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According to Chinese legend, tea was accidentally discovered by Emperor Shen Nong nearly 5,000 years ago when he was boiling water in his garden. A leaf from a tree growing above it fell into a vat of boiling water, giving the water an aroma unknown to the emperor.
Shen Nong liked the resulting drink so much that he began to study it and eventually found out that some plants acquire healing properties when brewed.
Since then, tea has become an integral part of both Eastern and Western culture, but most importantly, it has become an indispensable attribute of almost any cuisine.
Today’s tea lover doesn’t need to sit under a tree with a boiling vat waiting for falling leaves: dried and processed tea leaves can be found in any grocery store, carefully packaged in tea bags.
And for those who are not satisfied with the standard “Lipton” in bags, this article will help you understand the different types, varieties and methods of brewing tea with skill right in your kitchen.
Not only green and black
There are only 7 main types (not varieties!) of tea, and most of them, oddly enough, are made from one type of plant, which in Latin is called Camellia Sinesis. The difference is how and when these leaves are harvested and how they are processed after harvest.
The most common and recognizable type of tea in Western culture. It is this that is primarily offered by all mass manufacturers – from Twinings to the aforementioned Lipton. Most often, black teas contain the largest amount of caffeine (here it is about half as much as in black coffee).
The black color of the leaves is due to the fact that they undergo oxidation (oxygenation during production), which also gives them a richer taste compared to other types of tea. Also, black varieties are better than others combined with our popular tea additives – milk, sugar, lemon and the list goes on.
Which varieties to take : English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Assam
Brewing Tip : For brewing black tea, boiled water, cooled to 90-95 degrees, is best. If you don’t have a thermometer in your kettle, wait for the water to boil and let it cool for 1.5-2 minutes.
Most varieties should be allowed to brew for 3 to 5 minutes. In order to reveal the taste as fully as possible, before brewing, pour tea leaves with a small amount of boiling water and let them “swim” in it for literally 20-30 seconds. Drain this water, and then fully brew tea.
The second most popular in our country and the first in popularity in the homeland of tea. Green tea has a less intense color and lighter taste, and on average contains half as much caffeine as black tea.
It acquires its lightness and color due to the fact that the oxidation process stops almost immediately after the leaves are harvested by steaming or frying them. Most green varieties are grown in China and Japan.
Which varieties to take: Sencha, Moroccan Mint, Gunpowder
Brewing Tip: Green tea is best brewed in slightly cooler water, around 75 degrees. If you do not have the opportunity to measure the temperature, then boil the water and let it cool for 10-12 minutes, or simply dilute the boiled water with cold in a ratio of 1 to 4.
With green tea, it is worth doing exactly the same as with black: before brewing the drink, scald the leaves with boiling water for 20-30 seconds, and after that pour water and leave to infuse. On average, green tea is brewed in 2-3 minutes, and a good tea leaf can be brewed up to three times.
White tea is especially prized among tea enthusiasts. It differs in that the leaves for it are collected earlier than others, and during the production process they are subjected to minimal processing.
As a result, white teas have a particularly mild flavor and aroma, are transparent in appearance, and contain less caffeine than green teas.
Which varieties to take: White Peony (Bai Mu Dan), Shou Mei
Brewing Tip: White tea should be brewed with more leaves than black or green – the delicate white leaves and petals tend to have less flavor. In no case do not fill them with freshly boiled water! Let the water cool for 5-8 minutes and then carefully pour over the tea leaves.
To avoid rapid cooling, it is recommended to pre-rinse the cup with hot water. After pouring the leaves, gently stir them for 1 to 5 minutes, but in no case try to squeeze them out – this will only spoil the drink.
Whether you are brewing white tea for the first time or trying a new variety, experts recommend tasting the tea every 30 seconds after the first minute of brewing to determine which tea strength is right for you.
Most varieties of oolong, including the famous “milk oolong”, are made from selected specially grown tea plant species. Some oolong varieties are pre-rolled into small, tight balls before being dried and packaged.
Another distinctive feature of oolong is that many of its varieties are not only allowed, but also recommended to be brewed several times – and with each new brew, new notes will open up in its taste.
Which varieties to take: Milk Oolong, Da Hong Pao, Ginseng
Brewing Tip : In Eastern culture, a special gaiwan cup is traditionally used to brew oolong tea – with its shape and lid, it helps the tea to brew properly. But this accessory, nevertheless, is not strictly required: you can enjoy oolong with the help of an ordinary teapot.
When measuring the right amount of leaves for brewing, pay attention to whether they are compressed / twisted or loose. In compressed form, you need 1 teaspoon of leaves for one cup of oolong, in loose form – 2 teaspoons.
As in the case of green varieties, oolong should not be poured with boiling water – let it cool for 3-5 minutes. Experts recommend that you first rinse the tea leaves and immediately drain the water, and then pour it again and let the leaves brew for 1-5 minutes.
Such rich types of tea should not be mixed with milk or sugar. Give oolong the opportunity to showcase all your flavors and shades in solo mode – believe me, with the right brewing, it will not disappoint you.
According to the production process, pu-erh is closest to green varieties of tea, and in terms of fullness and aroma – to black varieties. And like them, it contains relatively high levels of caffeine. Pu-erh is often used as a substitute for coffee to cheer up, and this tea can actually work as an energy drink. Pu-erh has a tart, rich taste.
What varieties to take: Royal, Lao Shu
Brewing Tip: The process of brewing pu-erh is as close as possible to brewing oolong tea. Measure the desired amount of leaves (about two teaspoons per cup) and put in a teapot pre-rinsed with boiling water.
Pour the leaves with slightly cooled boiled water, let it brew for a few seconds and immediately drain the water. Then re-fill the leaves with water, not allowing them to dry. Let the tea steep for 2 to 4 minutes and pour into cups.
Good pu-erh can be brewed 5 to 10 times. Since the leaves lose their flavor over time, allow the tea to infuse for an additional 10-15 seconds each time.
This is a relatively new species that became widely available only a couple of years ago. It is made from a rare purple tea plant native to India and Kenya. Purple tea is low in caffeine and high in antioxidants, which are good for digestion. Well, in the end, it’s just beautiful!
Brewing Tip: Let the boiling water cool for a couple of minutes, pour it over the leaves and drain after 10-15 seconds. Let the tea brew for 3-4 minutes.
Some tea drinkers recommend boiling purple leaves instead of brewing them – try boiling them on the stove for 10 minutes. Unlike the more sensitive green and white varieties, purple varieties do not lose their beneficial properties and taste when exposed to boiling water and do not acquire a bitter aftertaste if left in hot water for a long time. At the same time, purple tea goes well with sugar, honey and other sweeteners.
Matcha is a popular type of green tea in Japan sold in powder form. Matcha has a slightly tart flavor. Due to its powdery consistency, matcha is not only brewed in hot water, but also mixed with milk, added to smoothies and even baked goods. At the end of the last decade, Western culture adopted the Japanese fashion for matcha, so now it is not so difficult to get good tea powder.
Brewing Tip: In Japan, there is a separate ceremony for brewing matcha tea with a lot of accessories: a whisk, a special saucer, separate cups. But in the conditions of an ordinary apartment, it is not easy to get all this – even among the Japanese, you can count on the fingers the people who brew matcha according to all ceremonial rules.
Therefore, the craftsmen came up with an easier way to brew matcha at home.
- Boil water and let it cool down to 80-85 degrees (5-7 minutes).
- Pour one teaspoon of matcha into a cup and pour a small amount of boiling water over it, about ⅕ of the cup.
- Using a cappuccinatore, beat the powder in water until a light foam appears.
- Then add another 1-1.5 teaspoons and add water to the mug, whisk for another 40-60 seconds.
- If desired, add 100 ml of milk to make a matcha latte, or a spoonful of honey to make the drink sweeter. You can add either. Tea experts recommend sifting matcha through a strainer before brewing to oxygenate the powder and prevent lumps.
Bonus: Herbal teas
Although we colloquially refer to herbal teas as “tea”, they actually have nothing to do with this drink, but consist of a mixture of various herbs and spices. As a rule, most herbal teas do not contain caffeine.
There are many different types of herbal teas – both based on a single ingredient (for example, mint or chamomile), and in the form of various mixtures.
The most common herbal tea ingredients include peppermint, chamomile, hibiscus, ginger, lavender, and many more. Herbal mixtures often have healing properties and, depending on the ingredients, they can be used for medicinal purposes ranging from sore throats to indigestion.
Choosing a teapot and other tea accessories
If you decide to invest in a good loose tea, it makes sense to get the right accessories. First of all, you will need a teapot. When choosing, be guided by the material from which it is made.
Glass teapot – best for brewing green tea, flowery and light oolong tea. Dishwasher safe. The good thing is that with its help it is convenient to monitor the degree of tea brewing and its color.
A ceramic teapot is a fairly versatile option, suitable for most types of tea. Most often it can be washed in the dishwasher.
Unglazed ceramic teapot – great for darker oolongs, raw pu-erh or black tea. This kettle cannot be washed in a dishwasher or with detergent.
Porcelain teapot – suitable for tea blends and teas that are brewed using slightly cooler water – for example, white or green. But remember that when using steep boiling water, such a kettle may crack! Not dishwasher safe but will not be affected by the use of dishwashing liquid.
Stainless steel teapot – suitable if you are not ready to pay too much attention to your teapot and want to wash it in the dishwasher. It also retains heat better than others.
If the kettle you have chosen has a built-in filter, congratulations, the minimum program has been completed! Otherwise, another mandatory attribute of a successful tea ceremony is a strainer-filter.
We recommend that you start with an ordinary small strainer with a diameter of a standard cup. It is suitable for most types of tea and will be easy to wash.
The rest of the attributes – from cups directly to coasters and other trifles – are left to your discretion. By choosing the right teapot and understanding the varieties, you are already halfway to becoming a true tea expert who can proudly say: “I have a branch of a real teahouse in my kitchen.”