How to Brew Tea

Hosting an afternoon tea party can be a wonderful way to reflect God’s love through the gift of hospitality. We open our homes to others with a servant’s heart, ministering to them and providing fellowship. Creating a beautiful setting and providing yummy treats need not be too labor-intensive. After all, the focus is on the people. This party is both gracious and easy.

Tea 101

All classically defined teas are made from the evergreen Camellia sinensis, with the tea type determined by the method used to process the leaves. The tea types are white, green, oolong and black. White and green teas contain less caffeine than oolong and black teas.

  • White tea is first steamed and then dried before being packaged and sold.
  • Green tea may be allowed to wither for 8 to 24 hours before the leaves are either steamed or pan-fried. Leaves are then rolled and allowed to dry again before packaging. The steaming process keeps the leaves green, maintaining their health benefits and distinctive flavor.
  • Oolong tea is partially withered, allowing oxidation to take place. The leaves are spread out in a cool area where they absorb oxygen, which turns the leaves a darker color. Leaves then get rolled or shaken in baskets to bruise their edges before they go through a short fermentation process. After being pan-fried or dried, the leaves are graded. Oolong teas vary in flavor, color and aroma; some are closer to black teas and some are similar to greens.
  • Black tea is withered, rolled and then allowed to fully ferment. During the fermentation process, black tea turns as dark as possible. Once fermented, the tea undergoes a firing process. It is then graded and sold to buyers around the world.

The Basics of Brewing Tea

Brewing a party-worthy pot of tea requires a bit more attention than putting a tea bag in a mug and pushing a few buttons on the microwave.

To get started, you’ll need to know which type of leaves you’re using, because each type requires a different water temperature and steeping time. To start, boil cold filtered water in a kettle. Have a thermometer ready. The teapot you will use to steep the tea should be warmed and rinsed thoroughly with hot water.

Place 1 teaspoon of leaves per cup of tea to be brewed into the teapot. Allow the boiled water to cool to 185°F for white tea, then pour water into the teapot and steep leaves for 4 to 15 minutes. For green tea, the temperature should be 160°F, with just 1 to 2 minutes for steeping.

Oolong and black teas require hotter water. Heat water to 200°F. Steep oolong for 1 to 9 minutes and black tea for 3 to 5 minutes. Herbal infusions, which are not considered true teas, require a higher temperature as well and should steep for about 5 minutes.

Always remove the leaves to keep your tea from becoming bitter. Keep an extra pot of heated water on hand for guests who wish to dilute their tea. While many people enjoy tea straight from the pot, others may want to sweeten it and/or add milk or cream.

Tea Production

Understanding tea is comparable to understanding fine wines. Variables like soil, altitude and weather affect a tea’s flavor. Many premium quality teas grow at higher altitudes where mountain mists, dew and humidity protect the plants from direct sunlight, allowing them to mature at a slower pace.

The method of grading leaves can be confusing. Teas are graded by the size of the leaf or particle of the leaf. The grade does not necessarily relate to the quality of the tea’s taste. Typically, tea connoisseurs prefer a brewed whole-leaf tea, but many grades offer good taste and aroma. Tea experts say taste is a matter of personal preference, and they encourage tea lovers to try types and varieties from different parts of the world.

The four main grades of black tea are:

  • Dust—small pieces of tea and tea dust
  • Fannings—small pieces of tea; Broken Leaf—small tea leaves or pieces of broken large leaves
  • Whole Leaf—(the highest grade) whole leaves of the flowering tea plant.

Hand or mechanical processing is also taken into account in black tea’s final grade, with hand-processed tea receiving a higher mark.

There are many variations of teas, dependent on flavorings and blends. Interestingly, Earl Grey, one of world’s most popular teas for 200 years, is made from a strong black tea infused with bergamot oil. Another favorite, English breakfast tea, is a combination of black tea leaves from India and Sri Lanka.

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