This is not a post about acquiring a taste for tea or anything else. This is about taking a tea that was not my favorite and playing with how I prepare it in order to at least be able to finish a tin of it, if not grow to enjoy it. I posted this last week on Instagram:
I was sitting down to a brewing session of a Korean green tea that I bought on a whim and ended up seriously disliking the first time I brewed it. Always the consummate trusting fool, I obeyed the brewing instructions on the tin and ended up with an over-strong, overpowerfully vegetal, unpleasant cup of tea. It upset my stomach, as strong Chinese green tea often does, and was just generally a bad experience. I put the tea back in my cupboard and tried not to think of it for a while.
Then, I realized I was running through my stock of tea and had to use up something before the new batch arrived. I resolved to try to make something of this tea. By playing with water temperature and brewing times, I was able to come up with something that was drinkable, at the very least, and, dare I say it, enjoyable some of the time. So here are my little ways of playing with teas to make them more enjoyable.
- First things first: a gaiwan is your best friend for tasting teas. You can brew a small amount at a time and don’t have to either suffer through or throw away a bad cuppa. If you’re not sure about a tea, play with it in gaiwan first. You don’t have to pile in the leaf; you can brew like you would in a tea pot, if you’d like. But if you do brew traditionally, you get a really good idea of what flavors are released under what conditions.
- Alright, now you have your gaiwan and you have leaves in it. Start with a very short brewing time. Sometimes as little as 10 seconds will start releasing flavor. I started with 30 seconds and decided that the first steeping was a bit insipid, so I increased to 45. Remember that the very first steeping also needs time to let the leaves absorb the water from being dry. If no amount of reducing time on your first steeping helps, try rinsing your leaves.
- Your second steeping may not need as much time as your first steeping. Drop down a bit if you’re worried about off flavors, and favor steeping many times for short times each steeping over leaving it for too long.
- If you’re still getting off flavors with very short steepings, your water probably needs to be cooler, especially with green teas. They can take on an unpleasant “overcooked vegetable” flavor.
Next time you have a tea you hate, try playing with it using these tips before you bail on it altogether. And if this doesn’t work, you can always try adding herbs or flavorings to it. I cannot abide Gunpowder green tea by itself, but add spearmint and maybe a touch of sugar or honey and you have a tasty Moroccan Mint!