True Brew II

Child's "Tea Room"

GUEST: Little Girl

AB: Would you pour me some tea, please? I want to thank you for, uh, for inviting me to your tea party today.
LITTLE GIRL: You're welcome.
AB: Thank you. What kind of tea are we going to have today?
LG: Uh, ...
AB: Is that Earl Grey?
LG: Why is Earl grey? Is he sick?
AB: Is he sick? That's funny. Well I was hoping, maybe, for a first flush T.G.O.P. [sic] Darjeeling but you probably wouldn't know about that. Shall I serve?
LG: Okay.
AB: Splendid.

    Now, uh, this probably all looks like silly kid's stuff but, uh, truth is this is about as far as Americans get into serious tea drinking. For some reason we just never gotten hip to the fact that tea is the most popular beverage in the world second only to water. Maybe it's the, uh, mind-numbing nomenclature, the complexing paraphernalia, or tedious terminology. Either way, it's a shame because with a few basic truths, some decent tools and some good leaves, tea—either hot or cold—is definitely good eats.

AB: This is pretty good for imaginary. Can I have some more?
LG: Yeah  but, um, Bear called you, "goofy."
AB: Bear called me "goofy."

Elephant Tea: Atlanta, GA - 10:02 am

    Although this concept has seen some improvements over the last few years, if you really want to sample what tea has to offer, you're going to have to stow your baggage and learn to play it loose. Now for most Americans, venturing into a tea shop for the first time can be a little unsettling. But if you can ford the cross-cultural currents and side-step the enviable hills-of-hype, you'll find that tea is actually an incredibly simple thing, and getting a good cup of it is not rocket science. But you need to know some basics. For instance, there are three major style of tea: green tea, black tea, and oolong tea. But don't worry, they all come from the exact same bush.

  View Graph 

    [voice over] Meet Camellia sinensis, a cousin of our garden variety camellia which grows primarily in China, India, and Sri Lanka. The trees, which left to their own devices would climb to 60 feet, are pruned into a short flat shape called a 'plucking table'. This makes it possible to pick the two top leaves and the tip-top leaf bud which are the only leaves the processor is concerned with. Properly maintained, a tea garden can be harvested or 'flushed' many times a year, though no leaves are as desirable as those from the 'first flush'. So, how can all of these teas come from one plant?

Tazo Tea

    Varying degrees of human tinkering, of course. And there's no better place than to witness tenacious tea tinkering than here, at Tazo Tea in Portland, Oregon. This room contains some of the finest teas on planet earth. Where to start? Well, most people in the U.K. and here in America, when we think about tea, the tea we're really thinking of is 'black tea' like say, uh, this one from the Assam Valley in India. Let's crack it open. Uuuh. [lifts box of tea to floor]
    Now, the Assam Valley is one of the most famous tea growing regions of the world and it was one of the first areas where the British started to cultivate tea immediately following the opium wars, but we'll get into that later. Now of course, the leaves don't start out black like this. First they're picked and then withered or dried for 12 to 24 hours. Well, here. See for yourself.

  View Graph 

    [voice over] The withering process reduces moisture so that the leaves can then be rolled. Now rolling is either done by hand or machine and it lightly crushes the leaves exposing compounds inside to oxygen thus setting off a series of chemical reactions. Now when the desired level of oxidation is reached, the process is halted with a blast of hot air. The leaves are then sorted and crated up. Now this entire process creates a chemical complexity that is revealed in the cup.

Tasting Room
Tazo Tea: Portland, OR - 2:19 pm

GUEST: Andrew Mack, Owner Elephant Tea

    In fact, the very best black teas brew up liquors of such robustness that they, uh, bear comparison to even fine red wines. As soon as the Tea Master is satisfied with the level of oxidation, he gives the leaves a shot of heat shutting down the enzymatic action. Then the leaves are dried and crated up.

Black Tea

    Now number two of the big tea three: oolong. Very popular in Formosa, parts of China and my house. Now as you can tell by the lighter color, oolong teas are only partially oxidized, okay? And they don't create as a pungent a brew as black tea but they more than make up for this with kind of a smoky complexity. In fact, the best ones remind me of, well, really good scotch.

Oolong Tea

    Number three: green tea. Now green teas are different because they are either pan-fried or steamed immediately after withering so that there is no oxidation at all. Which is why they're still green. Then the leaves are either crushed, flattened like these, or rolled into different shapes before they are finally dried and shipped off. Now green tea creates a very aromatic type of brew much loved for medicinal properties. Next up, grading.

Green Tea

    After processing, black, oolong and some green teas are graded by size. They are simply passed through a set progressively smaller mesh screens. Okay. Now about 200 years ago, a guy named Sir Thomas Lipton decided that the tea grades needed to be standardized and named. So he came up with a system for doing just that. Now I've spent a good bit of time pondering his nomenclature and I've got to tell ya. I think that the old boy spent a little too much time in the hot Sri Lankan sun because it doesn't make any sense. But it is still in use, so here it goes.

    Starting at the bottom [of the smallest mesh screens] we've got 'dust'. Now some teas companies will put this inside their tea bags. Good tea companies, like Tazo, don't. [blows it away]


    Fannings: these are large pieces. Because of their large surface area, these are the ideal thing to go inside tea bags because they infuse very, very quickly. And this is okay as long as the tea's of high quality to begin with.


    Next up we have a grade that's called B.O.P.—that means Broken Orange Pekoe—basically just larger pieces of broken leaves.

Broken Orange Pekoe

    Then after that we've got O.P., or Orange Pekoe, and these are completely whole leaves. Now in this case, 'orange' does not refer to color. It doesn't refer to flavor or aroma. See what I mean? [taps head] Too much time in the sun.

Orange Pekoe

    Now there are a whole lot of other grades you could throw on top of this. But unless you're intending on blending tea or becoming an importer, you really don't have to know them. But if you are going to get into brewing loose leaf teas—and I hope that you will—what you do need to know is to buy O.P., Orange Pekoe teas, okay?

    Now after you've brewed up these for awhile, you can move up to, say, T.O.P, or G.T.O.P. or S.G.T.O.P., uh, you get the point. Just remember, the more initials there are in the grade, the more you're going to pay for the tea.

Tippy Orange Pekoe

Special Golden Tippy Orange

    Until you get your tea legs take a cue from the wine world and stick with big, reliable names. Black teas from Darjeeling and Assam here in India will never let you down. Neither will those from Sri Lanka, which is still called Ceylon in the tea trade, and Keemun here in China. Now when it comes to oolongs, always look to Taiwan. And for green teas, well just about anywhere in China. Now Japan also makes excellent green teas although they're a little bit more subtle than the Chinese versions. Then of course there are blends such as Irish and English breakfast teas and, of course, Earl Grey which may be named for an Englishman but is actually composed of black India tea leaves which have been tumbled with a peel of a bitter Mediterranean fruit called, bergamot.

Earl Grey 3.75

    Now the real key to wise tea selection comes down to wise tea shop selection. Only frequent shops where you see the tea in tins like this. And of course you always want the shop keeper to be able to answer complicated questions like, uh, ...

AB: ... Andy, when was this Empress of China harvested?
ANDREW MACK: That was in the late fall.
AB: Okay, when will you be getting more?
AM: Early spring.
AB: Well, why spring sometimes and fall sometimes?
AM: They actually have two distinct harvests.
AB: Two distinct harvests.

    That's the kind of thing I'm talking about.

AB: Thanks.

Who drinks the most tea? The average Irishman consumes 4 cups a day.

  View Graph 

    [voice over] Meet Shen Nong, Chinese emperor and the mythological father of tea. Word has it that Emperor Shen was boiling some water in his garden one day in 2737 BC when some leaves from a wild bush fell into the pot. He decided to give the brew a taste and found himself mysteriously revitalized.

The Kitchen

    Like coffee, tea doesn't appreciate the company of heat, light, air, or moisture until its brewing time. That's why fine teas have traditionally been sold and stored in little airtight tins like this. In fact, a lot of American merchants have gone to generic tins so that you can buy in bulk and still keep it properly stored. Now unlike coffee which starts to go stale the second it leaves the roaster, tea actually has an amazing shelf life. If properly contained, you can actually keep it in here for up to two years without a discernable loss of flavor. And tea bags are another matter all together. You see, because the pieces in there are so small, they've got a greater surface area so they go stale faster. Properly stored, you're only going to get five months out of that.
    Now that you've secured quality leaves, it is up to you to fulfill their potential and that begins with water. Now there are over 500 individual chemical compounds in tea. And if you want to taste the right ones, you're going to have to use H2O with plenty of O2in it. That's right, oxygen is what does the job. And anybody that's ever had a fish bowl go bad on them knows that if water just sits around, it looses its O2, so you're going to have to use freshly drawn water. Now if your tap water tastes good, go for it. But if you use filter, you must draw off a fresh batch. Now once you have secured the proper H2O, you're going to need something to boil it in.
    A kettle for instance. You don't have one of these? Well, that's okay. [pours water in a beaker] The microwave is a good choice, too. Just be sure to use a microwave-safe measuring cup, bowl, vessel of some type with a wooden skewer or chopstick placed inside. See, in order for water to actually boil, there's got to be a niche, a scratch, an imperfection, somewhere on the inner surface of the container so the bubbles can form. If the container is super-smooth and the microwave super-strong, the water could super-heat without actually boiling. Then you reach in for the container, you give it a jiggle, and ka-boosh, it boils explosively ... as in all over you. The skewer or chop stick gives the bubbles a place to grow thus diffusing the situation. Now besides the boiling vessel we are going to need a pot.
    Now I'm the first to admit I've kind of got a thing for tea pots. Not silver or china, mind you—though I don't have anything against them—but boy, I really dig the cast iron pots of Japan. Why? Well, they're cast iron. They get hot, they stay hot which is good for the tea. Plus, well look at them. They're cool. Of course, cool isn't always a good thing. That's because heat always moves towards cold. It's thermodynamics. If you don't preheat your pot—and I don't mean just this pot but any pot, it could be silver, china, anything—it is going to steal heat from the leaves and that will leave you with a tepid, watery brew. End of story. So, just slosh it until you feel the heat come through the outside of the vessel. Won't take but a couple of minutes. Oh, and be sure to throw this [water] out before you add the tea.
    This is a [measuring] teaspoon. It's called a 'teaspoon' because it holds a teaspoon. This [utensil] is called a 'teaspoon'. Not because it holds one of these [measuring teaspoons], but because the English figured out that a vessel of this general shape and size holds just the right number of leaves to produce a proper cup of tea. Now I've spoken to a few experts who argue that this device can not compensate for leaf size and should therefore be replaced with a digital scale capable of measuring grams. Now I am all for weights and measures, but come on. Grams? I want to make tea, not TNT. I'm going to stick with this [utensil teaspoon]. It's a lot more practical.
    Now what I do is one teaspoon per cup. I just scoop and whatever, uh, hangs on the spoon, hangs on the spoon. That goes right into the p ... Uh. I know they mean well, but you always run into these things [small wire meshes for straining the tea]. And truth are, they're just not good for much because they don't give the leaves room to grow. Now I keep them around because you can always use it to, like, hold herbs into a broth or, heck, you might need a new cage for your pet cricket. But for tea leaves, it's just not enough room. They've got to have room to bloom. So this [spoon of tea leaves] is going to go straight into the warm tea pot. Now I'm going to make two cups, so I'm going to go with two spoonfuls. Now the water.

    Since black teas including our Ceylon and blends like Earl Grey, Irish Breakfast tea, and English Breakfast tea prefer to bloom at a full, whistling boil, the adage is to "bring the pot to the kettle."

Earl Grey
Irish Breakfast
English Breakfast
brew at 212°F

    Now oolong and green teas prefer to bathe at 200 and 180 respectively so the rule is to "walk the kettle to the pot" which, I guess, gives it time to cool down.

Oolong - 200°F
Green -180°F

    Now when tea people talk 'cups', they don't mean [measuring] cups. The mean [tea] cups. And this cup holds 5 1/2 to 6 ounces of water. So for two cups I'm going to need about 12 ounces plus 1 for the leaves to hold on to.

1 tea cup = 5½ - 6 oz.

    Now how can you be sure to get exactly the right amount? Well, I've devised this custom measuring device [wooden skewer] which has been calibrated [lines on the skewer] for single, double, and triple servings. Now always pour onto the leaves never the other way around. I'm just going to pour right up to the hash mark. There.

    Now there's nothing to do but wait. How long? Black teas, generally 3 to 5 minutes. Oolongs 4 to 7. Greens 2 to 3 minutes. Seem like a lot of trouble to go through for a simple cup of tea? Maybe. But the way we see it the simpler the thing is, the more reason to do it right.

Black 3-5 mins.
Oolong 4-7 mins.
Green 2-3 mins.

Although the most famous "tea party" was held in Boston Harbor,
colonists in Charleston went one better.
Instead of dumping the tea, they sold it.

    Hard to believe that our original two teaspoons bloomed into this giant, wet, shaggy mass of leaves. This is why you've got to give them room to grow in the pot. Now as far as additions go, I'm not too big on sweeteners in my tea. But milk would be very nice, thank you. But you've got to add it to the cup before you add the tea not the other way around as you would with coffee. Now as far as oolong and green teas go, they're better straight up—subtle nuances, you know.
    Now believe it or not, there's also a right way to taste tea. That's because like wine they are a lot of chemical compounds and human anatomy involved. Now when professional tasters go to work, it looks and sounds like this. [slurps]

Thomas Twinings opened the first tea shop in London in 1717.

  View Graph 

    [voice over] The concept of 'afternoon tea' is credited to one
Duchess of Bedford who, in 1840, began having snacks at 4 pm
in order to stave off what she called, "that sinking feeling."

The Kitchen

    Today, 80 percent of the tea drunk in the U.S. is drunk on ice. And yet there's more to making a perfect pot than throwing ice in tea. Start by brewing up a concentrated batch of hot tea infusing a full ounce of loose black leaves in a quart of boiling water. Let this steep for about 4 to 5 minutes. Now since cold masks subtle flavors, go with a good tea but not a great tea. It would be wasted.

1 oz. black tea

1 qt. boiling H2O

    When the time's up, strain into a pitcher large enough to hold at least 2 quarts of liquid. Now once this is thoroughly strained through, we're going to add another quart of water, room temperature water. Why? Well if we'd just brewed with boiling water to begin with, we'd have a bunch of hot tea, it would have a long time to cool down enough to drink. If we were to add cold water, that would be even worse because boiling water extracts a lot of compounds from these leaves. Any sudden drop in temperature could force those solids out of solution and we'd end up with cloudy tea ... and nobody wants to drink cloudy tea.

  View Graph 

    [voice over] The year was 1904. The place, the St. Louis World's Fair. Among the many booths was that of Richard Blechynden, an English promoter who had been hired by a group of Indian tea growers to get the fair goers tea-ed up. Problem was, there were no takers. It was just too darn hot that summer. Finally in an act of inspired desperation, Blechynden poured his tea over ice. America would never be the same again.

The Kitchen

    Although it is possible to find high quality tea bags these days, truth is most if not all supermarket brands contain dust and fannings which when faced with boiling water expel a bitter brew indeed. Of course if you've got to brew with these devices, do yourself a favor, don't let the water boil.

    Here's the best way. Five standard tea bags into a quart of freshly drawn water in a microwave safe container. Now just top with a plate, which will keep the heat in and also keep the little tags on the side dry, and into a microwave oven. Now cook this on high for 8 minutes.

5 standard tea bags

1 qt. fresh H2O

Microwave powers vary. Remove brew if water shows signs of simmering.

    When it's done, carefully remove back to the counter. Now carefully remove the plate and take its temperature. What we're looking for here is at least 180 and no more than a 190 degrees. We'll definitely buy that. That's hot enough to extract the best of the flavor but cool enough to leave the bad stuff in the bag. So, recover and leave it to steep. How long? Well, that depends.

180° - 190° is optimum


2 mins. for mild
3 mins. for medium
4 mins. for strong
5 mins. for bitter

    Oh, and no wringin' out the bags.

The Kitchen

    Of course it just wouldn't be right to talk about iced tea without talking about sweeteners. Now down here in the South, folks like to sweeten an entire batch. I think sweet is kind of an objective thing so I leave it up to the individual drinker. Of course science really isn't on our side here, since sugar doesn't dissolve very well in cold liquids. It just sits on the bottom. You stir and stir and stir and it still just sits there on the bottom.

    The answer is a simple syrup. Just combine five cups of sugar and three cups of cold water in a small, non-reactive pan and bring it to a boil slowly over medium heat stirring every now and then. Then just cool it to room temperature, seal, and refrigerate for up to a month or freeze for up to a year.

5 cups sugar
3 cups H2O

    Of course if you really want to wow them add 6 lemons, sliced, and a few sprigs of fresh mint. Bring it slowly to a boil, then take it off and let it steep for 10 minutes before straining. Now that leaves you with a great glass of what my grandmother calls sweet tea. Of course you could use honey, too, but that's another show.

6 lemons, sliced
fresh mint

"Clipper" ships were designed as a way to get
the first tea of the season to London faster.

The Child's "Tea Room" with Doctor Bears

    Tea doesn't contain as much caffeine as coffee, but it does contain polyphenols. And poly-phenols help what caffeine is in tea absorb slowly into the system which is why tea drinkers get a longer lasting but gentler lift, if you get my meaning.
    Now unlike coffee, tea has been much lauded by the medical community which is well represented here today. For instance, five out of the five dentists who recommend tea to their patients who drink tea have been thrilled by the fact that green tea in particular contains huge amounts of fluoride. Cancer researchers have been very impressed by the fact that animals who have been drinking black and green tea suffer fewer skin tumors, esophageal tumors, ...

AB: ... and what was that other tumor?br> LG: Uh ...
AB: Yeah, something inside. I don't remember either.

    Then, of course, the heart surgeons have been doing a lot of research, too, and have found that tea may actually be good for the ticker.
    So, there you have it. A properly brewed pot or pitcher of tea is contemplative, delicious, social and darn good for you. And on top of that, it's really good eats.

AB: What do you think? Puppies?
LG: [holds up doll which AB listens to with stethoscope]
AB: Ah, give her some tea. Everything's going to be fine. Want some more? [sips some 'fake' tea] Ah, it is good.

Proof Reading help from Jon Loonin and John Burtner

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010