If you ask anyone remotely interested in loose leaf tea how to brew the perfect cup, you are likely to be met with dozens of variables. Everything from water quality, tea source, brewing vessel, and more, will undoubtedly be brought to your quickly diminishing attention. It's not our fault. We've been cursed with an insatiable interest in a brew-able, caffeinated plant. In my constant effort to demystify and encourage adoption of drinking good tea, I've adopted a new two bullet outline to an excellent cup of tea. Who needs perfection anyways?
Ready to be amazed? Ok, here's my secret recipe,
- Steep at the correct temperature.
- Steep for the correct amount of time.
"Fantastic. But Matthew, how is drinking tea going to lead to incredible work?"
That's not actually the point I'm making (today anyways). Instead, I want you to think about your work in terms of temperature and time. How hot, or intensely are you driving your effort? How long are working at that temperature?
When we steep tea leaves, we are trying to extract as much flavor and good stuff as possible into the water. Higher temperatures more easily break down the cellular structures within the plant, and with more time we see more stuff get released. But here lies the issue; not all of the stuff in a tea leaf is good stuff. Cook too hot and too long, and our tea begins to taste bitter, and we begin to lose the very flavors we were attempting to coax out of hiding.
On the reverse, if your water is too cool, or you don't steep it for long enough, your tea is weak in flavor, failing to elicit enough of the good stuff from the processed leaf. Working too hard, for too long, is likely to lead you to burn out - or worse, cause you to exhibit less than ideal stuff in your results or relationships. Failure too work hard or long enough, and your outcomes may lack the strength and value that you are capable of.
What is fascinating about ideal time and temperature is that it is unique to every variety of tea, just as it is unique to every person. Ambitious individuals are likely to have tested their appetite and tolerance for high intensity, high volume work - perhaps even to the point of failure, in the interest of knowing their upper threshold. Similarly, conservative individuals may be comfortable producing weak results, out of fear of ever tasting the dreaded bitter cup.
It's the process of exploring these very variables that makes drinking tea such a joy. Repeatedly steeping a tea at incrementally hotter temperatures and longer immersions, only to pull back when the flavor begins to be eclipsed by the less pleasant. So as with work, we can only expect to consistently produce incredible results when we are making the right levels of time investment, at the correct level of effort. We can optimize finding our ideal state through experimentation by gradually increasing effort and time investment - while being mindful of when we begin sacrificing balance.
Just as the tea-obsessed may overstate the importance of inane details that include the mineral distribution of your yixing teapot; so will the self-improvement guru be quick to name every book, sleep-hack, podcast, and productivity app that has contributed to their self-proclaimed work-nirvana. And so I leave you with my not-so-secret recipe for incredible work,
- Work at the correct intensity.
- Work for the correct amount of time.
- Experiment often.
My undeniable passions for self-improvement and tea has certainly led to stranger analogies.
If the combination of tea and work interests you, consider joining our professional tea-drinkers group on LinkedIn!