Monday, April 06, 2009

Newbie's Guide to Teaware: The MacGyver

Based on the ideas covered in previous installments of this series, I decided to write an article for the even-more-budget-conscious and the experimenters among us. It is not surprisingly called...

The MacGyver

The MacGyver is probably more difficult to use than The Spartan or The Lone Ranger, but it can be fun to cobble together your own teaware in lieu of a proper setup. You will need more than just a bobby pin and a match, but not much more. You will need to duplicate the following: 1) Kettle, 2) Teapot, and 3) Cup.

This setup is ideal for the following people:
The Starving Artist/Student
This is even cheaper than The Spartan, and possibly The Lone Ranger, assuming you already own a couple of the items listed here. Even if you don't, they are a sound investment as you can use them for things other than tea.
The ScienTEAst (ugh, sorry for that)
For the tea fanatic who just isn't happy using boring, real teaware.
The Globetrotter
If you are packing light, worry not! Make use of those odds and ends at friends' and family's homes. [The Lone Ranger is likely to be better for hotel stays and such.]
The Multiple-Family Man
Need a tea fix, but don't want to run the risk that your multiple wives may meet and discover your identity while discussing your unique teawares and brewing habits? Keep the good stuff at one home, and sneak in some tea while pretending to have another hobby at the other!

1. Improvised Kettle

If you have a basic stove-top kettle and a stove, you are set. If you have a stove (or a hot plate) but not a kettle, a saucepan will do in a pinch— just be careful when pouring, as it is not exactly a precision tool.

MacIf you do not have a stove, but do have a microwave and a microwave-safe liquid measuring cup (preferably with a spout), you can use them to heat water IF YOU ARE VERY CAREFUL. If your measuring cup is too smooth, bubbles will not form even if your water is heated to its boiling point. As soon as you give it something to form bubbles on (teabag, lint, finger, anything really), it will boil instantaneously and explosively. This is a bad thing. However, this can be avoided if you place a rough wooden item like a popsicle stick or wooden skewer into the measuring cup along with your water, as these items will provide nucleation sites— places for bubbles to form as the water boils.

Because of the potential hazards, and because microwaved water tastes funky, I highly recommend seeking out a kettle if possible. Please.

If you can't find anything to heat water in, you can try to use hot tap water. If you're lucky, it could be as high as 135°F (Or maybe even higher, but this is the hottest I've found. I can't say I usually carry a thermometer around with me, though). You probably won't have good results if you try to steep/decant with water this cool, but you could try glass brewing with it.

2. Makeshift Teapot

There are several common kitchen implements that can be readily converted into a makeshift teapot. Here are a few ideas:
French Press
It works better if the leaves are placed on top of the press— that way, the leaves are removed instead of squished. [A big thanks to Tenuki of TeaChat for that tip!]
Dale has pointed out that this is not the best way to use a french press for tea, and instead suggests the following. "When using a coffee press you never press down the plunger, just insert it enough to hold the tea back. Pour into a cup or thermos (you might have to pull the plunger slightly if tension hold the water in) and you're done. It's clean, easy and it works great for making tea, mixing cocktails or even brewing coffee." Thanks Dale! You can read his full comment at the bottom of this page.
A liquid measuring cup and any sort of straining device
Dump the leaf in the measuring cup, add water, steep, and pour through any kitchen strainer. If you can't find a measuring cup or a strainer, just use...
A cup and a small plate, spoon, lid, saucer, whatever.
This takes a little more finesse than the previous idea, but it's really not that bad. Add leaf and water to the cup, steep, then hold the other object up to the cup, leaving a small enough opening at the bottom to allow tea to pass but hold back the leaf. Try to duplicate how a gaiwan works. This is (pretty much) only feasible with whole or mostly-whole leaf teas.

3. Cup

Pretty self-explanatory. If there isn't a mobile, solid, concave, non-toxic, non-perforated surface available, there really isn't much I can do for you.

Stay tuned for the next installment, titled... The Orient Express


Georgia (Notes on Tea) said...

This series is fabulous and funny! I have an electric kettle, a stovetop kettle, an infuser cup, two French presses, a tea thermos, cups, strainers, teapots...

Brent said...

Thanks Georgia. :) Yes, I have way too much stuff too... it's addicting!


Mitch Bryan said...

These guides are genius!

My only problem is using a microwave. I try to avoid one whenever possible, especially when it comes to tea. I just can't get down with using something as artificial as a microwave to make tea :P

Brent said...


Thanks for the compliment! I hate microwaving water too, but I'd rather outline the right way to do it than have people try it unaware of the dangers!


Bill said...

Hey Bret, too funny! You know, a wooden toothpick will do the same job. I want to see your new find!!


Brent said...


Yeah you're right, a toothpick would be fine. :P Which new find are you talking about?



Pat Canella said...

Haha I love it, very creative and informative at the same time!

Green Tea said...

Ha, love the article not sure I'm going to rush out and start microwaving my water but I found the wooden spoon thing really interesting none the less. Keep them coming!!

Unknown said...

I use a coffee press for making tea and was initially impressed with the idea of putting the tea on top of the plunger. Having tried it I have to recommend against it. The mesh is so fine that the waster doesn't go through it due to tension. You have to shift the plunger back and forth to get the water to go through. This causes the air to bubble up and agitates the tea a lot, which is not ideal for some teas. Also when removing the plunger you have to deal with some very hot wet leaves.

When using a coffee press you never press down the plunger, just insert it enough to hold the tea back. Pour into a cup or thermos (you might have to pull the plunger slightly if tension hold the water in) and you're done. It's clean, easy and it works great for making tea, mixing cocktails or even brewing coffee.

Brent said...

Pat and Green Tea,

I'm glad you liked it, and even gladder that you told me you liked it! :D


Thanks so much for reporting your findings. I haven't found a need to try it myself so I never would have known!


Anonymous said...

ok i would really like to make really tea the proper way. im all about form and tech. they tradition side, calm and peaceful i just believe the japanese had it right with a steady routine with your brain is about to exploded. anyways i shop a lot of but i would really like to know the in and out facts before i really mess things up. any pointers.

Brent said...


No pointers... just search around and learn on your own. Try some of the other blogs in my links section. Regardless, this is the last article you should read if you want to learn more about tradition!

Also, stop buying tea from teavana...


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