PS Sorry for the hand-drawn sketches – my camera is officially broken and is going back to the motherland
Recently I was reunited with my best friend from high school (Hi Sammy if you are reading)! We went out for a lovely dinner, and then drove back to my place for a much needed Gilmore Girls/Best Friend session. Plus, I also wanted her to try some of my loose leaves that I have!
Everyday we make assumptions, and it so hard to break that cycle sometimes. Things that are routine for us, can be completely foreign to others. This was the case when I asked Sam which tea she wanted to try. The moment I popped the question, she looked up at me: confused, overwhelmed, and clueless. I realized, then and there, that we had to do a Tea 101. And I must say, after doing it, I realized how much I loved it! It’s so exciting to share one of your passions with someone.
Thankfully, since her and I were not in any rush, I walked her through the entire process of how to create a nice cuppa: water temperatures, mechanism to steep, techniques, extras to add etc…. Then we moved on to smelling my entire collection (always a real crowd-pleaser). The look on her face when she made her own cup and took her first sip was priceless.
Our lovely night brought to my attention that not everyone knows what they are doing! And while it is great that I talk about how teas taste, maybe some people are missing the fundamentals. I am by no means a tea expert, and I will admit right now that I do not brew my teas to the exact temperatures. But I do know enough to make cups that satisfy me and the people around me. So let’s begin….
Filtered water. Standard cup is 8oz
In case you didn’t catch the vibe from the straightforwardness in the line above, these are two important water habits to get down. No questions asked. PSA larger is not always better! Dirty yes, but it’s really important. When you exceed 8oz of tea, you risk the tea cooling before you finish.
Besides filtering your water and standard size, how hot your tea is when steeping is equally important. Different teas generally require different temperatures (although not everyone is strict to this – as you can tell from my previous confession). Below are the general recommendations:
I am not fortunate to have an electirc tea kettle yet in my life, so I brew the old fashion way – tea pot on the stove. While there is nothing wrong with this method, if you want to brew your teas to exact temperatures, it will just take some time knowing when water is at the proper heat.
My method: Bring water to boil, then remove from heat. I let it sit off for at least 30sec-1min The lower the recommended temp, the longer to leave aside before pouring over tea.
P.S. You can always use a thermometer to get more accurate temps. If you are a beginner, I wouldn’t fret too much. General rule of thumb: Just don’t pour immediate, boiling water over tea as it is usually too hot and can scorch the tea.
One thing that baffled my friend: how do you actually brew loose tea? We all know the basics of tea: Boil, Pour, Steep and Enjoy. But typically, those rules are applied to tea bags where messing up is almost non-existent.
Let me preface by saying there are MANY ways to steep your tea, and EQUALLY as many contraptions. While some might think that there are too many cheeky tools out there, I personally love the options (and might even get a little giddy when I see one). Plus if mainstream stores are adding all these options, then that usually means they are recognizing the popularity of tea.
Below are some of my brewing mechanisms:
#1 – Tea Steeper
I got a new one as a Christmas gift this year. Before, I had a no-name steeper that was pushing 7+ years old – it leaked all the time and pieces weren’t snapping together correctly anymore. Let’s just say when you go to check on your tea and it’s on the floor…it’s time for a new one.
I personally love this one, but other ones available like this and this all work equally. Tea steepers are a lot cleaner for me because everything is made in one container, and the tea can easily drain without a mess. Plus the lid keeps the tea hot longer, allowing you to brew your cup to the proper strength, while still being hot. It’s just my overall favorite.
How to use?
Insert desired amount of tea into steeper chamber.
Pour water into container and close lid.
Steep for desired time.
Place steeper directly on top of tea cup.
Tea automatically drains into your cup and cleanly leaves all the tea leaves behind.
PROS: Vivid, rich flavor//Tea becomes one with water//Keeps hot longer
CONS: Not 100% easily portable//Some people don’t love that is more difficult to sanitize steeper
#2 – To-Go Shaker
I spoiled myself for my Birthday and bought a special shaker! For months I have been dying to try Matcha, but it is made unlike any other tea. Typically matcha is prepared in a bowl with a bamboo whisk – matcha dissolves, not steeps. While this was an viable option, I opted for something transportable and versatile. My matcha shaker also doubles as a normal steeper for tea, the baskets interchange, hence why I bought it.
How to use?
Scoop matcha to the bottom of the shaker.
Attach the basket & screen pieces and screw to the top.
Fill with proper amount of water.
Screw final lid on & shake for 30secs.
Press silver button on top (it just releases steam).
For Other Teas
Scoop tea into mesh basket.
Attach basket to screen piece and screw to the top.
Fill with water.
Screw final lid on & let steep.
Press silver button on top.
PROS: Easy to use for matcha and less clean up//Multiple Baskets//Portable
CONS: Normal tea basket is so up high that you need to use more tea to get a good steep
#3 – Slide Clip Baskets/Infusers
My mom recently got me these little baskets from Ikea. I haven’t seen anything like these before, and I thought they were adorable. My mom knows that I want to bring my tea to work, and thought I should give these a try.
I still don’t have a definite opinion on these. I tried twice thus far, and I can say that I have had better cups before. My tea cup was too tall, so I had to add extra water for the basket to be fully submerged. Now, if you are willing to scoop more tea into the basket, then it might work out okay. But I like to have the option for a smaller cup.
How to use?
Scoop tea into basket.
Clip onto side of tea mug.
Pour water into cup.
CONS: Cannot use for fine teas//Loses heat easily//Need shallow mug
#4 – Specialty Cups
I know what you’re thinking, “Didn’t she just do a post on the to-go maker. Isn’t that really the same thing?” Well, kind of, yes. BUT in my world, it’s not. As you can see in the sketch above, this cup not a to-go cup. I got this Bodum cup – which is gorgeous – for my birthday. The infuser that goes along with it, fits perfectly. Also, it is a long basket, so the tea is one with the water. AND it also comes with a lid, which is a major perk because when tea cools at a rate quicker than its steeping potential…it sucks.
How to use
Take cup and place basket inside.
Scoop tea into basket.
Pour hot water.
Cover with lid & steep.
PROS: Mesh basket good for finer tea//Long basket and lid
CONS: Suited for the specific cup
#5 – Strainer
The next method is as basic as it comes, and it creates such an “ah ha” moment when I always bring it up as an option. People do not hesitate to use a strainer for pasta, but with tea…minds are blown. Mine is a multipurpose tool for me – it strains, it decorates sweets with powder sugar, it sifts. So if you are ever contemplating buying one, just know it’s worth the money.
How to use
In a cup or glass measuring cup (best option), scoop tea to bottom.
Pour hot water & cover container to keep warm.
Set strainer over cup you want to sip from.
Pour tea over the cup so tea leaves are caught in the strainer.
PROS: Full tea flavor
CONS: Messy and more items dirtied
#6 – Teapot
Just wanted to throw this one out there. I currently do not have a tea pot, so I don’t technically have any first hand experience, but it is a similar method to everything above! Teapots usually come two ways: strainer inside the pot or you pour the tea over a strainer and into a cup.
Tea Steeping Times
Below is a list of “recommended” tea steeping times. I adhere to these tea times…almost never. I like a stronger cup, so usually I’m brewing much longer. There are only a few strong teas (like a good black) that I do not find myself steeping too long. JUST BECAUSE I STEEP LONGER, DOES NOT MEAN I OVERSTEEP! There is a big difference here. Oversteeping certain teas is really not recommended – it makes the teas bitter and changes it’s composition completely. In a nutshell: not enjoyable.
If I were to give one recommendation about tea time steeping for boxed teas, it would be: TAKE THE TEABAG OUT! Your tea bag is not meant to live in your cup; it is meant to take a quick swim and leave.(PS this is probably the reason many Americans hate “tea”. I would agree with that too if my idea of tea is oversteeped Lipton black tea…just not good)
Tea 102 – Concoct & Enjoy will soon follow! In the mean time, what is your favorite way to steep? What is your favorite tea? Do you have any bad tea habits?
With love, Steph