Tea is consumed across the globe as a refreshing drink which also happens to provide your body with healthy nutrients. With several health benefits to flaunt over an irresistible cup of beverage, the demand for good tea seems to be ever-increasing. However, it is not just the health benefits tea has to offer to you. Tea is also consumed for the refreshing and fresh taste it provides.
Tea is a very delicate drink. Brewing a perfect cup of tea is nothing less of an art. You get an ideal balance; you get a perfect cup of tea. But has it ever happened to you that your cup of tea got bitter? This is quite a problem. People who brew a cup of tea fairly regularly know how troublesome it can be.
But is that bad? Is there anything wrong with the tea leaves you brew? Or it has something to do with the method you are associating while brewing the tea? Well, to be fair, it has something to do with both the reasons.
Why does the tea get bitter? Tea contains tannin. Over-extraction of tannins from tea leaves can make tea bitter. Caffeine is another compound which can be equally responsible for making tea bitter. Factors such as temperature, quantity and quality of tea leaves and brewing time can make tea bitter if not balanced well.
Tea leaves contain tannins. Tannins are responsible for the tea to taste like, well, you know, tea. Well, what are tannins? Tannins are a yellowish or brownish bitter-tasting organic substance present in some galls, barks, and other plant tissues. Tannins come naturally in tea plants. Tannins are partly responsible for the bitterness that tea generally exhibits.
However, tannins are mostly useful to the body. Researches show that tannins may provide health benefits due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. In general, the goodness that you associate with tea as a beverage, is mostly due to the presence of tannins in tea, in abundant quantities.
Brewing a proper cup of tea is associated with maintaining an appropriate balance between the tannins. Tannins are astringents, that is, plant polyphenols which cling to proteins. It appears to be bitter because it causes a drying sensation inside our mouth. The feeling is similar to the sensation caused by dry wine, or by the skin of a grape, or even the sense caused by unripe fruits.
Tannins in tea vary according to the oxidation level of the tea grade used for consideration. Tea leaves with higher levels of oxidation contain higher levels of tannins. Black tea leaves have the highest amount of tannins, followed by oolong tea, green tea and then finally white tea. This is partly the reason black tea is naturally bitter compared to other varieties.
Caffeine is known to be the world’s most consumed proactive drug. It is entirely legal and unregulated in most parts of the world. Caffeine is a very popular Central Nervous System stimulant and has several impacts on the human body.
Caffeine is another compound naturally occurring to tea leaves. Caffeine is responsible for most of the properties that tea flaunts. Caffeine has naturally refreshing, calming and sleep preventive qualities. It is an inseparable part of the tea.
Caffeine is a naturally bitter compound, meaning, more the amount of caffeine in a drink, more the bitter taste. Black tea is again the richest source of caffeine in all grades of tea. The higher level of oxidation in black tea is responsible for higher caffeine contents, which in turn is responsible for the bitter taste.
These are primarily the compounds responsible for giving rise to the bitter sensation in the tea. However, there are other factors which play an essential role in deciding if your cup gets bitter.
It is not always what you get; it is also what you make of it that determines what happens to your tea. How you brew it, how long you brew it and at what temperature, decides the fate of the cup of tea you made for yourself.
Factors Influencing The Taste Of Tea
I. Brewing time – Tea is an infusion of tea leaves in warm water. However, to get a perfect cup of tea, you need to optimize the brewing time. Lesser brewing time will leave the tea bland and dull, whereas more brewing time will render the tea bitter.
This happens because the warm water extracts the flavors from the tea leaves through diffusion and osmosis. The amount of caffeine extracted from the tea leaves varies with the brewing time. Increased brewing time will increase the amount of caffeine extracted. This will leave your cup of tea bitter in taste.
So it would be best if you balanced the brewing time. The brewing time depends upon the tea grade you are using. In general, more oxidised tea leaves requires lesser brewing time.
II. Temperature – The temperature of the base used for brewing tea is another important factor. The higher the temperature of the base (water or milk, for example), the higher the extraction process. For instance, if you use boiling water for brewing tea, you will want lesser brewing time. This happens because of kinetic energy in warm water. Higher the temperature of the water, higher the kinetic energy of the particles.
In essence, that means faster extraction from the tea leaves. So you will want to balance the brewing time depending upon the temperature of the water.
Cold steeping is another method which ensures the tea does not go bitter quickly. Cold steeping is a method in which you let the tea leaves steep in the water at an average temperature. It takes some time to settle down. Giving about 8-10 hours sitting in room temperature will provide you with cold tea or Sun tea. Tea brewed using this method will not get bitter quickly because extraction of caffeine is much slower in this method.
III. Quantity of tea leaves – The most obvious reason in respect to brewing a cup of tea. You need to pour the exact amount of tea leaves to get the best out of those tea leaves – more the quantity of tea leaves, lesser the brewing time.
The quantity is also decided by the grade you prefer to use. Tea leaves with higher oxidation level need lesser amount compared to tea leaves with more secondary oxidation level. This is because higher quantities of tea leaves will obviously release higher levels of tannins and caffeine.
In the case of CTC tea leaves, the size of the pellets used also plays an important role. Smaller pellet size infuses faster with warm water, and larger pellet size gives comparatively slower infusion. So, you need to pour the right quantity of CTC tea leaves depending upon the size of the pellets.
IV. Quality of tea leaves – The quality of the tea leaves probably play the most crucial role in deciding the taste of tea. Premium quality tea leaves will yield the best result in terms of liquor extraction and quality. Some cheaper alternatives tend to go bad faster and get bitter sooner.
V. Storage of tea leaves – How you store your tea leaves often results in the change of taste in tea leaves. If your tea leaves get exposed to direct sunlight or moisture, it may go stale. Stale tea leaves are often not detectable, and if you use these tea leaves for brewing, the tea may turn bitter very soon. Or worse, these tea leaves can harm your health in one way or another. It is, therefore, vital to store tea leaves correctly.
Other factors like the quality of water used during brewing and the vessels used during the process of brewing, or even the infuser used, play essential roles as well.
So, there are several factors which play a vital role in determining the taste of the tea you brew. You may start worrying about how to brew a proper cup of tea, considering the above factors. But do not worry. Brewing a cup of tea is nothing less than a delicate art. Like every other form of art, practice is the key.
The temperature, the quantity of tea leaves to be used, and brewing time is the key. If you get the balance right, you get a perfect cup of tea. Also, the taste of tea is mostly relative to each individual. Some may like it strong; others may prefer lighter notes.
Do not worry about brewing a perfect cup of tea the first time you make a cup for yourself. There are many factors in play, and therefore it takes time. Have patience and keep practicing. It is definitely your cup of tea!