A perfect cup of tea is whatever you want it to be!
The weather turned, and the iced tea stepped aside, replaced by the steaming pot.
One of the most enjoyable parts of running our small Vermont inn was the ritual of afternoon tea – that little stop at 4 p.m. to nibble a snack and savor a cup of fragrant, steaming tea, conversations filling the air. The pause, that set us up for the rest of the day. In the hot summer, iced tea took its place most days, although more often than you would think, the cup still reigned.
There is no one set of directions for all teas, each type of tea has its own steeping time and water temperature where the flavor is optimum, and everyone likes their own strength. The only hard and fast rule is do not bring the water to a full boil, and don’t let it steep much beyond its optimal recommended time, unless you like it really dark.
Most black teas, such as the traditional English Breakfast Tea, need two or three minutes at up to 205 degrees, just below the boiling. A green or white tea will need only a minute or two at 175 degrees. Oolong is best steeped for 3 minutes at 195, and can be saved and steeped again. Check with your tea supplier, or read the container.
While there are many variations for each tea, there are some consistent tea-making secrets:
1. The type of tea – Although I have a variety of teabags on hand for those who prefer, loose teas taste better. They simply do, and the ritual is a lot more fun. The tea in a tea bag is finely ground, to fit and to steep quickly, but it can start to go stale as soon as the package is opened. A nice loose tea has leaves cut much larger, sometimes even whole, and when stored in an airtight container, will keep fresh considerably longer, often years if stored right. The flavor is more pronounced in loose tea. I tested a popular variety of black tea, both the bags and loose, and satisfied myself there is a big difference.
2. The type of pot – I prefer a ceramic teapot to a fancy silver one. My favorite pot is a vintage 1950s Hall six-cup, “Hollywood Chartreuse” pot, most of the gold trimming worn away, but it is heavy and retains the heat beautifully. It’s like an old friend in my kitchen, flaws and all, and has helped soothe many a harsh day.
3. The process – Fill the pot with hot water and let it warm while you heat the water. This warming will ensure your tea will stay hot as long as possible. If using, fill your tea ball or bag with the right amount of tea for each cup. Again, this will vary depending on the type of tea you are using, and your own experience with it, so check the directions. If you are making a large pot, over two cups, always add an extra teaspoon “for the pot.” That’s what my grandmother did, so that’s how I do it.
Once the water is at the right temperature for the tea, dump the teapot water and add your tea. You can add the tea loose, or use a tea ball or paper “tea bag.” Loose is fine with me if I’m making a small pot, I have a strainer to keep the leaves from my cup, but you can also just pour carefully. However, if you are using a large pot, the tea will remain in the pot and continue to steep to the point of bitter, so take that into consideration. This is where you want a ball or, my preference, a paper tea bag or sack that can be removed. The paper sack has better circulation of water around the tea.
Timing is everything
Fill your pot with the heated water, cover, and set your timer.
Once the tea is ready, pour a bit out and taste. It is all about how you like it, not what the directions dictate. If it needs a little more time to please you, so be it. If not, pour and enjoy!
Some folks like lemon in their tea, some prefer milk. I’m a lemon person myself, so I don’t think a lot about the “white.” An English lady I know told me to never use cream in tea, always milk! So I obeyed, and always serve milk, along with sugar, honey for those who prefer that flavor, and slices of lemon of course!
Ice that tea!
And if you choose an Oolong tea, those leaves can be steeped several times, usually the second steep is the best.
By the way, don’t throw out your leftover tea; it will taste great iced if it is not over-steeped. Make a great punch for a gathering by mixing equal parts iced tea with fruit juices. Hibiscus works well here, as does a lively mint. A simple punch for the whole family is made with just hibiscus and seltzer water with a little cranberry juice added for sweetness. Float some orange slices and you are all set. As my niece Brooke told me one day “If there is punch, there is a party!” She is right about that.
Make your own blend
I love most teas, but I really love making my own blend. One of my favorites is a simple mix of equal parts hibiscus and rooibos (a lovely caffein-free African bush tea), and a quarter part peppermint. It is delicious hot, and a hit with everyone iced. The deep reddish color is pretty too!
Flavored honey syrup is a delicious addition to your cup. This one is always in my house, but use your imaginations:
Jaina’s Honey, Lemon & Ginger Syrup
Use this simple honey syrup to sweeten hot tea, iced tea, lemon water, or to enhance a cocktail. If you have a sore throat, a teaspoon of this is soothing. Add a little miso and a dash of soy sauce, and you have a glaze for poultry. A drizzle over blue cheese, and you have a party. You can always add an herb or spice you like, such as rosemary or cloves. I’ve named this for Jaina since she is as much of a ginger addict as I am, and she loves to drizzle this over her plain yoghurt for her after-school snack.
1 lemon, sliced
1 ½ ounce knob fresh ginger, sliced
3/4 cup native wildflower honey
1 cup water
Slice the lemon and the ginger but do not peel. Bruise with the knife, and place in a saucepan. Add the water and honey. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Strain.
I store mine in a canning jar in the refrigerator. I have no idea how long it will last since we use it up in a couple of weeks. So, at least a little longer than that.
© Copyright 2018 – or current year, Dorothy Grover-Read