Thursday, July 26, 2007

Race to the Finish

I've posted a lot of things recently which involve steeping or cooking for specific periods of time. Tea can be wonderful and smooth if you figure out just the right timing for its infusion. However, in practice, I very frequently make tea when I'm in the middle of other things, or I start doing other things once my tea is steeping. It's easy to lose track of time (I once steeped some leaves for over half an hour), and it's hard to swallow the results.

As such, I've been looking for a tea timer for quite some time, to no avail. There are hourglass-type tea timers galore, but what I need is something that beeps at me until I remember that it's time to take five minutes out of my maniacal multi-tasking and savor my cup of tea.

I found kitchen timers that you dial and which BBRRRING! at you annoyingly, and even though those might work (they're hard to be precise with), I thought I could do better.

And I did! Behold, the scientific timer by Taylor. This is the best and cheapest scientific timer I could find. I was inspired by my summer job working in a biomedical research lab to get a timer like the ones I'd been using for two months to time my chemical reactions. It counts up, it counts down, it pauses and resets, all with just three buttons. There's a clip, a stand, and a magnet on the back, so you can use it just about anywhere. One AAA battery is used, which is included, and it got me well on my way to the requisite $25 for free Amazon shipping.

All in all it's just a little thing, but it makes my life a little less stressful. It's a good start, since I'll be going on vacation starting today!

What little things make your tea life, or your regular one, just a bit better?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Cooking with Tea

There are hundreds of things you can do with tea other than drink it, and we'll discover them all eventually, I'm sure, but one of the most basic is using tea to make rice! Rice is really healthy, and even though carbohydrates aren't popular right now, you need some to have a balanced diet, and this is a great, tasty way to get them.

Here is my own recipe for Jasmine Green Tea Rice:

2 tsps Loose-Leaf Jasmine Green Tea
1 cup long-grain white rice
2 cups water

Bring the 2 cups of water to a boil
Let it cool for 3 minutes uncovered
Steep the 2 tsps of tea in the water (in an infuser if you don't want tea leaves in your rice)
Rinse the uncooked rice in a colander
When the tea is done, remove it (if you used an infuser)
Add the rice to the water (which is now tea)
Bring the mixture to a boil
Reduce to an active simmer (less active than boiling)
Stir often

When the water has been absorbed, your rice is done! It should take about 20 minutes. If it takes much longer, be done anyway! Pour off the extra water, fluff with a fork, and enjoy!

Be careful, because you can't use a steamer or rice cooker to get this effect. When water vaporizes into steam it doesn't take tea with it!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Decaf Anyone?

Tea offers lots of great benefits, including the steadier absorption of caffeine due to the presence of polyphenols in tea, which naturally reduce the caffeine intake your body is capable of. However, not everybody wants to be caffeinated, and certainly not all the time! A cup of tea before bed is an inviolable night-time ritual for many (myself included), and caffeine disrupts that.

Not to mention that many people complain about teas which have been processed and artificially decaffeinated. I think it may be that they taste processed and artificial!

What's a tea-drinker to do? Well, you do have options beyond chamomile, lemongrass, and rose hips.

80-90% of tea's caffeine is infused into tea during the first 30 seconds of steeping, while BBC News reported that "volunteers who drank tea that had been brewed for five minutes had blood antioxidant levels which were 60% higher than those who consumed a one-minute infusion." So you can easily ditch the first 30 seconds of that infusion if you don't want caffeine right then, or you can recycle tea leaves for a second or third cup (I find a fourth is usually pretty pointless).

If you have a late-night black tea craving, you could even make a first cup and save it 'til morning when you need that wake-up call!

And for five bonus summer points, put that extra first cup in the fridge overnight for a nice, cool, undiluted cup of iced tea the next day.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Varieties of Tea

There are six main types of tea derived from the Camellia sinensis plant, as well as many sub-varieties within those classifications. They are distinguished by the section of the tea plant which is used, and by the way in which they are processed, which generally refers to the amount of oxidation the leaves undergo.

Oxidation occurs when the chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down and releases tannins. This is controlled in tea processing by drying or compressing the tea, and maintaining certain levels of moisture and temperature.

Black tea, often called red tea in Asia, is the most common kind of tea in Western culture. It is made with the top 5-7 inches of the tea plant, and is fully oxidized. In general, black tea should be steeped for 4-6 minutes for the first cup, and always in water that has just been brought to boiling. Black tea naturally contains caffeine, about 60 milligrams for every five liquid ounces of tea. Black tea is the most common base for flavored teas.

Green tea is becoming more popular in the United States for its health benefits. Green tea is made with the top 1-2 inches of the tea plant and undergoes minimal oxidation, which means that it has lower tannin and caffeine levels, as well as a much more subtle and delicate flavor than black tea. Green tea should ideally be steeped for 3-5 minutes in water which has been brought to a rapid boil, but has cooled for about five minutes. Green tea is the most commonly rolled tea, sometimes being shaped into stars or cranes in and origami-like fashion by day laborers. Gunpowder tea is green tea rolled into small pellets which unfurl during steeping. Powdered tea is usually made from green tea, and it ground into so fine a powder that it dissolves completely when brewed. Yellow tea is a high-quality green tea, with a separate name because it was the tea served at the Chinese Imperial Court.

Oolong is not as well-known as either green or black tea, but it's processing places it between the two in terms of oxidation levels and the length of the tea plant harvested. It should be steeped and brewed similarly to black tea, but may provide a more complex flavor and a richer color.

White tea is made with just the bud and the first two leaves of the tea plant. It is often grown in shade to reduce chlorophyll levels, and is not oxidized at all. White tea has the lowest tannin levels and no caffeine, and the most fragile flavor, meaning it should not be mixed with additives like milk or sugar. White tea should be steeped for 2-3 minutes in water which has been brought to a rapid boil, but has cooled for about five minutes. Because white tea is made with more select parts of the tea plant, it can be more expensive than green or black tea, but there are many affordable varieties.

Pu-ehr is tea which has been fermented by being oxidized a second time. It is characterized by a deep earthy flavor which becomes less intense and more complex with age. Pu-ehr is usually aged 5-10 years, and, like wine, can be more expensive as it gets older, or in certain "vintages." Pu-ehr is stored in a large block, with pieces broken off to steep a cup. More recently it has been processed into balls the size of hard candies which are enough to make one cup. While pu-ehr is a more adventurous tea, it is worth try. The single-serving balls cost between 30 and 50 cents each. Pu-ehr is known to aid in digestion.

Kukicha is made from the twigs of the tea plant, which are harvested in winter. They are roasted or smoked and brewed for a very different tea experience. The twigs should be steeped for up to ten or fifteen minutes in near-boiling water.

Tea today is generally regarded as a beverage derived from the infusing of plant material into hot water. People buy and drink tea made from just about any kind of plant material. If this did not cover the tea you generally drink it is likely because you drink herbal tea, the name for any tea which does not contain Camellia sinensis.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Beginner's Tea Kit

Tea is a great hobby. It has a rich and unique culture complex enough to challenge your mind, while it's varieties are complex enough to challenge your taste buds. But for someone who has only drunk bagged tea at hotel continental breakfasts, it may be intimidating to get started.

Hence, a list, with the bare necessities to get started making tea for yourself. There will be a similar guide to the necessities for making tea for groups, including electric kettles and tea sets. The objective here is affordable, intelligent design that will enable you to discover the joy of tea for under $20.

I know this is kind of an ugly color -- they call it "bamboo," but it also comes in black, white, red, and periwinkle. The lid doubles as a saucer or a tray for the infuser, which fits inside the cup. The cup is ceramic, which is the best material for steeping tea, and is microwave safe. Even though you should generally pour your hot water over the tea leaves, this gives you options.

If you don't have kids or rowdy dogs, this is the teacup for you. It's all glass, which means there are no odors or tastes to be leaked into the tea by the infuser, and the slits cut in the nested infuser allow for a minimum of dregs while still infusing your tea. If you can keep it in one piece, this is the best option for great tea, and at the same price as above!

Do you have more teacups than you need already? This is the infuser for you. Made of polycarbonate plastic it has a large bowl to hold orange or lemon peels and still allow a free circulation of water for the best cup of tea you can brew. A good infuser like this is a great buy for around $10. Also available in red and green, although the green rivals the bamboo color above in terms of unhealthy colors for bodily fluids.

These accessories should offer enough selection to fit whatever tea needs you have ... in the beginning. Next time we'll have the beginner's teas themselves.

The Perfect Cup

How to begin a tea blog? How about with instructions for brewing the perfect cup of tea? This is a rewrite of an article I published online.

Drinking tea regularly is great for your physical and mental health, but many people don't like tea because it tastes weak or bitter. It doesn't have to. You can control your tea's strength depending on how you steep it to make the best and most flavorful cup with the tea you've got.

First Things First: Never use soap on any dishes you use in association with tea. Because tea is so delicate, the “flavor” of soap can taint your tea quite easily. Always rinse your tea dishes in scalding water to keep them sanitary.

Steeping Mechanism: Don't use paper tea bags! The biggest thing people dislike about tea is how it can taste dry - after you swallow your mouth puckers and dries out a little bit. That taste is the result of tannic acids, which are found in most vegetable products, especially paper. If you have a tea you love that only comes bagged, remove it from the bag and put it into an infuser with very fine holes or mesh. If your tea comes in silk bags, those don't have as much tannic acid, but are still not preferable compared to a glass or plastic infuser. Metal infusers will work, but some people notice a slight metallic taste in using them. If you don't mind dregs at the bottom of your cup, the best thing to do it brew your tea loose.

Steeping Time: The following are guidelines - trial and error can help you more than anything. Herbal, white and green teas should steep for 2-4 minutes. Black, pu-her, oolong and rooibos should steep for 3-5. Another telltale marker is when the color of the water ceases to increase in intensity. Tea can and should be steeped up to three or four separate times, and the best of those is almost always going to be the second steeping, when most of the tannic acids are gone, but the leaves are still strong.

Additives: The best way to enjoy tea is to add nothing to it. Take a sip and hold it on your tongue. Try to distinguish the different flavors. Is it sharp, earthy, sweet or smooth? If you find a tea is too bitter you may want to add sugar to it. If you find it weak, milk may be a better choice. Remember not to add milk to any tea with lemon or other citrus fruits, or the milk will curdle.

Making the Tea: Use one teaspoon of tea leaves for each cup of tea you plan to make. If this is the first cup you've made with these leaves, rinse your tea briefly in cold water to wash off the tannic acids. Bring water to a rapid boil and let it cool to just below boiling. Always pour the hot water over the tea, and never just stick your tea in the water. Let it steep for time appropriate to your type of tea. Remove the infuser after time has elapsed, drain it, and drink up!


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Tea-ing Off

Welcome to Infuse Me! This is a place to learn about different kinds of tea, how to make it properly, health benefits, recipes which involve tea, product reviews, and everything related to the second-most popular beverage in the world! Feel free to comment and ask questions, tell me I'm wrong, or just say hello.