April 4, 2012

A Few Words on Tea

There is something to be said about tea.

Truthfully, I am not the man to say much about it, however. I don't know much, apart from the fact that we have it, and so does every other coffee shop. I also know that it's something I've never given much thought to, and probably, you haven't either.

And that's really too bad. Because, coffee though it isn't, it's still on the menu. And so long as that is the case, there's an imperative to prepare it correctly. For the longest time, I didn't do that. And in my experience, most people are repeating my mistakes.

The problem is a simple one: We brew tea with water meant for brewing coffee, and often, without much consideration for time. As such, this water is usually in the neighborhood of 200 degrees, and the bags are left in the water for however long. (It probably goes without saying, but quality counts too. Like coffee, a better ingredient yields a better product.)

Thankfully, the solution is equally simple: We need only monitor the water temperature and steep time. If you've got an electric water kettle, this is easily done. If not, you can dilute your brewing water with tap, with a milk thermometer used to measure temperature.

As for the temps and times, it varies. A lot. Check with your tea provider for specifics, regarding your own stock. But, in general, blacks and herbals should be steeped hotter (200+ degrees), and for longer (4-5 minutes); greens and whites should be cooler (150-160 degrees), and shorter (2-3 minutes). If you're figuring things out on your own, you could do worse than starting with those numbers.

There is, of course, much more to be said about tea. It's a classic beverage, with cultural and historical implications that go well beyond what its current cafe status might imply. I have to wonder, how much of that is because it's prepared improperly? How many people think that they don't like tea, because the only thing they've ever had was old, steeped to death, or both? Me, for one. It wasn't until a die-hard showed me the ropes that I knew there were ropes there at all.

But in any case, this isn't about me, you, or what anyone working at the bar likes. This is about taking pride in your job and your product, and serving things that taste good. Tea, coffee, or otherwise, I'd like to think we're all fundamentally aiming for that.


  1. here's an excellent tool on timing for different teas: http://steep.it/ with timer built in

    1. That is pretty cool, thanks. The internet is a wonderful place.