Brewing Your Own Iced Tea

There are few things more refreshing than a cold glass of good iced tea. I’ve tried iced tea from a lot of places, but the best I’ve had to this day is my own recipe. It’s so easy that I can’t in good conscience keep it secret. It’s also far cheaper than anything you can buy in a can or bottle, and a lot healthier because it doesn’t require any kind of sweetener. The only down side is that it takes a few hours to cool.

The short version: Make good tea with boiling water, then let it cool slowly before serving.

The long version:

Any decent black tea should work, but my favourite is loose Twinings Earl Grey (Amazon.com). The loose version tastes quite different than their tea bags, so do put in the effort to find it.

You will also need a fine strainer to remove the tea. I use a cloth tea sock (Amazon.com).

Also, be careful that you brew the tea in a container that can handle boiling water. A heat-safe glass pitcher is nice, but a regular metal pot from your kitchen will do just as well. Once it’s down to room temperature, you can transfer it to any container you like.

I add 25 mL of loose tea for every 1 L of boiling water. Make sure the water is actually at a rolling boil. The hot tap on your water cooler is not going to work for this.

Set a timer for 5 minutes. At about 2 minutes, stir the tea. At 5 minutes, remove the tea strainer gently without stirring. The tea seems to produce the most flavour about two minutes in, and the most bitterness at the end of the steeping. Stirring only the once yields the smoothest flavour for me.

Let the tea cool slowly to room temperature, then put it in the fridge to cool the rest of the way. Adding ice while it’s hot can disturb the flavour, and dilutes the tea.

Once it’s cold, pour a glass, add ice if you like, and enjoy.

You can experiment with different teas. Green or white tea should work, but follow their proper brewing instructions. Only black tea should be brewed with boiling water. My second favourite mix is using a plain black orange pekoe, inserting a couple springs of fresh mint after removing the tea.

Infiltrating an Organization (or: Joining a New Team)

It takes some time to integrate into a new team. I always feel like an outsider at first. As I build friendships and trust, I’m able to contribute with increasing effectiveness. Having noticed some patterns, I’ve been able to make the process faster and smoother using a few simple tricks.

Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development describe what happens when a team is formed. His theory has four stages: forming, storming, norming, and performing. As I stared writing this post, I noticed that the stages I was describing lined up fairly well with his. It’s important to note that I’m talking about joining an existing team, where he talks about a team being formed entirely from new people.

I will relate the stages I’ve noticed using his labels, but leave it as an exercise for the reader to compare to his more detailed descriptions.

1) Forming

When I first join a team, everyone is as clueless about me as I am about them. Anything I can do to facilitate interaction here is valuable. I like to set out a couple trinkets on my desk, things that show my personality and interests. This creates openings for others to start conversations, which can help to break the ice. It can be awkward and uncomfortable as the “new guy”, but getting through this sooner really helps speed things up.

I also tend toask a lot of questions while I’m getting my bearings. The hard part here is gathering information without judging or commenting too much. Honesty is important, but this early in the process, it can be more damaging than helpful. It’s easy to forget that things were built with constraints and assumptions I wasn’t there to experience.

That being said, looking things over with a fresh set of eyes can uncovermany interesting things. So that I don’t lose track of them, I write every idea and observation down and revisit them later.

2) Storming

After a month or two, I start getting used to what’s going on, and the problems the team is solving. The things that seemed strange before may now be routine, but some will still get in my way. My productivity improves, but I don’t feel like a full member of the team yet.

This is when I start going through my list of suggestions. I remove the items that no longer make sense, and then prioritize the remainder. I work through my list slowly, applying gentle pressure, trying to ask questions of various people on the team. Sometimes the questions receive insightful answers, other times they provoke good changes. Occasionally they uncover issues with team dynamics or lost political battles. All of these outcomes are valuable in different ways.

Essentially, I am trying to develop my voice. By waiting until I’ve been in the team a bit, I have a much firmer foundation to launch from. Being honest, and being able to disagree respectfully are necessary to fully contributing to the team. Just remember to take it slowly. If you come on too strong too suddenly you can alienate your coworkers.

With time, everyone gets used to me and my style. Once they realize that I can challenge opinions without judging their source, things become a lot smoother.

3) Norming

After a while, I run out of questions. At this point, I will have a pretty good understanding of the architecture, the history and opinions that shaped it, and have a rough idea where people stand on the important issues. Others should have a good idea where I stand too.

This is when I start fine-tuning my personal processes, and trying to resolve anything that’s still holding me back. I expect to have a good relationship with my manager by this point. I would be bringing up more serious issues earlier, but now I want to start bringing up everything else. If our relationship strong enough, this is when I would try to fix that also.

Sometimes I never make it to this stage. I might be spending too much energy arguing, or feel like my contributions are not appreciated. If I don’t make it here within a few months, and have no clear path to improve things, I know it’s time to brush up my resume.

4) Performing

With good working relationships, enough context about the problem space, and all my major issues resolved, I can now focus on getting some work done.

Why I Only Drink Loose Tea

When I was a child, I drank tea because my parents wouldn’t let me drink coffee. I would soak a tea bag in hot water until it made a dark, bitter liquid, then dump in milk and sugar until it was overly sweet, and mostly flavourless. I would sip it to fit in with adults, but I wouldn’t say that it was something I enjoyed.

As a young adult, I tried loose tea on the advice of a friend. It was a totally different drink. Black tea tasted rich and warming. Earl grey had a wonderfully soothing aroma. Green tea had a nourishing earthy taste that made me feel good when I drank it. More importantly, there was very little bitterness, so I could skip the milk and sugar, and enjoy the flavours even more.

The reason why loose tea tastes better is basic chemistry. Tea is damaged by exposure to air. The tea in tea bags is ground to a fine dust, then spread out into thin mesh pouches. The larger surface area accelerates the ageing process, robbing the flavour and aroma.

It may be true that tea bags are easier than loose tea, but with a little equipment they aren’t much easier. Most of the time, I use a simple strainer that sits in the cup like this one (amazon.ca, amazon.com). Measure some loose tea into the basket, pour boiling water over it, and remove the basket once it’s finished steeping. The lid can be flipped to hold the wet basket, so you don’t even need to stay near the sink.

At work, or when I’m travelling, I use a tea thermos with a built-in strainer made by a local company. I put dark teas in the strainer part, steep with the container upside down, then flip and remove both lids to drink. It’s easy to use, and it makes it easy to carry hot tea around without spilling or making a mess.

Loose teas can be harder to find, but there are many great sources online. If there is a tea store in your neighbourhood, going in and selecting a few teas can be a lot of fun. Except for the very highest grades, most good teas aren’t too expensive, especially when compared to premium tea bags.

Once awakened, I started taking a lot of pleasure in hunting down and trying new teas and brewing equipment. I have been researching and experimenting for more than a decade now, and I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.

Sometimes I am forced to drink tea from tea bags while I’m in a restaurant or visiting family. Some tea bags that are better than others, but all of them seem lacking compared to my own stash at home. It’s enough that I’ll never forget why I put in the extra effort to enjoy my cup of tea.