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March 2008 Issue
On blustery days . . . and good hot tea . . .
by Rossana S. Tarantini
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We've had, and are continuing to have, one of our worst winters in quite a while. To date, we've already netted more than 100cm of snow, something which we haven't even come close to for a while. But more than the snow, it's the winds and chill factor that get to me most. Listening to them howling is all very well and good from inside your warm house, ensconced in a fluffy armchair by the fire, with a tea in one hand and a good book in the other. Having to go out in it, well, that just sucks, as the kids say.

So, for this column, I choose to ignore having to actually function in this kind of weather and concentrate instead on regrouping, pulling my "borders" in around me, and staying warm and cozy away from the bluster.

I thought about what I like to do best when my only goal for the day is to avoid the outdoors. The first thing I do is set the kettle to boil and my teapot warming. Then I chase down my books, my crosswords, my favourite mug and a soft comfy chair. And that's it for me. Ensconced in my "reading corner", I'm good for hours. With an afghan in case some of the outside chill makes its way in and a stool of some sort in case my legs get too tired to support themselves. Sometimes I don't even bother to answer the phone!

I'm a tea granny from way back. AND I'm a tea snob too! I don't consider those flowery, frippery brews to be real tea. I like my tea black, strong and clear. Though I also do love green tea, I really don't like mint teas, fruit teas, or any other flavoured tea. I especially don't like Earl Grey, which makes life at home a bit "testy" at times since both Larry, my partner, and Anthony, my youngest son, are devotees of the Earl. Yuck!!! We have a very clearly defined line in the tea cupboard here. And that flowery concoction is hermetically sealed so as not to contaminate my Prince of Wales or Yorkshire blends.

Dictionary.com says tea is an infusion of water and the leaves of a plant that is part of the Camellia family. So, I guess, despite my tendency to not like the flowery teas, flowery-ness is in its very nature. The joke's on me. But not really.

I do know that there are four basic types of tea; Green, Oolong, Black and White. Since they all come from the same plant, the main difference in the tea then, is the processing. How it's steamed, dried, bruised, and otherwise treated is what determines what category it falls into.

Tea leaves destined to become black tea, are picked, allowed to wither, then rolled and put through a fermentation process after which they're fired to intensify the flavour. Oolong leaves are allowed to wither, then shaken to bruise the leaves slightly, they're given a much shorter fermentation and then pan "fried" to dry them. Green teas are withered, but only sometimes; steamed or pan fried, rolled and allowed to dry then put through a final firing and drying process. Leaves for white teas are simply steamed then dried.

Flavoured teas such as Jasmine or Earl Grey are simply teas to which some sort of flavouring (either flowers or oils or other teas) have been added. Those teas we commonly call herbal teas aren't, correctly speaking, teas at all since we know that all teas come from the Camellia family. Makes me feel better since tisanes and herbal infusions (herb teas) are among my least favourite "teas". ;)

When making tea, there's one thing that's the same across the board. Always warm the pot you are going to use with hot water. I prefer to make tea in a pot, even just for myself, but have been known to use a mug. In that case, warm the mug the same way you would the pot. Pour out the water and measure in the tea leaves. I've been told that you can reduce the amount of caffeine in your tea by pouring just enough hot water over the leaves to cover them. Allow this to sit for 15 to 20 seconds, and pour off the water. Then just refill the pot (or mug) with water and allow it to steep. I never remember to do this until after my pot is steeping though, so I can't say if it works. *mental note to self: remember to try this!

Always start with cold water brought to a rolling boil. I read somewhere once to NEVER reboil water and found that this is a good rule. Try it, and you'll see, as I did, that it just tastes fresher and crisper if you start with fresh cold water each time. For green and or white teas, I don't pour the boiling water directly over the leaves but allow the water to "cool" slightly, for about the time it takes to measure in the leaves, before pouring it over them. For black and oolong teas, I let the water boil for about a minute and then pour it directly over my tea leaves.

Long ago, when I first started using leaf tea as opposed to bag tea, I found out, the hard way, that you really don't need nearly as much as you THINK you need. I found, after many trials, that a level teaspoon (about 2 grams) per cup is perfect for me. You can reuse the tea leaves, but for myself I find that while this works well for green and white teas, for the black teas is doesn't give me as crisp and clean a brew, so I don't do it. Whether you do or not will depend entirely on your own tastes.

Ideally, green teas should only steep for a minute or two, but, since I like even my green tea a bit stronger, I find it doesn't suffer from steeping more. I've even been known to just add more water to the pot and have it going most of the day while I work. Because white teas generally benefit from a longer steeping anyways, this method of mine works really well with them too.

Oolongs generally say to steep anywhere from thirty seconds to nine minutes, so this is really a personal thing dependant on how you like your tea. For me, I find that, like black teas, steeping for six to seven minutes makes a perfect tea and any longer starts to bring out some bitterness.

Oh, and one more thing, I never disturb the leaves while my tea is steeping, so no stirring them around to speed up the steeping process. I've always found that this just releases the bitterness more quickly. Same way if you're using bag tea. Simply lift them out of the pot, but don't squeeze them. And never reuse tea bags!

That's it then, we're all set. My favourite mug filled to the rim, no milk or sugar for me. I'm off to my chair and my book.

Hopefully, you all have a warm comfy spot from which to while winter cavorts just outside the window.

TTFN!!!



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