Do you sit down with a cup of tea on a cool evening to read your favorite blogs? I like to start my day with a strong cup of Earl Grey. I like to enjoy a cup of loose leaf green tea with lunch. Most nights I wind down with a spicy rooibos chai.
I have my favorites. I have my own set of rules. Like do not put milk into green tea. Do not ruin any tea by putting lemon in it (though there are health benefits). And when I am talking about green tea, I am not talking about that nasty, huge pack of “green tea” teabags from the grocery store that tells you nothing of preparation or origin. I am speaking of a rich, bright green sencha or gyokuro from Japan. Some people like Genmaicha, but I do not like the burnt taste of the roasted grains they add. They say it typically 1 teaspoon loose leaf to for every cup if water, but I tend to use 1.5 teaspoons, since I like a strong tea and ice any leftovers I end up with.
Grab a cup of tea and sit down. Let’s talk tea. I don’t like overly fussy rules. I just want to enjoy myself. You can look up a stuffy British website to find out the exactly how to brew the perfect cup of tea. I just want to share some tips for exploring new teas and how to make the most of them.
First, all tea (except for herbals) come from the same plant, the camellia senensis. The differences are the region where it is grown (just like coffee), the preparation, and the grading of the leaf quality (from teeny broken pieces usually ending up in cheap tea bags to whole leaf in top of line teas). Usually a mid-quality, mid-price tea suits most tea lovers just fine.
Do you like black tea? I suggest looking for an Assam BOP. The BOP means “Broken Orange Pekoe”. Assam is the region of India that grows some of the finest teas. You can grow tea in almost any reasonably temperate climate, but the best teas thrive in higher altitudes. Orange Pekoe has absolutely nothing to do with the fruit. It is simply part of the grading system dating back to the British East India Company.
Darjeeling, another growing region in India, is also a good black tea choice. Some folks prefer the lighter Ceylon (the British imperial era name for Sri Lanka). I use Pu-erh, a fermented black tea, to keep my cholesterol down. It’s yummy and it works.
Oolong Tea is a delicious tea made by oxidation of the tea leaves. It is really neither black nor green tea, but the flavor falls somewhere in between. Then the tea leaves are carefully rolled into one of several shapes. It is an interesting art.
Are you hoping for the health benefits of green tea? Green teas are considered the superior teas. It is the original tea preparation. In fact, black teas were only invented by roasting the teas leaves in order to allow them to travel further without going bad.
Mark T. Wendell Tea Co. explains the green tea making process this way, “To produce green tea, the fresh tea leaves are carefully placed on large bamboo trays and allowed to dry in the sunlight. Then the leaves are placed into small hot roasting pans and quickly moved about. They are continuously rolled into balls and then re-roasted for several hours at a time. This process stops the chemical changes from occurring in the leaf by never allowing it to wither and ferment. By eliminating the fermentation process, the dry leaf retains its green color and natural composition. Green teas vary in shape and size, ranging from twisted, curled, flat, pointed, half-moon crescent and tight pellets shapes.”
My favorite is Sencha. Grown near Mt. Fuji, it is mellow, picked early, and steamed. If you want a green tea treat, try Gyokuro, produced by shading the plants for a short time before hand picking. It is pricier, but tastes like I imagine tea from the Garden of Eden would taste. Matcha is powdered green tea that is actually consumed, not just steeped. There are several grades of matcha, so be sure to choose a higher quality for drinking. A lower quality is fine for baking.
When preparing green tea, do not over boil the water and do not over steep. Two minutes is the maximum you will want to steep. Any longer will cause bitter tea.
Many caffeine free teas have a rooibos base. Grown in Africa instead of Asia, rooibos, also called redbush, is an entirely different plant. It still has many of the health benefits of green and black teas, being high in antioxidants. Plus it has no tannins to interfere with iron absorption like black tea does.
Rooibos pairs nicely with spices and chocolate, for fun flavors. It also tastes great with a splash of cream or nutmilk. Rooibos likes a longer steeping time and isn’t fussy about time or temperature, since it doesn’t become bitter. It has a natural bit of sweetness, making it a tasty dessert tea.
I have become an annoying loose leaf snob. I still drink some teas from a bag, but loose leaf requires a higher quality. And I can sometimes taste the bag. There is nothing quite like like a whole loose leaf tea. For brewing the loose leaf I recommend digging up a (no longer produced) Teavana Perfect Tea Maker on Ebay. If you can’t find one, the IngenuiTea is basically the same thing, just more expensive. If you become a tea fanatic as a result of hanging out with me too long, ask for a Zojirushi Water Boiler for Christmas, and have perfectly tempered water for tea at your fingertips every minute. It is also good for pour over coffee. If you prefer drinking mud in the mornings.
The one thing those British websites can’t explain to you is how to ice your tea. I am a South Floridian. One that grew up without air conditioning. There were two things to drink in my childhood home: tap water and iced tea. For health reasons I learned to drink my tea unsweetened. It’s an embarrassing thing to order in the South, but alas, diabetes is a worse thing.
Use 50% more loose tea, to make up for the dilution by the ice. Fully brew the tea. Do not ice too soon. I sometimes convert my iced tea maker to use loose leaf tea instead of tea bags by using unbleached (brown) coffee filters. I prefer it by the cup, though. If you decide to ice an herbal tea, I recommend doubling the amount of loose leaf tea (or tea bags) you use. You can always dilute your tea if it is too strong. There is not much you can do about weak tea. Black and green teas both make delicious iced teas. Try icing jasmine green tea. Or try a green tea with chopped green apples in it and a wide boba straw, a healthy alternative to boba tea.
One of my kid’s favorite snacks is a strong black tea brew with a tablespoon of chia seeds thrown in. Throw it in the fridge for a few hours, or even overnight. The seeds with become gelatinous, like tapioca pearls. Dilute the tea, add ice, and enjoy with a boba straw. This tastes great with a chai flavor, diluted with almond or coconut milk.
However you choose to have your tea, drink it slowly and enjoy the scent, a rich part of the experience. Bon Appe-TEA!
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