You’ve heard the old adage about white wines pairing with white meat and red wines pairing with red meat. While not always true, it’s often helpful advice when taken as a general guideline. Well a similar maxim is typically true for tea: Green teas and oolong teas go well with white meats, black teas pair nicely with red meat.
Until the middle of the 20th century, there were no tiny cloth bags of individually parceled tea. For thousands of years, the leaves and buds were either placed in a tea pot or were held in a tea infuser (a tea ball, for example). For most tea-making perfectionists, there is no comparison: it is loose-leaf tea or nothing.
TIP: In a pinch, a French press coffeemaker approximates the infused-tea experience.
How much loose tea is enough? A common rule of thumb is one teaspoon of leaves for each cup of water plus "one for the teapot." Of course, the outcome will be determined by how strong the tea leaves are and by how much hot water the tea is steeping in. Experimentation is in order.
Water temperature. The temperature of the water matters, too. Most black teas do best in boiling water. Green and white teas prefer hot, but not boiling, water. It all comes down to how oxidized the leaves are: black teas are more oxidized and can handle the hot, hot heat.
TIP: Some tea drinkers insist on warming up the teapot before pouring in the hot or boiling water.
How long to steep? Allow black tea to brew anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes. Two to 3 minutes is preferred for a bracing tea. But too much steeping can produce a mouth-puckeringly bitter brew.
Steeping vessels. There is much ceremony associated with tea drinking. And pretty teapots are part of the enjoyment. Some are extremely elegant with delicately painted patterns. For steeping, though, many tea drinkers prefer simple, unglazed earthenware teapots. After steeping, it’s time for the beautiful porcelain teapots.
Tea making don'ts. Don't stir the loose leaves around in the pot. This is called "winding." And it's a no-no. It won't speed up the steeping process, but it probably will release bitter-flavored tannins. Wringing the last drop of tea from the teabag produces the same effect.
The Three Types of Tea
Tea is the processed leaves (along with twigs and buds) of the tea plant Camellia sinensis, a bush native to warm, rainy climates. Processing freshly harvested tea leaves begins the same for all types of tea. Fresh leaves are sorted out, cleaned, and allowed to wither. From there, a few nuances come into play.
Black--English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Assam
The most common kind of tea, black tea leaves are allowed to ferment before being dried. Westerners call it "black tea" because of the dark color of the leaves. The Chinese know it as "red tea" because of the reddish color of the liquid. Black tea tends to have depth of flavor and lack bitterness.
- Most teas from India (Darjeeling, Assam) are black.
- Earl Grey is black tea scented with bergamot.
From the same plant as black tea leaves, green tea leaves are steamed and dried directly after being picked to prevent fermentation, which develops a light, gently bitter flavor much like the fresh leaves themselves. Japan is a leading producer of green tea.
Partially fermented large-leaf tea, oolong tea is delicate in flavor, occasionally scented with rose petals, jasmine, or gardenia. Formosa, Taiwan, is an important producer of oolong tea.