During a vacation several years ago, I found myself fussing with an in-room electric kettle that insisted on turning off long before the water came to a boil. My traveling companion was cross, noting that he liked to drink his tea as close to “boiling hot” as possible. In the months that followed, I began my own exploration of tea, discovering that water temperature was one of the more controversial topics in the tea community. Many tea drinkers warned me against the perils of preparing green and white teas with boiling water, as this could scorch the leaves, resulting in a bitter and disagreeable tea liquor. Another concern was that drinking too-hot liquids could actually increase one’s risk of esophageal cancer, which certainly put a damper on my enthusiasm for extremely hot tea.
Health concerns and preparation methods aside, though, I’ve noticed that a tea’s serving temperature can affect its flavor. While there are times when a big mug of scalding hot tea is just the thing, either because I need to wake up or clear my palate, I confess that I don’t usually taste the tea’s more subtle flavors. If I let it cool for a bit, though, I can better appreciate its nuances, particularly sweet and fruity notes.
Of the various teas that I drink, I’d say that Darjeeling blacks, more than others are particularly temperature-sensitive. This is why I try to drink Darjeelings out of small, thin, wide-mouthed porcelain teacups, as these allow the tea to cool rapidly, allowing me to savor the cup’s sweet muscatel. I’ve also found that White Peony really needs to cool down before it offers up its fruity, juicy notes.
So how hot do you like your tea to be? Do you find that some teas taste better when served at high temperatures while others need to cool down a bit? This inquiring mind of mine wants to know.
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