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Preparing Perfect Tea

The art of preparing perfect tea is one that's been strived for over thousands of years but there isn't one rule to make them all!

 

It's best to start by learning some definite rules about tea which we'll go through here. However, tea is a natural product and there are many different qualities which can be brought out by variations of these rules once you know them. Steeping a tea for shorter or longer, at different temperatures, with different waters and in different pots will bring out different qualities in a tea. This is what makes tea such a pleasure, there is great satisfaction in attaining "the perfect cup".

Wise scholars and noble emperors of ancient kingdoms have written volumes on this very subject. The art of attaining this perfection has taken on a deeply mysterious and philosophical nature such as the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

At the other extreme the simple act of making a mug of tea with a teabag can bring about great debate amongst friends and family as to the best method yet a good deal of pride when one refines their personal method and in that moment is connected through a mug of tea to an ancient sage from times past. The sage might laugh at the simple teabag but he would admire the determination of a young man or woman trying to seek perfection regardless of the format.

Much of the enjoyment of tea is left in your hands. A great deal of the final quality is determined by the skill and experience of the teamaker. However, tea relies on the individual to learn how to bring the best out of each tea, it's not corked and ready to pour like wine. We must all become the tea master in our own way and in doing so we might attain the great wisdom of those ancient scholars or at the very least we might attain the perfect cup.
 

Size of the Leaf

An important factor in brewing tea is the size of the leaf. Generally the larger the grade of leaf the longer you can steep it for without bringing out more bitter qualities. This simply comes down to the surface area exposed to the hot water. We often use the term astringency which is positive and a part of the profile and texture in many teas. Astringency is not to be confused with bitterness which is a negative observation meaning the tea has been overbrewed.

A smaller grade such as that found in teabags will become stronger faster but still requires a minimum time to bring out the full flavour. Strength and colour do not mean flavour. You're looking to draw the maximum flavour from the leaf before bitterness overpowers the complex and subtle characteristics. Therefore timing your tea as you learn is important.

Strong or Light

At different times you might wish to have a the same tea stronger or lighter. To simply achieve a stronger cup you are going to steep for longer. If you find a tea goes bitter before it reaches the desired strength you can steep for less time but using more tea.

To call a tea weak means it has been prepared wrong. Most important in preparing a lighter cup is to still infuse for the minimum recommended times given below for the different varieties. What you will do however is either brew the tea in more water than normal or dilute with hot water after it is fully brewed to make it lighter. By giving it the minimum required time you are still bringing out the full flavour instead of simply steeping for a shorter time which will only make a weak tea.

Water Quality

Tea is over 98% water! So using good water is more important than many people realise. Often when customers get in touch about their favourite tea suddenly tasting quite different it has come down to a change in water source.

Most important is that the water you use has not been over-boiled. The flavour and goodness in tea is extracted largely by the liquid oxygen in water. The boiling of water is liquid oxygen releasing from the water so only ever use freshly boiled water so that as much of the liquid oxygen has been retained as possible.

Tea prepared using over-boiled water will always taste flat in comparison, much of the freshness and goodness is simply never brought out.

There is much more to understand about this aspect, go here to learn more about Water for Tea

Caffeine Extraction

Caffeine is present only in traditional tea from the Camellia Sinensis plant shown below as Black, Green, Oolong and White Tea. Herbal and Fruit Infusions do not contain Caffeine.

The dry leaf itself can contain anywhere from 1.5% - 4.5% of its weight in caffeine but on average 3%. This is the same for black, green, oolong and even white tea... but because of the way it steeps and the ability for caffeine to release based on the chemical changes that have happened during its production, black, green, oolong and white tea release differing levels of caffeine into the water when steeping. Once brewed Black tea contains the highest level followed by Oolong, Green and then White Tea.

Size of the leaf has the largest impact on the strength of caffeine in the cup. A smaller grade of the same tea at 100 degrees for 3 minutes will release more caffeine than larger leaf at the same time and temperature simply because there is more of the surface area exposed to the hot water therefore the tea will get stronger and release more caffeine faster. For this reason teabags will often have a higher level of caffeine in the cup compared to larger loose leaf teas.

BLACK TEA

Depending on the leaf size of the tea and the guideline above you should steep black tea between 3-5 minutes for the desired strength.

Black tea can be steeped in fully boiled water (95-100 Degrees Celsius).

Always give a quick stir once the tea is steeping and again before the tea is removed or served. To keep the water at it's hottest a good practice is to warm the pot or cup first with a quick swirl of hot water then tip it out before filling, that way the cold pot or cup will not cool the water down by a few degrees celcius straight away.

Caffeine in Black Tea: Preparing Black Tea correctly in this way will as a very general guide release around 60mg of caffeine. However caffiene in Black Tea can vary between 40mg to 120mg based on a variety of factors such as brewing time / temperature, tea grade and tea varietal.

GREEN TEA

Green tea is often prepared wrong. Green tea becomes very bitter when overbrewed with fully boiled water. The recommended time for steeping green tea is 2-3 minutes, much shorter than black tea.

Green tea should be steeped in water between 75-85 Degrees Celsius. This can be done by allowing the water to cool in the kettle after boiling but can take up to 5 minutes so not often practical. Pouring the fully boiled water into the pot or cup will allow it to cool quicker, generally reaching 80 degrees within a few minutes. Then add the green tea last so it is going in at the correct temperature.

If you have clean filtered cold water then a much quicker way to steep green tea at the right temperature is pour 1/4 cold water into the pot or cup first, followed by 3/4 of fresh fully boiled water and finally add the green tea. The combination of cold and hot water in these quantities will roughly achieve the right temperature immediately.

Always give a quick stir once the tea is steeping and again before the tea is removed or served.

Caffeine in Green Tea: Preparing Green Tea correctly in this way will as a very general guide release around 30-40mg of caffeine. However caffiene in Green Tea can vary between 15mg to 75mg based on a variety of factors such as brewing time / temperature, tea grade and tea varietal.

OOLONG TEA

From the same plant as Black and Green Tea (Camellia Sinensis), Oolong tea is semi-oxidized so it sits in between black and green tea. You can prepare Oolong much like a green tea around 80 degrees but it's often best at a slightly higher temperature around 90 Degrees Celsius. Using the same methods as Green Tea you could add 1/5 filtered cold water first followed by 4/5 fresh boiled water and lastly the Oolong for 2-3 minutes.

When using loose leaf Oolong tea it comes as a tightly rolled nugget of leaf which can be re-brewed a number of times, especially when steeping for only 2 minutes at a time.

Some traditions say you should first infuse for 30 seconds and then tip it out. This was in part to clean any impurities off the tea (not a problem with Dilmah Oolong). More importantly it allows the loose leaf tea to start unfurling so that the 2nd infusion releases a more full and pleasing flavour. This would be a sign of respect to your guest. However there's nothing wrong with the first infusion for many people.

Always give a quick stir once the tea is steeping and again before the tea is removed or served.

Caffeine in Oolong Tea: Preparing Oolong Tea correctly will as a very general guide release around 40-50mg of caffeine. However caffiene in Oolong Tea will vary based on a variety of factors such as brewing time / temperature, tea grade and tea varietal.

White Tea

From the same plant as Black and Green Tea (Camellia Sinensis), White tea is the most delicate tea in the cup. You can treat it like the Green Tea steeping at around 80 Degrees Celsius for 2-3 minutes for a nice light cup. White tea doesn't go bitter as easily as Green Tea however and to get a more full bodied cup you can also go for 90 Degrees Celsius for up to 6 minutes without losing the finer qualities of flavour. This is most relevant to the real white teas like Ceylon Silver Tips with a large leaf and bud that have incredible complexity and depth to explore.

Always give a quick stir once the tea is steeping and again before the tea is removed or served.

Caffeine in White Tea: Preparing White Tea at 80 degrees for 2-3 minutes will as a very general guide release around 10 to 30mg of caffeine. However caffiene in the best White Tea picked from the bud alone (such as Ceylon Silver Tips) has the potential to release higher levels of caffiene than black tea! This is because the fresher buds on the Camellia Sinensis plant itself contain the highest caffeine content.
 

Herbal & Fruit Infusions

Anything that doesn't come from the Camellia Sinensis plant is not considered a traditional 'tea' but best described as an infusion or tisane. These might be herbals such as Peppermint, Chamomile or Rosehip and Hibiscus to fruit infusions like Spicy Berry or Zesty Lemon.

Fruit and Herbal Infusions can all be steeped using fresh, fully boiled water (95-100 Degrees Celsius). Many of these won't over-brew like real 'tea' but the recommended time would be 3-5 minutes.

Like tea, the larger the leaf or more solid the pieces the longer it will take to release the full flavour such as dried rosehip or pieces of ginger and cinnamon.

Always give a quick stir once the tea is steeping and again before the tea is removed or served. To keep the water at it's hottest a good practice is to warm the pot or cup first with a quick swirl of hot water then tip it out before filling, that way the cold pot or cup will not cool the water down by a few degrees celcius straight away.


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