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Wed, 27 Mar 2013

The Nerd's Guide to Tasty Tea

Tea is fairly good for you, and it provides you with that nice contemplative feeling of having a cup of something warm to drink while you work. And it has caffeine, but it's much harder to overdose on caffeine with tea than with coffee -- I hate that jittery feeling, and most people don't need much caffeine in order to get a productivity boost.

The problem most people have with tea is that they don't like it very much. Usually they find it too bitter. Occasionally they find it too boring. It takes too long to prepare / clean up. Fortunately, you're reading this, and I am about to tell you how to solve these problems. Get ready for a tea-filled future.

If you already know vaguely how to make tea and you just want to know how to make it delicious, there are only two important, non-obvious rules about tea:

  • Rule One: Don't burn the tea.

"Burning" the tea means putting it in water that's too hot. This doesn't apply to black tea, but it applies to oolong, green, and white teas. If you're pouring boiling water over any of these kinds of tea, you're going to burn it and it will come out bitter. The easy, cheap solution is to put a splash of cold water in the steeping vessel before adding the boiling water. I usually just estimate & pour 1 finger's width. The proper solution is to get an electric kettle with a thermometer, and set it to 180F/80C.

  • Rule Two: Don't oversteep.

Most teamaking instructions tell you to steep black tea for 4-5 minutes. This is far too long and your tea will come out bitter. 150 seconds (2.5 minutes) is all you want. For greener teas, 1.5 minutes is about right.

The rest of this guide will help you optimize your tea experience, but it's not nearly as important as the above rules.

  • Purchase top-of-the-line tea.

Sure, it's 5-10 times more expensive than the low-end stuff, but it's still extraordinarily cheap on an absolute scale. Do it once and feel like a king: sort the tea list from high price to low, and just buy the stuff at the top! I can only imagine owning the most expensive cars, or designer jeans, but I can actually drink some of the most expensive tea available. (You still have to avoid this at shitty retailers or you will get gypped.) Upton Tea Imports (uptontea.com) sells fantastic tea, and their expensive stuff is not a rip-off.

You'll note that Upton's good stuff is loose leaf. Yes, this means in order to drink good tea you'll have to

  • Get a loose-leaf tea brewing setup.

Believe it or not, the lack of a good way to brew loose-leaf tea stopped me from making good tea for a long time. I just couldn't stand having to find an infuser or teapot, clean the infuser, then decide whether to wash the leaves down the drain, and so on and so forth. Fortunately I've solved these problems for you:

Just get an IngenuiTEA / PerfecTea. These plastic teapots are cheap ($20 or so) and readily available on Amazon.

  • It's transparent so you can watch your tea as it brews. This is really fun to watch, and the color helps you determine when it's going to be tasty.
  • Lets your tea leaves unfold fully. Tea takes up a lot more space when it gets wet, and when you pack your tea into one of those tiny mesh balls, it won't infuse evenly. Mesh infusers that hang from the lid of a cup or teapot are a little better than the balls, but still suck.
  • Extremely easy to filter your tea into your cup (just place the teapot on top of the cup, gravity pulls the tea through the filter).
  • The filter never gets clogged.
  • It's only one piece with a wide mouth so it's super easy to clean. Once you've made all the tea you're going to make with those leaves, fill the teapot halfway with tap water, swish it around, and quickly dump it out into the compost, trash, or outside on the ground. If you pour it fast enough, the leaves will all fall out with the water. Then you can rinse the teapot out. Super easy!

Okay, now for some advanced techniques.

To make iced tea, use double the tea leaves you would normally use, and about half the water. Add the appropriate temperature water to the leaves, and steep for only 1.5 minutes for black tea (1.5 for green is still good). While it steeps, fill a large sturdy glass (like a pint glass) to the top with ice cubes. Then drain the teapot into the glass. The tea will melt most of the ice, and become cold and appropriately diluted. Steeping time is even more important than normal! Don't oversteep or your black tea will be incredibly bitter!

To make dessert tea, make black tea like normal, but steep it longer (maybe 3-4 minutes). The longer steeping time will make it more bitter, but you're about to fix that little problem with a generous amount of heavy cream. Don't be shy -- the more, the tastier. Stir in two heaping spoonfuls of sugar and a drop of vanilla extract. Let's not fool ourselves into thinking that this is good for us, which is why it's called dessert tea.

posted at: 23:43 | path: /cooking | permanent link to this entry