Making Your Daily Cup Better
We did our first ever live Q&A on Instagram stories this week! Knowing that in lockdown enjoying a cuppa is an even more frequent occurrence for most of us than usual, we wanted to show you how using distinctive, single garden loose tea can transform an everyday ritual to a completely new world of taste, enjoyment and inspiration. Don’t worry if you missed it, we have saved all the clips in an Instagram highlight called Q&A which you can watch on our profile.
We received some great questions during the session, so we have shared the best ones and our recommendations with you below.
We will be hosting more of these sessions on Instagram and launching some online classes – so any questions you might have, get in touch and we’ll do our best to make sure everything is covered.
1) What’s the difference between tea bags and loose tea?
There is a common perception that loose tea is higher quality than tea bags, which is not necessarily always true. There can be good tea packed in tea bags and low-quality tea available loose, but there is often a correlation.
What’s important is the quality of tea - you can discern this easily by looking at the leaf size (do they look whole or intact or do they look dusty and broken?); is the tea the colour it is meant to be? This will tell you if it is fresh or not. Green tea should always look green and bright, never dull. Black tea should look a rich, brownish red colour, again not dull or washed out. Broken/dust leaves will of course taste dull and will never give you any of what is good about drinking tea.
It's also important to think about where the teas have come from – can they be traced to one origin and therefore have the unique taste of that place, or have they been blended and mixed for a more generic taste?
The ultimate test of course is – does the tea taste good? Are the flavours clear, distinctive, and harmonious – this is the magic of great unblended, single garden, single origin tea.
As a note on tea bags, tea leaves need space to unfurl and for water to circulate around them fully to extract the flavours. When the leaves are squashed into a bag, there is no space for this and so you will not get the best drink, so in fact bags can limit the quality of the infusion. Also, bags come at a cost – a cost to you because you are paying a significant proportion for the packing and the packaging (think of each bag, and the time and cost of putting teas in each through the production line), whereas with loose tea, you’re paying for the tea itself and the one piece of packaging that it’s packed into.
2) What does single garden mean?
You may have seen the phrase 'single origin' from coffee and chocolate. It denotes quality through traceability and taste – products from one place will have the specific flavour and character of that place, flavour and character that comes from the specific climate, terroir, production methods etc.
Single origin can apply equally to tea – meaning the same. Single garden is a higher quality marker. It means exactly what it says – tea not just from one origin but a single garden. Traceable to one place and one tea maker, who will have left their unique character and mark on it.
3) Why do we use different temperatures of water for different teas?
When you add hot water to your tea leaves, the heat extracts the plant compounds (things like polyphenols, theanine and caffeine) to make your infusion. These compounds are what make up the taste, aromas and thickness or mouthfeel of the drink. Getting the right balance of these will give you tea that is full flavoured, balanced and not bitter. You can use water temperature (alongside time of the infusion and ratio of leaf to water) to achieve this balance.
Very broadly, there are really only two temperatures to know: 95-100 degrees will bring out the rich flavours and structure of oolong, black and puerh tea. At 70-80 degrees less structure is extracted, which means more space in the cup for the more delicate, fresh and sweet flavours of white and green teas.
4) How can I make green tea if I do not have a temperature-controlled kettle?
Very simply! To get 80 degree water, just add 20% cold or room temperature water to your teapot on top of the leaves, then top up the remaining 80% of the volume with boiling water from your kettle.
5) How can I make loose tea less messy and complicated?
Having the right equipment (all of which is very basic) can make loose tea preparation at home easy no more complicated than a tea bag. It can be much more rewarding because there are lots more teas and flavours to explore, plus seeing the whole leaves adds to the appreciation and connection to what you are drinking.
You need a teapot (with plenty of space for the leaves to move around in), a teaspoon or electric scales and filtered water. Simply add your leaves (following the recipe on the bag, using a teaspoon or electric scales), add hot water, and leave the leaves to infuse for three to five minutes (depending on how strong you like your tea).
Probably the most important point to note is that after the tea has infused, you must pour the entire infusion evenly into your chosen cups. Never just pour off the top section and leave the leaves sitting in water. If you do this, the first cup will be weak, and the last cup from the water closest to the leaves will be too strong.
If you are making a strong black tea to drink with milk, only add your (cold) milk after the tea has fully infused. Adding the milk any earlier will drop the temperature of the infusion and will slow down the extraction, which means that you will ultimately not get enough flavour and strength. You can do this by either having the milk in the cup when you pour your tea into it, or by pouring your tea into the cup and adding the milk at the end.
6) How can I make Gyokuro properly? It goes bitter very quickly.
Gyokuro is a very sensitive tea and can be tricky to make. However, when it is made well, it is a hugely rewarding and delicious tea.
In Gyokuro making, the leaves are shaded from sunlight for around three weeks before picking. In order to survive this shading, the leaves over produce chlorophyll so that they can still photosynthesise. This is why the leaves look a very dark green. As well as chlorophyll, the leaves also produce other compounds in high quantities during this time, two of which are glutamate and theanine, which both give the tea the distinct umami flavour. Another is caffeine which stimulates us, but tastes bitter. All in all, there is a huge amount going on with this tea.
To make it in a way that you get the umami depth and the high floral notes that make this tea stand out, use a really low temperature water, around 50-60 degrees, and make the tea in the smallest teapot that you have. Use 4g per 120mls and wait just 1 minute for the first infusion. It will look a beautiful cloudy white/ green colour and have a thick, almost soupy texture – experiment with two or more infusions, keeping each one short.
Finding your preferences:
7) What is the best oolong tea to serve to someone new to tea drinking?
Oolong is an under explored category in the West, even though it is one of the most rewarding and interesting. It is accessible, but with huge depth and is a great place to begin an exploration - anyone can dive in.
If you want a tea that will be quenching, juicy in texture, and smells very floral and tastes of fresh tropical fruit with a milky/ creaminess to it, try Ali Shan. The flavours are easy to pick out, but it has depth and a complexity unlike most common Western teas. There are other great teas within this light/ greenish oolong category too. Try Iron Buddha, Li Shan and Yellow Gold.
8) I love Red Dragon and Phoenix Honey Orchid, what else should I try?
Red Dragon and Phoenix Honey Orchid share broad flavours of fruit, they both have structure and are complex with darker notes. Red Dragon is soft and very thick making it almost syrupy. Phoenix has a lightly astringent finish and is highly aromatic – it is floral with lots of stone fruit.
We would recommend starting with Wuyi Oolong. Here, you will still find thickness and fruitiness, but also cacao and a dry earthiness or minerality. There is a cooked sugar type of sweetness – Wuyi is moreish and complex.
In a different category, we would also recommend considering Vintage Imperial Puerh. It will be quite different to the others - the cooking process that the puerh goes through and the abundant, lush growing conditions in Yunnan where this tea comes from, bring a different depth to the fruitiness and a wet earthiness (in contrast to the dry minerality of Wuyi). It is often described as “forest floor”. The cooking of the puerh is an intense process and the result is a very mellow, soft tea without any astringency, which balances with the strong earthiness.
To summarise, if you like dried fruit, light nutmeg and cinnamon spice, dark chocolate and sweet syrupiness you will like Red Dragon. If you like caramelised, unripe fruit, cacao, minerality and complexity that presents in the structure of the tea, you will like Wuyi Oolong. If you want full wet-earthiness, rich liquorice spice and mellow softness, you will like Vintage Imperial Puerh.
9) I love Jasmine Silver Needle, what else should I try?
Jasmine Silver Needle is highly aromatic (having been scented for around five nights with real jasmine buds), but it is also sweet and satisfyingly thick. If it is the balance of light flavours and thickness that you like, consider trying Silver Needle. It has an amazingly thick texture and beautiful sweetness with melon and cucumber.
We would recommend trying White Peony. Although it is still a light tea, it is darker than Jasmine Silver Needle because it is made of a bud and two leaf picking, rather than just the buds. This gives the tea more body and depth, the sweetness is honeyed and there is the beginning of some green tea complexity – it will be refreshing, rounded and full, with more warmth.
Moving away from the white tea category, there is sweetness and florality also found in the oolong tea category. As we recommended above, Ali Shan is a great place to start in this category – but try Iron Buddha too as it is floral, with a fresh but gentle, tart edge.
10) What are the best teas to serve cold/ iced?
Lots of teas will work well cold infused, it is a great way to enjoy more tea in hot weather. The difference between cold infused and iced tea is in the making. Cold infusing tea just means adding cold water to your tea leaves and leaving them for an extended time to extract (this is best done in the fridge). Iced tea is usually tea made hot and then cooled over ice.
The cold infusion method will extract much less of the structure of a tea, so there will be loads of space in the cup for the flavours to come through. A good example is Earl Grey – when made hot, the tannin structure that we expect from black tea is a big part of the cup, which is balanced with the bergamot. When we cold infuse this tea, the citrus bergamot will be much more prominent because it is not competing with the structure in the same way.
The simplest method is to add slightly more than your usual amount of tea to you teapot (if the hot recipe recommends 4g per 250ml, use 6g for example), top up with cold water and leave in the fridge for 2-4 hours.