The perfect cup of tea

By
Henrietta Lovell
Added
27 July, 2015

Perfect cup of tea

Tea.  It’s always getting the short end of the stick. 

Baristas take effortless care in preparing your flat white or single shot of espresso, the perfect shot of coffee goes into the cup and a faultless pour of milk somehow makes its way into the shape of a heart.  Why in both restaurants and cafes has this attention and care not been applied to the art of making tea?  Instead you order a pot of English Breakfast and down from a dusty shelf comes the teapot, in goes the hot water and plop goes the bag.  No care.  No finesse. Why bother?

 

It’s become second nature to reach for the teabag, bring the kettle to an intense boil, and plonk it in. 

But this is a relatively modern affectation. Real British tea tradition is for beautiful, crafted leaf rushed to our shores on heroic tea-clippers.  It wasn’t until WWII with U boats surrounding our little island that tea was rationed and we were forced to abandon good leaf and left with only government issued tea.  This was when the British palate was forced to accept the lowest grade, industrially processed stuff.  Those war generations with stiff upper lips never complained.  They endured.  But the war is long over.  We don’t have to make do and endure.  We can delight once again.  It seems crazy that we don’t. Tea is our national drink!


tea

 

Making really good leaf tea does require a bit of expertise – it’s a recipe much like baking a cake.  

Imagine what would happen if you added too much flour or butter?  Your pot of tea should be regarded in the same way: a balanced formula of tea leaves and water. Too little leaf and too much water and its wishy-washy.  Too much tea and may be too strong.  With a Rare Tea we suggest a teaspoon per cup of tea, which is roughly 150ml of water to 2.5g of tea.  The teaspoon was created as a standard measure for one cup of black tea; with bulky whole leaf tea you may need two teaspoons per cup of tea.  Each tea leaf comes in different shapes and sizes therefore your ‘spoonful of tea’ is going to vary.  


Tea

 

It’s not just the right measurement of your ingredients that is important.

Once you’ve prepared the batter for your cake and lined your baking tray, you wouldn’t put it in the oven at any temperature would you? Water temperature is a crucial part of the brewing process, but each tea is different.

 

We like to think of tea as a group of sophisticated women. 

A white tea and green tea is shy and appears at its finest with 70° water.  Their light and floral notes are best dissolved at this lower temperature.  If you prepare them with boiling water you will bring out the astringent and tannic notes of the tea that will overpower the subtle, sweet nuances. 

 

Black tea, however, is sultry and has a little more brazen personality.  Like a deep and rich red wine, you want to taste the tannins, which is why they are better suited to hotter temperatures between 80-95° releasing the malty, chocolate and often rich caramel flavours. Herbal infusions, like a rooibos, peppermint or lemongrass are the pop stars, they require the highest temperature of water to bring out their full flavours- like a spotlight on the red carpet.  To get your water to the right heat, we’d suggest a temperature controlled kettle, Bosch has one that is great value and will help you to make a consistently great pot of tea.  Alternatively adding a little cold water to your teapot before the hot water will reduce the temperature. 

 

What about time?

One of the most frequently asked questions is ‘how long should I steep my tea for?’ The longer you leave tea to brew, the stronger it will get.  In the same way we all prefer our steaks differently, we like our tea differently.  Imagine it’s a special occasion and you’ve purchased a beautiful fillet steak for dinner.  You cook it perfectly to medium rare, then slice it in half and sit down at the table to enjoy.  Meanwhile you’ve left the other half to continue cooking and when you go back for the second half it’s tough, overcooked. The same can happen with tea.  Once water is applied to the tea leaves, the infusion process begins.  If you leave them sitting in water they will continue to infuse - getting stronger and stronger.  Make certain when you are brewing your tea that when it’s at the perfect strength for you, you drain every last drop from the pot.  This is called ‘The Golden Drop’ which has the most flavor.  If you don’t, you run the risk of having a bitter and over brewed pot of tea on its second infusion because you’ve left the leaves to continue infusing.   
 

A second infusion of leaf tea is often better than the first; the leaves have been brought to life and once drenched with a second ‘wave’ of water, it will bring out a whole new layer of flavours you never knew existed. Second infusions are not something you get from a bag tea, instead only grey water with no flavour. The trick is not to leave the precious leaves sitting in water to stew.

 

Take note of how you like your tea.

Perhaps you prefer a strong Earl Grey bringing out the deep tannins to balance milk.  Let it brew for 90 seconds to two minutes (if you have the ratios right it won’t take too long).  You might prefer a lightly infused cup, fragrant and light - in which case a short infusion of 45-60 seconds will be just enough time.  

 

Tea should be prepared with as much care and attention as we do our coffee, our cocktails and our food.  

For every mood and time of day there is a tea. A white silver tip filled with antioxidants is perfect for a morning after a night on the town.  Keemun, for a sweet and delicately smoky black tea mid-morning pick me up.  Or a soothing cup of rooibos with, a dash of maple sugar and spot of milk to ease you into bed after a long day.  Tea is always there for you. But in the same way tea nurtures you, you must nurture it.  Make it with care and it will reward you a thousand times over. Lastly, that nurture can go back to those who make it too. 


Tea

 

Rare Tea is the leading advocate in Direct Trade, as for us, tea is not just about the leaf and the flavour, it’s about what it can do for a community.  In the same way you might support your local shops we support farmers we have been working with for the past eleven years.  We work directly, paying higher price for the best quality, hand-processing so that in the long run you get a better tea and the farmer gets a better deal.  Your choices matter. There is a reason why a big brand teabag is cheap- developing nations produce that tea with labourers on little more than a $ a day.   We deserve a better cup.  They deserve a better future.  Good tea costs a bit more but it involves more jobs, more skill and craftsmanship and way more flavour.

 

Now you know all the secrets to making a truly good cup of tea. 

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