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Brewing Suggestions

by Cynthia Fazekas

Many ways to achieve the perfect cup

Tea companies that do their own branding include brewing information for each tea on their packages. The idea of doing so is to offer their suggestion of how to bring out the best in each tea while ensuring success for tea newbies. When using these parameters, individual brewing circumstances can be quite different than those of your beloved tea vendor, occasionally causing unfavorable results. This can cause frustration and dismissal of a very good tea as bad by the user, whether a consumer or another tea purveyor, café, etc.

One of the many great things about tea is that it is malleable. There are many ways to brew the same leaves to get varying results to suit many tastes. You can certainly reach out to your vendor for brewing tips and alternative prep, but it can also help to have some basic variations on hand.

Black teas, while one of the heartiest of tea categories and relatively easy to brew, can be smooth as silk or have an astringent edge depending on desired taste and application. When making a tea drink that requires the addition of milk or creamer, brewing tea on the strong side will ensure it holds up to the creamiest and not get lost in a milky haze. If you normally brew a particular black tea with boiling temp water for 3 minutes to drink straight up but need it to stand up the creamy additions, try increasing the steep time to a full 5 minutes to get deep flavor. While the astringency might increase, the addition of cream, milk, or sweeteners should mitigate any off-putting notes.

When it comes to green teas the variants can be numerous, but don’t let that overwhelm. Typically, most tea prep methods are geared toward Western palates and a need for speed. The hotter the water means the lower the steep time. If your vendor’s suggestions are the average 180F for 3 minutes for a green tea, you can likely get a fine brew with lower water temp and an extra minute or two. In the case of a sensitive Japan green, such as gyokuro, 140F for 3-4 minutes just might bring out an ethereal complexity that a hotter, faster method such as 170F for 2 min would not. (Ice brewing is another way to draw out complex flavors while avoiding astringency in a touchy, high-end green. Place your leaves in a cup filter or teapot and added enough ice to fill. Let the ice melt, and when done doing so, remove the leaves and enjoy. It’s lovely!)

Remember that the info on the package is truly a suggestion and that you are not locked in to one method. Tinker with leaf quantities, time and temp before writing a tea off as not good, or not filling the need at hand. Quality tea is truly customizable, so use those brewing instruction as a springboard for what you are hoping to achieve.