Pursuing the Perfect Cup of Tea
This entry was posted on January 19, 2012.
We at AFG adore everything about tea, from the taste, to the health benefits, to the satisfaction of sitting down to a rewarding cup of our favorite herbal drink. Making standard tea can be easy- you just drop a teabag into a hot cup of water. But making great tea that retains its health benefits and offers the fullest flavors and aromas- that takes time and a little learning. So follow along as we offer up a few guidelines to creating your perfect cup of tea.
It all begins with the tea leaves, and the only person who can tell you what tea is good or not, is you. So start with what you like. If you're looking for a soothing and aeromatic tea, then maybe Jasmine Tea is your thing. Or if you're after a robust tea with a bit of a rich and earthy effect, then perhaps a nice Black Tea is in order. But it all starts with what you enjoy.
When deciding on tea, if you're really trying to make the best tea you can, we generally rcommend loose leaf tea instead of teabags. Teabags are massively convenient, but they don't quite have the full range of tastes and aromas that loose leaf tea embodies.
You can buy the best Tea Leaves, brew them at the correct temperature, then pair them with the purest water- but you'd still be missing an extremely important factor. What to brew your tea in!? For hundreds of years the Japanese have known that the absolute best way to brew tea is in an iron teapot. Unlike steel, glass, or porcelain, iron has a unique effect on the tea leaves that brings a fuller, richer flavor out of the tea. You may have noticed your parents lugging around an old iron frying pan on occasion. It's a similar story here too. When cooking food on an iron surface you get a different taste than you would on stainless steel or nonstick, and it's a good bet that the taste will be a much richer, much satisfying flavor overall.
There are a few options for brewing tea leaves in iron, but none of them have quite caught on the way that the Tetsubin Iron Teapot has. None of the other iron teapots have embodied the looks, the quality, and the overall appeal the way Tetsubin has. It's an important thing to keep in mind if you're really looking to make great tea. It's also nice because it keeps your tea hot for a long time- no need to gulp your tea down before it cools down too much.
TEMPERATURE & STEEP TIME
The first thing to remember is that you don't use boiling water. Boiled water is for cooking Ramen and disinfecting silverware- not tea. The steeping temperatures for most tea tends to be in the 150-190 degree range or so. There are always exceptions, but you'll find that most teas prepared within this range tend to keep the majority of their flavor. But steeping tea in boiling water will kill off a lot of the flavor and some of the health benefits.
Here is a (very) basic guide to the temperatures and steep times. The thing to keep in mind is that higher temperatures will produce a more overpowering flavor, and a greater level of bitterness. Lower temperatures tend to provide a bit of a sweeter effect, but probably a less flavorful result overall. Steeping for too long will also provide a more powerful, possibly bitter flavor.
Black Tea is the most robust tea and can be brewed at the highest temperature. Around 190-200 degrees F. Recommended steeping time is 3-5 minutes, but can vary with specific teas.
Next is Oolong, which can be a variety of either green or black tea. This is another robust tea that can be brewed at quite a high temperature- around 190 degrees F. Recommended steeping time is 3-5 minutes, but there are many exceptions to this since Oolong tea can take so many forms.
White Tea is considered best around 170 - 185 degrees F. Steeping times are difficult with this tea though, because many can be extraordinary delicate. Some people say as little as 30 seconds, some say as much as 15 minutes, although we generally likes ours around 2-3 minutes. White tea is supposed to be a lighter tea, with something of a fleeting taste, but in the end it really depends on the tea, and your preference. Just keep in mind that most teas brewed beyond 6 minutes will be considerably bitter.
Green Tea tends to be a bit more gentle than other teas, and because of this the recommended temperature will vary with the specific type and strength of the tea. But generally 140 - 180 degrees F is the accepted range. Steep for 1 - 3 minutes.
Here's a general guide if you don't believe in thermometers. Small bubbles tend to appear around 160 F. They begin floating to the water surface and are approx 3mm wide at 175 F. The bubbles will be approx 5mm wide at 190 F, and will be floating to the top more quickly. Steam may begin to appear beyond this as the water approaches the boiling point.
Now, some of you may be scoffing at our tedious recommendations about time and temperature. But there really is a science to this. There are various enzymes within tea that are unlocked at specific temperatures. The enzymes that produce sweeter flavors are unlocked at lower temperatures and are destroyed at higher temperatures. The enzymes that produce bitter flavors are unlocked at higher temperatures, and are latent at lower temperatures.
The purists will recommend using bottled spring water or filtered water when making tea to avoid the contaminants found in tap water. They probably have a point- it will expose your tea to fewer contaminants, but we understand if you feel this might be a little excessive. If you are using standard tap water though, do make sure to use cold water. We recommend this because hot water is more corrosive- that's why people wash their dishes with it, it cleans faster. But that also means it's likely to bring up stuff from your pipes too. When you're cooking anything - public service announcement : ) start with cold water to avoid exposure to the particles in your pipes, which can include copper, steel, and various plastics.
Now heat up your water! A typical tea kettle is fine as long as it's been cleaned beforehand. We recommend an iron teapot for steeping the tea, but what you heat the water in is to your liking because the tea leaves aren't involved yet. Bring the water to a boil, and then let it cool to the desired temperature. Once you have your water at the right temperature, place the tea leaves in the infuser of your Tetsubin Iron Teapot (remember, we are trying to brew the best tea possible). Steep for the desired amount of time, remove the tea leaves, and enjoy!! And let us know if these tips helped you out with your tea- or maybe you have some tips you'd like to give us!
If you opted to go the route of the Tetsubin here are some pointers to make sure it lasts a couple generations.
PROPER TETSUBIN CARE
A Tetsubin Iron Teapot is more than just a way to make fantastic tea, it's a real piece of art, and it's something that can be passed down. Because of that you really want to take care of it. So here are some key notes to making it last.
-Make sure to rinse out the teapot with hot water before your first use. Dry afterward.
-Don't keep tea or water stored in the teapot.
-Rinse the teapot thoroughly after each use. You only have to use water, no soap or cleaning chemicals are recommended.
-Make sure not to expose the teapot to salt.
-Don't put over a naked flame, or in the microwave.
-Make sure to dry the inside of the teapot after each use.
If cared for properly, a Tetsubin Iron Teapot is designed to last for many, many years, to look absolutely stunning all the while, and to make a ton of tea along the way. But whether or not you decide to give our iron teapots a try, we really hope this guide helps you to enjoy your tea more, and encourages you to experiment with what tea you make and how you do it in the future. Enjoy!