How do you keep from burning yourself as you begin practicing gongfu tea? Good gear helps, like a thin porcelain gaiwan with a sizable rim, but direct contact with hot water and steam is unavoidable. I imagine most tea masters would say, “Make more tea.”
A majority of guitar players would give you the same “suck it up, baby” attitude, but there are still enough on the internet who offer helpful tips for toughening your fingers.
The outermost layer of your skin is comprised of dead cells. Apparently, pressure or friction stress signals your skin to accelerate the growth process. (Similarly, in a sunburn or a tea burn, red skin signals blood rushing to the affected area to repair the damage.) The layer of dead skin then accumulates faster than it can be sloughed off, which forms a protective callus. If there’s too much friction, a blister forms, and the skin separates. So you want to find the sweet spot of skin trauma, that artificially boosts production, but doesn’t result in damage. Of course there’s a product you can buy for this. But to look at it, it seems like you could rub your fingers on ANYTHING and get a good result. After reading this article, I cut a pocket-sized swatch of sandpaper and rubbed my fingertips on it gently in my spare moments. At the end of the day, my fingers felt disturbingly dusty, and I’m worried that it removed more skin than it fostered. Maybe I can find something else around the house that would work.
I also wondered about topical solutions or creams that might toughen skin. The above article mentions soaking your fingers in rubbing alcohol. I’ve seen some articles say that the drying action adds to the dead skin layer, while moisture can cause your calluses to separate. Most other solutions I looked at work by creating a protective layer on top of your skin. I couldn’t find any indication that they otherwise facilitated callus production, say, after the solution washed off into your tea.
All this assumes that a callus caused by friction is going to protect your fingers from damage and discomfort caused by burns. Most information about burns is focused on treatment and “prevention.” I want a way to embrace burns, not avoid them! If menial prep cooks have an online forum where they swap tips on systematic burn desensitization, I haven’t found it.