Many tea lovers have a favourite tea along with a tried and tested way to make it. Tea sommeliers, however have to learn to prepare hundreds of teas in a variety of ways in order to create the best infusion that will satisfy a variety of palates. How do they do it? Well, simply put – practice and more practice! Through experimentation and skill, methods are honed and the preparation eventually becomes intuitive.
Here are 5 key pointers that I learned along the way.
1. Start with loose-leaf tea that is fresh.
This is particularly important with green tea, which should ideally be under one year old. Ask your teashop owner how fresh the tea is or when it was harvested. Buy small quantities of the best tea leaf you can afford. When you bring home your tea, no matter what the type, be sure to store it properly in an airtight, opaque container away from spices and heat.
2. Use good quality water
Since infused tea contains mostly water, it’s clear that it will influence the taste of your tea. This can be a problem in some areas if the water is too mineralized. If you are preparing a premium tea, use still spring water rather than tap water. Filtered aerated tap water is okay for black tea as long as the water isn’t too hard.
3. Make small quantities in small vessels
This may seem strange if you normally drink a mug full of tea, but tea tasters and sommeliers learn to prepare tea in a small lidded bowl called a ‘gaiwan’. When you begin to try Oolongs and other new teas, you will find that you have more control over the preparation in a smaller vessel. These types of teas are also sipped from very small tasting cups.
4. Aim for correct temperatures and timing
Not all tea is created equal. Some types of teas appreciate a cooler temperature (green and white teas), while black tea prefers boiling water. Timing can be crucial for many types of teas e.g. Oolongs may be steeped multiple times if they are not initially over steeped.
As a tea sommelier, I’m always looking for innovative ways to prepare tea. Cold infusion is a process that brings out new flavours in tea, creating a beverage that is a little sweeter and with less caffeine than hot tea. Tea’s flavours are so unique from type to type that many mixologists consider tea a must have ingredient behind the bar. With experimentation, it’s wise to keep an open mind. Be willing to break the rules occasionally trying new temperatures and timing and blending teas to create new flavours.
Linda Gaylard is the author of The Tea Book. Linda is also a Certified Tea Sommelier located in Toronto, Canada. She graduated from a comprehensive program of study developed by George Brown College in conjunction with The Tea Association of Canada. During her training, Linda experienced more than 350 hours of focused tastings and workshops as well as training in tea and food pairing, social history of tea and tea garden management. Visit Linda’s website at www.theteastylist.com