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Hello, Tea Timers!

A Special Message to my Zora & Josephine Tea Timers:

I have a little confession.

In the not-too-distant past, I used to make tea–any tea– by boiling a pot of water and pouring it over some tea leaves. And at some point, I would drink it. I did this without any regard to tea type, steep time or taste. For years, this is all I understood about how to make tea. It wasn’t until my Goddaughter, upon me giving her some tea to sample when I opened my tea business, asked one of the world’s most important questions known to mankind, “Where are the instructions?” This brilliant child, who is also my best customer to date, was a walking game-changer. Admittedly, I am one of those people who more often than not find comfort in figuring things out without going through all of life’s little pesky instructions. But had I been depriving myself of experiencing this amazing beverage to the fullest?

The answer is “yes.”

The temperature of the water and the amount of time you allow the mixture to infuse the developing infusion is critical. In preparation for my tea sommelier certification, (yes, that is a thing) I had the distinct pleasure of tasting a number of teas that varied in origin, type, cut and process. Quickly into my studies, I learned that tea can only truly be properly enjoyed if brewed at the right temperature and steeped within a specified timeframe. Accordingly, if you fail to follow the instructions, you risk burning the tea, under or over producing it, destroying the taste or the mouthfeel and so on. So, the other game changer that quickly won my heart over was the temperature controlled electric tea kettle.

Folks, this is not your grandmother’s tea kettle. These little babies have multiple heat and brewing settings to make the perfect cup or pot of tea. Typically, the pots are controlled by buttons to brew black, green, herbal, oolong and white teas. You simply pour the desired amount of water into the kettle and press the button. Within a few short minutes, the recommended water temperature is produced, and you are ready for a delicious cup of tea.


I have another confession:

Up until a few years ago, I only used bagged teas at home. My association with loose-leaf tea was connected to my obsession with afternoon tea or high tea at a 5-star tea room.

I adored the fancy schmancy experience, coupled with the ceremonial table-side tea straining show the servers put on during each visit. Then, the star of the show (the tea) would take center stage, and for a moment in time, I was transported to a grander existence by tasting a delicious, aromatic tea. But you don’t have to leave your house for the perfect cup of tea. You can create the quiet luxury all on your own with the right tools. To get started, I’ve provided a reference guide to help you take your next sip to the next level.

But first, a brief word about “real” tea…

China is the birthplace of tea, though the celebrated drink has been enjoyed all over the world for centuries, with India also being a top producer. All “real” tea comes from the same plant: Camellia sinensis. But what gives each type of tea its unique essence is how it is produced. Like anything else in nature, tea is impacted by how we treat our planet. Crops vary from year to year as rain, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, irrigation, soil and climate change impact quantity, quality and taste. One final note before moving on: Herbal varieties such as chamomile, chai, peppermint, lavender and rooibos are actually herbal infusions or blends.

They are not real teas. I will explore these popular blends at a later date, but for the purpose of today’s “lesson,” only the six families of pure tea will be examined.

You’ve probably heard at least once in your life that green tea is good for the common cold. But did you know that green tea might improve cognition, mood, metabolism and brain function? Green tea is made when the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant are plucked, withered and cooked to prevent oxidation. Plenty of tea drinkers enjoy the hot drink with a few twists of lemon. Others turn it up a notch with honey or sugar. Some even try it with milk, though I don’t personally recommend this combination, as it is believed that milk weakens the tea’s many potent properties. To prepare the perfect cup, heat water to 170 degrees. Place approximately 1 teaspoon of tea in a tea infuser, and place the infuser in the teacup. Pour water over the green tea leaves, cover and steep for 2-3 minutes. After you’ve steeped the tea, you will notice a warm green color. Sweeten to taste or enjoy without any accoutrement.

Common Flavor Profile: grassy, vegetative, earthy

Though the infusion that’s most commonly experienced, once brewed, produces a reddish hue, “black tea” is made when the leaves are blackened during oxidation. To make a smooth cup of black tea, bring water to a boil, and pour it over a teaspoon of black tea. Cover. Be sure to steep for 3-5 minutes. Water typically boils right around 212 degrees, but the temperature controlled tea kettle has a "Boil" button. Remember this tip: “the longer the stronger.” If you are not looking for an incredibly intense brew, be sure to stop the steep right around minute 4. Black tea, or assam, is best enjoyed with milk and sweetener, but you can take it without either. The finished brew should appear dark reddish brown in color. Those looking to replace their morning java with a cup of tea should give black tea a try. The rich and robust flavor evokes a comparable flavor profile packed with complexity, aroma and strength.

Common Flavor Profile: malty, nutty, earthy

The tiny white hairs covering the young buds used to make white tea are exactly why we call the drink “white tea.” White tea is the least handled and processed of all the teas, and its low oxidation and naturally dried leaves make it the most delicate tea, requiring the least amount of heat and steep time. I recommend skipping sweeteners and creamers for this light beverage that tends to pack less caffeine than the other families. To prepare, heat water to 185 degrees. Allow your water to cool for 1-2 minutes before pouring over the white tea leaves, steeping for 2 minutes or 3 minutes max.

Common Flavor Profile: grassy, peachy, citrusy

Yellow tea is extremely rare, and even some of the most sophisticated tea drinkers will go their entire lives without ever having a cup of this uncommon find. Yellow tea is produced when warm and dried tea leaves experience post-oxidation after they are smothered by a cloth. This practice results in slightly yellowed leaves with a corresponding infusion. Due to the delicate nature of the leaves, water should not be heated to more than 175 degrees. Steep for 2-3 minutes. This mellow beverage should be consumed without additives, but if you must have a sweetener, try just a drop of maple syrup or honey.

Common Flavor Profile: floral, fruity, nutty

Oolong (Wulong) has a unique taste to match its unique name. Known for its anti-inflammatory, cancer-fighting attributes and packed with antioxidants, oolong is in a class by itself in preparation and processing. Water should be heated to right around 190 degrees. Let your water cool for a minute; then pour about a half a cup of water over the leaves, allowing the naked oolong to bathe in the water for 5 seconds before straining. Once you have dumped the bath water, pour a full cup of water over the rinsed leaves, steeping and covering for 3 minutes. Warning: If you add milk, you will likely ruin the essence of the tea. And whatever you do, do not steep for too long. Doing so will create a bitter taste, and you will miss out on the distinctive mouthfeel that makes this tea so exquisite.

Common Flavor Profile: fruity, woodsy, caramel

Pu Erh is a fermented tea that hails from the Chinese province of Yunnan. It comes raw, cooked or aged. Pu Erh is the wine and cheese of teas, as aficionados appreciate the subtleties of character achieved by a unique process quite different from any other tea. When brewed, and depending upon the type, the tea's appearance can range from a very light to a dark reddish hue. Many believe it’s good for the gut and good for the heart, and that over time, may help lower cholesterol and improve digestion. To make the perfect cup of pu erh tea, bring water to a boil (212 degrees), pour over tea leaves, cover and steep for about 2-3 minutes. I highly recommend you avoid using any sweeteners, creamers or other additives to fully appreciate this decadent brew. I am a purist, so I believe in trying pu erh for the very first time without any added flavors or blends to understand the complexity of this tea. Please note that profiles vary in raw, cooked or aged pu erh.

Common Flavor Profile: mushroomy, woodsy, herby

A well-made cup of tea can be transformative and magical. Done right, tea is truly the perfect potion. When brewed correctly, you are more likely to experience optimal flavonoids, flavor notes, antioxidants, medicinal properties and meditative qualities found in a beverage that possibly dates back to 2737 BCE. A quick heads up: Not all teas deliver the same experience, but there is something positively wondrous about the possibilities of tea and tea blends that when consumed daily, generally promote wellness and a healthy lifestyle. In general, a ratio of one teaspoon of loose leaf tea to 8 ounces of water is recommended. Before you get back to whatever it was you were doing, consider these tips to help you make that perfect cup:

  • Cover your tea during the steeping process.

  • Spring water is ideal, but minimally, filtered water is strongly recommended to optimize the benefits and overall taste of tea.

  • Avoid storing your tea near strong substances or flavors to avoid taste and character absorption.

  • Do not put dry/unused tea leaves in the refrigerator.

  • Keep your tea away from light, heat, moisture and oxygen.

  • Keep tea stored in opaque containers. Metal airtight, tins are ideal. All Zora & Josephine Tea Room teas come in tea tins.

  • Don’t be afraid to reuse a tea brew. Depending upon your desired strength, you might maximize your usage if you steep leaves more than once.

  • All additives should go in last.

  • Try homemade simple syrup or maple syrup rather than sugar from time to time.

  • Consider trying honey with black tea for a rich flavor experience.

Note: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

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