Tag Archives: infusion

The Art of Preparing Tea for Use

“Tea being an infusion and not a decoction like coffee, it should be brewed not stewed, the chief object being to extract as much of the theine or refreshing principle as possible and as little of the tannin or astringent property as can be at the same time without either boiling or overdrawing it.”

Written by Joseph M. Walsh in 1896, Tea Blending as a Fine Art, provides a number interesting gems which stand out and make us appreciate the history, culture, and even the science behind the beverage. In this case, Walsh is making note that it’s important to revisit the basics now and then to ensure that consumers of tea are preparing it correctly in order to get the most enjoyment. Specifically, brewing or steeping tea is done relatively quickly, with the intention of extracting the various plant compounds which directly impart taste.

Theine (the Refreshing Principle) and Tannin

The theine or refreshing principle referred to by Walsh in 1896 was none other than caffeine and while it was eventually recognized as the same substance as any other caffeine, the extraction of caffeine remains a major objective for many of us who can’t pass a morning without at least one cup. However, tea, like grapes, contain tannin which in significant concentrations will yield a bitter taste. All true tea from the camellia sinensis plant contain both caffeine and tannin though the variety of plant, its growing conditions, and the contents of the soil (or terrior) have an impact on the amount. Additionally, the processing of the tea from a white through to an oolong and black significantly impacts the amount of tannin found in the leaves.

Extracting The Goodness from Tea Leaves

Steeping Tea Leaves Over Time

The Longer You Steep the More Flavor Compounds and Bitter Tannin Emerge – We Seek Balance

Apparently, back in the late 1800’s there were enough people steeping tea incorrectly that Walsh felt it was critical to teach consumers how it was done. First, he notes that “the consumer should purchase only the best tea, it requiring much less of the finer grades to make good tea than of the common kinds, and will prove the most economical in the end.” Walsh goes on to describe misconceptions that the strength of a cup of tea was measured by dark color, leading to practices like adding tea to cold water and bringing to a boil, or stewing tea in boiling water for a prolonged period of time. Both of these provide a dark liquor but also an extremely bitter infusion.

When steeping tea the goal is to use good quality water, at the right temperature, for just the right amount of time to get the best tasting cup of tea possible while minimizing the bitter qualities of tannin. For loose leaf tea this means three important things; using good quality water, keeping the tea in contact with the water for the right amount of time, and using the right temperature water for steeping. Good quality water ideally means soft water, freshly boiled. The water should certainly not be distilled nor should it have been previously boiled water that has been re-boiled.

Forlife Folding Handle Tea Infuser

Folding Handle Infuser

Separating the leaves from the water is also critically important. There are any number of ways to do this of course, using a reusable infuser or strainer or single use paper tea bag. For those more adventurous, a gaiwan, yixing teapot, or kyusu are great ways to steep tea in a more traditional way.

Finally, the right temperature is also very important. While boiling water works well for black tea and many oolongs, its isn’t the best for all types of tea. Using boiling water on green or white teas in particular will extract far too much tannin making your tea very bitter. With many teas, green, white,  and yellow in particular, steeping with cooler water often brings out far more favor.

Steeping Time and Temperature

Below you will find very general steeping times and temperatures when using a single serve tea bag or infuser. These are general guidelines however since, as we noted earlier, the amount of various flavor compounds and tannin can vary significantly from tea to tea based on plant variety, growing conditions, and processing.

  • White Tea – 170° – 185° for 1-3 minutes
  • Green Tea – 170° – 185° for 3-5 minutes
  • Yellow Tea – 160° – 170° for 4-5 minutes
  • Oolong Tea – 185° – 212° for 3-5 minutes
  • Black Tea – 190° – 212° for 3-5 minutes

If you don’t happen to have a thermometer readily available, fear not. Poured into a room temperature mug, boiling water will almost immediately drop the the high 190°’s. If you want to get water for green and white teas just wait 2-5 minutes before adding the infuser. For yellow tea, wait a bit longer, about 5-7 minutes before adding tea. Conversely, since boiling water will almost immediately cool, its best to pre-heat your mug for black and many oolongs by adding boiling water, discarding, and adding fresh water with the infuser already in the cup.

Tisanes and Herbals

Tisanes and herbals are often referred to as tea, however these drinks normally do not contain any camellia sinensis (tea).  Instead they are made from seeds, leaves, roots, flowers, bark, fruits and may also be referred to as infusions or botanicals.  There are a huge variety of tisane and herbal drinks since it seems almost anything that is safe for human consumption can be infused (soaked in hot water) or decocted (heated in water to a boil allowing evaporation of much of the water).

Tisanes and herbals are consumed around the world offering a great many tastes, aromas, and flavors.  Some originated many hundreds or thousands of years ago while many are more modern attempts to offer new tastes or capitalize on popular fads.

Just a Few Tisanes & Herbals

Organic Raspberry Rooibos Tisane, Organic Red Raspberry Leaf, Organic Hibiscus, Organic Calendula

Adirondack Berries – A Rooibos Based Tisane

Rooibos has been consumed in South Africa for hundreds of years by native people and European settlers.  Native to the Fynbos region of South Africa’s Southwestern Cedarburg Mountains, Rooibos is a tisane produced from finely chopped Aspalathus linearis of the legume family.  This drink enjoys growing popularity around the world and makes a great base for a naturally caffeine free drink.

Dried Hibiscus in Aswan Souk

Dried Hibiscus for Karkade or Hibiscus Tea

Karkade, also known as Hibiscus Tea, and a myriad other names, is consumed around the world in places as diverse as Australia, the Middle East, the Caribbean and parts of Asia.  It features a tart, cranberry like taste and deep red color.  The first consumption as a drink is difficult to pin down but it is noted as being edible as far back as the late 1600’s.  More recently one can thank Celestial Seasonings for increasing awareness of this drink, marketed as “Red Zinger” starting in 1972.

Liang Cha is a Chinese herb tisane originating from Guangzhou Province.  Literally translating to “cold tea” it is thought to literally cool the body temperature which can be a big plus in the summer months in this part of China.  That said, this herb tea seems to have a great many variations though Chrysanthemum seems to be a common name attributed to it. (Guangzhou.chn.info, 2014)

Paspanguwa, also known as “Five Potions” comes from Sri Lanka and is considered to be an Ayurvedic remedy to tread colds and fever.  In fact, the Sri Lankan Government setup the Sri Lankan Ayurvedic Drug Company in 1969 offering, among other things, Paspanguwa which it considers a drug (Fernando, 2009).  The name “five-potions” comes from the five ingredients (though others are often added), Mollugo cerviana, Solanum virginianum, Coriander seed, Long pepper, and Ginger.  It is often served with a sweetner.

Glass Jar of Kombucha

Kombucha Mature by Mgarten, CC BY-SA 3.0

Kombucha, unlike the other drinks discussed, is actually made from the tea leaf, and is not an infusion or decoction.  Instead, it is sweetened black tea that has been fermented with bacteria and yeast.  Originating in Northeastern China in the 1900’s, Kobucha became popular as a health drink although such claims haven’t been established and indeed the drink, when improperly prepared may cause severe side effects and death (Centers for Disease Control, 1995).

Summing Up – Tisanes & Herbals

In many cases tisanes and herbals became popular for their stimulant, relaxant, or sedative properties.  These days many different tisane and herbal drinks are being consumed for perceived health benefits; everything from curing colds to curing cancer and everything in between.  However, the health claims attached to most tisanes and herbal drinks have not been validated through rigorous testing and, since many are considered neither food nor drug, they are not routinely evaluated by the FDA or USDA.  Further, no data had been provided to the FDA as of 2003 to support any claims of health benefits from tisanes or herbals (Nass, 2003).

From our perspective, while there may well be health benefits to some herbal and tisane infusions, there may also be risks, especially from high consumption and drug interactions.  Therefore, we prefer focus instead on the historical and cultural background behind tisanes, yet consume only a limited few.

Works Cited
Centers for Disease Control. (1995, 12 08). Unexplained Severe Illness Possibly Associated with Consumption of Kombucha Tea — Iowa, 1995. Atlanta, GA, US.

Encyclopedia Britannica Company. (2014, 06 17). Miriam-Webster. Retrieved from Tisane: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tisane

Fernando, N. M. (2009, 09 18). Sri Lanka Ayurveda Drugs Corporation – four decades of progress. Sri Lanka.

Guangzhou.chn.info. (2014, 06 18). Cantonese Liang Cha, Herb Tea. Retrieved from Guangzhou.chn.info: http://guangzhou.chn.info/dining/liang-cha/herb-tea.html

Nass, R. (2003). Is the Health Food Store and Oxymoron. Retrieved from Naturally Dangerous: Surprising Facts About Food, Health, and the Environment: http://www.stanford.edu/~jpc/Chapter3.htm#_Herbal_Teas_Are