Does brewing tea need a technique? Absolutely ! The tea masters have figured out the temperature, leaf to water ratios, brewing containers, swirling mechanisms and serving rituals the heighten the pleasure of tea drinking. In Japan, during the 15th century, tea ceremonies evolved as a spiritual practice. Tea began to reach all ‘classes’ and was extremely popular. They paid attention to every nuance of tea making and enjoyed the ritual. People would invite artists/masters home, prepare tea and have a conversation. While we the mortals don’t participate in tea ceremonies and are too busy being busy, least we can do to perfect our cups is by paying attention to a few things: like steeping time and the temperature of the water. So here we go.
Quality: First things first. Same rules as with any other food. Pick the best quality you can afford. And organic for good health and for the sake of the environment. And fair trade if you care for how your money gets distributed. Your dollar is your vote. Between Asian stores, ebay and amazon, i found sources that i am quite happy with.
Single Estate Teas: Tea bag producers try to keep the taste of their product consistent year in and out, to cater to the markets by mixing teas from multiple estates and by aiming for the same consistency. But the tea lovers appreciate the subtle nuances and look for pure blends that capture the essence of teas of the province in which they are grown.
Storage: We protect our investments. And never let food go waste. Airtight and opaque containers places far from heat sources, sunlight and moisture is the way to go.
Water: Start with fresh cold/room temperature water. Spring or filtered water recommended. Hard water can disrupt the flavour of the tea.
Amount of tea: I see various recommendations like one tablespoon per 8 oz of water, in most recipes. Loose leaves are hard to measure like that. Finer teas like Yerba Mate require much lesser amount. The experts correlate it to the surface area of the tea leaf and the size of the pot in which they are allowed to soak in. Trial and error maybe? Experiment to find the right amount. I used to drink Starbucks chai, before i discovered tea. It took me some time to get used to not having all the sugar and creamy texture of tea. Now, my taste buds really appreciate the subtle taste of tea without any add-ons.
Temperature of water: Tannins are chemical components in the tea (and wine) are responsible for how it tastes. The higher the temperature, the more that get released. The delicate leaves like the green ( 180F ) and white teas ( 175F ) require lower temperatures than their more processed counterparts. Black ( 205F ), Oolong ( 200F ) and Pu-erh( 195F ) require boiling water to best extract the flavours.
Brewing time: Attention needs to be paid to make sure the tea doesn’t get bitter (tannins release again). Steeping times depend on the delicateness of the leaves and the oxidation levels of the tea. Rule of thumb: white ( 1 min ), green ( 2 min), black ( 3-5 min ), oolong ( 3-5 min), herbal ( 5-7 min ), etc…
Number of infusions: You know what they say: The first infusion is to wash the dirt off the tea. The second is to really taste the tea. The third is light, but really contains the soul of the tea. True story. Infusions work for larger leaves than the finer ones. Steeping time can be longer for the later infusions.
Type of tea pot: Yixing teapots are crafted from special Yixing clay, also called “Purple Sand”, which contain micro air holes in the pot to keep the tea hot, longer. Cast iron pots are popular for their ability to keep the tea hot for long. Oh well, … the best pot is the one you got. I like cast iron for its beauty and longevity. Don’t want breakable pots that i have to keep replacing over my lifetime. A tea ball is fine too, but i like to let my tea leaves breathe and allow some movement.
Now to the universal vague recipe. Preparing fine tea is very simple. But it does require some mindfulness and appreciation for what you are doing.
Step 1: It is recommended that you use a preheated teapot. ( Meh ! too pretentious i think )
Step 2: Add the recommended amount of tea leaves per cup.
Step 3: For black, yerba mate and oolong teas, bring fresh cold water to a roaring boil and pour it over the tea leaves. For white and green teas, use water that has just started to steam slightly. Or the water that has boiled and is starting to loose its energy.
Step 4: Follow the brewing time. Sit down and take deep breaths.
Step 5: Separate the leaves from the tea and serve. Save the tea leaves for the next infusion or the compost.
Mom: “What is there to write about tea?”
Me: “Read my blog”
Mom: “What are you doing research in? Tea? “
Me: “Where does curiosity end? Should it be confined to areas of life where we get paid for or are deemed as full time jobs?”
I am not the only one. The most amazing naturalist, John Muir who famously said:
“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” – Letter to wife Louie, July 1888, Life and Letters of John Muir 1924
also said his idea of preparing for a trip was: “throw some tea and bread in an old sack and jump over the back fence.”
Christopher Nolan, the movie producer and director:
He always has a flask of tea in his pocket. No matter how hot it is, he has a big overcoat with a pocket big enough for his tea, and he quietly sips it. At a certain point, I thought, There must be something better than tea in there. I asked him, ‘You’ve not got vodka in there, have you?’ He said no, just tea.” – Source.