Saturday 13 June 2009

Hot or Not?

Tea mug thermometerI was enjoying a cup of white tea yesterday when it occurred to me that I haven't written explicitly about water temperature. The more tea-savvy among you may know all about this, but I suspect there's a good chance that some of you don't realise just how important it is to use water at the correct temperature when making a cuppa.

Until a few months ago I always thought that the way to make tea - any tea - was to simply boil the kettle, pour the water on my tea leaves/teabag and drink. I had no idea that different types of tea should be made with water at different temperatures. What's amazing about this is that it can really effect the taste of the tea. For instance, have you ever had a really bitter cup of green tea? Perhaps you've even decided that green tea isn't for you because of the horrid bitterness you get down the side of your tongue when drinking it. Well there's a good chance that what you've actually been drinking is tea that has been scalded. Try making that same tea with water at about 80 degrees C and you may very well find that it tastes completely different.

In fact, when buying quality tea it's not uncommon to get a guide telling you what temperature water the tea should be made with. Of course, you may not want to go as far as me and buy a thermometer (I appreciate that not everyone is as enamored with tea gadgets as me - I don't understand it but I appreciate it...) but you should nonetheless take care. Even without any gadgets you can vastly improve your cuppa by sticking to these rough guidelines.

As a rule of thumb, the less oxidised the tea (see Embrace the Blues) the lower the water temperature should be:
  • Black teas, infusions and puerh should be made with water just as it's reaching boiling point - it's better not to let it over boil as you will lose a lot of the oxygen from the water.
  • Oolong, or blue, teas should be made at around 80-90 degrees C - the best way is to stop the kettle before it reaches a full-on boil but you can leave it for 30 seconds after it boils.
  • Green tea should be made with water at around 70-80 degrees C - this is just as steam begins to rise steadily from the kettle, or if you forget to switch it off leave your fully boiled water for at least 60 seconds.
  • White teas should be made with water at 60-70 degrees C - this is as the first slow moving wisps of steam start to rise from the kettle, if your water has already boiled you would have to leave it for at least a couple of minutes to let it cool or you could add some cold water.
And don't forget, it's no good pouring boiling water over the tea and then topping up with cold as by then you will have already scalded the leaves.

Again, I realise this may sound a bit of a faff (sorry to our readers from the US) but it'll only take one comparison of scalded tea vs tea made with water at the proper temperature for you to realise just how important it is to get this right. And, perhaps more importantly, if you're a gadget fiend like me I've just given you the perfect excuse to do a little bit of shopping.

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