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Dominic T. Dominic T. is offline
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Default Brewing Tea - Water, Temperature, and Time

I just finished writing this for my blog (teasphere.wordpress.com) and
thought it would be useful here possibly. I'd also be happy to take
comments/criticisms or additions. i get a lot of questions about
actually brewing tea and most people are intimidated and don't even
know where to begin or go by the numbers on the package or a website
and get discouraged. Often sites and packages will grossly overstate
the amount of tea to be used as is the case with coffee to keep sales
up, but not to produce the best tea always. I had a conversation
earlier that sparked me to write the following piece as a basic
introduction which can be built on and fine tuned later, but would be
enough to get someone started in the right direction:



I realize that to many tea brewing begins and ends with dunking a
teabag into a mug of variably tepid/boiling water for an indeterminate
amount of time and then adding in sugar and/or milk to mask the acrid
brew that was just unleashed. I cringe when I see folks at cafes get
handed a cup full of improperly heated water with a single-use tea
strainer/bag in it and that is where it remains for the duration of
the drink. No wonder people don't get tea or think it needs to be
doctored up in myriad ways to become palatable. There are other
extremes of thermometers and timers and digital scales too, but as
with anything, there is a balance. This post is meant to be a primer,
not the final master class, and I plan to continue to cover this in
increasing depth to help everyone realize that there is so much more
to the world of tea and that it isn't hard.

Water, Temperature, and Time

Water is one of the most important parts of the whole equation. You
want to make sure the water is absent of any flavors or chemicals.
Water that is poured from the little orange/red spout from coffee
machines might be filtered but it also may have some hints of the
coffee present. Water straight from a tap might have chlorine or
sulphur. There are many options but two inexpensive options are to buy
a simple faucet-mounted filter (Pur, Dupont, Brita, etc.) or buy the
1, 3, or 5-gallon jugs or containers of spring water. Starting with a
solid foundation is the only way to get a great final result.

Temperature can make the same tea brewed the same way taste completely
different. Sometimes this range is a good thing and can allow for a
range of flavors from the same leaf, sometimes too much heat can
destroy a delicate tea. This is a topic that entire books could be
written about, so what we are aiming for here is just a good reference
point and we will dig into it in more detail in the future. There are
also debates on how the water is heated: microwave, gas stove,
electric kettle, etc. And while there is some merit to some of these
arguments, for right now the method will be ignored and we will just
focus on the final water temperature no matter how it got that way.

The basic rule goes like this:

Black tea - full boiling water or just off boil at the least

Oolong tea - small bubbles/almost boiling or boiling water that has
been allowed to cool for a minute or so

Green tea - hot but not boiling, allow boiled water to cool for a few
minutes before using. You should be able to touch the water without
suffering a burn, not literally but as an illustration of the temp we
are going for here.

Tisanes/Herbal tea - full boiling water, the hotter the better. This
is not tea and as such you are trying to extract everything you can
from the herb/flower.

As you can see, the one-size-fits-all orange/red coffee machine lever
is not useful for almost anything but green tea and some oolongs. So
if you are at a cafe or situation (like an office) where this is the
only option, your best bet is to select a green tea or oolong and just
make do.

Time is the other important piece in this equation. Again some teas
allow for some variation here and will offer up different flavors and
complexities depending on how short or long it is steeped, some will
become undrinkable (bitter or astringent) if left for too long. Each
particular tea within a larger category (green, black, etc.) will have
an optimal time and temperature but again we are setting up the basics
here.

I start from 30-45 seconds to about 1-2 minutes and an occasional tea
will work well with 3-5 minutes, herbal/tisanes always go 3-5 minutes.
Start shorter and then try longer brews and find your particular sweet
spot for the specific tea. Some do well with even longer 3-5 minute
brewings, some become bitter and too strong. It is all about what
tastes good to YOU, not what a package or "expert" states is correct.
With the right water and temperature, you can experiment on time to
find what works for you... but leaving the tea in the cup for 5+
minutes until you finish it is not really the proper solution for ANY
tea.

Quality tea makes a huge difference as well as does the amount used.
Start with a solid teaspoon's worth of leaf if in doubt and adjust
from there to your taste.

Enjoy!

- Dominic