The perfect cup of tea...
Oh my goodness, google this topic and you will find heaps of suggestions about how to brew the perfect cup. In the complete works of George Orwell, you will find a whole essay on it!
Everyone has an opinion on how tea should be brewed. Points of contention include whether the milk goes in first, or after the tea, if using tea bags should you squeeze them or not. Is it better to use water fresh from the tap or use water that has been sitting in the kettle that has already boiled once. The list goes on and on.
If you study the world of tea, you soon realise that not all teas are created equal. Firstly, there are basically five different teas all coming from the one plant - Camellia sinensis - namely white tea, green tea, oolong tea, black tea and puerh tea. All are processed differently and therefore should be brewed differently.
To go forward, let's first take a step back to understand more -
A very brief history - Camellia sinensis can grow in most climates but prefers a tropical climate and in these conditions the best tea is produced. The plant was first discovered in China and was spread throughout Asia by monks who drank tea for both medicinal and spiritual purposes. In the 1600s the plants were spread further afield to countries such as India, Sri Lanka and Kenya to keep up the demand for black tea for the British and Dutch empires.
Since these humble beginnings, tea has become a part of billions of people’s daily lives around the world, with over 3 billion tonnes of tea produced for consumption each year.
This photo is of a beautiful tea garden we visited in Darjeeling, northern India, in Sept '19.
Varieties, Grades and Blends are terms you will hear when talking tea. Variety is the different forms the tea leaf can take after processing – Black, White, Green, Pu-erh, Oolong. Tea grades are used to differentiate between leaf size and shape as well as where on the plant the leaf was plucked. There are 4 broad categories of grading - Whole leaf, Brokens, Fannings and Dust. You may also have heard some of the following terms - Tippy, Golden, Flowery, Finest, Broken, Orange Pekoe to name but a few. These, simply put, are the ‘grades of tea' within the broad categories whole leaf, brokens, fannings and dust.
Some tea companies have a tea called Orange Pekoe, which is confusing because this term actually refers to ‘grade of tea’ and not a variety or blend. The tea industry uses the term orange pekoe to describe a basic, medium-grade black tea consisting of many whole tea leaves of a specific size. So just know, if your are drinking Orange Pekoe, it is the grade of the "black tea" you are drinking, not a variety or blend.
A ‘blend’ is simply a mix of two or more types of tea, or other ingredients, to produce a desired taste. For instance, English Breakfast is a blend and is probably the most well-known. It is generally a mix of three teas from different countries – be that northern India, Sri Lanka, Kenya or China. It is an Aussie favourite as it has good colour, pretty aroma, good strength and looks good with milk. Beyond English Breakfast there are many beautiful teas worth trying. Earl Grey, Chai, Jasmine Tea, Afternoon Teas, Tisanes (herbal teas) - the list goes on and on.
Tisanes (Herbal Teas) are popular these days and these are herbal or fruit infusions. Tisanes do not actually contain the leaf of the tea plant, but they are often enjoyed in the same way as tea. A huge variety of herbs, flowers, fruit, roots and barks are used as ingredients. By blending these natural ingredients Tisanes are used for health and healing purposes in many cultures. Tisanes are also popular as a naturally ‘caffeine-free’ hot tea-like drink.
Rooibos, which literally translates ‘red bush” is a bushy plant native to South Africa. It is naturally caffeine-free and starts out a succulent shade of green then turns an earthy red colour once processed. This plant is treated in a similar way to the tea plant. You can also get the unoxidized rooibos tea, referred to as green rooibos, although it is much less common.
Speaking of ‘caffeine’ - tea contains caffeine, even decaffeinated tea contains caffeine! A word to the wise - if you are sensitive to it, a good ‘quality’ tea will keep you as wide awake as coffee. Best to stick to the Herbal Tea if you are really sensitive.
Some tea companies boost the flavours of their teas with artificial flavours and/or colours to mask the poorer quality of the leaves they use and to boost profit margins. These artificial flavours will leave their own after taste and it is not until you compare this against a tea that is picked at the optimum time and has natural flavours that you recognise the difference. Just as you read labels on food - make sure you read labels on teas as well, as you will be surprised as to what you might find.
As far as brewing the perfect cup is concerned - it really is a matter of taste and what ‘you like’! This will pretty much determine what sort of tea you ‘feel’ you want at any time of the day or night. As I said earlier, there is so much information out there about how to make the ‘perfect’ cup of tea.
At Brackendale we say "you are the boss of your cup. You make it how it looks and tastes right for you" as you are the one drinking it!
A general rule of thumb is 1 slightly heaping teaspoon of loose tea leaves per cup. Freshly boiled water in temperature between 75 - 80 degrees for your white, green and oolong teas (the only exception to this is the "blooming" teas where you need really hot water to help the tea ball to bloom). For your black and puerh the water temperature should to be between 85-100 degrees. Pour the water over the leaves and brew from anywhere between 1-5 minutes for green teas, 3-4 minutes for white tea and 3-5 minutes for oolong, black and puerh tea. If you like it strong then add more tea leaves, do not lengthen the brewing time as this can cause bitterness. While we are talking of this, a bonus with a good quality tea leaves (especially your green teas) is you can get a couple of re-fills on the pot. The trick is to remember to pour all the water off each time before you re-fill as the leaves sitting in the water will go bitter and again brew it for the set brewing time per leaves.
For the longest time I didn't like green tea because I was making the classic mistake of brewing it for too long. I found it bitter and it had a strong marine flavour. Now that I have learned the correct brewing of it I regularly partake in a nice cup of green tea.
So there you have it! I hope you have enjoyed this read and that you learned something. Leave me a comment and let me know what it was.