You’ve played Telephone, right?
It’s the game where a secret message gets passed from one person to another in a chain, on and on, until it arrives to the last person who announces the new message out loud.
I say “New message”, because of course it’s nothing like the original.
Everyone’s heard something a little wrong along the chain, or inserted their own clever bit, so by the time it gets to the end the message is often totally dumb or totally depraved or both.
(And you get to find out your friends still think “yo mama” jokes are funny enough to drop in…)
I love this game at parties, but what a lot of us don’t know is that Telephone gets played in the tea world, too.
At one point, someone told me not to leave the lid on a tea pot or gaiwan between infusions.
“The steam gets trapped inside.”
“The leaves overheat and get overcooked.”
“It makes for bad tea.”
I don’t even know who told me in the first place. Maybe I heard it on a video or read it in a book instead; I don’t really remember. It was years and years ago.
It sounded legit to me at the time though, and since then, I have always removed the lid between infusions.
Thousands of tea sessions have passed with this almost religious habit ingrained into my tea practice.
Remove the lid between infusions.
Remove the lid!
And so I did, never actually testing it for myself.
I finally made it happen this week on one of my Instagram Lives. I tested the same tea, a shou pu’erh, between three glass pots: lid on, lid off, and lid off between infusions.
Lo and behold, the tea did MILES better by leaving the lid on between infusions.
This sucks for me, but also for everyone who has ever attended one of my tea workshops, because they must have believed me, too!
The problem here is that we tend to believe what we hear from “the experts”. Back then, when I first heard about the advice about the lids, I assumed it must be true, because:
- (1) it’s from the experts, they know their sh*t, and
- (2) what the hell do I know, I better follow!
In fact, everyone — and I mean everyone, including the 80 year old teamakers and the Japanese tea masters — plays Telephone.
No one is actually out to deceive you. But when information passes from one person to another, especially in a niche space like ours, it’s inevitable for the message to get scrambled a bit.
It’s unavoidable, and it’s good to learn from others.
We just need to be aware that we’re playing the game in the first place.
Oh, and be prepared to laugh when the message you’ve been given turns out to be a little dubious by the end.