By Alex Lee
Courtesy of Onward Consulting Group
it comes to tea drinking, the United States is centuries behind the
rest of the world. Perhaps our addictive love of and strong economic
ties to the drinking and production of coffee has distracted us from
the subtler benefits of tea. Or maybe we just rebelled against what
the British were drinking (our most historic act involving tea, you
remember, was the time we dumped loads of it in the Boston Harbor).
Whatever the reason for our past disinterest in tea, Americans are
now making up for lost time. In the past decade alone, tea consumption
in the United States has shot up an astounding one hundred percent!
Americans are now discovering what people around the world have long
treasured: the personal tranquility, pleasure to the taste buds, and
health benefits of drinking a cup of tea.
You can easily enhance your tea-drinking experience
by understanding the basics of tea and the art of brewing it. Our
lesson begins with the four major types of tea: Whites, Greens, Oolongs,
and Blacks. Interestingly, all these teas come from the raw leaves
of the same tea plant, Camellia sinensis. What distinguishes each
category of tea is its processing method. The way the leaves are processed:
steamed, fermented (oxidized), dried, or bruised gives the tea the
special characteristics of its category. Tea spin offs, such as scented,
flavored, or blended teas are produced using one of the four major
types of tea as a base.
One term that has become part of our everyday lingo
is "herbal tea". Since you now know that tea only comes
from the tea plant Camellia sinensis, you may wonder how a tea can
be herbal. It cant. A product has to be either herbal or tea-based.
In the tea industry, beverages made with herbs or flower parts instead
of tea are often referred to as tisanes or herbal infusions.
that weve covered the basic varieties of tea and tea-related
beverages, lets talk about the difference between loose-leaf
tea and tea bags. Loose-leaf teas are usually made up of whole leaves
or broken leaves, while tea bags are usually filled with fannings
or dust. During processing, raw tea leaves are graded from best (the
bud and the first two leaves of the shoot) to worst (fannings). Many
tea connoisseurs consider brewed whole-leaf tea the best tasting.
A whole leaf does have more surface area for water to extract the
flavor characteristics of the tea. Fannings and dust, on the other
hand, do not have much surface area for this extraction. Of course,
the tea drinker may also enjoy the aesthetic beauty of the whole tea
leaf unfolding in the cup while infusing.
After youve decided what kind of tea you want
to make, you dont want to ruin it by overlooking the other major
ingredient in your beverage. Yes, the water is very important! Start
with fresh, filtered, cold water in your tea kettle or electric boiler.
Bring the water to a rolling boil (approximately 203oF) and then take
it off the heat immediately. Over boiling depletes the oxygen in the
water and will make your tea taste flat. Before pouring, make sure
the water is the correct temperature for the type of tea you are brewing.
Check the tea packaging for instructions, or use the following temperatures
and steeping times as a guideline:
Whites Temperature 185ºF: Steeping Time 7-10
Greens Temperature 160ºF: Steeping Time 1-3 minutes
Oolongs Temperature 203ºF: Steeping Time 5-7 minutes
Blacks Temperature 203ºF: Steeping Time 2-4 minutes
When the desired water temperature has been reached,
carefully prepare the dry teapot by putting in the correct amount
of tea leaves. The general rule of thumb is 1 teaspoon of tea for
6-8 ounces of water, but make adjustments to suit your personal tastes.
Pour the boiled water into the teapot and let the tea leaves steep
according to the suggested steeping time for that tea. Be sure not
to over steep your tea, as this will make it bitter.
traditional equipment for home tea brewing is the teapot. Asian tea
drinkers typically use small clay teapots, one of the most renowned
being the Yixing clay teapot. Connoisseurs may assign each tea its
own clay teapot. That way, the teapot is "seasoned" and
retains the flavor of that particular tea. In the West, the British-style
porcelain "Brown Betty" teapot is probably the most famous
and widely used for brewing tea.
Aside from the teapot, there are other less effective brewing vessels,
such as the French presses that are normally used for brewing coffee.
The problem with the French press is that they do not hold heat very
well, so the tea leaves keep infusing and the tea is easily over steeped.
Another tea-brewing device is the tea infuser, which is typically
a circular mesh ball the size of a tablespoon that you drop in your
individual cup. Unfortunately, most tea infusers are too small to
allow for whole leaves to expand and infuse, thus limiting the extraction
Now that you can appreciate
the subtle selections and techniques that go into tea brewing, Ill
share with you a little trick for making a great cup of loose-leaf
tea. Instead of pouring all the boiled water over the leaves at once,
pour just enough of the boiled water onto the tea leaves to cover
them. Then, pour out the resulting brew immediately, but not the leaves.
This way, the water cleanses the tea leaves and stimulates aromatic
production allowing for full flavor extraction. If youre concerned
about caffeine, do this "pre-infusion" cleansing technique
for longer and wait about 45 seconds before discarding the brew. You
may lose some of the teas flavor, but youll also lose
at least three quarters of the caffeine content. When you pour the
full amount of boiled water over the leaves for the second time, allow
the tea to steep for the recommended time.
Now that youve learned the art of tea and tea brewing, its
time for you to relax and sit back
..with just your cup of tea.
Lee is president of Onward Consulting Group, a one-stop resource for
coffeehouse owners who are interested in introducing tea and tea products
into their establishments. A former owner and operator of a successful
teahouse in San Francisco, Alex knows the ins and outs of the tea
business. He enjoys putting his expertise and contacts to work for
businesses entering the burgeoning tea market. For more information
about Onward Consulting, visit http://www.ocgsf.com,
or contact Alex directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.