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If you wanted to make a few cautious generalizations about the future of tea – as I’m about to do – you could start by taking a look at the past. At its most basic, tea is a relatively simple thing, at least in comparison to something like a computer or an iPhone. Which is to say much of it has not changed over the years and will likely not do so in the future.

On the production end of things it’s probably safe to say that tea growing and harvesting is not that much different than it ever was, except for the fact that some of the key steps have been mechanized. But while some aspects of tea harvesting, for example, have been mechanized in certain regions, the delicate nature of tea leaves and the precision required to select just the right ones means that we often still see good old-fashioned non-mechanized humans plucking them. Perhaps we’ll see slightly more sophisticated machines processing and harvesting tea in the future but will it look that much different than it does now? It’s not for me say.

Then there’s that critical portion of the tea equation – making it ready to drink. Which also hasn’t changed that much over the centuries – except when it has. While we see more fancy automated gadgets as the years pass and we’ll undoubtedly see more in the future, for many people the process of heating water and pouring it over tea leaves or a bag is not that much different than it ever was.

But what about the business of conducting the business of tea? Look to the past again. The flurry of tea houses that opened in the United States and elsewhere in the last decade or so would not have seemed all that unfamiliar to Thomas Twining, who went into business in the early days of a coffee/teahouse craze that was sweeping through London in the seventeenth century.

Of course Twining and his contemporaries didn’t have Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and so on to help them get the good word out, nor could his customers make use of online commerce to order tea and have it shipped to their front door. When it comes to figuring out what types of these technological wonders the future might hold maybe you could try looking toward science fiction.

One thing is fairly certain, no matter how far into the future you go. People will still drink tea in their homes and workplaces (which may look a bit more Jetsonish), and they will probably still gather in public places devoted to the fine arts of tea selling and consuming.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Keemun Panda (ETS image)

Keemun Panda (ETS image)

Sometimes a tea will surprise you. Not that this is necessarily a good thing. For me, at least, there have been good tea surprises and there have been bad ones. Obviously, I’d prefer the former but sometimes in this life we have to take the hand (or tea) we’re dealt.

I’ve learned to like Keemun over the years, a type of tea I didn’t care that much for at first. It’s a black tea from China that often has a hint of smokiness, something that I don’t normally like much in tea. But over time I’ve learned to like the more subtly smoky examples of this tea.

So I was mildly interested when a bunch of samples I was sent recently contained something that was described as a “superfine” Keemun. I was even more interested – in fact, quite intrigued – when I opened the package and was assaulted by the overwhelming aroma. And I mean that in a good way. I hastened to move this tea to the head of the stack of samples I’d been sent and steeped some right away.

And what a surprise it was. I wouldn’t say that it didn’t have any taste at all, but I’d venture to say that it came very close. I was less than impressed. I intend to give it another try just to make sure that I didn’t make a mistake while I was preparing it. But for now I’ll check this up to the “not very good surprise” category.

But there are also some good surprises when it comes to tea. As I’ve already suggested, one of my first steps in judging a tea is to simply open the package and evaluate the aroma of the dry leaves. There is generally a correlation between the smell of the leaves and the taste of the tea, except in such cases as noted above. The flip side of this are those rare good surprises when a bland smelling tea turns out to be a winner. It doesn’t happen often but that only serves to make it more surprising.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tea Bag Squeezer (ETS image)

Tea Bag Squeezer (ETS image)

To dunk or not to dunk? To squeeze or not to squeeze?

I suspect that for many people who use a teabag to prepare tea it’s probably quite common to dunk the bag repeatedly and to squeeze it when you’re finished. There are even specially constructed tongs that are designed to assist with the latter action. But should you be inflicting all of this on your teabag? What exactly is the proper way to handle your teabag? Our very own esteemed editor tackled that topic a little while back and came down on the side of not squeezing, but I thought I’d look around to see if any research had been done on the topic.

Lo and behold. It turns out that there has been some research. With regard to the dunking question, here’s an article that recently appeared in the Irish press that weighed in on the matter, courtesy of a chap identified as a tea chemist. Read it all, if you’re so inclined, but here’s the conclusion, “I cannot find a difference between dunking and not dunking under controlled circumstances – so do it how you want.” Here’s a more detailed version of the same article that even includes some math that supposedly helps explain it all.

But what about squeezing? There’s no research cited, but some of the great names of British tea selling have weighed in on this very matter. At the Twinings web site they offer a primer called “How To Taste Tea” which suggests that squeezing your tea bag is not necessarily a bad thing, but “Its best not to overly squeeze your tea bag because this could release deep rooted tannins and they taste very bitter.”

At the web site for yet another British tea maker, Yorkshire Tea (part of Taylors of Harrogate), they offer some tips on how to make a proper brew and also suggest that squeezing in moderation is probably the best course of action, “Remove the teabag with a spoon giving it just one gentle squeeze.”

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Gyokuro Japanese Green Tea (ETS image)

Gyokuro Japanese Green Tea (ETS image)

There many ways to prepare tea. You can do it the old school way with a tea kettle and a teapot. You can do it in a more newfangled way (guilty) with water heated in a microwave and a gravity type infuser. Or the even more newfangled method of using a fancy gadget that does much of the work for you.

But when you boil it down, preparing tea is about applying hot water to tea leaves. The details of it are up to the individual, but that’s how it’s done – except when it’s not. I’m no scientist and this is a layperson’s description of the process, but what’s important about preparing tea is to transfer the essence of the tea leaves to the water. Hot water will accelerate the process, but if you have a little more time on your hands cold brewing might work just as well.

Some of the benefits of doing things this way are fairly obvious. If you’re preparing tea in warm weather, it’s a plus not to have to use the stove to heat the teakettle – and the surrounding environment. One of the other main benefits of this method is simplicity. All that’s needed is a container and something to hold or strain the leaves. You can spend money for a fancy “cold infusion set” and whatnot, if that’s what grabs you. But a simple glass container should work just fine. Finally, there are those who claim that tea prepared this way has a better flavor.

As for that question of when steeping is complete, it’s kind of up for grabs. Overnight is a term that gets tossed around a lot when discussing this sort of thing, but it can vary according to the type of tea and whom you’re asking. The consensus seems to be that lighter teas such as green should be steeped for a shorter time, perhaps as little as four hours. One primer I read recommended steeping the Japanese green tea known as Gyokuro in ice and serving it when the ice had fully melted. More robust teas such as black are likely to call for a longer steep times, though I might question the wisdom of the four-day steep recommended in one how-to article.

Like so many other things that have to do with tea, the best course of action when it comes to cold infusing is to experiment and see what works best for you.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The tips just keep coming. It seems that everyone who has ever steeped tea has the perfect method (even author George Orwell). And I’m here to present even more tips on steeping that perfect pot of tea.

Perfection is up to you! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Perfection is up to you! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

I’m going to begin by defining the goal here a bit better. Let’s think about a few things. What is “perfect”? What is “tea”? What is “steeping” (or infusing or brewing)? [A bit of a side note here: technically, you infuse tea, but culturally folks are used to saying steeping or brewing, so whatever works for you is fine here.]

A Perfect Pot of Tea Defined

For each type of tea this will be different. For flavored teas where fruits, flower petals, spices, and other items have been added to the tea leaves, again this will be different for each. Generally, perfect will be the exact right combination of tea, water, temperature, steeping time, and steeping vessel. Each will work in tandem to bring the full flavors out of the tea leaves and any additives.

Okay, Now How to Achieve This

The options are infinitesimal. A quick online search for “how to steep perfect tea” can pop up thousands of hits. Some are definitely better than others. The general advice is to use certain water temperatures and steeping times depending on the type of tea (white, green, yellow, oolong, black, or pu-erh). But there is also the school of thought that divides general tea steeping methods into Western (non-Asian) and Asian. There are lots of variations within each, but generally, Western uses larger pot sizes (2-, 4-, and 6-cup being the most common) and larger cups (4 to 16 ounces) while Asian teapots and cups are much, much smaller and measured in milliliters (ml) or cubic centimeters (cc).

Focusing on the Western approach, it is good to use a glass, ceramic, or bone china teapot for steeping, determine the proper temperature for the water and the steeping time, warm the teapot with a little hot water, add the tea (loose is best, but I understand that it can be a bit too much fuss, so an infuser or even teabags are good here).

Temperatures & Time Recommendations (for hot tea):

Tea Type Tsp per Cup Temp Time
White 1 to 1.5 80-85°C (175-185°F) 4 to 9 mins
Yellow 1 90°C (195°F) 3 mins
Green 1 65-80°C (150-175°F) 45 secs to 4 mins
Oolong 0.5 to 1 90°C (195°F) 3-6 mins
Black 0.5 to 1 90-96°C (195-205°F) 2-5 mins
Pu-erh 0.5 96°C (205°F) 15 secs to 7 mins
Blooming* 1 ball 83°C (180°F) 3-4 mins or until open

*Blooming teas are in tight balls (or other shapes) and take longer to open and the water works its way in.

Bottom Line

The best way to steep the perfect pot of tea is to do a bit of research first and then apply that knowledge. Enjoy!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The British have lots of articles about how to steep the perfect cuppa tea. But more and more things are changing in the UK, with the gongfu style of tea steeping becoming better known. Here in the U.S. there seems to be more interest in it, too. For you busy folks, though, it can seem a bit daunting…and time-consuming. Time to get your gongfu simplified.

Traditional cups without handles for your gongfu tea time. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Traditional cups without handles for your gongfu tea time. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Strictly speaking, gongfu is not a ceremony but a method of doing something (not just steeping tea). The term generally means “done with skill,” and can be applied to any activity or endeavor. Many people want to enjoy their teas using the gongfu (kungfu) method of tea infusion but tend to think it’s too involved or confusing. It can be if you follow all the details, but you don’t have to go to that extent. Keep it simple.

Gongfu tea time in 6 easy steps

  1. Gather Your Arsenal – In this case it’s the tea of your choice; a vessel for infusing that tea (usually a small clay teapot or gaiwan); enough fresh water (not hard or distilled); a kettle to heat the water; a heat source; 3 or 4 small cups; a pitcher (optional) for straining the tea liquid into before pouring into the cups; a tray or something to catch drips, spills, and overflows; and a clean cloth to wipe up spills.
  2. Infuse the Tea – Warm the steeping vessel with a little hot water and then pour it into the cups to warm them and then discard it. Add dry tea to the vessel; infuse for the amount of time needed for the tea you’re using.
  3. Serve the Tea – If you chose to use a little pitcher, pour the tea from the vessel into that and then into the cups. Otherwise, pour the tea into the cups.
  4. Appreciate and Savor the Tea – Sip the tea with a slurping action; this will pull in some air and also spread the liquid through your mouth, then swallow. This is where slurping is perfectly acceptable and actually desirable.
  5. Wrap Things Up – Check out those tea leaves after the steeping is done and letting your guests do the same. Handmade teas are often made of full leaves, tight buds, or leaf-bud sets that fully expand during the infusions – you sure don’t want to infuse teas like these in those infuser balls or some type of bag.
  6. Clean Things Up – This is probably the most important step. Clean teawares will be ready for the next use. Just be sure to do it properly. No soap on the Yixing teapot – it’s porous clay and would absorb the soap. Let the clay teapot air dry thoroughly before putting it away. Sterilize utensils with boiling water. Wash the cups, tea tray, etc., and let them air dry or dry with a soft cotton towel.

The above is a very paired-down version and will help you enjoy those premium teas better. Here are a few to try this way:

Happy steeping!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What should this taste like? (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

What should this taste like? (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

We all like things that are familiar, comfortable, and known. But many of us also like something new. The thrill of trying a new tea is one such experience. It can be like opening that first gift on Christmas morning or taking that first ride in your new car…or better yet, spending the first night in you new home. And part of that feeling is, believe it or not, a touch of fear… a whisper… a light tingle. Of course, with tea you don’t have to worry about something horrid awaiting you under all that pretty wrapping paper and bows or crashing that car or having a burglar break in while you sleep. No, this is the mild apprehension of actually not liking the tea. Horrors!

The Missteep

No, that’s not a typo. It’s when you steep the tea in a manner that is guaranteed to make you grimace or shrug, depending on whether the result is bitter or bland. Using too hot of water to steep a green tea, for example, will give you something quite bitter. On the other hand, white teas need to steep in water a little hotter and for a longer time to bring out enough of their flavors or you end up with basically hot water. Steeping instructions from the vendor can help here for your first experience with that new tea. Read and follow them carefully. You can make adjustments later on to suit you.

The Misconception

Vendor descriptions are written by people who, on one hand, are pretty well trained in detecting the nuances in the flavors of the steeped tea and, on the other hand, by people trying to make the tea sound good so you will buy it. The latter kind are the troublemakers, usually, but both can be a problem, building up a misconception of what to expect, even after steeping the tea just right. Take these descriptions with a grain of salt, as the saying goes. That is, don’t consider them to be how you will experience the taste of that tea. Misconceptions are a bummer (one time I ate what I thought was potatoes but what was in reality boiled turnips – big letdown!).

When Everything Goes Just Right

Here’s the payoff. The tea is steeped, you’ve sipped and enjoyed. Now it’s time to sit back and relax with a nice cupful of this new taste sensation that has taken a first possible step to becoming one of your new favorites. This is the true thrill… what makes that risk of trying anything new worthwhile. Enjoy it to the fullest!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Iced Tea and Accessories (ETS image)

Iced Tea and Accessories (ETS image)

I don’t drink hot tea anymore. I wrote about it here, so I won’t cover it again except to say that it’s always iced tea season for me. But here in the northern hemisphere spring is in full swing and summer is approaching, and so one could safely say that it’s coming up on iced tea season for all of us.

With that in mind I shall endeavor to share a few things I’ve learned about tea over the years. Not that I’ve found out any great and mysterious secrets of iced tea or anything like that. One of the first things I would share about iced tea is that as far as taste and quality are concerned, it’s not really that much different from hot tea. You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear and you’re not likely to make a good cup of tea – hot or cold – unless you start with good tea.

After that, most of the same cautions that apply to hot tea apply to the iced kind. Time and temperature are critical, so make sure that you’re not steeping your tea too long. If you want “stronger” tea use more leaves rather than steeping the leaves longer. Understeeping is a no-no too but probably not nearly so common. I can think of numerous cases where I’ve seen people throw a bunch of tea bags and hot water in a container and let them sit for a very long time in preparation for making iced tea. Which is iced tea that’s likely as not going to end up being very bitter.

Temperature is the other key part of the tea equation. While most people here in the United States will make their iced tea using black tea it’s safe to say that just about any type of tea that tastes good hot will also taste good iced. I can’t think of any exceptions right off the top of my head. Hot or cold, you can sum up tea and temperature by saying that it’s important to make sure the robust teas like black are steeped at high enough temps while you should beware of overheating the more delicate ones like green.

As far as how to make iced tea, I’d wager that just about any method that obeys the rules above should turn out good iced tea. My own method is to heat water in a Pyrex measuring cup in the microwave and then steep four cups worth of loose leaves in a gravity type infuser. Which I mix with cold water and pour into a one-quart plastic bottle which I’ve filled halfway with water and frozen.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Many British seem to have some very specific opinions about how tea should be done. Which is not surprising, I guess, given that tea has pretty much been an institution there for longer than we Americans have had a country. As I just mentioned in a recent article for this site, perhaps one of the best examples of how opinionated the British are about tea is “A Nice Cup of Tea,” a 1946 essay by the British writer George Orwell.

Tea making is an art! (ETS image)

Tea making is an art! (ETS image)

Surprisingly, Orwell had nothing to say about how the Americans do tea but some other Brits have been a little more forthcoming. You could probably find countless examples of this sort of thing but here are a few of the more high-profile examples. Such as this 2013 article in The Economist, which looked at America’s tea revolution but noted, “A decent cup of tea, however, has been harder to find, though that is about to change.”

During that same year BBC America offered a few thoughts on “How to Do Tea in the U.S.,” starting with the warning that most of the tea consumed here is of the iced variety and not to assume that the server knows you want hot tea. Other pointers cover how to shop for tea in a place with “a wide and strange variety of tea on offer,” how your tea might be prepared on these shores, and the differences between tea terms on either side of the Atlantic.

As I mentioned many years ago in these pages, there are a number of prominent British citizens who have been kind enough to share some tips on tea with the Americans. They include the late journalist, Christopher Hitchens, who offered a few thoughts here, and actress Dame Helen Mirren, who weighed in on our tea deficiencies here.

Last up, here’s a take on the topic from Smitten By Britain, where self-confessed Britophiles gather to share their fascination with all things British. The author, who is apparently an American, minces no words about the situation before moving on to the instructional part of the article. It opens by noting, “Americans make a rubbish cup of tea.”

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The common wisdom about Earl Grey tea is that if you put milk in it, the milk will curdle. After all, the tea is made with a citrus fruit – oil of bergamot. Many tea drinkers swear that it’s true, but others add milk to Earl Grey tea regularly with no resultant curdling (I am one of these folks – Earl Grey upsets my stomach without milk in it). In fact, adding milk to Earl Grey tea is becoming increasing common, despite the issue of curdling.

Earl Grey Cream tea makes a good start to Earl Grey Milk Tea. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Earl Grey Cream tea makes a good start to Earl Grey Milk Tea. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Several things could account for milk both curdling and not curdling in your Earl Grey.

Why Milk Would Curdle

  • You add cold milk into the teacup after pouring in the hot tea.
  • You steep up the tea overly strong.
  • The Earl Grey version has a heftier dose of oil of bergamot than usually found in this style of flavor-enhanced black tea. (Some versions even use the rind instead of the essential oils of the fruit.)

Why Milk Would Not Curdle

  • You add the cold milk in first and then the hot tea, giving the tea a chance to warm the milk a bit, which seems to prevent curdling.
  • You steep up the tea weaker than usual for a black tea (most British drink this tea steeped weak and with no sugar or milk added).
  • The flavoring is imitation, not real oil of bergamot. (Yes, there is Earl Grey made with something less than authentic oil of bergamot. Demand for this tea is so great that growing enough of these fruits is proving difficult.)

Earl Grey Milk Tea

I came across a recipe for Earl Grey Milk Tea (the author called it “chai,” meaning the U.S. way of using the term to mean spiced tea). The recipe called for the following ingredients:

  • 7 cups water
  • 4 Earl Grey tea bags (better to use loose leaf tea so you don’t have to remove the bags before adding the sugar and spices)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 6 cardamom pods (crushed)
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 1 cup whole milk (room-temperature)

Pretty simple to make. (I modified things a bit to fit my personal experience with this style of tea making.) Boil 7 cups of water in a large saucepan on the stove. Steep the Earl Grey, remove the bags (if you’re using loose leaf tea instead, leave the tea leaves in the water). Add in the brown sugar and spices. Boil for 5-6 minutes, then strain into a teapot or other heat-bearing vessel. Stir in the milk slowly and serve.

Give it a go, and let us know the results.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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