Tea is the most popular beverage in the world. Ireland has the highest consumption per capita followed closely by the United Kingdom, Russia, Taiwan, China, Japan, and Morroco.
Taiwanese tea, due to the islands unique topography, climate and infusion of Japanese and Chinese settlers, who between them possess several thousand years of tea expertise, is known for producing some of the best teas in the world.
Some of the tea gardens are no bigger than 2-3 acres and are perched precariously above steep mountainous ravines. The tea shrubs are highly valuable, and some are over 100 years old. The resultant harvest and small-scale production of tea is treated with reverence; as is the art of turning the dried leaves of the camellia sinensis into a delicious cup of tea. It should be noted that tea is one of the most famous of the Chinese medicines and different teas are used to alter different states of health.
Light oolongs, for example, are used to stimulate clarity of thought and are popular is popular in the mornings. Dark teas such as red jade are known to aid digestion and are often served with the evening meal. Dark teas are said to warm you and are often served in the winter months and light teas are said to cool you. All authentic Taiwanese oolongs are said to possess more profound health properties and are supported by credible peer-reviewed scientific journals. These are covered in a separate article. Needless to say; the preparation of whole leaf tea is taken with care. It is important to note that high-quality tea will generally have a neutral or natural sweetness whereas mass produced tea will have a tannic aftertaste. The later is generally mixed with milk (sucrose) or sugar (lactose) to try and cloak the tannins. Milk and sugar should not be used with good quality whole leaf tea.
1. Select a teapot
The first thing to do is to select a teapot to suit the number of people being served and to suit the type of tea being prepared. Teapots should be large enough to allow the water to freely swirl around each tea leaf, to draw the essential properties of the tea from within the inner flesh of each leaf. There are some fantastic single cup and twin cup teapots available. Taiwanese tea connoisseurs will tend to use clay teapots, and reserve one teapot for dark teas and another for light teas. Some will even reserve a teapot for each type of tea within their tea collection and invest several thousands of pounds for their teapots. For newbies; your Grans old teapot or even a coffee diffuser will suffice and a good quality “single cup” clay teapot will cost circa £100.
2. Chose your water carefully (it is the second most important ingredient)
Choose your water carefully. The Taiwanese will tend to use good quality mineral water as the minerals within the water will interact with the elements extracted from the tea - to give it its alleged health potency and flavor. In fact one wise old tea master: Mrs. Teriisa Lai, a tea master from Taiwan, suggested that the art of tea was combining four elements: water to infuse the tea, clay teapots to hold the water, fire to heat the water and oxygen; deprived during the brewing method and enhanced through the pouring process. The water should be alkaline of circa 7.2 to 7.8 on the ph scale. The Oolong Tea Company tested 12 UK based mineral waters for actual levels of alkalinity (rather than that stated on the labels) and overall tea infusion flavor. The best for PH value and resultant tea flavor were actually two of the cheapest: Morrison's own label: York Vale @ £1.08 per 5 liters and Liddl own label. Tap water should be avoided as it contains pollutants such as chlorine (bleach) and whilst filters may remove negative elements, they do little to enhance its taste or to add the necessary minerals required. Filter water is fine for cheap mass produced tea with its tannic aftertaste as this bitterness disguises the taste of the water and is often used cloaked with milk and sugar.
3. Heat the water to suit your tea (and that of your taste buds)
Heat the water to suit your tea (and that of your taste buds). If you are dealing with high-quality whole leaf Tea, then start at circa 70 - 80 degrees Celsius. Most modern kettles with have a temperature setting. There are two reasons for not boiling the water. The first is that boiling the water will cause minerals to scale up on the inside of the kettle, whereas in reality these minerals should be heated just enough to draw the polyphenols and catechins and other properties from the flesh of the tea leaf. The second reason is that boiling water burns. It will scold the delicate leaves and spoil the flavor and may alter the potential health properties. 70-80 degrees c is sufficient to maintain most of the nutrients within the water and to draw the essential elements from the flesh of the whole tea leaf
4. Heat your pot.
Carefully fill the pot with hot water. Wait circa 1-2 minutes for the clay or glass to heat up. Pour the water out.
5. Add Tea Leaves.
The Taiwanese suggest placing just enough leaves in the pot to cover its base. In reality how much tea you use is all down to your personal taste, and you will quickly learn just how much tea leaf you prefer. As a guide use circa 5 grams per person.
6. Check the leaves.
The smell of the fragrant authentic Taiwanese tea leaves hitting the hot clay is both sensually stunning and can be incredibly therapeutic. Remember the Taiwanese use the hot gasses emitted from the leaves for aromatherapy. Quickly place the lid on top of the tea leaves and give them a shake. Sit down, remove the lid and carefully place the pot (if this is a single pot for yourself) to your nose and take time to inhale the beautiful fragrant gas. If you find that the leaves smell musty and you are brewing a delicate tea like a light oolong, then there is a chance that they have been poorly processed or stored and may have gone off : however do not act in haste: some of the worlds most expensive teas smell very musty and to many of us taste unpleasant. Hopefully, though, the odor will be sweet and in line with your expectations.
7. Rinse the leaves.
Carefully add just enough water to cover all of the leaves. Wait 30 seconds, carefully give them a swish, and then tip the fluid away. The reason is that your leaves will have been force dried and the flavors, catechins, and polyphenols forced into dormancy The rinsing process wakes the leaves up, whilst removing the superficial layer of formed elements from the surface of the leaf. The Taiwanese believe that this also removes dust and natural pollutants - freeing the true qualities of the authentic tea to be released from within the body of the deeper leaf.
8. Carefully add hot water.
This should be enough to completely fill the tea pot and to force all air from its confines. The Taiwanese use a special portable draining board for this. However in the office its quiite acceptable to leave a sensible gap at the top. Go carefully not to spill hot water on yourself, others or the dog.
9. Wait circa 35 seconds for your first brew. If you are using an authentic Taiwanese oolong tea then you will be able to leave the leaves within the pot for several more brews. Each time the potency becomes slightly weaker and so you brew the leaves for slightly longer and / or at progessively higher tempertaures. It is quite normal to use the leaves for 48 hours and to leave the final brew soaking overnight – for a refreshing kick start the following morning.
If you are serving yourself, then simply pour the tea into your favorite tea cup. Sit back, relax and enjoy.
11. If you are serving for others, it is customary to pour the tea into a very small serving jug. The reason being that way everyone will benefit from the same potency, whether you are the first or the last to be served.
12. Tea Cups
There are multiple types of teacup. Remember that authentic Taiwanese Oolong tea is something of a rarity and attracts premium prices. This is why the Taiwanese will favor very small gong fu style teacups. Traditionally the tea is poured into a porcelain aromatherapy cup and each recipient will smell the warm tea, before pouring the tea into their own teacup. One of the reasons for this is that believe it of not another person's hands will change the taste and quality of the tea. The simplest way to challenge this theory (we did) is for everyone to pour their own tea from their aromatherapy cup into their personal teacup and allow others to smell the aromatherapy cup. We were startled. The second reason is that each recipient undertakes 30 seconds of aromatherapy, smelling the gentle bouquet of their aromatherapy glass. This makes sense when you consider the multiple health benefits associated with tea. Other popular tea cups include express style vacuum glass cups and their larger cousins which include an integrated tea infuser thereby acting as a teapot/tea mug all in one.