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The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook: A Guide to Enjoying the World's Best Teas

In this authoritative guide, veteran tea professionals Mary Lou and Robert J. Heiss provide decades of expertise on understanding tea and its origins, the many ways to buy tea, and how to explore and enjoy the six classes of tea.    

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How to Brew Tea

So...your order of loose-leaf tea arrived today. That's great. So...now what? Well, that is what this page is about...to help you brew loose-leaf tea correctly AND easily. Yes, EASILY. The reason I stress easily is simple...if the procedure to make tea is a real PITA, you likely won't drink any. So, let's get started on how to brew loose-leaf tea correctly and simply.

Note, if your tea has NO instructions...then please read the following guide after reading this page.

Read the Guide to Brewing Tea That Has No Instructions

Rule 1 : Use Cold, Good Water

Tea, whether it be REAL tea or creations like herbal teas, is nothing more than water that has the flavor of whatever is put inside it during the brewing process of the tea. Thus, if you have bad water...you'll have a bad tea.

So, it all starts with the water. If your tap water tastes like iron, don't be surprised if your tea tastes like it too.

For this reason, if you don't like your tap water...use bottled water. Tea purists suggest using distilled water. I've tried that...and have absolutely noticed no difference whatsoever between Albertsons Distilled Water, Premium "Mountain Water" for $5 a gallon and the cheapest bottled water you find at the local Wal-Mart. In short, any bottled water will work just fine.

So that's the GOOD water part. Now let's talk about the COLD water part. When warming up the water during the brewing process, you want to use cold water. Using hot water out of the tap will create a funny tasting tea...as the water itself will taste different. This does NOT mean you need to refrigerate your water, although I do and it is always a good idea to do so. Using room-temperature water will work just fine. Instead, it just means that you do not turn the hot water on in your faucet and use that.

So, the moral of the story is...use water at room-temperature or below.

Rule 2 : Follow the Directions!

I'm always amazed at how many people will brew up the tea without even bothering to read the directions...assuming of course there is some. Generally, most loose-leaf teas have brewing instructions right on the package. If the package of green tea says to use water heated to 180 degrees (which is below boiling), then heat water to near boiling. If boiling water is called for, then heat the water to boiling. Simple, huh.

And for brewing time, the same thing holds true. If you overbrew a green tea, black tea, oolong tea or a white tea you'll be greeted by a rather nasty taste (ever wonder why the green teas are so bad at Chinese restaurants...here's the answer). When you overbrew a tea, the tea can become very bitter...and I mean real bitter...so bitter you can probably use the tea for drain cleaner.

No directions on your tea? Well, read the next rule!

Rule 2.5 : But There Are No Directions!

No directions on that tea package you have? It's sadly a somewhat common occurrence. So if you are in search of how to brew a "unknown tea," I've prepared a special guide just for you that covers in detail how to brew each type of tea...and will work in most cases.

Read the Guide to Brewing Tea That Has No Instructions

Rule 3 : How to Measure Tea Leaves

Measuring tea is hardly a precise thing in life, rather sadly...but there are some good guidelines to follow.

First, use a TEASPOON, not a tablespoon, for measuring tea. Many people ruin a tea simply because they use a tablespoon for measuring out the loose-leaf tea...not a teaspoon. So, when in doubt, always use a teaspoon for measuring tea...unless directions say otherwise.

Secondly, the size of loose-leaf tea varies greatly. A herbal tea like a peppermint tea will have quite small leaves. So if the directions call for one teaspoon of leaves, simply measure out 1 teaspoon of leaves and you are done. The leaves themselves will fit nice and compactly into a teaspoon...making for a perfect cup.

But what if the leaves are large? This is no small matter...you see many teas, of all types, have MASSIVE leaves. So large, in fact, they frequently won't fit into a teaspoon! When you measure out these large leaves, realize that you'll have lots of "dead space" in your teaspoon due to the large and frequently awkward size of leaves.

When you use large tea leaves, you thus need to take into account this "dead space" in your teaspoon. For real large tea leaves, you'll likely want to use 1.5 to 2 teaspoons of leaves for each cup of tea you brew. For "slightly large" tea leaves, you'll want to use a "heaping teaspoon" up to 1.5 teaspoons of leaves per cup. Ultimately, you need to just simply judge how much "dead space" is in your teaspoon and go from there.

As a sidenote, there is a few "helpful" measuring tools to better measure out tea. I use one and find it quite handy. You can purchase it at Culinary Teas for just a few dollars.

Rule 4 : A Cup of Tea is 6 Ounces, Not 8 Ounces!

Yes, you read that right. A cup of tea is considered to have 6 ounces of water, strictly speaking (actually I read somewhere that it is actually 5.5 ounces, but who cares about the .5 ounce). Of course, no one really tells you that. For this reason, countless people will use one cup of water (8 ounces) when they brew their tea...only to complain that the tea seems weak!

So, when brewing tea, always, always remember that unless it is stated otherwise in the directions, to use 6 ounces of water...not 8!

Rule 5 : Heating the Water

I recently had a fun argument with a friend in the UK, who heats all his tea in a tea kettle. He swore that water heated in a tea kettle was far better than heating water in a microwave. So, I had to conduct my own little test to see if this rumor was actually true...or one of these mythologies that is passed among generations of UK tea drinkers.

I personally found no real difference in the flavor of the water, truthfully. Oh, ok...the kettle water was perhaps "slightly more aerated" than water heated up in the microwave. The catch is, this is only noticeable if you just "drink the water." You will, of course, be drinking this as a tea...which will have some flavor to it. I personally noticed no difference whatsoever in tea flavor when comparing "Nuked Water" with "Kettle Water."

So, don't be bashful about doing a quick heat of the water in the microwave. Now, if you do the microwave routine, do note that it is BETTER to more slowly heat the water (such as using Power Level 7) instead of blasting it on high (Power Level 10). You'll get a more even heating and slightly better aeration I've discovered.

That said, there is some awfully nice "electric kettles" that have been designed for tea and coffee drinkers. They'll heat up the water precisely to boiling and do work quite nicely...and since the water isn't being nuked the water will be just a "tad better." Plus, these electric kettles are very convenient.

You can find a huge selection over electric kettles over at Amazon.Com if you wish.

See Selection of Electric Tea Kettles at Amazon.Com

More Tips on Heating Water for Tea

Rule 6 : Do NOT Overbrew

Overbrewed tea, as mentioned, is fit to be drain cleaner...and frequently becomes it too.

For this reason, it is essential to "not lose track of time" during the brewing process. Almost always, teas have recommended brewing times printed right on the package. Follow these instructions. Just because it is a green tea doesn't necessarily mean it will only need to be brewed for the traditional 3 minutes! I've sampled many green teas that needed to be brewed for 7 because these teas contained "other things" that needed a longer brew time.

Normally, tea instructions suggest a range of times for ideal tea brewing. I normally take the "midway" point between the shortest and longest time. Thus, a herbal tea that says to brew for 5-7 minutes, I'll brew for 6 minutes.

So, when brewing tea...first off read the directions. Then set a kitchen timer for the length of time the tea is to be brewed. Just don't forget about it and come back after a long shower...you'll likely be quite displeased with the result!

 


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