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Everything newbies need to know to buy, brew and savor the global favorite
It is the world’s most commonly quaffed beverage, trailing only plain water. It’s been hailed for centuries as a health wonder. But the novice tea drinker can be easily overwhelmed by the undertaking—what with the multitude of tea types, purported best brewing methods and general surplus of tea-related info to sift through.
Enter Jesse Jacobs. As founder of Samovar Tea Lounge (samovarlife.com), which steeps in multiple San Francisco locations, Jacobs knows tea inside and out. Here, Jacobs brings the uninitiated up to speed.
Q: What should a new drinker look for when selecting tea?
A: The first thing is freshness. Unless you’re buying whole-leaf tea, the odds are it’s not very fresh. With whole-leaf tea, you get more value and taste, and it’s better for the environment because it doesn’t have all the extra packaging. In whole-leaf tea, leaves should be consistent throughout in terms of size, shape and color. Avoid tea that has been flavored with vanilla, chocolate or cocoa beans because then you’re not actually buying tea, you’re buying flavor. Also, anything you buy should be from a dark, airtight container; bulk bins or glass jars are not as good.
Q: Does it matter where you store tea after purchase?
A: Proper storage is very important for keeping tea fresh, health-promoting and delicious. You want to keep it in a place that’s cool, dry and dark. It’s best to keep it in any kind of cabinet and inside an airtight container, away from the stove or windows. If your tea is sealed airtight, the refrigerator is also fine.
Q: How about some brewing tips?
A: The first thing you need is good, quality water—preferably filtered or spring water. You can have bad tea in good water, and it will still taste good, but not the other way around. One good rule of thumb is to use about two to four tablespoons of tea for each 16 ounces of water. Depending on how strongly you brew, you can re-steep the same leaves four to 10 times. Boil the water for darker and black teas, but keep it below a boil for green teas and lighter teas. Experiment with brewing leaves longer and shorter. If it ends up too bitter, brew it less next time. If it’s not bitter enough, brew it longer. You could spend a lifetime researching and learning, but, at the end of the day, brewing is totally personal. So, just drink a lot of it, and test what works or doesn’t work for you.
Q: What are your favorite choices for certain occasions or times of day?
A: I like to drink masala chai in the morning. It’s got less caffeine than coffee but is a complex, earthy, sweet, creamy brew—almost a meal by itself. In the middle of the day, I like oolong, a tea that gives many infusions. Throw it in a cup and keep adding water. As the leaves open up, they will keep releasing more caffeine and more flavor. In the evening, I like an herbal blend that contains lemon myrtle, lavender and cornflower.