Imagine entering a tea shop, sampling the wares, and coming home with a couple of your favorite blends. At home, however, the tea just doesn’t taste how you remembered it in the shop. What went wrong?
As the drinker of green tea, I’ve heard over and over again, “Oh, I can’t stand green tea. It’s just too bitter.” I assure you, I do not drink bitter tea. With proper storage and preparation, you too can make the perfect cup of tea.
The Tea Pot
Many fine tea connoisseurs say that to make the perfect cup of tea, you start with the pot. “Never wash your teapot,” is what they advise. But according to Susan Teter, Certified Tea Consultant of New Market, Virginia, it depends on the type of pot you use. “Yes, if you’re using a clay pot, I would agree,” shares Teter. “But the average person uses a ceramic or porcelain pot. And those are not going to season like a clay pot.” It would be like trying to season your stainless steel skillet as though it were cast iron.
So, to make the perfect cup of tea, we will start with the water. Your water should be pure. It also should be odorless and free of calcium. Minerals in the water will alter the taste of the tea. Fresh spring water is ideal. Municipal, chlorinated water is not.
Next, warm your teapot. Fill it with hot water and let it sit a minute to warm up. Dump this water before adding the leaves to the pot. Tea prepared in a warmed pot and covered with a cozy will stay hot for a couple hours.
The Tea Leaves
For black tea use one rounded teaspoon of whole leaves per cup. If your leaves are broken, a level teaspoon will do. For Oolong, or semi fermented tea, use two rounded teaspoons per cup. Green teas will vary. Check with your tea merchant or the package directions. However, a good rule of thumb is to start with one level teaspoon and adjust according to taste.
Steeping Your Tea
The temperature of the water and the steeping time are also important in making that perfect cup of tea. Only black tea can tolerate boiling water. You steep black tea three to five minutes. For Oolong or green teas you only want your water hot. To judge the temperature of the water, observe its changes. Swirling steam and rising bubbles indicate hot water; shooting steam and rolling water indicate boiling. Oolong requires seven minutes of steeping to bring out its flavor and green teas one to two. After the appropriate time, remove the leaves from the pot. A tea infuser, ball, or other method of holding the leaves make this easier to do.
Some folks believe that steeping tea longer than recommended will increase its caffeine content—giving them more of a morning or afternoon boost. However, the theine (or caffeine found in tea) is released in the first minute of steeping; after that, only more tannins are released resulting in a more bitter flavor.
Storing the Tea
Experiencing the perfect cup of tea requires utilizing proper storage techniques. Improperly stored tea will go stale, absorb off flavors, or even mold. “The four enemies of tea are heat, light, moisture, and odors,” says Teter. “Therefore, the way to properly store tea is to keep it from its enemies.” Store your tea in a plastic bag with the air squeezed out and placed into a metal or ceramic canister. Store this container in a cool, dry place away from any heat source or sunlight. Also, do not store your tea in the freezer or refrigerator. It could collect moisture and spoil.
Typically, properly stored black tea will stay fresh for up to 18 months. Green or semi fermented teas will keep for up to six months. Also, loose tea remains fresher longer than cut and bagged leaves and is higher in antioxidants.
Whether your tea came from a fine shop downtown or the local supermarket; is loose, whole leaves or generic bags; it was likely handpicked and processed and deserves to be treated as the fragile and precious commodity that it is. Taking care of it properly and following these directions will assure that you enjoy the true flavor and essence of the tea you chose—the perfect cup of tea.
Photo by Ayelie