If you take time to read a few of the many tea blogs and websites online you will start to see a familiar story being told over and over. Across the planet you can hear them crying out with upraised fist, “Office tea stinks! Death to bad office tea!” This is usually followed by a lengthy dissertation on the evils of bagged tea and how low quality dust is keeping the masses away from tea drinking. Oh, if only they were drinking loose leaf tea, the clouds would part, the sun would shine, the stars would align, and we would finally have world peace. OK, I exaggerate their claims, but only a little.
My own experience has been vastly different. I use both bagged and loose tea at the office. Some are your average everyday run of the mill grocery store variety teas. Some are a step above the norm, and a few have been the bargain basement kind. Most of them I have found to be pretty enjoyable. No matter whether loose or bagged my own experience with office tea has generally been pretty positive.
Now at home, even my expensive loose leaf teas did not live up to expectations. There is certainly no reason to spend $18 for two ounces of tea and have it taste just ok. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why my home tea always tasted flat while the same tea at the office was very good. I thought it might be our tap water so I switched to bottled water. It made no appreciable difference. I had resigned myself to drinking bad home tea or soda. Then a miracle happened.
One day while brewing tea at the office, I filled my cup with steaming water from my Sunbeam Hot Shot which promptly began to leak after releasing the button. I set my cup of Earl Grey Green tea aside to steep, cleaned up the mess, and began to investigate. There was a flake of lime caught in the spigot. That’s when I noticed the whole inside bottom of the unit was coated in lime. I have had this thing for years so it came as no real surprise.
I loved this little hot water dispenser and didn’t want to replace it unless necessary. I took it home and poured CLR into it, scrubbed a little and realized it was worse than I originally thought. Emptied it and poured fresh CLR into it and left it over night. The next day it was sparkling and ready to go. It was the weekend. I saw no reason to wait for Monday at the office. I poured fresh water into it and brewed a cup. It was TEA! and it tasted just like it was supposed to taste. I felt, for a moment, like Gollum from the Lord Of The Rings. I just wanted to hold and covet my precious.
As I drifted back to reality, the light came on. Why this had not occurred to me before I may never know. The reason my home tea had tasted so bland and bad is I was using the microwave. I expect if I took a poll this is what the vast majority of office people are doing. It is also, in my opinion, the reason many people despise office tea. It just happens to be easier to blame the bag than examine the brewing method.
Like the tea bag, the microwave is easy and convenient to use. The problem is the microwave makes a really bad source of hot water. I did some research and couldn't find many who protested the use of the microwave for making tea, but I am begging you not to do it. I am not arguing whether it is safe. I am sure it is, besides I would starve without a microwave at the office. I am approaching this from a taste perspective. Microwave tea simply tastes bad. I know this is a real phenomenon as I have first hand experience. I don’t know if there is a scientific reason why the microwave leaves the tea tasting bland. Fortunately, we can all do better.
I will add at this point many who disagreed with my microwave protest said I was not heating the water long enough and it probably never came to a complete boil. I do think this can be a big part of the problem for many people. In my own case I did experiment with heating times and was still unable to loose all of the blandness. I stick with my story.
We are all in such a hurry we have it in our heads we need the microwave. In truth for one or two cups of water my old Hot Shot was actually faster. Small enough it can sit on a desk, it can actually be more convenient than the microwave. Admittedly, it was noisy, sounding a bit like a jet on takeoff as the water began to steam, but there was no beep beep beep when it shut off. For $15 this thing rocked.
A friend in the office used a Keurig machine but only to heat his water. Basically, this is a point of use water heater intended to brew coffee and tea. It has a reservoir tank that he filled about once a week. The water stayed cold in the tank but heated instantly as it poured into the cup. It really is fast and doesn’t need to cool down before pouring a second cup. More importantly, the heated water from it makes for a good cup of tea. It does however have some downsides. The prepackaged tea cups are not very good and way overpriced but you don't have to use them. The unit itself is pricey at over a $100.
Today both of us are using small electric kettles (sadly the Hot Shot finally heated its last cup). Still faster than the microwave these units make great tasting tea. You can find one in about any price range from less than $20 up to as much as you are willing to pay. If you go this route make sure to look for one with an automatic shutoff.
No matter which type of water heating unit you use, it will be a vast improvement over the microwave. Now raise your fist and shout with me, “Death to bad office tea!” Well, maybe that is a bit untealike. How about just promising never to microwave your tea water again. You might find that dreaded tea bag is not really so bad after all. I did say might.
Update: I recently discovered a cure for the microwave. Read my post The Microwave Redeemed!