Brewing Tea

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"[the] three most deplorable things in the world: the spoiling of  fine youths through false education, the degradation of fine paintings through vulgar admiration, and the waste of fine tea through incompetent manipulation." -Lichilahlai, 13th century

Tea is naught but this: First you heat the water, then you make the tea, then you drink the tea properly. That is all you need to know. “Sen Rikyu 15th century

Two, seemingly very contradictory ways of thinking about tea brewing and yet, I believe, both are, in there way, true. Tea brewing is both art and science and, for some, a way of life. 

It is easy for newcomers to find loose leaf teas to become bogged down with too much information and too many accessories.  Don't be intimidated by the choices available to you. Making a good cup of tea can be easy if you remember temperature, steeping time and water quality. Everything else comes in time.

Following these few simple rules will guarantee you a descent cup of tea, almost every time.

  1. Use fresh, good quality water that has not been boiled before.
  2. Allow room for the leaves to expand with steeping. If they are crowded to begin with your steeper is not appropriate.
  3. Use 2g  (about 1 tsp for most teas, more if the tea is fluffy) per cup of water
  4. Steep each tea for the right amount of time and at the right temperature (invest in a digital or candy thermometer). Remove the leaves from the hot water when the time is up.

The following are rough guidelines of steeping temperatures for different types of teas but your tea merchant should be able to give you exact temp./time information.

Black Tea boiling water  (212°F) 3-5 minutes
Green Tea below boiling (175°F) 1-3 minutes
Oolong Tea boiling or below (185°F) 3-6 minutes
White below boiling (175°F) 2-5 minutes
Pu-erh boiling water (212°F) 3-5 minutes
Rooibos boiling water (212°F) 4-6 minutes
Herbal Tisanes and Fruit Teas boiling water (212°F) 4-6 minutes

Please remember these are only guidelines. We don't all like our tea the same way. Mrs. Kline can get 5 cups of tea out of one teaspoon of Rooibos while Valerie likes leaving her green tea steeping until her spoon can stand in the cup. Both are brewing the cup that is right for them!

Choose your brewing equipment according to your lifestyle, when and how you are planning to use it.  An Abid tea steeper might be just the thing if you are on your way to the office and you need a quick cup. A borosilicate glass teapot or an English porcelain set are a wonderful way to share afternoon tea.  I keep 2 oz of oolong in my handbag and some #1 t-sacs in case I'm in a restaurant or at a friends who doesn't understand that tea doesn't age as well as Bordeaux does.

Don't get bogged down with tea preparation style. If you mum put her leaves loose in the brown Betty teapot and you are comfortable with that start there.  If you have a Samovar you have to use, go for it. Find a tea you love and learn to perform the gong fu tea ceremony. It doesn't matter just as long as you are having fun.

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