Basics of Tea

Iced Tea for Beginners

Ever the adventurer I decided to give a relatively new Iced tea on the market. Although pleasant to drink it tastes a lot like flat L&P, so if you’re in the market for that kinda thing and don’t mind paying extra grab a bottle.

Maybe I should have lit that candle to add to the effect…

And now for a word of student wisdom:

  1. Buy a box of Twinings Lady Grey tag less bags
  2. Place one or two in the bottom of a plastic bottle
  3. Add cold water

This method is good for about an hour or so (the dregs can be a bit strong too, be warned!), and should save you a good $3.40 overall. In my opinion, it tastes a whole lot better too but, the other added bonus it you won’t be consuming the list-as-long-as-my-arm of chemical stabilisers, sweeteners, and other assorted nasty greeblies that make the shelf life last well past the second coming.

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Why I cut back on the cheap tea

Hamilton city council, with all its infinite wisdom has decided to discontinue the addition of fluoride to the town water supply. Regardless of your personal views on this topic, the district health board/dental associations “Emperical’ evidence, or any other number of crackpot, tinfoilhat wearing conspiracy nutjob thoughts, there are some important points to remember about fluoride.

  • It artificially hardens your teeth (fluoride is not a required substance for life)
  • Fluoride is really, really good at killing bacteria (including those in your gut, hence we do not swallow our mouthwash/toothpaste)
  • Fluoride also accumulates in all areas where calcium does such as; bones, teeth, brain tissue, milk glands, tendons, sperm…

This is why there are limits placed on the quantity of fluoride in the water supply (1.0ppm in NZ, 2.0ppm in the US). Too much can lead to fluorosis of your bones and teeth making them brittle. This is not so much of an issue if you are an adult as there is lots of body mass for fluoride to disperse on. Not so good for children, even worse for babies. A good way to explain this is with another form of drug taken on a nearly daily basis, Paracetamol. The recommended dosage is ½ a pill for the kiddies and up to 2 for an adult, this is to prevent overdose and the same applies to fluoride. The NZ Ministry of health recommendation is that baby formula is manufactured with pure water, and that baby formula should not be made up with tap water. Otherwise baby’s teeth come out moulted, when grown children become prone to bone breakages, and at worst your kids baby teeth come out looking like three year crack addicts.

The tea plant, Camellia sinensis is
a known fluoride accumulator. Fluoride particles are taken up by the root system and distributed into the leaves, accumulating over time. As such the older the leaves are the more fluoride is within them. Generally, tea leaves are supposed to be picked in a very particular way (the bud, and the 4 or 6 leaves below it on the stalk). So with any high quality tea you can expect that there is a minimal amount of fluoride accumulated in the leaves in comparison to the older ones on the bush. It has been recently suggested that tea quality can be determined by examining fluoride levels in the prepared tea.

Some large corporations employ machines to pick the leaves, and just get ‘expert leaf sorters’, a loose term which translates to underemployed temporary labour hires in third world countries.( If you were earning 5c an hour, how hard would you be willing to check the right leaves were picked?). Teabag tea is also mulched to produce a quicker brew. This also allows the Fluoride to steep out faster too. As such the better the younger the leaf, the less chopped the leaf, the higher the quality of the tea.

This is one of the main reasons I cut back on my cheap tea exploits. I like my teeth, bones, and brain (not so fussed if my swimmers malfunction right now) and as such I decided to investigate deeper into the area before potentially advising people to drink rubbish tea. If you haven’t already guessed, ITS NOT GOOD FOR YOU.

As a result of these finds I have for the past few months drunk a considerable amount of loose leaf tea of varying quality and grades. A new fave of mine is the Zealong tea produced here in New Zealand. Organically certified and having been to the gardens several times and done the tour I can verify with my own eyes that these guys produce a stellar oolong tea, and to boot, the fluoride is likely to be very minuscule. I cannot say the same for the cheaper teas on the market.

Jury is still out on whether the HCC done goof removing the fluoride, I’m taking it as a sign to re-engage with dubious quality tea on a sample size basis, after all, I’m quite ok with crippled swimmers right now.


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A week without lactate of bovine: Searching for a soy mate.

A very fine lass I regularly drink tea with has the unfortunate condition, she is somewhat intolerant of the delights that megacorp Fonterra produce. During our latest tea drinking session the idea was floated to find a compatible tea that works well with a good soy milk, being a fearless individual over the age of 18 years I took up this challange.

From what I can recall from the conversation, soy milk selection comes with many pitfalls; there is a scale from delightful warm nutty flavours to what was simply described as ‘Green’. What is Green flavour you ask? It’s that dusty mildew smell of black-green mold, the taste you would expect from licking the dashboard of a vintage car left sitting in the shade for a couple of decades… the common odor of any flat during the deep misty winters in the swamp called Hamilton. So rather than play Russian roulette in the supermarket I called on the milk free experts and was put onto Pams Soy milk, which as I was informed, is the most student friendly on price and by far leader of the pack when it comes to not greenlyness.

Once I had obtained my carton of milk substitute, I cracked the top and made my first cuppa… the first of many that I either suffered through or delighted in. Below are my top and bottom selections.

The best:

The best of the bunch

NZ breakfast: Good balance of flavours, unique tea flavours stand out above the soy with the distinctive character it has well identifiable without masking the soy, worthy of mention too was the NZ earl grey which too stayed true to its intended flavour.

Twinings Lady Grey tea: Stellar, the flavour is indistinguishable from a milked tea. I suspect that there is an interaction with something in the tea, much like the English breakfast cancelling out the soy, but in this case the citrus peel in the lady grey masks the bitterness.

Dilmah Exceptional Lively lime and orange: at first it was a bit dish watery (lemony with a thick gloopy flavour afterwards) but as it settled this took on a lovely ginger note and became a very pleasant experience best described as drinking a Gingernut biscuit.

The Worst.

Choysa (Square): Fish. Mixing soy milk with Choysa tea produces fishy flavour. It’s as though somebody soaked a cod head overnight in the kettle and filled the teabag with tuna flakes. Still, it is drinkable, however combined with the thicker texture imparted by the soy milk, I’d sooner drink the brine from a fishmongers chopping board.

Twinings English Breakfast: Loses the nutty soy finish, however… then releases a strong taste of chloride in the finish which appears as the tea cools for about 10 minutes before slowly dissipating. Otherwise it was sub-average if not a bit watery towards the end.

Dilmah Irish Breakfast: I had high hopes for this particular blend as it was a stronger brew and thus I was hopeful the tea would come out above the soy unfortunately, it was reminiscent of the Choysa… but better than in the sense the floral and fruity notes were distinguishable, followed by a hint of fishiness.

Honourable mention for resurrectional properties.

Dilmah Exceptional Earl grey tea: When first tried this particular tea I found the bergamot so overpowering and destructive that it was launched to the back of the cupboard in the hopes it would never see the light of day again. I resurrected this to see if the soy would transmute this vile beverage into a drinkable form…The most destructive part of this tea is the dry sour flavour left in the mouth on the finish. The nuttiness of the soy, however, counteracts this and makes the tea palatable, I daresay… enjoyable.

A final note…

when it comes to soy milk in tea I found it best to brew strong, and then leave it to develop for a few moments as this helps to let the flavour evolve into its final form. The flavour outcome is also difficult to predict by quality of leaf or intended flavour, as demonstrated by the fish Choysa, but it can have unexpected pleasures, so experiment first.

Categories: Basics of Tea, Tastings | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Suffering for the sake of the many… Finding an Earl Grey standard.

For as long as I can remember, the Earl grey has been a tea that I have personally looked down on as a cheap way to hide inferior leaves. As such on seeing the steaming cup of grey fluid, and then smelling the sour orange of the bergamot tree would normally either ask for anything but the same tea, or a glass of cold water. But in the sake of making an honest attempt to understand and comment on how to approach the budget tea market, I have soiled my lips with the poisoned chalice so that If forced to buy a grey tea, you can chose one that will not kill, but only maim.

Earl grey Is flavoured by the fruit of the Citrus bergamia; A lemon like fruit similar in sourness to the grapefruit, grown almost exclusively by the Ionian sea in Reggio di Calabria, Italy. Originally, it was added as a form of treatment for malaria, but like all things some tasteless souls found it likeable and chose to drink it as something other than medicine. Speaking of medicine, Earl grey is known to have the same interaction effects as grapefruit does on a range of medications in large volumes and after about 4 litres in a single day can be toxic…

Down at the local Pak’n Save, I proceeded to buy up the whole Twining’s range of teas (they were on special, and included three grey teas). Added to the Dilmah essentials earl grey that I already had at home for some strange friends I have who drink it almost exclusively, and the handful of single serves of Dilmah Earl grey acquired from various hotels around the nation, I began in earnest to find an earl grey that I can describe as tolerable.

I settled on the Twining’s Earl Grey as the benchmark. It has a soft buttery finish, and the bergamot is not as overpowering as the Dilmah varieties. I did enjoy the flavours of the NZ Earl grey tea also done by Twining’s, but I will discuss that one in a later post.

What was a bit of a shock, however, is that the grey tea’s have grown on me somewhat. Despite the fact I cannot really handle them without milk just yet (the correct method for the drinking of earl grey as instructed by two very English gentlemen) I have found an appreciation for them. In the future I will most likely not turn my nose up so quickly, but they are still not my preferred cuppa.

Categories: Basics of Tea, Grey tea, Tastings | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

How do you like your tea?

My original plan was to begin with my first critique on Dilmah as it is the flat standard, and a good quality drop. I decided to firstly set out to try Dilmah in all possible permutations in the hopes that I would be able to discover its unique flavour, What i discovered was that I have become quite used to the flavours and although I know it to be good, I cannot yet articulate exactly why!  But all was not lost. I quickly found that although i could not pick out the specific flavours of the Dilmah, I did develop an appreciation for the many different methods of preparation.  So, rather than make a foolhardy attempt at critiquing Dilmah on its own, I have decided instead to discover it gradually in comparison to other teas. I imagine over time I will uncover its strengths and weaknesses, where at the time that feels right, I will upload my notes accumulated from many, many comparisons.

Being of a scientific mind I set out to examine Dilmah in a methodical fashion; a methodology, I planned to replicate and refine as I sampled more varieties of tea.

Firstly I examined the effect sugar(0, 1, 2 and 4 teaspoons), then of milk and sugar(0, 1, 2 and 4 teaspoons). This would cover the different commonly drunk preparations with the 4 sugars to take things to an extreme in the small 200ml tea cups being used.  I also wanted to test the effect re-brewing using the same bags would have on flavour (as a student, this is of most interest as every dollar matters), I decided to use three brews with all four levels of sugaring with and without milk. This gave me a total of 24 different cups prepared from 10 teabags. Finally, I wished to check how honey and lemon performed in tea. This was made up of lemon, honey, lemon and honey and milk and honey. This gave me a total of 28 cups of tea to consume, in two bouts of 12 cups followed by four additional cups.

Now I like my sleep. I like is quite a lot, but it is hard to sleep after consuming 12 cups of tea…         2.4 litres  of what was mostly barely drinkable fluid left me with a caffeine/sugar high with the pressing need to pee right up till half past three in the morning. The next day after rising at 7, 9, and 11 all to empty a very full bladder, I decided to cut back to just the single re-brew, as after the second brew, there was scarcely any flavour, masked further by the milk. For this reason I only had 8 cups with milk.


The Effect of Sugar on Black Tea.

On that Ill fated evening I decided to undertake the first 12 cups on a very full bladder. I made them up from a pot using five bags and by following the instructions on the box the tea came in. This gave me four cups of equal strength tea to work with.

  • (no Sugar) What i first noticed was that on its own, black, with no sugar the tea had a drying affect on the mouth, similar to that of drinking a dry wine. This dryness, I have discovered is caused by the absence of sweetness. The dryness ripples across the tongue followed by a malty richness that lingers well after the dryness has gone. Once the tea has lost most of its head the warmness of the malty flavours dissipates almost completely.
  • (One Sugar) With the addition of one sugar, raisin like notes become apparent as the dryness is attenuated by the addition of the sugar. It is the only one i discovered to not be completely overrun in the finish by the sweetness of the sugar.
  • (Two Sugars) With the addition of a second sugar, the dryness is all but gone, but the sugar begins to distract from the tea flavour.
  • (Four sugars) A complete disaster with all but one redeeming feature. Once the tea cooled somewhat it at first tasted of a sweet dessert wine, or overripe sultanas… followed by overwhelming sweet.

The Effect of Milk and Sugar on Black Tea.

Around noon the next day I brewed up four cups of milked tea. I finished off three of the four cups with the NATO standard being commandeered by one of the flat mates early in the tastings. This was a most peculiar set of results; the tea darkened and lost the milk opaque appearance with the addition of more sugar. What was equally interesting was the effect on the flavour.

  • (no sugar, milk) At first all I could taste was the milk with some of the tea flavours barely notable above the dairy which appeared surprisingly strong. At first I believed the tea may have been under brewed somehow but as i discovered in comparison to the second brew of the leaves it was indeed there.
  • (One sugar, milk) I liked this one the best, the sugar cuts the milk flavour and brings the tea flavours to the fore without overpowering them. I was quite surprised at the time but in looking into the science it makes sense.
  • (two sugars, milk (Also known as; milk and two, blonde with two legs, snow white and two Dwarves, Nato standard, or just House Standard.)) This concoction i found this sweet with funnily, a return of the dryness in the finish.
  • (four sugars, milk) hypersweet, but drinkable, the dryness returns too, so I suspect that the milks influence is marginalised somehow by addition of sugar.

As a consequence I have decided to do a comparison of milk type on tea, again in the hopes of finding the perfect milk-tea match sometime in the future…

With lemon, and/or honey

Lemon is a traditional accompaniment of tea, and many producers of tea recommend honey over sugar. I found the addition of lemon to make for a very refreshing beverage, the addition of a little honey helped to keep the combination of tartness from the lemon and dryness from the tea in check.

The problem, however, is that honey itself adds new flavours that can mask the subtle flavours hidden in the tea… I have decided, therefore, to look into the different types of honey and attempt to identify the best match for gumboot teas. If there are a couple of stellar honeys, I may even use them regularly so as to identify which is best of which brand too.

Milk and honey is a common blend and i found it much the same as a ‘blonde with one leg’ only that some of the honey flavours were also present. I was using a multi flora blend at the time and it did tend to mask some of the subtleties of the tea, but no more than the milk already did.


From this little tasting I discovered that I liked the milk and one best, and the slice of lemon both with and without honey, and the honey and milk. I also discovered that Dilmah bag tea can be used up to three times… but you also have to be careful about how you prepare it… more on that later.

What will follow in the next post is the layout of how I hope to present each tea for ease of comparison; I have used Dilmah as the example. The tasting notes are rubbish, and most likely inaccurate as my palate is well accustomed to this tea due to regular binges. It will also be interesting to see how this tasting compares to the second tasting in the distant future.

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The basics of Tea preparation: Bag in a Cup (Part one)

Whether visiting friends and family, attending a conference, corporate, or social event, odds are I am about to be insulted with what can best be described as the most dire of situations… a bad cup of tea. Now any hot drink guzzler would scarcely notice the differences in their ineptly prepared concoction, but to a semi trained beveragist, the differences become glaringly obvious. Firstly, I believe it is necessary to explain how tea it is supposed to be done, so those things that grind my gears will make some semblance of sense. I will address the varieties of tea blends in time, but for now  I will start with preparation as this can make or break the best of leaves.

Step one: throw out the old water in the kettle.

One of the interesting little quirks of water is that it changes after every boil. This effects how the leaves in the bag respond and oftentimes can change the taste dramatically. Some connoisseurs even go so far as to suggest only bottled spring water should be used… A tad too extreme for me, but using water from the cold tap is important; not only is this water less likely to be re-boiled to death in the cylinder, but it actually boils faster from cold too.

Step two: warm the cups.

During my childhood I had the good fortune to be raised with access to fine food and dining etiquette without the snobberly of actually being able to afford it. My lovely mother who runs her own blog , taught in a training restaurant and bar in back in Rotorua. Often times we would be called in to at first fill in empty seats on the slow nights, to being used as a credible threat to bring overconfident wait staff crashing back down to earth. In table service a cold plate chills any good meal, the same goes for hot drinks especially tea. A simple solution is to fill the cups with hot water from the tap while the jug boils (this helps remove residue from the cups too) or to fill with water from the jug, wait a bit, throw it out, and then put the bag in with the second fill.

Step three: Order of construction.

Bag first or water first? I generally place bag in first than add the water, but some others swear by not scalding the leaves… I will investigate this further in future posts to see if there is any real difference. If sugar or honey is to be added, I do this second; this aides in the dissolving of the sugar properly rather being left with a sickly sludge at the bottom of the cup. Then finally I add the milk.

Regardless of the type of bag used UNDER NO CIRCUSTANCES should the milk or sugar be added to the cup until after the bag has been given a chance to soak properly; one full minute at least should do, but for the correct soak time check the side of the box, different leaves develop at different speeds, much like people.

If the above steps are followed, a cup tea is near impossible to stuff up and provides a level playing field to allow the leaves to offer up their distinctiveness for fair assessment. Speaking of assessments, My first critique will be of the flat standard, Dilmah single origin tea.

Categories: Basics of Tea | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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