Making the “perfect pot of tea” doesn’t have to be done by a tea-making master. Especially when you consider the quality of perfection is decided by individual taste. Some like their tea strong and bitter. Others drink tea that only has a slight hint of the leaf. Still others add milk, lemon or honey for seasoning to achieve “perfection”.
One of the things that make tea so enjoyable is the soothing steps to making it. Those who make tea by throwing a tea bag in a cup of water and putting it in the microwave are missing out on one of the greatest parts of tea making. In fact, through the ages, such importance has been put on the making of tea that remnants of the rituals remain in many cultures.
China – The Home of Tea
As the home of tea and with its number of known traditions, it should come as no surprise that China has a beautiful tradition for tea making. Although many make tea much like others around the world with a pot of water ready for tea making at any time, the Chinese have also developed the tradition of Gongfu Cha.
Gongfu Cha is steeped in ceremony, focusing on the aroma and taste of the tea. Some have spent their lives learning how to master this technique, becoming “Tea Masters”. No sugar or cream needed here – in fact, they are thought to ruin the taste of the tea.
There are two main points of Gongfu Cha. The first is to make sure that the water is clean and good, not hard. Natural (preferred) or bottled spring water is a must. The second deals with temperature, which varies depending on the type of tea. Oolong should be 95 C (203 F), while compressed teas should be steeped at 100 C (212 F).
Although the ceremony is long, with the hot water “washing” the tea leaves from a long height and then again from a short height, what remains is a warm, aromatic and – above all – pure cup of tea.
Irish Tea Making
Indian Assam has long been a main – if not single – ingredient of Irish Breakfast blends. Its rich, bold flavor is a favorite of the Irish, who like their tea strong and robust.
For the Irish, the perfect pot starts with cool water, then adding Assam once the water boils. Adding more leaves, rather than boiling longer, provides a stronger flavor without the metallic taste caused by over boiling. Once the flavor infuses the water, milk and sugar are added before pouring. Although some Irish prefer not to have milk, many like as much as one third of the liquid to be milk. For high tea in Ireland, the perfect pot is robust, strong and creamy.
Tea Making Down Under
In Australia, the perfect pot of tea is strong and sweet, with a lot of enjoyment and little finesse. Australian sheep farmers boil the water, put in a handful of leaves, then let them boil while cooking breakfast – however long that might take.
Adding a large amount of sugar, he drinks the tea and sets of to work, leaving the leftover leaves to simmer. After a hard day of work, the best thing for these hardy farmers is an equally harder and intense brew, which is reheated for enjoyment.
Although the method is much the same in New Zealand, tea making is a “user friendly” activity. Two pots are used to make the tea. One holds the boiled tea and one holds hot water. If the tea is too strong, you simply add hot water to taste.
Making Tea in Russia
As in many cold countries, tea is an all day affair. Russians have had a longstanding love of tea, and formed a tradition to match their culture and climate. They developed the samovar to make sure they had tea available throughout the frigid days.
Basically a large boiler, the base of the samovar is always full of hot water. On top of this is a small teapot, with extra-strong tea, steeped through the day. Any time Russians want a cup of tea, they mix a small amount of the concentrated liquid in with hot water.
In the Netherlands, tea is added to freshly boiling water and steeped for five to six minutes; in Canada, it’s five to eight minutes. Koreans sip raw egg in between cups of hot tea. In Morocco, tea is sweet, refreshing and usually served by the eldest man in the house.
For America, there is no set “way”. Americans have enjoyed the taste of tea in a variety of ways, from iced tea to tea poured from a pot. Some put tea bags in hot water and barely wait for it to steep before drinking, while others dab the tea bag up and down for more flavor.
They’ve even invented the gravity tea maker to filter out the remnants of loose tealeaves.
In short, making the perfect pot of tea can mean anything from a short steep to a long boil. It can be made with milk, honey, sugar or lemon. You can drink it with a raw egg.
For tea connoisseurs who will be drinking a lot of tea, experiment. If a 5-minute steep isn’t strong enough for you, increase the time or amount of tea by increments to get the desired cup you’ll love to drink. As the Russians say, “Na zdorovje!” (To your health!)
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