As a seasoned tea drinker, you will know your daily cup is much more than a way to stay hydrated. A well brewed cup of tea is a relaxing, restorative experience; it awakens us and replenishes our body and mind. It gives us an opportunity to slow down and bring calmness and serenity to our day.
But what you’ll also know is that not all cups of tea are created equal. So, follow these 6 steps and you’ll be steeping tea like a professional.
1) Choose good quality, (ideally) loose leaf tea
From the soil it is grown in, to the age of the leaf when it is plucked, to the processing that then takes place, the way tea is created has an enormous effect on how it tastes, smells and makes you feel. There is a big difference between tea you find at the supermarket and specialty tea.
So, the first, and arguably most important step, is to choose a fresh, full leaf tea, as this will reward you with exceptional flavours and aromas in a way a lower quality tea or one that's been sitting on the shelf for years will never be able to, no matter how you steep it.
2) Invest in a good teapot or infuser net
Traditionally, the Western way to steep tea is in giant teapots with the leaves left to stew. If steeping tea just for yourself, a better way is to use a small tea pot or use a large infuser net in your cup (don’t use the small ball infusers as they don’t let the leaves expand enough.) If you’re preparing tea for a group, use a tea pot that has a removeable infuser net and holds approximately 150mls per person. The key is to be able to drain all of the steeped tea away from your leaves as soon as they are steeped.
3) Leaf to water
The right leaf to water ratio will help you make your tea ‘just right’ - not too strong or not too weak. The easiest way, if you have one (and worth investing in if you don’t), is to use a small scale and measure out 3 grams of leaves per 150 mls water (about the size of a standard tea cup – not mug). If you don’t have scales, use one teaspoon of small leaf or rolled tea, or two teaspoons of large leaves (across any of the six types). From here, you can adjust the amount of leaves to your taste.
4) Pure water, pure tea
As brewed tea is 99% water, the water you infuse your leaves in has a profound effect on how your tea tastes. If your water tastes clean and pure, your tea will taste the same. Using freshly drawn, cold filtered water that is full of oxygen (which is depleted every time you boil water) will bring the aromas and flavours of your tea to life and won’t mask your tea’s flavour with impurities.
5) Your water temperature
The right temperature will help you activate the aromatic oils in your leaves and draw out their best flavour notes without scorching the tea and turning it bitter. Generally, use 80°c - 85°c for white, green and light oolong, 90°c for dark oolong, 95°c for dark tea and 95°c - 100°c for black.
If you don’t have a temperature-variable kettle (another good investment for any tea lover!), open the kettle lid and let the boiled water cool for 1.5 minutes for dark tea, 2 minutes for dark oolong and 2.5 minutes for white, green and light oolong. Or simply add a splash of cold water to your pot/cup.
6) Time your tea
Just like water temperature, each tea type suits a different brewing duration. ALWAYS use your smart-phone (or oven timer) to time how long you need to steep your leaves for. While every tea is different, allow 2 minutes for green and dark tea, 3 minutes for black and 4 minutes for white and oolong, and your delicate leaves will never turn bitter. Again, this is a good starting point and you can adjust to taste. And you can always steep good quality tea leaves at least twice.
If you don’t currently prepare your tea in this way, it may feel a little cumbersome! But I assure you, once you have all of the right equipment and follow these steps a few times, steeping loose leaf specialty tea is just as easy as using a tea bag. And the aromas and flavours are worth the effort.
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1) There are two different methods when it comes to leaf/water volume and steeping time – the Western way and Eastern way (Gong Fu Cha). I have used the Western method above. The eastern method sees you doubling the quantity of leaves, then shortening steep times to less than a minute. You can then steep the same leaves 3 – 4 + times.
2) Cold-brewing tea is also a brilliant way to steep tea – particularly in summer. Find out how here.