If you’ve ventured into the world of appreciating good quality tea, you’ll realise there’s a lot more to brewing tea than meets the eye. The art of brewing the perfect cup of tea has roots in chemistry – the chemical make-up of the type of tea you’re using, the chemistry of the water, and even the chemistry of the vessel you use to brew tea. No longer is dunking a tea bag in hot water considered an artful brewing ritual! The method of brewing can greatly impact the end result in taste, strength, colour and medicinal properties. Also, the energy you impart into your tea brewing ritual effects the end result.
The Tea. Tea leaves comes in many different varieties, and are grown under many different conditions in many different parts of the world. See our blog on the different varieties of tea leaves here. The altitude the tea is grown at, the soil quality, the time of picking, and the oxidation process the tea leaves undergo once picked all effect the quality and type of tea which results. When I’m using tea leaves (be it black, oolong, green or white tea), I like to know where they have come from, as this gives the tea leaves a back-story – a history and a place in the world. It also gives me an indication of what kind of depth of flavour, colour and plant constituents to expect from the leaves when enjoying them.
The Water. Whether or not your water is filtered effects your brew. Filtered water is recommended for a cleaner tasting cup of tea, as it is free of extra chemical components. Also, keep in mind that when pouring your boiling water from your jug, as soon as it hits the air, it is no longer boiling, so although we recommend brewing some teas in 100°C boiling water, this is more-than-often not a possibility, chemically speaking!
The Brewing Vessel. Brewing in different styles of teapots or mugs influences the capacity of the tea to maintain stable heat. See our blog on different tea wares here. Some teapots, like those made of authentic cast iron will leech iron into the tea, improving the iron content of your brew. We recommend steering away from brewing in plastic, as hot water can leech harmful chemicals out of the plastic and into your cup of tea.
The Ritual. When brewing tea, impart the kind of energy you wish to receive from the tea into your brew. Take time out while your tea brews to take some deep breaths, clear your mind, focus your intentions, and appreciate the smell, colour, and textural sensations of your brewing ritual. Imparting this kind of energy into brewing and enjoying your tea maximises your body’s potential to absorb the nutrients from your tea.
Different tea leaves and herbs should be treated differently when brewing. Here’s a guide to different tea varieties and their brewing requirements. Good quality tea leaves should indicate this information on the packet.
Black Tea – Brew for 2-5 minutes in 100°C boiling water. Whether you brew for 2 minutes, or up to 5 minutes will affect the strength and tannin content of your tea. The longer the brew, the more tannins and bitter constituents are released. Caffeine is released from tea leaves within the first 20 seconds of brewing, so to decaf your leaves, brew for 20-30 seconds, discard the brew, and re-brew the leaves for another few minutes. (Note: this is not a 100% decaffeination method, and traces of caffeine may still be present).
Oolong Tea – Brew for 3-10 minutes in 90°C water. Oolong tea is often a rolled leaf tea, so requires a longer brew and sufficient space to allow the leaves to unfurl. I prefer using a large infuser which gives the oolong leaves this room to infuse. Some oolongs are closer to a black tea, and some are closer to a green tea, indicating a different make-up of the plant constituents in the tea leaves. Oolong tea has long been drunk as a digestive aid and metabolism stimulant.
Green Tea – Brew for 30 – 90 seconds in 75°C – 80°C water. The world of green tea is huge, and each green tea has its own requirements for the best brew. Good quality green teas will come with brewing instructions, but if in doubt, brew in water off the boil for about a minute, or until the brew changes colour. Be conservative, as green tea is very likely to become bitter when over-brewed. Green tea from China will produce a soft green coloured brew, and green tea from Japan produces a bright green-yellow coloured brew.
White Tea – Brew for 2-5 minutes in 70°C water. Being the most delicate, unprocessed form of tea, white tea requires water at which is warm rather than hot. It can tolerate a longer brew time as long as the water is not too hot. White tea should produce a pale coloured brew and soft taste.
Flower-based Herbal Tea – Brew for 5-10 minutes in 90°C water. If you are using a single herb, such as chamomile, or a blend made of soft, delicate flower herbs, use water just off the boil. This reflects imparting a softness to your herbal tea, treating it with nurturing energy so the herbs will nurture you back.
Root-based Herbal Tea – Brew for 5-15 minutes in 100°C water. Root herbals are more fibrous, so require boiling water and a longer brew time to break down and release their nutrients. As with all teas, use your intuition as a guide. If you’re an experienced tea drinker and you feel your tea is brewed, then there’s a good chance it is!
Use this as a guide, then alter your brewing method and ritual depending on the tea you are preparing. Make the ceremony your own and brew your tea as you like it. Always brew with mindful, positive thoughts, and respect the enjoyment you get out of drinking your perfect cup of tea.
Written by Hayley Hinton, Naturopath &
creator of Infuse Herbal Teas.