Many tea lovers are driven to find the best-tasting cup of tea available, some fanatically so! They will experiment with various gadgets, temperatures and tea/water ratios to get a great-tasting cuppa. Some of the modern gadgets used to make tea include tea-infusing wands, one-touch automatic tea makers, mug-top brewers and tea balls.
It is easy to forget that tea has a very long history that dates back thousands of years and there are many traditional brewing methods for tea leaves. Most traditional brewing methods are very simplistic, but have a strong focus on the quality of the tea that is brewed. Here are some of the traditional brewing methods for various types of tea which might have you rethinking that expensive tea gadget!
Water, Heat, Container and Tea
There are four key variables which will determine the quality of a cup of tea:
- Tea — Quantity of tea leaf used
- Water — Temperature and quality the water used
- Time — Length of steeping time
- Container — The vessel used for brewing
Different varieties of tea benefit from different brewing techniques, because they bring out certain characteristics in the flavour of the tea. For example, green tea will taste better if brewed at lower temperature.
Don’t forget that individual preferences always play a key role in creating the ‘perfect’ cup of tea. You might discover that you prefer to increase the duration of a brew to enhance specific characteristics of a certain tea. Experiment and have fun!
Black tea has been oxidised in controlled temperatures to produce a tea that has a strong flavour and more caffeine. Black teas are by far the most popular variation of tea in the West.
There are many varieties of black tea, named after the region they came from — Assam, Darjeeling, Ceylon and so on. There are also popular blends including English breakfast, Earl Grey, Masala Chai and Irish breakfast.
- Tea — Use 1-2 teaspoons per cup
- Water — Use fresh purified water that has just been brought to the boil. Water should be boiled to 95° C (203° F).
- Time — 2-3 minutes for delicate black teas (broken leaf), 3-5 minutes for whole leaf black teas. The type and grade of leaf play a role in determining the correct brewing time.
- Container — Traditionally, iron, steel, porcelain and clay teapots have been used. Because black teas brew for longer periods and at high temperatures, containers should be able to hold their heat well. Avoid using glass containers because they lose heat more quickly. Simply add to the container of your choice, brew, then pour. Some black teas may be re-steeped on multiple occasions.
A cup of well-brewed black tea pairs nicely with a simple biscuit, scone or butter cake. A particularly robust black tea can go well with red meat.
Most of the green tea sold in the world is grown in China. While green tea is also immensely popular in Japan, it exports far less tea to the rest of the world. The major difference between Chinese and Japanese green tea is that Chinese teas are pan-fried to stop the oxidation process while Japanese teas are steamed. This has an interesting effect on the flavour of each tea.
- Tea — Japanese 1-2 teaspoons per cup, Chinese 2 teaspoons per cup
- Water — Ideally use fresh spring water. Water should be reduced to 70°-80° C (158°-176° F) for Japanese tea and 80°-85° C (176°-185° F) for Chinese teas (see below for temperature tips)
- Time — Japanese 1-2 minutes, Chinese 2-3 minutes
- Container — Japanese green tea is traditionally brewed in a glass or earthenware container, while Chinese is brewed in a glass or porcelain container.
To get the water close to the right temperature without a thermometer, follow these steps:
- Boil the water
- Pour it into the teapot (without the tea leaves) and wait for 1 minute
- Pour the water from the teapot into the cups you are using, discard the rest
- Add the green tea leaves to the empty pot
- Re-add the water, it should be close to the right temperature now for green tea
- Pour back into the cups and enjoy!
Because green tea has such a clean flavour, it can pair very well with a number of foods including seafood and rice. You can enjoy it while having your meal and it complements the flavours of many dishes.
Traditionally, white tea is made from young leaves, which are steamed or fried to prevent oxidation. White tea primarily comes from the Fujian province in China but is also grown in Nepal, India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Taiwan. White tea must be very fresh (no more than 6 months old) and must be carefully prepared.
- Tea — 2 teaspoons per cup
- Water — Ideally use fresh spring water. Water should be reduced to 80°-85° C (176°-185° F). You should boil your water then let it cool for between 6-8 minutes to reach the correct temperature.
- Time — 1-3 minutes, or 1-2 minutes if you intend to re-steep your white tea
- Container — White tea is traditionally brewed in a glass or porcelain container.
Due to the subtlety of white tea, any food that is paired with in must also have a subtle flavour. Rice-based dishes would be ideal.
Pu-erh is an aged dark tea from the Yunnan province in China. The tea has undergone microbial fermentation and oxidation after it has been dried, which gives it a very distinctive and powerful flavour.
Because of the slow oxidation process, this tea does not having the bitter properties of some other teas. You can make many brews from a single quantity of Pu-erh and it will not become overly bitter.
- Tea — Use 1-2 teaspoons per cup
- Water — Use fresh purified water that has just been brought to the boil. Water should be boiled to 100° C (212° F).
- Time — 3 minutes
- Container — Traditionally, clay teapots have been used. To prepare this tea in the traditional manner, use a Chinese Yixing pot.
Because this tea packs a punch, it can be enjoyed after large flavoursome meals. It is the perfect follow up to meals containing red meat or fish.
Oolong is a traditional Chinese tea that is available as a green or black tea. It is produced through a unique process which involves withering the plant under the sun before oxidation, then curling and twisting the leaves. The amount of oxidation can vary greatly with Oolong tea (ranging from 8% to 85%), so some experimentation is required to find the ideal brew time.
- Tea — For green and dark Oolong teas, use 2-3 teaspoons per cup.
- Water — Use fresh purified water that has just been brought to the boil. For green Oolong use water at 85° C (185° F), for dark Oolong tea use 95° C (203° F).
- Time — 2-3 minutes for green tea, 3 minutes for dark
- Container — Traditionally, clay teapots have been used. To prepare this tea in the traditional manner, use a Chinese Yixing pot. Green Oolong tea may also be prepared in a glass container.
Oolong is very popular in Asia and is often used in the Gongfu tea ceremony. This ceremony involves a number of steps, but essentially involves:
- The sterilising and warming of cups using boiling water
- Examination of the quality of the tea
- The teapot is filled with tea (5 grams for a 150 ml tea pot)
- The teapot is placed into a catching bowl and water is added until the tea pot overflows
- Debris is pulled from the surface of the tea pot
- The first brew is emptied into a container or discarded. It is considered a washing of the leaves
- Water is re-added to the pot, poured from a close distance
- Tea from the first brew is added into the catching bowl, to warm the outside of the pot
- After some “aroma appreciation” It is finally served!
Oolong tea is somewhat delicate and flavoursome. It pairs well with shellfish including lobster and crab.
Herbal teas can be made up of a wide variety of ingredients including herbs, flowers and roots. The tea used can also vary in terms of oxidation — some herbal teas use fine green tea while others use black tea. For this reason there is no ‘hard and fast’ rule for the time it takes to brew herbal tea.
Brewing herbal teas can take anywhere between 3 minutes to 30 minutes, depending on what you are drinking. If the tea consists of delicate flowers and green tea (for example, chamomile) the time will be shorter, if it contains roots and black tea (for example, ginger tea), it can be brewed for longer periods.
- Tea — Use 1-2 teaspoons per cup
- Water — Use fresh purified water that has just been brought to the boil. Water should be boiled then brought back to 95° C (203° F).
- Time — 3-30 minutes
- Container — Glass and porcelain are normally used for herbal teas
The foods that pair well with herbal teas can vary greatly. Some teas are fantastic after a meal to freshen the palate while others can be enjoyed prior to a meal to help you digest your food. Some experimentation is required!