A Coffee Drinker Dipping His Toe Into Tea

Good morning and welcome to some Wednesday musings! I don’t have any coffee for you to read about today, but I wanted to share my journey into something else I’m getting into on a more serious level lately, tea. Don’t worry, tea isn’t going to take over my coffee content, but you can expect to see the occasional tea-related story on KC Coffee Geek from time to time and I hope you get something out of it!

In reality, I’ve been a “tea drinker” for a lot longer than I’ve been a coffee drinker. I didn’t start drinking coffee until I was about 17-18 and didn’t get really serious about it until about 20 years ago. Even as a kid, though, we would drink iced tea. My mom used to set this big glass jug full of Lipton tea bags out on the patio in the sun and make “sun tea” all summer, and iced tea was just part of growing up in the Midwest, but that hardly counts.

Over the years I’d occasionally get a bug about drinking tea, sometimes craving the flavors, and I’ve certainly understood there are a variety of qualities. My last big foray into tea had me purchasing all kinds of tea from Harney & Sons, who I believe to be a pretty good quality purveyor. Most recently, I’ve gotten some samples from Kansas City-based Hugo Tea Co., and there is another really high-end tea company here called Shang Tea. Watching my friends, Pair Cupworks, on Instagram sharing some tea content has intrigued me, especially about matcha, and I guess I’ve been bitten by the tea bug lately.

I think one of the more recent experiences (within the last 10-15 years) that opened my eyes about tea was drinking the house jasmine green tea at Po’s, a good Chinese restaurant that used to be here in KC. The tea was served at a cool, almost lukewarm temperature, and it tasted like a dream, so on some level I knew that the cool temperature was intentional and important, which leads me to the things I know I’ve been doing wrong…

Things I’ve Been Doing Wrong
When I do drink tea, or a tisane (herbal “tea” like your peppermints, hibiscus berry, etc), I have usually been VERY lazy and my bad habits have been paying no attention whatsoever to temperature, dose or time. A lot like how a lot of not-so-serious coffee drinkers are about coffee! LOL I still haven’t found a really solid dosing recommendation, with most sites seeming to say “Use 1-2 rounded spoonfuls for an 8 ounce…” and I have some issue with that as a coffee geek. Somewhere recently I read that the rule of thumb is 1g of tea for every 100g of water, but I don’t know if that’s the case, or what. I’ve been using that ratio for my recent preparations and it SEEMS to work, but some more guidelines on this would be cool. Maybe ratio is less important for tea that for coffee, but I doubt it for some reason.

When it comes to temperature, I’ve always used just off the boil for black teas and tisanes and then pure guessing for green teas. Man, was I off! For example, I’m drinking a Genmaicha (green tea with toasted brown rice added) from Harney & Sons this morning. The brewing recommendation is 160F, which is not hot at all. Using a little travel boiler and 250g of water in it, it came up to temp in less than a minute. In the past I would have boiled the water, left it for maybe 30 seconds, and then brewed, and I know that was WAY too hot. I’ve also been drinking Harney’s Tropical Green recently, which is a green tea with pineapple flavor infused into it and that calls for 175 degree F water. I did my “eyeballing” it method and the tea was quite dry and astringent on my palate. Using an actual thermometer for the right temp, the astringency/dryness was minimal. The pineapple note was a lot more subtle, too, but an overall much more enjoyable experience.

And, the third variable, time, was not anything I ever paid attention to. If it looked like the tea was getting the color I wanted, I stopped. An obvious problem! I know from coffee that time and temp play together to extract as much good stuff out of coffee while also trying to close the window on letting less desirable compounds into the cup. I assume tea works in a similar way and overextracting can be a problem. This morning’s Genmaicha uses a very fast 1-2 minute (still a big range) steep. That Tropical Green is 2-3 minutes, etc.

So, I’m being more intentional with my doses (when I can find actual recommendations, or using the 1g to 100g of water ratio), my time and my temperature and everything is tasting better. It’s hard to be a coffee geek without being a process geek, too, so I think I like the process of actually controlling some of these variables more, too.

What About Water?
Again, knowing what I know about coffee, there’s no way that water isn’t as important, if not more important, for tea. I imagine there are even less dissolved solids and compounds in tea than coffee, meaning it’s even more water than coffee is, which is already something like 95% water. Water is important for flavor, consistency, extraction, etc, so I knew there must be water geeks for tea just like there are for coffee. I have been using Third Wave Water religiously for coffee for years, and I was using it for tea, too, but Hugo Tea Co. turned me on to Rie Tulali’s Instagram/YouTube/Blog and I discovered a very detailed description of her experiments with water. She said there is nothing like Third Wave Water for tea, and she graciously posted a recipe based on her experience with tea, water analysis, flavors when brewed, mouthfeel, etc, which she openly shares for anyone to use.

I will say I think there is an opportunity for someone to make a product like TWW for tea because making this yourself is an even bigger pain in the butt than making Third Wave Water from the recipes they posted on a forum a long time ago. A gallon’s worth of TWW is about 1.5g of material to pour in while Rie’s recipe for tea is about 0.285g, so a MUCH smaller amount of chemicals, and more of them. They’re all easy to buy from Amazon, but still a big pain and I imagine most people would not be into this level of geekery. Rie does free online workshops about tea and water, too, and she’s someone I need to spend a lot more time talking to and following, for sure!

So, that’s my journey, so far… one more jug of water to add to the two I already have for filter coffee and for espresso, thermometer and timer in hand! So far, so good! I have a tisane and two teas from Hugo to review in the coming weeks, and I’ve been using their excellent Boli teapot, which I’m in love with, so I hope you’re along for the ride, too! But, don’t worry, KC Coffee Geek is still mostly about coffee!

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