Lately, there were few people asking "how do you do it"? I also owe this kind of manual to several customers, who have bought from us stove, ceramic kettle or both. Whikle reading this post please keep in mind that all my advices and conclusions are based on my quite short experiences. I am still learning, but I am happy to share what I have already learned.
Warrning: This is the longest post in history of this blog. And maybe boring, but for some of you. hopefully helpful
I cut this topic in two parts. In this part I am going to share my findings about charcoal itself. The part two will be focused on our braziers (stoves) and ceramic kettles.
But imporatant note first: Before I will start with the topic itself, I have to say: When using charcoal for heating, take safety precautions as with any other fire.
Why to use charcoal?
Why to use charcoal for heating tea water? To make it simple, I usually say that it helps to make our tea time complete. The quality of water, its composition and energy, is crucial. On the other hand, the way how we bring it to boil is more subtle. For me, there are few important points why I prefer charcoal to other sources of heat.
- I like to play with fire
- It improves my water
- It gives natural rhythm to my tea time
Choosing the charcoal
When looking for the right charcoal, you will probably have to hunt and make some tests first. I think it is always better to use a local product, especially if it is available in adequate quality. Historically, each tradition used charcoal which was, first of all, available. If there was choice then they chose the one which improved the water-tea most or/and which worked best for their way of brewing tea. Then braziers (stoves) were made in order to work with this charcoal. These days we can order a particular charcoal from all around the world, which is great. But I believe it is worth to try to follow the natural way. Before you order olive pits charcoal from China or cherry one from Japan, try ones from a local producers. Maybe you are going to be surprised how good one you will find.
After several tests of several different charcoals I keep using Czech oak one. The maker says that it is "exclusive, single wood charcoal with 80% of carbon". Truth is that, compare to cheaper and not exclusive ones, it is cleaner, produces less smoke, less smell and it burns longer. By cleaner I don't mean just coal dust. When I used some cheap (no name charcoals) there were always pieces of bark, resins and some kinds of gross (slag). And all those imperfections mean more smoke and less comfort.
Some people use a charcoal briquettes sold for water-pipes as CoCoBrico or Bamboocha. Those are clean, available in stable quality and are supposedly smokeless. Some tealovers like them very much. I prefer to use real pieces of carbonized wood then compressed pulp of some exotic material. But this is just my point of view...
Cleaning before using...
I find this step very helpful a I skip it only when I am really lazy or busy or both. When I open new bag with charcoal I proceed it this way: First I transfer charcoal into plastic crate (no in the house, much better to do it outside if it is possible) and brake all too big pieces. By too big I mean too big for my stove. I also try to trow away all suspicious ones - brown pieces (if there are any), bark, slags... Then I wash it under flow water. This is quite important part. By washing it, you will get rid of the coal dust. This will lead to less smoke and also you hands will be cleaner (when using it).
After washing, I pick up all nice pieces and let down those, which are too small. After this wet-step, it is necessery to make it dry again. When there is summer sun, it is quite easy. But remember - drier means better. After few tests I found out that when the charcoal is perfectly dry it not just work faster. It produce less smoke/smell, if any. My last batch of charcoal ended up in our kitchen oven - for an hour at 120°C. It is perfect now.
All of you are already anticipating - this is the tricky one. Or funny? Let's see...
There is, of course, many ways how to light up the charcoal. I will talk here about three, which I use. We can call them Natural, Gas and Electric.
By Natural, I call the lighting using just matches, knife, piece of dry wood and charcoal. It is much easier for Boy Scouts. Also if you are use to make bone fires, it is as easy as pie. I use knife to shave the wood. Then I make small fire in my stove and carefully combine wood with pieces of charcoal. After a while the charcoal starts to glow a bit. I stop with wood and just gingerly blow. When smoke from wood disappears and charcoal noticeably burn, I put my kettle on.
This way is for sure the smokiest. I use it just outside but I like it.
Recently, I mostly use our kitchen cooking stove. We have the electric one with glass cook-top. I put several pieces of charcoal on the smallest hotplate. Two minutes are enough to light it up and I am moving it to stove. I realy don't play any games with it. After few more minutes I place the kettle on and I start to prepare my tea setting- teaboat, leaves, teapots, cups and so on.
If you are going to light up the charcoal on glass cook-top you have to be aware of, at least, two things. First of all, the glass is going to be dirty from ash and fire. I use it like this quite often, and it is still not so bad. But if you like your kitchen clean and shiny... Second and more important thing: when you light up the charcoal in your kitchen: Keep your eye on it. You dont want to have real fire there!
Even when you have cleaned, sorted and dried your charcoal there can be some smoky pieces. So when I put the charcoal on the cooktop I watch out. If any piece starts to smoke I switch it with new one. Sometime there are two, sometime none.
Heating water, feeding the fire
How quickly it works? Well, it depends. I usually say that with some practice, there is not much of free time. I start my tea session with lighting charcoal. Then I prepare my tea table and I usually have just few minutes to calm down, examine leaves and the kettle already starts to sing. When I have started preparing this post I was curious and I used stopwatch. I fill my ceramic kettle with 0,5l of cold water. And from putting the first pieces of the cold charcoal on the cooktop till first cup of puercha it took 23 minutes. And it is really not so bad.
In my tea philosophy, the rhythm is what makes a difference. You can have great tea leaves in precious tea ware, but still end up with nervous running around...paying attention to so many things around that you will miss the tea on your tongue. So keep in mind, the preparing water on charcoal is here to help to be in the rhythm, not to disturb. Burning charcoal heats water in ceramic kettle. So natural. It mean four elements in actions: Fire and Air, Water and Earth. It needs some prectice but it is worht it.
If you have anything to share on this topic, please feel free to do it.
And for those who have missed it, Matt´s excellent posts:
Thank you for reading!