Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Tea Week: Brewing Tea is an Art

Nothing irritates me more than the lack of choice when brewing tea in most settings.  Case and point, a water cooler or industrial coffee maker only offers water at one temperature, boiling.  Most teas do not thrive in boiling water.  Quite the contrary, they are basically destroyed in too hot water.  In the rush rush rush American culture, we are so used to getting what we want immediately, and have completely lost sight of the pleasure in enjoying our food and drink.  Fast food and Starbucks are the religion.

Well I highly disagree.  Although I do enjoy my occasional drive-thru burger craving and my iced non-fat raspberry mocha with whipped cream, there is a time and a place for immediate gratification, and enjoying a cup of tea is not one of them.  Read the word "enjoy" and think about it for a second.  When was the last time you really enjoyed a cup of tea, or most of your food for that matter?  Do you really sit down and taste all your food, or do you scarf it down while driving in your car?  Again, there is a time and place for everything, and every now and then we need to slow down and enjoy God's wonderful and tasty gifts.

Brewing tea is an art.  It requires patience, and a little bit of math :)  First you will need to select your tea.  There are many different kinds, some of which I discussed yesterday.  Different tea leaves brew in different temperatures of water, for different lengths of time.  Here are some basic guidelines:

White Tea.............180 degrees F............3-8 minutes
Green Tea.............160 degrees F............2-4 minutes
Oolong Tea.............190 degrees F...........3-8 minutes 
Black Tea..............212 degrees F...........3-6 minutes
Pu-Erh..................212 degrees F...........6-7 minutes 
Herbal Tea.............212 degrees F...........5-8 minutes 

One particular thing I really enjoy about Upton Tea Imports is that when they send you your teas, they are clearly labeled with instructions on recommended water temperatures, tea measurements, and steeping times.  I know other popular tea vendors do the same, so this is very helpful when you are trying to be accurate.


Next you need water.  It should always always always be filtered when brewing tea because any minerals or impurities can adversely affect the flavor of your tea.  If you don't have a water filter on your refrigerator water dispenser or faucet, invest in a Brita water filter.  The benefits are priceless.

A tea kettle is the perfect vessel for heating your water.  There are so many varieties out there today, in different colors, shapes, and materials.  Choosing a tea kettle is like choosing a car.  Well maybe not so much, but it is a very personal experience for those who really love tea!  When choosing my tea kettle I had one major stipulation, which only seemed available in one brand's tea kettle.  I wanted a built-in thermometer.  The perfect tea kettle for me was the Cuisinart PerfecTemp Porcelain Enameled Teakettle.

It has a comfortable silicone grip handle which doesn't overheat and makes pouring your hot water a cinch.

It comes in three great colors (black, white and red), and a handy thermometer built in which lets you know when your water has reached the optimum temperature.

The basic tea (and coffee) types are color-coded and then marked off on the temperature gauge, mostly generalized near the optimum temperatures.  Green teas brew best around 160 while white teas are closer to 180.  I would just make a note of that and stop heating your water a little earlier for green teas than what is shown on the thermometer.  Otherwise, it's incredibly convenient!  You honestly don't even have to really think.  You can memorize all the temps if you want, or just follow this basic guide on the side of your tea kettle.  It's ingenious.

Next, start heating up filtered water in your tea kettle to the appropriate temperature.  If you don't have a fancy tea kettle like mine, use a thermometer to check.  If it gets too hot, you can always cool it down with some cold filtered water until you are in the right ballpark.

I then like to fill my tea pot with hot water, cover it, and let it sit for a couple minutes to get really hot.  It will retain the heat better and keep your steeped tea hotter than if you just start steeping in a cold tea pot.  Pour out the hot water, fill a tea ball (or other tea infuser) with the appropriate amount of tea to the amount of tea you want to steep (usually 1 teaspoon of tea to 6 oz of water, but check the particular tea for any differences... white teas usually have larger leaves and therefore don't easily fill a teaspoon so it will require more for the same amount of water).  The funny thing about brewing tea is that whenever it says "cup" it is referring to a 6 oz cup to a traditional 8 oz cup in cooking.  That is because a typical tea cup holds 6 oz of liquid.  The tea cups in my Tea's Me tea set by Rosanna (see photo at top) are actually smaller and daintier, at 4 oz each.  You can do the math accordingly if yours is different like mine, or just brew regular amounts and you can have a half refill on your smaller cups :)

Place the tea-filled ball or infuser into the tea pot and pour the hot water over it.  Cover and set a timer to steep for the correct amount of time.  Then remove the infuser, cover the teapot again, and enjoy!  Do not leave the infuser in the pot because it will over-steep if you don't drink all the tea at once.

You can also resteep good quality loose tea leaves several times (great way to save some money and waste less tea!).  I generally will let myself resteep most teas up to 4 times, although some black teas especially can be steeped even more times I'm told.  What I do is to add a minute to the steeping time for every time I resteep it.  If I steep my tea leaves a second time, I will add 1 minute to the suggested time, a third time add 2 minutes, and so on.  Because the tea leaves have lost a little of their flavor, it takes just a little more effort to get the flavor out which is why you may want to follow this guideline for resteeping.  I've also heard that with some teas the second steeping may be better and less harsh than the first.  You be the judge.  Happy tea drinking!

Steeped white tea 

White tea is very pale in color 

The white tea leaves are minimally processed, so after they are steeped and rehydrated they soften back up and look just like regular leaves, whereas with a black tea the leaves will be varying shades of dark brown after they are steeped


The Duck & Bunny said...

Congratulations, Victoria!
From your friends at The Duck & Bunny

Victoria K. said...

Thank you, The Duck & Bunny! I love you guys!! :)

Linn @ Swedish Home Cooking said...

Ohh. You're damn right about that brewing tea is an art. I like tea but think it is best served and pretty tea bars here in Paris, then when I make it myself.

Jason Phelps said...

Most excellent. I just picked up an Oolong tea sampler and plan on spending some time with it to get my brewing right and find some pairings that work well.

Thank You!


Victoria K. said...

Linn: I too would prefer a tea bar in Paris to my home, unfortunately I'm not that lucky :( Enjoy living in Paris! You're my idol!!! haha

Jason: Enjoy your Oolong sampler! You'll have to let me know how it all turns out. I think half the fun of drinking tea is taking some time to really enjoy preparing it :) It doesn't hurt to have a fun tea set to serve it in, haha. Check today's post to see how you can win a gorgeous tea pot courtesy of Upton Tea!

Biren said...

What a delightful set of teacups! I love tea too! And that kettle is way cool.....

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