Last time, we talked a bit about the various types of teas that are available around the world for you to enjoy. From white to oolong to black tea, there are enough varietals of tea to satisfy even the most diehard of fans. This time, we’re going to discuss how to brew each type of tea to get you a perfect cup. After all, just as you wouldn’t brew a cup of espresso using a coarse grind and a drip machine, you can’t treat every type of tea as the same either.
As with coffee, brewing a great cup of tea lies in the temperature of the water and the type of tea and form the tea is in. Keep in mind that this applies to loose teas only. For tea that has been diced and powdered and put into square bags, a two minute bath in boiling water or a long afternoon soak as a pitcher of sun tea isn’t going to affect its quality much. However, try making a pitcher of iced oolong tea sweetened with honey and with a bit of grated ginger, and the world of possibilities that tea offers begins to open up to you.
Proper English Tea
Let’s start with the tea that we all know: your typical English black tea. This tea comes in many forms, from the breakfast blend, to Darjeeling, to the flavor or oil infused varieties like Earl Grey. Brewing a pot of English tea requires a teapot and a kettle. The pot is where the actual brewing takes place; the kettle simply boils the water. And yes, the water for a proper cup on English tea must be boiling when it hits the tea. Use a portion of the boiling water to warm the pot. The amount of tea you need depends on how strong you like your tea. On average, the ratio is 1 teaspoon per cup. Put the loose tea in a ball strainer and pour boiling water over it. Steep the tea for two to three minutes. While the tea is brewing, cover the pot with a tea cosy to keep the pot and water warm. After the time is up, remove the tea leaves and serve hot with milk and sugar.
White tea is brewed at a lower temperature than black tea. That’s because the white tea leaves are less oxidized, and therefore less sturdy than other teas. Use water that’s about 160 to 180 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer, then let the water just come to a boil and then let it cool for a couple of minutes. The amount of tea you should use depends on the form it comes in. For tea buds, you need 2 teaspoons per cup of tea. For only leaves, use 2 tablespoons. For a combination blend, use four teaspoons on average. Because of how the tea is shaped, you should avoid using a ball strainer. This type of strainer won’t let the tea bloom or steep properly. Instead, use a basket strainer or brew without one and strain the leaves out after brewing. The time to steep white tea varies from one minute up to ten minutes. If the leaves are smaller, they will take less time to infuse. Larger leaves take longer, and a batch of white tea buds will take the longest to reach full flavor. One great thing about white tea is that you can steep the tea up to four times, using hotter water and longer steep times. The flavors will be more complex with each steep; there are gourmet tea shops who charge premiums for second or third steeps.
Green tea is brewed at the same temperature as white tea, roughly 160 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. If the water is too hot, you run the risk of the tea over extracting and turning bitter. Additionally, because green tea comes in so many forms, from tightly rolled leaves to broken leaves, it’s best to measure green tea by mass and not volume. On average, a cup of green tea needs 2 grams of leaves. Just like white tea, green tea needs room to bloom. So for best results, brew your green tea directly in the pot and strain it after steeping. The amount of time you should brew your green tea varies from one to three minutes depending on the size of the tea. Larger leaves take longer to brew than smaller ones, but the real time is dependent on your palate. If you like your tea stronger, however, don’t brew it longer, use more tea.
The last type of tea that you will commonly find is oolong. Oolong tea comes in one of two forms: loose tea leaves and rolled or balled up tea leaves. The water that is used to brew oolong is a little hotter than for white and green teas, which makes sense, as oolong is slightly more oxidized than green and white teas and thus can stand up to a more vigorous brewing process. Aim for a temperature just shy of boiling, from 180 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. The steep time for oolong is generally one minute for loose leaf tea and up to five minutes for tightly rolled pellets. As with the other non-black teas, it’s best to brew this tea loose and strain it just before serving. Oolong, much like white tea, is usually steeped multiple times, with each new brewing producing a more varied flavor. If you do this (and we recommend you do!), use the same temperature water, just increase the steep times.
While we’ve talked about the proper way to brew tea, keep in mind that the brewing times are only guidelines. The real rule is how you like your tea to taste. Different steep times will bring out different flavors from tea; the grassiness of a green tea is more pronounced with a short steep, but a longer steep will introduce tannin notes until the tea becomes bitter. Again, it’s all in how you like your tea. We suggest that you start with a quality teapot and a good kettle to boil your water in and go from there, letting your taste buds guide you through the world of teas.