I have a couple very tightly-compressed tea cakes that unfortunately also have quite fragile leaves. The tight compression makes these an unusual challenge, more so than their looser (likely stone-pressed) counterparts. I am attempting to use a standard flat-edge tea pick to pry off a section of leaves, but I keep breaking them. As a result, my tea is coming out too astringent, which isn't desirable or balanced.

I don't have the ability to add pictures, but I will describe my two different methods, and their merits.

Method 1: Center out.

  1. Drive the tea pick slightly into the divet in the center of the bing where it is most compressed, aiming along the face of the cake towards the edge. If it seems to be too solid, find a new location. However, I don't aim to drive it in too far.
  2. Withdraw the pick, and attempt to reinsert it in the same place but with a slightly changed angle until I find a soft spot in the cake. This can take several attempts.
  3. Upon finding a soft spot, drive the pick into the cake as far as it will go.
  4. Repeat this process until it feels safe to pry off a chunk of the cake.

This process often requires what feels like an unreasonable amount of force and results in a fair amount of dust, especially towards the middle where the cake is most tightly compressed. However, it only results in dust towards the middle of the cake, and does quite well at preserving the tea around the face and edges.

Method 2: Edge in.

  1. Find a soft spot along the edge of the cake, and drive the pick in as far as it will go.
  2. Pull the knife out and move it to an adjacent spot, then repeat.
  3. Pry out any visibly looser chunks of leaf, or find a lip that looks like it would accept the pick more readily and use that to gently separate leaves.

This method is more effective, and tends to break fewer leaves. However, at some point during my consumption of the bing, I get to the tightly compressed center, which can be laborious to attempt to take apart, and results in a significant amount of broken leaf. In essence, this method seems like it back-loads all of the astringency to the end of the cake.

No matter what method I use, I ultimately end up using a tea tray to sift the leaves and grade them into whole leaves, fannings, and dust - I discard some amount of dust, store the fannings, and return the whole leaves to the wrapper. Ultimately, my losses aren't huge here - maybe 2-5% of the cake is lost as fannings and dust.

I just wish the breakage weren't as common, and didn't lead to quite so astringent a brew. Surely there must be a better way.

How do I pry into a tightly compressed tea cake without breaking the leaves, and creating an astringent brew?


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