This tea is no longer a stranger to us in the west, though there was a time that that was the case. It was many years ago that I first encountered green tea. I had long existed in a perfectly binary world of beverage appreciation.
“Will that be coffee or tea?”
The question was often asked but always with a large bias and expectation toward the former. At one point I decided to depart from my usual cup of joe and defect for an afternoon to have a cup of tea. Having elected to enjoy a cup of tea I was presented with the option of green tea. Curiosity got the better of me and I was served an insanely hot cup of water and given an individually wrapped tea bag of this mystery of the orient.
I placed the tea bag into the water that was just off the boil, and waited the obligatory 5 minutes that I had expected was correct. I distinctly remember leaving the tea bag in the drink the whole time, because after all, things aren’t good unless they are strong, right?
I suffered through that cup. It tasted like someone brewed a fish right under my nose. The bitterness was so vile and unpleasant that I resolved that I simply wasn’t built to enjoy green tea. And so it continued until I spent some time in Korea. I saw variety in how green tea was brewed and had the wonderful pleasure of being exposed to varieties of green tea that included elements like barley, which adds the most delightful sweetness. At last I saw it, I thought I disliked green tea because I simply didn’t understand it. I believe there is a life lesson for every gentleman in this simple occurrence.
A NOTE ON TASTE AND TASTING
In America, food and beverages are marketed almost exclusively with superlatives. Flavors are “big”, “bold” and “powerful.” There is a wonderful place for the appreciation of extreme flavors. However, food has begun to take on the ethos of a brazen prostitute. Scantily clad and showing her wares for all to see. So we go to the slaughter as a senseless ox never knowing the great pleasures of a delicate taste.
There is a subtle and alluring excitement to flavors that must be worked for, striven after. This opens a treasure trove of enjoyment that we can never achieve by constantly looking after the bigger, bolder, stronger cup of tea. This is a different sort of experience and it may take some time to truly appreciate it because we are often looking for a flavor big enough to surprise our already desensitized palate. We can, however, be restored. It is possible to return the ability of any true gentleman to appreciate the subtle pleasures that must be striven after, if we only put forth the effort.
1.) SELECTING THE TEA
There may be a bit more of a challenge to find a high quality green tea as it is still a bit less common in the States, yet, as before there are many good options available in tea bags…but again we are striving for something more.
We are looking for a loose leaf green tea. Green tea begins just like black tea. The difference is that the process of oxidizing is halted before it becomes fully oxidized or “black tea”. Oxidation is stopped at the “green” phase by applying heat. The Japanese method is to use a pan to apply the heat and the Chinese method is to apply heat through an oven. I currently prefer Chinese style green teas, but both can be exquisite.
There are a number of different flavor options available as well. Jasmine is likely the most common. In a nice jasmine green tea the tea is stored and packed together with fresh jasmine flowers. The flowers are then removed and the aroma remains in the tea leaves. As a general rule, if the flowers are still among the tea leaves it is not regarded as a high quality operation.
2.) PREPARING THE TEA
Now that you have your tea selected; you are ready to prepare brewing by heating fresh cold water in your kettle.
Prepare the proper amount of tea (again, about a teaspoon per six ounce serving). As the water heats up use some of the water to warm the pot. While you are waiting for your water to reach the right temperature (little bubbles, NOT BOILING) take a moment to examine your tea leaves. Close your eyes and smell them. What do you expect in the coming cup of tea?
As the water gets to the small fish eyes stage empty your tea pot of the warming water and place your tea leaves into the teapot. Then pour the water (in the “fish-eye” stage – NOT BOILING) into your tea pot. It is important not to let the water reach a full boil because the higher temperature will scald the tea leaves and will make you tea bitter.
Let your tea steep for 45 – 90 seconds. This may seem short, and compared to black tea it is a short steeping time. Yet this will keep your green tea from becoming unpleasant and bitter. It will offer you the full flavor profile of the leaf. Pour the tea into your serving cup and prepare to enjoy!
3.) ENJOYING THE TEA
Now you have your work of art. If your cup allows you to examine the color of the liqueur you can do so. It may be much lighter than your previous cups of green tea…that is a good thing! Take large deep breaths through your nose and evaluate what it is that you are smelling. Even non flavored green teas can take on lovely floral aromas that are not to be missed.
As the tea cools to an acceptable temperature take your first loud slurp. The slurp will aspirate the tea and bring air onto your tongue. Sipping in this way will give the best taste of the tea. Evaluate how the tea tastes and how it feels in the mouth. It is what you expected from the previous examination of the leaves?
Presuming you are going through a whole cup there are quite a few minutes of dedicated enjoyment ahead. As the tea cools, the flavors will develop and there will be a deepening sense of the character of the tea and how it has been brewed from sip to sip. This is your moment. If you are enjoying tea socially (which is highly recommended) then you will be able to discuss how the experience differs amongst the group. It seems that there is variety in human tongues as well!
Your added bonus is this: Green tea will often make two, or even three, different servings. So you have the opportunity to experience that leaf not just the first time but yet again to find out how the experience differs between each infusion.
Please enjoy your tea however you best like it. If you are able to find a moment of dignified pleasure and the thoughtful repose, or meaningful fellowship and conversation, amidst the coursing stream of your day then your cup of tea has been supremely successful.
May your enjoyment of this wonderful type of tea continue to deepen and expand, as the world needs more people who have the acquired ability to appreciate small things deeply. It is the call of the modern day gentleman.
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- How to Craft the Perfect Cup of Tea – Part 3 – Green Tea - September 26, 2015