Nowadays we are so inundated with choice and, in looking recently at the food halls in John Lewis, I thought “How on earth can anyone tell, when faced by a bank of beautifully packaged cartons which teas were going to taste good or not?” It almost feels a bit like looking at endless rows of wine.
But, for me the answer to this question has two easy parts:
The first – just keep buying and tasting different teas until you find those that you like – ideally you will trust the brand you like.
The second – is to brew your tea with care. A cheap tea made properly will taste far better than a high quality tea made badly.
I don’t know about you, but I do not have the patience to use kettles with thermometers and getting things ‘just so’. However there are certain key rules to follow that will definitely make a difference to how your cup will taste. I honestly believe (and have tested) that the following points do indeed make the difference. (And yes in my tea lab (i.e. kitchen) I have tested both black and green teas using boiling hard and soft water and off-the-boil hard and soft water.)
So, here are my tips for Black Teas:
TIP 1: The tea will taste best using freshly boiled water with a pH balance of 7 or above.
The ph balance increases the harder the water (with a higher calcium and magnesium content). (The famous Mrs Beeton even recommends putting a pinch of bicarbonate of soda in with the boiling water – at first I thought this most odd but realise it would make the water more alkaline.)
TIP 2: Ensure that you only boil your water once.
If you repeatedly boil water that sits in the kettle, then cools and is then reboiled, you will lose the oxygen.
TIP 3: Make sure that your water does reach boiling point (100 °C) and then pour straight into your (ideally) warmed cup or tea pot.
If you heat your pot prior to pouring in the boiling water the leaves will brew at a higher temperature than in a cold pot.
TIP 4: Don’t use continuous hot water taps or large urns.
The water is usually just below boiling otherwise it would be bubbling away. If your water is not boiling the tea will taste flat and lifeless.
If you like a strong robust cup of tea try a high quality Assam that has the malty richness that can be diluted with milk if appropriate but lacks the harsh tannic that leaves a ‘rough’ taste in the mouth.
TIP 6: Brew your tea long enough for the flavour to infuse into the boiling water (read this with Tip 7.)
TIP 7: Understand the type of tea you are drinking
If you like a delicate fragrant tea you are probably not going to like a strong punchy Assam but it would be worth trying a Darjeeling or Keemun. Don’t try and brew the Assam for less time as a compensation for strength of flavour. You don’t water down red wine to create a white wine – you buy a different bottle. Tea is the same.
TIP 8: Remove the tea leaves after infusing for three to four minutes.
This will stop the tea from stewing or going bitter. With a tea bag it is easy to remove from a pot or mug. If using loose leaves I would recommend either a special tea pot where the leaves can be blocked off from the water, a tea filter (a fill your own tea bag), or a tea brewing basket that can be removed after brewing.
The extra tips I would give you for Green teas:
TIP 9: Leave your kettle to sit for about 5 minutes after boiling so it can cool down.
Then pour over the leaves. This makes an enormous difference to the roundness of flavour in the mouth. Boiling water makes the green tea taste bitter.
TIP 10: If you can, use water with a lower pH balance (I used some bottled water with a level of 6.2) this water is slightly more acidic.
If you are interested in learning more about tea, I am teaching a specialist tea tasting course spanning four weeks at City Lit in Spring 2014 and some single module classes in Summer 2014. Alternatively, if you would like to chat to me about some one-to-one time for a private class for you or a group of friends – please feel free to call me on 020 3730 3788, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet me on @Caroline__Hope.