The Tea Totaler
A Simple Brew….
I used to be afraid of tea. Growing up, I always saw tea as a “fancy” drink for people to enjoy out of china cups while nibbling on crumpets. And then I started working at my local Tea Shop and my life was changed forever.
Good tea, I learned, is simple to brew. I’ve found that the most common complaint from folks trying tea is that it has a bitter flavor and the liquid becomes murky and almost thick. Fear not, we will get past this together. You don’t need any fancy equipment (unless you consider a teaspoon and a timer fancy); you just need a quality product, hot water and a little sense of adventure.
Let’s think of tea as we do wine: Each season tea is harvested and processed in one large batch (vintage), the climate and growing process create unique characteristics in the way the final product tastes (region), the withering or oxidation of leaves is what gives black tea its strong rich flavor and keeps green tea tasting fresh and grassy (aging), and finally the aromas, the viscosity, the taste! All of your hard work and research, the numerous tastings, to finally select that perfect 1989 Chave Hermitage Syrah……now cover it in boiling water and let it sit for a couple of hours.
Yeah, you wouldn’t do it to your fancy wine…so why would you do it to your tea?
Buy good tea. It really is that simple. Yes, you can get a decent product in a bag at the grocery store, but normally, those are the crumbs that fell to the bottom of the barrel after all the good leaves were packaged. Why not find a tea shop near you that sells in bulk? Go in, tell them what you’re looking for (or more importantly, tell them what you don’t like) and they will be able to recommend teas based on what you want. They will let you smell the teas, try a sample or sit down and enjoy a pot. Take your time, relax and actually enjoy it… it’s not meant to be the fussy ceremony you see in the movies. If you live in an area where, unfortunately, you don’t have a local tea shop, call a reputable shop or order some online and have it shipped to you. Loose leaf tea is, generally speaking, much more affordable, costing between $.30-$1.00 per serving and you only need to use a teaspoon per cup. Yes, I have tasted a tea that costs $300 per pound. Yes, it was delicious. No, I don’t have $300 bucks to drop on tea, and I don’t expect you to either…even a $10 price range will allow you to taste some exceptional teas.
Black tea (English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Darjeeling) should brew between 4-6 minutes, any longer and the liquid will become cloudy and kind of pungent tasting. Sound familiar? Now if you like a “stronger” tea, add more tea before brewing. Want to try a great black tea? Reach for a cup from India, in the Assam Region. I challenge you to a head-to-head tasting of a cup from your mega-chain coffee place to a cup of Assam, Sree Sibari. Guess what? I’ll win every time, and twice on Sunday.
Think green tea tastes bitter? It might be because you’re using boiling water. The heat of the water begins to cook the leaf which extracts an acrid vinegary flavor. Ick. If you’re brewing up a green tea, you’ll want to use steaming water, between 160-180 degrees. Brew the tea in it for 3 minutes, any longer and your fresh, floral tea will start to taste like last year’s lawn clippings. Now, to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of green tea. But one that I do like is Houjicha. It’s a roasted Japanese Green Tea and its balance of fresh, floral and toasty notes are out of this world. It also helps to settle the stomach if you’d hit the sushi bar a little too hard.
You’re not going to like every tea; I would be amazed if you did. I know a guy that travels the globe to buy tea straight from the plantation…and he doesn’t like every tea. But he keeps trying them, and trust me…there is a tea out there for everyone.