What's the secret to green tea, mokie?
Time and temperature, mokie. Mostly time.
Experts suggest water heated to 160 - 180 °F for green tea, 190-ish °F for oolong and 212 °F for black, and argue over 140 °F or 212 °F for white, presumably debating whether to lower the temp because of the lower oxidation or raise it since herbals are given a full boil. Herbal experts, meanwhile, huff that just as you can't boil all teas, you can't boil all tisanes. (That's the proper name for an herbal tea, since they don't actually contain, you know, tea
.) And yet more expert experts point out that there's a difference between Japanese and Chinese greens, and spring-plucked and summer-plucked greens. All that's before you even get into the Celsius conversions or the debate over whether greens should be steeped just 1 minute or 7 minutes...
And they wonder why green tea didn't take off in the US until Lipton started bottling it.
Let me make your life easier the Chinese granny way: 'shrimp eyes'.
For black tea, your water needs to come to a full raging boil, but when you put on the water for green tea, wait for little bubbles rising to the top, the size of--you guessed it--shrimp eyes. The next two steps up are 'crab eyes' and 'fish eyes', and they're well within the green tea range. If you think your bubbles are too big, or you've just lost track of time and hit full boil, turn the pot off and let it sit a minute or two. With a bit of practice, you'll be able to tell where your water is just by the sound of the kettle.
That said, time is the killer. Water that's too hot may leave you with a bitter green, but most greens, including those you're going to pick up from the shops, also become bitter or astringent if they're steeped too long. Most packaging on green teas is oblivious to this; people from countries that drink sugary coffee milkshakes and sugary milky black tea are told to steep their green teas up to 7 minutes, as if to confirm the healthy benefits of green tea we must first make it taste godawful. Trust me and aim for 3 minutes; if your cup is too weak/strong, you'll at least have a good reference point for adjusting the timing on the next pot.
Now that's out of the way...What's the biggest problem with flowering teas, mokie?
Time and temperature, mokie. Mostly time.
First, let me explain (finally, halfway down the entry) that flowering teas
are whole tea leaves tied together in such a way that, as they steep, they 'bloom' from a hard round ball into a floating 'flower' in the pot, often with actual flowers like jasmine at the center. It's also, according to some, a very pretty way to sell off really outdated tea stock, and I believe it, since I haven't had any yet that didn't taste stale.
Second, there's the issue of steeping time. A flowering tea starts out as a hard bound ball o' tea, but tea leaves need room to move and infuse--that's why bagged tea is chopped into tiny pieces (more surface area), and why tea balls are great for corralling herbs and herbals, but not so great for actual teas. It can take anywhere from 3 - 7 minutes for the outer leaves of a flowering tea to infuse enough that they unfold, and that means that while the outer leaves are oversteeping, the inner leaves aren't getting much room to infuse and expand at all. You can easily end up with a contrarily astringent cup of weak tea.
Which I did.In the Bag:
Oh look, the actual review! The brand in the cup today is Primula
's flowering green jasmine tea. It has several negative Amazon reviews which mention that the customers' tea arrived already several years old judging by the 'manufacture' date and/or expired. I find this perversely funny, since, again, flowering teas seem to be made exclusively from stale tea.
In the bag, this is a little knobby ball that smells a little dusty. No jasmine scent.The Steepening:
The unfolding of the leaves and flowers into a little bouquet is the real point of flowering teas (more on that below), but this one underwhelmed me. The leaves are rolled and bound in such a way that it didn't gently bloom into a dainty bouquet, awaiting the oohs and aahs of onlookers, as much as it porcupined out into a delicate tea mine, awaiting passing U-boats.
The scent was also disappointing. The mark of any good jasmine tea is its ability to make you forget you're supposed to drink it, because you're too busy inhaling the aroma wafting off the pot, but jasmine barely showed up to the party in this tea.The Verdict:
Weak, astringent, and not even particularly jasmine-ish? Blah.
I'll admit that the primary draw of flowering teas isn't the cup but the pot: they're not drinking teas, they're watching
teas. If you're hosting a little girl's tea party (raiding party, whatever), and everyone's going to drink their flower tea with a heaping spoon of sugar and a handful of cookies anyway, then it's not a problem. They're also not too shabby for that relative who'll drink it and think, "Ah, so that's what a fancy tea tastes like," and then return to her Diet Coke quite pleased at having had fancy tea that one time.
If you want a drinking tea, though, flowering teas aren't the way to go. And if you want a watching tea, you can certainly do better than Primula's.