The perfect cup of tea – it’s an elusive creature and one that may not even exist. But if you’re willing to settle for a nearly perfect cup of tea, you’d do well to keep these guidelines in mind.
The ancient Chinese scholar Lu Yu said water from mountain streams is best for tea, followed by river water and well water. For the modern tea drinker, with limited access to mountain streams, good quality tap water should suffice. A filtering device or bottled spring water can be used if your tap water is too hard or has an unpleasant odor or taste.
Water temperature can make or break a cup of tea. As a general rule, black tea should be steeped in water at or just under the boiling point. Green and white tea varies according to the variety. More delicate green tea, such as the Japanese gyokuro variety, may require temperatures as low as 130-140 degrees Fahrenheit. Sturdier varieties can handle temps as high as 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Water temperatures for oolong tea typically fall somewhere between green/white and black tea.
Oversteeping has undoubtedly been the ruin of many a potentially fine cup of tea. A good rule of thumb is to err on the side of understeeping. Black teas can generally handle 3-5 minutes of steeping. Green teas should rarely be steeped for longer than 3 minutes and in many cases may only need to be in the water for a minute. White and oolong teas, as a general rule, are best when steeped for anywhere between 3-7 minutes.
Type and Quality of Tea
Tea quality covers a lot of territory, so much so that it merits a discussion of its own. In general, however, it’s safe to say that the better the tea, the better the flavor of the finished product.
While most tea comes with brewing instructions, every tea drinker’s tastes are different. Consequently, it’s a good idea to follow the instructions for the first cup and adjust accordingly from there.
The process of making a great cup of tea might seem intimidating at first, but like so many other things in life all it takes to succeed is knowledge and some practice.
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