Friday, January 15, 2010

Brewing Loose Tea - Every Pot Perfect

My last post was about my favorite tea timer, but there are several things that go into making the best possible pot of tea. It is not easy to get a great cup of tea out and about, which is why I go the coffee route on the road. When at home we can surround ourselves with the proper accouterments and brew a fabulous pot.

The techniques I use are not unique. In fact, this is the way I learned when I visited the esteemed Mariage Freres tea-house in Paris. Whether they have been doing it the same way since their inception in 1854 I have no idea, but one has to assume that they have come to use these techniques after trial and error, coming to the conclusion that it is the best way.

Let’s start with the pot. I have many, from a vintage cast iron tetsubin that my father brought back from Japan in the late 40’s, to a very modern clear glass pot made in Germany, but my favorite is my insulated pot (seen pic above) from Mariage Freres. The metal is lined with an insulated felt-like material and opens like a clam shell; there is a hinge on the back. You have full access to the ceramic pot, which comes with it, and your tea will stay hot. (I have to tell you a funny story here....the picture of the pot above was generously shared with me by Rebecca Varidel of in Australia. Mine is, let's just say, well worn, and photo worthy. I found her image on-line, we became virtual buddies. Check out her blog for down-under, insider foodie info.)

The first thing I do is warm my pot with tap water that is as hot as possible. (I remove the pot from its insulated jacket and place in the sink). I have different pots, depending on what I am brewing: pots for black, pots for green and certainly separate pots for anything scented, like an Earl Grey. The flavors can certainly cross-contaminate from batch to batch, even thought the pot material might be glass or ceramic. While the pot warms, I heat the tea water and measure the loose tea.

I begin with double-charcoal filtered water, as I do not like the flavor of my well-water. We must start with excellent water, or you will not be able brew a tasty pot. I measure out 6-ounces of water per each scoop of loose tea. Note that this is Not “a cup” which is 8 ounces. A “cup” for making tea is 6 ounces. I then use an actual tea scoop to measure out the tea, seen here below:

The lighter and fluffier the leaf of the tea, the larger the amount of tea is used. I am very good at measuring "by eye" and know how big a scoop I want from whatever tea I am using at the time. This comes with practice and also by using the same scoop every day for over 12 years; my measurements have become fairly standardized. When brewed properly in every other way, if your tea is too weak, you have probably used too little of the loose tea – and the converse is true as well.

Right before the water is ready (described in next paragraph), drain the teapot of the warming water and place a cotton tea sock over the mouth of the pot. This is an unbleached cotton “sock” where the open end is attached to a wire ring, that can rest on the top of the pot. Photos courtesy of Upton Tea Imports

The sock will hold the tea leaves and eventually be submerged in the water. It allows for the full expansion of the leaves, which means their flavor will be properly released; tiny metal tea ball infusers do not allow for this expansion and I can also detect a metallic flavor that they impart. My method also allows you to easily remove the sock when the steeping time is up. So, drain the pot, put sock into place and measure the correct amount of tea into the sock. I have separate socks for green, black and flavored teas, again so the flavors don't cross over.

For my black teas the water is Just brought to a boil, but not allowed to boil for more than a moment, lest the water lose its life and end up tasting flat. For green teas, it depends on the tea, but many are brought to about 140 degrees F. A good tea purveyor should be able to make specific suggestions as to measurement amounts as well as brewing times.

Here are two of my favorite morning teas, both black tea, which I purchase from Upton Tea Imports. These images are from their site. Here is the Keemun Mao Feng (order tea ZK98):

You can see that the leaves are large and fluffy, so I measure a very generous scoop with this tea. I brew this Keemun for a full 8 minutes and it is a bracing morning cup, which I enjoy with milk. It hails from the An Hui province in China and is both mild yet complex. Here is another fave - Yunnan TGFOP (order tea ZY51):

This tea is slightly more compact and the scoops are a bit smaller as the tea is denser. I brew this Yunnan for a full 5 minutes. If you are a tea lover you must get Upton's catalog....there are over 300 teas from which to choose. They direct import and their prices are very reasonable. Their blender, Frank Sanchez, is very knowledgeable. Ask for him and tell him I sent you! He will be able to make recommendations to you based on your palate.

As soon as the steeping time is up, remove the sock and throw out the tea leaves. Your pot is ready! While I mentioned using milk with my hearty black teas, please do not use it with your greens!

I guess I will follow up at some point with a posting on green teas and matcha.


From Becca said...

What a wonderful world Dede ~ fantastic to find a tea buddy across the miles ~ thanks for the lovely mention of my blog in yours *smiles* So similar in tastes, I drink coffee when out, and, tea prepared slowly with care at home. @frombecca (

Jeff Tracey said...

Mariage Freres, What a wonderful place to spend a cold winter's afternoon. The Tea is superb as is the food and service. All waiters wear a Cream suit and each patron is made to feel special. Go to rue de Borg tiBorg in the 4th sector and enjoy for yourself.

第二回合 said...

^^ 謝謝你的分享,祝你生活永遠多彩多姿!.........................