How to Tell if Your Tea Has Gone Stale

Old Antique Tea Tin

While this is a super cool find its probably best to pitch any tea you find inside.

Tea leaves, when stored properly, will have a long shelf life. However, the flavor will change with age. So here are some tips on how to tell if your tea is stale and its time to feed it to your garden plants.

  1. Tastes flat or like paper. Those paper wrapped tea bags are meant to be used quickly, usually under a year. So don’t second guess yourself when you feel like you can taste the tea bag. If you need to keep those tea bags longer, get them into a resealable plastic bag. If it is not tea bag tea, and it tastes like paper, it’s also stale.
  2. Your tea starts to brew darker than normal. For green and white teas, this will start to come after the one year point. Generally you may not notice it if you are drinking it daily, as the change is gradual. There is nothing wrong with the darker brew, it is just an indication that the tea is aging. Eventually your white tea will brew like a green tea and your green tea will brew like an oolong or black tea if you keep it long enough. To really get the original taste, you need to drink your white teas within 1 year and your green teas in under 2 years.
  3. If your tea is blended with spices or nuts, the shelf life is dictated by those ingredients and not the tea leaves. Those other ingredients will go stale before the tea leaf does, especially the nuts. So if your favorite blend starts to taste weak or has an odd after taste, it is not your imagination, the other items in the blend have gone stale. If there are nut slivers in your tea, you really should drink it all before the 6 month mark to ensure good flavor. Your favorite chai should be consumed within the year to get the full effect of the cardamom and cinnamon.
  4. The hardest tea to tell if it has gone stale is black tea. If stored properly, it can hold its flavor a long time. For stronger blacks, you will notice the ending bite fade and the tea will taste more like stale bread. For the softer Chinese blacks, they will develop a bite that wasn’t there before.

Storage is critical to keeping your tea fresh, which you can learn about here. However, drink your tea regularly. It is meant to be enjoyed.

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How to Make a Single Cup of Iced Tea

Fresh Iced Tea by the Cup

Preparing a single cup of iced tea.

In warmer weather one of the things we offer in our Purcellville Tasting Room is iced tea in a variety of forms. With over 100 different teas to choose from we don’t want to limit guests to what we have prepared ahead of time or what’s on the nitro tea tap. So we also offer any tea, iced by the cup. And guests regularly ask how they can do the same thing at home.

Making a single cup of iced tea is very easy. So if you are wanting a cup of iced tea but not in the mood for a full pitcher, here is how it’s done.

Single Cup of Iced Tea: Equipment

  • Kettle (yes you can boil water on the stove but its well worth picking up an electric kettle)
  • Glass measuring cup (we love Pyrex 8 oz measuring cups)
  • Strainer
  • Glass to drink from (Preferably 16 oz, but you can scale this smaller or larger)

Single Cup of Iced Tea: Instructions

To make a 16 oz cup of iced tea we are effectively going to make a concentrated cup of hot tea and pour it over ice to rapidly cool and dilute it to the right strength.

1. Start by measuring out double the amount of tea you would use for an 8 oz cup into the glass measuring cup. For large leaf tea, this is 2 tablespoons and for small leaf this 2 teaspoons.
2. Get your water to the right temperature in your kettle and pour 1 cup (8 oz) of water into the measuring cup. Allow the tea to steep for the appropriate time. If you are unsure, just check the for the correct time here.
3. Fill your drinking glass with ice. The trick here is to know how much ice to fill based on the density of your ice. You may need to play a little bit, but generally you will fill the 16 oz glass half full with ice.
4. When time is up, pour the hot tea through the strainer onto the ice. You know you have the right amount of ice when most of it melts and just a few cubes remain.

Hint on sugar: If you want sugar in your iced tea, add it to the hot tea while steep and stir. It will dissolve the sugar/honey quickly and the strainer will catch anything that doesn’t melt.

This method works with all tea types and herbal/tisanes. Enjoy!

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History of the Tea Cozy

The tea cozy (cosy in British English) is first documented in writing in 1867 in England, but is actually believed to have been around since the introduction of tea to England back in the late 1600’s. This handy device keeps your teapot warm. Given that afternoon tea became fashionable in the 1840’s, it is more likely they were in use sooner. Afternoon tea was a social affair, so conversation dominated and tea could quickly get cold. So, as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.

Tea Cozy Design

This humble device is built to allow you to pour and easily gain access to the lid to refill. Originally made of linen, they are now made of any washable material. Afternoon tea was popular in mainTeaCozystream culture during the Victorian Era, so the tea cozy became a highly embroidered cover and fashion statement for the teapot. If was fashionable during the Victorian Era to decorate just about every object in your house. The tea cozies of the time resembled something of a knitted hat that wrapped the teapot from the bottom up or a cover that draped over the pot and was removed every time you needed to pour. More recently, the tea cozy has become something of a fashion statement or artistic center piece for your tea party. They are a combination of knitting and sewing. If you think you want this, there are books on how to make some really unique tea cozies.

When to Put on the Tea Cozy

Newspapers of mid 1800’s actually debated when it was appropriate to put the cozy on the teapot, before or after steeping. The concern was that the cozy would cause the water to be too hot to steep. This is actually a legitimate concern if you are steeping green tea, which would have been the dominant tea in the 1800’s. If you are steeping a black tea, hotter is better. Ultimately is seems to be a personal preference as long as you factor in water temperature.

In closing, if you ever need to keep the teapot warm for long conversations, the tea cozy is not a bad addition to your tea accessories and you can make it yourself.

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Iced White Tea: Good or Bad Idea?

Iced White Tea - Betsy Ross White

Iced Betsy Ross White

Iced white tea is an oddly controversial topic for tea snobs. This beautifully delicate tea has a very loyal following, most of whom would turn their nose up on icing their favorite tea. Others are willing to be more flexible, stating that Bai Hao Silver Needle should never be iced while Bai Mou Dan is fine to ice. Well, we like to consider all perspectives and equip tea drinkers with the knowledge to play with their favorite beverage. Of course you can ice white tea. Will you like it iced is really the question. So here are 3 hints on how to approach making iced white tea.

  1. Humans are very bad at tasting cold food and beverages. Good quality unflavored white tea is very subtle with a light floral aroma, which is sometimes hard to detect when it is iced. If you want to try Bai Hao Silver Needle cold, we highly recommend the cold brew method. It does a much better job holding in the floral flavors than a traditional iced tea maker or brewing it warm and pouring it over ice.
  2. Flavored/Blended white teas are perfect for ice. The other ingredients, like freeze dried elderberries or star anise, are still detectable in cold tea. The iced white tea we like the best is Betsy Ross White.
  3. Watch your temperatures and cold brew your white tea! If you need to make a batch fast and do not have the 8-10 hours for cold brew, make sure to steep the white tea in water below 185°F. If you brew it above this temperature, it will be bitter as you will have burnt your tea.

So play with white tea iced. You may find you like this lighter alternative to our traditional black iced teas. Let us know about your favorite iced white tea in the comments!

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Mint: 5 Facts about the first addition to tea

Mint plants

A field of mint plants.

As we head into the holiday season, it is hard not to find a sweet or beverage that does not have mint. So let’s take a moment to learn a few things about the plant that creates this flavor and how it blends with tea.

  1. Human’s consumption of mint has been around a long time. Sprigs of dried peppermint were found in the pyramids of Ancient Egypt and carbon-dated back to 1000 B.C.E. The name mint comes from the Greek mythical nymph Minthe, who was a river nymph along the River Styx. Hades, the Greek God of the underworld, feel in love with Minthe. His wife, Persephone got jealous and turned her into the plant we know today. So that she would always be remembered, Hades gave the plant the ability to produce the aromatic oil we all know and use today.
  2. Mint is the first known addition to tea. Through the silk road, tea traveled from China into the Middle East and Northern Africa. It is here that it was blended with the tea to make a localized beverage. Moroccan Mint tea is the name commonly know today in Europe and the United States. However, it goes by the name Tuareg tea in the Middle East.
  3. Mint has a long list of uses for medicinal purposes. It is no mistake that there is mint toothpaste, mint mouthwash or mint flavored floss. Mint has been used for centuries to cure bad breath. It was also used to sooth an upset stomach and to relieve headaches (through the application of mint oil on the forehead).
  4. The United States is the largest grower of mint worldwide. Washington State is home to the most acreage with other Northwestern states like Idaho, not far behind. There is a push to grow it in the south, but it does require that nitrogen be added to the southern soil for it to grow properly and produce the expect amount of oil. There are over 71,000 acres of mint currently growing in the United States. The majority of the mint grown is used to produce mint oil, which is used to flavor all sorts of items that humans consume.
  5. Mint can be steeped alone as its own tisane. If you happen to grow your own, just pluck a few leaves and steep in boiling water for 7 minutes. It will be a minty mouthful. If your mint is not very minty, see the note before about your soil content. Mint needs nitrogen and a dormant period to really produce a strong oil.
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