Connoisseur Tea Guide: Upgrade Your Skills
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” - Bruce Lee
Whether you’re a white belt tea drinker or your steeping skills are registered as a deadly weapon, it’s always a good idea to polish and refine your style. Here, we will discuss some of the next level ways that you can brew a perfect cup of tea by exploring the traditional methods and common practices of tea-drinking populations. Why do the Japanese have artisans crafting chazutsu (handmade tin containers) for their tea storage? Why do the Chinese pour water over their leaves and rinse them before the first brew? Are these merely formalities, or is there a science behind the methodology? Perhaps we can learn a thing or two about the art of brewing tea!
How To Store Your Loose Leaf Tea.
It all starts with the quality of leaf. Once you begin to venture into the world of loose tea, a thin cardboard box is no longer a sufficient container for storage. Teabags are filled with dust and fannings, the literal dust from the bottom of the barrel. The quality of the tea in those bags is already degraded because of the high amount of exposure to oxygen. However, loose tea is full leaf and requires more delicate care in order to maintain its freshness.
What conditions are ideal for maintaining the freshness of the leaves? The Japanese have perfected the art of tea storage with beautifully crafted tea tins. These tins prevent the leaves from being exposed to light and oxygen. Although you may be tempted to display your beautiful teas in a glass container, the light will strip the leaves of their flavor! In order to maintain the integrity of the leaf, an opaque container is necessary.
Another culprit that will damage your tea leaf is oxygen! Exposure to air will dry out the tea and rob it of its flavor. Odors in the air may even impart a flavor of their own. By storing your tea in a container that seals out air, you protect the fragile chemistry of the tea leaf and maintain its unique composition.
Temperatures of extreme heat or extreme cold are to be avoided as well. A pantry is the best spot to store your tea tins. The refrigerator may seem like a good idea since it keeps other food items fresh, but moisture will quickly damage the leaf! Finally, don’t leave your tea in the car. The wild variations in temperature inside of a car will kill the quality of the leaves.
How to Prepare Your Water.
A whistling kettle is not always the perfect temperature for brewing tea. In fact, all true tea leaves will be damaged by boiling water. The water temperature for brewing the proper cup of tea varies based on type but always falls between 175°F and 195°F. Boiling water is 212°F, which is substantially hotter than the desired brewing temp. How do we ensure that we’re steeping at the proper temperature? There are different practices. A temperature variable kettle is the easiest and most accurate tool. There are also small thermometers that can be used in your cup. Or, you can simply eyeball it! They say a watched pot never boils. So, keep your eyes on it until small bubbles and a bit of steam begin to appear, and you’ve got the right temperature for brewing!
Some die-hard super serious tea drinkers have even determined that the water you brew with can have an impact on the flavor of the tea. One possibility is that the mineral composition has an effect on the flavor of the brewed tea. Soft water is purportedly better for brewing tea. According to a none scientific study, spring water has the proper pH balance and mineral composition. However, the final results of their test concluded that no water could save a bad tea or ruin a good one!
How to Prepare Your Leaf.
In Chinese culture, the leaves are given a quick rinse for roughly ten seconds and that water is poured off prior to steeping the leaves. This is known as “washing the leaves.” Is this just a formality or is there a solid reason for this method? A quick rinse certainly can’t hurt, and may actually help to brighten up the flavor. Rinsing the tea leaves will remove any tea dust that may be present, which will significantly lower the tannins that will be released. Tannins are responsible for the bitter or astringent flavor in some teas, and we generally want to reduce bitterness in order to enjoy it. Another benefit of rinsing the leaves is that pearled or rolled teas will bloom a bit and release more pockets of flavor during the steeping process.
How much do you really need? It can be tempting to add more tea to the strainer in order to make it stronger. However, the proper amount of tea is generally accepted as 1 Tsp per every 6-8 oz of water. If you want a stronger brew, don’t go overboard adding extra tea! You may just be wasting precious leaves. Use a maximum of 1.5 Tsp of tea for every 8 oz for the proper ratio and flavor. Similarly, avoid steeping for longer periods of time to extract more flavor. Oversteeping the leaves releases bitterness and may burn the tea.
Resteeping the Leaves.
Don’t toss your tea after the first brew. Have you heard of resteeping your leaves? Some people believe that the second and third steeps actually have the best flavor! This is especially the case with high-quality oolong and green teas. The idea here is to steep smaller quantities of tea multiple times. Think single 8 oz cup, not an entire teapot. Oolong teas, rolled teas, and pearled teas will open up. As they unfurl, there will be more surface area exposed on each individual leaf, and fresh flavors will emerge from the depths! Yum.
Blending teas can be a fun and exciting way to introduce new flavors and experiment with your own creations. Perhaps you have an herbal tea with a decadent or nutty flavor you enjoy, like Roasted Almond, but would like something caffeinated. Mixing the Roasted Almond with a black tea such as our Himalayan Golden Monkey can add a new complexity and depth of flavor to the herbal and the commingling flavors will really make a delicious cup! Be mindful of the flavors you blend and have fun with it.
Some tasty blends?
If you keep a diversified stash on hand, the options are endless!
Many teas can make delicious lattes! Tea can be just as decadent and fun as coffee (and much healthier for you). A London Fog is an Earl Grey latte. Simply brew the tea with less water to tea leaf ratio, froth milk, and mix it together. Matcha lattes are gaining in popularity (because they’re delicious!) These can be made iced or hot. Using a blender or a milk frother, just mix the matcha and milk (or milk alternative) together. The high-speed machines will whip or blend the powder into the milk and get rid of any clumps. If you’d like a really interesting and delicious latte, brew Turmeric Ginger as a concentrate and combine with frothed milk for a Golden Milk style latte that’s healthy, caffeine-free, and quite scrumptious.
Some purists may turn their nose up at the idea of adding sugar or honey into tea. However, a little sweetness can brighten up the flavor and satisfy your sweet tooth without going overboard! Chocolate teas and chais take to sweetness quite well and make a light alternative to an all-out dessert. A little indulgence doesn’t have to be a bad thing. :)
It seems like adding lemon to tea has gone out of fashion. Research has shown that citric acid actually increases the absorption of EGCG and antioxidants from the tea. Adding freshly squeezed lemon into hot or iced green tea can be healthy and satisfying. Citrus blends nicely with mint, such as our Organic Moroccan Mint. Just be careful not to mix milk or dairy alternatives with citrus, as it will result in curdling and separation of the proteins.
Extra Credit Knowledge
These tips and tricks can help you brew tea like a pro. If you want to get hip to the tea lingo, check out our tea term guide to learn the tea vernacular. With practice and passion, you can increase your tea expertise. Don’t be afraid to blend, experiment, and whip up fancy lattes! Old school methods and new school creativity make the world of tea endless and exciting. Cheers!