My greatest lesson about tea came from an unexpected place- Bucharest, Romania. I was stopping in the lobby of the city’s most luxurious hotel when I spotted a prestigious tea brand on the menu (with a ridiculous price tag to match!). Thinking I’d treat myself, I ordered a Japanese sencha green tea. When it arrived, it was immediately apparent they’d used boiling water to brew the tea.
This left the delicate tea leaves burnt and bitter. To add insult to injury, it was served in a British-style, porcelain pot so there was no way to lift the leaves out once they had finished steeping. They were doomed to die a bitter death.
The lesson I learned from this; you can have the highest quality tea, worth a thousand dollars a kilo, but if you don’t brew it correctly, it’s worth nothing. Here are my top five tips so you can make the best possible cuppa:
1. Check the water temperature
When making a cup of tea, it’s imperative to pay attention to the recommended water temperature. This is because each type of tea has a different temperature it must be brewed at. Generally, the less processed the tea is, the lower the brewing temperature needs to be. For example, pouring lukewarm water onto black tea will cause it to be dull and insipid. The tea simply doesn’t get the chance to open up and release its flavours; it does best when the water is around 90 degrees. Green tea, on the other hand, needs water to be around 80 degrees; any warmer and it will become bitter and unpalatable.
So how can you make sure your water is the correct temperature? There are special kettles on the market that have temperature settings, allowing you to choose the exact temperature for each tea type. However, if you don’t want to spend the extra money, water can be boiled in the kettle (around 100 degrees) and then you can add almost a third of room temperature water to cool it down to 80 degrees. However, you must make sure you are correcting the temperature before adding the leaves.
2. Never over steep
I’ll admit it, there have been times where I’ve put a pot of Earl Grey on and totally forgot about it until 10 minutes later. The resulting tea is incredibly strong and bitter and no amount of added water seems to save it. On the flip side, when someone makes me a cuppa and takes the tea bag out too early, it’s bland and flavourless.
It’s important to follow the correct steeping time. This is where infusers and tea bags are particularly helpful, because you can take the leaves out as soon as the brewing time has been reached. Many people use little timers, both digital and analogue, to know precisely when to do this.
Below is a guide for brewing temperatures and times:
3. Choose natural
It can be so tempting to go for the brightest, fruitiest, most fragrant tea on the supermarket shelf. But have you considered what they contain to make them so sweet and flavoursome? Many brands use artificial colours, sweeteners and chemical flavourings. Often the drink you believe is a healthy alternative turns out to be just as unhealthy as a soft drink or cordial. That is why it is important to choose brands who use 100% natural ingredients including tea leaves, herbs, spices and real fruit pieces that you can see, with no added sugar. Taking it one step further, choosing Australian Certified Organic tea guarantees no herbicides or pesticides were used in the making.
4. Choose Quality
Drinking loose leaf is usually seen as the height of good tea drinking and many look at this as the ultimate sign of good quality. It’s true, the leaves have space to open up and develop their full flavours. But be warned, loose leaf doesn’t guarantee a high standard. Just like any natural product, tea is graded. Good tea companies buy high grade tea and make the tea into both loose leaf and teabags. Other tea companies buy low grade tea also make both teabags and loose leaf. It’s worth researching the tea company, asking questions about the tea they source and paying that little bit extra.
5. Know your teabag
If you decide to use teabags, you have to choose wisely. Unbeknownst to many, your typical teabag is not made up of just paper, it also contains plastic which can contaminate your water when steeped in boiling water. They’re also non-biodegradable, meaning they will never break down and end up in landfill. They also often contain glue or staples which release chemicals when steeped in hot water. Therefore, it is important for your health and for the environment to choose a brand that has natural, biodegradable tea bags, without the presence of plastic or glue. Cornstarch teabags are a great option as they are biodegradable and made from natural materials. There is also of course the option of ditching teabags all together and choosing loose leaf tea.