Making the perfect cup of tea can be a simple or precise as you like. Regardless of how exacting you want to make your infusion, there are three key things to always remember. Leaf weight, temperature and time. It is these three variables that have the most impact on the flavour in your cup.
When choosing a tea, always opt for a loose leaf variety which is far superior to anything you’ll find in a tea bag. There are thousands of brands to choose from, but it’s a case of buyer beware. Most tea merchants buy teas in bulk from middle men and don’t know the true details or specific origin of the teas they are selling. Look for small-batch, seasonal teas with detailed provenance information. If you can find information about the season, year, tea master, craftsmanship and cultivar then chances are you a buying your tea from a reputable source who has evaluated the tea professionally. Buy your tea in a similar way to how you might buy wine. Read the tasting notes, learn about the region or tea master and try new styles that are innovative or are renowned for their excellent terroir or meticulous craftsmanship.
Many tea connoisseurs will only use bottled or filtered spring water. Controlling the water gives you consistency in flavour. If the water in your area is particularly hard or particularly soft, this will influence that taste of your tea. To the trained palate this can be very evident, but for the everyday drinker there is no need to rush out and buy bottled water. Instead, try to use fresh water and don’t re-boil the liquid in your jug because boiling water lowers the amount of carbon dioxide present and decreases the acidity of the water. It is this acidity that helps release flavours in the leaf. Re-boiled water will result in a duller, flatter tasting tea with less aroma.
Most authentic artisan teas will include instructions on the amount of leaf you should use. Different teas have different weights and densities so often these instructions will be in grams rather than teaspoons, as it can vary so much depending on the type of tea. If you don’t have a set of mini scales, as a general rule work of two to three grams of tea to 150 or 200 millilitres of water. Place the leaf in a fine sieve infuser basket or teapot. Borosilicate glass is best for its temperature control properties and it also allows you to assess the colour of your infusion.
This is where most people go wrong. The style and type of tea you’re drinking dictate the water temperature you should infuse at. Premium artisan teas should come with a recommended temperature. As a general guide you can use 90°C to 100°C for blacks and puerhs, 80°C - 95°C for oolongs, 65°C - 80°C for greens, 70°C for yellows, and 60°C - 75°C for whites. A temperature control kettle is a very worthwhile investment.
Again, the infusion time varies according to the tea, the main factor being leaf size. Try following the recommended suggestion on the label but feel free to experiment and play around to suit your own tastes. Generally, the smaller the leaf the shorter the length of the infusion. Until you become familiar with the tea try leaving the leaf infuse for a minute or two and then taste. When it tastes right to you, make sure you remove the leaves from the water or decant the steeping vessel to avoid over-stepping. If the leaves continue to sit in the water the liquid will become bitter and astringent. Don’t forget, high quality leaves can be re-infused multiple times, for example some rolled style oolongs can be used up to ten times before you need to use fresh leaves.
Infusing fine tea can be as complex or as simple as you like. Try to experiment and let your palate be the guide.
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