Episode 53 – “True Brew 2: Mr. Tea”

Posted: January 15, 2016 in Season 4
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I have been a tea drinker for as long as I can remember, and particularly during the colder months of the year. Like many people, I often reach for a tea bag when making a cup of tea, due to their convenience and simplicity. I have, though, occasionally been known to brew a fresh cup using loose leaf tea. A couple years ago for Christmas, my parents gave me a tea variety basket from Murchie’s Tea, which consisted of numerous types of loose tea and tea bags. Having so much loose tea around the house led me to really appreciate the superior quality and flavor of a cup of tea made with loose leaf tea. A tea bag just truly does not produce a cup of tea that matches that made with loose leaf tea.

Perfect Cup of Tea

To make Alton’s perfect cup of tea, you will really only need a few things. You will need a vessel for boiling water (preferably a kettle), a vessel for brewing your tea (preferably a teapot), fresh water, and loose tea. While loose tea is composed of full tea leaves, tea bags contain leftover dust and fannings, which can produce bitter tea. When making tea, Alton stresses that you should always use fresh water, as it has lots of oxygen in it; our tap water tastes fine, so I just used tap water. Heat your water in a kettle or in the microwave (in a microwave-safe container, of course).


Heating water in a kettle.

If heating your water in the microwave, place a wooden skewer or chopstick in your water; this will give bubbles a place to form, thereby avoiding explosive bubbling when you remove the hot water from the microwave. If you are using a teapot to brew your tea, Alton recommends that you preheat your tea pot with warm water prior to brewing. I do not have a teapot, so I just used a glass Pyrex measuring cup, which is not nearly as sexy as the cute cast iron teapot Alton used in the episode. Depending on the type of loose leaf tea you are brewing, you will want to adjust your water temperature accordingly. Note:  black, green, and Oolong are the three major styles of tea. For black tea, you will want full boiling water. For Oolong tea, your water should be 200 degrees F, while for green tea, your water should ideally be 180 degrees F. I brewed some Darjeeling, which is a black tea.While your water is heating, place your loose tea in your teapot or brewing vessel, allotting a heaping teaspoon (Alton uses a regular teaspoon instead of a measuring teaspoon) per cup of tea.


One heaping teaspoon of tea per 5.5-6 ounce cup of tea.


Since I do not have a teapot, I used a glass measuring cup to brew my tea.

If your teapot has an infusing insert, Alton recommends that you do not use it, as the tea leaves need room to bloom. Now, for the water, you want to use 5 1/2-6 ounces of water per cup of tea, but it is best to add an additional ounce or so of water for the tea leaves to hold onto. When your water is at its ideal temperature, pour the water directly over the tea leaves.


Thirteen ounces of boiling water added to tea leaves. Six ounces of water per cup, plus an additional ounce of water for the leaves to retain.

How long to let the tea brew? Brew black teas for 3-5 minutes, Oolong teas for 4-7 minutes, and green teas for 2-3 minutes. Brewing for too long will result in tea that is bitter. When your brewing time is up, pour your tea through a strainer into a cup.


Strainer to pour tea into mug.

If desired, you may add sugar, honey, or lemon. If adding milk, though, you should always pour the milk in your cup prior to adding the tea. Why? Adding cold milk to hot tea can cause a “skin” to form on top of your cup. Sit back, relax, and enjoy your perfect cup of tea.


A perfect cup of Darjeeling tea.

Prior to watching this episode, I brewed all loose leaf teas the same way – using full boiling water and letting the tea steep for about five minutes. I also have typically used a tea infuser. Is Alton’s method for tea brewing really superior? It’s tough for me to say because I am also using fresher, better tea; how much is the tea and how much is the method? That being said, the tea I made with Alton’s method was excellent.

If you are curious about Alton’s method of tea brewing using tea bags, here you go:

  1. Using a microwave-safe container, tie five tea bags together and place in a quart of fresh water. Top the container with a small plate.
  2. Microwave the tea for eight minutes, or until it starts to simmer.
  3. Remove the tea from the microwave and check its temperature – you want the temperature to be between 180 and 190 degrees F.
  4. Cover the tea again and let steep. For mild tea, let steep for two minutes. Allow three minutes for medium tea, four minutes for strong tea, and five minutes for bitter tea.
  5. Remove tea bags and do not wring them out.


Sweet Tea

In addition to hot tea, I really enjoy iced tea when the weather is warm. My mom always made sun tea by steeping tea bags in a glass jug, allowing the sun to warm the water. Somehow, sun tea always seemed to taste better than typical iced tea.

Alton’s iced tea is really a two-step process; if you prefer your iced tea unsweetened, you can stop after the first step, whereas if you like your iced tea to be sweetened you can carry onto the second step. For the first step, steep an ounce of loose black tea in one quart of boiling water for 4-5 minutes.

It is not necessary to use your best tea for this process, as some flavors get masked when tea is iced. Once your tea is done brewing, strain it into a two quart pitcher.


Strainer ready to strain tea into pitcher.

To your tea, add one quart of lukewarm water; you do not want to use super cold water, as cooling the tea too quickly can result in cloudy tea.


A quart of room temperature water to add to the tea.

Place your tea in the refrigerator and allow it to chill thoroughly. If you do not wish to sweeten your tea, go ahead and enjoy the tea as is.


The finished unsweetened iced tea.

If you prefer to have your tea sweetened, Alton recommends making a simple syrup. Why make a simple syrup, rather than just adding sugar to your iced tea? While granulated sugar does not dissolve easily in cold liquids, a simple syrup will mix in quite easily. Plus, you can add some additional flavor to your tea, if desired. To make plain simple syrup, in a pan combine 5 C sugar and 3 C cold water. Bring this to a boil over medium heat, cover, and let it cool to room temperature. Seal and refrigerate for up to a month. Alternatively, to add some additional flavor to your simple syrup, add six sliced lemons and a few sprigs of fresh mint to 3 C water and 5 C sugar.

Again, bring to a boil.

Cover the mixture for 10 minutes before straining.

Let cool, refrigerate, and add to iced tea as desired. You will have quite a lot of simple syrup, but you can always freeze any extra. Simple syrup is also great in some cocktail recipes.

Though it really isn’t the season for iced tea, I made Alton’s sweet tea this week. I used some old Lapsang Souchong tea that I had sitting around, which resulted in iced tea that was quite smokey and intense. I would probably use a different type of black tea if I were to make Alton’s iced tea again. I opted to make the lemon-mint simple syrup for my tea. We found that placing 1.5 ounces simple syrup in a pint glass, and filling the glass to the top with iced tea resulted in the perfect level of sweetness.


A perfect glass of Alton’s sweet tea.

The lemon and mint flavors really shine through, and it would be quite refreshing on a hot day.


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