Once you have a source of nice fresh drinking water, you should choose your tea. In general, loose tea is recommended over tea bags, although the tea in tea bags has been improved in quality over the last few years, and there are some companies who sell very high-quality tea bags. Traditionally, however, tea bags contain tiny bits of tea leaves, which infuse much quicker than whole tea leaves, but also get bitter much quicker. To make the best pot of tea, the tea leaves should be whole, and given plenty of room to swell when the water is added. You can put the tea leaves directly into the teapot, where they will have plenty of room, but then they need to be removed from the teapot when the tea is ready, or they will grow bitter, and this is why people like tea bags — convenience.
For ease in removing the tea leaves, you can use a tea ball, wire mesh strainer, or one of my favorite tea accessories, disposable sheer bags. Made out of coffee filter paper or a very fine cloth mesh, they are intended for holding herbs in a pot of broth, and are available in the grocery stores in San Jose’s Japantown, or you can get a similar product, called “T-sacs”, in many regular grocery stores. Whether you use a tea ball or T-sac to contain your tea leaves, only fill it about 1/3 full, to make sure the tea has enough room to swell and release its flavor.
Next, the tea pot or brewing container: tea absorbs other flavors really well, so you should steep your tea in something that won’t transfer its scent or flavor to the tea; traditionally, glazed pottery has been the favored material, but a tempered glass bowl will do the job, too. You can transfer the tea to your preferred container for serving, once it’s made.
When the tea pot or container is heated through, and the water is boiling, take the pot to the sink, pour out the hot water, and place in the tea pot one spoonful of loose tea for each cup of water that you’ll be using to brew the tea, plus an extra spoonful “for the pot.” If using a tea ball or T-sac, measure the tea into that first, and then close and place it into the warmed pot. Immediately after adding the tea, bring the tea pot to the kettle on the stove, pour the boiling water into the pot, put the lid on, and let it steep for 3 to 5 minutes. When ready to serve, remove the tea ball or T-sac from the pot, or pour the tea through the strainer into another serving container, or directly into the cups. You are ready to enjoy your tea!
Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach.