Tea, the second most consumed drink next to water in the world has a history as ancient as the Chinese culture. Throughout the ages it has sparked controversy on multiple continents, was thought to be the secret to longevity, been a source of inspiration for poetry and story telling, and for a few, tea brewing was and is, an art that is only mastered after many years.
Whether you are new to drinking tea, a regular connoisseur, or someone who would like to learn more, here are five tips to get the most from this wonderful world treasure.
1. Loose Leaf vs. Tea bags
I am often surprised by the number of people who say that they don’t like tea, especially green tea, because it’s “too bitter.” In response I ask what kind of green tea they drink, to which people answer, “I don’t know it was just green tea in a tea bag.”
The difference in quality between loose tea and bagged tea is equivalent to the difference between hotdogs and filet mignon.
Drinking tea from tea bags will quench your thirst but falls short in taste and quality. (Of course there is loose leaf sold in fine quality tea bags, for the most part these are an exception.)
So why is there such a big difference? When tea farmers sell their tea, they usually sell the highest quality tea first. Tea leaves that are unbroken, have almost no stems mixed with them, but are full of white buds, are the priciest sellers. The more buds you see in the dry leaves the better, because buds give tea the most health benefits and add sweetness.
After the highest grade is sold, the tea farmer sells the mid grade tea which has broken leaves, stems mixed in, and not many buds. Last is all the stuff leftover in the bottom of the tea basket, which is swept up and sold at a cheap price to be processed into tea bags.
2. Brewing Loose Leaf Tea
So how do you brew tea to get the maximum benefits? There are five main kinds of tea which all come from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis. They are white, green, oolong, black, and púer.
I typically like to use a little more tea and brew it for less time. This way you get a full flavor with more health benefits and you can enjoy the same leaves for a second or even third time. A good amount is about a tablespoon for 10 ounces of water. With most Oolong teas, you only need about a teaspoon since it is heavier in weight.
Brewing time and water temperature can very depending on the type of tea and the amount you use. If you don’t mind bitter tasting tea and would like to increase the health benefits, simply brew it longer than what is listed below.
However, if you are going to brew it more then once, then you will be getting the same benefits as if you brewed it longer for only one time.
White: 170-175 degrees for 2 ½ to 3 minutes
Green: 180-185 degrees for 2 ½ minutes.
Japanese green teas: 150-170 degrees for 2 minutes
Oolong: 195-200 degrees for about 3 minutes
Black tea: 205-210 degrees for about 1 ½ minutes (I like my black teas light so the taste is sweet, if you prefer it stronger, steep longer)
Púer: 210 degrees 2 ½ minutes.
If you use the amounts and brew times mentioned above, you will be able to brew the same leaves at least 2-3 times. For Oolong the better the quality the more times you can brew it. Oolong typically tastes the best and has more benefits after the second brew because the leaves will start to become fully unfurled after the first brewing.
3. Quality and Purchasing
I often hear people ask why loose leaf Dragon Well Green Tea is sold from $10 up to $50 per 50 grams (1.7 oz.).
Fine tea is similar to fine wine; a bottle of cabernet sauvignon can be $10 but can also sell for hundreds of dollars depending on how good the year was.
Like wine, tea can be harvested, picked and processed in many ways and comes from different tea farms. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on tea to get the benefits tea has to offer, but the more you spend the better the quality, taste and freshness of it.
Like wine grapes, altitude and climate can affect the flavor of tea. The Camellia Sinensis plant is typically grown in higher elevations and for the highest quality teas, the grower will assess the amount of dew and fog, sunshine or clouds, and even wind speed on the day of harvest because these factors affect final taste of the tea. The time of day the tea is picked also affects the flavor.
Small tea farms that process tea by hand in traditional ways are always more expensive because these typically grow in higher altitudes and are more difficult to harvest, but these are always superior in quality. Large commercial or government owned farms that process a lot of tea using machines are the cheaper and lower in quality because they grow in lower altitudes so they easier to harvest.
So where can you buy the best teas? Typically most conventional grocery stores carry the large commercial teas but specialty tea shops or organic grocery stores in which often have employees knowledgeable about tea would be some of the best places to purchase tea.
4. Benefits of Each Kind of Tea
Each kind of tea has different benefits for the body so you should consider function as well as flavor when you choose your leaves.
The least processed and highest in antioxidants, white tea is known for it’s cancer preventing properties. It also helps to cool down the body.
Green tea also helps to cool down the body and is a natural detoxifier. It has the amino acid theanine which is known to help concentration and improve memory.
Oolong helps to lower blood pressure, aids in weight loss, and improves digestion.
Black tea helps warm the body, aids in digestion, and has some antioxidants but fewer than white tea due to more processing.
Púer helps to lower cholesterol, and aids in breaking down fatty foods in your body if drunk right after a meal.
5. The Seasons
Most people don’t know that traditionally in China, different kinds of tea were drunk depending on the season. Here is when to get the maximum benefits from tea for each season of the year.
Spring: The best for all fresh new teas that were just harvested that season.
Summer: Best for white and green as they will help to cool the body down and help to maintain the balance of the qi in the body during the hot season.
Autumn: Oolong and black teas, as the temperature cools down these will help warm the body. Black tea with a little bit of the herb astragalus in it will aid in soothing the lungs during the cold season.
Winter: Black tea is good for warming the body in winter. Adding a piece of cinnamon bark and a few goji berries will aid in circulation of blood and qi. Adding a tiny bit of rock sugar helps soothe the throat and protects against coughs.
Benjamin Chasteen is a certified tea expert who enjoys teaching tea classes for various occasions.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
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