There is no other drink in this world quite like tea. Whether you are relaxing by the fire with a good book, looking for something to wash down a spicy piece of barbequed beef, or doing your best to fight off a cold, tea is unparalleled with respect to its adaptability and satisfaction in any situation. No two taste the same, and after water, no other beverage in the world is consumed as much.
A good majority of the tea you drink – black, green, oolong, etc. – comes from a single species of plant called Camellia sinensis, which is indigenous to Southeast Asia. Good quality tea is hand-picked; usually only the buds and first two or three leaves below it are selected for harvesting, a picking process which is repeated on that same plant about once every other week.
So you have a single, coveted plant that takes lots of human effort to prune two or three times a month, a practice that has been going on for centuries. Isn’t it worth your time to learn these two tips on how to make the most of it?
Tip #1: Selecting Tea
Individually wrapped tea bags are a great and efficient use of your time, as all you have to do is pop one in to your mug of hot water for steeping. For those, really all you have to do is choose the tea you like (there are a myriad of flavors), being sure to store it in a cool, dry area away from light.
Selecting loose-leaf tea, however, is a slightly more involved process.
Even though tealeaves undergo a drying process to get them ready for market, when selecting a loose leaf tea, you still want the leaves to have a little luster to them. Accordingly, they should smell like tea and not stale or treated. They should also have a little body to them; if you drop some into hot water and they sink, that’s a good thing. And of course, if you can get a sample of the tea before purchase, even better. When the tea has steeped, the liquid should be bright green or yellowish in color, and not any darker shade of brown.
Tip #2: Brewing Tea
Here’s something that makes sense but many people don’t seem to understand: steeping tea is cooking tea. After all that time and effort selecting the right one, you should take the time to understand how to cook it. No sense in cooking your filet mignon to well done, you know?
A key point to remember is the lighter the tea, the more delicate it is, and the shorter its steeping time needs to be. You are going to of course heat up some water for the steeping, but the best advice is to not bring it to a full on boil for green, white, or oolong teas; if using a tea pot, pull it off when you see steady bursts of steam leaving the spout. See, water boils (at sea level, anyway) at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, and that is too hot for the delicate teas. You want to keep the water hot, yes, but you want it to be near 180 degrees at its hottest. After that, you risk burning your tea, making it bitter and unpleasant.
Green and oolong teas can take anywhere from four to eight minutes to steep, continually developing strength over time. White tea has a much shorter steep time, 1 to 3 minutes, blacks about 5, and the fancier offshoots (“herbal” teas) can go 8 to 10 before losing their appeal.
Now that you’ve got that perfect cup of tea in your hands, you can take a sip and feel its sweet, earthy essences course through your body, relaxing you every step of the way.