Zen and the art of tea dunking

Tea CeremonyMost of us have heard of the Japanese Tea Ceremony. This elaborate and deeply meaningful ritual has been practiced in Japan for thousands of years, and is often seen as the pinnacle of this highly refined and esoteric culture. However, the West too has a tea-based custom which can rival the intricacy and import of its Eastern counterpart: tea dunking.

Dunking biscuits in tea is a discipline with a long and illustrious history, in many cases going all the way back to early adolescence. Although lacking the strictly codified rules of its Japanese cousin, tea dunking is an equally serious and some might even say spiritual tradition.

Whilst the theory behind the art of tea dunking is simple, its subtle complexities only really reveal themselves after years of patient practice. The secret to successful tea dunking lies in the bringing together of two essentially opposing elements to form a harmonious whole that is more than just the sum of its parts – much like the concepts of Yin and Yang in traditional Eastern philosophy.

On the one hand you have the hard crunchiness of the biscuit, many of which, such as Rich Tea and Digestives, are almost defined by their dryness. And on the other, there is the tea itself – a pleasingly astringent liquid beverage which flows in a rich, peaty stream from the pot.

The tea dunking practitioner strives to bring out the best in both of these seemingly conflicting comestibles by carefully combining them in such a way that the will allow the true hidden flavour potential that each secretly possesses to blossom on the tongue.

The process is difficult and highly esoteric. While the act of tea dunking itself may be child’s play, finding the optimal dunking technique is a highly skilled, highly intuitive art that few ever truly master. Each type of biscuit has its own distinct character which lends itself to a different dunking style, and, with no hard and fast rules to cling to, dunkers must rely on their own finely-honed instincts when it comes to determining just how long an individual biscuit should be dunked for.

A cup of teaTrue dunking devotees know that nothing worthwhile is ever gained without effort, and all will at some point have had to endure the catastrophe of biscuit breakage, when the dunked biscuit loses its form entirely and becomes entirely subsumed by the warm tea, leaving an unpleasant sludge at the bottom of the cup.

Practice and perseverance, however, do pay off, and the dunker will slowly find that he or she becomes more and more attuned to the unique characteristics of each biscuit they dunk. As their senses are slowly sharpened through a process of trial and error, they will come closer and closer to attaining the perfect, most flavoursome taste nirvana in the tranquillity of their own tea break.

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