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What do you need to make a perfect cup of tea? It is simple just five things
This is definitely a topic we are very passionate about. We understand that a tea bag is convenient and you just have to take hot water in a cup and dip in a tea bag! However, it all boils down to the quality of tea in the tea bag. Another way to think about it is, if you were a self proclaimed coffee connoisseur, would you prefer instant coffee over freshly ground coffee beans? The answer is no, never!
To better understand the quality of tea we should discuss the grades of tea leaves. There are 4 grades of tea leaves- whole leaf, brokens, fannings and tea dust. Whole leaves are of the most superior grade while fannings and tea dust are the lowest grades of tea and are often used in tea bags. Tea dust could potentially be swept off the floor in a tea processing unit and then put in tea bags!
We would also like to mention the pyramid tea bag. It was designed to hold more volume of tea leaves allowing for higher quality leaves to be used. Despite the added volume of tea leaves in pyramid bags, the whole leaf tea still does not have space to completely unfurl and the manufacturer might need to use broken leaves instead. Broken leaves are almost always associated with a harsher and more astringent cup as compared to the aromatic whole leaf teas.
Another problem with tea bags is that they do not give a uniform cup and you will definitely notice that the water around the tea bag has more flavor than the water which is away from it.
At Herbs and Kettles, we sell only the highest quality and most premium whole leaf teas. Whole leaf teas can be composed of the most tender buds only, a single or two leaves and a bud, or whole leaves alone with few or no buds. We work with the best tea growers and producers in each tea growing region of India, and source only the best whole-leaf teas for a particular season.
So why such an emphasis on whole leaf teas? Whole-leaf teas are able to preserve the flavor and nutrients of the Camellia sinensis plant. Whole leaf teas give a soft, well rounded, aromatic and flavorful cup which is very enjoyable and also extremely healthy. There is no need to add milk or milk substitute to mask the bitterness, harshness or astringency of the tea as you would do with brokens, fannings, tea dust and crush tear, curl (CTC). If your purpose of drinking tea is for its health and antioxidant benefits, then we definitely recommend drinking a high quality whole leaf tea. While steeping a whole leaf tea, you will see that when the leaves unfurl and expand they take up a lot more volume than when they were dry and packaged. Whole leaf teas have a smaller surface area as compared to broken leaves, so on steeping, whole leaf teas have a more controlled release of aromas, flavors, nutrients and caffeine. This will not only give you an extremely aromatic, flavorful and uniform cup but also a very nutritious cup rich in minerals and antioxidants that are good for your body. In addition to being more flavorful, whole leaf teas are easier to steep, strain and overall less messy to handle than broken leaf teas.
The additional perk of using high quality whole leaf tea is that tea can be steeped multiple times per serving. Whole leaf teas give a very unique experience. Just like a good wine which tastes slightly different with each pour in spite of being from the same bottle, each infusion from the same serving of tea, has slightly different aromas and flavor notes. This truly does make each tea special and very interesting.
So what does all this mean for you, dear friend? It's simple! A high quality whole leaf tea will make your tea experience an adventurous and extremely enjoyable journey. You might be intimidated by whole leaf teas but our handcrafted teaware
will definitely guide you initially and you will soon realize how easy steeping whole leaf teas really is.
Now that you understand the importance of high quality loose leaf in particular whole leaf teas, experience some of our regional Indian teas to savor and better understand what are really high quality teas. At Herbs and Kettles we collaborate with the most premium tea growers and procure the most exclusive small batch rare whole leaf teas for your enjoyment.
Steeping tea is no easy feat. The type of water you use, the water temperature, and how long you steep the tea (steeping time) all play essential roles in developing the best flavors from your tea. One of tea’s strengths is that a range of flavors and aromas can be extracted from the same leaf using different steeping parameters. This is exciting for those who wish to experiment, but can be very daunting for a beginner who just wants a good cup of tea.
Type of water: Spring water or Filtered water are the winners!
We suggest using spring water or filtered water for steeping your tea. Spring water is mineral-rich and found to be the most ideal as the minerals help form the base of the tea. Tap water is not suitable as it often has a metallic taste. Filtered water is better than tap water as it does not contain the distracting metallic taste and is still rich in minerals. Distilled water which is devoid of minerals, produces a very flat tea.
Also, we strongly recommend that you use fresh water every time. Do not shake or open your kettle to check if there is water still in it and reheat that previously boiled and stale water! It has lost its oxygen and will lead to a rather flat cup of tea.
Temperature of Water
Each type of tea leaf has an ideal water temperature range to be used in steeping. The appropriate steeping temperature is essential or otherwise, there can be under or over extraction of polyphenols, aromatic oils and amino acid (theanine). If the water is too cool, there may not be sufficient extraction of polyphenols and aromatic oils and this can result in a cup of tea that is light and not very flavorful. If you use water that is boiling and too hot, it does not necessarily scorch the leaves, but it induces a faster extraction of polyphenols and aromatic oils some of which can be very bitter. Generally, for most teas the water should be below boiling. If the water reaches a full boil, then you can wait for a few minutes until it is cooled to the correct temperature.
Chinese and Japanese cultures have adopted their own methods of heating water to the correct temperature. In a commonly used Japanese method, we assume that each time you pour water from one vessel to another, the temperature of the water drops by about 10°C. So pouring water from a boiling kettle 212°F (100°C) into the first vessel will decrease the temperature to 195°F (90°C), and then into a second vessel will reduce the temperature to 175°F (80°C) which is appropriate for Japanese green teas. The Chinese use the “eye” method. When you first start boiling water, the initial set of bubbles that form are very tiny. They are called “shrimp eyes” which means the water temperature is about 160°F (70°C) which is ideal for steeping very delicate Japanese teas. When you see wisps of steam and slightly larger bubbles called “crab eyes”, it means the water temperature is about 175°F (80°C) which is ideal for steeping our green teas, white teas and yellow teas. When the steam you see is stronger and the bubbles are now the size of a pearl they are called “fish eyes”. It means the water temperature is about 185°F (85°C) which is ideal for steeping our oolongs. When a steady stream of bubbles form at the top which looks like a “rope of pearls”, it means the water temperature is about 200-205°F which is ideal to steep our black teas. When water reaches a “rolling boil” it means the water temperature is about 212°F (100°C) which is good for making our chais and herbal teas.
We recommend buying a digital thermometer in order to help ease the anguish of trying to get the right temperature. For artful and easy tea, we advise that you invest in a temperature controllable kettle.
Just like with water temperature, under steeping will not give enough time to release the flavors and aroma of the tea and will result in a weak cup. Oversteeping, in turn, can cause the tea to become astringent and harsh. Over time as you get into steeping loose leaf and whole leaf teas we recommend you learn to “read the leaves”. Your experience, the color of the tea liquor and the wet leaves will help determine how long each tea needs to be steeped and also how you like your tea!
We made this simple tea guide as a little sheet to help start off your steeping practice. You can definitely adjust things accordingly to your personal taste and preference. We recommend starting the first infusion with a shorter steeping time and adjusting your steeping time accordingly based on the color of the liquor and aromas and flavors. Resteeping times vary based on the type of tea and so after the first steep, we suggest you read the leaves. If the leaves are wet and look as if they are ready to give a burst of flavor a shorter steeping time than the first infusion might be needed.
Amount 2.5 g per 4-5 fl-oz (1/2- 2/3rd cup 120-150 ml)
165°F - 185°F
175°F - 185°F
2 - 3 min
175°F - 185°F
2 - 3 min
195°F - 210°F (90°C - 100°C)
195°F - 205°F without milk
1 - 3 min
195°F - 210°F (90°C - 100°C)
195°F - 205°F without milk
1 - 2 min
205°F - 210°F
2 - 3 min
185°F - 210°F
160°F - 165°F
*Read the tea leaves : Based on the type of tea and how the tea leaves look, one might have to increase or decrease steeping time and re-steeping time. This is also dependent on how you like your cup of tea.
So what does this mean for you dear friend? To truly enjoy the flavors of a particular tea, a balance of polyphenols, amino acids, and aromatic compounds is necessary in your cup. Paying attention to quality of water, water temperatures and steeping time will help achieve this balance.
Try our premium green teas H&K green tea which are rich in catechins, a highly desirable, albeit bitter polyphenol. A better mouthfeel and flavor profile in green teas is achievable by lowering the water temperature to 170°F-180°F . This will allow the release of catechins and aromatic oils in a more controlled way leading to less bitterness in your cup. Compare this with our high quality black tea H&K black tea. To better appreciate their unique mouthfeel and flavors, you need to enhance the release of the polyphenols (thearubigins) and aromatic oils by using near boiling water 195°F-205°F. This will help develop its muscatel-wine like mouthfeel and its sweet, fruity and woody flavors that are so cherished.
The process of steeping tea entails the extraction of water soluble minerals and flavors from the tea leaf. Preparing tea is a good example of a simple process that can be made very complicated and has been discussed and written about since ages. Differences in steeping techniques change the mouthfeel and flavors of the tea. However, eventually it is up to you, your overall steeping preferences and how you enjoy a particular tea.
There are basically two schools of tea steeping, the Gongfu style and the Western style. There are some other variations like Grandpa style which we will also discuss here. The two schools differ primarily in the leaf:water ratio and the steeping time.
The Gongfu style uses a much higher leaf: water ratio, therefore, the steeping times are much shorter, each serving can be steeped multiple times and so multiple cups of tea can be enjoyed. We notice that through the use of Gongfu style, you can really appreciate the textures and the different innate aromas and flavors of tea as no two infusions taste the same. Some flavor notes come forward in the earlier infusions and then fall back while giving way to different flavors. The drawback of the Gongfu style is that sometimes if not enough tea is used, the infusion can be rather “weak” in both mouthfeel and flavors. On the flip side, as the steeping times are so short, even if too much tea is used by accident, the infusions are most often still lovely without any harshness or bitterness. We feel the biggest drawback of Gongfu style is that as a larger amount of tea is used, it can definitely be more expensive than Western style.
The Western style uses a smaller amount of tea as compared to water and so has a lower leaf: water ratio. You usually use 2.5 g in 4-5 fl-oz (120-150 ml or 1/ 2 to 2/ 3 cup) of water. The steeping times are longer, and each serving is re-steeped fewer times. With western style as the tea is steeped for longer, you are able to sometimes better appreciate how the natural flavors interplay and mingle with each other as compared to Gongfu style where different flavors can be extracted at different times during the steeping process. When you wish only for a few cups of tea, we would recommend the Western style. The Western style can often lead to oversteeping, and so you definitely need to be careful. Due to the longer release of tannins, the tea can be harsh and potentially bitter.
Interestingly, when tea is being steeped by tea growers or for a competition or auction, irrespective of the type of tea, all teas are steeped with water that is at full boil for a steeping time of 5 minutes. Their palate is used to the bitterness and they are still able to tease out flavors while looking for a balanced cup. We have tried doing so and have found that this is not how we would like to drink our tea for leisure! We definitely recommend shorter steeping times!
We have found that when we are writing about a particular tea and its description, we often try both methods of steeping. Gongfu for the texture, aromas and flavors and western style for the overall experience. When drinking for leisure, the method of steeping is almost always dependent on time and company. If we are short on time or alone (often in the mornings), we prefer the Western style. When we are drinking tea without being pressed for time, and have company (often in the evenings), we prefer the Gongfu style.
Also, we have found that different teas provide different results based on the type of tea. Good quality whole leaf black or whole leaf oolong teas are lovely when steeping in Gongfu style, while broken leaf teas may be better in Western style. We think steeping white or green teas can go either way based on your preferences.
To complete the different steeping methods, we wanted to mention Grandpa style. It is very simple and casual and all you need for Grandpa style steeping is a large mug, tea leaves and hot water. There is no need for a strainer either! Not much attention is paid to the leaf:water ratio or even the steeping time. You might be surprised to hear that most people, even in China, drink their tea Grandpa style. The advantage of this method is that it is very convenient in terms of preparation and definitely easy when you are traveling. However, as the leaf:water ratio, water temperature and steeping times are not controlled so as to optimize results, the taste and flavors of the tea might be rather unpredictable! Also, not all types of teas are suited for the Grandpa style of steeping.
Below are the detailed steeping methods:
Number of steeps: many
Tea - 5 gms
Water - We recommend approximate 10-20 ml of water per 1 gm of tea. So 3.5 oz (100 ml of water) for 5 gms of tea. Temperature based on the type of tea.
Steeping Time - After a brief 10 second rinse, steep the tea for 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, 45s, and then maybe a minute each time until the tea has lost its flavor.
Number of steeps: few
Tea - 2.5 gms (use a digital scale)
Water - Quantity 4-5 fl-oz (1/2 - 2/3rd or 120-150 ml), Temperature based on the type of tea.. Heat water in a kettle until it starts to bubble and then let it cool to the desired temperature required for steeping that type of tea. Use mineral rich water or filtered water.
Steeping Time - 1-3 minutes for first steep, based on type of tea
Resteeping can be shorter or longer based on type of tea, and initial color of tea liquor and aromas/flavors.
Simple, casual method of preparing tea and might be a go to when traveling.
Tea - There is no specific amount or leaf:water ratio. You can figure out what you prefer along the way and can definitely add more tea and water if needed!
Water - There is no specific quantity of water or water temperature. Usually hot water somewhere around 175-212°F (70-100°C) is used. If the tea is a black tea or a herbal blend, use boiling water, and if it is less oxidized like green tea or white tea then you can lower the water temperature.
Steeping Time - This is also not controlled and can even be 5-10 minutes. Drink the infusion while the tea leaves are still in the mug. You can add water again (and more dried tea leaves if you prefer) and repeat steeping until the tea has lost its flavor.
So what does all this mean for you, dear friend? It's simple! You are the editor of your tea journey, and can decide what steeping method you most enjoy. You can also continue to experiment with the different methods and variations, until you decide what works best for you and the tea that you are drinking.
Now you know about the different ways to steep your tea, experience some of our high quality, premium loose leaf teas and decide for yourself the steeping method you prefer.
Chai is enjoyed every day (sometimes twice a day) in every Indian household and so we grew up always having a strainer. A strainer is essential when you are making chai the real Indian way. Interestingly a strainer can also be your first tool while you are getting into loose leaf tea. You can easily buy a plain aluminum strainer online. As we believe in cultural sustainability here at Herbs and Kettles, we bring you lovely brass handcrafted artisanal strainers from India. Hope you enjoy using them as much as we do!
Check out our artisanal pottery and learn how kulhad cups are part of drinking chai in India. The terracotta clay imparts its own earthy flavors to chai, making it even more special. Our kulhad cups are unique and created by the last potter of a village in Gujarat, Mr. Abdul Ibraham. Using natural clay from the desert near his village and paint made from natural stones he creates beautiful kulhad glasses that are similar to the pottery created during the time of the Indus Valley civilization.
For a big cuppa of chai, check out Adil Writer’s mugs with chai written on them in English and Hindi. They are definitely a fun way to start your day. Our handcrafted tisaniere with a basket strainer again by Adil Writer from Mandala Pottery, is also an easy way to steep loose leaf tea as you can just take our the basket when your tea has finished steeping and resteeping is super easy too!
A tea pot which has a basket/infuser or an inbuilt strainer is also a great option. Make sure it is small and for 1-2 cups at the most. We have collaborated with master potter Adil Writer from Auroville, Pondicherry to bring lovely artisanal teapots Kyusu and Ripple Teapots for you. Hope you enjoy using them as much as we do.
We absolutely love gaiwans for whole leaf steeping and use it for western style and gongfu style steeping methods. They are definitely our go to. A gaiwan is simple yet very elegant. It's easy to read the tea leaves (to visualize and smell) and even manipulate them if needed.
Gaiwans are amazingly functional! You can achieve a precise steeping time as they allow an almost instant pour. Also, although initially it might be a bit of a struggle, as you use your gaiwan more often and become an expert, you will see that you can pour the tea very easily from the gaiwan into your fair cup or drinking cup without the need of a strainer. We have found that using a strainer, especially for white teas can alter the mouthfeel and texture of the tea.
So what does all this mean for you, dear friend? The right type of teaware can change your experience and enjoyment of loose leaf tea. If you are not ready to invest, a strainer will do the trick. However, if you want to take your tea journey further, definitely invest in the correct teaware.
You are the lead player of your tea drinking experience. You should prepare your tea the way you like it and to your enjoyment. It might be different from how we enjoy our tea or how your friend enjoys it and that is fine. During your tea journey you will find that there is a lot to learn, tea is very fluid and that it is hard to categorize. There are a lot of unanswered questions, and this can sometimes be frustrating. Just carry on with the flow, you may find an answer or learn to just enjoy the unknown, knowing that the experience is what is most meaningful. Here are a few tricks that we would like to share- by adjusting the amount of leaves, the water temperature and the steeping time you can always get the aromas and flavors of the tea to just where you want it. Enjoy the tea drinking experience, see what it means to you and how you can most benefit from this full body tonic that is so nourishing to the mind, body and soul.
Chaiwala’s Tips for Steeping Indian Loose Leaf Tea