18 December 2007

Second Steps: Brewing & Drinking

Today is a day of mild cloud and rain here, which is perfect for a warm cup of tea.

For now, I thought I'd go over the next logical steps in tea basics: brewing and drinking.

Naturally, after processing the tea itself one would buy it in a market. Of course, everyone should take that for granted. But let's say you've bought it because you randomly hopped on this website, have never tried tea before, and want to enjoy it. Probably garnering a small box of whatever was on the shelf at your height-level, the box or tin that you have purchased now looks rather lonely and unused. Rejoice; guidance is now here.

Most people buy their tea in bags (a nifty little invention, might I add, made not by an Englishman but an American). Some buy it loose, in a tin - usually 3-4 ounces of dry weight. In the case of the latter, you'll need an "infuser", where you'll put at least a hefty spoonful into the metal contraption and close it off. After this, you're set. All you really have to do is put the infuser in the cup or take the bag out of the individual wrapper (if it has one), and stick it in your favorite mug. Personally I buy both bags and tins, but prefer loose tea since it is more likely to be of a higher quality. (The exception to this, thankfully, is Yorkshire tea made by Taylors of Harrogate - a brand you can only buy in bags here in the States but has much more in the bag itself than usual.)

When you prepare the water, however you do it, make sure the water is boiling and not just warm. Pour the water over the bag/infuser, and dip the tea in and out of the water a few times before leaving it for 3-5 minutes. I usually dip the tea about three times, and then leave it for a set time - 3:35. Granted, this is because my son was born at that time, but it is also very important to leave your tea in for over 3 minutes. Sometimes manufacturers will suggest a steeping time, but all of them will ask for three minutes somehow, unless the tea is rare and one I have not heard of yet. Leaving the tea in for a shorter time period will get the caffeine in the cup, sure, but it will also make the tea incredibly weak, perhaps even tasteless. So, over three minutes guarantees full flavor and a balanced beverage. And besides, if you just wanted the caffeine, you should be drinking coffee anyway. ;)

I should add that you can also steep tea in a greater amount using a teapot separate from the kettle you use for boiling. The rules for this are similar per the amount of time, just make sure you include one bag (or hefty teaspoon) per cup of tea being prepared in the pot.

Once you let the tea "steep" in this way, you are done.

Well, almost. If you are making black tea, you have quite a few options for yourself at this point. Sure, you can take it plain. Most Americans do, I take it. But then, most Americans don't drink tea anyway. Most people who drink it worldwide probably take it plain - this is true. However, a good amount of people take it with three possible ingredients: sugar (sometimes in the form of pure honey), milk or lemon.

Lest you think putting sugar in tea is a bad idea in the long run (in case you do in fact realize that tea is great for you and tastes wonderful - so much that you get hooked), be at ease. Buying your sugar in cubes yields a rational and measureable way to keep your sugar intake balanced, giving each cup roughly a mere 15 calories in sugar, per cube. (For honey, use a teaspoon for the same measurement.) Naturally, if you take milk, you only want a steady stream going into the cup for about 1-2 seconds. If you take lemon, just a meager slice - perhaps squeezed - will do.

Now, I do have to let you know: there are certain suggestions for these additives, depending on the type of tea you have. There are even downright arguments in England about how to administer them.

For example, usually lemon is only taken with light color teas like Assam or Earl Grey. Lemon is not usually mixed with milk, though it can be mixed with sugar. Milk is preferred with darker teas, though it can theoretically and tastefully be added to all black tea. Sugar can go with or without any tea at all. (Again, green teas take no additives most naturally.) Some people prefer to put the milk in the cup before the hot water goes on the tea, some people add the milk after the tea is fully steeped. Likewise for the sugar/honey. Personally, I put one sugar cube in the cup with the tea before it is steeped and let both meld together; then, I put the milk in after the tea is brewed. I never take lemon with tea when on my own - mostly because I buy darker teas as a rule and I think preparing lemon for every cup I will drink is far too much work.

However, while there are these few basic ideas, remember the saying, "It's not my cup of tea." There's a reason this phrase exists, became popular, and now gets used in almost every possible subjective disagreement between two people. No one can ever mandate to you how you must "take" your tea. To impose otherwise, though it may sound a bit silly, is and has been a cultural-historical breach of human taste and individuality.

So, now you know how many possibilities there are at your fingertips and taste buds. I say, go try them out as you see fit. Enjoy what is available to you as best as you are able. :) Thanks for reading! Next time, the start of discussion about particular teas.

Quote for pondering:
"Where there's tea, there's hope." - Arthur W. Pinero

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