Black teas easy? Are you kiddin’ me? After green teas, black teas are the touchiest and most persnickety of all the teas. Some of them are downright pains in the you-know-what to get right.
Consider: If your water isn’t hot enough, like at a rolling boil, most black teas end up tasting flat. And you have to time them really accurately. Too short a steep and there’s no taste. Let them steep just a tad too long and you’ll end up with a bitter, undrinkable cup.
Compare that with oolongs and whites, the easiest of all the teas to prepare and the most forgiving when you get it wrong.
You can infuse oolongs and whites in a standard English-style teapot. Or in a gaiwan, or gongfu style in an Yixing teapot. There might be black teas that versatile, but I’ve never come across them.
In English style teapots, oolongs can steep for anywhere from four to seven minutes; white teas for ten to fifteen minutes. Now that’s what I call versatile! And there will still be enough spirit in the leaves for one or two more infusions.
Using a gaiwan or an Yixing pot? Put a black tea into either one of them and you’ll end up with over-steeped swill. And most black teas do not lend themselves to multiple steeps – one infusion and the leaves are spent.
Oolongs and white teas share one important characteristic with black teas: you do need to use water at the proper temperature. For oolongs that’s just below boiling while still bubbling, about 190 deg F. White teas like their water flat, about 140 deg F. And if you use water that’s a little too hot or too cool? No problem: the teas will still come out just fine.
“But white tea has no taste!” you’ll tell me. Actually it might not – not if you’re steeping it for one or two minutes, as many tea vendors advise. Try infusing for twelve minutes and you’ll be amazed at the wonderful taste and aromas you can coax out of white teas.
And no, you won’t be over-steeping them. Back when I was taking night classes, I always brought along a thermos of white tea to keep me alert. There weren’t any of those nifty travel mugs with built-in infusers, so I just put leaves and water into a regular thermos. Three hours later I’d drink the tea during class break, then refill the thermos with hot water – using the same tea leaves – to steep for the ride home. And never once did the tea get bitter. It smelled and tasted sweet from the first sip to the last.
Can you do that with black tea?
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