How to master the art of brewing tea
Kate Le Gallez | Fairfax Media | October 4 2017
Tania Stacey's first tea-making lesson came from her dad at age seven. The essential step? Turning the teapot anti-clockwise three times.
"It took me until I was about 25 to realise he was full of it," she says.
Needless to say, anti-clockwise turns didn't feature in her recent victory at the Australian leg of the World Tea Brewers Cup at Fine Food Australia, where her combination of a rare yellow Chinese tea and a Taiwanese Oolong took out top honours.
The winning mix involved brewing two teas separately at different temperatures and times. Stacey then combined them, adding the visual punch and sweet-tart flavour of a sour cherry, and served the final mix in vintage sherry glasses.
While few of us are likely to go to such technical lengths at home, it's easy to lift your tea game by paying just a little more attention to the process.
Here, Stacey shares her tips on how to brew the perfect cup.
Start with quality
"Bad-quality tea will always be bad-quality tea," Stacey says.
She recommends engaging all of your senses to suss out a tea's quality: look for a satisfying aroma, a not-too-crunchy leaf and good colour.
And ask questions. "Do they know what year it was picked? What month it was picked?" says Stacey. "These are the sorts of things your tea supplier should be able to tell you."
Bag versus loose leaf
This is the big one: can you make a good cup of tea using a tea bag? Well, yes and no. But mostly no.
The tea bags we see on our shelves have often journeyed for three or four years to get there, explains Stacey. The result is a very stale and un-tasty bag of tea in most cases.
But not all bags are bad, so long as the tea is fresh.
"If it's a fresh tea, in a fresh teabag, then yeah, you can get a half decent cup of tea."
Your nanna was right, it's important to pre-warm your pot and/or cup before popping your infuser in (we're committed to loose leaf tea now).
"It's about getting the aroma of the tea out quicker," Stacey says. But a cold cup or pot also drops the temperature of your water, which is another no-no.
Room to move
You don't need expensive gear, Stacey says, but a roomy infuser is a must. About a half-a-cup size does nicely.
Space is most important for full-leaf teas that like to relax and unfurl to properly infuse. A smaller infuser is okay for finely cut teas, like Indian and Sri Lankan black teas which infuse more quickly.
The right ratio
Just like coffee, tea is a ratio game: two grams of tea per 150 millilitres of water.
It's a good rule of thumb for any type of tea, but trust your kitchen scale over your eye as some teas, like white and green, are lighter than others.
Some like it hot(-ter than others)
Darker teas, like black teas and darker oolongs, work best in water around 100 degrees. Whites and yellows are better at lower temperatures, anywhere from 60-80 degrees. Green teas do best at around 60 degrees.
Don't have a fancy kettle? Don't worry. Just boil your kettle, throw in a dash of cold water and then go for it.
Let it steep
Everyone knows tea needs to brew, but for how long? The window is three to five minutes, Stacey says, and then it's simply a case of adjusting for personal taste.
Shades of tan
When it comes to drinking tea with milk, is it milk before tea or after? Stacey is in the latter camp.
"I've found that tea drinkers who add milk, are very particular about the colour of their tea." And it's hard to get that colour right, when the milk goes in first.
"You can't take it out, so I'll always put the milk in after and that way I can watch the colour of it as I'm stirring."
Think outside the mug
While traditional English tea is very much at home in a cup or mug, the aroma and visual effect of other teas can be enhanced by a different vessel, such as a wine or sherry glass.
It's about considering the overall experience. Stacey also often serves darker oolongs at room temperature, or chilled white or green teas with food as an alternative to alcohol.
"I wouldn't serve it in a mug, same as you wouldn't serve wine in a mug," Stacey says.
"[A wine glass] is just lovely. It's just an elegant way to drink tea and eat."
Tania will travel to Shanghai, China in May 2018 to compete in the World Tea Brewers Cup Championship. Her online tea shop is cuppacha.com.au.
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