You could safely say that black tea is the old warhorse of the tea world, that it still reigns supreme in many parts of the Western Hemisphere. While green, oolong and various other teas have begun to make inroads here recently, black is still the one most people in this part of the world probably have in mind when they hear the word tea.
One of the problems with tea in general, and specifically with black tea, is that it still doesn’t have a particularly good reputation. For many of us, black tea is likely to conjure images of a sodden teabag filled with low quality dust and floating in a mug of tepid water. All of which contributes to a cup of tea that’s distinctly less than palatable, the sort of thing many people resort to the addition of milk and sweeteners just to be able to get down.
But it doesn’t need to be this way, of course. There are essentially three main variables that come into play when making a cup of tea. Obviously the quality of the tea is foremost. No matter how much attention you pay to the preparation of bad tea, it will always remain bad tea. Another important variable is temperature, one that tends to go hand in hand with the third variable – the amount of time the leaves or bags are steeped.
While these variables apply to all types of tea, it’s the latter two – and particularly time – that’s likely to be the downfall of many black teas. The consensus, with black tea, is that it should be steeped in boiling water for anywhere from three to five minutes and it’s a truism that many tea merchants repeat in the instructions for preparing their wares.
Which, in the opinion of this black tea enthusiast, is why your black tea often tastes so lousy. The worst black teas are unlikely to be made much worse by brewing them too long. But in the case of medium to high quality black tea, lower steep times – as low as anywhere from 1-2 minutes – may make the difference between a bitter, astringent brew and one that’s truly flavorful.
So the next time you’ve brewed up a cup of black tea that’s not doing much for you, dump it down the drain and try it again with a shorter steep time. You might be pleasantly surprised.