A primer on the perfect cup of tea

  • Article by: ADA IGOE , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 12, 2014 - 3:32 PM

No need to read the tea leaves. We’re all ready for a winter warm-up.

To many of us, a steaming mug of tea signals a calming, centering diversion from the everyday. But when you enter a tea shop and are greeted by a dizzying array of loose-leaf tea canisters — all with exotic names, such as oolong, orange pekoe and rooibos — you can feel anything but calm and centered.

Don’t be overwhelmed, say Minnesota tea proprietors. There’s no reason for tea to seem complex.

“Tea is really simple,” said Bill Waddington, owner of TeaSource, a wholesale tea provider with three retail stores in the metro area. “It’s just leaves and water. That’s it.”

How you brew your cup of tea is very subjective. If the tea tastes good to you, you’re doing it right. In general, Waddington suggests using one measured teaspoon of tea to every 6 to 8 ounces of water, and letting the tea steep for 2 to 4 minutes.

Lily Duckler alters that formula. The co-owner of Verdant Tea in Minneapolis uses about 2 teaspoons of tea per 8 ounces of water, and tests it after 30 seconds.

Keep in mind that the smaller the tea leaves and the hotter the water, the faster the tea will brew. You also want to pay special attention to water temperature when making green tea. Best advice? Do not make it with boiling water, or it will become bitter, Waddington said.

Green tea has the best flavor when made with 160- to 170-degree water. When steam wafts from the kettle the same way steam rises from a frozen Minnesota lake, it’s about 170 degrees, he said. If the steam forms a straight line, it’s too hot.

Don’t worry if you accidentally let the water boil when you’re making green tea, noted Duckler. Just let the kettle sit for a minute or two to cool the water before using.

Once your cup of tea has achieved the desired flavor, you want to be able to easily remove the tea leaves. This conundrum gave rise to the popular packaged tea bags found on any supermarket shelf, but if you’re serious about developing your tea drinking habit, you may want to ditch the tea bags, despite their convenience.

“What’s in tea bags is the dust that’s left in tea factories,” said Waddington. “It’s certainly not unsafe, but tea bags are designed to brew fast and strong. There are no layers of complexity.”

To brew your loose-leaf tea, Duckler suggests a brew basket that sits on the rim of a cup or teapot and can be easily lifted out of the hot water when the tea reaches the desired brew.

Waddington prefers T-sacs, a do-it-yourself paper filter that serves as a tea bag, which you fill with loose-leaf tea. At the Steepery Tea Bar in Minneapolis, owner Nick Nguyen uses a plastic device called an ingenuiTEA perched atop the cup.

Tea balls can also be used for loose leaf tea. However, they don’t offer sufficient room for the tea leaves to expand as they absorb water, Waddington said, which often means that leaves in the center of the tea ball can still be dry when it’s removed from the cup.

The original source

All tea comes from a single plant, camellia sinensis. A Chinese native, camellia sinensis now grows in India, Japan, Indonesia, parts of Africa and even Hawaii.

Each type of tea can be broken into three categories: straight, blended and flavored. Straight tea features a single type of tea from one specific tea estate. Blended tea takes a variety of straight teas and mixes them together to create a unique flavor. Tea also can be mixed with any number of outside flavors such as spices, pieces of fruit, herbs, leaves, nuts and chocolate to create flavored tea.

Tea is a seasonal crop that is mainly harvested in the spring, with smaller summer and autumn crops.

“The main point to take away is: Don’t hoard your tea. You’ll enjoy it most when it’s fresh,” said Duckler.

If you’re drinking an herbal “tea” not made with leaves from the camellia sinensis plant, you’re not actually drinking tea but what’s known as a “tisane.” These provide a wide range of flavors, including old favorites such as mint and chamomile, and can be made from many locally sourced ingredients.

Anahata Herbals in Duluth creates locally sourced herbal blends, including North Woods plants such as Labrador tea, sweet gale, cedar, raspberry leaves and rose hips.

Beyond the cup

Tea doesn’t need to be limited to the tea cup, either. Waddington suggests making jasmine rice with brewed jasmine tea in place of water or using brewed tea in any recipe in place of water or broth. He also likes to sprinkle matcha, a powdered Japanese green tea, on yogurt or ice cream. Food bloggers and local businesses have used Verdant’s tea selection to flavor baked goods and ice cream, and owner Gloria DeBenedet at Willow Tea in St. Cloud is developing tea-infused sugars, salts, rubs and honeys for her shop and website.

But whether you like your tea hot, iced or in your rice, you really just need to remember one thing:

“In the end,” said Duckler. “Just add water.”

 

Ada Igoe is a freelance writer who lives near Grand Marais, Minn. Reach her at ada@ofwoodsandwords.com.

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