Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Art of Brewing Tea

While brewing a good cup of tea is largely a matter of personal taste, it is important to know the variables which can effect the quality of your cup of tea. The actual brewing is the steeping of the tea in the hot water.

Our more common coffee drinking culture has left many not understanding the terms used in making tea. I always get a chuckle when I pull up to the drive through at Tim Hortons and order a green tea, clear. The clerk will inevitably respond with "is that black ma'am". I'll respond telling her I want green tea, not black. A puzzled voice will eventually ask "cream and sugar" to which I respond "no, that is why it is clear".. Oh she says. Having terrorised her that long, I don't even think about telling her to be sure to 'steep' it.

But I digress

Different types of teas should be brewed in different ways. Not knowing the typical approach could lead to unpleasant results ranging from teas being weak to bitter, sour or astringent to the point of being undrinkable.

The main variables in brewing tea are:

    * Amount of Leaf Used
    * Temperature of Water
    * Length of Steeping Time
    * Vessel Used for Brewing
    * Quality of Water

How and where to brew your tea?

While many would recommend the placing of the loose tea into the tea pot, I tend to recommend the use of an open infuser which allows lots of room for the tea to move around as it steeps. I don't recommend using a tea ball. The more the tea can move around in the water the greater the ability of the flavour and aroma to infuse into the water. If you do place the leaves into the pot, be sure to use a tea strainer when pouring your tea.

Use different temperatures for Green, Black, White, or Oolong Tea:

Typically, black teas are brewed with boiling water, and green teas with water well below boiling, ranging from 160-180°F (72-82°C), and sometimes lower. White teas are typically brewed like green teas, using lower-temperature water. Oolong teas and more delicate black teas are usually best brewed with water slightly below boiling, 190-200°F (88-93°C). Herbal teas are very diverse and hard to generalize about, but most are brewed with boiling water.

Since brewing is a matter of personal taste, experimentation is important, and consistency is more important than exact temperature. You can bring water to a boil and then let it sit for a fixed period of time in order to let it cool or you can watch the size and pattern of bubbles forming in a pot; this provides a valuable clue about temperature when the water is in the range of about 180°F (82°C) to boiling.

My kettle allows me to view the water as it boils. So I guauge it like this:
- for green or white tea -- water is just starting to bubble a bit
- oolong tea -- water is boiling gently
- black tea -- water is at a full boil.
My kettle shuts down when it reaches full boil. I usually try to catch it just before it does.

Steep Whole-leaf Tea longer than Broken-leaf Tea:

Whole-leaf tea typically requires a longer steeping time because water diffuses slowly through the intact leaves. Broken-leaf tea, especially fine particles such as the fannings or dust used in most teabags, infuses very quickly. Some finely-broken leaves can rapidly acquire unpleasant bitterness or astringency if left to steep too long. In general, fannings often steep in two minutes or less, and whole-leaf tea frequently requires 3 minutes or more, although this varies greatly from tea to tea and is also a matter of taste.   

I also find when brewing multiply cups from the same leaves I do need to steep a bit longer each time.


Brewing your tea is part art and part personal taste. If you experiment with various approaches, you'll soon learn which brewing method you enjoy the most. If you are able to use spring water, filtered water or soft water try the different types of water. Try to avoid municipally treated water for your tea.

Have fun and enjoy a cuppa.

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