I’ve voiced this before, but it happened again over the past weekend, and it really mystifies me.
Why do teahouses in the United States serve tea without giving you the leaves?
What I mean is, when you go to one of these establishments, you order your tea (in this case, Keemun). They take your order, and give you a pot with a cup. It’s an English style pot. Nothing’s wrong with that, except that there are no leaves in there — just pre-infused tea. I know this is probably not going to bother most people, and in fact, may even be great for most of the casual visitors to such establishments, but it annoys me, especially because these places often also promote themselves as serious teahouses.
Without seeing the leaves, I have no way of really controlling how the tea is brewed. Most of the time, the tea comes out weak, slightly understeeped, and most important of all, there is no chance for redemption — you cannot resteep the tea, you cannot add more hot water, and you have no way to look at the wet leaves, because they don’t give it to you. Perhaps I can ask for it, and perhaps they will entertain me, but I don’t think this should be necessary. The ability to resteep leaves multiple times is, in my opinion, a fundamental distinction between tea and coffee, and the nuances and changes that a tea undergoes from infusion to infusion is a great part of the enjoyment of any particular brew. Taking the leaves away deprives me of all that.
I can think of some reasons why a store may decide to do such things, for example
1) Shorten visits — if you can reinfuse tea, you are more likely to sit there for longer. Bad for business, obviously
2) Likewise, the possibility of reinfusing tea means you are less likely to order another pot, which of course means less money
3) Some people are clueless as to how to make tea, so doing it for them removes the possibility that they will screw it up, think it’s bad, and never come back again
While 3 is a legitimate concern (and I suppose 1 and 2 are too, for different reasons), I find it hard to swallow. A serious tea place, IMHO, should probably at least offer the choice of leaves or no leaves. A universal no leaves policy leaves something to be desired. Or at least, for me, that’s a rather disappointing thing to see in shops and teahouses. Maybe I’m being too much of a purist, but I still think that if I am buying tea to drink, I am buying the leaves, not the infused product — especially if I’m getting charged $4 for it.