Instant Expert: Tea? Totally!
Proof that sipping tea isn't just for Brits and grandmas anymore:
How do you buy quality tea? Newsflash: Not all tea comes in bags. In fact, the best stuff (which costs anywhere from pennies to dollars more for fancier types) is sold in tins or scooped out of clear, glass jars. When you're buying loose tea, look for leaves that are uniform in size. Avoid very crumbled leaves with powdery dust, which makes for uneven brewing.
What types of tea are there? Don't let the zillion varieties confuse you. Teas are broken into two basic categories:
True teas: White, green, black and oolong tea are the four true teas. The white and green varieties contain more caffeine since they're picked young and dried immediately. Black tea is fermented and oolong tea is semi-fermented after the leaves are dried; that's the reason why these two kinds of tea have an intense color and flavor kick.
Herbal teas: These non-caffeinated teas are made from flowers, seeds, roots, oil or leaves of other plants, or they're blended with true tea leaves, like Earl Grey tea (a black tea with bergamot orange oil).
How do you brew the perfect cup:
Measure right: Tea infusers hold more loose tea than you need. Just drop in one teaspoon per one (eight-ounce) cup. To make a whole pot, just use one teaspoon per cup of water, plus an extra teaspoon “for the pot."
Use spring water: Tap water can contain lime, iron, chlorine and other impurities that can turn tea cloudy and bitter.
Watch your temps: Steep black and herbal tea in water just off of the boil, when the pot whistles. Let boiled water rest about 30 sec-onds before pouring on oolong tea. Green or white tea should be brewed with boiled water that has cooled for one minute.
Keep track of time: Green and white teas, which are more delicate and have smaller leaves, steep in as little as two to three minutes. Medium to large black and oolong leaves take longer to brew, from three to five minutes. Most tea willtaste bitter if it's steeped over six minutes. To steep, pour hot water over the infuser in the cup or pot; then cover with a saucer to keep the water from cooling too quickly.
When you're done, remove the saucer and pull out the infuser. If you're using a tea bag, keep in mind that it won't get the same rich flavor—even if it steeps longer.
Photo: Antonis Achilleos