We may be a coffee-drinking society, but you can’t underestimate the impact of the millennia-old tradition of drinking tea. And just like coffee, tea can be enjoyed in hundreds (if not thousands!) of ways—yes, even as a latte!
All tea comes from the same plant, the Cameliasinensis. The way the tea is picked and processed determines whether the final product is known as green, black, oolong, or white, as well as herbal teas, also known as tisanes:
- Green teas come directly from un-oxidized tea leaves. Their flavors are best developed when steeped between 165° and 180°F.
- Black tea, the most popular form of hot tea consumed by Americans, is fully oxidized before it is dried, and is best steeped at 190° to 210°F for no more than five minutes.
- Oolong tea is lightly fermented before it is dried and is best steeped at 175°F to 190°F for five to eight minutes.
- White teas are from tea leaves and buds that are allowed to wither in natural sunlight before they are lightly processed to prevent oxidation and is best steeped at 180°F for five minutes.
- Herbal teas, like chamomile, are not really tea at all but dried herbs and flowers. There are no widely agreed to standards for steeping herbal teas, although steeping at about 190°F is a safe guideline.
No matter what type of tea you choose to use, there are some basic brewing guidelines that always hold true:
- Fill your kettle with fresh, cold water. If your tap water has an unpleasant odor or has a water softener or other chemicals added, use filtered or bottled water. Bring the water to a full boil and then, if you like, pour some into your pot or mug to preheat it. Once the pot is hot, pour out the hot water and add your tea. You may use pre-made tea bags or loose tea that is either added directly to the pot or put inside a tea ball.
- Most teas require at least two or three minutes for a proper infusion; herbal teas may take four or five minutes to infuse properly. A tea cozy can help keep the pot hot while the tea steeps. Remove the tea bags or tea ball once the tea reaches your desired strength. If you’ve added loose tea to the pot, then the leaves will stay in the pot and the tea will get stronger as it sits. In that case, you should always have a second pot filled with hot water so that guests can adjust the intensity of their own cups.
Just like coffee, you may choose to add milk or sweetener to your tea. Milk can be frothed to make a latte-style tea, also called a steamer. Steamed milk added to Earl Grey tea is known as a London Fog.
Experiment with different sweeteners. Flavorful honeys, like orange-blossom, or brown sugar can provide an extra depth of flavor that makes an everyday cup of tea feel a little extra special.
While you can buy flavored tea blends, you can also steep spices, herbs, or other ingredients with your basic tea base to infuse additional flavors. Try orange peel, fresh mint, even the stem-ends from freshly trimmed strawberries. Indian masala chai is made by adding a blend of spices and aromatics (the masala)—like cinnamon, ginger, peppercorns, and cardamom—to black tea.