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In this series, I'll talk in-depth about how to make a great cup of tea from each of the basic types of tea. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments section below.
Before we discuss the steps for different types of tea, there are a couple of things that are important no matter what kind of tea you are making:
You need good quality loose tea, and you need clean, freshly drawn water. If you have those two things, then a great cup of tea is just a matter of time, the ratio of loose tea to water, and temperature.
Are you wondering if it really matters whether the tea is loose or comes in a teabag? Yes, it really does matter. There are good teabags out there, but by and large, teabags are to quality loose tea as store-brand ground coffee in a can is to fresh-roasted, whole-bean coffee. Starting with loose tea isn't any more complicated or time-consuming than brewing a pot of coffee.
Water Quality: Clean fresh water really is important here. Freshly drawn water contains more oxygen than water that has been sitting for a while. Oxygen helps to get the full flavor of the tea from the leaves into the cup.
Impurities in the water, such as sulfates and minerals can negatively impact the flavor and color of the tea. Case in point: I have seen certain well waters cause herb & fruit tisanes, which should be a lovely reddish color with a deep, robust fruity flavor to instead be an odd purplish-grey color and taste like dirt.
If you have to choose between clean bottled water and freshly drawn water from a questionable source, choose the clean water. Safety first.
Time: The amount of time that the loose tea spends steeping affects the flavor in a couple of ways. Firstly, it affects how strong the overall cup is. Secondly, it affects what specific flavors are released into the cup. If you prefer a strong cup of tea, steeping for a longer period of time may not be the best answer. Black, green, Oolong and Darjeeling teas will release more tannins the longer they are steeped. Tannins impart bitterness to the tea. Rather than a longer steeping time, you might just need to use more tea leaves.
Ratio of tea leaves to water: More tea leaves in the teapot means a stronger tea, less tea leaves makes for a weaker tea. Some teas may traditionally be prepared as a single, strong infusion, while for other teas, the tea leaves may be re-infused several times, resulting in a progressively lighter infusion.
Temperature: The temperature of the water for steeping teas can influence both the flavor and the caffeine content of the infusion. Take the time to prepare green and oolong teas at the recommended lower water temperatures, and see if you don't notice a difference in the flavor when compared to steeping with freshly boiled water.
A note to both the Rule-Followers and the Rule-Breakers out there: Upon playing with the ratio of tea to water and the steeping times, you may find that you like your tea stronger or weaker, that the flavor suits you best with a shorter steeping time, or that you actually like the bitterness that tannins give to the tea. It's OK, it's just tea. These posts are a guideline, not federal law. We don't all have to like the same things.
Are you ready to learn how to make a great cup of tea?
The links below will take you to more detailed posts for steeping each type of tea. As you read along, keep in mind the goal: A beverage that you'll enjoy drinking and a relaxing break in your day.
Gyokuro Green Tea
Herb & Fruit Tisanes