Words by: Robert Schinkel
Each category of tea has its own preferred brewing temperature and brewing time, but brewing a good cup of tea starts with selecting good water.
Spring water with a neutral ph value, low on calcium and magnesium and with a TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) number in between 30 and 150 parts per million is perfect for brewing tea, but micro-filtered water or water from reverse osmosis will do fine as well.
Remember to boil the water only once as during the boiling of the water carbon dioxide is released. When water is re-boiled the CO2 level is further reduced resulting in a decrease of acidity which effects the complexity and the character of your brew.
Use roughly 1 gram of tea for 100 ml of water and stir a few times while brewing a cup or a pot. Agitating the leaves while brewing will help the full character of the tea to develop.
The following chart shows the desired brewing temperature and brewing times for each category of tea.
Brewing times and temperatures (courtesy Dilmah School of Tea)
The strength of the brew is always subject to personal preference but over-brewing a tea results in a tea that is too bitter, while under-brewing results in a weak tea that lacks character. After water is brewed and poured into a cup or pot it loses roughly 10˚C (50˚F) of temperature per minute, so if you require water of 80˚C (176˚F) wait for two minutes after boiling before adding the tea leaves.
When brewing tea for cocktails or punches a strong brew is recommended. The addition of ice, spirits, sweeteners, bitters or juices require a full extraction for the tea not to get lost in the drink.
With the exception of the stronger black teas, most teas are served plain. The character of white, green and oolong tea is completely overpowered when sugar, honey or milk is added. Some green or oolong teas might be enjoyed with hints of flowers, herbs, spices or a zest of citrus fruit but a quality un-oxidized or semi-oxidized tea is usually enjoyed best served plain.
Even light black teas like Darjeeling are too delicate for sugar and milk but full-bodied black teas like breakfast tea can be enjoyed the traditional British way- with milk and sometimes also sugar. These teas are known as breakfast teas for their strong flavour profile, bitter, astringent, bold and malty so milk and a sweetener bring balance to the cup. In Sri Lanka, India and Malaysia these teas are used to create the chai tea, often made with condensed milk and a variety of local spices.
All the comments above should help you to get everything out of your daily cuppa and maybe open a few new doors for you but they are of course just guidelines. Because you should drink your tea the way you like it. That is what made tea such a global success story.