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How to make tea

August 1, 2011

This post brings yet more fuzzy iPod Touch pictures made nearly abstract by Instagram. I hope they are sufficient to tell the simple tale of how to make tea from loose tea leaves. I get the impression that brewing tea without a tea bag is perceived as a rather high-falutin’ mystery.

Life contains many mysteries. There are, I’m sure, many mysteries associated with tea. However, making tea for consumption by ordinary mortals in the course of an ordinary day is a simple matter.

What you need are hot water and loose tea leaves. First, you combine them. Then, you separate them. Then you drink the tea.

I will elaborate, because I’m not really THAT obnoxious, but that is the essence of the process and the thing to bear in mind if you have tea and water but not much else. There is a lot of room for flexibility.

You may be wondering where one even gets loose leaf tea. We order ours from internet specialty stores such as The Tao of Tea, Tea Trekker, and Golden Moon Tea. One of our stand-by teas, which makes great iced tea or hot tea and is very forgiving of wacky brewing methods (and therefore goes camping and traveling with us), is this Sinharaja. We love this Emperor’s Goldย at breakfast.

You might want to try a sampler from Tao of Tea or the 31 best-selling teas from Golden Moon. A sampler set kicked off our obsession, and it’s tons of fun to try lots of different teas.

You could buy some loose leaf tea at a grocery store, but those teas are probably not similar in quality to what you’d get from certified tea nerds. But it might still be lots of fun to try, so don’t say I told you not to do that. ๐Ÿ˜‰ World Market has several looseleaf teas for $8.99 a bag, and I have recently discovered that if you join their Explorer’s program they will send you a $10 gift certificate for your birthday, so if your birthday is coming up, that’s one way to score some free tea.

Close to 185 degrees.

Once you have some loose leaf tea to play with, I recommend actually reading the brewing instructions on the package. A lot of our teas suggest brewing with 185 degree water. We are geeks and actually use a thermometer. That doesn’t mean you have to. I’ve also discovered that if I bring my water to a full boil, turn it off and open the kettle, about four minutes later it will be about 185 degrees. So I usually set the timer so I remember to come back at the right time. I get annoyed when I let the water cool down too long. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Most of our teas are the sort that use one teaspoon per cup. This is not rocket science; the tea will not explode if you use a little more or a little less. I’ve found that a pretty big pinch between my thumb and finger approximates a teaspoon; this information is especially valuable when camping. (I could leave the tea at home, not just the measuring spoons, but I am much more pleasant after a cup or two, so it’s better for me to bring the tea.)

Starting the brew time: 4 minutes.

So, now you have hot water and loose tea. It’s time to combine them. You can do this in pretty much any heat-and-waterproof container. Here, I’m using a canning jar, because I’m classy like that. I often use a 2-cup Pyrex liquid measuring cup. At this point, you have to have a game plan for separating the leaves. For this mason-jar brew, I’m using a Bodum basket-style strainer that came from a set like this. When the tea is done, I just lift out the basket containing the leaves. A teaball is similar in concept, and a large teaball works well when your vessel has a wider lid than a tea cup or mason jar.

This is now one pint of hot tea.

The other way to go is with a strainer. If you don’t have any of this equipment, I bet you have some kind of strainer, maybe a flour sifter, maybe some cheesecloth … something. Or maybe you will just pour the tea into a teacup and use a spoon or something to keep the leaves in your brewing vessel. You possess sufficient ingenuity to separate tea leaves from tea, I just know it. ๐Ÿ™‚

If you are going to sweeten your tea, which is really a whole other subject, now is the time to do it. I don’t, notwithstanding my 100% Southern pedigree. My husband adds a little honey to his. A lot of people like to sweeten tea with a simple syrup. Do as you will.

The real issue is whether you’re going to ice your tea. If you do ice it, you’ll want to brew it double strength. It’s about 100 degrees today, so iced tea is a matter of self-preservation. I think you know how to ice it. ๐Ÿ˜‰ This will mean going from a pint-size jar to a quart-size jar. ๐Ÿ™‚

Finished product: one quart of iced tea. Ahhhh!

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