Tea Tips

No matter how expensive the tea you buy, if you brew it wrong, it can taste awful.

No matter how expensive the tea you buy, if brewed wrong, it can taste awful.

This is a lesson many beginners learn the hard way. An incorrectly brewed tea can turn most people off who claim that they “don’t like the taste”. But this can be easily avoided with better brewing.

Many households that serve tea try to cut corners by simply throwing all teas into boiling water and serving without any direction. Steeping good tea is not rocket science, but it is also not as simple as chucking it into boiling water and leaving it to waste. There are easy ways, however, to steep the perfect cup. In fact there are nearly as many brewing methods as there are teas.

The trick to steeping tea correctly is divided into three parts: time, temperature, and volume. Use too much tea and you will make your tea bitter and use too little will result in a weak cup and a sense of longing. The generally accepted ratio of leaves to water is one teaspoon of leaves per cup of water. However the light Oolongs and White Tea will taste best with twice that.

Some like it hot. The ideal temperature for which to steep depends on the tea. Use boiling water (212F) when preparing black, dark oolong, and herbal teas. These teas are tough and can take the burn. However it’s important to use cooler (180F) water when steeping more delicate teas such as green, light oolong, and white teas. Remember not to over-steep or the tea will taste bitter.

Left to brew too long makes most teas turn bitter. The rule of thumb is 3 – 5 minutes for most black teas– any longer and they’ll taste almost as bad as coffee. Dark Oolong and White teas, on the other hand, are much more forgiving. These teas will taste best when steeped for 7 minutes but will still be drinkable if steeped a little longer. Rooibos and many Herbals can be left for lengthy periods depending primarily on your taste. For light Oolong and Green teas, a little care must be employed, steep for only 3 minutes.

Besides the tea leaves another important part in making the perfect cup is the water. Pure, clean, water will make a world of difference in the taste. Even the finest of tea varieties will taste quite bland or bitter when prepared with poor water.

The proper equipment is also very important in the steeping process. When hot water is added tea leaves can unfurl up to 5 times their dry size. So to make a great tea you need to give your leaves some legroom. A large infuser is essential to instill as much flavour into your cup as possible. Commercial tea bags are not recommended due to inadequate expansion room and a generally lower quality tea.

Finally, and most importantly, to make the perfect cup of tea there is one more prerequisite: good tea. Buy the best within your budget, as it will make a noticeable difference to your taste experience. At Winston’ we make every effort to source fresh high quality teas to enhance your enjoyment of “taking tea”.

These suggestions are certainly not rigid rules as everyone has different tastes. To achieve the correct brewing time to fit an individual palate a little experimentation is necessary. A general guide to a good brew is as follows:

  • Start with fresh, cold, water. Tap water is often acceptable, but if your tap water has a noticeable taste, you may want to use filtered or bottled water. Put the water in a kettle to boil.
  • Prepare the teapot. Heat it by filling it (or rinsing it) with hot water.
  • Shortly before the water in the kettle boils, empty out the teapot, and add the tea leaves.
  • You may put the leaves loose in the pot, but the use of a strainer, infuser or tea ball is recommended. If you are inclined to use tea bags (heaven forbid) place the bags on the bottom of the pot so that they will be struck by the boiling water as you fill the pot.
  • Bring the teapot to the kettle and add the water. For most black and oolong teas add the water just after it reaches a full boil.
  • Allow the tea to infuse for three to five minutes. Be careful not to let the tea stand for too long. Different teas take different infusion times.
  • During the infusion give the teapot a good shake or stir to let the leaves circulate. After they settle pour the tea. Some authorities recommend using cups that have been pre-heated with hot water. This is primarily important if you are using very thin porcelain that could crack by the sudden addition of very hot tea.
  • Add whatever accessories you prefer: milk, sugar, honey, lemon, etc. Cream is usually too heavy and should be avoided. There is considerable debate about whether to put milk in the cups before you add the tea or afterwards.

Storing Tea

Tea should be stored in an airtight opaque container in a, cool, dry place. Generally metal tins that close tightly are optimal. Clear glass jars are acceptable only if you can keep them in a closed cupboard away from light. If you reuse containers, avoid using materials that retain odors, as the tea will pick them up.

The refrigerator is not a good place to store tea. The cold encourages water condensation which can ruin the tea. You can freeze tea for long-term storage if you tightly seal your container and wrap it in plastic. Before you open a container of frozen tea let it warm to room temperature in order to avoid contaminating the tea with condensation.