Kevin O’Brien is Right (about tea)

If you’ve ever been out with Kevin O’Brien and seen him order a cup of tea, you’ll recall his explicit instructions to the server that the tea be served with actual boiling water.

I’d always thought this habit a bit neurotic on Kevin’s part, but after having had an opportunity in Europe to regularly be served tea made this way, I now understand completely.

Tea made with boiling water — as opposed to merely “hot” water that’s been sitting around all day on top of a Bunn-o-matic is simply much, much better tea.

And so I apologize to Kevin for thinking him neurotic, and encourage one and all to request the boiled.

As a side note, I wonder if it’s actually possible to make good tea any more now that many of us have switch to the “auto shut-off” kettles.

As another side note, I’ve suddenly realized that when I ordered “chá com leite” in Portugal this was most often being interpreted as “I’d like some tea, and I’d like some milk.” As a result I was served a pot of tea and a pitcher of hot milk. And paying for both. Mind you tea made with boiling water to which hot milk is then added is absolutely fantastic, and worth the price. But the question remains: how does one order “tea with a little milk” in Portugal.


Daniel's picture
Daniel on July 3, 2006 - 13:07 Permalink


oliver's picture
oliver on July 4, 2006 - 22:51 Permalink

Serving boiling water is hard. You need expensive flasks, fast waiters and a courageous insurance agent. Or else you need an outlet and electric kettle at your table. I think Kevin must have been talking about tea “making” and not “serving.”

Kevin's picture
Kevin on July 5, 2006 - 04:44 Permalink

Thank you for the opening Pete — Most resturants don’t have the ability to actually boil water (and they call themselves *resturants*!). The scald difference between properly made tea and improperly made tea is negligible since one is made at 100C and the other something around 95C, so either way, if it ends up in your lap it’s not good. So insurance is a red herring (if you’re having the fish:).

I can’t explain why this phenomenon is so, I can’t explain why tea made with 99C water tasts like tin and has a visible skum on the top, and I can’t explain why the flavour of the tea opens up only when the water is poured, STILL boiling, over the leaves, but it is true. (I’ve been at this a long time… I was drinking tea before age 2, and drank it daily until I was well into my 30s and still drink 3-5 pots (that’s 6 cup pots) per week — I was the only guy on my Pee-Wee hockey team who would order tea with a meal, I got laughs but then my second name is Mary so tea-razzing was trivial to “card signing day” when we had to produce a birth-certificate).

Nearly every box of tea *used to* (and many still do) provide instructions for how to make the lovely brew and all instructions support the maxim “bring the pot to the kettle” which is just another way of saying, ‘if the water stops boiling before being poured over the leaves/bags, then you’ve blown the pot’. The Brits had a lock on this 400 years ago, they lost their empire but still have a good cup.

Oddly, and curiously, the wonderful chap down at the Formosa TEA House completely disagrees with me on this saying that tea can be harmed by high temperatures and he never pours boiling water on his leaves. But, on the other hand, he’s never served me a cuppa’ as full-flavoured as what I drink at home.

Just once I’d like to know what tea is like when made at altitude… Is it the temperature or is it the boiling that makes the difference? I think it’s the boiling but I have no hard evidence other than to say that water that has just stopped boiling is still at 100C and it makes poor tea.

But, there’s a greater sin than making tea with hot (not boiling water) and that is to boil the tea after it’s made. That’s just nuts.

BTW, Tim Horton’s is very fussy about how hot water has to be when it first touches the grinds. Coffee is not as temperature sensitive as Tea, but more people take it seriously. They control the quality of their coffee quite well but the tea they serve is swil.

Again, thanks. It’s a lonely struggle, but it’s not one I’m going to abandon. Every resturant should have a kettle and no one should become insulted and bitchy when a customer says, “If you make tea with boilding water, I’ll have tea, if it’s made with hot I’ll have a glass of water.” Angles will never see my face again after one tragic session which my simple request triggered. Same thing happened at Pat & Willies with the staff actually hurling profanities at me while I lunched with a business colleague. I don’t go there anymore either.