A voyage through the world of tea: how to make, serve and store tea
”The best tea leaves must bend like the leather boots of a Tartar horseman, curl up like the horns of a powerful bull, open up like mist rising up a cliff face, sparkle like a lake caressed by the breeze, and be as soft and damp as the earth after a rainfall,” said Lu Yu, the Chinese author of the world’s first monograph on the ancient beverage, written in 758.
If you are fortunate enough to have tea leaves like these, all you need to do is learn how to store, make, and serve tea. Felix Bürklein, tea sommelier at Teekontor Keitum on the German island of Sylt in the North Sea, tells us all about it.
How important are the chemical properties of the water in making tea, Felix?
“The chemical properties of water are very important in making tea. Flavour, fragrance and aroma improve if you use soft water, and the freshness of the water is important because of its oxygen content. Calcium and hydrocarbonate content should be low, as they form limestone when making tea, which increases pH. Distilled water is no good. Hard water will make tea taste “furry”.”
What utensils do you need to make a good cup of tea?
“The “right” things for making a good cup of tea are: tea, water, temperature and time. The best solution is to use a glass teapot, with loose tea leaves. Then add water, wait for the required or desired infusion time, and then pour the tea through a filter into a second teapot. I always recommend an infusion of leaf tea, so that water can surround the tea leaves on all sides for optimal extraction and pure flavour. Then filter the tea through a tea strainer, as certain types of tea can become bitter. Quality green tea is different: it requires a second and even a third infusion.”
How should tea be served? With sugar, or “black”? With or without milk?
“How should tea be served? It depends whether you are a “mif” or a “tif” person. “Mif” means “milk in first”, while “tif” means “tea in first“. It’s practically a matter of religion. Milk or cream will bind the tannins in tea and, in my opinion, make it much “softer” and “smoother”. This makes it boring; the character of the tea is covered over by the addition of milk. Of course this doesn’t apply to tea from the supermarket: you can drink that however you like. But when drinking top quality leaf tea, in my opinion, there’s no question about it. Who would add liqueur to a Dom Perignon Champagne, or add sugar to a Sauternes?.”
How should tea be stored to make sure it doesn’t lose its properties?
“There are four requirements for optimal storage of tea: it must be cool, dry, protected from light and sealed in the right container for the amount of tea. Because oxygen changes the flavour of tea: the aromas interact with oxygen and can be volatilised.”