Sorting tea leaves

Stuff for Buffs

Take time to get to know your tea.
Each speciality or top grade single estate tea has its own personality. Every invoice or batch is unique. If you are brewing such a tea for the first time, try this: Infuse the tea for three minutes then pour one cup from the pot. A minute later, pour another cup. And a minute later, pour a third cup. The tea in each cup will be quite different. Simply choose the one you like best. The three minute cup might be best taken black and the five minute one may taste better with milk. Whenever you buy a new batch repeat this exercise.

What's what with pots...
L&T aficionado David Thompson gives his views:
"Because it holds heat well, I use a white china pot for those black teas - broken leaf or CTC breakfast styles - that take time to give up their full flavour. Metal and glass pots lose heat too quickly. If I really need to see the colour of the tea in the pot, I lift the lid. Once I get to know a tea, I watch the colour rather than my watch."

"However, I prefer glass for many Chinese teas. Apart from the pleasure of watching the leaves open, I can check the colour of the tea to control the strength of the brew. Loss of heat is not such an issue here because infusion times are usually far shorter."

"With flower teas, of course, glass is essential for those 'grand openings'."

... and spoons?
"Despite their name, teaspoons are not too good at measuring tea because they vary in size – and a level teaspoon of a broken leaf tea will pack more punch than a level teaspoon of a well-twisted full leaf tea. It all comes down to knowing the tea you are drinking at that time."

Too darned hot.
David Thompson again: "I think people drink their black, green, oolong and Chinese white teas too hot. Once tea starts to cool, you can better appreciate its aroma and taste. Experiment, too, by reinfusing the same leaves again and again with freshly boiled water. You can get a lot more from most teas and each reinfusion tastes different."

White with one or black with none?
David says certain teas are designed to be drunk with milk while others are best taken as they come from the pot. Such teas are known in the trade as self-drinking. All tea from Darjeeling in North East India is self-drinking tea as is Chinese white tea, all green teas and oolong tea.

He says milk should be added to CTC (cut, torn and curled) teas and many grades of orthodox broken leaf teas. These teas are high liquoring with deep colour, good strength and lots of flavour- and they really need milk to make them palatable. "I don't think it really matters whether the milk is put first or last. I prefer full-cream milk with the breakfast teas and masala tea I make. But that's just my preference."

Just as some teas are self-drinking and others are designed to take milk, the addition of a little sugar can improve the taste of some teas. The same goes for lemon/lime. It all depends on your palate and your preferences.

Tea has all the complexity of wine appreciation, but there's no hangover!