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October 20, 2016

Tea: Back to Basics

Getting the Best Out of Your Tea “Creating the perfect cup”

In the tea world, we are destined to always come back to that one fundamental question: what makes the perfect cup of tea?

This question has an answer that is both simple and complex in nature. Once you know what makes the perfect cup, brewing it to perfection again and again is, depending on the tea, often a simple task. But what of the knowledge required to get there? Here we will be explaining the very basics so that anyone — not just someone who lives and breathes tea every day of their life — can make a sensational brew.

Unfortunately bad habits abound, and they will get in between you and your perfect brew before you even pour the water out of the kettle. Here, we’re putting them under the magnifying glass.

Tea Bags v Loose Leaf
In a place like Australia, where British colonialism and heritage have been a force upon our culture, we have very much brought with us the habits of the British and copied the habits of other western nations.

Tea bags were originally developed in the United States by Thomas Sullivan of New York, who had created them simply to store individual servings of tea. His customers, however, made the mistake of steeping the entire bags in their cups and pots. This surprise led to an explosion of popularity for the unintended use of his creation, and Sullivan was able to export the bags for use all over the world. The tea bag is a remarkably convenient way to brew tea, and has taken over households in Australia since its conception.

However, there is one major drawback to a traditional tea bag: It is small, thin, and does not allow leaves to unfurl. To accommodate the small size of the bag, only smaller tea particles are placed inside, often of a very low grade. This unfortunate compromise means that the tea contained within will often be quite astringent and taste subpar.

Newer style pyramid bags are now allowing for larger leaf particles to be contained within a tea bag, with better quality results but they can still somewhat restrict the ability of the leaf to adequately unfurl.

Due to this lack of expansion in the bag we usually try to recommend using loose leaf tea. While the tea bag was a great invention for the sake of convenience, a loose-leaf tea brewed in a pot or infuser will allow the leaves to be steeped at their true largest particle size, and will give them room to unfurl properly and release their true flavour. Whole leaf teas truly are an experience, and we really do recommend it. You may never go back!

Water Temperature
While steeping a black tea in water boiled at 100˚C is usually a safe bet, that doesn’t mean it’s true for all teas! In fact, black tea is the only type of tea you should be steeping reasonably consistently with boiling water, as it’s much harder to burn the leaves. But start steeping a beautiful green or white tea in boiling water, and you’re going to have a problem. Brewing these types of tea at 100˚C will not just oversteep the tea — making it bitter and astringent — it will also burn the leaves slightly, preventing their true flavours from being released. Obviously, this is not ideal.

You can use the following chart to work out approximately the ideal brewing time for your tea. However, each individual tea’s brewing times may vary, so it always helps to pay attention to the listed brewing temperature on the packaging, if it was provided with the tea.

teatable

We will use a standard measure of 1 heaped teaspoon of tea per cup for this exercise.
But what can you do if you cannot set exact temperatures on your kettle? What if there is only boiling?
We’re afraid you’re going to have to do it the hard way: guesswork. There are two methods of doing this — one is turning the kettle off before it reaches boiling point, which allows you to get straight to brewing the tea. The drawback of this is that your guess is entirely arbitrary; the water could be any temperature. Your other option is to let the kettle boil and then allow the water to cool to a more desirable temperature. This allows you to time and figure out how many minutes you should cool the water down for so that it works best for your tea. Unfortunately though, this can create a significant delay. The best option, where possible, is to to buy a kettle with adjustable temperature settings.

Brew Time
You will have noticed that the previous chart also featured a column labelled “brew time”. Far from the rough estimate that many people make, it’s actually extremely important for you to time your brew in order to get the best from your tea. We call a tea over brewed when the brew time was too long or the water temperature too hot. As above, this can create a bitter and astringent tea liquor. Too much of the flavour of the tea will escape the leaves and the tannins will become too strong in the cup, leading to an unpleasant taste.
It’s easy to overbrew tea. Endeavour to keep your eyes on a clock while brewing, thus helping to ensure you get a delicious cup every time.

Follow these tips, and you’ll be well on your way to making some of the best brews in town!

About the author:
Sharyn Johnston is the CEO and founder of Australian Tea Masters. She has travelled extensively and also lived and worked in many countries around the world. She recognised how tea was consumed both in business and pleasure in different cultures, and found the enormous amount of varying flavours and tastes quite amazing, this interest became addictive. Sharyn is regularly invited to judge teas around the world and is a member of the International Tea Committee.
Facebook – Australian Tea Masters
Instagram – @austeamasters
Twitter – @SharynJohnston

 





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