By far the most common and familiar tea to us in the west is black tea (though that is changing rapidly). Black tea takes freshly picked tea leaves and bruises them through various means. Over a carefully measured and observed amount of time the tea leaf oxidizes (much like a freshly cut apple when left out for the afternoon). When the leaf is fully oxidized we call it “black”. For more information process I would recommend this video. In Korea, where they have less confusion about the color of things, this tea is called “hong cha” or “red tea” because of the deep red hue of the liquor which flows forthwith.
This is the tea which most westerners know best and love most. This tea leaf becomes our iced and sweet tea. This tea leaf is served to us if we order tea in most restaurant settings. This tea inspired the name of one of the greatest rap artists to ever breathe God’s gift of air. For the westerner, we find that this is the heavyweight champion of teas. And, my friends, we are not alone. Finding different varieties of black tea would take a lifetime to chronicle. From the “queen of teas” – the campaign-like Darjeeling – to the bright and glowing Assams, and the alluring and mysterious smoky flavor of lapsang-souchong. You will not tire quickly of learning the world of black tea!
The tea bag is the most common tea brewing device used in the west. There are many different options for teabags and many different companies that produce wonderful products found in these little individual packages. Critics would be doing a great disservice by discouraging others from enjoying the experience, convenience, and quality found in a cuppa made from a simple tea bag. My favorite tea bags are Tetley’s British Blend and PG Tips. A morning on the run very frequently involves water boiled, a tea bag brewed for 3.5 minutes, a dollop of cream and (in the case of a stressful morning) half a teaspoon of sugar – happiness on the go.
Yet, gentlemen, we are here for more! The purpose here is to supersede the banal pleasures in order to truly drain the marrow out of life. We seek, not simply to have the easiest experience, but to put forth effort and know things on a far deeper level than ever may have been known should laziness or cowardice be allowed to hold their terrible reign. So we forge ahead!
1.) SELECT YOUR TEA
Here you have almost limitless choices. You can even choose great teas that have some level of flavoring in them such as bergamot oil (Earl Gray) or various floral and smokey accompaniments.
Whatever the case, here are your bare minimum requirements:
You want your tea to be loose leaf. For this specific experience, the tea needs to be loose and free to flow about.
You want your tea to look recognizable as having been a leaf. There are many exceptions to this rule, but if this is your first step into the world of brewing a serious cup of tea I would recommend a tea that is not just a powder, or tiny little crumbles, but one that still shows evidence of its original form as a leaf.
It is ideal to buy your leaf from a reputable source. A well trusted local tea vendor is always best and can give even more specific advice to suit your tastes. Failing this, attempt to find tea that has been carefully picked, treated, and transported. Most of the “big brands” (Twinings, Lipton, etc.) also make a loose leaf blend and can be an excellent place to start, though you probably will not stay there forever.
2.) PREPARE FOR ACTION
Depending on how quickly you are comfortable moving, this will all become routine rather quickly. The order may not be that stunningly important in some cases so I will give you my routine and you can find yours through your own experience and common sense.
1.) Put fresh, cold water in a kettle and begin to heat the water.
2.) Find a tea pot and check to see that it is prepared…It generally is not because I forgot to clean it out from my last cup of tea. While the water warms I rinse out my pot.
3.) Once the water is heated to the point where it is beginning to make some noise (and is too hot to touch) a bit of water is poured into the pot to begin to heat the pot. I will generally swish this water around while I think about the next step.
4.) Select and measure the tea. Generally place about a teaspoon of tea per cup, to be enjoyed.
5.) As the water approaches a boil remove the warming water from the pot and place the loose tea directly into the teapot.
3.) TAKE ACTION!
Different teas work better at different temperatures, and some simple research can bring great rewards to your taste-buds. As a general rule, I will remove the water before it reaches a “full boil”, but only just before.
I will usually allow the tea to steep for 3-5 minutes based on the strength of the tea, based on previous experience with that tea.
Once the time has come, pour the tea into a teacup or mug. I generally pour the tea through a metal strainer, but if you don’t have one around the tea can be carefully poured out of the teapot so as to minimize some of the bits of tea leaf that will flow out of the pot and into your cup.
4.) PREPARE TO ENJOY
You now have a work of art. Each individual tea leaf that was grown, picked, treated and transported to your teapot is hoping to make this one cup of tea for your pleasure, and is now looking longingly for your approval, take in the moment.
I am a strong advocate that the right way to enjoy a cup of tea is the way you like it best.
Traditional treatments are cream (or milk), sugar, honey or lemon. I suggest you try them all at one point or another because they can bring whole new levels to your enjoyment of tea. However, since we are enjoying this cup of tea slowly try this first:
Look at your tea and smell it. Really smell it. Close your eyes and breath in deeply. What words come to mind, or what colors flash through your mind’s eye. Ponder the color of the liquor. Is it darker or lighter than you had expected? Take note of this for the next pot you brew. Allow the tea to cool enough to take your first sip.
Being sure that the tea is cool enough and then slurp a little bit of the tea loudly through pursed lips. Allow the aspirated fluid to fill your mouth and roll it around your tongue. What do you taste? Is it bright, bitter, strong, weak? Begin to think about what you would like to add to this flavor experience.
Now you are ready to add your cream, sugar, honey or lemon. Find what you like best and enjoy every drop of this cup of tea. This moment is yours, to be shared only with those who can enter into the sacra sanctum of a moment stolen from a world that is sucking down cups of coffee just to get to their next crisis. Not you, though. You are going to do honor to every person and resource that brought you this great moment of pleasure by enjoying every sip before you return to the world that has been placed gently and respectfully on pause.
At the gentleman’s convenience the world can move forward ready to appreciate everything else with renewed vigor…all for the price of a few moments and a few tea leaves.
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- How to Craft the Perfect Cup of Tea – Part 3 – Green Tea - September 26, 2015