MyTeaPal: Blending technology and tradition

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Recently, I signed up to be a beta tester for a new tea app called MyTeaPal. It’s a timer, steeping guide, stash inventory, and log all in one, and will be available soon for iOS and Android. I mentioned it on Sunday in my literary tea video, but I thought I’d talk a bit about what I like about the app in more depth.

MyTeaPal is an app developed by Vincent, a tea-lover and computer science major. He learned about tea during his time in Chengdu, China, and has a list of tea certifications and community roles that speak to his deep love for tea art and culture. His app is intended to be a personal journal, an educational tool, and will be free with no ads. When I learned about this app, I was intrigued, as I like apps to track a lot of my life, but I’ve never found a truly universal tea app that I like (that was available for iOS). So I contacted Vincent and he agreed to let me beta-test, which I have been for the last couple of weeks.

One caveat to my review: Since I downloaded the beta app, it has been updated to include more tutorial and educational functionality, which I haven’t used. But that’s because I turn to it daily and tend to forget about the new functionality until I’m in the middle of a session and don’t want to interrupt it!

Anyway, when you first open the app, you can choose to select a tea to brew or add a new tea to brew. The app has a place to store a record of all the teas in your stash (I’ve mostly been adding them as I use them for an app-enabled session) and an auto-tracking function to let you know how much of each you have left, based on the original amount you enter and how much you use in each session. Entries for teas give you the option to enter a photo, the tea name, the tea type (green, black, oolong, puerh, dark, etc.), the harvest information, origin, cultivar, vendor, elevation at which it was grown, and steeping instructions (among other things). You can also enter an inventory of your teaware, including teaware type, material, and a photo. Both types of entries also have a “notes” section. The breadth of information it allows you to enter makes me happy. It even gives you the option to select that a tea is a blend and enter the ingredients.

And that I think epitomizes my main praise of this app: it is not an app for tea snobs. Yes, it is invaluable for a gongfu session or a Western-style steeping of a flavored tea. The session itself is entirely customizable, giving you the option to enter your own water temperature and type (tap, filtered, bottled, etc.), as well as steeping time for each steeping. You can vary the temperature and time by hand for each infusion, but also add a set time to add to each infusion, if you just want to go with it. This time added to each infusion is also customizable, so if you start with 5 seconds added to each steeping and decide to try adding more to later infusions, you can do that.

I also find it really useful for teas like the ones from Mountain Stream Teas (such as the Missed Opportunity, pictured above), because Matt gives such precise instructions on how he recommends brewing his teas and I can enter in the exact steeping parameters easily without having to remember what steeping I’m on or reset a timer. I enter in 30 seconds for the first steeping, add 10 seconds for the second, add 20 seconds for the third, and then add 15 seconds for each steeping after that. I like how having the timing off my mental plate leaves me more open to appreciate the experience of the tea.

And as far as the experience goes, the app gives you an easy way to record aroma and flavor notes. If I had one suggestion, it would be to have aroma and flavor separated. And, while I appreciate that I can add my own aroma and flavor characteristics, I wish they would save for future sessions and give me the option to nest them under one of the overarching flavor/aroma categories (e.g., I would like to be able to permanently add “sandalwood” under “woody”).

On to the timing itself. The timer gives you the option to play or not play timer noises. The timer noise is a simple flowing water sound while the timer is counting down, and a single bell/singing bowl tone at the end. I appreciate that I don’t need to turn off an alarm, and I like that I can look at the water visualization and know how much of my timer remains from across the kitchen because I’m often watching my toddler while making tea. I also like that I can edit and continue saved tea sessions for those times when the aforementioned toddler decides to run off with my phone and close all my apps in the middle of a session.

All-in-all, this is a very well-thought-out app that actually enhances my tea experience, rather than being a fun novelty. And perhaps it will eventually lead me to actually keep track of my tea stash.

NB: I was given early access to this app as a blogger, but with no explicit expectation of a review. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please read my collaboration information for more details.

Tea Together Tuesday: How Do You Brew?

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Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the prompt is to share your favorite method of brewing tea. Well, I can never waste an opportunity to wax rhapsodic about grandpa- or farmer-style brewing — also known as probably the most common way to brew tea in China. I’ve definitely talked about grandpa-style brewing in the past, both here and on my YouTube channel, but it is worth repeating.

Why is grandpa style my favorite way to brew tea? Quite simply because it’s, well, quite simple. It is the least effort to put into a cup of tea and often gives you the broadest look at the flavor profile of a tea. I’ve found notes in teas that surprised me when I brew them grandpa style.

But wait, what is grandpa-style brewing? Well, you take the tea leaves and put them in a large-ish vessel. And then you add water. And then… you drink. Yes, you will probably drink some leaves. It’s okay, they won’t hurt you. And you don’t worry about timing or even really water temperature or leaf ratio. It’s generally better to use fewer leaves because then they’re more likely to get saturated and sink as you go. But, really, if your tea becomes too unpleasantly strong, you just add more water. There are some people who think this can only be done with certain teas, but I have done it successfully with all kinds of teas.

Some of my favorite teas for grandpa-style brewing are unroasted oolongs, like this Baozhong oolong from The Steeped Leaf. I find that brewing them this way allows the full expression of creamy and fruity notes to come out, plus the leaves are bigger and less likely to get slurped up once they’ve fully unfurled. In fact, this is the method of loose-leaf tea drinking that I tend to recommend to people who are trying high-quality loose leaf teas because you probably have everything but the tea at home already.

Personally, I usually use a big mug to drink grandpa-style, but I like the aesthetics of using this vintage pressed-glass glass so you can see the leaves. And most of us have a drinking glass at home. I’ve done this with regular Ikea drinking glasses, or a novelty pint glass from a local radio station. I also use my insulated flask to bring a grandpa-style brew with me on my commute. All you need is a vessel big enough to let the leaves unfurl and still take up less than half of the volume (so you still have some liquid to drink after the leaves have absorbed it).

In professional tea tasting, grandpa-style is very similar to bowl brewing, where the leaves and water are placed in a tea bowl and sipped, often with a tasting spoon. Shiuwen of Floating Leaves Tea has said that she likes bowl-style tasting because she can get a sense of how the tea changes as it sits. I like it because I can easily make a cup of tea and just need to reheat the kettle if I need more tea and my glass has gone cold. This was actually the only way I drank tea the first few weeks after I had Elliot because we didn’t have a lot of extra time or energy for more complicated brewing.

As I mentioned before, it is also one of the more common ways to drink tea in China, either in a glass like I’ve shown, or in an insulated flask like I mentioned before. In fact, my Chinese and Korean colleagues used to tease me for actually worrying about straining out the leaves from my tea. They would chuck some tea in a mug, fill it with hot water, and put a lid on it to keep warm. Bob’s your uncle.

So while I might have an ever-increasing collection of fancy tea ware, my favorite brewing method will likely remain the humble grandpa-style cup.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating, please see my collaboration and contact information.