Monday, November 5, 2012

Getting Started with Tea, Part 1

The first in a two-part series containing information from an article that I wrote several years ago on getting started with the wonderful world of tea.

Water is important in making tea. It will literally make the difference between a tea tasting good or not. If at all possible use bottled or filtered water.
As far as heating the water, stovetop or electric kettle is preferable, but the microwave will do, if necessary. Temperature is important, but the specific water temperature for each tea will be in that tea’s section.

Bagged tea is easy. Bagged tea is cheap. Bagged tea usually tastes terrible once you have had loose leaf, especially one of good quality. But it will suffice in a rush. Also, there are a great number of herbal blends that are only available bagged, and these are perfectly fine bagged. The difference between bagged and loose tea lies mostly in the actual quality of the leaves from the tea plant that are used. Herbal blends often do not contain any tea leaves at all and are simply called “teas” because they are blends that are steeped in hot water to make a drink. The general rule for how much tea to use is one bag or one teaspoon of loose leaf per eight ounces of water. Most loose leaf can be re-steeped at least once. It is best to simply try re-steeping, to see if the leaves/bag still have any life left. Now, on to specific types of tea.

Black Tea
Black tea is the most oxidized of all teas, the most caffeinated tea, and the tea with the least antioxidants. In general, the more oxidized a tea is, the more caffeinated it will be, and the fewer antioxidants it will have. This is not to say that it does not have any antioxidants; it simply has fewer than, say, a white tea.
Steeping black tea is super easy…but also can be complicated.
Water temperature: Boiling. Go ahead, this part is easy. Just boil the water, and then steep the tea. Because the leaves are so oxidized, they cannot be scalded by the very hot water.
Steep time: This is totally based on personal taste. Steep times vary, but you must be careful to not steep the tea too long or you will get a bitter/astringent brew. Always go for less time than you think the leaves will need. You can always put the tea back in for a short time longer, if it is not strong enough for you.

Oolong Tea
Oolong tea ranges in oxidization somewhere between a green and a black tea. The taste, however, is more akin to a green tea, though it is certainly unique. Oolong is brewed to be strong, and, thus, it is quite simple to just put the leaves in the brewing vessel and never have to take them out, simply refilling the vessel with hot water for repeated steeping. In fact, most oolongs get better after the first or second steeping. Unlike other teas, the flavor of oolongs evolves through multiple steepings.
Water temperature: Just boiled. Boil the water, and then leave it for about a minute, then steep. Because of how oolong is made, the chance of scalding the leaves is low.
Steep time: Leave the leaves/bag in the steeping vessel for multiple steeping. There is no need to pull them out. After pouring the initial water over the leaves, it should not be more than a couple minutes before the first infusion is ready to be consumed.

Feel free to leave any questions or feedback in the comment section!

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