There are many ways to get your tea on, from simple to geek-level complicated. The best tea brewing method for you isn't just about taste, or even health benefits. It's also about your lifestyle, and what you're looking to get out of your tea experience. We’re going to explore hot brew, cold brew, flow through and grandpa style!
Hot Brew - Classic style
Western hot brew is pretty common: steeping tea with hot water ( preferably at a temperature suiting the tea you're making ) in a pot or cup. In Britain and the US this style is familiar, accessible and relatively easy. For ultimate ease just use a tea bag and a cup, or be classic with loose leaf tea, a teapot, a strainer and go Downton Abbey on that thing.
Hot brewing brings out more of the tannins and caffeine in tea versus cold brew. If you like the astringency of those tannins and getting the most caffeine out of your cup, hot brew is great.
When it comes to a traditional British black tea with cream and sugar I am so accustomed to hot brew that it feels like the soothing familiarity of a favorite cozy blanket. When it comes to green tea though I am a fan of cold brew.
Cold Brew - Progressive style
This method is as simple as putting leaves in water and letting them steep in the fridge (I’ve steeped anywhere from 8-24 hours). The main considerations are water quality and leaf to water ratio. Avoid using chalky water (because it’s gross) or distilled (because the flavor compounds won’t have anything to cling to resulting in a cup of blah). Use filtered or spring water. You’ll be happier, and happiness is what we are aiming for. The amount of leaves to use depends on your palate. Some people use more leaves for cold brew (like with cold brew coffee) others use the same amount as they use in hot brew and are satisfied.
Cold brew differs from hot brew in taste because they are different chemically. (Help me out, Science!) The molecules move around more slowly than in hot brew. This results in fewer of certain compounds being released from the leaves, like polyphenols and caffeine. That’s why the taste of cold brew is smoother with no real acidic bite.
Flow Through - Geek style
Tea blending is truly an art form. One of my favorite blends from Harney & Sons is Eight at the Fort, a blend of eight teas created for a meeting of eight world leaders in 1997. The site mentions silver, black and green teas which you can see when looking at the leaves. How they get them all to play together so nicely when brewed at black tea temperatures, I don’t know. It just works.
When making your own blends, whether with herbs and a base tea or mixing tea from different categories, it may take some experimentation. One way to test and enjoy your blend is using the flow through steeping method.
This is where steeping gets a little more complicated. The idea is that you steep the tea that takes the hottest water first and then steep the other tea(s) in the strained first tea at the temperature best for them.
As an example I made a blend of ¾ Chinese green tea to ¼ peppermint. I steeped both together at green tea temperature (I chose 175 degrees F/ 79 degrees C for this tea) for three minutes as a control. Then I steeped the peppermint in just boiled water for five minutes, as herbs release more of their goodness in hotter water and longer steeping times. After the peppermint finished, I steeped the green tea in the peppermint tea for three minutes.
Though the same amount of leaves was used for both the taste difference was noticeable. In the control tea the peppermint was milder and the green tea was more forward, but to me, murky. In the flow through method the tea was overall more aromatic, with the peppermint being very forward though the green tea still made its presence known.
I asked someone else who I’ve never made tea for which one they enjoyed better. At first they thought they would like the flow through one better, but after multiple sips they decided they preferred what they called the earthiness of the control one. That is the beauty of tea. You can make it to your preference. With this flow through example, I think it depends on whether you want the peppermint or the green tea to be the dominant note.
When flow through is used with blends of different categories of tea, like black and green, it can give each tea it’s due. If steeping the lighter tea in the darker one doesn’t please you, you can also steep each separately at their correct temperatures and combine them afterward. Indulge your tea geekery and discover what works for you.
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