To add to the healthy, whole food posts I decided I wanted to post about one of my favorite things. A good up of tea. I have never been a coffee person, and even though my wife enjoys a cup of java, I’ve never been able to acquire the taste.
Tea, or Camellia sinensis, originated in Asia. Tea is also one of the most popular drinks world wide, even more than soft drinks or even coffee, but don’t let anyone in Seattle know that. The legend behind tea says that a Chinese emperor had some leaves fall into some hot water and he drank the result. He found the beverage refreshing and thus tea was discovered.
Since it’s discovery several centuries ago tea has been crossed and bred to form different varieties. The same plant is still at the heart of it all. The English discovered tea in the 17th century and helped spread it through out the world. Today Britain is known for it’s love of tea, and even America is rediscovering this wonderful little plant.
Most tea is grown in Asia, either in China, India, or Sri Lanka. The majority comes from large tea plantations where thousands of tea plants are grown and the leaves harvested each season.
Tea plantation in hangzhou – from Wikimedia Commons
After tea is harvested, it is wilted, and depending on the type of tea that is being created, it may also be partially, or fully oxidized. My favorite kind of tea is a loose leaf black tea. I use either a mesh tea ball, or disposable tea bags to hold the tea while brewing it. If I had the time I would brew the tea loose in the water and filter the leaves out as I poured the tea. Sadly, I don’t have as much time for the art of tea as I would like.
Loose black tea – Wikimedia Commons
To brew the perfect cup of tea you’ll need a few things.
Boiling water. Yes, you can make tea in the microwave, but even though you can, you should not. To quote Dr. Ian Malcolm, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” (Yes that quote came from the movie Jurassic Park). The principal applies though. For the best cup of tea the water must be boiling. Since black tea is my most common type I like to drink we’ll start there.
First prepare the tea, either in a tea ball, a disposable bag. If you want to make the tea loose in the water make sure to pour water into the tea pot first, after the kettle has brought the water to a boil, and then pour it out to warm the ceramic or porcelain of the pot. This can also be done with a mug as well. It helps the water steeping the tea to retain its warmth.
Japanese cast-iron teapot – Wikimedia Commons
Now that the container is properly warmed, place the tea in the container and slowly pour the still boiling water over the top of the tea.
Wait, how much tea and how much water? These things must be known!
A good estimate is about one teaspoon full of dried tea leaves per prepared cup of tea. This usually means six ounces of water per serving. If you want stronger tea, simply add more leaves per cup.
The water has been added, and the leaves are starting to steep and change the color of the water. If you inhale the steam at this point rising off the steeping tea, you’ll discover how wonderful the scent can be.
Before we continue lets stop here and talk about things not to do with tea. Have you ever took a sip of tea and then felt your mouth go dry? Tea contains tannin that comes out during the steeping process. If black tea is steeped longer than five minutes the tea can contain large amounts of tannin. The tannin reacts with salivary proteins giving you a dry mouth feeling. Tannin also gives the tea a bitter taste.
By limiting the time tea steeps the amount of tannin in the drink is reduced. My personal preference for black tea is two to two and half minutes. This provides a very flavorful cup of tea, without the downside of a lot of tannin.
If you are using a tea bag, make sure not to swirl or squeeze the bag, this will increase the release of tannin from the tea leaves. Try not to swirl or dunk the tea in and out of the water as well. The key thing to remember is to make stronger tea, use more leaves, not increased steeping time.
Tea pot with freshly made tea with milk – Wikimedia Commons
Now that you have your freshly made cup of tea feel free to add whatever additions you want to it. I really enjoy a black cup of tea all by itself, and at other times I like a little sugar in mine. Here is a list of items people like to add to tea.
Purists will say the only way to drink a cup of tea is in one fashion or another. However, tea is a wonderful drink and when properly brewed can be enjoyed with a variety of additions. Tea also goes very well with fresh muffins, cookies, or any kind of pastry.
If black tea is not something you enjoy there are other kinds of teas that have differing flavors.
Tea of different fermentation: From left to right: Green tea (Bancha from Japan), Yellow tea (Kekecha from China), Oolong tea (Kwai flower from China) and Black tea (Assam Sonipur Bio FOP from India)
Tea Brewing Tip: Each kind of tea brews best at different temperatures. Green and white teas do better with water that is closer to 160F-170F, while black tea prefers a temp closer to 212F. Oolong tea is better brewed in between at 170F-185F.
White tea is the most tended of all the teas and is picked from the first leaves to be produced on the plant. Note: white tea should only be steeped 1-2 minutes to limit bitterness.
Green tea is not oxidized and is still green even after it has been dried. When I drink green tea I really enjoy jasmine green tea. This is green tea that has been infused with jasmine flowers. The taste is hard to describe, but it is one of my favorite teas. Note: green tea should only be steeped 1-2 minutes to limit bitterness
Oolong tea is about halfway between green tea and black tea, it has been partially oxidized, but not to same extent as black tea. Note: oolong tea can be steeped 2-3 minutes
Pu’er tea is dried, and then fermented and pressed into blocks. It has a unique taste and is probably the strongest among all the teas. Give this tea a try if you feel a bit adventurous.
Tea can also be steeped again two or three times. The flavor decreases each time, however, some cultures feel the 2nd steeping is the best flavor.
Enjoy your cup of tea and if you have any questions about brewing your own cup feel free to ask below.
– Jason Snell