The preparation of a fine cup of tea is a process that relies on a large number of variables. But you could safely narrow these down to the four most important. Paramount among these is the quality of the tea. If you start with bad or lackluster tea, you can hardly expect to wind up with a good cup of tea when it’s all said and done. Other critical variables include water quality, water temperature, and the length of time the leaves are steeped.
It’s this last variable that, in my opinion, is worth taking a closer look at. There are a number of popular myths and misconceptions about tea, such as the one about the Chinese emperor who discovered tea or the one about how tea can be decaffeinated by “rinsing” it for about 30 seconds and throwing out the rinse water. Add to these misconceptions the ones about steep times for tea.
Most of the tea I drink nowadays is either black or green. In spite of the instructions that many merchants provide with their tea, the longest steep time I use for either is two minutes. That would be for black tea. My standard steep time for green teas is one minute and 15 seconds. Compare this to the standard suggested steep times recommended by most vendors, which are generally from 3-5 minutes for black tea and up to three minutes for green tea, and you’ll see that there’s quite a difference.
So what gives? Well, I can’t say for sure. These sorts of things are more a matter of opinion than anything else, but it’s my carefully considered and tested opinion that many recommended steep times provided are way too long and tend to do little more than bring out the worst qualities of a tea — namely, bitterness and astringency.
Not that I claim to be an expert on this sort of thing. But if you’re not all that impressed with the teas you’ve been drinking lately you might want to try experimenting with shorter steep times and see where it gets you.
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