Black tea - how to enjoy it at its best

My last blog emphasised the crux of getting green tea right. Basically all about the brewing temperature. And starting with good green tea leaves !

The common green tea failing in the West is using boiling water, like when we prepare black tea. Big mistake.

Anyway, today I want to talk about black tea. How can one enjoy this drink to the max ? Black tea has dominated Western tea drinking since the commercial Indian tea industry took root in the 1840’s. So lets get black tea preparation - and drinking - optimised.

What’s critical ? Temperature. And good tea leaves. Same as green tea you might say ! Well, in a way…yes. But…

With black tea the water preparation is easy. Easy, but don’t over boil the water. When the water comes to a rolling ball, kill the kettle. You want to maximise the oxygen in the water. And never ever reboil the water. Always use freshly drawn cold water in the kettle - it’s full of oxygen.

Brewing times vary. It really is up to your personal taste preference. For some 2 minutes might work. For most 3 to 4 minutes is good. Beyond 5 minutes the tea might get stewy. TIP - if you want extra strong tea, select a good strong variety/origin. Assam, African or Ceylon low grown tea is gutty. Or else just use more tea leaf. Standard is around 2 grams - a teaspoon - for each 200 ml mug or cup of water. But you can use more if you like it that way.

Whole leaf black teas can be brewed for 4 or 5 minutes and stay smooth. And you can extract a second brew.Even a third if you like the resulting liquor.

But my main gripe with black tea is watching people blowing over the surface in an effort to cool it down. Just so they can get in a very early sip, really soon after they finish brewing the tea. This is a shame.

TIP - let the tea cool down. 10 minutes after you finish brewing the tea. I myself like to wait closer to 15 minutes ! Go on, try it next time.

Brew some interesting Assam, Ceylon or top African tea. Add some milk Not too much if you really want to taste the nuances of a great tea as the milk will dominate. 1 or 2 teaspoons of milk in a mug is usually good. No milk is best with a light flavory black tea - like a Darjeeling or Uva.

Take a sip after 2 or 3 minutes. Then wait and try it again after 6 or 7 minutes. And again after 10, and then15 minutes or so. Notice anything?

When the tea has cooled down to 70 degrees C, or even 50 C, you can identify far more of the taste. You can distinguish between the complex tastes that make up the liquor.

Also, take in a bit of air as you taste the tea. That is how we professional tea tasters were taught to slurp tea - with a large tablespoon, filling it with the tea from the tasting bowl, putting the spoon to one’s lips, and then, a big noisy slurp ! It really works ! try it. Not just on tea, but on wines too.

At the first tea firm I worked at - for 27 years, phew - we tea tasters ended up not tasting batches of tea until the they had fallen to 80 degrees Celsius. This way we could discriminate more between the various subtle tastes, be they good or yucky.

So do as the professional tea tasters do. Wait patiently until the temperature has cooled down. You’ll notice a huge difference. You will really taste the tea.

Tea. Enjoy. It’s all in the taste.

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