Time for Tea

A blog about tea and all the musings that go with finding, preparing and drinking tea.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

On the Time for Tea

There are as many times for tea as there are types of tea. And while I'm also thinking of 'time' in the sense of 'occasion', what I mean to write on just now is the time as the 4th dimension of tea preparation and enjoyment.

Tea lends itself remarkably well to being part of personal rituals and ceremonies. It can be a perfect way to center one's focus and relax -- to ease and refresh the mind. It can also be a quick mug to warm one's hands on.

Some even believe it can be a caffeine fix, created by drowning a tea bag (something often better described by the word 'bag' than 'tea') on water that's been boiled completely flat and poured onto a polystyrene cup (that often has more aroma than any remains of tea enconsed in the aforementioned bag). Let's make this one clear. It can't.

But, returning to my actual topic for today -- the time of brewing is something that many people seem to pay far less attention to than perhaps they ought. The more common extreme is probably the assumption that there is no such thing as brewing time but, rather, a single 'point', dividing 'not strong enough' and 'strong enough', without further points marking when the tea becomes 'over-brewed', 'way too brewed to drink' and, finally, 'only good for dyeing fabric'. This unfortunate misconception leads to tea leaves forgotten in their pots and tea drunk well past its prime. Once the tea is brewed, the leaves should be given their deserved rest. This also gives you the opportunity to see the texture and color of the wet leaves, as well as their scent (it's often interesting to note the difference in what parts of the scent are more pronounced before and after brewing).

No need to take my word for this -- brewing time is very much a matter of personal taste. The most amazing thing is just how much effect it can have on the taste and quality of the tea. Most full-leaf teas can be brewed for any amount of time between 2 to 5 minutes, though I definitely have some that are best with a 30-45sec brewing time (genmai cha, or brown-rice tea) and some that are really neat at 15mins (yin zhen white tea). Just don't get me started on water temperature. Yet. For now, let me write a few general tips I've found to be useful:

1) Experiment with brewing time for each different tea. While most stores will recommend a brewing time, taste is a very individual experience, so find your ideal for each type of tea.

2) If you want stronger tea, use more tea. Brewing a tea for longer will change the taste and make it richer in tannin, but it won't necessarily make it stronger. If you think your tea is too weak, try using more of it before you try increasing the brewing time.

3) Size matters. Full-leaf tea with whole leaves can be brewed for a longer time and will often yield a more complex flavor. The smaller the leaf size, the quicker the tea will brew, so adjust the brewing time accordingly. Should you choose to brew commercial, mass-produced tea bags, keep in mind that what's inside those bags is usually the 'fannings' (tea dust -- the stuff that was too small to be used in anything else gets swept up at the end of the day and made into tea bags [I may be a tad biased there]). However, the directions printed on those tea bags are generally hand-me-downs from when there was actual tea in there somewhere, and claim that one should brew it for 2-3 minutes. Usually, 30sec will get all you really want out of one of those. (It's a matter of surface area, for the engineers out there.)

4) Light on the caffeine? Tea does have caffeine, but if you want to reduce it a bit, you can do a quick 'home de-caf'. Turns out caffeine is more soluble in water than most of the other components of tea, so a lot of it comes out onto the water in the first 30 seconds or so. Assuming you're brewing a tea that can be brewed for longer than 30 seconds, you can do a first 'wash': pour hot water on the tea leaves, leave it for 30 seconds, then toss the water out and pour fresh hot water. Brew it for the full time you usually brew the tea. It loses a little bit of flavor, but it loses the caffeine a lot more.

5) Try it again. Good teas can often be brewed more than once, though the brewing time should usually be increased a bit. The flavor may be weaker, but sometimes a second brewing will bring out notes that were obscured in a first brewing, so it's fun to experiment.

6) See rule 1. Find your own brewing time for each tea, each mood. Any brewing times provided here or elsewhere are, at best, someone else's personal preference.





8 Comments:

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Anonymous white tea said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great to see a devoted tea drinker like myself!!!

2:11 AM  
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1:45 AM  

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