Super tea newbie looking for a guide/advice/tips/tricks.
Hi! Welcome to Steepster and welcome to tea! I’ve been drinking looseleaf for about 4 years now and at the start I used a standard kettle I had on hand or a pot of water on the stove. I prefer blacks and herbals so temps weren’t a big deal but I did upgrade to a variable temp kettle for a few years ago which I truly adore. Even some blacks do better with a bit less temp so it is convenient for me. Mine goes in 5 degree increments from 60 to 100 C and was $30 at Home Hardware. I don’t think an expensive tool is required, and I always recommend holding off on investments until you’re sure this is something you will use a lot.
For steeping, I use filter bags from Davids for some of the finer teas (rooibos) or if I am on the go. They are convenient and disposable. At home more of the time I use my Bubble teapot or Perfect Tea Mug (both Davids) or a couple others teapots that people have given me. I don’t like the gravity steepers or the plastic parts, but that is my preference. Lately I am drawn toward my gaiwan as I have the time to keep steeping through the day and there is less clean up. It depends on your situation (how much space, time and money). Again, try not to invest in too much until you know what works for you. As people find out you are into tea, you can likely expect to receive many teapots. I’ve bought two, but have at least twelve. It’s nuts!
As for re-steeping, it again depends on your preference. If you liked it the first time and want some more, try a re-steep with a bit more time or temp. Another option is to add a small amount of freesh leaf to boost the flavour. If you didn’t like it or you want something else, don’t bother. Like I said, I generally drink blacks and herbals and I find they can be re-steeped once with good results most times BUT I don’t like my tea too strong or with any bitterness so it is my preference. I never add milk or sugar but if you like it better that way, have at ’er!
My other general advice when starting out is to stick to samples and try a bit of everything to get a sense of your tastes. No point in buying 100s of grams of flavoured greens if you don’t like them (as I did). The more you can try, the better the sense you’ll get of your preferences and the more you will learn about characteristics of certain teas. That said, it’s okay to not like something! I’ve tried for years, but greens just aren’t my thing. Yet, at least. I’ve learned to embrace it and just drink what I like. That’s what it’s all about!
Forgot to add the link to Verdant’s guide to loose tea: http://verdanttea.com/beginners-guide-to-loose-leaf-tea/
There are a lot of other awesome resources on their site. As you branch out, you will see many tea shops frequented by Steepsterites – I tend to stock a lot from Teavivre (www.teavivre.com) and Verdant (www.verdanttea.com) as well as Davids (www.davidstea.com). Also popular are Butiki (www.butikiteas.com) 52Teas (www.52teas.com) and Della Terra (www.dellaterrateas.com)
I prefer to shop in store when I can so I still go to Davids for my flavoured teas but otherwise I peruse Steepster reviews and Company info to get a sense of whether a tea will appeal. Thus is the beauty of trying many samples! Happy teas!
Thank you so much for your advice, and especially for the links!!
It was kind of funny when I was placing my order from Davids, I had the 100g portion of Cool Cucumber (this is what originally made me place an order.. I absolutely adore anything that is cucumber/melon) in my cart for a long time, and then I thought to myself.. maybe I should I just get 50g, what if I don’t like it!? So then I was like.. with the money I save getting the smaller portion, I can try more!
I definitely do plan on trying out lots of different kinds.. I’d never heard of some of these, like the mate (Jumpy Monkey that I ordered), I had no idea what that was.. but I love white chocolate and coffee in a tea?! What?! Sounds awesome!
1. You don’t need a fancy pants temperature adjustable kettle of a super-expensive brand. Any kettle will do. Even a saucepan with water in it will do. As long as it brings water to a boil somehow it’s fine. If you drink something that requires a temperature lower than boiling, just let it sit for while before pouring it on the leaf. Alternatively, add a splash of cool water. If you have a thermometer you can monitor the temperature more precisely. Any cooking thermometer will do, again it doesn’t have to be the most fancy super-specific gadget you can find. If you haven’t got a thermometer, that’s fine too. If you use a saucepan where you can see the water as it heats up, you can learn to tell when to take it off the heat simply by looking at the size and amount of the bubbles. A green tea, for example, likes a temperature somewhere around 70-80°C, and winging it with a splash of cold water in your kettle is fine to begin with. It doesn’t have to be super-duper accurate. Hey, even a fancy adjustable kettle will probably not be completely accurate either. Tea making is not an exact science.
I have an adjustable kettle that my Husband gave me for Christmas some years ago, but the one we had before that was a ‘normal’ kettle. The only setting on that one was ‘boiling.’ (Until the switch broke off. Then the only setting on it was ‘off’…)
2. This is another gadget question. You wouldn’t think it, but it’s very easy to get caught up in gadgetry with tea. Pots of different sizes and materials, gaiwans, matcha things, cups, saucers, brewing baskets, kettles, thermometers, tins, measuring spoons, brewing devices, what have you!
What this thing that you’ve seen does is that it works like a regular teapot, only it pours through the bottom when you place it on the cup. I haven’t got one and I don’t want one. I wouldn’t know what I’d do with it that I can’t do with my beloved fine bone china and a strainer. Plus, my china isn’t made of plastic and it’s FAR more attractive to look at. But that’s just me and my taste. I’m fairly conservative with these things. I’m not saying ’don’t get it’, I’m just saying, please don’t feel that you need it because other people talk about it. It’s a matter of taste. If you like the idea of it, by all means invest! There are people on Steepster who would never be without one of those. It really is a shame that we can’t try these things out before buying them, to see if we like using them. I certainly wish I could try pouring a teapot before handing over money, just to see how much the spout drips.
3. Absolutely yes. Many teas, especially the types other than black, can be steeped more than once. Some of them several times. You have a basket for your cup, so just put the basket on a saucer when you take it up, and you can use the same leaf again next time you make tea. It’s one of the things that makes loose leaf cheaper than traditional teabags in the long run. The price of the leaf may seem sky-high, but if you steep more than once, you get far more out of the leaf than you would a box of bags. It’ll need a slightly longer steep the second time, though. BUT, be aware that some people don’t much like the second steep, finding it’s too thin and not giving them as much satisfaction. If you discover that you don’t care for the second steep, don’t force yourself to do it. It should first and foremost be about a good cup, not stretching the leaf as thinly as possible. But do give multiple steepings a try and see if it works for you. It’s really easy to do and you might be surprised. I drink mostly black tea and will frequently steep an unflavoured one twice, simply for being lazy and not having to rinse out the pot. :p I find with flavoured teas it’s seldom worth it to resteep.
Finally, I noticed you made a comment about adding sweetener and feeling a little guilty for doing so. Don’t. Don’t feel guilt, I mean, not don’t do it. If you like the tea better with a little sugar in it, then add sugar. If you like it with stevia, add that instead. If you like it with honey, add that. If you find you like it with milk, add that. If you find you enjoy cream, add that. (Cream is quite a heavy flavour, though, so you want to try milk before moving on to cream.) If you find you like it without anything in it, don’t put anything in it. We all like different things, and there’s no guilt either way. If you add sugar to your tea, it’s still WAY less sugar than there is in soda. Some people think that if you add a pinch of sugar, different flavours come out more, particularly in flavoured teas. This is worth trying, but it doesn’t work for everybody. Personally I find sweetened tea unpleasant. I can deal with milk (you pretty much have to be able to deal with milk when marrying an Englishman. Milk in tea is the default there, and sometimes they forget), but I prefer it without. So make a cup of tea, have a sip and see how you like it and then add milk and/or sweetener and see if you prefer how it changes. I saw one of the blends you had bought is a chai blend. Chai blends traditionally have milk in them, so that one is a little different.
Edit: Oh, I just realised that was actually someone else making that comment about sweetener. I don’t know why I thought they were you… The above still stands, though.
Thanks so much for your comment, it was very insightful. Just a couple follow up questions:
You mentioned matcha in point 2.. what exactly is that? I have seen it called for in recipes (I also like to bake!) for green tea cookies. So I’m assuming it’s a green tea powder – but how exactly do you use it? For tea, I mean.. or can you?
The tea that originally got me more interested in tea, was a canister of Zhena’s Gypsy Tea Coconut Chai Green Tea (what a mouthful!) I’d found at a Wal-Mart. I love coconut and green tea, so clearly this tea was for me! I was obsessed with it. On the canister it mentioned adding milk, and at first I was kind of disgusted by the thought of adding milk to tea (in my head, I guess I pictured adding 2% milk to a glass of iced tea.. obviously not the same thing, but queue the revulsion), but I tasted the tea and it kind of.. lacked something. So I added milk. And then it was perfect!
Matcha is indeed powdered green tea. It’s a traditional Japanese type and that’s what you will be served in a tea ceremony. It’s as finely ground as flour and you prepare it with a special whisk. Powder and water in a bowl and then whisk-whisk-whisk-whisk until the powder is dissolved and it’s all frothy. That’s the traditional way. You can stir it out with a spoon, but for the proper frothyness you’ll need a special bamboo whisk. Lots of people also use it in cooking (like you’ve already seen) or in a smoothie with fruit.
Going with simplicity, the only thing you need is a brewing basket, not a tea infuser where you have to shove your tea into. I only started with that basket, saucepan, and a five dollar thermometer, tea tasted great.
After a year or so after drinking tea, I splurged on a variable temp electric kettle, Hamiliton, and the process of making tea is faster and easier. Again, not necessary to have this kettle but it lets me have a better experience with tea.
As for hacks, try cold steeping. My method, put a teaspoon or two into a mason jar, fill it with water, and put it in the fridge overnight.
I am so glad you mentioned cold steeping, I meant to ask about it! I definitely wanted to try the Cool Cucumber tea that I ordered cold, because it seems like it would be a really nice iced tea for summer. Thanks for that! :)
Also! Hamilton Beach is a brand that I am familiar with and definitely very affordable for me, so my question is, how long have you had your kettle, and how has it held up? Oh, and what model is it?
I had it for a month, its been good so far. It sucks that it jumps by 5 degrees instead of one and that it doesn’t have a Celsius setting but for some small imprecision for less hassle, its worth it.
This is not going to be helpful but if you like beach themed stuff, Zara Home´s (if you have it in your country) current is full of insanely organic bottom-of-the-sea like stuff. I do not need this teapot for example
but what if a mermaid ever comes to tea, it would be so perfect! Like tea with the little mermaid soundtrack…
about heating water – don´t worry, just boil and add some cool water, or use any old cooking thermometer you have around to develop an ear. Traditionally there are simple ways to know when water is at the right temperature for each kind of tea.
- the steeper, got a similar one, love it, but not sure you really need it just yet. Essential is a good (usually very cheap, normallish) small strainer. That kind of steeper is just as messy to clean up as a regular strainer plus pot, I only find those really convenient for rooibos and multiple steeps.
- you can resteep, though that will work mostly for high quality stuff ( for davids tea flavoured teas, probably not if you will forgive this comment). And usually for unflavoured teas, though there are exceptions. generalizing wildly the larger the leaf is, the closest it is to being whole leaves, the more steeps it can handle (and for some teas, the best steep is not even the first).
Congrats for kicking the soda habit. Tea was my substitute also.
When I started out with loose leaf tea I found a thermometer to measure water temp be my second best investment, next to my basket style infuser. I think it is important for the leaves to have room to open up and make contact with the water. Water quality before I add leaves has been one thing I have definitely gotten fussier about. At home I can tolerate tap water but prefer spring water, not distilled water or reverse osmosis filtered water ever for my tea. Tap water ran through a charcoal filter can also be better than plain tap water. I think something about the mineral content in the water affects the final flavor of the tea. Another thing is the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water. The longer it has been heated the less dissolved oxygen there will be and I find water that has been sitting at a hot temp makes a flat tasting tea. One of the reasons that I think restaurant teas usually taste awful. I think it is much better when the water has been heated to the desired temp and no more. I still use a stainless steel sauce pan.
As far as that tea maker thingy, personally I am too paranoid .Yes it is BPA free but what other toxins are they going to discover later on that are leached out of plastics? That I would repeatedly be putting hot water into it kinda scares me.
Resteeping, yes, although I totally agree that many flavored teas don’t resteep well. Have fun and experiment here.