THE TEA TRAVEL KIT
What you'll need:
1. Pocket scale or measuring spoon. Neither are necessary if you're able to consistently judge the precise amount, perhaps in the palm of your hand, perhaps in the brew basket or tea press.
2. Timer, watch with alarm, clock with alarm in cell phone, or a really good sense of timing especially for black teas.
3. Instant-read thermometer, unless you take only black tea.
4. Brew basket or tea traveler (see below).
5. Immersion heating coil, available as either 120 or 120/240 volts, with or without a heat guard to protect a surface from getting burnt after the coil is removed from the cup, or a small electric water heater such as the Bodum Mini-Ibis electric kettle, Sunbeam Hot Shot, or Proctor Silex Electric Kettle. I don't advise relying on using the room's coffeemaker because I've encountered those that are constructed in such a way that they contaminate the water with the overwhelming smell and flavor of coffee. The same applies to the carafe unless you can get it really clean with baking soda.
6. Cup or mug - I recommend packing your own because cups provided by lodgings usually have lingering coffee flavor or odor that you can't get out except by soaking and scrubbing with baking soda. Who wants to do that housekeeping chore while traveling? Good cups for travelers are the 7 oz. capacity Fold-A-Cup, item #FP589, sold by Magellan's, and the acrylic 8 oz. mini travel tumbler by Bodum, #10657-01B.
7. Small tin(s) or resealable sample bags from tea vendors labeled with the tea's name(s) are better than unlabeled plastic zip bags if the police or TSA who decide to search you don't know tea from marijuana although the rest of the kit should give them a clue. (I've never had this problem, but some others have.) Also, the restaurant staff won't give you such strange looks when you take in your own tea to use with their hot water and cup.
8. Sweetener, if desired, and a spoon for it if your measuring spoon won't do. Not needed if you can use sugar, stirrers, or spoons that you know will be supplied by your lodging.
Probably the best to save packing space because you get a brewing pot, filter, and cup all in one, would be the Bodum 8 oz. travel press, #10658-01B. With rooibos, the press allows a little bit to escape around the edge, but I cut the rigid plastic rim off of a Republic of Tea People's Brew Basket and slipped the basket over the press to contain it. You can also make your own tea traveler.
Please be aware that a standard 125 watt immersion heating coil won't be able to boil the larger quantities of water such as 14 and 16 oz. My experiments were with plastic, acrylic, and Lexan®/polycarbonate (before BPA became an issue) cups and tumblers because they're more suitable for travel than is ceramic. The water starts to heat in the larger tumblers then simply evaporates rather than reaching the boiling point. In tall containers such as 16 oz. tumblers, the top part will bubble while the water in the lower section remains cool. The coil works best in 6-10 oz. of water like standard-sized cups and mugs.
Instead of a press that over-steeps when tea isn't consumed fast enough, I recommend a cup, mug, or travel tumbler or mug with something like a Teeli/Finum brew basket to prevent unhealthy bacteria from developing and multiplying overnight in any remaining liquid. This is a major consideration if you'll be reusing leaves from one day to the next because a travel press won't permit enough air circulation overnight as will a brew basket that also allows liquid to drain out.
If you brew more than will be consumed within several hours, be sure to prevent coliform bacteria from developing in your oolong, green, or white teas during the first sixteen hours of storage at room temperature by heating water to a minimum of 175°F or higher, then letting it cool. Black teas, of course, except for some types of Darjeeling, require boiling water for best flavor. Because of other types of bacteria, make it a rule to discard any brewed tea remaining after eight hours.
That being stated, pack what you can into the kettle and cup/mug/press, nesting whatever possible, and put anything else that doesn't fit into a small bag or case. I use a Hefty OneZip freezer bag.
How to brew:
1. Heat water in the cup with the heating coil. Make sure the water covers the coil of the immersion heater before plugging it in*.
2. Measure tea while waiting for the water to heat to the appropriate temperature for the tea you're brewing, using the instant-read thermometer to occasionally check if you don't need the water to boil. If using a brew basket, put tea into basket.3. When the water's ready, disconnect the coil before removing it*.
4. Insert the brewing basket into the cup or put tea into the press.
5. Steep for the appropriate length of time.
6. Remove brew basket or press.
7. Add sweetener, if desired, and stir.
8. Drink when ready. Especially with the travelers because the lids retain heat, be careful that you don't scald yourself as the beverage might be too hot to drink right away.
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