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The Bitter Weeping of Oversteeped Tea Leaves

July 15, 2008

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star jasmineI must say before I get to the tea-related topic at hand, that I really love the food at Wild Ginger. It is quite a melange of cuisines and styles without feeling incoherent, the menu is always interesting and the food, in my experience, has always been well prepared: fresh, high quality ingredients, savory and flavorful sauces. Added to that, the service has been excellent every time I have been there. However, they have one of the most horrific ways of serving tea I have seen in any restaurant. Last night I ordered the jasmine tea, not expecting the sublime perfection jasmine teas are capable of producing, but expecting it to be at least respectable. It was – initially. But they serve all of their teas loose-leafed in largish metal teapots, accompanied by two small ceramic cups from which to drink the tea. The first cups are fine, perfectly serviceable in quality. I have no doubt that their teas are purchased from a fine manufacturer or reseller. But as more time goes by those same sad leaves remain trapped in the pot, still steeping, embittering the liquor unforgivably.

Nobody could drink all of that tea fast enough to make this method work. And why would anyone want to? The quantity of tea is perfect for two people, distributed between them gradually over the course of the meal. But as the meal progresses the tea just keeps tasting worse and worse. How could anyone expect delicate tea leaves to hold up under 10 and then 15 and then even more long, grueling minutes of steeping? When it comes to long steeping times Jasmine is more forgiving than a lot of other varieties of tea. I shudder to think what unpleasantness the two black teas offered on the menu transform into while sitting at the customer’s table, slowly worsening. Or a very oversteeped sencha? It would be unpalatable. I drank every last drop of the tea, but only for the perverse determination of exactly how bad it would get.

The restaurant has put such care into every other detail of the food service, drink service, decor and service. I find it quite startling that they can justify serving tea to such a tragic end. I also find it hard to believe that they would not get frequent complaints about the tea or that they would not remedy the situation if made aware of it. Yes, table surface space is at a premium, but it would not be that difficult to serve the tea with an infuser in the pot and a place to put it after it has been removed.

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