Trying a new tea? Well, dive right in and get steeping! Just boil some water, pour it over the tea leaves and let it steep about 10 to 15 minutes. No, wait, that’s not right. The tea tastes really strong and bitter. Okay, let’s try this again. Heat the water just until it’s warm and steep the tea only a minute. Gee, tastes kinda weak. Darn, this is about as tough as programming the DVR.
Time to do what people usually do when they’ve reached this point: read the instructions!
Thank goodness that many tea packages come with steeping instructions right on them. Some are pretty simple, giving a water temperature and steeping time, like this one:
Some instructions include cutesy little images to illustrate each step, just in case you don’t know what a tea tin, tea kettle, and teapot look like, nor how to measure out tea, put it in your teapot or cup and add water. They also show you how to sip the tea from the cup, throw away the spent tea leaves, wash the cup and teapot, dry them, and put them back in the cupboard, do your taxes, fix that leaky pipe under the bathroom sink, bake an award-winning multi-tiered wedding cake…
Some are in-between, not too much information and not too little. Just the basics: how much dry tea to use, how much water to use, the temperature to heat the water to, and the length of time to steep it.
Some tea companies print out the instructions separately and include it with the shipment of teas (when you’re ordering online). Not a bad option. Just be sure the card, sheet, etc., doesn’t get lost, tea spilled on it so you can no longer read it, or mistaken for your kid’s homework and therefore eaten by the family dog.
Sometimes, to save costs, steeping instructions are not printed on the tea container or even a separate card/sheet. Rather, they are on the tea company’s Website, either as text, or a video, or both. This necessitates you making a copy to keep with the tea or running to the computer whenever you want some of that tea.
Regardless of the method of delivery, such instructions are essential when you are trying a new tea or if you tend to drink a special tea (for example, Snow Dragon White) only occasionally. In the latter case, you might need a bit of a reminder for how to steep it to get the best flavor. Did you know that if you use boiling water to steep a green tea such as Sencha or Dragon Pearls, you will end up with cooked tea leaves, not steeped tea? And if you skimp on the amount of dry tea when steeping Assam and just lengthen the steep time that it will be rather bitter (not always, but often)?
White teas need certain water temps and steep times. So do green teas, oolongs, pu-erhs, and blacks. But the guidelines should be considered general, not hard and fast. Golden Bi Luo, a Chinese black tea, needs only one minute to steep where a Darjeeling black tea needs 5-6 minutes. You can guess at what to do. You can experiment and waste tea. Or you can cave in and read the instructions. Horrors! That’s as bad as asking for directions when you’re lost!
Of course, after awhile, you will be tempted to do a bit of experimenting. The instructions that tea vendors supply are starting points. Just remember that if you vary things, your taste experience will differ accordingly. Hubby and I find that we prefer one long, strong steep of black pu-erh over several quick steeps. A bit daring, but hey better than suddenly taking up bungee-jumping.
See more label samples on my blog.
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