Tea for Two or Tea for You

It saddens me that there was once a time when I grossly misjudged all of the possible uses and potential of tea.  As my Opa (German for “grandfather”, yay new words!) will gladly tell you, when I was a wee lass of only eight years of age, I could not stand to drink straight tea and could not resist abusively diluting it with obscene amounts of cream and sugar.  I’d often enjoy multiple cups of tea during the course of our tea party, though I’d venture to guess that the way I was drinking it, my tea was approximately 40% cream and sugar and 60% actual tea.  I could have done worse, but I could have done a lot better, too.

Now that I’m older, my tastes have matured, and I’m far more able to appreciate the sweet and savory complexities of a well-brewed cup of tea (without the additions of cream or sugar, as I’m sure you were wondering).  Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the milkier and sweater renditions of tea: I’ll rarely say no to a chai tea latte, and I’m not altogether opposed to the idea of a London Fog on a rainy day.  Still, though, properly brewed tea is a good thing, not to be taken for granted.  Let’s make some now!

First, one must decide what tea he or she would like to enjoy.  Know, however, that different types of tea have different brewing instructions in terms of water temperature and steeping time.  Also, contrary to popular belief, brew time is not the true determinant of the strength of your tea: it’s the amount of tea you use that determines strength.  The general rule of thumb I’ve always abided by is using one teaspoon of loose tea leaves per 8 oz. cup of water, though this recommendation tends to vary from tea shop to tea shop.  If you’re using tea bags, one tea bag will suffice for one cup of tea, though you can sometimes stretch it to two cups.

After you’ve picked and measured your tea, next we’ll need some hot water.  This is an excellent time to utilize that electric kettle you got before leaving for college for something other than Top Ramen (I’ve used mine as a container for hard-boiling eggs on more than one occasion).  Not all teas require boiling water; in fact, you can actually scald the tea leaves by using water that is too hot, so some types of tea, in particular, green, oolong, and white, recommend that you bring the water to just under a boil for proper steeping.  Black, herbal, and rooibus teas, however, often utilize boiling water.  Now, once your water has reached its recommended temperature, gently pour the water over the tea leaves or tea bag.

As I mentioned before, each type of tea has ideal steeping times for maximum flavor and life of the leaves.  Most teas call for a minimum of 2-3 minutes, and some call for maximum steep times of 5-7 minutes (see below for specifics).  Finally, remove your tea bag or leaves and enjoy.  Do not squeeze the liquid out of the tea bag once you’ve removed it.  That is a tea brewing no-no.

Did you know that, when properly brewed and steeped, you can actually reuse your tea leaves again?  Yeah, cool trick, huh?  I try to reuse tea as often as possible, so I have a small dish dedicated to playing host to my once-used tea leaves.  Tea leaves are best reused the same day, but if you don’t plan on reusing them until the next day, spread them out a bit so that they can fully dry and will be less prone to holding in moisture and possibly developing mold (always an unwelcome surprise).  For this reason, tea bags aren’t as great for long-term recycling, but used the same day, they’ll be just fine.  Reused tea leaves may need a bit more time, typically under a minute, to develop a flavor that is most similar to your initial brewing.

Table of Brew Temperatures/Times

From The Teaquent Stop

Tea Type Water Temperature Steep Time
Black Tea Boiling 3-5 min.
Green Tea Just Under a Boil 2-3 min.
Oolong Tea Just Under a Boil 2-5 min.
White Tea Just Under a Boil 2-3 min.
Herb/Rooibus Boiling 5-7 min.
Mate Just Under a Boil 3-4 min.

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