TEA ESSENTIALS: STOP MAKING TEA MORE COMPLICATED
You have finally made the decision. You want to get serious about tea, by moving beyond tea bags and going for loose leaves. You are ready to start brewing, but how do you filter out the tea essentials in a tea market that is flooded with gadgets and advice? How do you stop making tea more complicated than it is?
Tea Essentials: What’s needed for a good cup of tea
Gadgets are not the be all end all, I understand when you first come to loose leaf tea that it can be daunting, due to the overwhelming choices that are available. I felt the same way. But here’s the thing – tea drinking lasted for centuries in so many countries because of its simplicity. If you have the money to spend, it’s fine to splurge. But not having fancy gadgets like a one-touch tea maker, tea stick infuser or bottom-dispensing teapot does not detract from your tea drinking or your enjoyment of it.
The things you really need
When you pare back to the tea essentials, the things you really need to make a good cup of tea are:
- Good tea
- A cup
- Hot water
That’s it, really. Tea doesn’t need any special equipment or ceremony to taste great. And it always pays to buy good tea, if you only want to splurge on one thing.
But what if you really love your tea wares….
Keep the simplicity of a good cup of tea in mind, even if you want to take a step up to look for essential tea wares that allow you more precision and control during the brewing process. The brewing process is dependent on the ratio of leaves to water, the surface area of the leaves, steeping temperature, and the length of time the leaves are in contact with water. Here is a list of my suggestions on what tea wares to look out for:
- Tea basket
Tea leaves unfurl (see Note below) and expand. Like a teenager, you need to give the leaves space. So, avoid the tiny tea balls and tea infusers and go for a (stainless steel) brew basket instead, which gives plenty of room for expansion and circulation.
Note: Tea trivia of the moment – the “agony of the leaves” is the term used to indicate the unfurling of tea leaves during steeping.
You should aim for a (stainless steel) kettle that boils fast. My logic? it encourages you to drink more tea!
If you have the budget, you can go for a higher-end model that has variable temperatures. Else, you can always use a tea thermometer to gauge your water temperature.
Most people are into teapots as much for its practicality as its aesthetics. Your style of tea drinking would be a good first guide on the type of teapot to buy. East Asian style tea drinking tend to favour smaller tea pots, such as the Chinese Yixing clay teapots or gaiwan (technically a cup with a lid), or the Japanese kyushu.
If you are into the precision of weighing out tea leaves to stringently follow brewing parameters, then get a kitchen scale (or you might already have one) that has a unit in grams and a tare function.
Brewing time differs depending on the style of tea brewing. Use your kitchen timer or your phone. Nothing fancy is needed, as long as it tells time!
Tea brewing is just like dating
Tea brewing is adaptive and forgiving. It is like dating someone new – you are shy initially, and want to do everything perfectly according to the book. But as you grow to know the other person better, you start going more with your gut feeling and you adapt to your preferences.
Similarly, all you need to know about tea brewing is that you should make it how you like it, with recommended brewing instructions as the starting point.
Some will like tea brewed the Chinese gongfu tea way, where brewing time is measured in sub-minute intervals. Some will like it brewed the Western way, measured in minutes. Some will like tea made in the Japanese cha-do way, with mindfulness.
Some will like like their tea steeped within an inch of its life and bitter (like my mother). Some will like their tea thick as mud (like my grandfather). Some will let the leaves barely get wet before drinking the tea!
Some will like single-leaf tea. Some will like blended tea.
The point is, tea brewing is not cast in stone. To get your tea relationship off on the right start, good tea sellers will provide brewing suggestions either verbally or on the package. But as you become more comfortable and confident with your relationship with loose leaves, you will start to be more comfortable with bending the rules a bit to experiment.
Brewing instructions say to do it for 30 seconds, how about trying it for 60 seconds and see how you like the change in taste? Who knows, you might discover something new that delights your taste buds.
Trust and own your preferences!
Part of the beauty of tea drinking is its simplicity. While fancy gadgetry is cool and fun, it doesn’t offer tremendous difference to what essentially is a process of putting hot water to dried leaves and drinking the end product.
If you want to splurge on one thing, splurge on better quality tea leaves.
Trust yourself when it comes to brewing tea – you know your taste preferences the best!
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