Connoisseur Tea Guide: Upgrade Your Skills
"I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times." - Bruce Lee
Whether you're a white belt tea drinker or your steeping skills are registered as a deadly weapon, it's always a good idea to polish and refine your style.
Here, we will discuss some next-level ways to brew a perfect cup of tea. Let's deep dive into traditional methods and standard practices of tea drinking populations.
Why do the Japanese have artisans crafting chazutsu (handmade tin containers) for their tea storage?
Why do the Chinese pour water over their leaves and rinse them before the first brew?
Are these merely formalities, or is there a science behind the methodology? Perhaps we can learn a thing or two about the art of brewing tea!
How To Store Your Loose Leaf Tea
It all starts with the quality of the leaf. Once you venture into the world of loose tea, a cardboard box is no longer a sufficient container for storage.
Teabags contain dust and fannings, the literal dust from the bottom of the barrel. The quality of tea bag tea is massively degraded because of the high oxygen exposure. Loose tea is a whole leaf and requires more delicate care to maintain freshness.
What conditions are ideal for maintaining the freshness of the leaves?
Exposure to Light Damages Tea Leaves
The Japanese have perfected the art of tea storage with beautifully crafted tea tins. These tins prevent the leaves from being exposed to light and oxygen. Although you may wish to display your beautiful teas in a glass container, the light will strip the leaves of their flavor! To maintain the integrity of the leaf, an opaque container is necessary.
Oxygen Damages Tea Leaves
Another culprit that will damage your tea leaf is oxygen! Exposure to air will dry the tea and rob it of its flavor. Odors in the air may even impart a flavor of their own. By storing your tea in a container that seals out air, you protect the fragile chemistry of the tea leaf and maintain its unique composition.
Temperature Variations and Moisture
Avoid extreme heat or extreme cold as well. A pantry is the best spot to store your tea tins.
The refrigerator may seem like a good idea since it keeps other food items fresh, but moisture will quickly damage the leaf!
Finally, don't leave your tea in the car. The wild temperature variations inside a car will kill the quality of the leaves.
How to Prepare Your Water
A whistling kettle is not always the perfect temperature for brewing tea. All true tea leaves burn at boiling temperature.
The water temperature for brewing the proper cup of tea varies based on type but always falls between 175°F and 195°F.
Boiling water is 212°F, which is substantially hotter than the desired brewing temp. How do we ensure that we're steeping at the proper temperature? There are different practices.
A temperature variable kettle is an easy and accurate tool. There are also small tea thermometers for your cup.
Or, you can eyeball it! They say a watched pot never boils. So, keep your eyes on it until tiny bubbles and a bit of steam appear, and you've got the right temperature for brewing!
Some die-hard super serious tea drinkers have even determined that the water you brew with can impact the tea's flavor. One possibility is that the mineral composition affects the taste of the brewed tea.
Soft water is purportedly better for brewing tea. According to a non-scientific study, spring water has the proper pH balance and mineral composition. However, the final results of their test concluded that no water could save a lousy tea or ruin a good one!
How to Prepare Your Leaf
In Chinese culture, the leaves are given a quick rinse for roughly ten seconds, and that water is poured off before steeping the leaves. This is known as "washing the leaves."
Is this a formality, or is there a solid reason for this method? A quick rinse certainly can't hurt and may help brighten the flavor. Rinsing the tea leaves will remove any tea dust, significantly lowering the tannins that the steeping releases.
Tannins are responsible for some teas' bitter or astringent flavor, and we generally want to reduce bitterness to enjoy it. Another benefit of rinsing the leaves is that pearled or rolled teas will bloom a bit and release more pockets of flavor during the steeping process.
How much do you need?
Adding more tea to the filter can be tempting. However, the proper amount of tea is one teaspoon per every 6-8 oz of water. If you want a more potent brew, don't add extra tea! You may just be wasting precious leaves.
Use a maximum of 1.5 tsp of tea for every 8 oz for the proper ratio and flavor. Similarly, avoid steeping for more extended periods to extract more flavor. Oversteeping the leaves releases bitterness and may burn the tea.
Resteep Your Leaves
Don't toss your tea after the first brew. Some people believe that the second and third steeps have the best flavor! Have you heard of resteeping your leaves?
You should always resteep high-quality oolong and green teas. The idea here is to steep smaller quantities of tea multiple times. Think single 8 oz cup, not an entire teapot. Oolong teas, rolled teas, and pearled teas will open up. As they unfurl, more surface area is exposed on each leaf, and fresh flavors will emerge from the depths! Yum.
Blending teas can be a fun and exciting way to introduce new flavors and experiment. Perhaps you have an herbal tea with a decadent or nutty flavor you enjoy, like Roasted Almond, but would like something caffeinated.
If you keep a diversified stash on hand, the options are endless!
Thanks a Latte!
Many teas can make delicious lattes! Tea can be just as decadent and fun as coffee (and much healthier for you).
A London Fog is an Earl Grey latte. Brew the tea with less water to leaf ratio, froth milk, and mix.
Matcha lattes are gaining in popularity (because they're delicious!) These can be made iced or hot. Mix the matcha and milk (or milk alternative) together using a blender or a milk frother. The high-speed machines will whip or blend the powder into the milk and eliminate clumps.
If you'd like an exciting and delicious latte, brew Turmeric Ginger as a concentrate and combine it with frothed milk. A Golden Milk latte is healthy, caffeine-free, and scrumptious.
Sugar- Oh, Honey, Honey!
Some purists may turn their nose up at adding sugar or honey to the tea. However, a little sweetness can brighten the flavor and satisfy your sweet tooth!
Chocolate teas and chais take to sweetness quite well and make a light alternative to an all-out dessert. A little indulgence isn't a bad thing. :)
Life is Giving Lemons
It seems like adding lemon to tea has gone out of fashion. Research has shown that citric acid increases the absorption of EGCG and antioxidants from the tea.
Adding freshly squeezed lemon into hot or iced green tea can be healthy and satisfying. Citrus blends nicely with mint, such as our Peppermint. Be careful not to mix milk or dairy alternatives with citrus, as it will curdle and separate the proteins.
Extra Credit Knowledge
These tips and tricks can help you brew tea like a pro. If you want to get hip to the tea terminology, check out our tea term guide to learn the tea vernacular.
With practice and passion, you can increase your tea expertise. Don't be afraid to blend, experiment, and whip up fancy lattes! Old school methods and new school creativity make the world of tea endless and exciting. Cheers!