I have had multiple people tell me that they are still hazy on how to steep tea and some even tell me they don’t really like it. I’ve found the reason for this is often one of the following. So this isn’t a moral judgment, but an insight into why you are having a less-than-stellar tea experience. We can fix that.
Temperature - Come on in! The water’s fine...or is it?
I used to dislike green tea. It was a real hit or miss experience for me. As I learned more and more I discovered multiple reasons for this. One was this heat thing. Green tea is generally not meant to be steeped at the same temperature as black tea. Here is why, green tea is much less processed than black tea. Like white tea, green tea is more delicate in flavor (and will also go bad/stale faster than black tea, by the way). When water that is too hot is used it scalds the tea and makes it taste like a bitter beast. I’ve also experienced and been advised that the higher the quality of the green tea generally the lower the temperature for steeping.
Conversely, if the water isn’t hot enough particularly for a black tea, the steep may not extract enough flavor to please you and you basically have muddy water (no insult to the awesome blues man Muddy Waters. Can never have enough of him).
If you look up tea steeping temperatures you’re going to see a lot of disagreement and different temps. I’ve been given suggestions varying from 160 - 185 for white and green teas and 180 - 205 for oolong and 200-212 for black teas. You will need to play within these ranges to find what suits you and the tea you are making.
Ok, so how do you know the temperature of the water? You can use a thermometer or a temperature specific kettle. Some kettles can even be programmed for the exact temperature of choice while others, like mine, have a number of temperature options.
Alternatively you can use the Chinese temperature method which looks at the size of the water bubbles as indication of temperature - bigger bubbles = higher temperature.
There is also the Korean method of boiling the water and pouring it into another vessel to cool to the desired temperature before using.
Time - Don’t forget your hourglass
Everyone has a different palate so this, as with many of these tips, is based on taste preference. The longer most tea steeps the more tannins are released causing more bitterness. You may need to experiment to find the timing sweet spot for you. Also consider cold brewing which releases very little tannin but doesn’t shortcut flavor.
If tea is not steeped long enough the leaves may not give over enough flavor. This depends again on many things:
Heat - The Warm Up Act
Remember those science classes as a kid? Heat transfer and heat conduction. Metal is a great conductor. Porcelain, China, some types of glass, though they don’t conduct like metal, do experience heat transfer. When the liquid poured into a vessel made of these materials is hotter than the vessel, the heat of the liquid will transfer to the vessel until its temperature matches the water. So, if you pour hot water over tea leaves in a cold vessel some of the heat of the water is transferred to the vessel before even having a chance to extract the flavor from the tea.
Result: crappy weak tea and many tears.
This is why it is so baffling when you order tea at a restaurant and they bring you hot water in a cup, with a metal spoon in it and the teabag on the side. There is no hope in that scenario. To make it worse I’d bet they never heated the cup before putting the less-than-boiled water in it anyway. Meanwhile your friend gets a well-made latte with creative foam art on the top, and you’re like “what did I do to deserve this?” Dramatic, yes, but it sucks to pay $3-$5 for something poorly made doesn’t it?
Quantity - Too much Too little Too late
This is another personal taste thing. I love a good strong black tea that can stand up to milk and sugar. So the average amount of tea in a US teabag rarely does it for me. Kinda tastes like lightly flavored water. Blech. I also like moderate bitterness, nothing too crazy. So I up the tea quantity and lower the steep time. This way I get fuller flavor and less bitterness.
The size of your teacup comes into play here. Most teabags/servings are meant for 8 ounce cups. This is America. Who drinks 8 ounces or less of anything? (Okay, bourbon drinkers, I hear you, but alcohol is the rare exception. And if any of you wine drinkers say you drink less than 8 ounces I am disinclined to believe you:) I use 16 - 20 ounce cups, so I up the tea quantity accordingly.
Water - Take me to the River, but don’t steep my tea in it
Tap water has a large number of particulates. Distilled has none. The sweet spot is in-between. This was proven to me through a tasting at the World Tea Expo back before I had even started this blog. David Beeman of Global Customized Water steeped the same type of tea with Las Vegas tap water, distilled water and GCW’s reverse osmosis process water with a specific mineral content. Every other aspect of each pot was the same: same amount of tea, same temperature, same vessel, same steep time.
The taste difference was amazing. The tap water made the tea taste like it had been dragged through a garbage bag compared to the other two. The distilled had a fainter aroma and only a slight pop of flavor and then it was gone like mist on the wind. The filtered water with the mineral complex had the greatest aroma, and most impactful, satisfying and lasting flavor.
I asked Dave what the rest of us, people who can’t easily obtain reverse osmosis water with a specific mineral blend, can do to improve their tea experience. He mentioned filtration of course. Even a carbon filtered pitcher is better than nothing. Also, GCW sells these A&B bottles of minerals that can be added to distilled water to approximate the GCW water, if you want to go the extra mile. Then there is Spring water. When I use spring water for tea the result is a step up from a basic filter.
The point is, depending on where you live, tap water has so much going on the tea has to compete with it. This is especially noticeable with the more delicate white and green teas. If you are going to shell out for high quality tea it is worth it to use high quality water.
There it is. There are more factors and I may do another post on this topic, but these are the basics. Have you experienced any of these? Let us know about your tea ‘aha’ moments.
Feel free to share this post with your fellow tea drinkers.
Friends don’t let friends drink crappy tea.
This is not a sponsored post
Expected tea is an event to look forward to; unexpected tea is a surprise joy.
I had heard from a couple of people that Denong had opened a teahouse in the area. I had first experienced their tea at the Los Angeles International Tea Festival. They specialize in puerh tea and what I tasted at the fest was lovely and memorable. I made a mental note to visit their shop. Weeks later on a holiday I was exploring in the area I heard it was in. I thought why not at least see where it is even though they won’t be open. [Note - if you are not familiar with puerh you may want to start with this post.
The shop is subtly placed, discovered by aligned chance or with focused intent. The sign on the door said ‘open’. I thought, “no way, they must have left the sign flipped”. Then I noticed the door was cracked open too. I couldn’t see anyone inside, but entered anyway. I am very glad I did. Jeffrey came out to greet me. I had picked the perfect time for a first experience as there was no one else there this late on a holiday night.
The space is spacious and open while feeling welcoming and intimate. It is a live room with a good dose of ping, so I am curious to experience the music of it at a busy time. The beautiful wood furniture is minimalist and elegant. The cabinets are filled with teaware, art and tea including a puerh cake from 1996. I didn’t look through all of it though. I thought I’d save myself some treasures for the next time I visit. There are pictures on the walls of the company founder, workers, the tea gardens and other tea houses that tell a story of Denong’s evolution.
The menu is of two parts - the main menu listing: Raw selections, Ripe selections, Famous Mountain list and their single, unique black tea; and the recent harvest menu. Jeffrey told me that list will eventually move to the main menu when a new harvest menu arrives. Prices listed are for a tasting and for a cake of the tea. There is even a Reserve & Vintage tasting session available.
I described to Jeffrey some of the flavors/notes I was interested in at the moment (much like describing wine): minerally, some earthiness but not mushroom-y, and a bit of sweetness. He suggested three teas to me and I chose Commemorative Edition 2016 from the Raw menu.
While the kettle was boiling Jeffrey walked me over to a wall of photos and gave me a brief rundown of Denong’s history and highlights. We talked a lot about the lack of information about tea. How a consumer must become self-educated to be able to acquire quality tea, which is one of my goals. He said the he himself had gone through a rough time trying to acquire quality tea, even becoming ill at one point from poor quality tea. This is particularly important with puerh as it is the only tea that can be aged. If aged properly puerh has health benefits and even becomes an investment worth a hefty amount of dosh. If processed or stored improperly, instead of the beneficial enzymes puerh is prized for, unhealthy bacteria can invade the tea.
One of the elements I appreciate about Denong is that the company is part of the whole process. They own tea gardens and there is no mystery step between those and where the tea is sold. That is gold! To know where the tea you are drinking is grown, how it is grown, how it is harvested, even to the cleanliness of the facility in which it is processed and stored - every step through to your drinking of it. It is a rare thing.
Jeffrey described how employees who work directly with the tea change clothes multiple times a day (I believe he said 3 times a shift) and he showed me a picture of them wearing masks and hair coverings and gloves - all intended to keep unwanted smells and contaminants from the tea.
The experience of having the tea was enhanced by beautiful teaware and a focused reverential serving. It looked like there was a galaxy at the bottom of the gorgeous glass cup. I got the feeling that here you could meditate while having your tea, or as I did, have a great conversation about the notes and the joy of it. It is very cool to be served tea by someone who knows so much about it and has a clear passion for it without pretense. Jeffrey was great!
Spring water was used and the tea given a quick rinse, but considering Denong’s practices this was probably one of the cleanest puerhs I have ever had. There were 5 steepings and as the tea opened up I went from feeling like I was walking through a forest after a light rain to sitting on rocks that have been washed by ocean tides. The notes of earthiness, minerality and sweetness all hit at different times.
Jeffrey put the leaves in a biodegradable container for me as I suspected they had more flavor to give (I did some more steepings that night). I love that. I look forward to working my way through their menu.
If you love puerh or want to start exploring it you can check out my earlier puerh post - A Puerh Primer and visit Denong online or at one of their locations in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong or in the US - one location in Pasadena with another coming to the westside of LA in 2019!
This is not a sponsored post
by Cassandra Vincent
Adagio Teas are known for a wide variety of choices from over 10,000 fandom tea blends created by fans of the brand all the way to a Masters collection of single origin, high quality teas. I have reviewed some of their fun Doctor Who themed fandom blends that I have enjoyed. This time I broke out the yixing teapot to explore their version of Formosa Ali Shan.
Note: Did you know that Formosa means shapely/beautiful and was the name given to Taiwan by early Portuguese explorers upon seeing the island: Formosa insula ‘beautiful island’. The name remains to describe this oolong – beautiful indeed!
Adagio Teas are known for a wide variety of choices from over 10,000 fandom tea blends created by tea and entertainment lovers all the way to a Masters collection of single origin, high quality teas. I have reviewed some of their fun Doctor Who themed fandom blends that I have enjoyed. This time I broke out the Yixing teapot to explore their version of Formosa Ali Shan.
A little background quickie – the Portuguese explorers that deemed Taiwan ‘Formosa Insula’ or Beautiful Island’ did so in the 1500s. Dutch and later Chinese influence grew Taiwan into a unique tea producing nation. Tea crops became a significant trade for Taiwan in the late 1700s. Being a small country with unique topography, Taiwan teas focus on quality over quantity with some regions limiting harvesting to twice a year due to elevation. Through the island’s varied history of influence from other tea producing countries Taiwan eventually settled on producing mostly oolongs and quality ones.
Ali Shan is considered a High Mountain Oolong – there are many teas that fall into this distinction which is for those teas grown at 3,300 feet above sea level or higher. Fewer harvests, rarer tea, greater price and I find it is often quite worth it.
This is considered a green oolong. Though that sounds like a contradiction I learned it is due to processing that uses lighter amount of oxidation than other darker oolongs resulting in a character that rests between green and oolong categories having aspects of each. Nice!
Even dry the leaves gave off buttery and floral notes with a bit of vegetal depth, though lighter than other oolongs I’ve had. During my first steep (3 minutes) the leaves gave off a big buttery nose reminiscent of a milk oolong with a softness. In taste I received both the floral (like lilacs) and butter aspects equally. I thought it was very smooth and round and satisfying. In comparison to lower grade Ali Shan’s I’ve had this was fuller with much more in the way of buttery scent and flavor and overall complexity.
This is a pearl tea where the leaves are rolled into a ball-like shape as opposed to other oolongs that are twisted. They are beautiful leaves with varying shades of green. I have found that pearl teas often don’t give up their full flavor until the second or third steep when they have ‘opened up’ more.
I did a second steep for 5 minutes and found that the tea was even more floral though the butter aspect lessened a bit. I had a nice buzz on the tongue on this steeping. This tea will give flavor over multiple steeps – 4 or more depending on your taste. That makes the price point more agreeable. I would drink this again. I shared it with some friends who had never had this kind or level of oolong and they truly enjoyed it. Thanks to Adagio Teas for providing the tea for this exploration.
If you haven’t yet tried a rarer tea I encourage you to expand your experience. Some companies, like Adagio, offer sample sizes enabling you to try a higher price point tea without having to make a large size (and cost) commitment.
I wish you ongoing joyous adventures in great tea!
All opinions are my own. This is not a paid or affiliate post.
by Cassandra Vincent
Even though it has been in existence for hundreds of years in Japan, Matcha was a kind of ‘break out’ trend in the West a few years back but the explosion has not slowed down. I am seeing Matcha in all sorts of products including lattes, ice cream, chocolate, coating nuts, in facial products, RTDs, cocktails and on and on. If I see an ad for Matcha underwear with the tag line “absorb it through your butt!” then perhaps it will have gone too far. But who knows, innovation takes wonderful and absurd turns and there are consumers who love them (remember spray tea in a can? ).
The first time I experienced Matcha was in a latte in NYC. It was the most jazzed day from a tea kick that I had ever had to that point but with an amazing sense of calm.
Ma=powdered & Cha=tea
With Matcha you ingest the whole leaf. To add to this already intense idea, Matcha is shade grown resulting in fewer leaves with more concentrated flavor. The plants make more chlorophyll to compensate which results in the seriously deep green colour. This shading also increases the amount of the amino acid L-theanine which is the component that gives the chilled out feeling that balances out the caffeinated effects of the tea and the umami flavor it is known to have by degrees.
If you’ve never had Matcha before you may want to try it in latte or food form first. After all the kick in the pants feeling is great but not so the kick in the stomach. Matcha is intense, and similar to too much juiced kale or beets it can be an uncomfortable experience if too much is ingested too fast without a ‘buffer’ of sorts. That said, cow’s milk will not reduce the caffeine effects of Matcha but it has been found to inhibit antioxidant absorption (ha, so very Khaleesi “it has been found” reminds me of “It is known”). You can use coconut, almond, hemp milk, etc. if that is a concern. Also, make sure to store Matcha in an airtight container, with the air pressed out of it, in the fridge for a longer life as it does more than lose its character – it becomes a gross bitter beast. Aim to consume it within a year or by the date the seller indicates.
There is so much Matcha out there now it can be a challenge to know where to begin. It comes in different grades even. There is some Matcha that is intended for cooking but not for drinking, for example. ‘Ceremonial’ Matcha is the term used to generally indicate drinking Matcha. My feeling is this: if I am ingesting the whole leaf I am more interested in an organic and well-sourced product.
For today’s post we are using Tora Matcha – there is a tiger on the package which is very fitting because you can feel like a tiger after having some Matcha goodness. This is an organic Matcha from Kirishima City, Japan in Kagoshima prefecture. It is USDA and HOAS certified (Hyogo Prefectural Organic Agriculture Society- Japan). There are no GMOs, pesticides or additives.
First I tried it straight up in a hot preparation. Now Matcha can be adjusted like all loose tea – you use more or less per volume of water as suits you. If you are new to Matcha you may want to try it weaker and increase until you hit that sweet spot for you. I used 1 tsp. to 6 oz. of water at about 170 F – yeah Matcha won’t like boiling water. There is the option of sifting the Matcha into the bowl or cup first, but I admit I did not do this (you may wish to if your Matcha has clumped up a bit while being stored in the fridge). I added a little water and stirred to make a paste before adding the remainder of the water. This helps reduce clumping. The use of a Matcha whisk, also called a chasen, is also helpful to eliminate clumping and create a frothy layer on top. The tines (like on a fork) are made of bamboo, are thin, in a circle and close together. Don’t be intimidated if you don’t have a chasen though. If you decide to use a blender or cook with the Matcha it won’t matter. You can also use a wire whisk in a pinch.
I found this Matcha to be deep in flavor and smooth. It was less sweet than some I have had but more meaty or umami than others. It is a good dark green as you can see too.
For a more intense experience, I did the 1 tsp. to 2 oz. water hardcore version. No hair has yet popped out on my chest, but stay tuned. The umami aspect was heightened in this more concentrated preparation and I liked that. It coated the tongue in a satisfying way. Matcha can be used either savory or sweet and this strikes me as a Matcha that may excel in savory uses especially.
I started making a morning smoothie just based on what I had on hand one day: banana, avocado, spinach and pineapple in coconut water (or water with coconut flakes or just water with a splash of the pineapple juice). I now crave it. I thought the Matcha might play well with the other ingredients and I was right. It was fantastic! Here is what I used if you want to give it a go:
Throw it all in the blender and mix till smooth.
Another day I added a tsp. of Matcha to my oatmeal along with chia seeds, butter, cocoa and raw honey. It was an excellent food and caffeine mix that tasted far more interesting than plain oatmeal with a banana in it.
I have plans to explore more Matcha uses down the road. Can’t do too many in one day or I might not sleep for a week! This intense tea is a whole world in itself. Thanks to Tora Tea for reaching out to us and providing the Matcha for this tea adventure.
Connect with other tea fans on Facebook and Twitter and share how you have explored the uniqueness of Matcha!
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