If ever you start taking your tea (or coffee) too seriously, Ian Bersten’s the man who will offer a reality check. He’s one of few who have questioned traditions, sought facts and arrived at his own answers. He’s also Australian, a tea and coffee collector and trader, and author of Tea: How Tradition Stood In The Way of The Perfect Cup and Coffee floats, Tea sinks.

But can one really enjoy coffee and tea with equal pleasure? Ian doesn’t think it’s that big a deal. So we asked him a few questions about coffee, tea and the perfect cuppa… and he responded in his inimitable style.


[bctt tweet=”But can one really enjoy coffee and tea with equal pleasure?”]


In a world divided by tea drinkers and coffee drinkers how does you straddle both? Is it even legal?
For most people, tea and coffee are hot, wet and sweet. Tea is more refreshing It’s a bit like sex You can choose a partner of either sex but not both at the same time.

But what’s your relationship with each… is one the wife, other the lover?
No. Blindfolded, they both give me pleasure. Love is blind.

What does your morning cuppa look like? How do you brew it?
I brew it from very fine leaf dust or fannings. I sometimes grind large leaf tea in a spice grinder because it is hopeless trying to get a good strong cup from large leaf tea. It is important that my cuppa tastes like tea. When the day starts off with a grind, it can only get better.

What are some of the worst things you have seen people do to their tea?
Put tea into a tea bag. Brew tea in paper filter bags. Use large leaf tea believing that it will help their health. What also drives me crazy is the raving of teatricals who rave, not about the tea itself, but all the extrinsic things that do not affect the flavour.

Such as?
Meeting the owner of some little tea garden in India or China as if it makes a difference to the quality of the tea. Do they think it transfers some special quality to the tea if they know the owner, even if for only a few minutes? Why don’t they talk about freshness and the time in days since the tea was manufactured? Why don’t they tell their customers that they have vacuum packed the tea straight after manufacture to keep it fresh. They are charlatans trying to weave a curtain of bunkum around the tea to hide their ignorance.

What according to you is the worst thing about selling tea?
Talking to idiots who believe that the correct way for brewing all tea is with a 5-minute hourglass sand timer. You have to change the brewing time according to the size of the tea particle.

How do you keep calm when you see somebody make a sloppy brew?
I pray that they will have to drink all the tea by themselves because I won’t drink mine. I have learnt that I cannot tell everybody what to do because they like doing what they are doing. Why should I deprive them of the pleasure of being an idiot? It is not my prerogative to criticize everybody. I just get on with my life.

Tell us about that one cup of tea/ coffee that got you started on this journey of researching both?
No one cup. It was the realisation that at the time very few people had any real idea of the factors in brewing tea or coffee. They believed the stupidity that the industry told them. The simple fact is that particle size is the chief determinant of flavour extraction, not time. The rules for brewing tea were established when the tea auctions started in Calcutta in 1861 and have not changed since then. Tea tasters must be blind not to have realised that dust and fannings made a better cup of tea in 30 seconds.

If tea brewing is an art, a tea drinker is a ___?

A bullshitter. Tea is not an art; it follows the laws of science like everything else on this planet. Most of the people who write books about tea have never had a new idea in their heads for years. They copy blindly from one idiot to the next and fill the book up with recipes and pretty pictures. You can really tell if they have gone off their rocker if they suggest having an expensive high tea at some fancy tea house; the tea will be hopeless.

Is there a particular tea that you just wouldnt sip? Which one and why?
I wouldn’t bother drinking teabag tea brewed for only a few seconds which is what the average British tea drinker drinks. I wouldn’t bother drinking tea brewed from large leaf tea because I know it has very little flavour. You might enjoy the crockery but not the liquid in it. Fancy teas have fancy names and it is easy to manufacture a fancy name. Get a poker machine and write fancy names on the wheels and choose one of the combinations you get. Most fancy teas are so stale that it makes no sense to either buy or drink them.

What according to you does a perfect tea experience consist of?
Having a great flavour explode in my mouth. I would suggest Darjeeling fannings brewed for 30 seconds and served with milk and sugar. Wonderful.

There are some who carry their teapots with them so they don’t have to steep tea in a pot thats also brewed coffee. Are you fussy that way?
I have no such problems โ€“ this is like the greyhound breeders rules that suggest that a new litter is tainted if the bitch has mated with a common dog. What a load of rubbish! If the pot is clean and has no taint, it is OK for me.

Do you think there is too much fuss being made about tea and coffee?
Absolutely! Close your eyes, lay back and enjoy them.They are not beverages to be discussed ad infinitum. They were designed to be drunk as refreshment and not as subject matter for long discussions about their virtues.

How many cups of tea and coffee do you sip in a day?
Three or four tea, two coffee. I reach for tea at breakfast and sometime later in the day when I need a break.

How much tea and coffee do you have stored at home?
Lots of packets of tea โ€“ kilograms. I have a kilo of coffee beans in my freezer right now and a coffee roaster under my house.

Under your house?
It roasts 600 grams of coffee and I invented the roaster.


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    • Aravinda Anantharaman Reply

      Hi, We feel you should drink coffee or tea or both for pleasure. They are neither an antidote for ailments although everything from caffeine levels to antioxidants are brought to the discussion. But choose a good quality tea or coffee.

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