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Brewing Tea

Methods of preparing tea are a matter of personal choice and  preference.  There is no "right" way to prepare and serve tea, however, there are many customs and rituals that are associated with drinking tea that have stemmed from many cultures primarily China, Japan and the UK.  Those who wish to follow these customs and rituals, can often discover new experiences associated with the long history of drinking tea.  The Japanese tea ceremony is one of strict practices that takes years to master.  Whether you're planning a tea party, or simply love a good cup of tea yourself, here are some helpful tips on brewing the perfect cup of tea.

How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Tea

Choose the Best Water
Use fresh water each time you prepare tea.  Artesian spring water is preferred over tap water.  Tap water should be avoided due to municipal water treatments which add chlorine and fluoride and can greatly affect the true flavor of your tea.   Not all bottled waters are created equal.  Purified and spring waters differ in mineral content, and therefore must be chosen based on personal taste.  Never use hot tap water to speed up the boiling process.  This adds additional impurities from your homes water heater.  Choosing your water is the best place to start if you want to improve the flavor of your teas.  Prepare cups of tea side by side using different sources of water and taste the difference.

Choose the Best Tea
Choosing the best tea is not always easy.  Grocery stores generally only carry tea bags filled with low quality tea leaves.  Although they might seem like a bargain,  these "name brands" are not worthy of being consider tea.  Health food stores are more likely to carry teas marketed as gourmet but typically have a limited selection of average tea.  These teas are an improvement to that of your local grocery store, however they are lacking true quality.  When it comes to buying quality tea, visiting a tea house is a great place to start sampling different teas.  This try before you buy method of discovery is always fun.  However, until recently, tea houses were only found in major cities.  But with the ever growing demand for quality teas, new ones are spreading throughout the west.  Choosing a reputable supplier is important. Imperial Tea Garden carries a wide selection of teas in all price ranges.  Buying rare and exotic teas from around the globe has never been so easy.  Choose Imperial Tea Garden and taste the difference.


How much tea should I use?  
As a rule of thumb - - use 1-2 teaspoons per  8 ounce cup and gradually add more tea to achieve the briskness and body of your choosing.  For best results, be sure to allow room for the water to circulate between the leaves for best results regardless of which brewing apparatus you choose.



Water Temperature
Aside from choosing the best water and tea leaves possible, Water temperature is the most critical element in preparing the perfect cup of tea.  Regardless of which apparatus you choose to boil your water, remember to follow these guidelines when starting out.  Heat the water in a glass, ceramic or clay teapot until it reaches a boil (212 degrees Fahrenheit) then allow the water to cool before brewing your tea. 

Guideline:  180 degrees for green tea, 190 degrees for Oolong tea, 200 degrees for
black tea. This is especially important when preparing delicate green teas.  These temperatures can be increased following successive brews.  Quality teas can often be steeped 2-3 times.  



Brewing Methods

Loose leaf in a teapot – This method of brewing tea allows for maximum freedom for the leaves to unfurl.  This makes for a stronger, more flavorful cup.  The disadvantages are removing the leaves, and cleaning the teapot after brewing.  If the tea is not served and allowed to infuse longer than necessary, the tea can become bitter.

The tea ball – Most tea balls are made from aluminum or stainless steel mesh to hold the tea in place.  This allows for easier cleanup of the leaves.  However, there is usually insufficient space for the tea leaves to expand and prevents water from circulating freely around the tea leaves.  Tea balls vary in sizes from one to three
inches.

Stainless-steel mesh infuser – This method is similar to the tea ball, however, handles were added for easier handling and cleaning.  The same disadvantages hold true for the mesh infuser as do for tea balls.

Basket filters – Basket filters  that fit most teacups and mugs can be used to make individual cups of tea.  They are made from plastic, stainless steel, or decorative ceramics.  Basket filters are also available to fit inside teapots.  This method of brewing tea allows the leaves to circulate freely.  It also makes cleanup and disposal easy.  The downfall is that not all baskets fit all teapots.  

Tea socks – Tea socks are a fabric enclosure and perform similar to the basket filters.  The disadvantages are that they stain and can retain the flavor and odor of previous batches.  If you switch between green tea and black tea this would not be favorable.

Tea press – The tea press is a glass enclosure with a mesh plunger that allows the leaves to circulate freely while brewing and allows for compacting them to the bottom before pouring. Tea presses are available in 2, 4, and 6-cup sizes.  Be sure to size correctly for your needs.

Brewing machines – Most coffee-brewing machine’s heat the water temperature near boiling.  Although this works well for coffee beans it’s not suited for brewing fine tasting green tea or oolong tea.  Specifically designed tea brewing machines are in the marketplace but at a premium cost and are not suited for high end teas but work just fine if you have the counter space and need a quick cup for the road


Steep time
After gauging the proper water temperature, the tea leaves are steeped in the water using one of the methods listed above.  Steeping tea leaves should be allowed to set still during this process because excess motion can cause the release of more tannins which can lead to bitter tasting tea.  Do not steep tea for to long before serving when brewing in a teapot.  Many newer teapots have basket filters that can be removed after the tea has steeped for the recommended time.  Start with 1-3 minutes and gradually increase the time to your preferred likeness.  This is especially important when preparing delicate green teas.


Serving Tips
Host a Tea Party with assorted tea sandwiches and other snacks prepared ahead of time.  Use a tea warmer to keep freshly prepared tea warm for refills and be sure you have mastered your preparation techniques.  This is no time for guessing.


Enjoy your perfect cup of tea!