Good quality tea and good water are the essentials for a great cuppa.
However to brew the best cup of tea the quantities used, as well as the brewing or steeping times, are crucial.
The table below will give a guide to the amount of tea to be used as well as the optimal brewing time.
Water temperature is also important:
Black Teas – 100 degrees C – water just at the point of boiling.
Green Teas and White Teas – 90 degrees C
Herbal Infusions – 100 degrees C
However in domestic or commercial situations it is not always easy to ensure the exact and correct temperature, though recently available variable temperature equipment will enable this to be done.
The safest option is to use water at the point of boiling. Do not let the water boil for too long as this adversely affects the flavour of the tea or infusion.
Matcha is a finely powdered green tea used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony CHANOYU.
Tea bushes which produce Matcha are covered with bamboo mats prior to being picked.
This produces a slightly darker leaf and is said to increase the quality of nutrients, giving rise to many claims relating to its health benefits.
The Japanese Tea Ceremony is slow and formal and performed with deliberate purpose.
However, Matcha can be drunk by adding it to very hot (not boiling) water which is then whisked into a frothy drink.
Matcha is considered a modern super food because of its health benefits, although it has been used by the Japanese people for centuries!
Apart from being a drink which has a cleansing flavour and grassy overtones, it is now added to smoothies, lattes, biscuits, sweets, cakes and ice cream.
Have you ever noticed that eating meals with good quality crockery and drinking from good glassware, enhances the dining experience and seems to make the food and drink taste better?
It is the same with tea. Use good quality teapots and cups and above all, use the right type of teapot for the tea you are drinking.
The best quality teapots are of fine china, pottery, stoneware or glass. Silver or aluminium are not as good.
Also remember that plungers are meant for coffee not tea, as coffee floats and tea sinks.
Yixing teapots are made of different coloured clays and only used for one type of tea – as the pot absorbs the flavour of the tea over time.
Tea cup infusers made of fine China (with a removable tea ‘basket’) are becoming increasingly popular and are a convenient alternative to the tea bag.
Quality tea strainers are also available, the finer the mesh the better. Tea balls if used should be as large as possible to allow the tea to infuse and expand.
So, when drinking traditional black tea always use fine China, predominantly white in colour.
Similarly Chinese and Japanese tea must be drunk using the traditionally shaped Oriental style teapot together with drinking bowls, not tea cups.
Herbal and fruit infusions are best enjoyed in quality glass teapots with glass cups.
While honey and lemon added to your favourite tea or herbal infusion is a great way to beat the winter chills and ills, there are some teas and herbal infusions that are better suited to drinking in winter.
A dozen suggestions are:
Moroccan Mint (green tea with mint)
Green Tea with Chilli (sweet South American chilli)
Green Tea with Eucalypt (and lemon myrtle)
Genmaicha (Japanese green tea with rice and popped corn)
Smoky Earl Grey Tea (with bergamot)
Dream of Winter Tea (China black tea with orange peel, almonds and mallow flowers)
Chai Masala Tea (black tea with exotic spices and flavour)
Spicy Fruit Tea (black tea flavoured with fruits and berries)
Rooibos Oriental Spice (healthy and caffeine free with fragrant herbs and spices)
Goji Berries and Hibiscus Infusion (with lemongrass, peppermint camomile and ginger)
Lemongrass and Ginger Infusion (with liquorice and peppermint)
Rosehip (high in Vitamin C)
A recent article by the gentleman who invented the coffee capsule stated the he regretted having done so.
The reason? The environmental impact of millions of used capsules, some aluminium, some plastic.
While producers claim that they are recycled, with the best of intentions, most end up in waste refill!
The same goes for the so called silken or silk pyramid bags (they are actually nylon) – a gimmick which leads to millions of used teabags which are virtually non destructible.
While some are biodegradable they do take a very very long time to break down. Test them yourself if you must!
The traditional paper teabags do break down easily and their contents can be recycled as compost.
Used coffee capsules, nylon pyramid tea bags and discarded cigarette filters, all indestructible – do we really need them in our fragile planet?
As a general rule, a cup of tea contains about a third of the caffeine content of a cup of coffee. Herbal infusions such a Peppermint and Fruit Infusions do not contain caffeine.
A cup of green tea contains approximately half the caffeine content of black tea and white tea has even less.
Caffeine affects different people in varying ways. Moderate tea drinkers (5 to 6 cups of black tea per day) have no reason for any concern. An upper limit of around 8 cups of black tea, 4 for ladies during pregnancy, is recommended.
It must also be remembered that moderate caffeine consumption does have its benefits such as increasing alertness, reducing fatigue and aiding digestion.
Decaffeinated teas which are the usual traditional black and green teas which have been ‘decaffeinated’ using a non-chemical high pressure water process are imported from Germany and are readily available.
An interesting method of reducing caffeine in tea is to brew the tea slightly stronger than usual and then getting rid of the infused liquid tea after one minute. The tea leaves are then re-infused for 3 to 4 minutes. It is said that most of the caffeine in tea emerges in the first minute of brewing so by using this method most of the caffeine is removed. This method can also be used for reducing caffeine in teabags.
Over 70 per cent of tea drunk in the United States is drunk as iced tea, mainly in the southern states.
Most regular teas can be drunk iced, and it is certainly a healthy and very refreshing drink, particularly in summer.
There are a few rules though – use good quality tea. Inferior teas are quickly shown up when iced tea is prepared.
Bright colour, lack of cloudiness, fresh aroma and a distinctive and refreshing flavour should be the product of a good iced tea made with quality tea.
Teabags and flavoured teas can also be used and herbal infusions specifically made for making iced tea are also used quite extensively. Try to avoid artificial powders.
To make iced tea:
- Use 30-50 per cent more tea than is usually used, to make the brew stronger as it usually served in a jug and ice is added which dilutes it further.
- Brew the tea in the usual way, add sugar (sugar syrup is best) if required, strain into a jug, pot or container and allow it to cool to room temperature.
- Pour into a jug with a lid and leave it in a refrigerator overnight.
- Pour the tea into tall glasses or wine glasses, add ice if required, garnish with fresh fruit or mint and serve to your delighted guests.
Flavour, aroma and colour (of the infused tea) are the essential qualities looked at when the quality of teas are assessed.
Consistency, which expert tea blenders try to achieve, is not easily or always obtained.
Tea is a natural agricultural product and seasonal factors can and do, affect the flavour (very similar to wine).
Tea packed at different months of the year will vary in flavour.
Tea producers often wish it can be artificially manufactured to a formula – that would make life so much easier! But then it will be so boring!
Water, location and changes in medication can affect the flavour of tea as well. Storage in an airtight container is also a must.
Additionally one can become slightly desensitised to the flavour by regular use.
For example, visitors to a tea warehouse will often remark on the beautiful aroma of tea when they enter the premises.
Sadly, the people who work daily in that environment cannot enjoy it – they are totally desensitised!
However, if they are away for a week or so they can actually experience the aroma when they return!
A suggestion (if you are experiencing a variation of flavour in the teabag is that you use) is that you try brewing leaf tea (actually cheaper by the cup) rather than tea bags.
This will enable you to vary the quantity used, to give you the brew you desire.
But remember, although brewed tea will usually give you a better tea experience and that all teabags are not bad, you must use GOOD QUALITY TEA AND TEABAGS and not the generally cheap and nasty varieties found in major supermarkets.
A tea taster or blender tastes many hundreds of tea samples each week. This process determines the quality of the tea and the price that it will attract. Descriptive terms used by the tea trade exist for dry leaf, infused leaf and the beverage (called liquors).
The terms are too many to mention here but generally dry leaf has about thirty descriptive terms, infused leaf about twelve and liquors about fifty. For example a sample of good Ceylon Tea can be described by the blender as black, clean and even (dry leaf), good aroma, bright and coppery (infused leaf) and good body, bright, brisk, coloury and thick (liquors)!
So the next time you have a cup of good tea remember the effort that goes into making it a good one.
To enjoy the real flavour and aroma of high quality black tea try taking it without milk or sugar.
Green teas, flavoured teas and herbal infusions should be taken without milk. A mere touch of sugar or honey perhaps, if it is so desired.
It is said that milk was introduced to tea in the 18th century, particularly in Britain, to mask the mustiness of tea which occurred after the long voyage from China.
It then became a habit which spread through the British Empire. Interestingly milk is rarely added to tea in the rest of Europe.
Some teas such as English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast are blended with the expectation that milk will be added.
How you take your tea depends entirely on your taste and your habits. So enjoy it the way you prefer. But PLEASE use good quality tea.
Which is why coffee plungers are good for coffee and not for tea leaves. Also the plunger damages the tea leaf and causes tannins to be released which can make the tea bitter.
Because infused tea sinks to the bottom of the pot, look for a pot with the spout at the top of the pot not at the bottom, to minimise the flow of leaves into the cup when pouring.
A well designed pot will have a spout that does not drip and a lid that stays in place when pouring the tea.
Many pots have infusers built in that prevent tea leaves from flowing into the cup and also prevent the tea from ‘stewing’.
Stewing happens when the tea in the pot is infused for longer than the recommended time. This distorts the flavour and makes the tea dull and bitter.
The only common factor between tea and coffee is the use of boiling water to infuse or brew them. Even that is not quite the same as the correct water temperature for infusing teas varies with the type of tea being infused.
Tea leaf versus coffee bean, the agricultural processes employed, the caffeine content and health benefits, the various type of product, the infusion and brewing methods and even the method of serving are all different.
That is why it is always amusing to read and hear about tea and coffee experts!