Monday, November 18, 2019

All Things Tea

I started drinking tea when I was in college. Isn't that where all good habits start? *wink* My tea habit is now (gulp!) over twenty years old.

In the beginning, I sipped only herbal infusions, also known as tisanes or herbal teas. At some point, somebody recommended green tea for its health benefits, so I gave that a try and ended up adding it to my tea habit. A few years ago, I started expanding my tea palate to include black, oolong, and pu-erh teas.

As I explore new teas and learn more about the mental and physical health benefits of drinking tea, my love for tea continues to grow.

Below is a collection of my thoughts on all things tea and a guide for maximal tea enjoyment.

1. Steeping
2. Re-steeping
3. Upcycling Tea
4. Cold Steeping
5. Favorite Tea Brands
6. Favorite Tea Gear

1. Steeping

I love the ritual of making tea as much as I love the beverage itself. For many years, I boiled water for in a glass measuring cup in the microwave. A couple years ago, I switched to heating water in a small stainless steel kettle on the stove. Some claim the different heating methods produce different tasting teas, but, if there are any, they are minute.

  • Measure desired amount of water:
    • Tea bags – 8 ounces per bag
    • Tea sachets – 16 ounces per sachet
    • Loose leaf tea – 8 ounces for each teaspoon of tea leaves
* I heat ¾ of the water I need for the tea, then add cold water and/or ice after the tea is steeped to make the correct amount of tea. This way, my tea is ready to drink right away – without scalding my tongue.
  • Heat water to ideal temperature:
    • White tea – less than boiling (175°F)
    • Green tea – less than boiling (175°F)
    • Oolong tea – depends on the variety; some use less than boiling, some use boiling
    • Black tea, pu-erh tea, herbal infusions – boiling (212°F)
* This guide from The Spruce Eats gives a great (and more detailed) explanation of ideal water temperatures for tea.
  • Pour hot water over tea. (Don't add tea to hot water.)
  • Cover mug or teapot and steep:
    • White tea – 1 minute
    • Green tea – 3 minutes
    • Oolong tea – 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the variety
    • Black tea, pu-erh tea – 5 minutes
    • Herbal infusions – 5 to 7 minutes
  • Remove tea bag, sachet, or strainer from mug.
*Save your sachet or steeped tea leaves. See section below about re-steeping.
  • Add cold water and/or ice to cool tea to preferred drinking temperature. Enjoy!
  • Adjusting the flavor: If your tea tastes too bitter, try reducing the water temperature or steeping time. With loose leaf tea, you can try using fewer leaves. 
2. Re-steeping

I am 100% a child of the 'Reduce. Reuse. Recyle.' era. So I love that many teas can be steeped a second time for even more enjoyment. Some teas even taste more delightful on the second steep.
  • The best teas for re-steeping are loose leaf teas or those packaged in sachets. Tea in bags doesn't re-steep very well.
  • The number of times you can re-steep depends on the variety. In general, green, oolong, and black teas and herbal tisanes are good for two or three steeps; pu-erh tea can be steeped five times or more.
  • All varieties of tea can be re-steeped with boiling water. There's no need for cooler water for green or white teas.
  • Add 1 - 2 minutes to the original steep time, to extract more flavor from the tea.
*I steep all of my teas and herbal infusions, except pu-erhs, twice. Then I upcycle the twice-steeped tea (see the section below). Read more about re-steeping in this post from DiviniTea.

3. Upcycling Tea

My sister, Sara, gets credit for this idea. While visiting, she made a cup of tea for the drive home. After she left, I found the tea bag sitting in a cup full of water on the counter. I asked her about it and she said she always soaks her used tea bags. Now I do, too, but with a few tweaks to the method.

After I've steeped (and re-steeped) my tea, I put the tea bag, sachet, or loose leaves in a glass jar. I fill the jar with 16 ounces of cold water, cap it, and stick it in the fridge. A day or two or three later – whenever I get to it, really – the tea has transformed the water into a delicious, lightly flavored water.

I'm not sure if this beverage should be called upcycled tea or tea water – neither sounds very cool. Regardless of moniker, this flavored water is delightful. It's also a clear indicator of my frugality; every last drop of flavor (and beneficial phytonutrients) is squeezed out of the tea I purchase.

4. Cold Steeping Tea

Upcycling tea prompted me to try cold steeping tea. Mostly, this came about because hot tea isn't as enjoyable during the hot summer months as cold tea.

  • Combine cool water and tea in glass jar with lid.
    • 8 ounces water per tea bag
    • 16 ounces water per tea sachet
    • 8 ounces water for each teaspoon loose leaf tea
  • Place jar in refrigerator to steep.
    • Steep green, oolong, and black teas for 8 to 24 hours.
    • Steep herbal teas for 8 to 48 hours.
  • Strain tea or remove bag/sachet.
  • Cold steeped tea leaves/bags/sachets can be re-steeped several times.
*Read more about cold steeping tea in this article from Serious Eats.

5. Favorite Teas

I dedicated one of my newspaper columns to the topic of tea. While writing that column, I counted how many varieties of tea I actually had on hand. The number topped 40. Instead of listing my entire collection, here are some of my favorite tea brands:

Online (sold as loose leaf, in sachets, and in bags)
Grocery Store Brands (sold mostly in bags)
  • Tazo
  • Stash
  • Bigelow
  • Celestial Seasonings

6. Favorite Tea Gear

  • Tea Kettle

  • Tea Mug with Infuser

  • Tea Pot with Infuser

  • Tea Sachet Squeezer
Squeezing your tea sachet or tea bag is frowned upon by some, but I am a diehard squeezer. I love strong tea, enjoy bitter flavors (to a certain degree), and don't like dripping tea bags dribbling all over my counter.

Happy tea sipping!

I have no affiliation with the brands listed in this post, nor was I compensated for mentioning them.

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