Now do not get me wrong, I most certainly enjoy a good cup of coffee, but for me, Tea is my caffeine source of choice. I have always been a tea drinker. In fact among the wonderful memories I have of my paternal Grandparents are ones of tea and porridge. My parents were like many Australians, coffee drinkers, yet my Grandparents whose families came from Scotland and Wales, preferred a good pot of tea. I recall with joy, after staying the night at my Grandparents house sitting at the kitchen table whilst Pop made porridge and Nanna brewed tea in a blue Aluminium tea pot. As a child/teen we were never really allowed to drink tea or coffee, however there was one exception each year, fruit picking season. My Grandparents/Parents had a small plum orchid, so come January we would be up by 6:00 and in the orchard picking plums, as the day warmed up ( January in Perth is the middle of Summer and with an average of 31*C( 88*F), would regularly get to 38*C (100*F), we would move to a corrugated iron shed where we would start grading and packing the fruit. The heat was stifling, but come morning tea time, we would all sit down and enjoy some cake accompanied by a pot of tea. How I enjoyed that tea. Since that time,I have always found tea a perfect summer drink and my happy place.
To be honest, strange as it may sound, making and enjoying a good cup of tea is quite calming. There is a certain ritual element to making tea, follow that with sitting down and taking the time to savour your cuppa and you can feel the stresses dissipate. It can almost be meditative.
The thing is, as most tea drinkers will attest to, very few people know how to make a good cup of tea, even tea drinkers themselves often cannot make a good cuppa. Insipid, pale, milky and lukewarm, often with a teabag still in the cup to counter the fact that they know full well that it looks awfully weak.
So how then do you go about making a good cup of tea? Well for starters, like anything else, it begins with wanting to, if you simply cannot be bothered then your tea will be warm watery milk. Of course as many will be aware, Tea can be purchased in one of 2 ways, Teabags and Loose leaf, both of which require slightly differing approaches when using. Whereas I do prefer loose leaf tea, there really is nothing wrong with teabags. So lets explain the difference.
Teabags will usually be made using lower grade tea, using the fines and fannings. So basically what this means is that the tea in teabags is a lot finer, much smaller particles and so therefore more surface area is exposed. This results in two things, firstly a much faster rate of evaporation of the essential oils in the tea which means less flavour and secondly, a lot more of the tannins coming out when steeping(brewing). The tannins are responsible for the bitterness and astringency in tea, much like they do in red wine.
Loose leaf tea on the other hand is made with either whole leaf tea or at the very least a much larger cut. So while this means less tannins and bitterness, it does mean that a longer time is required to steep your tea. There are however, some basic rules that will apply to both.
Types of Tea
There are also a number of differing types of tea, all with variations on their making. Tea is made from the leaf and leaf buds of the Camellia Sinesis plant. Herbal teas like chamomile are not actually a tea but a Tincture. Most tea as we know it, is Black Tea, which is a fully oxidized tea, unlike the partially oxidized Oolong or the unoxidized Green, White or Golden Teas. There is also flavoured teas, the most well known of which is Earl Grey, a Black Tea flavoured with the herb Bergamot. As a general rule of thumb, the more subtle flavoured teas like Green and White are served without milk, whereas as the stronger Black teas are served with milk as an option. I myself am a Black Tea drinker with a small dash of milk, however the best tea I have tasted was a White tea from Elmstock called Golden Tips, but it is a bit too pricey for my daily consumption.
Making the Perfect Cuppa
I will focus on loose leaf tea, but the very same rules apply to teabags, the main difference is due to its smaller size, the steeping is much faster. So what do you need? Tea leaves, Water, Kettle and a Teapot.
Tea leaves. Just like coffee, there is a large range of teas, all with varying strength and flavour, single origin tea, tea from different countries and climates, all with their own characteristics. It is up to you to find what type of tea you like. Personally I quite like a stronger and better quality tea like Elmstock Great Grandfather Tea ( a Single Origin tea from Sri Lanka) or Ceylon Pekoe. There is also different grades of tea, for instance, Orange Pekoe (OP) are the young tips, Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP) smaller broken tips or Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (FTGFOP) which is a truly premium quality tea.
Water. The important things to know about water is, fresh water is paramount. Never reboil water, a good pot of tea requires oxygenated water, and boiling the water removes oxygen. So empty your kettle and put fresh water in each time. Filtered water is much better too, tap water tends to contain chlorine and the like which affects the end result. My grandfather used to always take a thermos with rain water as he disliked tea made with tap water. The other thing to know, is temperature. Most black teas are best brewed at 90-100*C (194-212*F) whilst White and Green teas are best brewed at between 65-80*C (150-180*F). Oh and do not over boil your kettle, wait by your kettle and make your tea, don't wander off and do something else and comeback and make your tea. The reason to not over-boil, is the longer your water boils, the more oxygen is removed from your water.
Kettle. The thing to remember with your kettle is to ensure it is clean and to not over boil the water. You can buy Kettle Cleaner or you can use Bi Carbonate Soda and vinegar every now and then. Using a kettle cleaner usually involves adding the cleaner, filling with water, boiling it , let it sit and reboiling. Then reboil with fresh water and rinse.
Teapot. Teapots come in all sorts of materials, glass, ceramic, aluminum, stainless steel, porcelain and even enamel. Something to bear in mind though is the thinner and lighter the teapot is, the faster it will cool down, whereas the heavier pots will retain their heat. I personally use a glass teapot, whilst it does cool down, slowing down the steep, I am fine with it, as I don't drink my tea piping hot anyway. The glass teapot, doesn't need pre-warming and of course you can see through it so it is easier to judge the colour of your tea.
The steps to making a good cuppa.
It really is quite simple.
1- Preheat your teapot (or cup if using teabags)
2- Bring fresh water to a slow boil and pour over tea leaves (1 teaspoon per person) immediately for black tea or cool slightly before pouring for Green tea.
3- Allow to steep. Always follow the times on your packet, but a good guide is Green Tea- 2 to 3 minutes, Black Tea- 3 to 5 minutes and White Tea- 5 to 7 minutes.
4- If your pot doesn't have an in built strainer, use a tea strainer to remove the tea leaves when pouring into the cup.
5- Milk and/or Sugar can be added to the cup before or after if desired.
A couple of extra points. If adding milk, never use UHT or skim milk. I personally use HiLo milk which has a lower fat content than full cream milk because I find full cream just a bit too creamy for tea.
The way you store your tea is crucial as well. Store your tea in an airtight container, somewhere dark and dry. Exposure to light and air will oxidize your tea, and avoiding any humidity will prevent it being tainted by mould. However, one aspect of tea that many people are not aware of, is that tea is Hygroscopic, which means that it will readily absorb both moisture, odours and flavours. So store your tea by itself, all alone. My Mum used to store all her teabags in one jar. Which sounds OK right? Well not if your mixing black tea, with green tea and peppermint tea. The bags of black tea, tasted horrific simply because they were absorbing the green tea and the peppermint flavours. So ensure your container is clean and is not tainted by the odour of anything you stored in it previously and is not going to allow light or moisture in.
Another point is choose your cup carefully, no need to have one of those little teacup and saucer sets unless you desire to do so. However, choose a thin walled cup, ideally fine bone china or porcelain. It may seem like an odd thing, but it certainly makes a difference. Drinking tea from a thick chunky coffee mug is far less enjoyable. The cups I use at home are very fine walled coffee cups, I use coffee cups because of their size, I like a good sized cuppa.
So now, go and put the kettle on, make a pot of tea and sit quietly and enjoy it and let the world go on without you for ten minutes.
I have been drinking Elmstock Tea for many years now, and naturally I would recommend trying their tea if you are looking for a good cuppa. Elmstock tea is not available through normal retail outlets, but can be purchased through their website and offer a large range of teas, both loose leaf and teabag.
Divorced and nearly 50 I rediscovered who I was.