Brewing the Perfect Cup
Posted by Tony Noto on
Welcome back tea friends,
Imagine, if you would, a fine steakhouse in your area that serves the choicest cuts of prime, grade A steak, but you could only have it well-done. Or if they also had a exquisite wine cellar but only served wines at room temperature, no matter if it was white or red.
That's essentially what happens when you order tea in a restaurant or cafe, and unfortunately when most people make tea at home. They brew tea all at the same temperature, essentially sticking their bags in boiling water and letting them soak. This is probably why some people don't like the taste of tea. They've never had it prepared correctly.
Steeping the perfect cup (or at least a much better cup) of tea doesn't take rocket science. In fact, it only takes five simple factors: water, weight, temperature, time and equipment.
Good water makes good tea!
This is pretty straight forward, if your water tastes funny, so will your tea. If it tastes really good, or has no taste at all, you are well on your way to a great cup of tea. Similarly, if water is too hard or too soft (the amount of mineral content in the water), this could affect the taste as well. Water that is too hard can make the tea harsh by extracting extra astringency. Too soft water will not extract enough and you get a weak cup of blah.
The best thing to do at home is to use a carbon filter water pitcher, like Britta, or some sort of filtration system. If you want to spend just a little more and get a much better brew, use bottled spring water. Don't use distilled water, the tea needs some minerals for the flavonoids to cling to.
Ideally, use two grams (2g) of tea per eight ounce (8 oz) cup of water. Wait, what? Weigh it? I know, that's impractical. And in grams none the less. Let's just make it a teaspoon per 8 ounces.
The Perfect Tea Spoon is available here
The amount of tea for a cup or a pot varies from tea to tea because teas have varying densities. For instance, one pound of White tea will have up to four times the volume of one pound of black tea. Same mass, different volume, therefore different densities. Although weighing is the most accurate way to get the right amount of tea in your cup, it is clearly impractical and inconvenient. So go with the one teaspoon per eight ounces of water.
Now please remember, hardly anyone drinks from an eight ounce cup or mug anymore. In fact, most mugs are 12 ounces or more. Know your cup size and adjust the amount of tea accordingly.
The ideal temperature for tea depends on the tea. Black, dark oolongs and herbal teas should be steeped using boiling water (212º F). They are tough and can take the heat, even requiring it to be able to break down the leaf and extract the flavor and antioxidants.
Green, green oolongs, and white teas are more delicate and need a cooler temperature. If you use boiling water with green teas, they can become overly bitter. The best temperature for these is 175º to 180º. If you don't have a thermometer handy, boil your kettle and allow it to sit for 5 minutes. The temperature drop should be just about right.
Remember how I told you about the steakhouse serving only well-done steaks? This is why one-size-fits-all thinking doesn't work well. Use the appropriate temperature with the appropriate tea.
Use this guideline: 3-5 minutes for most black teas and herbals; 2-3 minutes for green teas and oolongs. Longer times makes tea overly astringent and "puckery." Longer times do not make tea more flavorful. Want more flavor? Use better tea.
A tea strainer/infuser available here
Using the right equipment when making tea is very important. Tea leaves can unfurl up to 5 times their dry size when hot water is added, so you need to give your leaves some room to expand. An infuser basket should be as wide and deep as possible for the cup you're using, so be sure to allow lots of room. You will learn in a future lesson that commercial tea bags are not recommended because of this very reason (plus they contain low quality tea).
For the maximum tea leaf expansion, you should add the leaves directly to the pot of hot water, and after the proper steeping time pour the tea through a strainer into individual cups. That would be ideal, in the perfect world where we all had time to linger over a pot of tea. Until we get there, use as large a strainer basked as will fit in your cup.
Just one more thing
If you're going to take these five steps into account when brewing the perfect cup of tea, take one more: use good tea. Buy the best your budget will allow. Keep it fresh and don't stockpile it up waiting for a special occasion. Use it within six months to a year. I recommend using any of the loose leaf teas we sell here. It will make a noticeable difference.
As always, we invite your comments, and if you enjoyed this post or know someone who could benefit from reading this, please share it. Be sure to shop this website for your favorite tea, and if you're near Charlotte, NC, please stop in and see us.
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