10 September 2008

How to Make a Cup of Tea

A recent email from an old friend, who I forced to look at my blog, reminded me that sometimes you must get back to the basics.

left to right: black, oolong and green tea

"So how do I brew a decent cup of tea?" he wrote. "It never seems to come out right when I try to make it at home." My fingers poised over the keyboard, ready to direct him to the perfectly apropos, witty yet informative post here- and then I realized, in a London Sun-worthy wash of shock-horror, that it didn't exist.

How utterly thoughtless of me. Enough about lavender syrups, pie-crust cookies and afternoons at Jean-Georges: It's time to step off the frivolity train.

Here's how to make a cup of hot tea.

First of all, for the best cup, choose loose tea, not the dregs found in bagged- just think about the difference between instant coffee and fresh-ground beans, or astronaut ice cream versus a bowl of homemade vanilla.

When you start with the whole leaf, you'll be able to extract the fullest flavor. With the proper water temperature and brewing time, you'll get all the characteristic nuances of whatever tea you choose. And loose teas, because of their potency, can be saved to brew multiple times after your initial cup.

Even though all tea hails from the same plant- Camellia sinensis- how the leaves are grown and processed produces three major categories: black, oolong and green tea.

Basically, the more processed the leaf, the stronger the treatment. No matter what type you're drinking, though, always start with fresh water (filtered or not, depending on your preference) in a clean pot, and figure on about one teaspoon of tea for every cup of water.

I usually just heat the water in my decade-old teapot (it's one of the first kitchen implements I ever bought), then pour it over the leaves into an individual cup or large ceramic teapot, depending on how many people I'm serving.

I put the leaves in a large infuser so as to easily remove them once they're brewed; if you let them sit in the water, the tea will inevitably get bitter. And we all already have enough of that in our lives, so set a timer and pay attention.
  • black tea (e.g. Earl Grey, Assam, Darjeeling, Keemun): use just-boiled water; steep for 3-5 minutes
  • oolong tea (Wuyi, Iron Goddess): just-under-boiling water (about 200°); steep for 1-3 minutes
  • green tea (senchas, Uji Gyokuro, Dragonwell, Gunpowder): steam just curling off the water (160°-190°); steep for 1-2 minutes
And repeat after me: color is not an indication of brewing. It's the only time in my life that I'll say this, but rely on the clock, not your eyes. As you can see below, these are both green teas (Chinese, at left; Japanese, at right) but their hues vary considerably.

These guidelines are just that: Don't be afraid to experiment a bit- with timing, not temperature- to find the best brew.

It's really not hard to make a perfect cup of tea. It just takes a little bit of care, which when it comes to what you put into your body, is never a bad thing.


amy said...

love the simple directions! im going to make myself some tea right away!

Dave's Blog said...

color is not an indication of brewing

Teep said...

perhaps a future post about tasseography?

Bonbon Oiseau said...

finally. dude... i mean...thank you. finally.

Anonymous said...

It was a good page amd helpful , but i want 2 know how you mime how to make a cup of tea, thxs for all your help tho i appreciate it finally lol :)

Anonymous said...

Great Post:
I heard that it is very advantageous to drink Matcha Green Tea. What you say?