Control the Variables!
Control the Variables!

My life, if not properly managed, can sometimes be overwhelming. Taking my courses, honing my palette, learning all that I possibly can about a thing I am passionate about; tea is not for the faint-hearted my friends.  It is serious business.

I could say that I am focused on the taste of tea alone – but that would be a lie.  It certainly starts with a taste that I find thrilling, but then I have find out about the origin, the process, the estate from which it came from, and the terroir which gives this tea this flavor at this time. The rabbit hole runs deep in the mind of me.

And while all of this learning and exploring and discovering is happening, there remains my biggest obstacle; perfecting the optimal tea environment.

It comes down to the big 4; water, temperature, amount, and time.  While others have argued that equipment should be a category there, I do not, since the equipment and utensils you use are constant…it is the variables that must be examined.

Realistically, you are going to use the same kettle, the same cupping set, the same pot (who are we kidding?  We all have far too many pots!), the same spoons, etc., etc. So I chose to forgo that as being a consideration the moment I got the right equipment…but more on that later.

Water: There are three major factors in what makes good water for tea: the pH level, TDS (total dissolved solids), and water hardness. Am I going to get all sciencey about that here?  No!  I don’t care to spend what would amount to a couple of blog posts on these issues alone right now, and you probably don’t care.  However, if you DO care then there are tons of websites to look into this issue further – Fresh Cup Magazine is a nice start.

My advice is simple; find out what kind of water you have, and then control that environment. My city has water is treated with fluoride and and serious chlorine, so, while using a counter-top water filter doesn’t remove the microscopic particles or hardness, it does remove the chlorine taste and smell, leaving me with a baseline on which to try my teas and hone my palette. Is it a perfect scenario? Heck no.  Does it do what it is supposed to?  Absolutely.

Temperature: Now we all know that the temperature of the water can make or break a really good leaf. Blacks and Pu-ehrs can take the heat. And by using lower temperatures you are actually robbing yourself of the true experience of those teas.  However, whites, greens, and short oolongs will get nasty under that kind of heat so boil accordingly. I have purposely taken a white and by using ‘too hot’ water, burnt it in order to truly examine the difference between a properly brewed cup, and a poorly brewed cup.

Word to the wise, and this is from the bottom of my heart, if you ever get your hands on some Vietnamese Lotus Tea, brew it at the right temp and steep it for EXACTLY the right amount of time.  The margin of error between a heavenly experience and something you will spit out is razor thin.

Amount: This is tricky for me.  I will easily drink an entire pot by myself on a Sunday whilst puttering around the house. The rule of thumb for cupping is 2.8 grams per 6 oz. of water.  But, what if I am not using my cupping set?  What if I will want to go back to that delicious trough a few times while padding around the house doing my thing?  How do I figure out the tea leaf to water ratio for an entire pot?  That is the trial and error part. And, if any of my readers have any helpful tips, I will take them gladly.  A pot of my favourite tea is my desire, my pleasure, and many times my white whale. While I have a few of my faves figured out, it always brings me a teeny bit of anxiety when I am brewing a pot for visitors.

And last but not least: Time. This is less tricky than the amount issue for me.  Because at the end of the day, it is what it is.  And while sometimes it is a good idea to let a leaf steep a moment or two longer one must always be aware that an under-steeped leaf will leave you sad and unfulfilled – not unlike some relationships. If you are buying leaves that have the instructions on the package, follow them.  The company didn’t just decide to throw some random information on there. They are trying to give you the optimal instructions for the best possible tea experience.  However, if you go to a tea shop, trust me; the purveyor will give you the full low down on the best brewing time for each tea – so jot that info down.

Side note, I go to a shop in Toronto a couple times a year and I always have to set aside at least 2 hours in order to fully enjoy the experience. Marisha at the House of Tea is amazing. And boy, will she give you the deets on the tea you are looking into. If you want a fun experience go see her!

So that is my big 4.  Almost.  Wrapping around back to the equipment I use I must tell you it starts with the water filter, and then I invested in a really good kettle that I can control the temperature.  I never boil the water twice and I save my pennies relentlessly in order to give myself the luxury of only ever having to use my leaves once – twice maximum. Terribly opulent to be sure, but come now lovelies, we are talking about tea.

And that, above all else, is worth the effort.

Have a Merry Christmas!