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The art of steeping teaUpdated 8 months ago

Why Control the variables during tea infusion?

To attain the optimum flavour and tactile balance from the infusion it is critical to control the water temperature, the amount of tea and the steep (duration of infusion). This is because during the infusion process, different compounds contained within the tea (e.g. flavonoids, melanoids, catechins*) are released into the water at different stages of the infusion. Towards the end of the infusion there is a greater rate of catechins (which are the bitter elements) being released into the water.

The optimum steep will differ for each tea. This is the optimum point where the full flavour of the tea is released without imparting tannic or bitter flavours into the water. Each tea has its own unique recipe for infusion, determined largely by the rate at which the cells expand. E.g. With green tea, the cells expand at a faster rate than black tea. For that reason the tea imparts it’s flavour at a faster rate, hence the catechins and bitter elements will also be released at a faster rate. 

If tea is over-infused, it can become ‘tannic’. Tannic is a term used to describe the undesirable consequence when a lot of the tannin from the tea has been released during the infusion and the bitterness of the tannins dominate the flavour of the tea. This can also result when the steep is too long, and potentially when the water is too hot. As we taste bitterness 10 times more than we taste sweetness, when this occurs bitterness will dominate the sweetness and overall flavour of the tea and the complexity of flavour is diminished.

To consistently achieve the optimum infusion you will need to control the brewing variables.

Water temperature

This begins with the right water temperature. This variable is easily controlled with the use of a digital kettle. The water temperature is also affected however if the teapots are cold, made of metal or subjected to cold drafts. Teapots should be preheated, as cold teapots take heat from the water, which will result in insufficient heat to expand the leaves and under-infusion. 

Amount of tea

The next variable is the amount of tea. The amount of tea and the grade of the tea will significantly affect the steep. More tea means more available tannin in the water, so the steep time is likely to be less. A 0.2gram reduction in the amount of tea (per 100ml) can reduce the required steep by as much as 15 seconds. Note that it is also difficult to achieve a precise measurement on the amount of tea being used based on a teaspoon measure. We recommend using accurate scales (to 0.1 grams). In busy commercial environments you can pre-weigh common tea varieties into small resealable bags.

Time

For this variable set a timer as directed on the packaging. When the timer sounds, remove the tea leaves from the pot along with the strainer and this will ensure that the entire pot is perfectly brewed. If the variables are not controlled, e.g. when the tea is served to the customer with the tea leaves in the teapot; consistency is impossible. The first cup poured is likely to be under infused and the second cup poured is likely to be over infused.

Remembering the Brew recipes

We recommend that you record your brew recipes on the underside of the tin lid that you are using to store the tea. E.g. For English breakfast, record 1.6grams of tea per 100mls of water, set at 95-degrees Celsius. Steep for 4.5 minutes. Note that the brew recipes are not fixed as the type of teaware used, the ambient temperature of the environment and the size of the tea pot will all influence the rate of infusion.

Storage 

Oxidisation is one of the biggest causes of diminishing tea quality. Oxidisation causes the tea to lose flavour, body and aroma. Use air-tight tea caddies and pre-weigh tea according to the appropriate portion for your tea pot into mini zip lock bags. This way each time the tea caddy is opened all of the tea will not be exposed to air and your tea will stay fresher for longer. Using large tins filled with tea results in more of the tea being exposed to air on a more frequent basis and stale the tea in a shorter time.

Use high quality brewing equipment

Poor quality presentation diminishes the customers level of perception and quality. 

Teapots

High quality aesthetically pleasing teawares (that are practical & functional) will present well and maximise the flavour that you are able to get from your tea. Poor quality tea pots (especially metal ones) conduct heat away from the pot and therefore cool down quickly. This causes the tea to be under infused and lack character and flavour. Ideally the teapot should have a large removable infuser basket to enable the leaves to be separated from the tea liquor at the optimum steep time. 

Teapot Maintenance

Do not scrub the teapot with abrasive pads or use any detergents, simply rinse it with water ONLY and wipe it dry after each use. By removing the leaves from the pot before serving you are unlikely to get a build up of tannins in the pot which would otherwise cause staining. 

Urns & digital kettles

To brew tea consistently well you will require brewing equipment that accurately controls the variables. You also require a system that enables fast service. We recommend using an urn for a back up water source (90degrees) and 1 or 2 digital kettles (set to 80 degrees and 95 degrees respectively). Kettles recommend include the “Cuisineart” and Brewista digital kettles

Digital timers and digital scales

These can be purchased from Somage. We use timers that flash or vibrate rather than beep so as to create a more relaxing environment for our guests. The best scales are jeweller scales with accuracy to 0.1 gram.  

Use high quality water

As tea is approximately 99% water, the quality of the water will have a direct effect on the flavour and body of the tea produced. The water should be filtered with no taint from calcified or rusty water lines or chemicals like chlorine. This is the best water to use for tea but we understand it is not always convenient or viable to obtain such water.  If you intend on using tap water, it is imperative that the water is filtered. Tap water contains a variety presence of chlorides, sulphates and phosphates that are neither good for health not tea quality. The only way to remove the dangerous chemicals such as fluoride and chloride from water in an efficient way is via reverse osmosis. However reverse osmosis also removes necessary minerals that provide body and help to carry the tannins in the tea. Our trials with reverse osmosis found that TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) of between 75 and 120 offered the best balance to teas, with the optimum range being between 90 and 105. It was found that water with a TDS of less than 70 made the tea become very dry and gnawing on the palate, whilst TDS of 120 and above became very heavy on the palate and minerality began to dominate the palate. As a minimum, a double housed water filter should be used which removes taste and odour from 10 micron down to 1 micron. Avoid using water from your coffee machine as this is constantly re-boiled (de-oxygenated) which can cause the tea to taste flat. It also has the possibility of being tainted with coffee or coffee machine cleaning agents. Removing large amounts of water from a coffee machine is also slow and may have a negative affect on your coffee the boiler temperature might be reduced by the significant inflow of cold water into the boiler. A final concern is that many coffee machines expel a lot of steam through the water tap that can scold the tea leaves if the water is directed form the machine directly over the tealeaves. 


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