Brewing the Perfect Cup of Tea

Tea Necessities: Teapot and infuser basket, teacup, stainless tea canister, tea kettle, scales, timer and instant read thermometer.

Again last evening, someone complained to me that it is too much bother to brew a cup of loose-leaf tea. This person thinks she’s baking cookies when she uses those pre-filled pans of dough and pops them into the oven. So, yes, perhaps the tea brewing experience is too complex for her. For the rest of us, taking the time to brew the perfect cup is something we do without trauma but not without thought.

At the most basic level it takes only four things to brew tea: water, heat, tea, a pan. You probably won’t get a consistently wonderful cup of tea just winging it but you will get tea. In reality there are tea accoutrements that we use in order to get a perfect cuppa each time. Here’s what you’ll need:

A tea kettle to heat the water. Mine sits on my stove all the time. It boils water very quickly and has a funny whistle to let me know when it is ready. I have an electric kettle too but find it takes up too much counter space. I use it when I need lots of water for a party.

A scale to weigh the tea. Tea leaves come in a lot of different shapes and sizes and they are really awkward to try to measure with a spoon. I use a beautiful Soehnle scale that measures in grams. I’ve just begun to cook a few things by weight instead of volume so this scale gets a lot of use outside the realm of tea.

A timer. You really, really need this. You know your mind will wander while trying to time a tea without a timer and then you’ll miss the time you wanted and your tea will be over steeped and nasty. Get a timer and free your mind.

A teapot. Yixing teapots are probably the best teapot you can use. They are made of clay and each time you use it you’re seasoning the pot. But the variety of teapots is endless. Use a pot that makes you feel good just to see it. I use Chatsford teapots for everyday. They come with a removable infuser basket that works so well.

A tea cozy. I used to think these were pretty goofy looking and I didn’t want one covering my pretty teapots. After giving them a try, I understood that they really do keep the tea hot without stewing it. Get one, use it, it works.

Cups. There’s nothing like drinking tea from a delicate cup so thin that you can see through it. Like with teapots, there is an endless variety of cups available. Use what makes you feel good.

Now down to brewing:

First let’s talk about the water. Some places have pretty funky tasting water. If that’s you, use bottled water. Second, always use fresh water. You wouldn’t drink a glass of water that was sitting on the kitchen counter all night, don’t use water in your kettle that’s been there since the last boil. Third, water temperature is essential. Most teas should be brewed using boiling water in order to get the full flavor of the leaves. (Green, white, oolong teas should be made with water no hotter than 180º.)

The old saying is one spoon of tea for each cup and one for the pot. Use this as a rule of thumb or starting point. When making tea, a cup is 6 ounces, not 8 ounces. Know the capacity of your teapot. But remember, if you want a consistent cup of tea, use your scale and measure by weight.

Steeping time depends on the variety of tea. Steep by time and your own taste. Use the following list as a starting point:

White, green, jasmine: 2-3 minutes
Pouchong: 1-3 minutes
Green Oolong: 2-3 minutes
Darjeeling: 3-4 minutes
Black Oolong: up to 5 minutes
Black tea: up to 5 minutes

So there you have it, heat the water, measure the tea, pour the water over the leaves and time it. Maybe I was wrong and my friend who bakes fake cookies could handle this after all!