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The Challenge of a Cup of Tea

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How do you make a cup of tea?

Seems like a silly question, doesn’t it? Tea is easy. Simply take a mug, fill it with hot water, and then just add a tea bag. Let the tea steep and remove the tea bag. Then, season to taste by adding your fixings (sugar, honey, milk, etc).

Ok, now what happens when the hot water and the tea leaves in the bag come in contact? The hot water brews and draws the flavor from the leaves–in this way cooking the leaves.

This is all fine and dandy. But what about on Shabbat? For many Jewish households around the world, a cup of tea is a must to accompany dessert on Shabbat, when cooking is not permitted.

There are 2 acceptable ways to prepare a cup of tea on Shabbat according to Jewish law.

1) Think ahead and make tea essence. Tea essence is basically pre-brewed, concentrated tea allowed to steep for a good number of hours. A small amount of this liquid concentrate tea is then added to a cup of hot water, and presto, you have your conventional tea.

2) Use the method of the third cup (kli shlishi). According to halacha (Jewish law), the process of cooking only happens when the hot water is either in the pot (or urn) in which it was boiled or in the first cup into which it was poured. The pot/urn is known as kli rishon, the first vessel, and the cup into which it was poured is known as kli sheni, the second vessel. However, if you then pour the water into yet another cup, kli shlishi, a third cup, the hot water is no longer considered halachically capable of cooking. Into this third cup one may then place a tea bag and proceed as one normally would.

This Treat was originally posted on Friday, January 9, 2009. It has been re-Treated in honor of “Hot Tea Month” (January – really!)

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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