For a really satisfying and healthy cup of tea, as important as high quality, garden fresh tea is the manner in which the tea is brewed.
Tea – especially high quality, traditional orthodox tea – is very sensitive to water quality, time of brewing etc., and a few simple precautions can ensure that your cuppa is really outstanding. Water is critically important. In many countries, high chlorine, bromide or calcium content affects the quality of brewed tea. In London for an instance, water that has been recycled many times and contains various additives is usually safe for drinking but not for brewing a really good cup of tea.
The minerals and other elements in London water produce very dark infusions, even from light, high grown tea. Elements in the water there also often react with the antioxidants in the tea to produce an unpleasant film on the surface of the brewed tea. It is not dangerous for consumption, but just unsightly.The ideal for tea is spring water – brands like Evian of Highland Spring are options, and local equivalents are sure to exist in your country. In certain areas like rural parts of New Zealand, England, Scotland etc., where the water is not heavily treated – can produce a wonderful brew.
In Sweden I found the tap water exceptionally good even in the centre of Stockholm. If neither of these options work for you, and if water in your area is either acidic or excessively alkaline, the best option is to use a good quality water filter. Brands like Brita produce filtration units which are small, inexpensive and effective in improving the quality of water.
The next step, after obtaining the right water is to ensure that it is boiled properly. Water is not ‘just water’ and contains a complex of dissolved gasses, CO2 and oxygen. Boiling repeatedly causes these elements which are important for proper extraction of flavour, aroma and antioxidants from tea, to deteriorate. The result is something like what one might have experienced when tasting coffee that has stood on a hotplate for hours. It acquires a metallic and unpleasant taste as the desirable elements are ‘boiled out’ of the brew.
And so, good quality, spring water boiled once in a kettle. The freshly boiled water should be poured directly onto the teabag or leaf tea. The volume of water is important – 220 to 250 ml or the equivalent that an average sized cup or mug might contain, would require one teabag or approx. 2 to 2.5g. leaf tea. That means a heaped teaspoonful of dry leaf tea per cup or mug. The water should be poured directly onto the leaf tea or tea bag which could be inside either a clean, dry and ideally warm teapot or mug. Stir once to begin the process of brewing and close the tea pot with a lid or place a lid or ceramic saucer over the mug in order to allow brewing to commence; closing as suggested will ensure that the flavour and aroma in the tea is not lost during brewing.
After a minute or so stir again and allow the brewing to continue. In the case of Green tea, including Sencha, Jasmine and Morccan Mint, 1.5 – 2 minutes is adequate for proper extraction of flavour, colour and aroma. For black tea – English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Ceylon Supreme and the like, 3 to 5 minutes. 3 minutes is ideal if you prefer a medium strength brew whilst for a really strong cup – important especially if you take your tea with milk – brew for 5 minutes.
Each person will have their own preference and through trial and error, you can determine your ideal brewing time. Finally when the right time is up, stir again and pour the brewed tea out of the teapot through a clean, dry, stainless steel strainer, into a cup or mug. In the case of the teabag remove the teabag and discard. Having brewed your cup of tea, you may consider adding sugar or milk. Clearly the best tea for you is tea made the way you enjoy it best.
Whilst as tea makers, we would not recommend that you add anything to your cup of tea, you should of course enjoy your tea in the manner you enjoy.If you like your tea with milk, we ask only that you try it straight (without milk) just once. If you still prefer tea with milk, use warm dairy milk. Add the milk to the brewed tea and not the other way round.
The myth about “milk in first” is based on a marketing strategy by the ceramic industry in England which sought to counter problems they were having with poor quality clay, during the second world war. The teacups and mugs cracked on contact with boiling water due to the poor quality clay. The pots were OK due to their thickness. By propagating the myth that milk should be added first, they minimised the problem but porcelain and ceramic technology today is more advanced than at that time and the milk should be added last, since adding milk first affects the quality of brewing and the antioxidants in the tea.
The most important consideration in adding anything to tea is to keep it natural. Therefore if you like sweetness, add honey – not strong tasting honey like Manuka honey but rather a light honey like Clover or Liden honey. In Sri Lanka we have a tradition of adding freshly cut ginger to tea. The medicinal properties of ginger, combined with those in tea make a wonderful combination, ideal especially when you feel onset of ‘flu or a cold. In the Middle East, the tradition of adding fresh mint leaves, lightly crushed, is another delicious combination since the menthol in the mint enhances digestion, combining beautifully with the anti-cholesterol properties in tea to produce an outstanding, functional beverage to be enjoyed after meals.
The combinations are endless although the most important thing is to respect the taste of tea, adding milk for instance to tea brewed strong so that you enjoy the combination of aromas, flavours and the health benefits in tea rather than the over powering taste of milk in weak tea. Remember, it all starts with brewing your tea right!