Releasing Stories of Bitter Teas
Written by Maja Milanovic
As a sip of a slightly bitter green tea awakens my taste receptors, an image of a nine year old girl with a long braid falling down her spine appears in front of me. The image comes from a play that I once read in the American Theater Magazine; I don’t remember the author or the name of the play, but the story of the girl is clear. It takes place in a country in which tea symbolizes the passage of time, in another century.
The girl enters stage left carrying a warm teapot in her hands. Her nine year old frame is focused trying not to stumble and break the pot. Step in front of step, she walks across the stage to reach the two ELDERS who are sitting on the stage.
They pause their conversation about politics or life and instead follow each of the girl’s steps. She bows just a little showing respect, and proceeds to pour the tea into their cups. She spills just a little.
So sorry, so sorry. I will get a tea towel.
One of the Elders raises his hand.
Sit child, pour a cup for yourself instead.
The child listens. As she pours the tea, the Elders bring the tea to their mouths and drink.
Mmm …. Good tea.
The child takes a sip, grimaces and spits.
It’s bitter. (Realizing what she just did) So sorry, so sorry.
The Elders start laughing.
Oh to be young.
Don’t worry, child. It will taste good with time.
The young girl grows up over the course of the play, and with time she begins to enjoy the bitterness of green tea. However, this new fondness for bitter tea does not come without surveillance from the elders. Her newly acquired taste reveals the loss of her virginity, chastity, everything considered “good.” Let’s just say the elders were not laughing anymore at the sight of her long braided hair that now swayed from side to side as she stepped across the stage. Spilling tea was not an option anymore without consequences.
We grow up with so many stories that contain little nudges to keep us in tact: telling us what is right and wrong, how we should look or behave, which box we should pack our true selves into.
We are often not aware of how easily we absorb, how in a matter of moments, certain stories become our own, a part of our frame, skin, hair follicles that enter the treasury of our DNA. When we are suddenly sad or moody, confused or in pain, we don’t understand that maybe some of those wandering words might be the not so obvious blame.
For many years, the images that I shared from the play, swirled inside of me claiming to be “a truth.” I remember each time I took a sip of green tea and thought it was bitter, joy came over me … as if I am doing the right thing. I was still a good girl despite trying to rebel against the invisible strings of society. With precautionary tales that have been flowing though the streams of our veins for centuries, we can all fall into that trap. Nowadays, green tea is my favorite tea.
It’s time to release. It’s time to let go of the symbols and metaphors.
So what really makes green tea taste bitter?
With the help of the four elements, we will try to demystify the story.
Altitude and harvest influence the bitterness of the tea.
Many commercial tea houses with sales on their minds avoid growing tea in the mountains since it is a lot more work and the crops grow at a slower pace. However, because of the mountain’s harsh conditions, the plant sends carbohydrates into the leaves, making them a lot sweeter. With not so many bugs at the higher altitude, the plant doesn’t release so many polyphenol compounds, its natural pesticide. Polyphenol compounds that are found in tea activate the human bitter taste receptors. But there is no reason to panic, with a little search you will find out that they also offer protection against development of cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, osteoporosis and neurodegenerative diseases.
When it comes to harvest, just like with other leafy greens, for example lettuce, the younger the leaves the sweeter. Hence, if the tea is harvested in spring, it will be less bitter than when it is harvested in the summer when it is also abundant. Commercial tea companies depend on volume, so summer is the time when they get their crops. Maybe the price of mountain tea is higher, but the quality of tea will influence the bitterness of your tea.
If you make a cup of tea and forget it for a while in the room, the air will oxidize the tea. In the same way an apple becomes brown, the air can make your tea a little bit more bitter than when drinking a newly steeped cup immediately.
Green tea is one of the most sensitive teas, the conditions for a good cup have to be just right. For example, with water, it has to be just the right temperature, quality, and time. With water that is is too hot, more of the above mentioned polyphenol compounds will be released into the water. Soft water is better than hard water because hard water has a lot of magnesium and different minerals that in combination with green tea, makes it a bit bitter.
The temperature of water when boiling also affects the end result. Too cold, it can leave the drink dull, too hot, it can turn to the bitter side. So what is a good temperature for green tea? 70 to 80 degrees Celsius suits high quality green teas, and for a lower quality 75 to 90 degrees Celsius.
You can control how bitter your tea is by your own choice of tea and your treatment of it. In terms of purity, I believe that the only thing that matters is not to have too many other components mixed with tea leaves as it is usually found in tea bags, so loose tea is always the better choice.
And even if it is a bit bitter, don’t worry, biting into the apple will not send you out of paradise. Add a little honey and lemon to sweeten it; add some other flowers or fruits while you are feeling creative. Turn it into the most enjoyable concoction, turn it into something that tells us the story about the real you!
– Shattering glass-
– where our heroes sung –
We climb the mountains of our fathers’ dreams.
We pass the fields of our mothers’ memories.
We listen to the desert where our heroes sung.
We walk on their dreams, their memories, and their songs.
– Yoko Ono
Maja’s Tea Recommendation
Min Systers Tehus Long Jing – no wonder it is the most popular tea in China!
Min Systers Tehus Tray for carrying the tea
Min Systers Tehus Teapot for easy steeping
Min Systers Tehus Kitchen towels in case a little bit of the tea spills
Maja Milanovic is the founder of the digital publication Tarantula. She also has an international experience in film, theatre and TV as a writer and director as well as writing and proofreading blogs and online content. In her free time, you can find her cheering her son’s soccer team, drinking green tea, reading, and hanging upside down in her AG Yoga Hammock. You can follow her on Instagram milamaja12 and tarantula_authors_and_art. If you would like to read more of her work, subscribe to (https://majamilanovic.substack.com)