that they trust their judgement in finding you good teas rather than relying on the latest tea selling trends – most tea companies now are selling early season single estate first flush Darjeelings and sometimes these can be a little thin on flavour.

The Newby Prime Gourmet tea is not cheap at £48 for 100grams (at time of writing) however it is good value. It comes in a caddy and is vacuum packed sealed for freshness.

I brewed the Newby Prime Darjeeling tea using water off the boil, around 90 degrees (although technically this is classed as a black tea, and usually boiling water is recommend, this would just scorch the very delicate leaves). Just a glorious nectar-like flavour and I can visualise the taste of when looking at Jean-Etienne Liotard’s painting.

I  offer tours around the Victoria and Albert Museum to show how Chinoiserie and tea, the drink of Cathay became embedded in British life – I’d love you to join me if this is something you would like to learn more about.


Chinoiserie, The Vision of Cathay, Honour, Hugh, 1973, John Murray, London, p5.                                 ** A Cup of Tea, An Afternoon Anthology of Fine China and Tea Traditions, Geraldine Holt, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1991, p16.

Brewing Tea Reviews Tools and Equipment Types of Teas

Tea Review: The Tea Makers, London

Review of tea from The Tea Makers, LondonCaroline Hope Review of The Tea Makers

A few weeks ago I was sent a sample pack of teas to review from The Tea Makers of London. If you are thinking of buying anything tea-related for Christmas, their website is well worth a look – they have some beautifully presented products and a wide variety of teas. I asked my friend, Hugo to come and help me with the tasting as he is passionate about different teas, drinks and food. (He once presented me with a gift of smoked eel from his travels, for which I don’t think I was very grateful !). Here is our verdict…

Tea Tasting - The Tea Makers
My friend Hugo smelling the aroma of  the tealeaves

Tea Types

A box duly arrived containing three teas, along with an unusual Tea infuser in which to brew the tea.

The three teas and infuser were:

For all three teas, I used freshly boiled water (100 degrees) and water straight from the tap. All three teas were brewed for 4 minutes before separating the leaves from the liquor. Here are our thoughts…

The Tea Makers DarjeelingDarjeeling House Blend

We both liked this. It had a pale, lively looking liquor and the leaves had a grassy, lemony aroma. The tea was soft, or smooth on the tongue with a slightly astringent finish. It has the typical floral sweet aroma of a good Darjeeling. I have also given this to other people and they have commented how nice it is. I would anticipate it is a blend of first and second flushes and recommend drinking this tea without milk.

 

 

 

The Tea Makers English BreakfastEnglish Breakfast

I noted this was a blend of 100% Ceylon teas, which I found interesting. English Breakfast is traditionally a blend of Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan teas in varying proportions according to the tea merchant. I was interested to see if this tea would deliver a similar punch. I felt the dry leaf was very dark in colour, almost inky black and looked quite ‘skinny’. According to Hugo “….. the wet leaf was very dark and had an agricultural aroma”. The liquor had a caramel colour and, despite not being as heavy as some English breakfast blends, it still packed a good punch to get you going in the morning. I would suggest serving this with milk. It is typical of what is perceived today as a ‘British’ tea.

The Tea Maker's Luxury Ceylon PekoeLuxury Ceylon Pekoe

This was an interesting looking tea. The dry leaf had a greeny/grey hue and was rolled, presumably by hand, to almost look like some Oolong teas I have had. The brewed liquor was quite orange in colour, you could feel the tannins on the tongue, and it had a certain muddiness in taste – hints of puerh. For me, this was an unusual tea for Ceylon.

 

The Magic Infuser

The Magic Infuser from The Tea MakerYou can brew the tea in the infuser as you would a glass tea pot, and you gain a sense of theatre as you watch the leaves change colour.

Once the tea is brewed you then place it over a mug or small pot and the liquor is released into the receptacle, leaving the spent leaves behind in the receptacle. For me, this is a tad gimmicky and I don’t find it an attractive looking object. It is made of plastic, so could be subject to staining in time. I also feel it does really retain the heat well enough during the brewing process for a black tea. The volume at 500ml is really suitable for 2 mugs and switching from one mug to another takes a bit of practice. Possibly it is more suited to brewing green or oolong teas that don’t require boiling water. There is no reason also why you could not rebrew the (green/oolong) leaves.

Overall View

I think The Tea Makers are well worth a look to buy some unusual teas this Christmas – one of my students on the City Lit tea tasting course ordered a lot of their sampling packs and was very pleased with what she received. They also do the tea pyramids or Trianes, superior large tea bags in which you can see the large leaves unfurling.

Thank you to Tea Makers of London for the opportunity to write a review of their teas. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.

Brewing Tea Ingredients Types of Teas

Resources for your tea making, selection and enjoyment

Caroline Hope shares her tea sources

This is a list of resources that I normally share with anyone who comes along to any of my tea workshops, tastings, courses or demonstrations. You may find them helpful in your tea journey:

Places to buy good quality tea:

Screenshot 2015-11-23 14.23.53Probably the most well known tea merchant in London, Fortnum and Mason  have an excellent selection of high quality teas from a Puerh block of tea costing £3,000 down to the humble breakfast blend. All taste is catered for here. There is excellent advice from the staff about brewing techniques for each tea that is practical and not too faddy. They are happy to show you the different high grade leaves before you buy. I would recommend them for the special teas more than the every day ones.

Mariage Freres at SelfridgesMariage Freres at Selfridges (400 Oxford Street, London). This French company now have a concession in the basement in Selfridges. I found the tea buying experience quite different as all the staff are French and have very clear views on how all the teas should be brewed i.e. using water heated to 95 degrees for all their black teas which I found quite surprising. It is worth remembering that each nation has a different palate and how they enjoy their tea though. I did buy some excellent first flush Darjeeling here and again there is an opportunity to see and smell the leaves before you buy.

Newby Teas LondonNewby Teas (offices located at 105 St John Street, London EC1M 4AS;  Telephone 020 7251 8989). I worked for this company for some time and my appreciation of tea really came about during my time here. Excellent quality tea and very importantly the packaging of the tea is treated with equal respect. All their loose leaf tea is supplied in vacuum packed foil bags so it does not really age. It is possible to buy their loose leaf teas by mail order. A small selection of high quality loose leaf silken pyramid bags can be found in Waitrose. Really excellent superior ‘every day’ Darjeeling (first and second flush blend), and similar quality Assam, English Breakfast and Earl Grey. Excellent website for purchasing tea.

Postcard TeasPostcard Teas located  on Dering Street, (off Bond Street) London W1S 1AG (Tel: 020 7629 3654). Owned by an English husband and Japanese wife team, the focus in the shop is on very high quality delicate teas, early season Darjeelings, Chinese and Japanese teas. This shop has a far more oriental feel.

Rare Tea Company
The Rare Tea Company (tel: 020 7681 0115) have a small selection of very fine, mainly Chinese teas. Sold mainly by mail order and top end supermarkets. Henrietta Lovell owns the company – she calls herself the Tea Lady.

 

Canton Tea CompanyCanton Tea Company (tel: 0844 4176363) – another company specialising in high quality rare teas – many from China and Japan.

 

Twinings tea Twinings (on 216 Strand, London, WC2R 1AP) is the most ‘English’ of tea companies, their history can be recorded back to the early 18th century. They have a tiny little shop just off the Strand with a large selection of teas that are of a far higher quality than those found on the standard supermarket shelf. The quality varies from a selection of top end teas to a wide range of cheaper teabags – the shop is charming and has many teas to choose from.

Algerian Coffee ShopThe Algerian Coffee Store (address: 52 Old Compton St, London, W1D 4PB, tel: 020 7437 2480). This company has been strongly recommended to me by a student on a tea tasting course I gave at City Lit. It is always worth remembering that Coffee Houses traditionally sold tea along with a variety of other products including tea – however always known as coffee houses.

Remember you can also follow me

I have a Facebook Page and am on Twitter – so please do join me there and ask me any questions you may have. I blog about all sorts of subjects related to baking, preparing and hosting an Afternoon Tea as well as preparing the perfect cup of tea  – and contact me with any questions about English tea drinking customs.

Brewing Tea Types of Teas

My 10 Top Tips For Making a Perfectly Delicious Cup of Tea

Nowadays we are so inundated with choice and, in looking recently at the food halls in John Lewis, I thought “How on earth can anyone tell, when faced by a bank of beautifully packaged cartons which teas were going to taste good or not?”  It almost feels a bit like looking at endless rows of wine.

But, for me the answer to this question has two easy parts:

The first – just keep buying and tasting different teas until you find those that you like – ideally you will trust the brand you like.

The second – is to brew your tea with care.  A cheap tea made properly will taste far better than a high quality tea made badly.

I don’t know about you, but I do not have the patience to use kettles with thermometers and Caroline pouring teagetting things ‘just so’. However there are certain key rules to follow that will definitely make a difference to how your cup will taste. I honestly believe (and have tested) that the following points do indeed make the difference. (And yes in my tea lab (i.e. kitchen) I have tested both black and green teas using boiling hard and soft water and off-the-boil hard and soft water.)

So, here are my tips for Black Teas:

TIP 1: The tea will taste best using freshly boiled water with a  pH balance of 7 or above.

The ph balance increases the harder the water (with a higher calcium and magnesium content). (The famous Mrs Beeton even recommends putting a pinch of bicarbonate of soda in with the boiling water – at first I thought this most odd but realise it would make the water more alkaline.)

TIP 2: Ensure that you only boil your water once.

If you repeatedly boil water that sits in the kettle, then cools and is then reboiled, you will lose the oxygen.

TIP 3: Make sure that your water does reach boiling point (100 °C) and then pour straight into your (ideally) warmed cup or tea pot.

If you heat your pot prior to pouring in the boiling water the leaves will brew at a higher temperature than in a cold pot.

TIP 4: Don’t use continuous hot water taps or large urns.

The water is usually just below boiling otherwise it would be bubbling away. If your water is not boiling the tea will taste flat and lifeless.

TIP 5: Use a good quality tea or a good quality tea bag– it does make a difference.

If you like a strong robust cup of tea try a high quality Assam that has the malty richness that can be diluted with milk if appropriate but lacks the harsh tannic that leaves a ‘rough’ taste in the mouth.

TIP 6: Brew your tea long enough for the flavour to infuse into the boiling water (read this with Tip 7.)

TIP 7: Understand the type of tea you are drinking

If you like a delicate fragrant tea you are probably not going to like a strong punchy Assam but itTea Types would be worth trying a Darjeeling or Keemun. Don’t try and brew the Assam for less time as a compensation for strength of flavour. You don’t water down red wine to create a white wine – you buy a different bottle. Tea is the same.

TIP 8: Remove the tea leaves after infusing for three to four minutes.

This will stop the tea from stewing or going bitter. With a tea bag it is easy to remove from a pot or mug. If using loose leaves I would recommend either a special tea pot where the leaves can be blocked off from the water, a disposable tea filter(a fill-your-own-tea bag), or a tea brewing basket that can be removed after brewing.

The extra tips I would give you for Green teas:

TIP 9:  Leave your kettle to sit for about 5 minutes after boiling so it can cool down.

Then pour over the leaves. This makes an enormous difference to the roundness of flavour in the mouth. Boiling water makes the green tea taste bitter.

TIP 10: If you can, use water with a lower pH balance (I used some bottled water with a level of 6.2) this water is slightly more acidic.

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If you are interested in learning more about tea, I offer tutored tea tastings on scheduled dates. I am teaching a specialist tea tasting course spanning four weeks at City Lit in Spring 2014 and some single module classes in Summer 2014. Alternatively, if you would like to chat to me about some one-to-one time for a private class for you or a group of friends – please feel free to call me on 020 3730 3788, email me at caroline@carolinehope.co.uk or Tweet me on @Caroline__Hope.