I’m not really a coffee drinker. Tea, however, is something I enjoy — not only for its caffeine properties and ability to get me up in the morning — but because a good cup of tea can make almost any bad situation a little easier to handle.
Brewing and enjoying a great cuppa is a very ritualistic event. It’s not mandatory to do things like preheat your tea pot, or brew your leaves to exact heating instructions, but the tea blenders have crafted their teas to taste best under those specific conditions.
The highest-maintenance cup of (conventional) tea you can enjoy is one brewed with purified or spring water to an exact temperature (98C is common for most black teas), in a preheated pot with one heaping tea spoon per cup of tea and one extra (for the pot). If you want to go really dedicated, you should check out Japanese and Chinese tea ceremony rituals, where making a cup of tea is a performance.
Things you should pay attention to, however, is the type of tea you’re brewing and what to put in it. Herbal teas (lemon, peppermint, green tea, white tea, etc. etc.) are served milk-free, perhaps with honey for sweetness. Black teas and red teas (Rooibos) can be served with or without milk, sugar, honey, slice of lemon, what have you.
Types of Tea
Japanese and Chinese green tea are some of the most well-known teas around. They are not as strong as black teas are, but are still very flavourful teas. They should be brewed at a low temperature (about 80C) for 2 – 3 minutes. Much longer and the strong and bitter flavours of the leaves will seep through.
A further note: another common form of green tea is Matcha. Matcha is a Japanese tea made from powdered tencha leaves, and are grown in shade to boost their chlorophyll, which gives the leaves a sweeter flavour. (See: Harney, Michael. Harney and Sons Guide to Tea. New York: Penguin Press, 2008. 72-73.)
White teas are very light, and are brewed at low temperatures for a short time (80C for 2 – 3 minutes). Because they are so light they barely change the colour of the brewing water. They’re mostly sweet tasting, and very very delicate.
Rooibos (Red Bush) Tea
Rooibos is not necessarily tea, but looks, tastes, and has health benefits like tea. The difference is that is has no caffeine. You can enjoy it in blends, or on its own.
When tea is processed, the leaves are often oxidized. The amount of oxidization can depend on how dark the tea is. Black teas are fully oxidized, and green teas aren’t oxidized at all. Oolongs are partially oxidized, giving them a large range of flavours and intensities.
Black tea is probably the most common tea here in Canada, and the easiest to pick up in stores. It’s often flavoured and blended to create certain types; Earl Grey is flavoured with Bergamot, peppermint is flavoured with peppermint leaves, etc. It is strong, and brewed at higher temperatures for longer times, about 98C for 4 – 6 minutes.
Yellow teas are incredibly rare outside of China, and many on the market are fake. They are light, sweet, and flavourful.
Puerh tea is aged, often for decades. Where most teas begin to lose their flavour between two months and two years (depending on the type of tea) Puerhs are fermented and kept on a shelf for sometimes up to 50 years. (See: Harney, Michael. Harney and Sons Guide to Tea. New York: Penguin Press, 2008. 173-176.) They have very strong, earthy flavours. They are brewed at around 100C for only 1 to 2 minutes, because they are so strongly flavoured. For each cup of tea thereafter made from the same leaves, they are only brewed for about 10 seconds.
My personal favourites are a good Earl Grey with some sugar and milk, peppermint tea, and ginger tea. Peppermint is calming, relaxing and refreshing, and ginger is excellent for stomach aches or other ailments. Also a big fan of vanilla rooibos!