A Brief Introduction
you've probably had a few cups of tea in your time – after all, it
is the world's second most popular beverage, behind only water – and
you think you know your stuff. Then, one day, someone comes along bearing
a little canister full of dried leaves. You open it up and wow! What
a scent! "What is this magical stuff," you ask, wondering
if it's some sort of trendy new potpourri. "Tea," is
can that be? Tea comes in anonymous little bags and makes a bitter,
if refreshing, black brew. Or maybe a pale yellow-green one. Maybe you're
a little more adventurous – maybe you've dabbled in the mysterious
alchemy that is herbal infusions, or perhaps you've gotten your hands
on one of the gourmet teabags that's started to hit the market.
Still, this canister full of deliciously fragrant leaves, herbs, and
spices isn't what you've become accustomed to when you think of tea.
just got to try it. But how?
brewing loose leaf tea is easy! Sure, there's a couple rules and a few
more steps involved than just dunking a bag into a cup of hot water,
but you'll appreciate the results.
things first. You're going to need a teapot and a kettle. No, they aren't
the same thing. A kettle is put on the stove and used to heat water;
a teapot is where the now-hot water gets introduced to the leaves. You
should always warm your teapot before brewing – just pour some hot
water in, slosh it around, and dump it out. Now, while the kettle
is coming back to a boil, we can contemplate the leaves.
a few different kinds of tea out there: the most common are black, green,
and the newly popular white. There are also tisanes, which are infusions
made with the leaves of a plant other than Camellia sinensis,
the proper tea plant. We'll tackle those later – for now, let's just
focus on black and green.
tea is what you get when leaves from Camellia sinensis are plucked
and dried, then allowed to oxidize, a process sometimes called fermentation.
The leaves wither and become black; they're then heated to stop the
oxidation process, packaged, and shipped out to tea blenders across
the world where they're turned into the delicious brews you know and
tea, on the other hand, isn't oxidized – it's just dried out and fired,
and sometimes curled into tiny balls to create a variant called gunpowder
green. Because it skips the oxidation step, green tea retains a lighter
flavour and a lighter colour in the cup.
and green tea have to be treated differently when brewing. Black tea
responds best to boiling water and a short steeping time; green tea
likes a gentler heat and an even shorter steep.
how do you steep loose tea? Well, there's a couple ways.
If you're at home and have your teapot and kettle ready, it's very simple.
After warming up the pot, drop in a few teaspoonfuls of tea – the
rule of thumb is that you use one heaping teaspoonful (and yes, we're
talking silverware, not measuring spoons) of tea per cup, plus an extra
for the pot. Then pour in the water – and the temperature matters.
For black tea, "walk the pot to the kettle" – you want the
water to be at a full boil when you pour it into the pot. For
green tea (and for herbals), "walk the kettle to the pot"
– you want the water to be just off boiling, somewhere between 190-200F.
By walking the kettle from the stove over to where your teapot is, you
give the water a chance to cool down.
that the water's in there, how long do you wait? For green tea,
a 1-2min steeping time is usually good. For black tea, 3-5 minutes produces
a good cup. As you get used to brewing loose leaf tea, you can tinker
with the steeping time to produce your perfect cup.
steeping, pour the tea into your cup. It's as simple as that. You can
pour over a strainer to catch any wayward leaves, but they tend to stay
near the bottom of the pot – and a few leaves in your cup never hurt
and sugar? Traditionally, cream is put in the cup before the tea is
poured and sugar is added afterwards; this order protected fine white
china from being stained by the dark tea. Realistically, though, the
order doesn't matter. Just add cream and sugar to taste!
what about those herbals, you say? Easy! You prepare herbal infusions,
also called tisanes, the same way you prepare "real" tea –
the only difference is in steeping time. Rooibos, made from the reddish,
needle-like leaves of a South African bush, is naturally caffeine-free
and has a very pleasant, slightly sweet flavor. It likes to be steeped
in water just off the boil for 5-7 minutes.
mate, the cut and dried leaves of a South American plant, contains caffeine
but provides a gentler buzz than coffee. It can be green or toasted;
green yerba mate tastes similar to green tea, but without the potential
bitterness, while toasted yerba mate has a delicious roasty flavor
similar to coffee. Mate is steeped in boiling water for 7-9 minutes,
and can even be re steeped later.
infusions are made from the leaves and flowers of various plants, often
with fruit and spices added. Chamomile and peppermint "teas"
are some of the most popular herbal infusions. To brew an herbal tisane,
use water just off the boil and steep for a minimum of 7 minutes –
10-15 wouldn't go amiss.
is just a very brief introduction to the wonderful world of premium
loose leaf tea. After you get used to dealing with the loose stuff,
you may want to try out other infusion techniques – strainers, tea balls,
mesh spoons and more – but remember that tea will always taste best
brewed loose in a pot. Tea leaves, like all of us, like to have room
to grow and play!
also probably get addicted to the choice. Loose leaf tea comes in an
infinite number of varieties – and blenders are always adding more flavored choices to the lineup! You can experiment with different regional
varieties, different types, different flavors – the possibilities
are literally endless.
of the great things about tea is that you can always find something
new to try, and something new to learn. Try reading up on tea history,
on the sorting and grading process (just what does orange pekoe
mean, anyway?), and trying out weird new varieties, like aged pu'ehr
or smoky lapsang souchong. There's something out there for every
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