Nyssa Mehana returns with more about tea. In her first guest blog, she told us about the types of tea and how they are made. Today she tells us how to get the perfect cup of tea.
Where to Start
Though I have grown to truly love tea and it’s many nuances of ﬂavor, I believe it’s the RITUAL of preparing tea that attracts me the strongest. Throw out your belief that tea comes in little bags with strings--we’re going back to the basics, and preparing tea the way it’s supposed to be done.
We start with a quality loose-leaf tea. You can buy loose-leaf tea from a variety of vendors. Some tea-vendors I frequent in the Raleigh area are Whole Foods Market, Tin Roof Teas, and Teavana. They all offer quality, loose, “full-leaf” teas that have been handled and packaged properly. Lower grades of tea are often the crushed leavings of other teas, and are swept into the oh-so-popular tea bags in the hope that people just won’t know any better. We call lower grades of tea “tea dust,” because that’s basically all it is. It lacks the complex qualities of whole, loose tea leaves.
If you want to brew one simple cup of tea, you might be interested in ﬁnding a single cup brewing basket. I don’t like “tea-balls” or any tea-holding contraption that keeps the tea leaves too conﬁned. Tea leaves need room to expand in order to release their full ﬂavor potential. Find a metal mesh basket that ﬁts inside your cup. (Don’t use a plastic cup or plastic tea basket!--it leaches harmful chemicals into your beverage and can ruin the taste of your tea! I recommend using a ceramic cup and a metal basket.) Scoop one or two teaspoons of tea into the basket.
How to Steep
The next step is to pour hot water into your cup and let the tea steep. This is more complicated than it sounds! The water MUST be at the correct temperature for the type of tea you are brewing. More delicate teas require a lower water temperature. Black teas are less sensitive and can be brewed after bringing your water to a boil. Most teas you buy will have instructions on the correct brewing temperature.
Brewing temperature basic guideline:
White tea: Everyone’s opinion differs, but from my own experience, I brew white tea at 170°F-175°F.
Green Tea: Green tea can be even more ﬁnicky that white tea! The correct brewing temperature varies widely according to the type of green tea, but it’s deﬁnitely better to brew at too low a temperature than too high. I brew anywhere between 140°F and 170°F. Try 160°F if you’re not sure, and adjust future brewing temps accordingly. Green tea should be delicate, grassy, and even a little sweet at times. It should NOT be bitter. Brewing at too high a temp will make it bitter.
Oolong tea: Between 180°F and 190°F.Black tea: Anywhere from 190°F to boiling.
How do you know the temperature of your water? You could have a fancy electric kettle like I do that gives me a digital readout of my water temp every second. Or you could use a thermometer. Or you could just keep an eye on your water, and when it starts to get tiny little bubbles on the bottom, it is about 160-170. Small strings of bubbles rising to the top indicates a temperature of 180-190. After that you’ll have a full rolling boil.
So you’ve got the water temperature right. But how LONG do you steep your tea? If you let it steep too long, you risk your tea becoming bitter.
Steeping time guidelines:
White tea: Around 4-5 minutes.
Green tea: Again, it’s ﬁnicky. Anywhere from 1 1/2 minutes to 3 minutes--but no longer! I brew most of my green tea in 2 minutes, and there is one in particular (Gyokuro Imperial--my FAVORITE) that is ruined if I wait longer than 90 seconds.
Oolong tea: Between 5 and 8 minutes I’m told... but I need to do more personal experimentation with Oolong.
Black tea: I always steep mine about 5 minutes, but black tea is not too ﬁnicky, and you can leave it longer if you like.
Once you’ve brewed your tea and the correct temperature and for the correct length of time, lift the basket of tea out of your cup. This strains the leaves out of your cup and leaves you with a beautiful cup of tea! There are tea pots that come ﬁtted with brewing baskets if you want to brew a whole pot, or if you’re brewing black tea (in other words, you don’t have to worry about the tea steeping too long) you can leave the leaves loose (alliteration!) in the pot, and strain the tea only as your pour it into your cup.
Caring for your equipment
I have a separate tea pot for green tea and black tea. The pot itself, when used frequently, can retain some of the tea ﬂavor, which is why I don’t want to use the same pot for my robust black teas as I do for my delicate green teas.
It’s best not to scrub your tea pots with any kind of soap or detergent. That can also linger and ruin the ﬂavor of your teas. Just make sure you always immediately rinse out your pot thoroughly with hot water when you’re done using it.
Okay, Tea Jedi! You have the Force of tea knowledge within you! Feel it ﬂowing, and go MAKE SOME TEA!
My Favorite Teas!
White: Peach White
Green: Gyokuro Imperial
Oolong: Milk Oolong
Black: Rose Amandine (with milk and honey)
I've had the chance to enjoy three of these teas with Nyssa, and I can say the Gyokuro Imperial, Milk Oolong, and Rose Amandine are all just as good as she says! Many thanks to our tea expert for dropping by and teaching us the proper way to make tea. Next time you'll see her, she'll be helping me do tea reviews.
What kind of tea do you prefer? White, green, oolong, black, or other? Where do you usually get your teas?
(Learning to Like Tea Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Guest Post: Types of Tea, Guest post: Getting the Best Cup of Tea)