Tips and Tricks of the Tea Trade
Posted by Dani Noto on
Every day I get people who ask me how I make such good tea. I know that sounds like I'm bragging, but I'm not. People are genuinely interested in learning how to make good tea at home, so I will share my secrets with you.
Making great tea isn't rocket science. You only need to follow a few simple steps and have a few basic tools.
The Better Tea You Buy, the Better Your Cup of Tea
The first thing I tell people is that the better tea you buy, the better your cup of tea. I also tell them that fresh loose-leaf tea tastes way better than any teabags from your grocery store. There's really no comparison. It's kind of like comparing apples and oranges. Loose-leaf tea is usually much fresher and of a higher quality. So, buying the best tea you can afford is the first thing. I carry a wide variety of affordable, high-quality loose-leaf teas, so you can enjoy great tea without breaking the bank.
If Your Water Smells or Tastes Funny, Use Spring Water
Next is the water you use. If your water has a funny smell or taste, that will affect the flavor of your tea. Also, if you have hard or soft water will make a difference because of the minerals or lack thereof. If you have any water issues, I recommend using spring water. But don't go for distilled because you really want some minerals, and distilling removes them. If you have water that tastes good and has no funny smell or taste, then you may be in luck and be able to use that. But for kicks and giggles, try a few cups using spring water and see if you notice a difference in the flavor of your tea.
Never Heat Your Water With a Microwave
Using the correct water temperature for the type of tea you're making is crucial. If you have an electric kettle that has variable temperature settings, that works the best. If you don't have an electric kettle, heat your water using a tea kettle or pot on your stove. NEVER use water you heated with a microwave. Your tea will taste nasty! Trust me on this.
The guidelines for teas and brewing temperatures are as follows:
Black, herbal, and rooibos teas brew at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, which is boiling water. Let the water come to a boil, rest for one minute and then pour.
Oolong tea brews at 190-195 degrees Fahrenheit, and green and white tea at 175 degrees.
Just a note: if you've ever had a cup of green or white tea that tastes bitter, it's probably been brewed at the wrong temperature.
Let Your Tea Leaves "Flow Free" in a Basket Strainer
So now you have your tea and water and need something to put your tea leaves in so you can brew them. I highly recommend basket strainers. Your tea leaves need to "float free" or "go swimming" in the water, and the basket strainers allow the tea to do just that. They contain your tea leaves while giving them total access to all the water. The last thing we want to do is put our tea leaves in very small, tight tea balls to brew. Your tea leaves will expand two to three times their size, so they need room to "grow." Therefore, picking the right size basket strainer is essential.
If you have a tiny tea ball or an old teaspoon-type strainer, I highly recommend upgrading to one of my basket strainers.
I also carry some lovely brew in cups and teapots that come with their own large basket strainers. Stop by the store to check them out if you live locally, as I don't ship the brew in cups or pots.
Use the Correct Amount of Tea
We now have our tea, water, and basket strainer. What's missing is a measuring spoon to give us the correct amount of tea to use.
I love my Perfect Cup of Tea teaspoon and use them all the time at home and in the store to measure my tea.
The ratio is one teaspoon of tea for every eight ounces of water.
If you have a favorite cup, I highly recommend finding out how much water it holds. I have a 12-ounce cup on my counter in the store, and when I ask people how big their cups are at home, they usually say 8 ounces. I point to my cup and ask, "about this size," they mostly say yes. When I explain that this isn't an 8-ounce cup but really 12 ounces, they look surprised.
So to figure out how much water your favorite cup really holds, take a two-cup measuring cup filled to the top with water. Pour the water into your cup until it reaches the level you usually fill it. If it really holds 8 ounces of water, use one teaspoon of tea. For 12 ounces, use a teaspoon and a half, and for 16 ounces, use two teaspoons of tea. I'm a big mug kind of gal, 16 ounces, so my tea is always dispensed at 2 teaspoons.
Steep Long Enough, But Not Too Long
I also always use a timer when I brew my tea. The only caveat to that is if I'm doing a cold brew, then time doesn't matter, as we're going to let our leaves stay in the water for a lengthy bit of time.
The general guideline for steeping black tea, herbal, and rooibos teas is 3-5 minutes. I usually split the difference and go for 4 minutes on the black and rooibos, but head for the 5-minute mark for the herbals. Green tea and white tea steep for 2-3 minutes, and I split the difference at 2 1/2 minutes. Be sure not to over-steep your teas as they tend to get bitter, especially the green and white teas.
So there you have it. The way I brew tea and the tools I use all the time. I hope this helps you brew an amazing cup of tea.